I got a little stressed out this week when we ran out of cooking oil.  I was excited at first because I thought that it would be the perfect chance to try and make my own vegetable oil.  Yes, I can recycle the containers that vegetable oil comes in, however, the plastic caps usually have to go in the trash. The goal of this year is to be trash-free so my first instinct when I run out of something that comes in a disposable container is to either find the same thing in bulk or make my own to replace it.  Thus far, I have not found vegetable oil in bulk.  And although recipes for making sunflower oil in particular exist on the web, there were enough comments about how difficult it is to make and how perishable home-made oil is that I decided to let that dream go.  If I want to grill vegetables, make salad dressing or bake I will have to create trash.  Of course, butter is another option, but I have yet to find butter not sold in those waxy boxes that can’t be recycled or composted.

Although I knew being trash-free this year would have its challenges, I also need to keep things in perspective regarding the time and effort I can dedicate to it (the fact that I do have a full time job and am in graduate school part-time).  I need to do what I can to make being trash-free as easy as possible. Nothing is good about being trash-free and stressed-out.

I actually got a couple belated birthday gifts this week that has helped make my trash- free experiment a little easier.  Grocery shopping for produce is now easier (especially for the check-out people) now that I have my new ChicoBag produce bags.

Chicobag produce bags

The ChicoBag produce bag holder

Inside the apple

Three produce bags come inside the apple (one is rolled up in the photo)

Although I have no problem throwing produce “naked,” free of a plastic bag, into my grocery cart, these little bags do make things a bit cleaner and more efficient. Another option, which I hope to try if I have some free time, is making my own produce and bulk food bags.  A woman and her family have made headlines recently with their Zero-Waste Home.  They are pretty inspirational.  I checked out their blog and found a great suggestion of making produce and bulk food bags out of old pillow cases and laundry bags.

This week I also received my very first cheese wheel along with an understanding of the excess packaging that is included when one requests a cheese wheel be sent to Hawaii.  My sister sent me one as a gift.  I looked all over my town for a cheese wheel that wasn’t also wrapped in plastic (which sort of defeats the point) and couldn’t find one.  The wheel she sent me came from Vermont.  The cheese is delicious, although all the packaging it came in taught me that for now, sliced cheese at the deli may be my best bet for trash-free cheese.  Another option, which was offered as a suggestion through a comment to this blog, may be to ask a store like Whole Foods if I could order a wheel directly through their store.  I have yet to try this, but will look into it the next time I am at Whole Foods.

Cheese wheel

Cheese wheel and lots of packaging

Finally, my compost trash can seems to be growing things which means I need to change something.  When I first saw the little sprout coming out of the bin I thought it was pretty cute.  However, after doing a little research I found out that a successful compost bin is hot enough to prevent seeds from sprouting.

compost bin

Although cute, this little sprout is telling me that my pile isn't hot enough

I need to add more nitrogen like grass clipping, or some kind of manure, to heat up my bin.   By chance this week I looked into picking up coffee grounds from Starbucks because I had heard somewhere that coffee grounds are good for compost and Starbucks has a policy of saving their grounds for anyone who wants them. Little did I know that coffee grounds are GREAT for compost and actually do a tremendous job of heating up the pile.  No need to spend time searching for more grass clippings or buying manure from the store – the simple answer lies just down the road from me.

coffee grinds

Coffee grounds from Starbucks

Coffee grounds are apparently fabulous fertilizer as well.  I put some around my plants today to see how it works.  If anyone has experience using coffee grounds in their compost and gardens I would love to hear about it!

Compost worms also love coffee grounds which is great news, because I have officially found composting worms in my trash can composter.   They must have jumped in from the holes in the bottom.  I was squeezing some of the material in the bin to check for moisture and saw a little composting worm tucked away when I opened my hand.  A few worms actually fell out when I rolled the bin, which tells me that I must have a decent population.  I can’t wait to see how many more worms join the party with the new addition of coffee grounds.

Hurray for worms in my trash can composter!

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