December 28, 2010

Part Four: Miscellaneous Methods for the Non-Disposable, Low Waste Life

This is the final part in our series. Don't miss Part One: The Kitchen, Part Two: The Bathroom, and Part Three: The Bedroom.

The Non-Disposable, Low Waste Life List of Methods
(This is the entire list in simple form.)

- make our food from scratch
- buy loose tea, bulk items, and no single serving sizes
- reusable, compostable, recyclable packaging
- no paper, no plastic flatware, little non-reusable food storage
- no non-stick or plastic cookware, dishes, etc.
- we don't buy water
- reusable grocery sacks
- compost and chickens

- no make up or deodorant
- cloth menstrual pads
- recycled and recyclable razors and toothbrushes
- pee wipes
- cloth shower curtain
- solid shampoo
- homemade soap
- vinegar rinse
- if it's yellow...
- no chemical cleaners
- buy hemp

- salvaged furniture
- no VOC paint
- lighting choices
- avoid synthetic clothing
- durable clothes and shoes
- mattresses and linens  

- bike
- combining trips in the car
- cloth ribbon, upcycled packaging
- paper and cardboard as garden mulch
- sew and mend
- grow food
- raise chickens
- wash in cold, dry on the line
- limit air conditioner and heater use
- upcycling

  • Bike
This one is obvious. Biking saves fossil fuels, doesn't contribute to noise pollution, and gives you a workout. I don't live in a bike friendly city and only just recently got a bike that is comfortable enough to ride regularly (I like the kind where I sit up straight... the crouched over types hurt my back). I hope we move somewhere truly bicyclable.

  • Combining trips in the car
Also obvious but worth stating because I didn't used to do it. Now I save up my errands and do them all at once. Saves gas.

  • Cloth ribbon, upcycled packaging
Holiday presents reminded me of this. I use cloth ribbon which can be used again and again because unlike plastic curly ribbon it doesn't get squished, bent, broken, etc. And if it does get squished it can be ironed back out. Also, when I want a traditional bow I make my own from junk mail (particularly some of the thicker catalogs) with this tutorial. We wrap our gifts in reusable containers (glass jars, tea tins, baskets, chip board boxes), fabric, old maps, calendar pages, cloth bags, and the old fashioned newspaper. For filler we use all the shredded paper that accumulates through the year and of course reuse any peanuts or bubble wrap that people send us.

  • Paper and cardboard as garden mulch
I'm not sure when I started doing this. I think it was sometime after reading Ruth Stout's book on deep mulch/no work gardening, and seeing a "lasagna garden". At some point it occurred to me that if I put down a heavy layer of paper or cardboard it would smother the grass and (unlike weed cloth) ultimately break down.

It works like a charm but only if you do it right! It must be thick (one layer of paper won't do it although one layer of cardboard normally will) and it must be well overlapped (grass can grow around the layers otherwise). Some vigorous grasses can poke through even cardboard and if you have one of those you'll need more layers but in all the years I've been doing this, in multiple states, for my own gardens and to establish gardens for my landscaping clients on thick lawn, I've only had the grass come through once.

Perhaps I should do a separate post on the hows and whys of this method because there are some other things tied into it. In the mean time: mulch heavily with cardboard and paper, put a thick layer of leaves on top to hold it down, and let it mellow. Or, put your plants in the ground, mulch up to the stems, put a thick layer of leaves on and move on about your business. I find that cutting the grass super short helps but I've successfully done this on normal lawn.

  • Sew and mend
It's embarrassing how many times over the years I've had clothing get a hole or a tear and thought "oh well, I guess I need to get a new one". Sometimes things get too worn to repair and then you can make rags or quilts or compost but more often than not things can be repaired. Patches can be made, buttons holes can be repaired, zippers replaced, clothing taken in if it becomes to big and let out when it's too small.

Learning to sew from scratch is useful. This Christmas my sister in law needed napkins so I made some from old fabric that belonged to my grandmother. My mom and I needed bags for the bulk bins at the store (instead of the plastic they provide) so I whipped some up out of the cotton curtains that hung in her old house. Sewing clothing is trickier but something every one can learn to do. Start small.

My new endeavor is refashioning. From old clothes I outgrew, stained, or that have lost their shape I can make new clothes! Thrift stores of course are goldmines for the raw materials of refashioning. For inspiration check out Wardrobe Refashion, New Dress A Day, Threadbanger, or just google "refashion".

  • Grow your own food
Much has been said about the benefits of growing your own food. I won't add more to the "why" unless you have questions, but here are some books I recommend to learn the "how" of growing your own: John Jeavons' How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible On Less Land Than You Can Imagine and The Sustainable Vegetable Garden. Jeavons has written a number of versions over the years, all interesting, all very useful. I basically grow using his intensive planting method. Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison, The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book by Ruth Stout, The Essential Kitchen Gardener by Frieda Arkin, and any good, general gardening book like Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening or the Rodale's Successful Organic Gardening series. These are all books I read early on and they gave me the foundation of how I grow today.

How to Grow More Vegetables: Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine  The Sustainable Vegetable Garden: A Backyard Guide to Healthy Soil and Higher Yields  Introduction to Permaculture  Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening: The Indispensable Green Resource for Every Gardener   Rodale's Successful Organic Gardening: Herbs (Rodale's Successful Organic Gardening)    Rodale's Successful Organic Gardening: Vegetables 

Remember that there is more than one way to skin this cat. You'll find tons of advice on how to grow your food. Some of it will seem contradictory. What is best for you depends on where you live (climate), what your soils are like, what materials you have available, and which methods and techniques you like to use. What works for someone else may not work for you and vise versa.

  • Raise chickens
Fresh, nutritious, heart healthy eggs. If you've never had a truly pastured egg (don't be fooled... phrases like "cage free" and "free range" mean nothing when they're on eggs in the store) find a farmer's market and buy a dozen. They're unbelievably better.

Many homeowners associations forbid chickens but almost all cities have ordinances permitting a few hens. If you don't live with an HOA then you are almost guaranteed the right to raise chickens.  If you do live with an HOA you might be able to have one or two on the down-low as one of my childhood friends did. Gifts of fresh, grass-fed eggs have a mollifying effect on the neighbors. Remember: what the HOA can't see and isn't told about, they can't enforce.

  • Wash in cold. Dry on the line.
Obviously washing in cold water saves energy. Many detergents are now designed to be effective in cold water. The only time I use hot is to activate oxygen bleach.

I can't tell you how much I love my clothesline. We got a kit with 50' of coated cable, pulleys, and a clothesline ratchet. I put the basket on a saw horse, stand in one place, and enjoy the breeze and the birds while I hang the laundry. Often things will fully dry on the line (particularly in summer or dry winter days) but even when they don't, one cycle of the dryer is more than enough. Used to be (probably because I have a poor dryer and high humidity much of the year) that it took 2 cycles to dry a load and on rainy days more. Now, even if I intend to use the dryer (because it's a cloudy day) I'll still hang the laundry to shed some water. As with many old fashioned non-electric methods hanging laundry is good for your body. It's a nice way to build the muscles in your arms!

And honestly, I'm thinking of giving up the electric washer in favor of a non-electric version. I've been reading some accounts of using them and it doesn't sound like a huge chore... certainly not for me since I already do many things the slow way.

  • Limit air conditioner and heater use
I live in hot and humid coastal Texas and I only use my air conditioner 3 months of the year (mid June - mid Sept, give or take). If it were drier or cooler we could live without it all together. A facebook poll of my Houston friends tells me that they use it 9-12 months of the year. When the air conditioner is off it's because the heater is on. Most people don't need it that much. You can acclimate yourself.

Admittedly, if you have extreme summers like we do and your place of employment is air conditioned, it is difficult. We wear sweaters inside air conditioned buildings during the summer to keep ourselves slightly warm and the contrast between the inside and outside temperatures smaller. It does mean being comfortable with some variability. During an early June day we might be a little chilly in the morning and a little warm in the afternoon. Around 3pm when the temperature is highest we might perspire a small amount. But because we live without heating or cooling from March - mid June and mid September - November (and then only occasional heater use until January and February. Today for example, Dec 28. No heater during the day or at night) our bodies adapt with the seasons.

It also means our comfortable temperature range for outside activities is greater. If we lived with the air conditioner set at 70 all year then when the high in June is 90 we're way too hot working outside in the garden. Instead, 90 is fine. It's not really until the outside temperature rises near body temp that we begin to feel uncomfortable.

  • Upcycling
Upcycling is turning things into other things. (For more on how this differs from recycling, listen to this fantastic episode of To The Best of Our Knowledge.) Art out of junk, furniture from pallets, shelves from ladders, lamps from soda bottles... so many possibilities! Curbly is one of my favorite spots for upcycle inspiration. Also WhipUp, Crafting A Green World, and Make. Thrift shops, flea markets, your parent's garage, transfer stations (if you're a lucky duck who has such things in your area), trashcans, dumpsters, and piles out for trash pick up are all good places to look for things to upcycle.

    Anything missing? What miscellaneous methods do you use to live a non-disposable, low waste life?

    Keep in mind, we've made a decision to be a one income household in order to have time and energy to do things the slow, sustainable way. For more on living deliberately and limiting income to limit consumption there are some books I recommend: The Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing's Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living, Better Off : Flipping the Switch on Technology (P.S.), Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture

    The Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing's Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living   Better Off : Flipping the Switch on Technology (P.S.)   Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture


    1. Again, your list makes me think of other ways I might be able to do things. We live far enough away from things that biking isn't an option and there is no public transport to use out here either. I already combine trips in the car. That might mean I am out for most of the day but I don't have to go out for several days (or even a week) for anything.I have been using deer fed bags for starting new gardens & controlling weeds in existing gardens. The bags come for other neighbors that feed the deer. And I picked up a huge stack for the man in front of me at the recycle drop off a few weeks ago. I know he thought I was a bit crazy(yup) when I started yelling out my window asking if I could have his bags. I told him what I would use them for and asked if he had more and I wouldn't mind picking them up from him.He said he would call me when he had some more.....can't wait! What a deal.

      I mean & sew ( a little) and that helps. I buy most of my clothes at a thrift store & some might need a little repair, but it is worth it. I have the same sewing machine I got when I was 16 and it is serving me well. Growing more and more of our food is really high on the list. We don't have a dryer. We left it behind when we moved from CA 3 years ago. At that point I had been drying things outside for about a year. The dryer was gas and we don't have gas in our house, so that was an easy decision. I don't miss the dryer at all. Thanks again for the great thought provoking post. Emily

    2. Ha! Yes, people often think we're crazy when we are picking up parts of their trash. I have been pleasantly surprised by how willing people are to help us out once they know how we're using it. One guy who's leaves we always take happened to be driving down our street one day and knocked on the door because he recognized our truck to let us know he had more on the curb!

      You're lucky it's so dry where you live. When we lived in San Antonio we dried clothes on the line and, I kid you not, by the time we finished hanging up the clothes on a sunny day, we could go back to the beginning of the line and start taking them off! I would love to live somewhere that dry again. Saved on air conditioning too since the heat was more bearable.