Monday, March 31, 2008

Plastic Waste: A One Week Collection

To get an idea of how much plastic I'm sending to the landfill these days, I decided to collect a week's worth of plastic waste, with the week starting last Monday and ending yesterday. Below are the results, a la Beth from Fake Plastic Fish, minus the weight measurements since I don't have a scale.

The Results

Clockwise from top left:

1. Bag from brown sugar: This was purchased before I started trying to reduce my plastic consumption

2. Two safety seals from Breyer's ice cream: I had people over for a potluck on Sunday night because it was my birthday, but I ended up running short on time when I was getting everything ready. To make up for it, I purchased ice cream to serve as a dessert, but I had to buy Breyer's since my boyfriend is lactose intolerant. Hence the plastic seals.

3. Ribbon: This was part of the gift wrap from my otherwise plastic-free birthday gift from my boyfriend.

4. Kleenex box plastic: This came from the box I used to have at work (I need to get a handkerchief!)

5. Packaging for disposable contact lenses: This is a type of plastic waste that I'm not ready to give up.

6. Safety seal from organic peanut butter jar: Not much to say here, but that I hate plastic seals.

7. Tag from asparagus: I didn't realize this was plastic when I was purchasing the aspargus for my birthday dinner. Darn.

8. Plastic tab: I found this under my couch while I was cleaning for the dinner party.

9. Two bags from microwave popcorn: My co-workers were going to throw the bags away because they were expired. I intercepted them and ate them as snacks instead of letting them go into the trash.

Not pictured: Two cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon (aluminum cans are lined with plastic). I drank these in a moment of weakness (read: pre-birthday drunkeness) at a bar on Saturday night.


I'm pretty happy with how I did, although I obviously had a few weak moments. I could have, for example, planned a different dessert for the dinner party or opted not to have the cans of beer at the bar.

Lessons learned: Plan better for dinner parties, examine tags on vegetables, and don't drink too much.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Used Clothing and Fun Crafts at the Swap-o-rama-rama

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of attending Chicago's first ever Swap-o-rama-rama.

What's a Swap-o-rama-rama?

It's basically a huge clothing swap. You contribute a small donation towards a charitable cause and bring a bag of clothing to throw into the pile. Then everyone dives in and searches for stuff they like.

During my day at the swap, I found lots of great stuff, including several shirts, a pair of pants, and some fabric (for use while I'm learning how to sew).

But I didn't just take home clothes. The event also included lots of workshops and craft tutorials, so I learned a lot. I found out how to make fabric jewelry and even fashioned myself a few pairs of earrings and a necklace.

I also learned how to use a loom and got to do some weaving. It turns out that weaving can be very easy. The women who was teaching me how to do it explained that a simple piece can be woven in just a few hours, but setting up the loom for creating the piece might take an entire evening. Very interesting.

Why swap?
Because, as the old saying goes, one (wo)man's trash is another (wo)man's treasure.

Also, according to the swap-o-rama-rama website, "fabric waste currently comprises 4.5% of residential waste created. Each American is responsible for approximately 35 pounds, totaling 8.75 billion pounds per year. Fifty percent of the textiles consumed and discarded are made from synthetic fibers that are produced from oil , which has a negative effect on the Earth."

From what I can tell, that means that 4.38 billion pounds of synthetic clothing, most of which is probably made from plastic, is put into landfills each year.

Find a Swap
If you're interested in participating in a swap, the swap-o-rama-rama website provides a list of future events in cities around the U.S. Information is also provided on how to start a swap where you live.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

I'm Giving Up Makeup (Well, Mostly)

I started wearing makeup for the first time when I was in high school, right around when I met my first boyfriend. At that time, I only wore makeup on the weekends because I went to an all-girls high school, but when I got to college, I started wearing it everyday.

Since then, I've been a daily user of foundation, blush, powder, eyeliner, eyeshadow, and lip gloss, and have also occasionally used lipstick, mascara, and eyebrow pencil.

Times are a'changin because of my plastic-free goals, though, and I've been seriously rationing my makeup. Instead of wearing my full "face" everyday, I've been picking and choosing what to wear. On days I really want to look nice, like when I'm going to a big meeting or a nice restaurant, I go back to my old cosmetics routine. On days when it matters less, I only wear a little eyeliner and eyeshadow.

But I don't like it because makeup makes me feel pretty--as if all my imperfections have vanished away. In the winter, when my face gets all red and blotchy, it makes my skin look even and clear, and if I'm not wearing it, no matter what the time of year it is, I always feel like I look tired and not quite "put together."

Yep, as you can imagine, I've been feeling pretty ugly lately because of the rationing, and now I'm almost out of foundation and I'm freaking out. The reality is really starting to hit me that sometime this year, I'm probably going to run out of all the makeup I have and that I'm going to feel absolutely hideous. My self-esteem is going to take a beating.

Eventually, though, I'll get used to seeing myself without makeup and I'll recover.

Or should I say I'll get used to seeing myself with less makeup. I'm still hoping to find at least a few plastic-free alternatives. I already know of a few lip glosses in metal tins, but my dream is a plastic-free eyeliner.

I have this sinking suspicion, however, that my hopes and wishes aren't quite going in the right direction. What I should really be wishing for is that one day women won't wear makeup at all. Men don't wear makeup. Why should we?

Note: It's probably for the best that I'm giving up most makeup because, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, makeup often contains dangerous chemicals.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Use Bar Soap: Save Money, Smell Good

Off to Germany (A Little Story)
A few years ago, I traveled over the ocean to spend a year living in Berlin. Of course, along with a few shirts and pairs of pants, the baggage I carried with me included all my many habits from the old country, including my daily use of bar soap.

Now, you wouldn't think bar soap would be a big deal. I mean, it's just soap, not white gym shoes or khaki shorts. Why would anyone notice?

I don't know, but notice they did.

I can say this because two of my German friends quickly realized that I used bar soap and asked, Um, why do you use bar soap?" (said in German with some distate, if I can recall)

My response: "Um, because it's cheap and effective and smells just fine."

Their response: "But, don't you think it makes you smell like an old Turkish woman?"

My response: "Um, no. Also, I don't know what an old Turkish woman smells like."

Their response: "Bar soap, obviously."

Ach du lieber!

If the only people in Deutschland using bar soap were the old (and smart) Turkish women, what was the rest of Germany using to get themselves clean?

Body wash, according to my friends.

What? Germans using body wash? Why? It's so wasteful and expensive, and Germans are usually so eco-friendly!

Well, as much as I wanted to fit in while I was living in Germany, I definitely wasn't going to start using body wash. So I wore scarves and funky shoes and spoke German 24/7 (some people said I barely had an accent), but still used soap in solid form. Yep, I continued to use it despite what my friends thought. I mean, anything else is just silly!

Back in the United States and Saving Money
A few years later, I'm back in the U.S. now and still using bar soap. I'm on to my current favorite brand, Kiss My Face, which I love because it lasts FOREVER. I started using the bar I have now (pictured right) in the beginning of November and it's not nearly gone yet. I paid about $3.00 for it, which means I'll probably end up spending about $6.00 on soap this year.

And Smelling Good
My bar soap leaves me smelling really nice, which makes sense because most bar soap smells great. Also, it comes in a huge variety of scents, everything from light and flowery to strong and masculine.

And Creating Less Waste
Not only does bar soap smell good, you can find it with very little packaging, which obviously means it creates less garbage to send to the landfill.

Random Questions

So if it saves you money, smells good, and is better for the environment, where did Germans get the idea that body wash is better than soap? Is body wash, called Duschgel in German, really so prevelent? Warum? Any Germans out there who can provide some enlightenment?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Ragging on Paper Towels (and Our Disposable Culture)

I grew up in a home where paper towels were used for everything. When there was a spill, you cleaned it up with a paper towel. When you wanted to dry your hands, heck, just use a paper towel. These throw-away towels were the solution for everything, and I never thought twice about it.

But now I see that instead of being a solution for anything, they are part of a huge problem--our disposable culture--a sickness that creates huge amounts of waste and is pushing Americans into deeper and deeper debt.

What's Causing Our Disposable Culture?
The causes are hard to pin down, but I think the following are some of the likely reasons we've opted for this new way of living:
  • Allowing ourselves to be over-worked: Americans work some of the longest hours in the world, and therefore have less time and energy for tasks like cooking meals and cleaning. This apparently makes us more likely to buy things that promise to save us time like pre-cooked meals and magical cleaning products.

  • An obsession with convenience: Sometime in the past, oh, let's say 50 years, savvy marketers convinced Americans that convenience is the way of the future. At first, this probably made sense to people, especially since we were (and are) over-worked, but these days, many of these needless products end up clogging our arteries and filling up our cupboards and closets (which we don't have time to organize).
  • Watching too much television: The average American watches 4 hours and 35 minutes of television per day, which is exactly 4 hours and 35 minutes of time spent being persuaded by misrepresentations of what American life is really like and by the commercials and product placements on the air.
  • Credit cards: Average credit card debt in the United States is now at $6,600 per household, which shows that most of us seem to have lost sight of just how much we should really be spending. Instead of being frugal, people feel like they have enough money to buy any of the myriad disposable goods on the market.
  • A misunderstanding of the term "healthy": It seems that people are so desperate to lose weight these days that they will buy any processed food that claims to be healthy or low-calorie. The problem is that these products typically have loads of packaging and are usually a far cry from being good for you. My favorite example right now is Hostess' 100 Calorie Packs of Muffins. You can't find the ingredients on their website (I wonder why?), but I saw them recently, and it was the longest list of ingredients I'd ever seen.
  • A need for cleanliness and a distaste for dirt: It seems like everyone these days wants their homes to be absolutely spotless, but can't handle the idea of touching something dirty. Case in point: this afternoon I read an article reviewing disposable cleaning products from the magazine Real Simple that said, "A majority of testers found picking clumps of hair and dust bunnies off [the mop] distasteful enough to throw their votes in favor of the pricier Swiffer system." So basically people have become so removed from the act of cleaning that they won't even touch dust bunnies? Strange.
  • Fear of germs: Just about every other newscast and commercial I see contains a story about food borne illnesses or scary, scary germs. It seems we're being convinced to live in fear of sickness, and therefore to buy a huge array of cleaning products, many of which probably don't even get used (I mean, it's not like we have time to clean anyway).
  • Fashion, fashion, fashion: Changing in the blink of an eye, fashion is continuously giving us an out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new mentality. And these days, this sort of fashion is spreading to things like refrigerators and the size of your floor boards. Whether we blame HDTV (which is surely part of the problem) or our appetite to spend, the need to constantly replace the things we own is expensive, time-consuming, and bad for the environment.
The Symptoms of Our Illness: Some Seriously Annoying Products
So these appear to be some of the fundamental causes of our disposable culture, but what are the symptoms? Obviously things like paper towels and disposable napkins have been plaguing us for awhile, but it seems that more and more disposable products get launched into the American buy-o-sphere everday.

Here are some perfect(ly annoying) examples in the cleaning products category:
My Questions
  • Wasn't there a time when people saw value in rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty? What's happened?

  • How can we return to the idea that living simply and frugally is a valued way of life?

  • Will people ever see that sometimes the disposable items aren't necessarily better?
  • And the question on everyone's minds: If we can't find time to cook dinner, why do we have enough time to watch 4.5 hours of t.v.?
Back to the Paper Towels
I'm going to make a bold and controversial claim and say that paper towels aren't really any better than rags. I can say this because I NEVER use paper towels anymore. When I have a spill, I reach under the sink, grab a rag and clean it up. Then I throw the rag in my "dirty rag box" and do a load of laundry a month later. It's not hard. In fact, it was probably the first thing I ever did when I started to become more concerned about the environment, and I barely noticed the change.

So maybe doing away with paper towels should be the first move we all make in our attempt to do away with our disposable mentality. After all, we've got to start somewhere.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Plastic Bottle Recycling Rates Are Sad

The smart group of ninth graders that write the blog Reducing 4 More recently did a post about plastic bottles and were so kind as to include the following video in their post.

It's pretty dramatic so I wanted to post it as well. Note, though, that the video tries to make the point that we should all recycle. Yes, we should recycle, but I think the more important point is to use fewer bottles in the first place.

Anyways, here's the video:

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Phthalates and Sexual Development

I recently stumbled upon an interesting article that was published in Science News a while back about phthalates and their possible effect on the sexual development of girls in Puerto Rico (In case you don't know, phthalates are a group of chemicals that are most commonly used to soften plastic).

According to the article, "for more than two decades, the island has hosted an inexplicable epidemic of premature breast development, or thelarche. The incidence there—at least 7 or 8 per 1,000 girls—is the highest known. Most of the affected girls begin developing breasts between the ages of 6 and 24 months..."

To figure out what was going on, researchers in San Juan undertook a small study of 76 girls, 41 who had premature thelarche and 35 who were developing normally.

The researchers expected to find that pesticides were the cause of this premature development. However, they found no evidence of this.

Instead they found that the girls with premature breast development had significantly higher levels of phthalates in their blood: 68 percent of the girls developing prematurely had blood containing phthalates, compared with just 17 percent for the girls developing normally.

Another interesting fact: "In the [normally developing girls] whose blood contained DEHP (the most commonly used phthalate), its concentration averaged 70 parts per billion; among the girls with premature breast development and detectable DEHP, the concentration averaged 450 ppb."

Unfortunately, the data from this one study is not enough to prove that phthalates are the cause of what's going on in Puerto Rico, but it's still quite interesting...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Give Up Soda, Lose Weight

America's huge appetite for soda leads to some nasty consequences, with two of the most undesirable being:
  • the billions of plastic soda bottles and plastic-lined soda cans heading straight for the landfill
  • our ever-expanding wastelines
Now, the average American probably isn't thinking too much about the first consequence, but the second one is extremely important for most people.

So let's imagine a "what if"...

How much weight would Americans lose if they gave up soda?

Let's start with the stats:
And here's the math (Let's hope I get this right. If not, please correct me!):
  • 10.26 billion cases/300 million people = 34.2 cases/person in 2005
  • 34.2 cases * 192 ounces = 6,566 ounces of soda/person
  • 6,566 ounces of soda * .296 of diet = 1,944 ounces of diet soda per yer
  • 6,566 ounces total - 1944 ounces diet = 4,622 ounces of regular soda
  • 4,622 ounces of regular soda / 12 months = 385 ounces of regular soda per month
  • 385 ounces of regular soda / 12 ounces per can = 32 cans of regular soda per month
  • 32 cans of regular soda * 146 calories per can = 4,672 calories from soda per month
  • 4,672 calories from soda/3,500 calories (the deficit required to lose a pound) = 1.3
What does this mean?

That if we collectively gave up pop and replaced it with water, which has zero calories and creates zero waste, the average American would lose 1.3 pounds a month, or 15.6 pounds each year.

In other words, America would lose 4.7 billion pounds of fat each year.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

What I'm Doing to Be Mostly Plastic-Free

I think it's time to provide a list of stuff I'm doing to be mostly plastic-free. Here it is:

1. Bringing my own cloth bags to the store and not accepting any plastic shopping bags.

2. Buying food from bulk bins to avoid plastic packaging. Some of the foods I regularly buy include cereal, granola, rice, nuts, beans, and quick oats. I've also purchased couscous, steal cut outs, rolled oats, Bulgar wheat, barley, and nutritional yeast.

3. Eating more fresh produce since it has no packaging (and is super good for you).

4. Using cloth bags instead of plastic produce bags for my fruits and veggies. I also bring along old plastic grocery bags just in case I'm buying a lot of stuff.

5. Giving up the plastic-packaged convenience foods that I so love, including ramen noodles and frozen pizza.

6. Using vinegar rinse instead of conditioner. Right now I'm alternating between the vinegar rinse and the conditioner I still have and it's working quite nicely.

7. Making my own bread. BTW, why do fresh bakery breads in stores always have a plastic window in the bag? It's so pointless!

8. Making my own yogurt to avoid plastic yogurt tubs. Note: making yogurt is SUPER easy--you should try it!

9. Cleaning with baking soda and vinegar instead of harsh household chemicals that come in plastic bottles.

10. Washing my dishes with Dr. Bronner's bar soap. It works! I'm not kidding!

11. Bringing my own stainless steel coffee mug to the coffee shop. This is important because paper cups are lined with plastic.

12. Bringing along a reusable water bottle or mug for water, and NEVER drinking bottled water.

13. Bringing my own takeout containers to restaurants in case I have leftovers. This sounds embarrassing, but no one has ever even noticed that I've brought my own container except for the people I'm with.

14. Not buying aluminum food cans, excluding canned tomatoes and vegetable broth, which I haven't been able to give up yet. Hopefully, I can/jar some tomatoes this summer and do away with this plastic use, though.

15. Not drinking soda from aluminum cans, although I'll admit that I've probably had about 10 cans of soda since I started trying to go plastic-free. This is a real improvement over my old habit of drinking soda every day, though, so that's good. (Update 3.19.09 - I've been drinking too many cans of soda lately. Arg!)

16. Composting in order to use fewer plastic garbage bags (and because it's awesome). Note that I use 7th Generation bags from a minimum of 55% recycled plastic right now.

17. Bringing my own tupperware container to the store for buying cheese at the deli. Note: One commenter pointed out that tupperware is plastic. Totally true, but I don't want to go out and buy replacements for these containers until they wear out since I think it would be wasteful. Just thought I'd mention it.

18. Having meat wrapped in paper at the meat counter. Sometimes they give me little plastic sheets, though, without my noticing, which is unfortunate.

19. Getting more serious about gardening so that I start canning locally-grown vegetables for use during the winter. This will help me avoid aluminum cans for tomatoes for sure.

20. Buying toilet paper that doesn't come in a giant plastic bag, but instead comes individually wrapped in paper.

21. Eliminating use of paper towels for wiping hands and cleaning. It's all cloth towels and rags for me these days.

22. Eating finger food if real silverware isn't available. It's sounds silly but it's perfectly do-able. One of these days, I'm going to start carrying around my own silverware.

23. Not eating off of plastic plates. Sometimes this requires me to a bit rude and take a ceramic plate from someones cupboard and then wash it when I'm done, but not one has seemed to mind this yet.

24. Always telling the waitress or bartender, "no straw please."

What I Haven't Given Up

1. Aluminum cans of tomatoes and vegetable broth, as I mentioned earlier.

2. Trash bags, which I also mentioned earlier.

3. Organic milk from Nature Valley, which comes in a paper carton lined with plastic. I figure it's way more important to buy organic when it comes to dairy and I can't get organic milk in a returnable glass jar.

4. Medicine, including my beloved ibuprofen.

5. Toothpaste. I tried using homemade toothpaste for a while, but I quit recently because I haven't had a chance to ask my dentist if she thought it was an okay thing to do. I'm using Tom's of Maine now, but I'd like to try homemade toothpaste again when I run out of the tube I have.

6. The occasional box of pasta with a plastic window. It's very hard to find bulk pasta in Chicago, and right now the only two stores I know that sell it are about a 25-minute drive away.

7. The plastic on the underside of metal lids and the occasional plastic seal on the outside of jars.

8. Plastic lids on jars of food. I've gotten pretty good at avoiding these, but I have purchased a few food items with plastic lids when it was my only option.

Future Challenges

1. Running out of makeup. It's gonna be sad.

2. Using the last of my shampoo. I have a Burt's Bees shampoo bar that I haven't tried yet. I hope it works!

2. Using my last disposable razor. I suppose I'll have to buy a safety razor, which scares me.

3. Running out of deodorant. I'll have to experiment with Lush deodorant more.

In Closing
Well, that's a pretty good summary of how my project has been going so far. If you're a regular reader, you know I'm not perfect, and sometimes I fail, fail again, and then fail again, and then fail some more, but in general, I'm definitely pleased with the amount of plastic I've been able to rid from my life since I started this project. Yep. It's been a good thing, and it really hasn't been that difficult. Of course there have been a few challenges here and there, but ever since I initially identified the big changes that I had to make and then figured out how to make them, Life Less Plastic has felt pretty good.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Plastic-Free Gardening Fun!

I'm planning on having the most amazing vegetable garden the world has ever seen this summer, so I needed to do a little gardening-related work this past weekend. I went shopping for seeds and seed pots, planted seeds, and even made a mini-greenhouse to keep my seedlings warm in my 64-degree house.

Definitely worth mentioning: I found pots from Burpee made out of plant fiber at the Home Depot (my usual garden store was closed), so I didn't have to use plastic pots.

Yippee for plastic-free gardening!

Seed Pots made from Plant Fiber

The seeds I'm planting this year

My mini-greenhouse

Seeds in pots --> pots in mini- greenhouse
(Therefore, seeds are in mini-greenhouse)

A few of my 0ther beautiful plants

Note: I realize the tarp under my plants is made of plastic so my gardening experience is not truly plastic-free, but what's a girl to do? I had to protect my amazing wood floors. Anyways, I've had the tarp for about 8 years, so at least it's not new...

St. Patrick's Day Debauchery

I went out to a pre St. Paddy's Day fest with co-workers and bought a beer in a plastic cup and a loaf of Irish soda bread in a plastic bag (I was starving). Later, I also scarfed down a chicken sandwich in a styrofoam container.

It seems my co-workers bring out the worst in me :(

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Composting Resources

As a follow-up to my recent post on composting, I wanted to provide a more comprehensive collection of online resources on the subject.

After many hours of reviewing the info available on the world wide web, I've determined that the links below lead to some of the best sources of info.

If you're interested in starting a compost pile or bin, I would definitely recommend checking them out.

From the University of Illinois:
From the EPA:
From GardenWeb:
  • The Soil, Compost, and Mulch Forum (You can glance through old threads or post your own question. Since most of the people answering posts on this site are very knowledgeable and super dedicated, chances are you'll have a good answer within a few hours.)
From Planting Milkwood:
(Note that Planting Milkwood is a site created by two Australians with darling accents who decided to give up their artist lives in Melbourne and start a sustainable farm called Milkwood. Also note that three of these links contain very cute videos about composting that provide a nice visual on what good compost looks like.)
From Sustainable Dave:
Photo courtesy of the Warwickshire County Council.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Send in Your Dead Gadget Stories!

Beth at Fake Plastic Fish is on a quest to help the Electronics Take Back Coalition collect dead gadget stories.

(Read more about the computer monitor that inspired her mission here).

If you've got an interesting story about the death of an electronic device, please send it to and include the following information:
  1. Make and model

  2. Year they bought it. Is it under warranty?

  3. Why it’s dead. (Doesn’t turn on, won’t reboot, can’t upgrade it to run certain software, etc)

  4. Steps taken to try to fix it, or cost to fix it.

  5. Picture of the dead gadget. (Be sure we can see the manufacturer name or logo!) For our dead gadget gallery (soon to come).
This request includes broken TELEVISIONS, not just computer-type devices.

The Electronics Take Back Coalition is a national coalition of environmental and consumer groups promoting green design and responsible recycling in the consumer electronics industry.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Composting Step-by-Step with a Backporch Compost Tumbler

I started composting a while back because I was sick of throwing huge piles of kitchen scraps into the garbage, especially since I knew that my landfill-bound kitchen scraps could, with a little effort, be turned into absolutely amazing fertilizer for my garden.

Oh, and I also knew that composting would enable me to use fewer plastic garbage bags (although I still haven't elimated these yet...darnit!).

As I was considering how I wanted to go about this composting busines, several of my friends recommended that I get a worm bin. My boyfriend, however, did not like the idea of having a bin and a bunch of squiggly critters inside the apartment so I opted for a compost tumbler instead. The exact bin I chose was the Backporch Compost Tumbler because I can simply rotate the drum on its axis in order to aerate the contents of the bin and also because it is small enough to fit on my enclosed porch (unfortunately, it's made of plastic. Argh!).

Below is a step-by-step on how to use it, which can pretty much be carried over to any similar tumbler or bin.


1. To start composting, begin collecting your kitchen scraps. I collect mine in an old garbage can for a day or two before I add them to my composter.

2. When you've got the time, add your kitchen scraps to your compost bin. These scraps, by the way, are considered "green" or "wet" materials and contribute nitrogen to the pile. To compost properly, you need to balance out the carbon-nitrogen ratio. More on that later.

3. Shred some paper. This paper will add carbon to the pile and is considered "brown" or "dry" material. By the way, it's important that the paper (and veggie scraps) are made into small pieces to speed up the composting process.

Note: I say to add paper because it is the most convenient source of carbon in the winter, but a variety of other "brown" materials that are easier to come by in the summer and fall are actually preferrable.

4. After shredding the paper, add it to your compost pile. A general rule of thumb in terms of carbon-nitrogen ratios is to add 3 parts of high-carbon materials (ex. paper) to every one part of high-nitrogen materials (ex. kitchen scraps). I usually follow this as best I can, and then just add extra paper if the bin starts to smell at all. It seems to work pretty well.

5. Then close your composter up and give it a few good turns.

And that's it. If you follow these steps, you'll end with a bunch of compost that looks like this:

Not too exciting right now, but eventually this pile will turn itself into nutrient-rich dirt, which is pretty cool. Also, despite the fact that there is months and months of garbage in the bin, it doesn't smell bad at all (except for the slight smell of rotting citrus from the grapefruit I added a few weeks ago). Apparently, that's the magic of the carbon-nitrogen ratio.

To learn more about composting, check out this comprehensive website on composting from the University of Illinois. It provides all the necessary details on materials you can and can't use in your bin, carbon-nitrogen ratios, and the many types of compost bins and piles.

For fun, you can also take a look at the following cute video on creating an outdoor compost pile or experiment with this awesome compost calculator, both courtesy of Planting Milkwood.

Happy Composting!

Monday, March 3, 2008


Check out the pro-plastic bag piece that appeared in the Opinion section of The Australian today.

Why am I not surprised that The Australian is published by the Rupert Murdoch News Corporation?

Demonstration in Support of Plastic Tax Held at University of Connecticut

According to an article in the Daily Campus, University of Connecticut's college newspaper, a group of approximately 20 students held a demonstration to support a proposed $.25 plastic bag tax at their campus bookstore, also known as the UConn Co-op.

From the article:

The demonstration was part of a campus and worldwide movement to reduce consumption of non-biodegradable plastic bags.

One protester wore a tutu made of Stop n' Shop bags, and several others had plastic bags around their necks, over their clothes, or on their heads. A chain of plastic grocery bags spanned the length of sidewalk outside the store.

The costumes symbolized the damage plastic bags cause to the environment, according to demonstrators. Laura Cote, a 6th-semester religious studies major, bound her hands, legs, and mouth in plastic. She chose the outfit to demonstrate the gruesome death marine animals often suffer from plastic bags.

They shared a bullhorn, and as they waved their signs and marched, they shouted chants like, "Hey-hey! Ho-ho! Plastic bags have got to go," and "Don't be mean - go green!"

Protestors also passed out flyers depicting a Jiminy Cricket cartoon. "Carry your conscience in something other than a plastic bag," it said.

Way to go UConn students! It sounds like you held an awesome demonstration!