Although I still have things to learn, I have come to a point in my trash-free journey that the day-to-day, trash-free lifestyle has become somewhat routine.  Rushing out the door to go to work I grab a cloth napkin for my lunch and put one in my pocket. Hanging on my purse is a Chico bag for unexpected purchases and my bamboo cutlery for unexpected meals out. In my car I have my collapsible bowl, produce and bulk food bags, and reusable grocery bags.  I have learned that my local grocery stores will let me purchase cut meat and cheese in my own containers and where I can purchase bulk grains and snacks.  Once you become willing to give up – or find a substitute –  for those favorite packaged items and get a routine down to prepare yourself for encountering unexpected trash through out the day, living trash-free (or pretty close to it) is really not that difficult.  But an experience this week made me wonder – is all this effort to try and live with out creating trash really worth it?

Yesterday I went on something called the “Tour de Trash.”  Sponsored by the City and County of Honolulu, the free, air-conditioned bus tour visits the island’s only landfill, the waste-to-energy plant (called H-Power), a mulch and compost facility, and one of the local recycling facilities.  I signed up soon after I started my trash-free experiment particularly interested in understanding more about how my local government is using our trash to create energy, a concept that seems to debunk my theory that we should be reducing our trash.

First stop was the Waimanalo Gulch landfill.  Although it looks like a construction project for a new development, under all the dirt and grass is 800 feet of trash.

Waimanalo Gulch landfill

According to what we were told on the tour, my island generates 1.75 million tons of trash each year, between 600 and 800 tons per day.  1/3 is reclaimed through recycling, 1/3 gets burned at the waste-to-energy plant (and buried as ash in the landfill), and the remaining gets dumped directly into the landfill.  “We consider trash to be a resource” the tour guide told us, “the landfill is the last resort.”

Trash a resource?  Yep.  After doing a little research after the tour, I found out that trash is actually considered a renewable resource according to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, just like wind and the sun.  The methane gas produced by the trash that decomposes in landfills is considered one form of renewable energy derived from trash and governments receive tax credits when they harness it.  We were told that a method for capturing and distributing this energy coming out of the Waimanalo gulch is in development.

And the other renewable energy derived from trash?  That is where H-Power comes in. Every piece of trash that gets put into a trash can on the island of Oahu, other than medical waste, eventually ends up at the H-Power facility where it is first collected, then sorted for recyclable metals, then finally burned primarily to reduce its volume – only 10 % is left as ash which goes into the landfill.  The process also creates some energy in the form of electricity.

All our everyday trash is collected from all over the island and brought to H-Power

The trash is dumped in this room and prepared for sorting

Trash is sorted for valuable metals and items that can't be put in the incinerator

Sorted trash travels via conveyor belts to the boiler room to get burned, converted into steam, and finally turned into energy

Some of the energy derived from the trash runs the H-Power facility and the rest is sold to Hawaiian Electric to supply 7% of the island’s electricity.  The left over ash is buried at the landfill.  According to H-Power, any significant contaminants are scrubbed out of the air before the air is released into the atmosphere.  And the CO2? When I asked our tour guide what the carbon output of the incinerator was, he said he didn’t know.

Although trash is indeed valued for the energy it produces and the money it brings in, there are on going efforts on the island to recycle materials as well.  We visited the location where green waste is deposited and turned into mulch and compost.

All green waste is taken to Hawaiian Earth Products and turned into mulch and compost

We also stopped by RRR Recycling Service that manages all the recycling for the city and county, and watched as they separated and bailed #1 and #2 plastics.  These high-grade plastics are worth a lot of money, so they are shipped overseas to be sold. The other plastics? Those go to H-Power and get burned.  The folks there are more than happy to receive them because the plastic, made out of petroleum, gives off a lot of energy when burned.

Plastic bottles are bailed and sent overseas

Much of the glass that is recycled is shipped overseas as well to be sold, but some of it is used in road construction on the island.  Another use is also being explored – landscaping.

Ground recycled glass can be used as landscaping

Example landscaping in front of recycling facility

The Waimanalo Gulch landfill has about 15-20 years left, we were told on the tour. H-power will continue to help reduce the amount going into the landfill, as will recycling efforts. But what about just reducing our trash to begin with?  This was something that was not covered on the tour other than the finger being pointed at consumerism as being the root of our trash problem.

I understand that on an island having an independent energy source is important. But trash, despite what the books say, is not a renewable resource.  Perhaps some of it could be considered to come from renewable resources, like the paper products, but what about the plastics that get left in because they are not worth enough money to be sold?  Plastic is made from petroleum.  Oil is not renewable.  Or is trash considered a renewable resource because – gasp – there is the belief that we will never run out of it?

I applaud how far the City and County of Honolulu has come in terms of dealing with trash on this island thus far.  We never had any recycling outside of aluminum cans when I was growing up, and definitely no green waste pick-up.  The fact that we can use trash to create energy while reducing its size, is also positive.  Regarding trash as a resource, however, is not a good message to be sending out to the residents of Hawaii. Trash is not a resource – it is a by-product of our lifestyle, a lifestyle that is not sustainable with the earth.  If it was, we wouldn’t have to spend so much energy trying to figure out what to do with it.

And the trash-free experiment continues.

It has been over three months since I have started this experiment, so it is about time for another trash update.  Below are photos from my last trash update and my current trash.

trash in bag

Week 7 trash in bag and floss roll

trash week 15

Week 15 trash in bag and floss roll

trash break down

Week 15 trash break-down

Since my last trash update, I gained a few more straws from unprepared restaurant drink orders.  I am getting better about saying “no straw, please,” but sometimes I forget.  Personally, I think that the straw should be an added bonus that the waitstaff asks you if you would like or not.  “Would you like crushed ground pepper and a straw with that?”

My “food / drink” trash increased partly due to my purchase of TAZO tea bags.  I thought I was making a trash-free choice by purchasing a box of this brand of tea.  It was the only box of tea bags in the store that was not also wrapped in plastic. However, trash-free it is not.  Although I can throw the paperboard container and tea bags into my trash can compost bin, the tea bags are individually wrapped with paper that has a thin, plastic lining – which is not compostable.  Once this material is damp, the plastic is easy to separate from the paper, but I am still left with trash. Time to switch to loose-leaf tea.

My “medical/dental” trash has also increased.  It seems difficult to get around trash if you wear contacts or take any sort of medicine.  I am hopeful that I will find a place that can at least recycle the plastic bubbles from my disposable contacts and the caps from the contact solution.  The non-profit, BEACH (Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii) has set up plastic cap recycling at local Salvation Army sites around the island of Oahu.  (I neglected to remember this in my last post when I bemoaned the fact that couldn’t purchase cooking oil without creating trash from the plastic caps).  I will look into whether or not they will include these items, too.

Trash-free surprises
These great cloth “Snack Saks” were sent to me as a “surprise trash-free gift” last week by an old friend of mine who happens to have an incredible Etsy site dedicated to green items: LiveGreenGiveGreen.  I absolutely love these bags that are lined with nylon fabric and can easily be wiped or cleaned in the wash.

Snack packs

Snack Saks by "Live Green Give Green"

I have also been pleasantly surprised recently at how many food vendors will work with my trash-free requests.  Saint-Germain’s bakery at Ala Moana shopping center (by Foodland) has freshly baked bread behind the counter not wrapped in plastic. They have no problem putting their bread into my cloth bags.  Safeway Kailua let me use my own container to take home turkey sandwich meat and the Foodland in Haleiwa put an entire sandwich into one of my containers.  The folks at Ninja Sushi by the Ko`olau Theaters in Kaneohe even gave my boyfriend and I sushi rolls to-go with no packaging at all.  The chef came out just handed us our mini-california rolls!  This was perfect since we wanted to eat them immediately as a snack before heading over to a movie.  (I so wish I had my camera to capture that trash-free moment)

The “I Love Kailua” festival also offered me a couple trash-free surprises. The Buzz’s Steak House booth had no problem serving me up their yummy chicken stir-fry in my own collapsible bowl.

Collapsible bowl

Collapsible bowl perfect for using at street fairs

food in collapsible bowl

Buzz's chicken stir-fry, trash-free take-out

And Na’Ono filled my water bottle up no questions asked with their refreshing pineapple tea.

Na`Ono tea
Na`Ono tea to-go is ono and trash-free

As always I love to hear from folks about their trash-free experiences and ideas. Here’s to a Trash-Free Earth Week!

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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A couple weeks ago my boyfriend mentioned that we were running low on our store bought dish soap we purchased last year.  This is the exact type of opportunity I wait for to seek out trash-free alternatives to our past traditional packaging-laden purchases.  I searched online for home-made recipes for liquid dish soap and the answer seemed to always come down to Castille liquid soap or soap flakes.  In fact, some sites claimed that you could make liquid soap from any bar soap.

Down to Earth does sell Dr. Bronner’s liquid Castille soap, but I was curious to see how easy it would be to make liquid soap from bar soap.  So, I bought a bar of Castille soap instead (which comes in paper packaging that can be put in my compost bin) and we grated half of it and soaked it in water overnight.  We put the resulting slimy mixture into the former dish soap container and put it on trial.   After two-weeks, however, the trash-free liquid soap wasn’t cutting it, particularly because it wasn’t cutting through grease.

Liquid soap into container

Why did this home-made liquid soap not work?

Determined not to be forced to buy another plastic bottle of dish soap from the store, I searched for recipes again.  This time I found out that  for grease-cutting soap, you need to add vinegar or lemon juice.  Also, the soap shavings should be heated on a stove with water.  Rather than making a large batch of soap that might ultimately fail, I did a mini experiment first to see how well this new recipe of melted shavings and lemon juice actually worked.  I compared its ability to cut through a dabble of olive oil with some hand soap we still have.

Testing soap

Does the home-made soap (left) cut the grease?

As seen in the photo above, the new soap mix works!  The hand soap mixture (on the right) seems more effective, but probably because it is more concentrated than the home-made mixture.  This will definitely be an ongoing soapy process of trial and error, but this is the grease cutting dish soap recipe I found from http://www.ehow.com that I used if you would like to give it a try.  If you use or hear of a more effective recipe, please send it along!

ingredients for home-made liquid soap

Ingredients for home-made liquid soap

Soap Flakes Method

  • Place 1/4 cup of soap flakes or soap shavings and 2 cups of water into a sturdy sauce pan. Place the pan on medium heat.
  • Stir the soap constantly with a wooden spoon until it melts into the water. Avoid allowing the soap and water mixture to come to a boil.
  • Add 1 tsp. of lemon juice or white vinegar to the soap once it has cooled. Pour the solution into a soap bottle.

Another challenge that arose last weekend was my annual birthday camp-out at the beach.  Of course, I insisted that we do it trash-free and for the most part, it wasn’t really that difficult. Bulk food is easy to come by, cloth napkins and utensils are easy to pack, and we were car camping, so weight wasn’t a limiting factor.  The challenge?  Keeping the cooler cool.  I reached out for ideas from friends before we left.  How can we camp for three nights without having to go out and buy a bag of ice for the cooler?  Of course, there was the option of not bringing perishables and drinking warm beer after day 1.5.  Rather than going that extreme, we decided to another option that someone suggested (thanks Krista!) – dry ice.

I filled two empty milk gallon containers with water and put them in the freezer the night before.  One frozen container went in the food cooler with 2 lbs of dry ice, and the other frozen container went in the “ice cooler” with 8 lbs of dry ice.

food cooler

Food cooler with milk gallon ice block

cooler with dry ice

Ice cooler with replacement ice and dry ice (under newspaper)

Ironically, the dry ice came in plastic bags – the main thing I was trying to avoid by going through this whole process.  Unlike the plastic bag used to hold ice, however, the dry ice bags were small, rectangular and re-useable so I put them with my camping gear.

The ice cooler worked great at first!  We had a new, frozen block of ice to use when the other milk container started to melt the second day.  Unfortunately, all the dry ice didn’t last past the second night, so the ice cooler was somewhat ineffective in refreezing the melting gallon ice container. The ice in the milk gallon containers also took up a lot of space in the food cooler.  And the dry ice was considerably more expensive than buying a bag of ice.  So, the ice cooler idea wasn’t a complete success.  We will try again next time and have already thought about how to make a custom cooler that is more effective.  If you have any ideas of how to keep a cooler cool for a few days, I would love to hear about them!

Cheese update:
We wanted to bring cheese for the camp out, so I went to my local Safeway deli to see if they would  let me use my own container to purchase some of their sliced cheese. The checker was hesitant at first, but he gave in after I told him that I bought meat from Whole Foods using my own container.  Cheese success #1!

Cheese

Bringin' home the cheese in my own container

Although the goal of this experiment is to be “trash-free” – after two months, I do have a small bag of trash.

 

Bag o' trash and floss roll

The number if items hasn’t increased too much since the last trash update, but I do have a lot more plastic.

 

Trash after three weeks

 

Trash after two months

To keep true to my experiment, I have decided to make my trash into a piece of art – a mosaic, specifically.  I am still undecided on whether it should be an add-as-I-go project, or something I do at the end of the year.  I also need subject ideas – what the trash mosaic will represent.  I would love and ideas and thoughts on this.

Keeping trash out of my little trash bag has meant taking the time to make a lot of things I used to purchase.  Thanks to great recipes sent by friends, I am now making my own granola and energy bars.  This week, I needed broth for a soup, so I bought a bunch of vegetables and threw them in a large pot of water and made my own.  It really took no effort, and now I have a great supply of vegetable broth to use in recipes.  I froze the extra in ice trays for easy access.  Two cubes is the perfect amount for a cup of dried soup.

Ice-broth cubes

Making chocolate is something I have not tried yet, however I did manage to collect and save some samples from the recent Hawaiian Chocolate Festival.

Chocolate samples become evening treats

Although it doesn’t look like much, when you can’t buy chocolate because of the packaging, every piece is cherished.  Friends at work recommended that I sign up for the Godiva Chocolate Rewards Club where I can get a piece of unpackaged chocolate each month – for free!  I will have to look into places like Godiva and See’s Candies to see if I can use my own container if I purchase chocolate from their stores.

Cheese Update:
I had great recommendations on how to keep cheese in my life without creating more trash that included purchasing a cheese wheel and making my own cheese. I am still on the look out for a cheese wheel here in Hawaii and have put in a birthday request for one or a cheese maker from Cheesemaker.com.  Thanks for the tip about the website, Jillian!

Toothbrush Update:
I got two ideas from last week’s post, and after doing a little research on my own, I really like the Preserve Toothbrush program.

Preserve toothbrush made out of yogurt cups

Not only is the toothbrush made out of recycled yogurt cups, but the packaging that this one came in is actually a reusable travel case for the toothbrush.  When the toothbrush is spent, I can download a postage-paid mailer from the internet and send it back to the company who will put it back into the recycling stream.

One of my friends asked me this week if I thought that this lifestyle change of buying specialty items and making so much of my own food would cost me more money.  My hunch is that I am actually saving money by purchasing so much in bulk, but I decided to start saving my reciepts to see how I do.

Does it cost more to be trash free?

I would love to hear if anyone has confirmed whether or not living a more packaging-free lifestyle and buying things in bulk actually saves money.

I knew my trash-free experiment would take some extra time, especially in the beginning, but this week it really hit me. Work, homework, volunteering, time with family and friends, exercise, and sleep seemed to leave me with little time left over to move forward with many new steps in becoming trash-free.  Serendipitously, however, in between all these other activities, I managed to pick up the following tips:

1.  If you are running around and looking for a fast food snack with “green” packaging, check out Quiznos.  While grocery shopping this week in preparation for hosting a dinner, I got suddenly famished.  I peeked into a Quiznos down the way from the grocery store and found that they are now serving their sandwiches and such in unbleached, compost-able paper sleeves.

Quiznos goes green with its packaging

"We're not perfect, but..."

2.  Vinegar, baking soda and hot water will unclog a drain. Our bathroom sink tends to clog up every few months.  When it happened again this week, I vowed not to clean it with chemicals like Drain-o.  Instead I used some vinegar we already had, and a newly purchased bulk package of baking soda.  Both containers, when empty, will be easy to reuse for other projects.

Clog-cleaning duo

I will admit that I did try by-passing the chemical clog-remover before and was unsuccessful.  This time I was determined to make it work – and it did.  You have to be persistent and patient, but it is definitely worth it.

I found these directions at www.ehow.com:

Baking Soda and White Vinegar

  • For moderate clogs, pour ½ cup of baking soda down the clogged drain. Follow it with ½ cup of white vinegar. The baking soda will react immediately with the white vinegar creating foam. The foaming solution will also emit fumes, but you don’t have to worry because they’re harmless.
  • Let the solution soak through the clog. Put the drain cover in place so that the foam does not seep out. Let the vinegar and baking soda solution sit in the drain for about 30 minutes. After the recommended time, pour down a gallon of boiling water. If it still does not drain properly, repeat the process until the clog is gone.

3.  “Bag it” is a must see for those of us out there who want to be inspired to create less waste, particularly of the plastic kind. This week I attended a showing of this lighthearted Susan Berasa film which was presented as a part of a push for the Surfrider Foundation’s “Rise Above Plastics” campaign.  I will never look at a bottle of water or a soup can (made of metal yes, but also lined with plastic) the same way again.  “Bag it” will be airing on National Public Television starting April 18th.

This week I have plans to search for a biodegradable toothbrush.  Hopefully I will get some time to do a little research and be able to purchase one locally.  I am sure other unplanned, trash-free moments will pop up along the way as well.  As always, any suggestions and comments are extremely welcome.

This week I seemed to be pondering a lot about packaging.  First, I tackled the toothpaste tube dilemma.  Although I am still loving my home-made deodorant (my boyfriend uses it now, too) I chose to forgo a toothpaste-making effort.  Putting baking soda and coconut oil under my arms is one thing; taking on cavities with what I have in my kitchen is an entirely different game.  I really don’t want to do the experiments to see if it works or not.  After a little research I discovered that good ‘ole Tom’s of Maine toothpaste tubes are made out of aluminum, which can be recycled just like aluminum cans, and I had a brand new tube in my cabinet.  Perfect!

Aluminum toothpaste tube

While writing this post, however, I discovered a Tom’s of Maine website page that explained how this year they are switching to plastic laminate tubes.  Although my heart sank when I read that they, too, would be creating more plastic, I appreciated their arguments which you can read on their website.   They also offer to take back the empty tubes which they will then put into their recycling stream in the event that local recycling facilities won’t take them, which I am sure will be the case here in Hawaii.  Although one of my rules with my trash-free-year is that I can’t send anything away, I may have to make an exception if I end up buying one of their plastic tubes.  So, I will finish this aluminum tube and revisit the issue again down the road.   I am curious if my local Reynold’s Recycling will take this aluminum tube when I am finished with it. They take other scrap metal, even aluminum foil.

Purchasing food without packaging, one of my greatest frustrations, saw a little success this week.  Although I have been able to find bulk replacements for milk, grains, snacks and even honey,  I have stopped purchasing many former staples like cheese and meat.  Of course, many supermarkets also have delis and butchers which I am just beginning to research in hopes of finding cooperative folks who will let me use my own containers. I am hoping that there are a lot of options out there, but for the moment  Whole Foods in Kahala will be getting my business when it comes to purchasing meats.  Not only do they sell local meats, but they had no problem putting my order of chuck roast for a Valentine’s pot roast feast in a reusable container from home that I brought with me to the store.

Bringin' home the beef in my own packaging

I am still in search of a place that will sell me cheese like this.  The cheese at Whole Foods is already cut and wrapped up in plastic.  I know Safeway sells cheese at their deli.  Of course, cost is a big consideration, too.  I won’t be purchasing meat like this very often, but I really miss cheese.

Continuing on the packaging theme, I got another online order in the mail this week.

Is this packaging really necessary?

Luckily, most of it is either reusable (envelope) or compostable (card stock).  I am even going to be able to reuse the molded plastic for watercoloring – it will be perfect for holding paint and covering up for storage.  But really, is all this necessary for cell phone ear buds?  I recently learned about Amazon’s  Certified Frustration-Free Packaging program.  According to their website:

The Certified Frustration-Free Package is recyclable and comes without excess packaging materials such as hard plastic clamshell casings, plastic bindings, and wire ties. It’s designed to be opened without the use of a box cutter or knife and will protect your product just as well as traditional packaging.

They work directly with the manufactures so they use Frustration Free packaging with their products.  I will keep this in mind and send them a note about companies that I think could benefit from a change in their packaging paradigms.

One final thought on packaging – toilet paper.  My household of three (myself, my boyfriend, and our roommate) traditionally have bought TP from Costco.  It is really cheap – but very high on the plastic trash scale.  Each roll is wrapped in plastic and placed in a larger plastic wrapping.  Taking a stand in honor of my trash-free-year, I refused to purchase it anymore and started looking for other alternatives.  I can’t imagine that local hotels and businesses buy TP this way.  I did find a company on line, Ever-Green, that sells toilet paper in recycled paper board.  However, I have not found it sold in any stores and would rather not have my TP shipped in from across the sea.  I am still investigating this one.  If anyone has any ideas, I would love to hear them.

Compost update:
This is week five of my trash can compost bin and I am finally seeing lots of insects and bugs getting inside to help out and do their important decomposing jobs.  When I picked the trash can up off its bricks to roll it around, I spotted potato bugs frantically crawling inside and even worms left behind on the bricks (I never put worms in my bin…I hope they have found it themselves!).

End of week five

The best part is that even though I keep dumping stuff in, I always have room the next day.  I am predicting one day in the near future it may be difficult to roll because it is so dense.  So far so good, though.  I heart my trash can compost bin.

For years I have been purchasing either soy milk or rice milk in bulk from Costco. The price was right, but the waste was not.  The containers that soy and rice milk come in are not accepted for recycling here in Hawaii.  So, every week, after about 10 bowls of cereal were consumed, another empty container would get tossed in the trash.  I am happy to announce that I made the official transition to powdered rice milk this week!  I could not find it in bulk, but I did find this brand at Down to Earth.

Powdered Rice Milk

Last I checked, Whole Foods doesn’t carry this.  Obviously, when I finish the milk I will be left with packaging.  Luckily it is a perfect size to reuse as a container for other bulk food items which is what I plan to do.

Afternoon stomach grumbles prompted me to also try out some home-baked granola bars this week.  (Thanks for the recipe, Katie!).

Granola Bars

They are a bit softer and more crumbly than I expected, but are definitely tasty and filling.  I used crushed walnuts and flax seed rather than wheat germ, and left out the dried fruit.

Granola Bars:
Recipe Courtesy: “Super Baby Food,” Ruth Yaron

1 1/2 C rolled oats
1/4 C wheat germ
1/4 C ground nuts
1/4 C nonfat milk powder
1/4 C melted butter or oil
5 T honey
1 beaten egg
1/4 t vanilla
1/4 t cinnamon
1/2 C dried fruit

Mix all dry ingredients. Mix honey, oil, vanilla, and egg into dry mixture. Add more honey to moisten or dry oats to dry, if necessary. Press into 8×8 baking pan. Bake at 350F for 15-20 minutes, cool, and cut into bars.

Besides adding new food to my daily routine this week, I also had my first experience with ordering online and dealing with packaging. My rechargeable camera battery stopped working.  Luckily, the local replacement option was incredibly expensive and wrapped in that hard, sealed, you-need-a-knife-to-open, plastic packaging. This forced me to look online for other options, which is where I discovered Battery Depot.  Not only did this company sell me cheaper-priced batteries, they also used very minimal packaging.  This included a small, puffy envelope; 5 biodegradable cornstarch packing peanuts (not shown in the photo below – I had already put them into the compost); and two little plastic bags and tiny cardboard boxes that held the batteries (a valentines candy heart is included in the photo below for scale).

Minimal packaging from Battery Depot

I will save the envelope to reuse in the future, and toss the mini boxes in my compost.  The remaining plastic bags will be set aside as trash, but I am certain I will find a use for them.  Great job, Battery Depot!

Also on the trash front, as a result of a suggestion from a colleague at work, this week I began to “organize” my used-floss (washed, of course) into a more orderly bundle.

Roll o' Floss

Roll 'o Floss

Perhaps I will be able to use it to string home-made Christmas tree garland at the end of the year…

Home-made deodorant update:
After a week of using the coconut deodorant – I am sold on it.  It really works!  To make this determination, I did a little experiment.  Each day last week I used my new deodorant only under one arm, comparing it with the control, the other non-deodorized pit, at the end of each day.  This may sound a little gross, but really, how else could I know whether or not the deodorant was really working?  This experiment also included putting the deodorant through the real test of my Tuesday afternoon, shadow-boxing / conditioning class where I always walk away dripping in sweat.  I had my doubts, but the coconut concoction did its job – even in that very sweaty environment.  The one minor problem I had with the deodorant was that when I first put it on, it made my under arm itch.  After a little research I discovered that this could be prevented by either waiting a while after shaving before putting it on – or using a lotion after shaving before applying the deodorant.  I chose the later method and the itchiness never returned.  I also never got any stains from the coconut oil on my clothes.

Dealing with toothpaste packaging will be next on my list.  My current tube is down to the last couple of squeezes.  I am hesitant to believe that home-made toothpaste will be as effective for my teeth as using a store-bought brand.  I’ll do a little research this week to figure out my options.  If any of you know of recyclable toothpaste containers or have experience in the craft of effective, home-made toothpaste, I would love some suggestions and / or ideas!

When I went to roll my compost bin this morning, this little guy showed his face.

The keeper of the compost

He/she has probably figured out that there is some delicious grub inside the bin – all the insects and bugs doing their important decomposing work.  (If you are curious, I believe it is a Gold Dust Day gecko.  This is the first time I have ever seen one.)

After three weeks, some of the materials in the bin have started to break down.   I am hoping a few months down the road I will be able to harvest some of it.  I saved a dog food bag this week just for this purpose.

I also threw one of the very “loud” Sun Chips bags in to my compost bin this week to see if it will really decompose – and how long it will take.  Has anyone else tried this yet?

The big step of the week, however, was making my own deodorant.   It was time – I just couldn’t scrape anymore out of my Tom’s container (I got desperate and was using a Q-tip to salvage whatever I could).

After some research on the web, I learned that baking powder can suffice as a good deodorant – until the third day, that is, when some people get the “pit itch.”  Other recipes fixed this problem by adding cornstarch.  Mix the two, put it in a glass container, and use a powder puff to apply. Then I came across a recipe for deodorant that attempted to mimic the consistency of the stuff you find at the drug store by also including extra virgin coconut oil.  This sounded the most interesting, so I gave it a try.  I used the recipe from this video from Passionate Homemaking:

Coconut Oil Deodorant:
1/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup cornstarch
~ 6 TBS extra virgin coconut oil
Essential oils (optional)

Mix everything together until it forms a mushy solid.  Place into containers.

Ingredients for home-made deodorant

Mixing ingredients

Consistency to go into container

I transfered the deodorant mush – the consistency of very thick frosting – into my Tom’s of Maine container.  It was still a little bit soft, so I threw it in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes (this step is not in the recipe, but I read that coconut oil needs to be kept at a cool temperature).  When I took it out, it was solid!  It may have been too solid for the container, however.  When I tried to roll the bar up, the ring at the bottom seemed to break loose.  This is probably because when I was mixing everything together I added extra baking soda and corn starch because the mixture didn’t seem like the consistency of deodorant.  My coconut oil was probably a bit warm and melted.  Next time I will trust the recipe.  Despite this slight engineering flaw, I have new, all natural deodorant and didn’t have to throw out my used plastic container.

Finished deodorant

The big test of course, will be using it.  Will it work?  Will it melt if its not in the refrigerator?  Will I get oil stains on my clothes?  Will my skin get irritated?  I will have an update next week.  If any folks have tried something like this before, I would love to hear about your experiences!

Thanks to those of you who sent me recipes for granola and energy bars last week. Since replacing my cereal was high on the list I tried out the granola first.

Home-made granola

It was super easy to make and so tasty!  Thanks Katie, for sending this recipe from “Super Baby Food,” by Ruth Yaron.  I am posting it in case anyone else would like to give it a try.  For dried fruit I ended up using dried cranberries and dates, and I left out the coconut.

Granola

Preheat oven to 350F. Spread 5 cups oats in a 9×13 pan and heat in oven for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine in a bowl:
1/3 C oil or melted butter
1/2 C honey
1 t vanilla
1 C coconut
1/2 C well-chopped nuts
1/2 C toasted wheat germ (or whatever grain you have on hand)
1 t cinnamon

Mix into pan with oatmeal and bake for an additional 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes for even browning. After mixture cools, add:
1 1/2 C dried fruit
1/2 C sunflower seeds
Keep refrigerated in a tightly sealed container.

In the process of collecting ingredients for the granola, I found out what a fabulous resource my local health food store is and will be through out this trash-free year.  Down to Earth has much more to offer than Whole Foods for those seeking to eat healthy AND reduce their trash.  Not only does Down To Earth have bulk grains, flours, oats, pasta and dried fruit, but you can also buy honey and peanut butter in bulk as well.  To mainlanders this is probably commonplace, but having this option is a big deal here in Hawaii.

When I was at Down To Earth I also picked up something called the Diva Cup.  It was that time of the month for me and I had to face the fact that my usual methods for dealing with my menstrual cycle were definitely not trash-free or even close to it.  A friend of mine at work mentioned this option to me, so I decided to give it a try.

Diva Cup

I am sold on it and so amazed that I had never heard of it before.  The photo above is a picture of the cup in its cotton container.  If any women out there are at all interested I would suggest checking out the Diva Cup website to see what it is all about.  There are other brands out there, as well.  This is just the one I chose that works for me.

Staying on the “girly stuff” theme, I also found a place to buy shampoo and conditioner in bulk.  Down To Earth also has this option, but I chose to buy mine from Bobbi and Guy Salon, where my mom gets her hair cut.

Shampoo and Conditioner refillable containers from Bobbi and Guy Salon

I was reading up on shampoo that comes in bars like soap…I may try that down the road, but this will help me achieve my trash-free goal for now.

The next “girly” thing I would like to change is my deodorant.  I have found great, fairly simple recipes online for home-made deodorant.  If there is anything that any of you have tried and like, I would love to hear about it.

Compost update:

The trash can compost is doing well, as far as I can tell.  I did have to water it a couple times this week because it seemed too dry.  I will need to collect more “brown” waste for this week and tear up my junk mail, toilet paper rolls, newspaper, etc., because I went through my entire container of it last week.  Every time I put in some “green” waste, like banana peals and veggie scraps, I cover it with some “brown” waste.

Green in

 

Brown in

Trash update:

A few new pieces of trash this week: more floss, bottle caps, plastic packaging that came with my training leash for my dog, and disposable contact lens containers.

 

Three weeks of trash

I think I will make magnets out of the bottle caps (my friend Suzanne did this before – such a great idea!) but I’m not sure of what to do with the rest.  Art ideas and other suggestions for how to reuse my trash are always welcome!