Friday, March 28, 2008

And I do

A few friends and I had a swap party a few weeks ago (in honor of purge month) where we all brought some of our cast-offs and fought each other for them. I came away with a few gems: a chess board, a mobile making kit, and this mug. I had been coveting one of these fancy traveling mugs for quite some time (to carry my oh-so-grown-up hot cocoa) and lo and behold, there was one in the swap pile. At first I was thinking I could cover up the Kohl's logo on the side, but then I realized, well, what's wrong with expecting great things? So I have now embraced it as my motto as well.

In that vein I headed to my local coffee shop, That Great Coffee Place in Hartland to test the waters to see if by using my super hip new-to-me coffee mug I'd get a discount on a beverage. I didn't seem to get a discount but a) I didn't ask as I felt totally out of place in a coffee shop surrounded by people way hipper and cuter than me and b) they seem to have a discount program for reusable mugs but only if you use a house mug (which my clearly labeled mug is not). The beverage, a cafe mocha, was delicious. While there I inquired about getting their used coffee grounds (like Starbucks' program) for my garden and was told I should follow up with the manager during the week, which I will do and report back to you. It would be quite exciting to bike over to TGCP during the summer and come back with used coffee grounds for my garden. It would add yet another level to my plans for my best garden ever.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Bag That Fits In Your Purse

Greenraising-Bags-P2C1.aspx.jpg I have good intentions of bringing my own shopping bag. I have made it a habit to bring them grocery shopping most of the time, but I have to admit that I usually forget when I am heading out to buy anything else.  My errands are simply not always planned but get built into and around carpooling, naps an unexpected free moments. As a result,  I have found myself still accumulating plastic bags, even this month when I have been trying so hard not to. 

Therefore,  I am very excited about this collapsable bag I heard about that you can keep in your purse, glove compartment or pocket. Even if I bought more than what it could hold and used just one less bag, that would be better. What if we all did? 

One place to find these was given to me by a commenter (they also sell SIGG bottles). It is called Greenraising and is a fundraising organization you can set up for your school, church or other non-profit organization that sells all sorts of environmentally friendly products. They have lots of other fun bags too, including ones made from juice boxes. Time to contact the PTO!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

leftovers #1

This is the first of several posts that I plan to do about storing leftovers without disposable containers.

We tend to have a fair amount of leftovers in our house. My husband and I happen to be the type of people who also love leftovers (I know there are those out there who only like food the first go around). About 10 years ago we bought a set of washable, reusable elastic covers (from Seventh Generation/Harmony) that you could just stretch over whatever container the food was already in. I loved them! They came in large sizes to go over casserole dishes and little ones just the right size for the half-eaten yogurt. We would wash them and hang to dry with our ziplocks. 

Since then a disposable version of this product came on the market. These have all the same convenience without the great waste savings. Little by little our "stretchy cover things"  wore out and when we tried to buy more, they weren't to be found. It doesn't help that I don't know what they are called, but all related descriptors failed to turn up anything on my Googling. DOES ANYONE KNOW WHERE I CAN GET MORE OF THESE? Perhaps they were found to be made of a horrible plastic or trapped harmful germs in the elastic and I should just move on, but I still miss my "stretchy cover things". 

Monday, March 17, 2008

Yes, I may be crazy

A few posts back I promised I would have a talk with the main trash producers in our house (the boys, pictured above) in order to come up with a plan to curb much of our garbage export and in turn stop the need for most of the plastic bags in our house. I imagined a day when taking out the trash would become a chore I never had to do. The boys didn't have much input on the subject, in fact, they kept trying to move the conversation towards discussing the diet they've been put on (our black cat recently weighed in at 22 pounds... this is mortifying as a cat owner). But then... Kris to the rescue!! She sent me this link which posed the question "Can you compost cat poop?" which led to this link about how to do it which then led to this link with all sorts of resources on what type of litter to use. So, I have had composting on the brain lately and think I might just take the plunge. I feel safe doing this as my cats are 100% indoor cats and therefore are very unlikely to carry toxoplasmosis. Even if I don't end up going the composting route, I will for sure be switching to a different type of litter as the evils of clay-based litter are now too obvious to continue to ignore. Based on the kitty litter resource link above I will be attempting to get Swheat Scoop or Feline Pine from Petco in Delafield or Cat's Pride, Feline Pine or Litter Mate from Pet Supplies Plus in Brookfield (their websites say they carry these brands, but I won't know for sure until I check it out in person).

I realize this is a VERY roundabout way of addressing the plastic bag issue, but it ties in somehow. Maybe one of these months we will do a pet care challenge and then I can report back on how my kitty litter composting is coming along. I'm sure you all will eagerly await that post.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

plastic made from corn?

While eliminating the need for bags and containers avoids the whole reuse/recycle step in the first place, there are times when we may simply need a disposable bag or packaging material. I keep seeing items made from a corn-based material and thought I'd look into it a bit more. I haven't done a lot of research yet and I am hoping some of you out there are experts. I noticed that the reusable coffee/drink cups at Good Harvest Market are made of this stuff and the disposable bags given out at the Organic Valley store in LaFarge, WI were also made of this. I recently read that companies from Newman's Own to Walmart are using it in their packaging. 

So, from what I can gather here are the pros and cons. Once again, the choices aren't straight forward, but this does appear to me to be an improvement over petroleum-based plastic.


1. Biodegradable/compostable. I have read and heard mixed things on this. Some say it would break down in a backyard compost, while others say you need an industrial, super hot compost. I did read that it does not need air to breakdown, would that mean it would biodegrade in a landfill?

2. Not a petroleum based product. I think it is getting pretty clear that we need to move away from this dependance for lots of reasons

3. Is a renewable.

4. It uses less energy and produces less greenhouse gases than the manufacture of plastic

5. It is a US product


1. May not be as readily compostable/biodegradable as some say. 

2. Corn uses lots of pesticides, herbicides and petroleum to produce. Read Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" if you want more info on the "evil's" of corn.

3. Corn is becoming an expensive resource with Bush's new Energy agenda to invest in corn energy. 

4. Doesn't do anything to change our disposable culture

I am curious if others know any more pros and cons and if you know of any other businesses using these products locally

Friday, March 14, 2008

I Heart Sigg

We all know that buying bottled water is bad. And most of us have also learned the scary side of some reusable plastic water bottles, such as Nalgene or other hard plastic bottles. So what to do? You get the world's coolest water bottle, Sigg. They seem too perfect to be true. 0% leaching into the beverages they contain. Recyclable at the end of their life. And they come in really fun designs and colors. I can't seem to find anything wrong with them. Does anyone know something I'm missing?

I know of two local sources that sell Sigg water bottles. REI in Brookfield, where we got our grown-up bottles and the unbearably cute kid sippy cups above. Kris also saw them at Good Harvest Market in Waukesha. Does anyone else know where to find these bottles locally?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Compost + Old Paper Bag = Brilliance

Back in the day (and by that I mean, like, a year ago) I used a ratty, old, plastic ice cream bucket to put my kitchen compost scraps in before hauling them out to my backyard compost bin. Then, one day, brilliance struck. I was unpacking my groceries and silently cursing the fact that once again my bottles of wine had been put in little paper bags inside my cloth bag (I can't really blame the bag packers, as I'm sure they are sternly instructed to do this), when I looked at my ratty-ice-cream-bucket-turned-compost-carrier and then back at the little paper bag and thought, this is it, this is the solution to top all kitchen solutions. Instead of using the ratty ice cream bucket, which would get moldy and disgusting and I'd always end up tossing it after a few weeks instead of bringing myself to wash it, I could instead use these little paper bags to put my kitchen scraps in and then I could bring the whole bag out to the compost bin when needed (in my case, about once a week) and toss the whole thing in, scraps, bag, and all. I just keep a paper bag next to the sink and toss in kitchen scraps when I'm cooking. This has revolutionized my life. Or at least my kitchen life. Because those little paper bags that aren't good for much do accumulate. Like bags from the apple orchard or bags for wine or an odd lunch bag here or there or (as in the photo above) little bags from stores that aren't quite big enough to house my paper recycling. I feel this idea is brilliant. The slightly pathetic visual aid above, not so much.

Kris claims this idea wouldn't work in a house that has more than two people or where people eat more then 1 serving of fruit a week. She may have a point. My composting has been revolutionized, but my intake of fruits and vegetables needs serious improvement.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Plastic Grocery Bag Dispenser

We use the plastic grocery bags that we get at the store to line our wastebaskets at home. We don't accumulate that many as we typically use our cloth bags at the store, but the ones that we do get can clutter up a space fairly quickly. To keep them in order I made a plastic bag dispenser from a Dioramarama tutorial I originally found on the Sew, Mama, Sew blog. This is a quick and fun project that will revolutionize your closet or kitchen space. Who knew a plastic bag dispenser could be so cute and so handy?

On this note, I'm with Kris on the thought that by using these plastic bags as wastebasket liners, I'm just justifying the existence of plastic bags. But if I didn't have these 'free' bags from the store, would I buy plastic bags for my trash? I can't see putting my trash in the garbage can without a bag, because then I have visions of all my trash, loose, spewing from the back of the garbage truck. I think the only answer to this is to stop producing ANY trash. I will talk to my two cats (who happen to be the major culprits behind the export of trash from our house) about this issue and get back to you on it.

Friday, March 7, 2008

What do I use for the dog doo doo?

If I stop accumulating plastic bags, what do I use to pick up the dog doo doo? What about the cat litter? What about the bathroom trash pails? What about the garbage off my kids' bedroom floors? What about.....etc etc? The reuses (ahem, excuses) for these simple bags are endless.

I have been feeling pretty good about the fact that my bags get reused, if only once more. But, the point of a monthly challenge is to nudge us a bit beyond our comfort zone; to try to do a bit better than wherever we are at. So I've been thinking if this is really the best solution. Reusing is good, but when it comes down to it, my dog-poopy plastic bag ends up in the same landfill as the empty plastic bag. Could I do all these things without the plastic bags in the first place? What did pet owners do before so many millions of plastic bags? I have seen the little paper bags they have at the dog parks, but I am not inclined to buy something to replace something I had for free. I am starting to think that perhaps part of our collective resistance to using alternatives to disposable bags at the stores, is that these bags are really handy to reuse at home. If I decrease my need to reuse these bags, will I be more motivated to keep them out of my house in the first place? 

This month I am going to try to think creatively-what would I do if plastic bags have been outlawed as they have been in San Fransisco? When I go to reach for a bag, I will try to think if there is another way to do what I need to do. I have a feeling that plastic bags might still be the picker-upper of choice for my dog walks, but I am hoping some of you out have already thought of a better way. I'd love to hear from anyone out there that has broken the plastic bag habit!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Stores That Give Discounts For BYOB

Some stores will give the consumer a discount for bringing their own bags. Typically it is 5-10 cents/bag which isn't going to put your kids through college, but it is a win-win situation since it doesn't cost the store anything to do this (they would have paid for the plastic bags anyway). 

I know that Hartland Market and Good Harvest Market (see links) both offer such rebates for bringing your own bag. Does anyone know of any other stores (grocery or retail) in our area who do this? Let us know so we can pass on the good news. 

As a challenge this month, what if we each ask one store to start a BYOB discount? 

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Need a reusable bag?

Need a resuable bag? Check out these hip bags made from recycled sails, seatbelts and bike inner tubes! They are locally made in Lake Country and come in many sizes that could be used for a purse, sports, diaper bag, or shopping. Like Courtney said, no one looks good carrying a plastic grocery bag!

Monday, March 3, 2008

March - Reusable Container Challenge

February we purged, this month we take steps to make sure our houses don't once again become overrun with stuff. Enter the Reusable Container Challenge. This challenge asks us to take a look at the way we shop, the way we dine, and the way we tote the stuff of our everyday lives from here to there. The American way has led us down a path where we find ourselves carrying our purchases around in plastic bags and carrying our leftover dinners out in Styrofoam boxes. This is, aside from being totally uncool (no one looks hip carrying around a plastic bag, no one), a miserable way to treat our planet. What are plastic bags made from? Oil! Which, last time I checked, is sort of a big deal, the whole oil issue. Consider for a moment a few facts from the website:

  • According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. An estimated 12 million barrels of oil is required to make that many plastic bags.
  • Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food.
  • Each high quality reusable bag you use has the potential to eliminate an average of 1,000 plastic bags over its lifetime. The bag will pay for itself if your grocery store offers a $.05 or $.10 credit per bag for bringing your own bags.
For the month of March we ask you to challenge yourself to take a look at the bags and containers you use to tote around your purchases and see if there is a way to make a change. Can you start bringing your own reusable bags to the grocery store? Can you remember to bring your own reusable containers to the restaurant to bring home your leftovers? Can you start packing your lunch in a reusable lunch box? Can you start buying items in bulk in containers you brought with you to the store to prevent the tide of plastic packaging coming into your house? What step are you ready to commit to this month?

Over the course of the month we will share local resources to help with the challenge (as well as tips that are universal). But we also want to hear from you fellow Lake Country residents!! In order to encourage participation on our little green blog we are doing our very first contest. So exciting! One lucky Lake Country commenter will win the two reusable bags in the photo above, just by leaving a tip or a question or a comment in our comment section anytime this month. While we love to receive comments from anyone, in order to be eligible to win you must live in Waukesha County, Wisconsin. The winner will be drawn from all the eligible commenters at the end of the month.

A bit more info on the bags: they are made from old curtains, upholstery and clothing scraps and were sewn in a solar-powered studio right here in Hartland, WI. So, not only will they help you live a more eco-friendly life, they were also made with the earth in mind.