You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2011.

Today is the last day of my trash-free year experiment.  Here are some final totals…

Compost

A year's worth of completed compost

A year's worth of completed compost

In one year, as a result of throwing all my food waste (including uneaten food from work and meals at restaurants), and unrecyclable paper waste that I purchased (such as paper board boxes and egg cartons), I needed two garbage can compost containers.  I started with one, but when that filled up, I left it to “cook” and started a new bin.  After 366 days, I made enough compost to fill six medium-sized dog food bags and one styrofoam cooler,…

One full trash can of compost to cook

One full trash can of compost to cook

…filled a another trash can full of compost that is presently “cooking,” and started a new compost pile in my original can.  One of the biggest lessons I learned this year is that composting is extremely easy!  If you have a little patience and trust that the materials will break down, in four to six months you will have beautiful plant food.

Cost

Reciepts for the year

Food receipts for the year

I kept my receipts this year to see if I saved or spent more money on food as a result of trying to live a trash-free year.  The plan was to save every receipt, but I may have missed a few.  According to what I did save, this year I spent a total of $3,695 on food.  This averages out to around $70 per week.  Prior to this year, I spent between $40 and $100 per week on food, so it doesn’t seem like it cost any more to be a trash-free eater.

Trash

A year's worth of trash

A year's worth of trash

After one year, I ended up with a one-gallon Ziplock bag full of items that I could not put in my compost bin or recycle.

A year's worth of trash

A year's worth of trash

This bag weighs…

Grand total

Grand total

…around 3/4 lbs.

Trash Break Down

Trash breakdown for 2011

Trash breakdown

Medical and dental waste made up the bulk of my trash this year – primarily packaging for disposable contacts, birth control pills, and medicine.  Miscellaneous plastic came in second with food and drink trash not far behind.  The plan is still to turn this trash pile into a mosaic.  I will hopefully have something to share within the first few weeks of the new year.

Floss that lasted me 51 weeks

Floss that lasted me 51 weeks

I still have the dental floss roll.  I don’t consider it trash, because I am saving it to use as emergency string or for art projects.  The most amazing thing about the floss I bought, is that one package lasted me 51 weeks – almost an entire year!  And I am a regular flosser!  Even if people are not interested in being trash-free – this floss is worth purchasing because it is a huge bargain considering how much is in one package.

Next steps
People keep asking me, “So, what are you doing to do when the year is over?”  I learned this year that living a trash-free lifestyle, or as close to it as possible, is about being mindful of consumer choices and their resulting impacts on the earth.  I also learned that it isn’t really that difficult to be mindful, once you get some routines and habits changed.  I can’t see myself taking steps backwards.  If anything, this is just the beginning.  And I have a lot of people out there who have the same vision of a sustainable, trash-free world.  Check out their links because they have done amazing work and have very cool blogs:

Happy New Year! Here’s to many more trash-free years ahead!

Since my trash-free year is coming to a close, I spent last week tying up some trashy loose ends.

Cheese Wheel Wax Candles
Answering my call for trash-free cheese, this past March my sister sent me a cheese wheel and cheese brick for my birthday.  After eating the very delicious aged milk product, I wondered what to do with the wax it came in.  Although some websites claim that cheese wheel wax can be composted, I thought it would be more fun and resourceful to see if I could make candles out it.  So, I threw the wax in a couple of Ziplock bags and tossed them to the side for a trash-free project down the road.  After a little searching last week, I found one bag of wax in the corner of our refrigerator produce drawer and another bag in our cupboard.  My sister happened to be in town, so together we followed an instructional website for Cheese Wax Tea Lights and, mostly with ease, created candles from what remained from her birthday present to me.

Materials for cheese wax tea lights

I acquired a handful of expired tea light containers from my best friend on a recent visit to the mainland so the only material I had to purchase for this project was the cotton string.  Before melting the wax, my sister and I prepared these tea light containers and wicks by removing the wick holder, reopening the hole for the wick with a pliers, inserting a two-inch piece of cotton string through the hole and re-clamping the hole with the pliers.

Preparing the wick and candle container

Preparing the wick and tea light container

We then put the green wax in a plastic ziplock bag and set it in boiling water to melt.  Once it was melted, we poured it into the tea light containers.

Melting wax in bag

Melting the wax

pouring the wax

Pouring the wax

To create a wick we dipped the cotton string three times into the melted wax.  The wicks cooled quickly and we placed them into the soft candle wax before it cooled.

Dipping wick three times

Dipping wick three times

In the end we made six new candles, however, because the black wax was more difficult to work with, only four candles were worthy of a photograph.

Four photogenic cheese wax candles

Four photogenic cheese wax candles

Cheese wheel wax reborn

Cheese wheel wax reborn

I would not recommend melting the wax in a plastic bag.  We lost a lot of the black wax because the plastic bag itself melted and leaked the wax into the water.  Other options would be to either melt the wax in a tin can or float the tea lights containers on the water and melt the wax directly into them.

Dryer Lint Clay
Every week when I do laundry I feel guilty piling more and more dryer lint into our already over-flowing container dedicated to collecting the fuzzy left-overs.  In my Week 30 : Reuse to Reduce post, I mentioned a couple of ideas I found for dealing with dryer lint – fire kindling and offering it to birds for their nests.  Dryer lint does work well to start a fire, but unfortunately, my boyfriend and I don’t go camping enough to keep up with all the lint we produce.  In the blog post I also shared my unsuccessful attempts of  passing off my dryer lint trash burden to the local bird population.  Despite these set backs, I think I may have found a solution to reducing my dryer lint footprint – dryer lint pottery!

The basic dryer lint clay recipe calls for few ingredients – lint, water, flour and wintergreen oil.  Since I had lemon oil I used it in place of the wintergreen oil, which I do not own.  (This may have been a mistake, because my final pieces do not smell very pretty).

Lint clay ingredients

Lint clay ingredients

The first step is to add the water to the lint in a pot, completely saturating it.  Then you slowly add flour, mixing it into the lint.  As you can imagine, lint is not easy to mix.  When I made a second batch of clay, I tore up the lint into small pieces before mixing it with the water and flour.  This made mixing a lot easier.

Add water to the lint

Add water to the lint

Add flour to lint

Add flour to lint

After adding the few drops of oil, you need to spend a long time stirring the mixture under low heat until it all “combines.”  When the flour and water and lint finally combine, the mixture will feel slightly slimy, soft and it will lose its clumpy shape.

Mixing lint clay

Mixing lint clay

Spread out to dry

Spread clay out to cool

Wet dryer lint clay

Wet dryer lint clay

Since the lint mixture is extremely hot, the directions suggest laying it out on newspaper or parchment paper to cool before using.  Once it is cool to the touch, you can take the clay and create various shapes using molds.  I tried a variety of mold sizes and materials.

Lint pottery ready to dry

Lint pottery ready to dry

The directions say that it takes between three to five days for the clay to dry, which was just about accurate.  As I eluded to earlier, the pieces began to smell a little sour.  Once completely dry, the lint clay lost most of this scent.

Out of the entire batch, two pieces dried and came off their molds easily.  I used a plastic Tupperware as a mold for the bowl and a mini-plastic wine bottle mold for the vase-looking piece.

Lint clay pottery successes

Lint clay pottery successes

Lint pottery bowl close-up

Lint pottery bowl close-up

Two pieces did not easily come off their molds.  One mold was a Nancy’s yogurt container and the other a cardboard box.

Nancy's yogurt container is not a good mold for lint clay

A Nancy's yogurt container is not a good mold for lint clay

cardboard box mold

Neither is a cardboard box

And one piece actually grew mold!   That one may end up in my compost.

Lint clay peice with mold

Lint clay pottery growing mold

I used six cups of dryer lint for this project, cutting my total lint accumulated thus far in half.  Despite the few failed pieces, I plan to make more dryer lint pottery in the future – with the inclusion of the magical Wintergreen oil.

Toms Toothpaste Tubes
Toothpaste has been one of the most difficult things to continue to use without creating trash.  Since I had stocked up on toothpaste at COSTCO prior to the start of my trash-free year I will not end up with many toothpaste tubes in my trash bag at the end of the year.  I did, however, want to follow-up on a Tom’s aluminum toothpaste tube I mentioned in my Week 6: Pondering Packaging post.  Since the tube is aluminium I wondered if it would be accepted at a recycling facility like aluminum cans and foil.

Time to recycle Toms toothpast tube

Time to recycle Toms toothpaste tube

To prepare it for recycling, removed the one plastic part of the toothpaste tube using a pair of pliers.

Preparing Tom's aluminum tube for recycling

Preparing Tom's aluminum tube for recycling

I then unfolded the aluminum which easily opened up and washed out the remaining toothpaste.

Rinsing out the tube

Rinsing out the tube

I dropped the empty toothpaste tube onto the top of my bag of aluminum foil and took it to the recycling center.  The recycling center staff took the tube with no questions asked.  Success!  Of course, this is a moot point for the longterm since Tom’s of Maine has stopped using aluminum toothpaste tubes.  It is a reminder, however, that sometimes more things than we may think can be accepted for recycling.

Christmas
Americans are 25% more wasteful during the time period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  As a result, 1 million extra tons of trash is produced per week.  I found that if you are mindful of packaging and gift wrap, however, you can reduce that extra waste to zero.

The Trash-Free Tree

The first trash-free challenge was the Christmas tree.  We bought our tree from Helemano Farms in Wahiawa last year.  It is the only place on Oahu where you can get a freshly cut tree that hasn’t been shipped in from thousands of miles away – and the netting they use to bail your tree is biodegradable. We went back this year to get another one, however, after we picked our tree and it was sent through the baler, I noticed that the netting was not biodegradable this year – it was made out of plastic.

Taking home the Christmas tree

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Plastic Christmas tree netting

I did not throw the netting away or put it into my trash bag.  Instead I set it aside for a future art or garden project.  I am hoping to use my compost and try my hand at growing some vegetables in the New Year and the netting could be used as a trellise for peas or other climbing veggies.  I also thought it might make good stuffing for a chair pillow.  If anyone has other ideas of how I could reuse Christmas tree netting I would love to hear about them!

Another trash-free challenge arose when we started decorating the tree.  The Christmas lights I borrowed from my parent’s stash finally died.  We spent an hour trying to find the magic bulb that, if replaced, would bring the string back to life – but failed.  We drove to Longs and bought boxes of new lights which luckily came with minimal packaging that we can use again to store the lights after the holidays.  After the new, healthy lights were on the tree, a big question remained – what do I do with the old lights?

Dead Christmas lights

Technically, since I already had the lights prior to the start of my trash-free year experiment, I could have just thrown them in the trash.  This was definitely the easiest option.  Letting all the bulbs, wires and plastic go to waste, however, did not make any sense.  After looking around on the web, I discovered a few recycling options.  Home Depot has a Christmas Tree Light Recycling Drive each year.  Unfortunately for my situation the drive happened weeks earlier in November.  I also found two programs on the mainland that also take broken Christmas lights:  HolidayLEDs and the Christmas Light Source.  To minimize my carbon footprint I will hold on to the lights for one more year and look for the Home Depot tree light recycling campaign in 2012.

Trash-Free Gifts
This year I turned some of my would-be-trash into the following Christmas gift “treasures” and reusable wrapping:

  •  With the help of a drill, some glue, marine debris, and old (washed) dental floss, I turned Knudsen juice jar caps into gift tag/ornaments.
Juice cap gift tag/ornament

Juice cap gift tag/ornament

  • I decorated some of the empty juice jars with old fabric and filled them with homemade granola and other treats.  I made the gift tags out of a Starbucks gift bag I received at a party.
Decorated Knudsens Juice Jar

Decorated Knudsen juice jar with homemade granola

  • I also decorated the lids of old spaghetti jars and filled them with homemade granola or popcorn.  I found directions for these decorative lids on a Martha Stewart webpage.
Gift jars with decorative lids

Gift jars with decorative lids

How To Make Fabric Lids:
Materials:
– fabric or paper
– scissors
– a round object to draw a circle sightly larger than the lid (so that it will adhere to the outside and inside of the cap lip)
– glue

Materials to make a decorative lid

Materials to make a decorative lid

First cut out your fabric circle and spread glue on the entire outside of the jar lid.  Place the lid in the center of the fabric circle.  Martha’s directions call for using spray adhesive to do this, but a thin layer of Tacky Glue worked great.  Once the lid is glued into place, snip a slit every inch around the fabric.

Spread glue on the remaining fabric

Spread glue on the remaining fabric

Spread a thin layer of glue on the outside edge of the circle so it will adhere to the inside of the jar lid.

Fold fabric onto lid

Fold fabric onto lid

Take a fabric slice and press it to the outside of the lid.

Secure the fabric to the inside of the lid

Secure the fabric to the inside of the lid

Fold the slice over the lip and attach it to the inside of the lid.

Continue to fold fabric slices over the lid

Continue to fold fabric slices over the lid

Repeat this with the other fabric slices.  The slices will layer nicely over each other.

Completed decorative jar lid

Completed decorative jar lid

After the jar lid is completely dry you can put it on your jar to use at home or give away as a trash-free gift.

Trash-Free, Reusable Gift Wrap
Rather than wrapping gifts in newspaper and old magazines as I have done in previous years, I decided to try my hand at making reusable cloth gift bags.  I don’t have much sewing experience but I discovered that there is a way to make cloth drawstring bags with minimal sewing skills by using old t-shirts.

Gift bags made out of old t-shirts

T-shirt gift bags

I got the idea for the t-shirt gift bags from a video of Ame Guzman, who sits at a farmers market booth in Alameda California and makes grocery bags out of t-shirts as a part of the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association Zero Waste Project.  Her video has great step-by-step instructions for making the t-shirt bags.  It inspired me to sift through my old t-shirts that I never wear and make a few of my own bags.  The left-over t-shirt pieces can be made into great gift bags.

Gift bag made out of bottom half of t-shirt

Gift bag made out of bottom half of t-shirt

I made two larger gift bags out of the bottom half of a  t-shirt (only one bag is show in the picture above).  It was extremely easy!

T-shirt bag inside-out

T-shirt bag inside-out

After I cut the shirt, I folded it inside out and sewed along the open part of the material with my sewing machine.

T-shirt bag drawstring

T-shirt bag drawstring

Then I used a safety-pin to thread a fabric ribbon through the t-shirt hem that was already there.  I turned the resulting pouch right side out and had a simple, yet attractive, reusable cloth gift bag!

T-shirt sleeve gift bag

T-shirt sleeve gift bag

I made a smaller bag from the left-over sleeve of a t-shirt that I had already turned into a cloth bag.

T-shirt sleeve bag inside out

T-shirt sleeve bag inside out

I sewed  the open part of the material and cut open the sleeve hem for the drawstring.

Completed t-shirt sleeve gift bag

Completed t-shirt sleeve gift bag

The bag didn’t close completely, but the dark material made it difficult to see anything inside.  Next year I hope to sew or glue on simple Christmas shapes, like trees and stars, to make the bags a little more festive.

Making the cloth bags did take more time than using wrapping paper, but it was a really fun and fulfilling project.  My hope is that each bag will take on a life and journey of its own as they are reused and passed on to others.

Basket of trash-free gifts and gift wrapping

Basket of trash-free gifts and gift wrapping

Halloween
Although Halloween isn’t really a holiday, it always feels like it is the kick-off to the holiday season, so I am including it in this post.

I made a couple of trash-free breakthroughs this past Halloween.  After fretting for a couple of weeks about what to do about the whole Halloween giving-away-candy thing, my best friend passed on a great idea to me – give away pencils!  It was the perfect trash-free solution!  If you use a pencil up completely, until the last bit of lead almost touches the eraser, the left-over trash is minimal.  Individual pencils aren’t packaged in trash like traditional Halloween sweet treats.  And – everyone can use a pencil.

Despite their utilitarian value, giving out #2 pencils seemed a bit boring.  In the hunt for more exotic pencils, I came across pencils made with recycled newspaper and even old blue jeans.  The pencil that I knew would be the winner, however, was the one made out old money.

Pencils made out of recycled money

Pencils made out of recycled money

I bought the pencils made out of recycled U.S. currency from the GreenLine Paper Company.  GreenLine has won environmental awards for their dedication to the sale of quality, environmentally friendly products.  An added bonus, the pencils came in a recycled, and recyclable, paper package with no unnecessary, non-recyclable filler.  Besides being a great trash-free purchase, the kids loved the pencils!  One trick-or-treater even commented that he might be able to get extra credit in school  for using the pencil.

Trash-free halloween treat

Trash-free Halloween treat

Once October 31st had past, I needed to figure out what to do with our Jack-o-lanterns.

Jack-o-lanterns awaiting their next life

Jack-o-lanterns awaiting their next life

After sitting in our refrigerator for a few days, I decided to give these fellas a more exciting fate than the compost bin.  I chopped them up and put them in the freezer with plans to turn them into a tasty dish later in the year.  If anyone has any favorite recipes that call for fresh/uncanned pumpkin, I would love to hear about them!

Frozen Jack

Frozen Jacks

Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving can be a fairly easy trash-free holiday, since there is great tradition in homemade cooking with fresh ingredients.  I hosted a potluck-style Thanksgiving dinner this year at my house for family and friends.  My boyfriend and I provided the salad, turkey, cranberry sauce, and gravy.   Due to my trash-free pledge, Adam bought our plastic-wrapped turkey, and I purchased the rest of the ingredients.  For future Thanksgivings I would like to look into finding packaging-free turkey options.  If anyone knows about locations on Oahu that sell unpackaged turkeys, or turkeys in biodegradable packaging, I would love to know about them!

We served canned cranberry sauce since making it from scratch would require purchasing cranberries in plastic packaging.  We supplemented our homemade gravy with canned gravy to avoid the powder mix which comes in non-recyclable, non-compostable packaging.  I bought most of our salad ingredients as I always do – free of produce bags.  Rather than using Manoa lettuce, I splurged for pre-packaged local Deans Greens and put the plastic bags aside for recycling.

Rather than doing a traditional turkey, we decided to get it cooked “kalua” style in an imu, or underground oven.  A community program close to where live, the Key Project, cooks kalua turkeys as a fundraiser each year.  Its a BYOB (Bring Your Own Bird) arrangement.  You bring the bird and, for a small donation, they cook it in an enormous imu.  There is a trash risk, however –  you have to wrap the turkey in A LOT of foil.

Foiling the thanksgiving turkey

Foil-ing the Thanksgiving turkey

Foil is not something that is included with the City’s mixed recyclable pick-up.  Luckily, there are places on Oahu that will recycle foil and pay you for it.  I plan to take my bag of cleaned, post-Thanksgiving turkey foil to Reynolds Recycling.

Turkey foil waiting to be recycled

Turkey foil waiting to be recycled

The finishing touch for our trash-free Thankgiving dinner, was using cloth napkins in place of paper towels and paper napkins.

Trash Free Table Setting

Trash Free Table Setting

I learned over the year to keep a basket of cloth napkins out to make them easily accessible for day-to-day usage.

Basket of cloth napkins

Basket of cloth napkins

After the meal was done and all the meat was pulled off the turkey, I used the remaining carcass to make turkey soup and threw the clean bones into the freezer for future re-use and recycling.

Turkey Parts for Reuse and Recycling

Turkey Parts for Reuse and Recycling

According to the website, Traditional Foods, the bones can be re-used a few times to make soup broth and added to dishes like beans and rice, for flavor.  Once I have squeezed the juices out of them,  I will throw them into my compost bin.  I also froze the smaller pieces of turkey for taco filling, and a bag of scraps for my dog.

“Recycling Revelation” update
In my last post, “Recycling Revelation,” I wrote about finding new places to recycle more kinds of plastic, specifically #2 and #4 plastic bags.  Stuart Coleman, the Hawaii Coordinator for Surfrider Foundation, mentioned in an email to me that this information was a bit misleading.   He explained, “The plastics industry wants to say the solution to plastic pollution is recycling, yet less than 9% (some say 5%) of all plastic bags are ever recycled.  Commercial recyclers actually hate plastic bags because they foul up their machines and say the bags themselves just aren’t worth recycling.”  He also mentioned that the website I provided, www.plasticbagrecycling.org, is actually funded by the plastics industry and that they “often distort the truth to spread propaganda about their products and resist even the most common sense measures to reduce plastic pollution.”

Stuart also provided me a link to an interesting article he wrote for the Honolulu Weekly called “Plastic Fantastic Love.”  One important point that the article makes it that although recycling plastic bags seems like a good solution,  according to Stiv Wilson, a journalist and ocean activist who worked with the Surfrider Foundation to help pass bag bans in the Pacific Northwest, in actuality, “It takes 70 percent virgin plastic to create a new bag.”  Stiv explains futher that “all we’re doing by plastic recycling is creating more, not less plastic in the world, while giving the average, good intentioned citizen the illusion of progress.”

Wow.  I guess it is back to homemade tortillas.

Surfrider, along with a host of other organizations, are working on getting the Bag Bill, SB 1368, passed in 2012.  If SB 1368 becomes law, it will reduce plastic pollution statewide.  This is an important step in moving towards a trash-free or zero-waste culture in the islands.  Contact Surfrider Foundation to learn how you can help with the Rise Above Plastics campaign and get this bill passed.