Waste-Free Living, What We're Loving + What We're Struggling With
In another week, it will be two months since we announced on the blog that we decided to try living as waste-free as possible for our family. In my last post, I discussed some of our ideas for how we planned to make that lifestyle choice work and also as suggestions for how you could try it, too. Overall, we gained a really positive response from that post. You all seem to be in a similar boat on how you want to live your lifestyle, and we couldn't be happier that you're interested in something as awesome as waste-free. From that positive response, we also had several questions that I thought we be good to share with you all - most questions are wondered by everyone even if they don't ask it; I was definitely that person in school.
For the most part, this lifestyle change has been quite a simple fix for us. With all changes, of course, not all goals are going to be met by 100%. We are definitely struggling with some concepts, which I'll share below! It's just, honestly, been an eye opener to not only making less waste and creating new things with that waste, but also to opening our minds to the type of foods we're eating, how we want to use our garden to our advantage, and also how important living sustainably is to our family. I'm working on some posts more in depth about all of those topics, which makes me really excited! And excited that you are enjoying them. Thank you!!
Composting - Positive
Composting has been working really well for us! I thought this was going to be the hardest part of waste-free for our family. It wasn't really the separation of compostable materials from non-compostable materials that I thought might be hard, but more the, take-out-the-compost-to-the-pile-every-day part that worried me. Would that get old quickly? Would we remember to do it? Would we remember to turn the pile once a week? In the beginning, yes. That part was hard. We had purchased a small plastic garbage bin, the kind where you step on the handle to pop it open, and it was small enough to fit under our sink. We put a plastic garbage bag in it, which was kind of silly. When it would fill up, which took a few days, the compostable material inside had started to mold and the plastic bag would then be wasted. So that didn't work. That took us about three weeks to realize, as the dumb humans that we are! It also took us a while to actually figure out how to start the pile. We already had a dumping pile of dirt and grass clippings from last summer/autumn... so I started throwing the compost on top of that. It just felt... not-promising. My brain was thinking, do I have to mix this up..? How will this turn into fertilizer? So I started turning and found that it was much easier to imagine the material turning into compost, and also better for the pile overall, if the banana peels and eggshells where chopped up and crushed into smaller pieces. You can read more about what you can and can't compost here and also how to make your compost better.
Since then, we have purchased a small, ceramic compost bin that sits on our countertop. It holds just enough materials that we seem to go through within a day. Sometimes twice a day it needs to be emptied, if I'm cooking a lot. I've been saving about half of my vegetable scraps for stock and half go in the bin. It's not been difficult to remember to take the compost out, nor has it really been that annoying. When the container gets full that quickly, I know I have to go take it out then, and every time I walk out to the pile, I'm reminded that our compost will be going towards our garden. That just makes me want to make more; I'm really passionate about this lifestyle, so I can't get too annoyed by it yet! I turn the pile on Sundays and then just fill it up for the rest of the week.
Here's the compost bin that we got for our countertop. It blends right into our kitchen, so it's not very noticeable, and it's actually kind of cute. I also like that it has a thick filter so the bin doesn't start to stink!
Recycling - Positive
This has been by far the easiest, most noticeable, and, so far, the most rewarding portion of our new lifestyle. We have lessened the trash in our waste bin ten-fold just by separating our recycling. The composting has helped, too, but we're starting to learn that a lot of materials other than food scraps can't really be used for the compost pile. We don't read the newspaper, and any sorts of paper-like material we do throw away is colored or covered in a plastic-like sheen. That can't be composted! So we do the next best thing: put it in our paper bin. It's been like magic!
Our community's garbage system is actually pretty cool. I wish more communities were like this! In Kalona, you have to pay for each bag of garbage you accumulate individually. More specifically, you're purchasing garbage stickers. Each sticker costs $1.25, and anything you recycle is absolutely free for the city workers to take. Before we started recycling and composting, we would spend about $25 a month for the city to take our garbage away. We accumulated anywhere from 5-6 bags of garbage.
Now, we spend about $5 a month in garbage stickers. We have one bag of garbage to set out every week, and the trash that's inside is diapers and soiled paper towels that have been marked with household cleaners or anything else not able to compost (still transitioning to natural cleaners). Our garbage also has cooked food or vegetables marked by dressings or condiments. You can't compost that because it will attract bad bugs. You can, however, compost cooked vegetables if you let them air out on top of the pile before turning it. If you're using a closed bin, that might be an issue!
With our recycling, we're saving $20 a month. How awesome is that! It's not a lot, but it makes a huge difference in the long run. We've also discovered that we can recycle our tin cans from canned food by placing them in our plastic bin. Not sure if that would work for everyone, but it's worth mentioning!
Food Preservation - Negative
This has been really difficult for us. I already knew that it would be. We still have been using plastic wrap, aluminum foil, and parchment paper for baking, cooking, and keeping our food fresh. I still haven't found a better solution yet. I know that we can purchase a silicone baking mat as well as beeswax covers; the silicone baking mat isn't really a big deal, it's just another thing I have to buy. As for the beeswax covers, I've been reading this tutorial over and over again trying to decide if it's really something I want to do. It's not that I'm against using natural food preservation, because I am all for it... it just seems kind of difficult, and I wonder will it actually work and how long will they really last? I'm skeptical, and I will be until I try it. It's also a really bad habit to use tinfoil and little plastic sandwich baggies for everything. But I'm getting there. Mentally preparing myself one step at a time.
Natural Cleaning Products
In our last post, I mostly wrote about our all natural laundry detergent, which we have been happily using now for almost five months. It's been really wonderful, and I even recently gave up fabric softener and am just using our wool dryer balls. They work just as well, in my opinion! Even though I miss the smell of Downy... sweet chemicals. Ugh, it's been weird to get rid of, and yet I really really want to. The same goes for coffee creamer. I know I need to stop with the CoffeeMate, but I just can't help it. Anyway, as for other household cleaners. I want to make some of our own, like for the sink and bathtub and floors. We actually just clean our floors with vinegar and essential oil. We recently ran out of windex, and we used vinegar and essential oil for that, too. It works nicely. But I still need to look more in depth and see if there's anything fun I can make to clean our home. I really don't want to purchase some "all natural" cleaners commercially made, if I can just use vinegar, you know? Do you have any household cleaning recipes that you absolutely love? Let me know in the comments!
Questions We've Received on Waste-Free Living
Q: How do you get your bulk items home? Do they come in plastic bags or do you bring your own containers?
A: So far, we've successfully been using reusable bags. We are about to release some new bags soon! It's been really fun! However, the place where we shop in bulk, Stringtown Grocery (Tad was just a little chunk!!), does sell all of their items in plastic bags or containers. While we haven't yet found a perfect solution for the bags, we do use our containers like we would tupperware. We also use them as safe packaging for our bath bombs - LOL. Recycling, people! Please recycle those containers, if you've bought a bath bomb from us (; The containers are easy to use again, or recycle, the plastic bags... still not really sure what to do with those. I've been curious to see if Stringtown would take them back? It's a possibility. We do that quite often when we buy eggs from our favorite Amish shop by returning empty cartons!
Q: What is your recipe for laundry detergent? Is it really all natural? Is there anything else you can use instead of Borax?
A: I really love this question, especially about the Borax! To start, you can find the recipe for our all natural laundry detergent here. I think people get thrown off by the term "All Natural" because they believe if it's natural, then it should be safe to, I guess, digest...? Like, "Oh! It's all natural, so that means I can probably eat it and not die!" Well, there are plenty of naturally occurring chemicals, minerals, plants, etc that are poisonous to humans and are absolutely not able to eaten at all. I think we all know that, but as a consumer, can get totally fooled into thinking that something like Borax is terrible and therefore not all natural. The truth of the matter is, though Borax does get a bad rating on the scale, it's completely natural. That doesn't mean you should eat it! Sodium Tetraborate, or Borax, is often mixing the definition of borate with boric acid. Boric acid is not the same and is rather dangerous. You can read more here at Wellness Mama. As for using it, it's completely fine to just not put it in your recipe. From what I've read, Borax is really only useful when your laundry is washed in hot water. I only wash cold, so I might stop adding it!
Q: Where do you get your glass containers for your pantry from? How did you get it so organized?!
A: Oh, boy! You are talking to the Queen of Organization, or Jill! She is a crazy cleaning lady. So far, the overly organized pantry has been a real life saver. It's fun to cook in our kitchen, you can easily put everything back, and there's no ugly plastic/colorful/messy packaging. I love it! We get most of our mason jars from the Amish stores because they sell them in bulk. As for the large glass containers - we get so many questions about those - they're from Wal-Mart, of all places. LOL. But they work really well! They are a bit of a pain to move in and out of the pantry as the tops don't like to stay on... but we like them for their size. I highly recommend trying to get your pantry game organized! It's made life so much easier in the long haul.
Have any other questions about waste-free living for us? We'd love to hear them! Feel free to leave a comment or message us. Hope you're having an awesome day. Happy International Women's Day! Head over to our Instagram account for a fun giveaway to celebrate (;