The Ever-Growing List of Things I Have Given Up in the Name of Creating Less Waste

Hearing about the environmental impacts of our everyday lifestyle choices can be a bit overwhelming. The realization that 300 million tons of plastic is produced each year, and that half of that is meant to be single-use can be very depressing. One may want to change that statistic, but it is easy to feel like the power of one is so small. I am here to tell you that it is not. Because the power of one turns to two and then to four, and so on. Imagine, if only 20% of the world’s population changed their consumption so as to create less waste, that would mean that there are 1.52 BILLION people who are consciously choosing not to use a plastic water bottle every day they go to work. Multiplied by the number of days in a year, and you can see the tremendous impact that may have. Extrapolate that to also forgoing plastic bags at the groceries, and to-go utensils at a fast food restaurant, and you’ve got a big dent in plastic consumption already. So we must try. I believe that each individual can contribute to a massive change.

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The question is, “where to start?” That, itself, can be overwhelming as well. I am here to say that starting the process is very simple, and easy. You don’t have to go zero-waste like, TODAY. That’s very unsustainable, and will probably make you want to quit faster than anything. We want the change to be slow, but steady. Choose one change that you can make each month, or week, or if you’re like me, each day. Practice that change and if you slip up, no worries, you learn and you can continue on for the next time. We all have slip ups! And we also all have our limitations. If you try to implement a change and you REALLY cannot stick to it, then that’s fine. Try a different one. Maybe come back to it at a later stage, when you’re more well-versed in letting waste go. All I know is that over time, the changes become easier and easier. I want to show people that creating less waste is a simple act of being mindful of what we do. It is easier than most think, and has impacts more than just environmental, which you must discover for yourself. The only way I can think of showing people, is to make a list of things I do myself.

My tips?

Start with one.

Practice, practice, practice.

Have a reason, “Why”.

Be okay with failure.

Just try.


 

  • Plastic drink bottles – I now carry around a re-usable water bottle wherever I go. The reason is two-fold. First, I am ALWAYS thirsty. And second, you never know if you will have access to water sans plastic where you go. You can be going to a friend’s house and all they still have available is water packaged in bottles. So I take my water with me, everywhere.
  • Plastic Grocery Bags – Bring your own re-usable grocery bags. I was so happy when the law got passed that grocery stores will charge an extra fee for plastic bags, but I was unhappy at how little it curbed people’s habits. People’s number one excuse? “I accidentally leave it at home”. Do what I do, and keep it in the back of your car, always!
  • Plastic produce bags – I never package my produce in plastic anymore. I just grab my fruits and veggies and throw them right into my grocery cart. I also have two mesh bags to keep together bunches of stuff, such as brussel sprouts for instance. Anything that can be difficult to put on the conveyor belt at the check-out stand in one go. But mostly, I go without. Why do we need separate bags for our produce? Even the wet lettuce just gets thrown into the bin. It’ll dry on it’s own.
  • Paper Towels – I wrote about how I nixed paper towels by replacing them with rags. Even better, our rags are a collection of old T-shirts amongst us three roommates.
  • To -go cups – I carry around a Keep Cup in the back of my car at all times. Even though this is useful for coffee mostly, it can also be used for soda from a soda machine. It is actually my universal cup. The lid seals and I can throw it in my purse, even with liquid in there! It’s my favorite.
  • Frozen foods – There are some types of food you just can’t buy without plastic. Frozen foods is one of them. I have not bought frozen foods in over a year. The cost for convenience is just too great. And my health is better for it, too! In general, I try not to buy anything in plastic when we go grocery shopping. Plastic jars are traded in for glass jar alternatives. Meats and cheeses are purchased fresh and wrapped in paper. Pasta and bread and ice cream are made at home, using ingredients that could be bought in paper bags or glass containers. I even bring my own jar to get fresh squeezed orange juice, or cold brew, or peanut butter. The list goes on, here.
  • Plastic utensils – I actually carry around metal spoons, forks, knives, straws and wooden chopsticks in my purse, all the time. I have a utensil holder that keeps them clean and together, too.
  • To – go containers – I have been seen to pull out a tupperware from my purse to package the food that I don’t finish when we dine out.
  • Fast food, in general – This is another one that is better for our health. Fast food is typically wrapped individually, and sometimes contain plastic. We will break our fast food streak once every 2-3 months, to purchase things wrapped in paper, I suppose. But in general, even the paper we try to avoid.
  • Single use products for the menstruating person- I wrote about how menstruating persons should invest in a reusable cup, to get rid of single-use tampons and pads. It’s environmentally friendly, and cost efficient to boot!
  • Plastic covers and wire hangers from the dry cleaners – I am one of those people who goes to pick up my clothes from the local dry cleaners, and strips them off the of hanger and out of the plastic right then and there. They look at me funny, but never say anything. They take the hangar and plastic back for re-use.
  • Shampoo, conditioner, and lotion packaged in plastic bottles – I have switched over to Plaine Products, which packages toiletries in aluminum cans that are refillable!
  • Plastic toothbrushes – We have now switched over to exclusively Bogobrush toothbrushes, although I am open to try bamboo toothbrushes in the future.
  • Deoderant packaged in plastic containers – I buy deoderant in glass jars such as this. I wish it were refillable – I guess my next step would be to make some at home in order to reduce waste all together.
  • Gift wrap and greeting cards – I love the way a present looks wrapped up with a bow, all pretty and sparkling. But then I think about what happens to all that fluff once the present is unwrapped. Most likely, without a two year old to play with it, it would go straight to the trash bin. It’s true that we have cut down our gifting significantly, but even those few gifts that we give, they are now given without gift wrap, or covered in a linen napkin, if anything.
  • Gift cards – Money placed on plastic cards; ugh. If we are gifting money, we either write a check, or better yet, hand over cash, so as to avoid wasting a check.
  • Cosmetics – I never was into make-up. Luckily, I never feel the need to wear it. I have created a very minimalist make-up routine, and since then I have switched over to a traditional pencil eyeliner and an eyebrow pencil, which are sharpened to wee stubs, and which are essentially just wood. I used to wear mascara but when my last one ran out, I couldn’t find an alternative without plastic. So I have actually been going without, and no one has mentioned a thing yet.
  • Driving around everywhere – The best investment Mike and I ever made were two bikes. I guess you can’t call mine an investment, because it was a hand-me-down from my old man. But Mike bought a used one from Craigslist for $100. We have now made a huge effort to reduce carbon emissions by biking on weekends to our coffee shop dates, farmers markets, and groceries. Anywhere, really, that we could bike to.
  • Stuff, in general – I have less of everything, which then creates less waste. Why I ever needed multiples of stuff, I will never know. I used to have like fifteen water bottles, over fifty pairs of shoes, hundreds of articles of clothing and accessories.

How the Mr. Debtist Implemented A Zero Waste Change at the Workplace

We all have potential to make change. I am a firm believer in one’s ability to be an influencer for others in the name of good. But I was still extremely surprised (and very impressed) when I learned that my own Mr. Debtist implemented a change of his own at his workplace.

As you all may know, Mike is a big coffee lover. He has a friend at work who owned his own coffee roasting company, and his coffee beans were featured at our wedding. Between the two of them, they alternate bringing local third wave roaster’s beans to work, making a batch of pour-over each day. Typically, each batch will result in left-over coffee, so they’ve made a habit of sharing the left-over with co-workers who are in need of a cup of Jo.

The problem Mike was seeing was that people kept coming up to them to fill up disposable styrofoam cups provided by the break room. He realized that their coffee sharing has resulted in 2-3 styrofoam cups entering the landfill each day. So one day, he spoke up. He said that he is trying to live a zero waste lifestyle and that he does not want to contribute more plastic to our environments. Because of this, people can only drink the left-over coffee if they bring a re-usable cup.

The amazing thing is that now, every co-worker around them comes with a re-usable mug. Maybe the free coffee was worth the change. But by simply speaking up, Mike has been able to implement a zero waste policy amongst his nearby co-workers at his workplace. It was a reminder, even for me, that we all hold potential. And that staying silent can do no good. So if there is some change you want to see in your own environment, remember that it starts with you.

 

A Very Debtist Birthday

Birthdays are kind of a tortuous thing for me these days. At some point, I think we all kind of went a bit astray and, may I say it, b-o-n-k-e-r-s, with the whole celebrations thing. I understand celebrating an event or accomplishment, but the whole excess consumption tied to each holiday really bothers me. I wanted to do something very different for this year (and hopefully here on out).

Over the past year, Mike and I have been struggling with trying to relate to family and friends that we want celebrations to be centered around less stuff. When we tell them we don’t want gifts, they insist that we must get something. What ends up happening is that they get us random things, or things we don’t even need, and these things literally immediately go to someone else, or get donated to Goodwill, because we do not want more stuff. So then we started to tell them specifically what things we want with an emphasis on the fact that we want to stray from plastic and excess waste. But then the packages show up wrapped in layers of colored paper and plastic ribbons tied to plastic balloons. Those who want to gift us money put them on plastic gift cards. I mean the whole ordeal has just been very difficult.

We have finally come to a point where we have wrangled down the gift giving quite a bit. Our immediate families STILL insist they get us a gift, so we have an agreed upon one from each side, instead of one from each person. My family got me pasta roller attachments so I can make pastas at home, and Mike’s side got me a pizza stone and peel so I can ramp up our homemade pizza game. As for the others, I wanted a solution. It’s so complicated explaining to 30 relatives why we don’t want gifts and then fighting their resistance against our request. It was time-consuming to make a specific list for them last Christmas, and then frustrating to find that our “bar of soap purchased without wrapping” was wrapped in cellophane with bows. I am not ungrateful, but I AM almost near hysterical. When did we all get so carried away? When did celebrations become tied to wayyyy more than just gathering together to relish in the joys of our accomplishments? Why is it so difficult to untangle people’s perceptions of what a party should look like from the actual party?

My vision of a birthday celebration includes:

+ A get together at a park (or beach, or home).

+ Sharing a meal cooked by loved ones.

+ A home-made birthday cake.

+ Sitting around a circle, telling stories or jokes.

+ Taking photos, or sharing old ones.

+ A birthday song, perhaps.

+ Hugs, kisses, and high-fives.

Not much more than that.

This year, I got a little inspiration from Mr. Money Mustache, and we found a way to do our birthday in a very Debtist way. In the past, we would dine out with our friends and families, usually at a restaurant, for our birthdays. Each person’s meal would cost $15-$25 per person. If we weren’t doing that, someone would be throwing us a party, paying $50 for a cake, the same amount for balloons, confetti and decorations that we would trash that day, and so on. I used to count how many presents I would get each year at my birthday or during Christmas, and it would always be more than 20 gifts. I thought to myself, “Wow, what a waste to have people spend ludicrous amounts of money to throw parties and give gifts, while there are people who exist and barely have any food to eat.” So, I spoke to Mike, who feels the same torture as I, and whose birthday is two weeks away from mine, and we decided to do something different this year.

We created a FEED supper instead. The idea is simple. One hosts a supper (or in our case, a brunch) where each guest makes a donation to provide meals for families in need across the country before attending the event. 100% of the FEED supper donations will provide meals to American families through Feeding America. An estimated 42 million Americans are food insecure, meaning they do not know where their next meals are coming from. By coming together “to truly share a meal”, we can help change that.  We wrote our families and friends the following letter:

We can do a world of good.

Hi all,

For us, a simpler birthday is a more meaningful birthday. Instead of asking for gifts or inviting you guys to dine out this year, we request your help in feeding those in need! This year, we are hosting a FEED supper (erm, well, brunch…). For those who are able, we request a donation to FEED and in return, every person who makes a donation is invited to come over to our place on Sunday, July 1 at 10 a.m. for home-made pastries and coffee! I have gotten into quite the baking habit and Mike makes wonderful coffee selections from local coffee roasters. 

This helps to avoid stressful shopping and allows folks to focus dollars where really needed.

The best present for us is getting together with you.

It’s hard to believe that over 40 million Americans are food insecure, meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. We can do something to change that.

Please consider making a small donation before attending this FEED Brunch, where we can celebrate our collective impact together.  

It only takes a little to make a big difference. By giving just $10, you can provide 90 meals to American families through FEED’s domestic giving partner, Feeding America. Our goal is to raise $500, but if we go over, even better!  100% of the proceeds will go towards Feeding America. 

Learn more about FEED Supper at feedprojects.com/feedsupper

We love you, and we appreciate your help in making a difference in the world.

Sincerely,

Sam

The letter links them to a website where they can make a donation of their choice. We have also invited them over to our house for pastries and coffee on a day between our birthdays. It’s something simple, but also something Mike and I are passionate about! We are very excited to see familiar faces, not only to celebrate our birthdays, but also to celebrate our impact!

Even after all of this, we were still asked to go out on my birthday to grab food by friends and family members. It took everything I had in me to flat out decline. It’s so hard to say no because you see the disappointment in their faces and hear it in their voices. But I had to stand my ground, otherwise I would have been the unhappy one. I gave them the spiel about how I did not want to do ANY spending on my actual day of birth. I emphasized the fact that we created the event to bring awareness to the excess consumption that advertising and social media has melded with the idea of celebration. I offered alternatives, such as joining us for a hike, or a bonfire. Interestingly, no one took us up on our offers, not even my parents. My mom was insisting we go out for breakfast at Lola’s Cafe, and when I said no to that, she insisted going to Breugger’s Bagels, because it is a cheap way to celebrate. She said, “We just want to spend time with our daughter on her birthday.” But when I declined again and asked if we could hike or go to the beach instead, she said they were busy. I think doing something so mundane was not considered a celebration, even though the celebration itself is internal, no?

Anyways, yesterday ended up being a good day. After helping my patients at work, and visiting with my family for an hour after work, Mike took me on a three mile hike to circumnavigate the only natural lake in Orange County. We then went home and made pasta. He had previously picked up a Coffee, Whiskey, Peanut Brittle Ice Cream from Kansha Creamery on his way home from work Friday (in a re-usable container, off course) and we dipped into that with a week-old left-over slice of cake from my mom’s end-of-the-school-year party. It was, I think, very reflective of the things I valued and what I envision my life to really be about in the upcoming year. More importantly, it was what made me happy. It’s a slow process, and maybe people will never understand the repercussions of our extravagant, Great-Gatsby lives. At least this year, I didn’t have to contribute.

Getting to Know: Heather McDougall of Bogobrush

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

Heather McDougall is the co-founder of Bogobrush, along with her brother John McDougall. Both are children of a dentist who pursued careers in other fields but they have come full circle and returned to the toothbrush. More importantly, they are using this single, everyday, taken-for-granted item and using it as a means for social change. More than just another toothbrush company, Heather has some very inspiring ideas about the ways in which the toothbrush can affect our environment and under-served communities, as well as communities in other impoverished areas outside of our borders, in a positive way. The Bogobrush is a great example of how the items we choose in our lives could carry a value that goes way past a monetary number. 

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How did Bogobrush come about? What were the inspirations, motivations and goals that fueled the birth of the Bogobrush?

John and I say the idea came from when we were kids, growing up as children of a dentist. But, really, neither of us had any intention of following the family business. John went to design school while I went to law school. During those years, we realized our shared passion for sustainability. We wanted to do our part, so we talked about a lot of ideas. We kept coming back to a toothbrush. It’s something people use everyday! More than half a billion manual toothbrushes end up in landfills or polluting natural habitats in the U.S. alone, and more than 80 million Americans lack access to adequate oral care. We had somehow come full circle from childhood.

What was it like growing up with a dentist in the house? I am sure you learned a lot of oral hygiene tips and tricks. Is that the part of the reason why you felt a calling towards helping people with their at-home oral hygiene?

Growing up was a blast. Our mom and dad always encouraged creativity, play, and adventure. Naturally, we also learned a lot about oral health: tips for best ways to brush teeth, what the best toothbrush bristles are, the foods and drinks that are harmful to oral health, how oral health affects heart health, and as we got older, we’d hear how lack of access harms a variety of communities around the country and world, and how policies and diet habits are barriers to quality care. I don’t think we felt a calling at the time, but it certainly helped us see oral health as a real issue to tackle for sustainability.

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Heather and John as little tykes, brushing away.

I understand that currently there are two models for your brushes- a recyclable plastic and a biodegradable handle. Could you describe each in more detail? Why did you guys decide to have a plastic one, rather than going entirely with biodegradable options?

Our plastic brushes are made from entirely recycled plastics that would have been thrown in the landfill. We use what is technically called “re-grind,” which is the plastic waste from other manufacturing projects. We get it from those projects, re-grind it up, and it become the recycled Bogobrush. The handle is 100% recyclable – just toss it in the recycle bin when it’s use is over.

The biodegradable Bogobrush is made from leftover plant material from farms across midwest America. The plant material gets mixed with a vegetable based oil and turns into a material that can be molded like plastic but is biodegradable! Both options can be found here.

We have both options so Bogobrushes can choose which end of life stream is best for their lifestyle. Not everyone composts or has access to community compost so recycling is the best bet. Same thing in reverse. And while composting is awesome, recycling has now become more energy efficient than landfills, and that’s an important industry to help advance.

I totally agree! We, ourselves, do not have an option for composting, and I am a huge proponent of supporting the recycling system in order to advance its abilities for future generations. So, what now? What exciting plans do you guys have in the future for the Bogobrush?

Later this year we’ll be launching a whole bunch of new products. We’re launching new colors, new biodegradable materials, and an updated design – still the same beautiful product, just more refined and less material so it’s better for the planet. Plus, the cat’s not quite out of the bag, but we’re also working on a children’s collection. We have some really fun things launching with that, and we hope you’ll follow along later this summer when we announce it fully!

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Definitely! I will be very much interested in the kid’s toothbrushes, since we see a lot of children in our office! Besides Bogobrush, what are some of your other favorite oral hygiene brands?

I love Cocofloss for my dental floss. I’d love to do a partnership with them for Bogobrush some day, too. 🙂 I also really love the Toothy Tabs from Lush Cosmetics. So easy to travel with and they have super random flavors. One of my faves is Grapefruit and Black Pepper. Mint toothpaste loyalists beware. Ha!

Bogobrush stands for Buy one, Give one. I think it’s amazing that you guys are devoted to making a social impact in the lives of under-served communities. What are some communities that benefit from the Bogobrush?

To date, we’ve worked with low cost health clinics in communities across the U.S. For instance, in Detroit, we partner with Covenant Community Care. These clinics serve populations who are under-insured or don’t have any insurance at all. They provide a beautiful health clinic, and top quality care. We think quality matters and helps everyone feel valued.

Recently, we decided to start expanding our giving beyond clinics and even beyond toothbrushes when the case is right. This past May, we partnered the Engineers without Borders from North Dakota State University on their work in a partner community in Guatemala. This will be an ongoing relationship and we’re excited to see how we can help support their work for educating about engineering, clean water, and health. We’re also working to get connected with urban farming and art education. Anything that we think relates to sustainability, we want to join the communities and lend our support.

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Partnership with NDSU Engineers without Borders

Currently are you guys accepting applications from other organizations to be a part of the Give Back program? If other communities are interested in benefitting from the Bogobrush, how might they became part of the program?

Yes! We are actually just creating an official application process for this. We’d love to hear from folks interested in partnering – once, twice, on-going, or any ideas welcome. Send an email to contact@bogobrush.com to get started.

Do you guys plan to extend your outreach program to international levels? I have a bit of wanderlust in me, so this question definitely peaks my interest.

Yes again! The Engineers Without Borders program is international support. We’re also working on a relationship with some folks in Spain who are doing reforestation and ocean clean-up work. For us, it’s all about the community of Bogobrushers and their communities of giving back. The Engineers Without Borders are at NDSU, and North Dakota is where John and I grew up so we have loyal supporters in that community. As long as people feel a personal connection to the give, we aren’t too concerned about geography. The folks in Spain will sell Bogobrush, so their sales and customers will be connected to their outreach work.

How may dentists in particular become more involved with spreading Bogobrush’s impact?

We’d love to talk to dentists about providing Bogobrushes to their patients. This could be through resale, or the brush dentists often give after hygiene appointments. Longer term, we’d love to develop a program through our subscription service online that helps dentists remind their patients of appointments and other important oral care check points. And, if dentists have any outreach causes their connected to, let us know and we can find a way to work together. Of course, on the simplest end of support dentists can spread the word on social media, offer to write blog posts, and share knowledge with our community.

What is the most difficult obstacle in trying to convince others to switch to a Bogobrush?

Our biggest obstacle has been getting the story out. Most people don’t care about their toothbrush. It’s an object that they have to use, and they dont’ think about it much beyond that. This means, a toothbrush, especially a manual toothbrush is mostly commodity and price-based. We are using values to sell a toothbrush. That means our job is to tell stories. To show people why a Bogobrush is worth paying a few dollars more for – the environment and helping your community. This fall we’ll be doing a lot more sharing our story because we have funding for marketing!

Bogobrush_ Heather and John

How do you guys overcome difficult times?

Stay focused on the bigger mission. If we wanted to sell a cool looking plastic toothbrush, the hurdles would be much smaller. We’re trying to push the needle on a variety of fronts, though. We talk about our dreams for the world, we talk about our dreams for our own lifestyle, we talk about our vision for the company as it expands beyond Bogobrushes and into even more products that can help the world. Bogobrush is an amazing toothbrush, but for us, it’s so much more than that. It’s the start of something so much bigger.

How do you unwind and refresh?

Unwinding and refreshing happens for me whenever I turn off the switch on work, and let my mind roam freely through other adventures. For instance, John and I both love to be active and moving. For me that means yoga, hiking with my husband, or walking my dog. For John, he snowboards, hikes, or goes indoor climbing. Unwinding can even be dinner as a family, ditching my phone for a few hours, dancing in my living room, or playing music.

What would you consider your greatest success so far? And what is one moment you won’t ever forget?

Regarding success with Bogobrush, there are moments in time that we celebrate, but right now the greatest success that comes to mind is the very first step. The first decision to type into google “toothbrush manufacturer.” A close follow-up to that is learning to evaluate the balance of persistence and pivoting. We’ve been working a long time on this. We could give up at any number of challenging times, but our persistence and faith in our vision keeps us going. And our ability to see that sometimes the path forward is to turn right or left allows persistence to pay off.

One unforgettable moment is from 2014. John and I were in our bristling partner’s facility watching our first run of recyclable handles go through the machine, and success! We’d first tried to make Bogobrush from bamboo with overseas manufacturers. This didn’t work, and in bristling we lost more than half of the handles to breakage. Being with John, 2 years later to watch our pivot turn into success was so amazing.

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Bristling the Bogobrush.
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Success! Bogobrush bristles in the making!

If you could give one piece of advice to other creative entrepreneurs wishing to create social change, what would it be?

Know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Question why you’re doing what you’re doing. I don’t think 100% certainty is necessary, but a gut level peace and energy will keep you moving. And bonus advice – when you get stressed, do something else that’s fun! Nothing is as big of a deal as we think it is. I’m super guilty of this, but step out, do something fun – even if it’s forced. 🙂

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Canyoning in the Snake Canyon on a trip to Oman. “It was one of the most epic things we’ve ever done!” Heather is on the left with her husband David and John is on the right with his wife Hannah.

Thank you Heather for taking the time to interview with me. You’re an inspiration to the dental field and a wonderful reminder that we can make changes beyond the doors of a dental office. Bogobrush is currently offering TheDebtist readers their first subscription for free. Mike and I have personally been using Bogobrush since January of 2018 and we will not go back. 

Less Waste: Nix Paper Towels All Together

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

I have not bought paper towels in over a year. Mostly as a direct result of my steely drive to avoid all things disposable, as best I could. Partly, to save the planet, partly to save money. Which is all fine and good, since I’ve spent countless years throwing these sheets of paper like confetti on a new year’s eve, celebrating what, exactly, I’m not sure. Convenience?

I find paper towels to be extremely unnecessary. I tried to make a list of all the things I used paper towels for in the past, and I have found that I could always substitute a re-usable, washable, sturdier piece of cloth. For example, for wiping messy mouths and hands at the dinner table, substitute linen napkins. For wiping down newly washed dinnerware, substitute kitchen towel. For wiping down surfaces sprayed with chemically-laden cleaning supplies, substitute rags. For straining oil from deeply fried foods, leave it to a strainer. Or may I suggest, eliminate deeply fried foods? Except maybe for extremely moody days, when nothing will comfort you except freshly pipetted churros. Then, strainers it is.

Despite my history with paper towel use, I think there was always a part of me that was inclined against its extravagant use. I could thank my mother for this, as images of her tearing off corners of paper towel sheets, rather than the perforated lines that were meant to dictate how much could be used at a time, surface to my mind. As is the usual case, we turn into our parents whether we mean to or not. I remember when Mike and I started living together, and he noticed my funny paper towel use, something I was oblivious to. He asked one day, with a little exasperation in his voice, “Why do you tear them like that?” I look up, surprised at the jagged edges at the end of a paper towel roll hanging limply in the kitchen heat, not realizing what I had done. Reflexively, I answered, “So as not to waste it.”

When I decided to reduce waste, paper towels were one of the first things I let go. Nevermind that they were paper, which is a biodegradable material. They were unnecessary. That, and they seem to only come sold in plastic packaging. It seems that reducing waste and simplifying life came hand in hand in my story, so it was fairly easy to justify nixing the habit. What do we use instead?

Linen napkins, for every day dining.

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We got these for a wedding gift, and we use them all the time! Whether we are hosting for a party of twelve, or eating burgers by our lonesome selves, these are always at hand, you know, to stay proper and all. I love linen, mostly for the way it looks and feels. It softens up over time, and the grey color allows me to dig into barbeque sauces and dribble mustard without worrying about staining (as if I can help the dribbling!). Like all cloth alternatives, I simply toss these in the wash along with other towels and rags and call it a day.

Kitchen towels, from drying hands to drying dishes.

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These are always hanging from the cabinets, and each one has a designated role. The one under the sink is for wet hands, the one underneath the stove is for dry hands. There is one for drying dishes, and one for wiping down the coffee machines. Sometimes, they are used to cover resting dough, to keep the draft away. Sometimes they are used to top bowls of fruit left on the counter. Their uses are never-ending, and they are as reliable as an old friend.

Old tees, turned into rags.

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Last week, we were hosting our usual boardgame night at our loft, when as chance would have it, a friend knocks over a glass of beer amidst a dramatic hand-gesture, and then catches it mid-air, but alas, with beer sloshing all over the floor. As laughter fills the room and apologies are brushed to the side, Mike gets up from the table and grabs a kitchen rag. Or, in our case, an old tee. My friend immediately picked up on the cloth, and credulously inquired, “Did you just grab a T Shirt?!” To which we had to explain that, in order to reduce waste, we had re-purposed T shirts into useful cleaning supplies. The roommate herself even pitched in on the “up-cycling” and donated her own used tees to our communal rag pile sitting underneath the sink. “I guess…”, the guest says dubiously. But when the beer spills for the second time that day, up the guest gets and grabs the tee and wipes down the mess. Which goes to show that habits can easily be shifted, perceptions easily changed, differences easily made. So what if it’s not glamorous, or matching, or new. It’s functional, and practical, and kind to the environment.

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An old tee, catching the drips from a bamboo drying rack.

How about you guys? Ways to rid of paper towel use? How many years abstinence have you got? Words of wisdom welcomed.

For the curious, we absolutely love our collapsible bamboo dish rack, easily stored when guests are over and brought out on a busy weeknight. We got ours from Mother’s Market, but a similar one can be found here. The grey linens are a wedding gift from Restoration Hardware, although similar and more ethically made ones can be found here.

Less Waste: For All Menstruating Persons, with Lunette

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

It undertook a lot of internal debating (a few months worth, actually!) before I had enough guts (read as wits?) to start writing this review about my beloved Lunette cup. The hesitation, off course, came from a silly, socially-instilled instinct to be wary of ever saying the word period outside the context of grammar class, literary works, and historical recitations. We’ve been taught that periods are something to be ashamed of, and not talked about. (Also taboo, sharing personal stories about monthly cycles, esp. for the entire world to read.) But while the topic of Mother Nature remains uninvited to dinner parties with the in-laws, I figure that my blog already teeters between the norm and the unspoken, so I might as well bridge that gap here and feel all the more relieved about it. In fact, I would consider it a social responsibility to alert all menstruating persons of the existence of Lunette period cups (ah, that felt much better, writing it aloud), and to speak about Mother Nature openly for the sake of Mother Earth. Why keep the silence when half of the population consists of menstruating persons?

Before Lunette cups….

I struggled about the monthly wasteful habits I was engaging in. Specifically, single-use tampons in plastic capsules and the occasional single-use pads.  TMI? Read on anyways. If you think about it, assuming each menstruating person uses an average of 4 tampons a day for seven days a week, twelve times out of a year, for thirty seven years, basic math tells me that each menstruating human uses 12,432 tampons over the course of time that Mother Nature chooses to visit. Multiply that number by all humans favoring tampons, and you’ve got a whole lot of tampon plastic applicators covering up that landfill. Now, not everyone prefers this method, so say they use pads instead. The math comes to something similar, and the visual of a piece of land covered with a mountain of pads is just as stark. So when I started to consider the planet’s needs and wants, I started to fret about my monthly decisions.

I considered many different alternatives.

First, I switched to recycled pads and tampons without plastic applicators. But still, knowing that I threw these away at the end of the day really bothered me. Then, I thought of the reusable rags that remind me of medieval times. A doable deed, but then I didn’t love the idea of walking around in soaked rags all day, and what of swimming? So then I looked into underwear that is made from materials that soak up the leaks. A fan of the new wave engineering, but then what of the smell? This post just gets worse and worse doesn’t it? And still, it didn’t solve my problem with the swimming. (Why the obsession with swimming you may ask. In high school, I was part of a swim class that required me to be in a pool every day, at a time when I was just starting recurring menstrual cycles. So yeah, the problem of periods and swimming still go hand in hand, and always will.) But as with everything that seems like it can’t get any worse, eventually, it gets better.

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I found Lunette cup…

…right when I was about to give up. If I am being completely honest, what caught my attention at first was the fact that I could choose whatever color I wanted. This post is becoming all around shameless. For new users, what is a menstrual cup you may ask. For lack of a better image, think of a literal cup used to catch your flow. It’s reusable, safe, odorless, eco-friendly, and most importantly, comfortable. So comfortable I forget about Mother Nature all together, for up to twelve hours at a time! Which is such an upgrade from the typical 4-6 hours with other single-use tampons and pads.

The first question that I asked was, “How safe?” We’ve all been taught to care about the food that goes into our bodies, so why not the other things too? Lunette cups are made from medical-grade silicone that is FDA approved, hypoallergenic, toxin-free, durable, and isn’t harmful to human tissue. This Finnish company has thought of it all!

The next question obviously is how to use. The packaging comes with a very simple diagram with light verbage to walk every first user through the steps. After washing your hands (duh!), you simply fold the silicone cup and insert, allowing you to go about your day for up to twelve hours, worry free! Depending on one’s flow rate, you may have to remove and empty the cup more often than twelve hours. For convenience, there are two cup sizes, one larger than the other to accommodate heavier flows so that days are not bogged down with emptying cups. Once emptied, rinse, and repeat. The rinsing simply involves using cold water and then hot water. If you are concerned about needing to do this at a public restroom with only one common sink area, Lunette has got you covered with their Lunette CupWipes! But honestly, 12 hours is a long time, so as long as you remember to empty right before you leave the house and right after you get home, then there really is no need for the CupWipes. Then again, not everybody is a homebody. At the end of the cycle, I always boil my menstrual cup in a pot of water for 20 minutes. Lunette sends a small pouch with every purchase to store your cup in during non-menstruating days, which allows me to carry it around at all times, in case of surprise visits.

So now, the specifics…

…to the Lunette cup for me personally. TMI continues. And yes, I created questions for myself, then answered them. This is such a peculiar post…

  • Color: Pink! Erm, well, violet, technically.
  • Size: Lunette Size 1. This is the smaller size. I am 5’1″ and am barely over 100 pounds. I chose this one because to me, it seems it would be more comfortable for my petite frame.
  • How many times do you empty the cup? 4 times a day for the first few days, 2-3 times for the later days. I could probably empty it less frequently if I get the larger size.
  • How long have you been using the Lunette Cup? I have been using Lunette cup for the past four months. I can’t believe I have lived so many years without one!
  • Have you ever used their cleaning products? No, not yet. I find that boiling the cup upon first receiving it and after every cycle is sufficient.
  • Is there a time where you’ve found it inconvenient? Yes. Only once. When we traveled to Mexico City and I was not confident that faucet water was as bacteria free as I would like. I had to keep waiting for a time and place where I was able to take a bottled water into a private bathroom with me and use that to rinse the cup. This may have been the only time I would have bought the cleaning products, if I thought of it ahead of time.
  • Is it difficult to use? No! The learning curve is flat as a valley, it’s so easy! And it teaches you so much about your anatomy. I think we all need to start learning more about our bodies, in general, instead of always trying to hide away from it. I think everyone should give this a try.

For those interested in trying Lunette for the first time, use the code EarthDay18 to get 20% off of all Single Lunette Cups! Feeling charitable? Try the Charitable Buy One, Give One Menstrual Cup, benefitting girls and women in need around the world. 

Getting to Know: Lindsey McCoy and Alison Webster of Plaine Products

 

Less Waste: When Dining Out

Dining out is sparingly done in our household, for multiple reasons, but even more so, is thoroughly enjoyed. We treat dining out as a privilege, and not a day-to-day occurrence. This awareness makes us more appreciative whenever we step out to eat, not just of the service and of the food itself, but also of our lifestyle and our current situation. We do not want this privilege to be the source of something that dumps on the life that we love, which includes the planet that we live on. Because of this, we have adopted some habits and policies that we try to follow during our experiences.

First and foremost, we avoid take-out and fast food restaurants as much as we can. The benefits of this is multi-fold, with regards to the environment as well as to our health. The initial reasoning behind it, though, was entirely environmental. I try to hide a reflexive cringe whenever food is served to me in a single-use container, which most times occur due to a lack of foresight, on my part. As punishment: my loss of appetite and a barrage of internal reprimands. To avoid, the avoidance of any form of single use containers. Even if a slice of pizza was handed to me in a recyclable or compostable cardboard box, I still can’t help but think to myself, “I could do better”. Consequently, we find ourselves dining out in sit-down restaurants more frequently.

Sometimes, we will go to a sit-down place that serves the food in a re-usable dish, but the utensils are for single time use. Case in point, our beloved ramen or sushi. In such instances, I whip out my Ambatalia utensil holder from inside my Sseko bag, and pull out a pair of chopsticks. It also holds a spoon, fork, and a metal straw– for those situations when a straw facilitates the drinking process – aka malts and shakes at Ruby’s. However, most of the time, we let the waiter know that we are a no-straw table, and thank them when they bring our cups out sans straw. If you’d prefer a reusable bamboo set rather than carrying your own beloved silverware around town, I am a fan of this one, which is held stock at our local farmers market.

Wherever we go, I do carry around a reusable water bottle as well, in case I get thirsty and don’t have a nearby non-plastic alternative to replenishing parched lips. Without any boundaries, I have also been seen whipping out my own Tupperware which I bring from home and carry in my purse when I remember that we are going out to eat. Any leftovers that I have are stored safely in that instead of asking for a to-go box. Embarrassing for the faint of heart, but not so for those with a steely drive to make a difference for the sake of Mother Earth.

The two exceptions we have to sit-down restaurants are our coffee runs and ice cream dates. Coffee is easily purchased on the go with our KeepCup , which we always have on hand in our car. The ice cream dates were initially made easier with ordering a cone to hold our ice cream in. Alas, not all ice cream places have cones. So we do also have this pint-size insulated Miir canister that keeps a pint of ice cream cold for multiple hours. We bring it to our local ice cream shop, which we can bike to in order to further reduce car emissions, re-fill the pint with the most delicious ice cream, and store in the fridge for a couple days indulgence.

How do you implement less waste when dining out?