Sunday, October 5, 2008

Hazel Talks Herself Out of Dairy Products

I've been thinking a lot lately about state of the economy and the planet. Since we might have to get used to getting by with less, I'm taking stock in my consumptive habits to see where they might improve.


Here's a Time article about a guy who kept all his trash in his basement for a year so he could watch it accumulate and see what kind of impact he has on the landfills. He said that most of the trash is from the first couple of months while he was learning to consume less and about various composting methods. I have no idea what our basement would look like if we stopped taking out the trash, but I have noticed that since we have cut back on spending for the last few weeks, our trash production has gone down by about half.

Amacrine, a friend, reader and fellow blogger, remarked in a recent entry that she was trying to cut back on recycling, for example, by buying shampoo (and I think conditioner as well?) that is not in packaging that needs to be thrown out or recycled. She says it's called solid shampoo. I'm intrigued and look forward to hearing more about it.


My habit with lunches lately has been to put sandwiches and snacks in ziploc bags, and gloppy foods in re-usable plastic containers. I grab a plastic fork and spoon as needed, and sometimes a paper towel to use as a napkin, because I'm kind of a slob when I eat. I put all the items in a quart-size ziploc, or if I'm worried about keeping it cold, in an insulated lunch box. I used to use grocery bags but started to shun them a while back for several reasons, including: 1) we are trying (somewhat unsuccessfully) to only shop with re-usable bags, 2) I use them for used cat litter so I started to associate them with used cat litter and 3) they are ugly. So, despite re-using some items, I often end up with a bunch of paper and plastic to throw out. I always felt that since it was such a small pile of trash, and it was all neatly contained in one of the ziplocs, and actually kind of a cute little package, it was not a big deal. Now I want to save money and reduce garbage by switching to re-usable containers wherever possible.

1. Sandwiches and snacks now go in plastic re-usable containers, just like the gloppy food. No more ziplocs.

2. No more plastic cutlery or paper napkins. I'm going to buy a set of used metal cutlery at a yard sale for cheap. I own cloth napkins that I don't use, and there is no reason I can't use them in my lunches, except that the 20-year-0ld lab assistants will ridicule me, but I've got to be strong and set a good example even if I must suffer insodoing.

3. I'm going to re-use the same lunch bags every day, either my insulated bag or something else. I bought some curtains that were packaged in a zippered plastic bag and the bag is the perfect size and shape for my lunch. It's shaped like a book and it fits well in my bag next to my laptop. Here's a typical lunch using my new method:

The carrots would have been in a ziploc bag before. I currently would throw out the apple core but eventually we would like to do some composting. The gloppy stuff is mashed potato casserole left over from Stanley's birthday dinner. The yogurt container is the only real garbage; our recycling program doesn't accept plastic food containers unless they have necks - ??? We could buy the yogurt in larger containers, but that still produces garbage, and often it's more expensive by volume, which makes no sense but that's how it goes. I could make my own yogurt, or stop eating yogurt. Or figure out a great way to use the empty containers. I will google that right now....

...I'm back. I found a bunch of uses for yogurt containers in a post on the blog But really I think the best option is just not to buy the yogurt in the first place, but rather make it myself, which Stanley's sister's husband did, and it tasted great, and apparently it's pretty easy. Or I could just stop eating it, but it's a major source of dairy for me, although there is a theory out there that only babies need milk, and it's not the best source of calcium (broccoli has more), and it causes more health problems than it solves. So unless I quit dairy, which is more likely now that I've thought about it, the next best idea is to buy the big containers, which I will probably do. Then I will have fewer containers to figure out how to re-use.


I wasn't sure whether I could leave small scraps of paper like grocery receipts and post-it notes in the curbside recycling, so I have been throwing them out. I've also been throwing out paper that is less than pristine, like with a coffee stain on it, because I wasn't convinced they would want it. But I've been recycling the cardboard tubes from paper towel and toilet paper rolls. None of these items are specifically addressed on the recycling company's website, so I e-mailed them to ask what I should be doing with them.

Here is the nice person's response. My comments are in italics.


Hello (Hazel),

Thanks for your email and good questions (already I like this person). All the items you listed for small pieces of paper can be recycled! (So, good news for post-its, receipts, and cut up scraps.)

The paper towel rolls and toilet paper rolls are a different story (uh-oh. A different story. I hate different stories). Each time paper is recycled, the fibers get shorter. Paper towel and toilet rolls are generally made out of fibers that have been recycled before (they may have first been used in office paper, then a cardboard box and then an paper towel roll). By the time paper fibers are made into paper towel roll, they have reached the end of their life and are too short to be made into new products. This is also why egg cartons can not be recycled. (Well that sucks. Another reason not to use paper towels. Or eggs.)

You can still recycle your paper if it is wet or has stains, but the more food; the more the paper starts to break down and cannot be recycled. So if you have paper that is full of food residue it is better to compost it.

Let me know if you have any other questions and thanks for recycling!


What a nice, informative e-mail!

This entry is long enough, so goodbye for now. If you have any suggestions for me, feel free to share. I don't consider myself to be the epitome of earth-friendliness. But this has been on my mind lately so I had to go off about it.


Lois Rosewood said...

Just curious, why do you need to buy silverware for your lunches? Don't you have some in your silverware drawer? If you're looking for small silverware, you can probably get some at a camping store.

MJB said...

Great post! It reminded me I have to look up our recycling drop-off center before the gallon jugs (mostly from "pure" water used to make baby formula...don't get me started) take over our apt. Also reminded me I should set up other bins, too.

I have a lunch tip: use chop sticks (re-usable of course). They take up little space, are easy to wash, and can be used on almost anything (except soup). Plus its fun to see how many people look at you like "why is that white person using chop sticks?". It also becomes annoying, too. So if you're the type of person who enjoys thinking things like "what do you care if I'm using chopsticks, jerk!?", then you have that bonus as well.

Good post on compost from the city of Durham. It gives tips and how-to's (in case you don't know):

The Chicken Lady said...

You could get a few chickens and eggs cartons would not be needed. they would also eat some of your kitchen waste, and give you fertilizer for your yard!

MJB said...

your bit about dairy and calcium also inspired me to do a little independent research. I found that you would need to eat 2 cups of broccoli to equal 1 cup of milk for calcium. However, only 1/2 cup of tofu to equal 1 cup of milk! Sounds like I'd rather go tofu! There is also lots of calcium in fortified OJ and Soy Milk. So it seems you could probably get plenty of calcium without dairy, if you so choose.

Hazel said...

Thanks for the comments everyone! Puts me in a good mood. Lotus*, that's a good question and I almost put an explanation in the post but I was trying to be less wordy. Yes, I am trying, people! I want to buy a set at a yard sale rather than use our regular silverware because I like our silverware, it's nice and heavy, and we have a complete set of 8 and haven't lost any since we got them as wedding gifts, but if we start taking them out of the house, we will likely lose some. I don't know how it happens, but over time our plastic containers have disappeared. If that happens with the silverware I want it to be cheap stuff I don't care about. The camp store idea is good and I bet there would be some cute little sporks and stuff but I don't want to buy something new.

mjb: great idea on the chopsticks, and I think it would be worth it even though people might go all bug-eyed with confusion and pester me with questions. Thanks for the compost info.

chicken lady: Now I want chickens. I looked into it and I have several things to say about it so I think I might save it for a blog post.

mjb: Good to know about tofu and calcium. Stanley wondered whether I would be missing out on probiotics necessary for digestion if I didn't eat dairy. I googled it a little and didn't find much, but I might would need to take a supplement or something, which comes in an unrecyclable container. GRRRRRRRRRR. But cheese: possibly a good alternative to yogurt. Less packaging. Plenty of bacteria. Also, it's one of my favorite foods, second only to potatoes. Third is ice cream. Fourth is...SUSHI! Oh crap. Sushi is first. Then potatoes. Then cheese. Then ice cream.

*Name changed.

Lois Rosewood said...

Also wanted to mention: the 20-year-old lab assistants may look at you with a new respect after you mention you are saving trees by using cloth napkins.

Hazel said...

That may very well be true, but in the blink of an eye they will be on to the next thing that they don't understand about me. They are curious to a fault.