Reducing Waste: Our Tried and True Methods

14003542223876
Public domain image created by U.S. EPA, 2012.

This month’s question: What are your favorite ways to reduce waste?

Ilse:

  1. Composting natural materials.  We compost kitchen scraps and leaves, but I also use a lot of materials in the garden under mulch for weed prevention, such as cardboard boxes, newspaper, and old cotton clothing or sheets.  I recently discovered that our county’s composting program has winter drop sites; participating in this will reduce our winter trash substantially (previously, we had two issues with winter composting at home: getting to the bin through deep snow, and the bin filling up with frozen materials early in the season).
  2. Reducing single-use objects.  Dishcloths last years longer than sponges, and old dishcloths become cleaning rags.  Old hand towels are folded and kept in the place where we used to keep paper towels. We’ve always used cloth napkins, and keep a stash of handkerchiefs available.  When we eat out, I try to remember to bring food storage containers for leftovers so we can avoid those awful takeout boxes.
  3. Thrifting.  By buying our purchases slightly used, we reduce demand for new objects, as well as costs associated with shipping new objects. Most thrifted items come without packaging, too.

Kelli:

  1. Secondhand purchasing.  I don’t so much go to thrift stores anymore; too much of a crapshoot and not enough time.  Rather I troll and use Facebook sale groups, Craigslist and Nextdoor. I try to get away from the trolling part for mindset’s sake, but I do put out a lot of requests and most are fulfilled.  And I started a free group for the moms in my neighborhood mom group, and it’s quite active. There’s a lot of “good” stuff on there, but also it is AMAZING who will take broken and quite worn out items for a specific use, extending their life a tad bit more before they land in the landfill.
  2. Rags in the kitchen.  We have bought few paper towels in the last 10 years, because we keep a drawer of rags for all the kitchen and dining room disasters.  I was making them out of old t-shirts, but they got so disgusting that finally we decided to use all the same color tan washcloths. We have grey ones for the bathroom so it makes it easy to know where they belong when washing/putting away.
  3. My reusable mug.  I have it with me all the time.  On those occasions when I am buying a coffee, I rarely take the disposable cup.

Stephanie:

  1. Definitely buying second hand. The vast majority of the things that I own are secondhand. Especially kids clothing. My kids work hard and play hard, and it shows. With seven of them I just can’t justify spending full price on something they will wear out in a season.
  2. Discount stores. So much goes to waste in this country. We have a couple of really great discount stores in my area that stock food or other items that are perfectly good, but for a variety of reasons aren’t able to be sold at the big box and grocery stores. Rather than go to waste, the suppliers sell the stuff very cheaply to the discount stores, who sell it at amazing discounts. Last Friday Zach and I were there when the Target truck arrived and it was eye opening how much of the stuff that adorns the shelves at big box stores is discarded. They have huge boxes full of mixed items, clothes, shoes, toys, decor, etc. that are just dumped in together with no organization. We picked through and got some insane deals, but it bothered me to see how much excess there is in retail.
  3. Repurposing. Something really fun and waste reducing that we do at work is an activity we do with our seniors. We get the cast off jeans and shirts from the local thrift store. We cut the pockets out of the jeans, the buttons off of the shirt and cut the rest up into squares of fabric. It’s a good activity for the seniors to do while sitting and chatting, and the resulting product gets sold at the thrift store to crafters. The owners say they sells like hot cakes.

We’re all reducing, reusing, recycling every day.  Please share your ideas for reducing household waste so we can all improve!

Thrifty Thursday – Helping the Planet

Cottage_garden_at_Stop_Street_-_geograph.org.uk_-_895824
Image by Trish Steel and geograph.org.uk. Licensed through CC BY-SA 2.0

Thrift saves money, but it saves many resources, too. Reducing waste and maximizing use of resources can be a strong motivation in developing frugal daily habits. A few ways in which I consider our household reduces the national waste average are:

Reducing food waste: The planning begins when shopping – are the fresh ingredients in the cart enough but not too much for the coming week?  Once home, I cook most vegetables in advance – this saves weeknight time while cooking the vegetables at maximum freshness. When we do eat out, I plan ahead by taking a container and an ice pack.

Buying less new stuff: Manufacturing plants provide jobs, but they also use fossil fuels, water, and raw materials that have in some way been harvested from the planet. Shipping new items is also energy-intensive. Plenty of new items still enter our house, but I view any reduction as a positive.

Buying less packaging: Many new items are contained within single-use packaging. It seems silly that so many things are still sold in boxes or, worse, those hard plastic shells that must be cut open and discarded.

Reusing and upcycling: There is a challenge in finding new purposes for things that would otherwise be discarded. Old sweaters yield one-of-a-kind hats and mittens. Worn-out sheets and cardboard shipping boxes become weed barriers under mulch. Retail food packaging containers are often sturdier than purchased food storage containers. Before discarding, ask the question: What else could this be?

Escape the All or Nothing Trap

 

And_As_the_Door_Stood_Open
Goldilocks thoroughly explored the porridge options.

It seems silly, but when weighing choices I often have to remind myself to look for a central position. Why is that? So much that we experience and absorb every day falls into what I call the All or Nothing Trap.

I suspect that All or Nothing school activities are not unique to our area. Our experience is that the schedule of most activities prevents students from trying more things at an age when they should be exploring many interests – because in another 10 years, they will have graduated from college and will be following their chosen career paths. Experiencing different opportunities in their teens would facilitate that career choice by showing them what they enjoy as well as some of the choices that they can select. There are many career paths outside of the default, but many students never learn of them until they are deep into the major they have already selected. Statistics I’ve seen for 4-year college graduation rates, and even 6-year graduation rates, are quite low. I wonder how much this might change if more students chose a major that was a good fit, the first time.

All-consuming careers push many people into exploring voluntary simplicity or early retirement (or at least fantasizing about it). For over a decade, I worked in jobs that consumed all my energy and brainpower most days. The last position was so extreme that I felt like a shell of a person, even unable to unwind on weekends that seemed to revolve around preparing for the coming workweek. I often talk with people in whom I recognize that same career exhaustion; it is clearly sustainable for some. We weren’t ready for early retirement, but I also needed a new path. It is more difficult to get a position in a new career path than in a proven one, but it was worth the time and effort. I enjoy my current job very much – and I also enjoy being able to spend more time with my family and friends and pursue my hobbies.

Our society demonstrates the all-or-nothing trap in other areas, too. Politics, anyone? The enmity shown between the parties, and the lack of will to collaborate or cooperate even on topics that should be easy for everyone to support, is reprehensible. Or how about the topic of health and nutrition? There will always be some new diet or supplement with its devotees and detractors; this is evident in comparing today’s magazine articles and ads to those of the late 1800s.

It is a small thing, but just remembering that there might be an alternative to All or Nothing removes some pressure, opens a door, and invites creative thinking.

Toasty English Muffins for a Snowy Day

IMG_1621
Happy Cat on the laundry in the basket on the chair in the sunshine!

Travel for much of February has been inadvisable to impossible. When another snow-ice-snow sandwich was promised for Saturday, I decided that we would begin the day with a leisurely breakfast, and started dough for English muffins on Friday night.

I began with a recipe from my mom’s 1980 Fanny Farmer Cookbook, which, despite its cover declaration of complete revision, has a lot of recipes that appear to be from a bygone era.  I combined instructions from the Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book, and of course added some whole grain flour. Finally, I gave the dough an overnight refrigerator rise, making it much more convenient for breakfast as well as more flavorful.

I cut all breads like this into squares; it saves time and eliminates the need to re-roll dough.

IMG_1628English Muffins
1 c milk, scalded

½ c water
1 t salt
1 t sugar
1 T butter
¾ tsp yeast
1.5 c whole wheat flour
1.5 c unbleached flour

The night before you’d like an English muffin breakfast: Mix milk, water, salt, sugar, and butter, and cool to below 110F. Add the yeast and half the flour, and beat batter thoroughly. Beat in remaining flour; the mixture will be something between a thick batter and a soft dough. Cover loosely and let rise a couple of hours. Mix a little more, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, about 2 hours before you’d like to eat, remove the dough from the refrigerator. Stir it down and add more flour if needed to make it stick to itself more than your hands. On a well-floured surface, pat out the dough into a rectangle about ½ inch thick, and then cut with a dinner knife into approximately 3-inch squares. Place the squares on an oiled baking sheet and cover with a second baking sheet. Let rise 60-90 minutes, until increased in size at least 50%.

Heat a large stovetop or electric skillet to medium/300 degrees. Quickly, slide a thin, sturdy spatula under a muffin and add it to the skillet; fill the skillet with about ½ inch space between the muffins. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, then turn (reduce heat if muffins are browning too quickly). Repeat this until the muffins have cooked twice on each side for a total of 20 minutes.

Remove to a cooling rack and add the next batch of muffins to the skillet. With a fork, pierce along all edges of each muffin so that it will split easily. Split and toast.

Thrifty Thursday – The Grocery Budget

512px-Veggies
Photo by Liz West, cc-by-2.0.

I don’t always monitor all expenses, but I periodically track for a few months to see how close we’re adhering to our budget. Groceries are one area where there is some flexibility in the monthly budget, but with the numerous decisions made in a week’s shopping and cooking, it’s easy to exceed intended expenditures. After reviewing the past two months of spending, I found that our grocery spending is slightly less than half of the USDA thrifty food plan estimate for our family, even in the winter when we don’t have free garden produce. A year ago, before Mari became a vegetarian, we were exactly at the half-of-thrifty mark. I was so startled by this that I’ve checked it twice. I guess I should look elsewhere for places to save in our budget.  Every week I ask Thom and Mari if there’s anything they’d like in the coming week’s meals, and it’s usually the same things, with no unusual grocery purchases.

Our grocery routines appear to be working for us. They are
1. Buying in season and shopping the deals. I buy groceries primarily at Aldi and Costco, with periodic trips to Fresh Thyme, Trader Joe’s, the Asian markets, and the food coop, depending on what we need, averaging 2 stores/week.
2. Pantry and freezer. I never worry about running out of groceries in a snowstorm. And very rarely will I stop at a store to get one ingredient. Fewer trips generally result in less spending.
3. Near zero food waste. I freeze leftovers in meal-sized portions, and many of them become my workday lunches. I cook a lot of produce without seasoning so that it can be refrigerated or frozen until I’m ready to add it to other meals (and season then).
4. Cooking everything. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, every day. It is the routine now and it makes a meal out far more special than when Thom and I ate out most weekdays in our early years together. And it should be a special event, because a decent restaurant meal for 3 costs as much as a week’s groceries.
5. No soda or junk food. If we want dessert, we make it. Our usual snacks are fruit, popcorn, homemade bread, or homemade trail mix. I think that my great-grandmothers would recognize all the foods in my pantry, aside from the large array of spices for foods of the world.  (Except the broccoli.  My dad tells me that he never saw broccoli when he was a kid.)