Waste-Free Living, an Update on Our Current Living Situation
Happy Monday! The last time I wrote about our waste-free living situation, I had a lot of fun talking about the things that were working for us and the things that weren't. At that time, I believe we were struggling with using plastic wrap and tinfoil and finding other forms of food preservation. There are still things that we haven't gotten ahold of yet, like figuring out what to do with soft plastics or even bringing plastic forms of packaging into the house that we really don't need to. The nice thing is that even though there are many things that we fail at, there is always a solution. We can recycle most of what comes into our home or find other ways to use it in the house. I think the biggest part of waste free living that is difficult is keeping up with habit changes, with shifting our attitude, and making sure everyone follows through with new tasks that are being introduced. I think that's true for every family who is dealing with a shift! I am sure I annoy everyone each time I have to remind someone to put a plastic bag into the "soft plastics" collection tote or to put waste meals into the bokashi bin. But every little bit helps, and each time a reminder is stated, we gain a little less trash and pay a little less money to have it taken away. It's a shift to create a balance, and it's always going to be difficult. Maybe one day it won't be!
Let's just put it right out there - soft plastics are difficult to deal with and almost impossible to not have brought into the house! Where do you put them? If you have been following along with this particular journey of ours, then you know that we recycle. Our city is pay-by-bag when it comes to garbage. We don't have a city garbage can, but stickers instead, which cost around $1.25 per bag of garbage. Most weeks we have 1-2 bags, mostly filled with disposable diapers. We're so close to potty training that I don't plan on making a switch to cloth, and even if we weren't close, I just don't think I could deal with that. I'd rather just purchase the biodegradable diapers! We are also now dealing with pet waste from our two cats, something we didn't have before, and there are ways that you can create a waste free pet environment and litter... eh. It seems a little too much for me to handle right now, and I am not sure that our city has a place for us to donate pet waste for specialized composting.
Back to soft plastics, where can they go? They cannot be recycled, at least not with regular city recycling. I think that's pretty much across the board, and if it's different where you live, that is so awesome! For us, they won't take plastic cereal bags, shipping materials, grocery bags, ziplock bags, etc. I've had friends say that they like to hide them inside of containers, but that's not really solving the problem, is it? Because they won't recycle those soft plastics anyway. So I've started to collect them inside of one of our reusable totes, just like a crazy bag lady. It's filled with soft plastic, the kind that I just cannot avoid like when I order things online or when someone gifts me something or even at the grocery store. I am so soft spoken that I am too embarrassed to remind the cashier that I have my own bag, especially when they just start piling everything up without even asking. Thankfully, most people ask first! That's just my own problem. What will I do with the collected soft plastics? There's actually a donation bin at the nearest Habitat for Humanity ReStore that I can put soft plastics into! It's a little out of my way, though. Our ReStore is in Iowa City but it's not near anywhere that I shop, so it's a habit I have to get into - making the trip there to dump off the plastic waste and not put it into the trash.
Truthfully, the only solution we have found for this is Tupperware. It works the best, and yes, it's plastic. While we could probably switch out our entire plastic Tupperware for glass, that's going to cost us, and we're not ready to move on yet. It's just another payment to make, you know? And what's the big issue with plastic Tupperware, I feel like there's something wrong with it other than throwing it away leaves more plastic behind? Does it leach or something? We don't heat it up in the microwave because it just gets worse that way. If you know the answer to that question, let me know! Either way, I've tried a lot of different solutions to this problem only to go back to my old habits. A few were using beeswax wraps instead of a plastic wrap or plastic food container. Eh... they work okay, would be my vote on those. Honestly, I do like them! They work pretty great for like baked goods and things like that, a few muffins you want to keep moist out in the counter. I didn't like them as much for things in the fridge; part of the reason for that is I would forget what was in them! They would sit in the fridge for a long time hidden behind other things. And it definitely doesn't keep bread as long as you'd like. I had a loaf that sat for a little too long, and it grew mold. I couldn't wash the mold off of the beeswax wrap. It was wasted, and that was a huge bummer because those aren't cheap! Not a huge fan, but they do work well if you plan to eat leftovers the day or two after.
I saw these fabric bowl covers advertised a little while ago. Not sure how well they would work? And you lose a bowl to cook with. As making-it-work-minimalists, we don't have a whole lot of bowls, just what we need, so I'd hate to lose a bowl just so I can keep leftover salad. The Tupperware works well for us, and we can recycle it if it gets too old.
On another note, I am still in the bad habit of using plastic wrap but not as often! I don't really have a huge need for it other than it keeps my pie dough fresh while I am making the filling! This would be a good way to use my beeswax wraps! I did purchase a couple of silicone baking mats to replace wax paper/aluminum foil/parchment paper. They work fairly well! I even bought a pie crust protector so that I wouldn't have to use aluminum foil to keep crust from burning when making quiche or fruit pies. It's actually really nice, and I love it! I've used tin foil before to only have it stick to the pie filling and ruin it.
This is still going really well for us! We actually just used our first compost piles that were created early this spring on the garden. It felt absolutely incredible spreading out the beautiful final product we had made, humus, from scraps and waste from our kitchen, paper, and waste from our garden and yard. I honestly don't think I would have done anything different for that for our very first year making compost; it went really well for being a complete beginner, and I have to dedicate that achievement to studying the process well, watching the natural cues, and making myself stay on top of turning and managing it. You can read more about how to manage compost HERE. We are getting a lot better about having virtually no food waste in the garbage can. Sometimes I do throw things in there, like a pancake that didn't make it (RIP my many failed first pancakes) or uncooked pie crust. They could go into our Bokashi Bin (read more about that HERE), but it's another habit to break and work around. I actually just recently ran out of bokashi bran meal, the bran you feed to the waste, and it's not cheap. I am debating on purchasing more or figuring out how to make it myself. So there's some food waste that we'll lose to the landfill - the bokashi bin is awesome because we can add meat, dairy, oils, and other things that can't go into a regular compost pile!
I also bag a lot of our vegetable scraps and freeze them. Why? I make broth/stock out of them! It's my favorite thing to do on the weekends; get a big pot of stock in my canning pot (the giant enamel kind) and let it sit for 3-4 hours and simmer. It's a great way to use those peels, rinds, seeds, etc and get something delicious and homemade out of the deal. We don't have meat around the house anymore, so no bone broth for us, but lots of vegetable stock! You can keep uncooked animal bones and carcasses frozen, though, for bone broth. And bokashi compost it afterwards!
Continuing to Minimize
This past weekend we wandered into the upstairs portion of our tiny home (I know! We never go up there), and brought down all of the bins of storage items we'd been keeping since our last move. There was not a lot up there to begin with, maybe 30 boxes of various things; old toys that I had been hanging onto, clothes, books, CDs and DVDs, kitchen items, and old baby things from when Tad was a newborn. We started to sift, and we ended up breaking down so much of it that from 30 boxes we went down to 4, and it felt awesome. It was all piled up into the back of car and sent off to the donation center. Bye, bye old clothes! I kept a few things of Tad's that were nice that I couldn't part with, mostly clothing, in case I ever have another baby (not happening anytime soon) and a few other sentimental things. It's pretty crazy seeing what we keep that is not necessary nor sentimental. Really the only remaining items we have are family heirlooms, printed photos, and some toys. Our items are becoming less and less, and as we embark on the sixth year of our minimalist journey, I still feel like I could be doing more! If you are on the first year, month, or day of your journey... don't be discouraged. It takes time. I haven't been writing this blog as long as we have been minimizing, and I should probably trek back and revisit those first years. They were hard! I hoarded a lot of clothing mostly because of all of the guilt I held onto from having other people waste money on them. I cleaned out my closet earlier last week, where I was hoarding Tad's old clothes, room decor from his nursery in Texas (he just sleeps in my room now and doesn't have his own room), and other things that were from, like, inside my purse or wherever else. It's all gone! All of it. I feel like the only place that needs a clean out now are my bookshelves. There are a lot of things there that could be given away; does anyone know a place that takes used books that's for a good cause?
That's where we are at right now. It's a journey, a process, a lot of work! I hope you can be inspired to try wasting less and living more. It's such an important part of our lives now, especially since becoming a family that wants to just own less in general. It was time to start creating less a wasteful footprint and to turn that waste into something better. The compost pile is really my favorite part of that entire process because I actually get to see it! What are some ways you are trying to waste less?