Sustainability Series: Odds and Ends
Updated: Sep 19, 2020
Living sustainably may seem like an overwhelming undertaking, but like anything in life, if you want to make a lasting change- start small. Work it into the details of your life little by little and, if it is a main priority for you, each small thing you do sustainably will increase your awareness of your own habits.
This is the way to a sustainable life, not the crash-course-drastic-change-everything-right-here-right-now-for-the-rest-of-your-life method, which doesn’t seem to last. Start with the small things and let sustainable practices and decisions seep into your daily routine over time. It’s a process or a journey, not an end result or a destination.
So, with this in mind, we tackle the small things: the odds and ends.
TOTW Sustainability Series: Odds and Ends Edition
There are so many areas of life to consider when talking about sustainability. Those folks who endured the great depression know what it means to be sustainable more than most of us. In a lot of ways sustainability is about seeing how far you can get with what you thought was almost nothing to begin with. Lucky for us- at this point in time, this is a choice and a challenge not a dire necessity. I feel that we owe it to our ancestors- who lived sustainably because they had no other choice- to do our best to conserve our resources and keep waste to a minimum.
I picked four simple areas to focus on for this segment: Food, Clothing, Hygienic Products, and Containers. I picked these because I figured that no matter who you are, you probably have a daily interaction with these four things.
Why absolutely NONE of your food should ever end up at the dump.
The components that our foods are made of (with some super processed exceptions, which I am not going to address here) are endlessly recyclable in our environment. The dump is a one-way-street- it is not a place where our waste becomes happily incorporated into the soil. It is a vat of nasty conditions and materials that will take hundreds maybe even thousands of years to break down. Once a dump is abandoned it never becomes soil. Although the parties in charge may place an acceptable piece of ground on top of a dumpsite, it doesn’t erase the fact that a giant pit of nastiness still exists underground. Plant and animal materials do not fit into this category and they don’t belong trapped in between layers of plastics, metals and who-doesn’t-want-to-know-what-else, where it won’t become a part of the natural cycle that it was yielded from.
So, if we make this rule for ourselves- no food can go into the trashcan- where do we put it?
Broth/smoothies- you can eat a lot more parts of animals and plants than our culture lets on. Just look at EVERY OTHER CULTURE than us weirdos here in the US. Egg shells for example, are a great source of calcium that you can bake in the oven to sanitize and then grind up for a supplement for smoothies. Or crush and boil them in broth.
Do you toss your radish tops? Try adding them to a stir fry or a smoothie- they are full of great nutrients and tasty. Are you a fan of home-made juices? Try juicing the parts of fruits you don’t usually eat. Banana and orange peels, carrot tops and apple peels, just make sure to leave parts of plants that contain trace amounts of toxins, out- like the apple seeds. A quick internet search will help you find out which parts of plants we really can’t get much out of.
Did you know banana peels are great for polishing smooth surfaces? Just add baking soda and you can scrub shiny surfaces back to life with no additional cleaning products. Citrus peels are also great for zests/seasonings, smoothies, home-made teas, and air fresheners. An orange peel in your brown sugar can keep it from hardening. You can dry out the peels and burn them in your fireplace for a subtle- yet-pleasant aroma while you are warming your home. I keep a pot of cinnamon sticks, citrus peels and herbs on the stove when I have a cold or when I just want the house to smell fresh. Then this pot of goodness makes a great tea once I am done using it as an air-freshener/humidifier. THEN the scraps from the tea go into to pig/chicken bucket or the compost.
Speaking of the compost pile and the garden… egg shells, again, are great for plants like tomatoes that need a lot of calcium and phosphorus. Ash from your fire pit is also great to add to your compost pile for added phosphorus and soil fluffiness/water holding capactiy. Bones can be tough to add to a garden because animals will dig them up, but if you bake them, then cook them in broth long enough that they break down, animals cannot dig up this home-made bone meal that nourished your soul and then your soil.
Have you heard of the smart parts of plants? The technical term is the apical meristem. This is the part of the plant that can tell the rest of the plant what to do using hormones. If you cut this part off of your food (most of us do because it isn’t very good to eat most of the time) you can turn it back into a plant!
The top of the onion works like this (the part that turns green and grows into leaves) and the bottom part that grows roots, the bottom of a head of cabbage or lettuce, the top of a carrot, the bottom of celery, potatoes that are getting soft and sprouting- you can break of the sprouts and plant those- you don’t even have to plant the whole potato! Most of the time you can still eat the parts of the plant you were going to anyway you just have less to throw away and you cloned your food to eat it again.
The chicken/pig “chiggun” bucket. If you don’t have animals like this yourself we will gladly take these scraps for the willing and able TOTW crew to incorporate into the natural cycle. Contact us if you are interested in doing this.
The dog bowl- when it comes to the food chain dogs are scavengers first and hunters second. They are designed to clean up odds and ends that are produced by other exciting food chain activities. This means they can eat lots of different types of foods including meat- the cartilage and joints of animals are really good, vegetables and yes, even some grains. If you are nervous about feeding random stuff to your dog you can always cook it or re-cook it first to make it easier to digest. Easing your dog into a varied diet can help their stomach gain the microbial equipment they need to digest this nutritious variety. When you feed a dog like this you will notice good changes like a shiny coat, healthier gums and more energy (not that most dogs need even more energy hah!) There are lots of helpful resources online for foods you can and cannot feed your dog. Cats on the other hand, are not designed to eat this large variety like dogs are. Cats are almost strictly hunters who need to eat mostly meat.
When you have to make due with less-
Need to make a recipe but you are missing an ingredient? Too much month at the end of your money? Is the grocery store just too dang far away?
Extend your recipes and make creative substitutions. Making stews and soups is a great way to fill yourself up on hardly any food. Slow cooking a bunch of scraps of food really helps get the last nutrients out of foods that weren’t quite enough to make a full meal. If you think about it one chicken leg is enough to make chicken and noodle soup for 4 people! Add that rice from the Chinese takeout you had the other day and the handful of wilted veggies up from the bottom of the veggie drawer in the fridge washed and cut and voila! you have a meal that will last multiple people a couple of days, all with stuff that was headed for the dump.
Burritos are one of the BEST ways to use leftovers- the contents don’t have to be Mexican themed. You could have Asian-cuisine burritos, or lettuce wraps with grilled chicken leftovers, or BBQ shredded Beef burritos with coleslaw. Push the envelope, or should I say the tortilla…?
Casseroles and stir frys are also a great way to resurrect foods that were on their way out. Change up the sauce and seasoning and see what you can get away with.
It has become a game for me to hide stuff Chris just wouldn’t finish in the fridge, in new dishes, and see if he even notices. So far, I’m winning the Zero Waste War. HAH!
Did you know that our country produces an average of 15 million tons of textile waste each year?
Did you also know that amount has doubled in the past 20 years!?
What are we doing???!
Throwing away all of our clothes I guess….
Minimalism can be a super helpful model for moderating the influx of clothing to your household. The basic principles of minimalism bring awareness to the roles material things play in our lives. If you bring clothes into your life with awareness about how they will affect your life, you are less likely to make wasteful choices. When you are in a store and you want to buy something, consider wearing that item around while you look at other things. Think about what need that article of clothing will fill in your life. Do you already have a piece of clothing that will fill that need for you? Would this article of clothing fill the need better that the one you already have? If so, would you be willing to replace the one you have with this new one? Will this make your life better? If the answer is no to any of those questions minimalism says don’t buy it. One further challenge when purchasing clothing is to buy it used. I understand you may not want to buy certain articles used, which is ok. But if you buy them new, consider using these articles until they just aren’t functional anymore.
On the other end of minimalist closets is getting rid of stuff that you own but don’t need. If you can, take old clothes to a consignment store or a thrift store. Truth is though, that a percentage of this donated clothing still gets thrown out. If you are limiting incoming clothing then you shouldn’t have much outgoing clothing, but there comes a time when clothes don’t serve us anymore. Consider cutting them up for cleaning rags, face-washing/bathing cloths, and hand towels. You should never really have to buy cleaning rags if all your clothes that don’t fit or don’t work anymore because they are so worn out-go towards this purpose.
You can also make candle wicks out of old clothes, ribbons for crafts and gifts or bird nesting materials in the spring, garden twine for tying up vines, tote bags, headbands, patches for clothes that rip that you aren’t quite ready to cut up yet, glass cleaning rags, hot mitts for baking, fingerless gloves (out of sweater sleeves and tall socks), dog toys (strips of denim braided make the BEST tug-of-war toys), curtains, pillow cases (shirts are usually about the perfect size for this), table cloths/coasters, waxed food wraps (so you don’t have to buy plastic wrap anymore!), fire-starter packets tied up with candle wax or grease-coated paper scraps or pine needles inside….gosh there are probably so many more possibilities than this, Pinterest is a gold mine when it comes to this kind of thing. Let me know what you come up with!
Now when it comes to washing our clothes there are some serious pitfalls to using the standard detergent. For starters, most big name detergents come in large plastic bottles with spouts that are hard to reuse for other things. It is what is inside the bottle that is most harmful though. Phosphates in most detergents are hard to filter out of water and cause algal blooms that release toxins, block out light and starve waters of available oxygen for existing aquatic life. Detergents also contain a variety of surfactants which help loosen dirt and oils from our clothes. These surfactants are often skin irritants so many folks can’t even use them. If that isn’t a sign right there I don’t know what is…
I’m not saying don’t wash your clothes…please… do that. But when it comes to washing agents we have a couple choices. In the same aisle as the detergents are those very options.
Baking Soda, Borax, and Washing Soda can all be used for this purpose- baking soda being the most mild option, and washing soda being the harshest. It takes very small amounts of these powdered products to get the job done. You will notice how obnoxious common detergents smell when you start to wash your clothes with odorless products like these, AND they all come in cardboard boxes that are compostable, or handy as fire-starter. All three of these products can also function as house cleaning products, stain removers, de-oderizers polishers etc. Read the instructions on the box to determine which one will work best for the task at hand. These products tend to be cheaper as well- I can’t find a down-side to them!
You should hang your clothes to dry whenever possible. There is nothing like the Wyoming Wind and sunshine to crisp up and freshen clothes, but a lot of the year we just can’t do that. When it comes to fabric softener and dryer sheets check out this handy little trick!
Have you heard of dryer balls? They are felted wool balls that you can apply essential oils to and throw into your dryer with your load of wet laundry to soften, scent, and de-lint your clothes. Each dryer ball can last up to 1000 loads of laundry and generally lasts the common household about 3 years. Dryer balls can run the gamut on cost, but most are under $10 each. Dryer sheets come in a pack of 250 and many folks use multiple per load. The cost of one box of dryer sheets is just under the cost of the average dryer ball. These sheets are made of plastic that is coated in a wide variety of chemicals including known allergens- some of which are linked to asthma! Aaaaaaa!!! Why wouldn’t you want to use dryer balls? They save you money, they keep plastic out of the dump, and they save you from hundreds of chemicals known to pose a health risk to you and your family. Plus, when it finally wears out you could throw it in the compost pile to be recycled into the earth again. Dryer ball->soil->grass->sheep converts to wool->dryerball. Beat that dryer sheet!
Did I mention we sell dryer balls from our own flock? So you can have laundry that is part of your local ecosystem? If you aren’t near Laramie WY we will be happy to ship you some dryer balls, or you can find a closer-to-you option online to save on shipping emissions. Just make sure they are produced sustainably. Many dryer balls use materials other than wool, or are produced using a nylon stocking (plastic) that gets cut up and thrown out in the process… not the goal here. Our dryer balls are needle felted wool from our sheep, at the end of needle felting I wet felt the wool ball in boiling water and Castile Soap so add a nice finished layer. Then I wrap each ball with some of my handspun yarn from our sheep and make a little label out of a used foil coffee bag to keep that out of the dump for a minute longer too!
Let me know if you want one of these TOTW Dryer Balls or if you want help finding some closer to you. (Etsy is a good resource for handmade goods and most vendors are willing to answer any questions you may have).
A lot of the soaps on the market do not break down once they go down your drain. They stay sudsy and are very hard to get out of water once they are added. Because of this, and also because we now live in a camper we have fallen in love with Castile Soap. It works for every type of washing you could want to do- clothes, surfaces, dishes, hands, bathing, pet washing, degreasing etc. and they have some really nice natural scents that also deter insects like peppermint and lavender.
You can get castile soap in a bar too so you don’t have to create more plastic waste with soap bottles.
No matter how hard you try, some things are just packaged in non-biodegradable packaging. Jams/jellies are an example, especially now that Laramie doesn’t recycle glass, which can be quite frustrating. There are a lot of uses for glass jars though. A food container that you can reheat leftovers in without imagining the little thingies that supposedly cause cancer oozing into your food…. A drinking glass, an airtight dry goods container, a home-made salad dressing mixer and storage container, a to-go dog food container, a freezing container (just make sure to leave airspace on top for expansion as the food freezes) or in our case, a container for all the stinking fencing staples and screws and bread tabs that are in pockets when I am trying to wash a load of jeans. There was a time when I would only buy one brand of jelly because I wanted matching drinking glasses…that seems pretty silly now.
If you purchase products based on packaging you want to use into the future you shouldn’t really need to buy plastic Tupperware anymore. At least we have eliminated the need to buy storage containers for the kitchen, pantry, fencing/building supply shed, and bathroom/hygiene products (I make my own body wash, facewash, and shampoo and store it in these kinds of containers). Then when you make food to give away to others you won’t have to lose sleep over whether that particular container makes it back to you. Although you may lose sleep over whether it gets recycled or not….
This is just the tip of the iceberg. As always, I want to know what you come up with. What ideas do you have as you steep your life in sustainability? Let’s trade secrets- there’s always more we could all be doing!
Text me a photo of your sustainability victories no matter how small- they will sure be something to smile over.
And a smile is surely, sustainable.
Happy Sustainable Living!
- BJ and the TOTW Crew