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Reduce & Upcycle
This amazing article in Sunset Magazine about the Johnson family introduced me to the concept of living a zero-waste lifestyle. Suffice it to say, this family's way of life is stunning. And inspiring.
SYNOPSIS: This family of four has figured out how to dramatically reduce the amount of waste and recycling they produce, and have reduced the amount of clutter in their lives. What I appreciated about this article were the ideas about reducing the a stuff I don't control: the Styrofoam trays and cellophane wrap that come with the family pack of chicken breasts; the boxes and bags that come with the pasta or chips or spices, even; the veritable tons of unsolicited catalogs, credit card offers and coupons I receive in the mail; the baggies I have to use in the produce department. All things I end up with; all things I don't want.
I hate packaging. Part of my desire to shop locally comes from this inborn need to stop being a hypocrite. Like everyone else, out of need I consume. And consciously or not, I waste. And add to the problem.
I also know that much of what is recycled does end up, eventually, as waste. And what really gets me? This: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This is a massive island of garbage that was discovered floating around the Pacific Ocean with an estimated size ranging between 270,000 to 5.8 million square miles (or, twice the size of the continental U.S.).
The variance in size estimates are due to the concentration of the island: "(m)ost debris consists of small plastic particles suspended at or just below the surface." Basically, it's hard to see what is there, so it's difficult to gauge the size.
WHAT I CAN TELL YOU: Even the smallest estimate of 270,000 sq mi is MASSIVE. And it's all trash. WASTE. From HUMANS. Stuff we made, stuff we consumed, stuff we had as leftovers, stuff we threw away. And forgot about. And then we bought more stuff and consumed and added to the mess.
I hate feeling like a hypocrite. I hate espousing a belief, and then turning around and BAM! Dumping all over said belief. What I liked about this article is that it gave me some solid advice; easy, doable ideas that I can put into practice and reduce my personal contribution to the problem.
Stop junk mail: Register at dmachoice.org. This free service allows you to select the types mailing lists you want to be removed from. Honestly, if you just throw the stuff away, marketers would rather save the money than send it to you. And all those flyers and pizza coupons you get in the mail? Unsubscribe here: redplum.com.
Paper towels? This is the easiest one to reduce. I've done it, and I have a massive family. The two ways I did it? Rags and auto detailing towels. Rags can be made out of old, frayed bathroom towels, or even cut-up old t-shirts. Auto detailing towels are white terry cloth hand towels (about the size of a kitchen towels) sold at Costco, something like 60 to a pack for about $15. They aren't fancy and they don't need to be. But they are highly functional.
Use the jar & bulk combo. The biggest suggestion-- which I love but haven't yet tried-- is the heavy use of glass jars, containers and canisters. Béa Johnson, the Johnson family zero-waste guru, brings them with her when she shops; she buys bulk foods or has her selected meats placed in the containers. This way she avoids plastic or cellophane bags and other erroneous packaging.
Upcycle for produce. I use canvas bags when I shop and then I find myself buying veggies and what do I put all those carrots in? Argh. The store's stupid little plastic produce bag. However, a little research taught me that homemade produce bags are actually a thing. Either by making a simple bag out of a netted fabric, or upcycling a mesh onion or fruit bag. Giving something a second life also reduces waste.
Shop local. A great way to get the freshest fruits and veggies while avoiding packaging is to hit your local farmer's markets. Central California is the land of fruits and nuts, so to speak: We have lots of farmer's markets year round. They're just about the best places to get farm-fresh, organic produce.
Lend a second hand. Think twice about your snobbery. You need jeans. Would it kill you to hit a thrift store? If giving up the allure of owning a brand new, name-brand product is too daunting, visit Plato's Closet. It's a lot more palatable to buy those Lucky Brand or Guess or American Eagle or Roxy jeans when you're only paying $10 for the pair. These clothes are gently used, so you're walking lightly on the Earth AND your pocketbook.