Hello fellow eco alterers!
I am very excited about this new show on Netflix, Marie Kondo: Tidying Up. After watching the first episode, I couldn’t help but notice that the series didn’t address one of the biggest issues that zero wasters have with tidying up and why we find it so difficult: where do all of our discarded items go? How can we prevent them from going to waste? And how can I be a responsible steward to items that no longer bring me joy?
So I decided to write a guide to accompany her Netflix series. Over the next couple of weeks I will share these tips in coordination with her episode titles. Tune in to the blog to catch my zero waste alternatives for a few of her organizational solutions! For now, I’ll leave you with my first takeaway from the show:
Don’t buy things that won’t bring you prolonged joy. In other words: stop buying useless junk and ask your friends and family to refrain from buying you trinkets and knickknacks. But more importantly- explain why and make sure to practice patience and empathy. These changes are hard for you but they can be hard for the people who love you too. Changing the way we express love and thoughtfulness takes time!
Not the kind you’re thinking about…
It has been 4 months since I started going zero waste. I have accumulated a lot of stuff in that time; unwilling to throw anything away. I have paper bags, tissue paper, calendars, magazines, newspapers, junk mail, crinkly maps and much much more. At one point I tricked myself into thinking I would shred the junk mail and make my own paper out of it. The naive part of me holds onto that hope. But the sifter thingy I would have used to make the paper is now hanging on my wall as a shelf… It looks great. I’ll have to think of something else to do with all of that paper.
Now that Halloween is behind us, I can finally start talking about Christmas and the gift giving season! This Christmas will be my first since my attempt at zero waste and I’m excited to see how creative I can get. The first thing I have decided to eliminate from my present-presenting routine is wrapping paper! $5 for some penguins wearing scarves that will ultimately get ripped to death and tossed in the bin? No thanks, too morbid for my holiday taste. But gift wrapping in my family is essentially an extreme sport. My mother could turn a noodle into the most gorgeous display of buoyant curls. My sister wraps presents the same way a 5-star General folds sheets. And I covet trash in the corners of my room like a crazed raccoon. We all play to our strengths. And this year, I vow to turn my garbage wrapping paper into the most rustic, on message, and Pottery Barn- worthy display of giving my family has ever seen. So naturally, I turned to Pinterest.
And you know what Pinterest told me? People love dried fruit and dead plants on their gifts. Extra points if the gift looks like you just pulled it out of this Fall’s harvest.
So with that in mind, I set out to gather my materials. First, I must choose the canvass on which my decorations will rest. Considering I haven’t decided what gifts I will be giving, I’ll narrow my options down to a few.
Then, the question of ribbon to hold the whole thing together.
And of course, the thing any good display gift has: adornments! This year I’m thinking…
What are some things to avoid?
You have about 6 weeks to continue gathering supplies for your holiday gift wrapping! I will continue to post updates on my packages, as I know you guys are just aching for visual models. I got you. For now, Hold onto that newspaper and resist the urge to buy new wrapping paper. If you desperately need to impress some in-laws, I suggest buying wrapping paper at a thrift store. If you’re local or live close to DC, then check out UpCycle Creative Reuse Center in Alexandria, VA!
Now go get creative with your presents!
These are general cleaning alternatives to single use items or items in plastic containers that ultimately end up in our landfills. I haven’t made all of these swaps yet but I’m working towards it! Every bit helps! When in doubt, make as many of your cleaning supplies as possible. Just because you buy something in glass or cardboard doesn’t mean you aren’t producing waste. Those things end up in our recycling system and produce waste in the process. DIY is always the best option if time allows, otherwise, check out these nifty cleaning swaps!
This guy loves making brooms out of natural materials
Wash Rags– no seriously, just use a rag…
Wash Rags– no seriously, just use a rag…
Last night, I got to meet one of my all-time heroes. Paul Hawken is the author of the New York Times Best Seller, DRAWDOWN: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming. In this book, he and his colleagues outline solutions being implemented around the world to reverse the effects of global warming. Actions like solar energy and the education of women are high on the list to positively impact environmental change. This is not your average book on climate change, this book provides solutions and answers that are backed by research- just look at the numbers! I can go on and on about the book and how it can be a blueprint for our future as a society, but you should read it. Instead, I’d like to talk about Paul.
Mr. Hawken got his start as an English major. Not an environmental scientist or climate enthusiast. Paul was more interested in the irregularity that nature provided and chose to explore it in his early childhood. Like most of my favorite authors, the environment spoke to Paul, it provided him a safe place while still remaining unpredictable. His curiosity was piqued. And luckily for all of us, it was this background that provided him the necessary framework to engage the world in a climate discussion.
I arrived about 10 minutes late to his lecture in Harris Theater on George Mason’s campus. The room was packed but I quickly found my seat with my parents, I was beaming ear to ear. I saw our neighbors, who were hosting the event, sitting in the front row. As I listened to Mr. Hawken speak, my heart filled with gratitude for our family friends. I am 26, a millennial, and it was one of the first times since canvassing for environmental policy reform that I felt connected to the generations ahead of me. We are not alone in our quest to bring greenhouse gasses back to Earth.
Just a quick reminder to, if you haven’t already, READ THIS BOOK. It will become your guide for the future. If you like $$$, you will want to invest in these technologies. You like people? Then you will want to help these humanitarian groups. You’re a female rights activist? Fight climate change by educating young girls, empower them to have control over their own lives. There is something in this book for everyone, because nature is our common language.
Which brings me to my favorite part of Paul Hawken’s talk last night. Paul points out that the Earth has been through much worse than what we’re doing to it right now. The planet will bounce back, it will be fine. The point here is that if we continue on this track, civilization as we know it will cease to exist. This isn’t about saving the environment, it’s about saving our society. When we make this change in our patterns of speech, we remove the divider. We are all human and it is in our best interest to protect humanity.
Scholars and scientists around the world rallied around the idea of having a comprehensive plan to reverse global warming. This book is the culmination of efforts being taken all across the globe. Never underestimate the value of your small actions. Bring your bag. Use your own tupperware for left overs. Compost. Ride your bike. And most importantly, have the conversation, talk to your neighbor, change your behavior and be a part of the solution.
The book breaks down as follows:
Women and Girls
The feel-good book of the year. Thank you, Paul Hawken, for reminding us that how we speak about solutions matters.
Have you seen the news? You can read it here, here, here or the actual report: here. The Earth is getting hotter, much hotter. I think what stands out rather glaringly when I read these articles is that we need institutional, technological and political change, and we need it 30 years ago.
But you’re not here to lament. We’re all here to fight for answers and solutions. I will sing my usual battle cry: “bring your reusable bags today!!!” But I can’t help but feel that my song could be louder and more pointed. So today, I want to talk about policy reform.
The United States has fallen behind in the fight against climate change, exponentially so since Donald Trump found himself in the Oval Office. And as an American, we cannot rely on the White House to change policy, nor can we ride on the shoulders of other countries working to protect the environment. We must turn our sights to our local governments. We must head to the polls this November with Mother Nature in our hearts and determination in our eyes.
Millennials make up 29% of the adult population in the United States and have the potential to sway 10 House elections this November.
To find your state’s voter registration deadline, visit www.vote.org
How do your representatives align when it comes to the fight against climate change?
In my home state of Virginia, I will be supporting Tim Kaine, Don Beyer, Jennifer Wexton, and Gerry Connolly.
Tim Kaine on Climate Change:
I personally do not feel like Tim Kaine has been a champion for environmental advocates. He has supported oil drilling and the consumption of natural gasses. I will be curious to see what public statements he makes after reviewing the report from the IPCC. However, overall he has backed legislation that aligns with my environmental agenda.
Kaine has a 95% rating from the League of Conservation Voters and has voted in favor of environmental protections consistently since 2016.
Don Beyer on Climate Change:
One time I met Don Beyer’s brother-in-law when I was canvassing to get fracking banned in Maryland, we won the battle and his BIL seems to think he’s a stand up guy. Don Beyer presented legislation to the House earlier in 2018 that recognizes the threat climate change presents and would put a tax on carbon emissions. Not my favorite solution but a step in the right direction. Again, I would be curious to read or hear his public statement once he has had a chance to review the IPCC report.
Beyer has a 100% rating from the League of Conservation Voters and has voted in favor of environmental protections consistently since 2015.
Jennifer Wexton on Climate Change:
Jennifer Wexton is running against incumbent Barbara Comstock (who has received a score of 9% from the League of Conservation Voters) for a seat in Congress. Wexton has received multiple awards from the Sierra Club and has secured an endorsement from the League of Conservation Voters. In my opinion, Comstock has been a woefully disappointing advocate in regards to many things, but primarily in regards to her stance on climate change. We need her voice OUT of Congress.
Gerry Connolly on Climate Change:
I went to high school with Gerry Connolly’s daughter and live in their neighborhood, and I can say that they are both awesome people who just happen to view environmental policy in the same light that I do.
We use dryer sheets once and then we toss them in the trash. It’s not the most sustainable method but it’s the one we’re used to. We don’t have to settle. I’ve switched to wool dryer balls and add in essential oils when I wash my sheets! It’s been one of my best zero waste swaps! Here are some dryer sheet alternatives!
Most laundry detergent comes in plastic packaging that more often than not ends up in our landfills. There are so many other options out there, even if you don’t have access to bulk suppliers! Here are a few examples and suggestions!
The single-most monumental change you can make in your laundry routine is cutting your dryer loads in half and use a drying rack when possible! I think you guys can figure this out but I’ve linked some that I’ve either tried or have wanted to try!
Aluminum foil is awesome. Unfortunately, we can’t reuse it because of the ways we typically use it (ie. food prep, fire…). I guess you can recycle it if you’re wearing it as a hat. Luckily for us, it’s 2018 and we can create almost anything we want to with technology. yay! Here are some helpful alternatives to aluminum foil!
Parchment Paper: Do not recycle if you are using for food purposes! Parchment paper can be reused several times and then ultimately composted in an industrial composter (not the one in your backyard unless you’re really good) Be mindful of what you purchase and check with your compost collection group to see if they will accept it.
Even the guy who invented those single-use Kcups regrets ever making them. They are wreaking havoc on our environment. But have no fear, you don’t have to sacrifice your morning routine for a less wasteful lifestyle. Here are a few zero waste coffee alternatives!
Composting is the best thing you can do to limit your waste!! If you do not have a residential compost program in your community, then these alternatives are for you!
I have wasted so much Cling Wrap over the years just because I couldn’t figure out how to use the little saw-thing attached to the box. This stuff cannot, I repeat, CANNOT be recycled. Let’s ditch it for something better, we deserve better.
Or, use a shower cap to cover left over foods… or stick a plate on top of it. Wild.
Most kitchen sponges are made of polyurethane, a petroleum-based product and other oil-based plastics. No matter how clean we keep them, sponges will ultimately end up in our landfills. Let’s keep that plastic out of our environment and opt for some more sustainable alternatives!
I can’t remember the last time I used one of these… I have a friend who washes them out and then dries them. But our goal is to change our individual behavior so companies change their production behaviors. Let’s vote with our dollar and support these innovative alternatives to plastic baggies!
Etsy is an E-Commerce Company focused on handmade or vintage items. The site connects people to artisans all over the world. In fact, many of my zero waste contacts are shop owners on Etsy!
Etsy’s headquarters in Brooklyn, NY has been free of individual use trash cans since 2013. Of course initially, employees felt inconvenienced but the decision proved to be one of their best ones yet.
By creating communal trash stations with recycling, landfill and compost sections, “Etsy’s waste dropped 18%, while its compost rate jumped 300% and its recycling rate went up 20%” According to an article by Business Insider.
Etsy has long dedicated itself to lowering their environmental impact. Every night, Etsy weighs its landfill waste, recycling, and compost using custom built dumpster scales so it can measure its improvement over time. And guess what? They don’t have a commercial compost removal service. Their own employees hop on bikes to deliver their compost to Red Hook Community Farm.
That’s not all folks. Etsy eliminated disposable utensils, cups, and batteries, started using double-sided default printing, regulates office energy consumption, buys food and office supplies locally, and moved toward buying only bulk-packaged foods. Long sentence, lasting impact.
These aren’t just moves for our environment, these are moves for our community. Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson says the communal waste stations are like “Etsy’s water-coolers” and that more spontaneous interactions with employees happen there than anywhere else.
So if you ever find yourself asking, “how can I make a difference?” know that any one of these innovations would have set off a chain reaction for change. You can be the catalyst.
Like my Eco-friendly friend has said, “think globally, act locally”
Instead of bleached TP made from beautiful trees and then ultimately wrapped in layers of plastic… Try Bamboo or Recycled TP!
Seventh Generation *this is not bleached and made from 100% recycled materials, however it does come wrapped in plastic when you buy in bulk!
4.7 Billion plastic toothbrushes are produced in the world every year. These do not break down. If you make one switch in your lifestyle… make this one!
Not only does floss come packaged in single-use plastic, it’s made from nylon, teflon and synthetic wax. Google it… It’s depressing. But have no fear! You can still floss with these awesome alternatives!
Toothpaste comes in a plastic tube that cannot be recycled. Boo. Not to mention, its filled with all sorts of artificial sweeteners and chemicals I can’t even pronounce. These alternatives are Dentist Approved and really work!
Everyone has different hair and finding the perfect shampoo has been a life-long task for me. But I am glad to announce that there are more plastic-free options than ever before!
Some people don’t need conditioner. I do. It has taken me quite some time to find a plastic-free conditioner that works! LUSH takes the cake for my unruly frizz, but check these other options out for your hair type!
Ditch the plastic loofah! You could use your hand or a wash cloth as an alternative. However, I like the the benefits I get from my Loofah so I’ve included some sustainable and plastic-free loofah options!
First of all, disposable razors are terrible. Second, why are women’s mechanical razors so much more expensive than men’s? It’s completely unfair. Check out these razors for all genders!
Don’t wear it…? That’s definitely option #1. Most make up comes in plastic containers. I’m gonna be honest, I’m not really sure what’s in any of the make up I still have. So I wanted to give you some plastic-free and organic make up options!
Elate Cosmetics– their packaging can be planted!
What’s in your tampon? Wouldn’t it be nice to know what you’re putting inside of your vagina? Me too. Here are some waste-less alternatives!
Most toilet brushes are made from plastic and get gross and disgusting and eventually are thrown away. More plastic for the landfills! But we can change that. Here are some plastic-free toilet brush options!
Most plumbers and handy dads will advise you against using Drano for a couple of reasons. The main one being that it can damage plumbing systems and is unpredictable when mixed with other products. Not to mention, you’re dumping all of those toxic chemicals into our sewage system. Gross.
Today I got in an argument. It was over before I even realized one of us was fighting with the other. A man almost 3X my age sent me a link to a news story titled “This is the New Face of the Democrat Party: Charlie Kirk & Candace Owens Ambushed by Liberal Protesters”
The article was from Fox&Friends and I think that’s important because to me, I would have known that Fox&Friends tends to alienate readers and viewers by altering their language in their segments. But more importantly I noted it was of value because I was not engaging with someone who shared that viewpoint with me. So I couldn’t simply say “oh dude, that’s from Fox&Friends, of course it’s one-sided”. Instead I simply said “the atrocities of the few do not outweigh or speak for the successes of the many”. I followed up by saying that it would be unfair for me to say that white supremacists were the new face of the Republican party (which is an exaggerated comparison but one that should highlight how ridiculous it is to say that people protesting without violence are the new face of Democrats). My point was missed and just like that I was dismissed from an argument I wasn’t even aware I was having.
He then called me a silly girl and said that all of this was bullshit (referring to the white supremacist comment).
I’ve thought a lot about this exchange. I thought about all the other times a man or woman in my life has told me that my ideas and view on the world are “silly”. I’ve been called naive and misinformed. At the time when these insults were thrown at me I felt embarrassed or even upset. Looking back I can recognize that I felt that way because I didn’t know how to respond when someone shrugged off my perspective so blatantly.
In college I used to love confrontation. I used to love turning a battle of wits into a semantic word play. I thought I was doing it because I love language and the effect it can have on people. How a sentence that seemingly gets the same point across can use such different words. It’s probably why I repeat myself in my writing; I like to find new ways of saying the same thing. But I wasn’t doing it in a way that harbored understanding. I was doing it in a way that made people feel embarrassed or upset. I was acting this way because without being able to use words in my own life experiences to combat conversation bullies, I was becoming a reflection of the people who had hurt me. Instead of having a fruitful debate based in logic, I was forcing my adversaries to rely on emotion. It didn’t help either one of us understand the other.
When I started canvassing to get fracking banned in Maryland last year (which we did!!! YEYAH) I learned early on that not everyone wanted to have the conversation and even fewer people had the same opinion as I did on the issue. I talked with my field manager about this issue I was running into and she very bluntly said “it’s not your job to change their mind, opinion or voice, it’s your job to let them know that their voice matters and can be heard if they’re willing to take action.” I’m paraphrasing but that’s essentially it, right Madeline? So I took out “conflict words” from my opening statement at the door. Words like “Trump, EPA, global warming”. Not because those words didn’t have value but because those words drew boundaries around each of our understandings that made it unlikely that we could even have a shared shaded spot in a Venn Diagram. I didn’t take those words out because I was worried about having a Trump supporter get angry at me, I was taking them out because I recognized an opportunity for common ground that would not exist if I brought a name into our conversation that didn’t belong there. Look, Trump is our president. But how we treat the Earth is bigger than him and it’s certainly bigger than me. And do you know what I heard when I took those “trigger” words out of my rhetoric? I heard global warming deniers recognize the effect fracking would have on the Chesapeake Bay, a place that taught them how to fish. I heard Trump supporters apologize for his environmental policies while they signed my petition. I heard libertarians admit that if there was one thing worth rallying behind, it was protecting our planet and source of life.
So this man called me a silly girl and asked me, and I quote, “What makes you so dam smart? what have you done in this world in the short time you’ve been here besides judging others?”
And it got me thinking, I spend so many of my conversations working toward finding common ground with the other person that I was completely dumbfounded by this question (the second question because “what makes you so dam smart” can just be answered with: damn.).
So I wanted to take a little moment to write down the ways in which I’ve impacted the world around me.
Don’t lose your cool. See the opportunity for common ground in every conversation you have. And most importantly, know your perspective, your experiences, and your life have immeasurable value.
What does it mean to enter a “Hothouse Earth” state?
We are currently hurtling toward a tipping point of irreversible damage to our planet. A “Hothouse Earth” state occurs when global temperatures reach 7 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit (4 to 5 degrees Celsius) higher than preindustrial temperatures (other sources have suggested just 2 degrees Celsius will do the trick) and sea levels reach 33 to 200 feet (10 to 60 meters) higher than they are today.
What are the scientists saying?
They want to be clear that this is not yet a theory but is still an extension of existing scientific studies. We can all hope that they’re wrong, I’m sure they are hoping the same thing. Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and one of the study authors, has stated “We need to know now. It’s so urgent. This is one of the most existential questions in science.”
What does this mean for humans?
It means that we either continue exploiting the Earth for it’s resources and deal with the biggest refugee crisis the world has ever seen, or we change our relationship with the Earth to one of stewardship.
What do I think?
I think we can’t wait for scientists to confirm or dismiss this potential outcome. I think that regardless of where we’re from, what gender we identify with or what cultures we celebrate, we are all from Earth. Everyone who went before us and everyone we hope to have come after us. We owe it to them to realign our priorities and fight to alter our behavior before we cause irreversible damage to the land we call home.
I’m not sure why I haven’t seen more talk about this monumental move by Inova Hospitals (the other article can be found here). But then I start to talk about it and I hear people pumping the breaks. I hear them say things like “a hospital is the one place we do need single use plastics!” or “that’s taking it a little far, don’t you think?”
So far there has been no declaration on Inova’s website (that I can find anyway) and no public press release.
Just to be clear: They are removing single use plastics from public spaces like the cafeterias and gift shops.
J. Stephen Jones, M.D., president and CEO at Inova was quoted
“We understand the health of our planet affects the health of our patients and community, and encourage others in our industry to join this endeavor.”
According to Seema Wadhwa, Inova Health System assistant vice president of sustainability and wellness, the hospitals use about 3 million plastic straws a year which is about 1 mile of straws being used every day. This is a huge step in the right direction. Hospital officials recognize that straws play an important role in accessibility for some patients and have a plan in place.
Acknowledging that straws can be essential for some disabled individuals and patients, the hospital will stock eco-friendly, paper straws for use when necessary. The target date to eliminate plastic straws from hospital public areas is America Recycles Day on Nov. 15.
This is amazing. A monumental move for Northern VA and for the Hospital Industry. I just can’t seem to understand why more people aren’t talking about this. Why are we so hesitant to explore the potential these big moves can have on our planet and our lifestyles? Why is this a hot-button topic and how can we change the way we speak about these issues in order to change the way they are received?
I hope that by not aggressively publicizing this move, that the action will speak for itself. When other groups have announced huge moves to get off single-use plastics, they have faced a lot of backlash from various groups and individuals. Maybe we’re not hearing about it because we can’t handle it until we see a viable example of a ban in progress.
3 million plastic straws a year. 3. Million. In just 5 years, we will have effectively prevented 15 million straws from entering our landfills, waterways and oceans. That’s right, I can do math too.
That’s pretty amazing if you ask me.
Zero Waste Donation
Any amount helps us keep the site up and running!
A teacher of mine in high school told my class to put up dividers around our desks and then passed out M&Ms to everyone. He asked everyone to organize them. After a few minutes he gets to my desk and sees that I have made a sun and a tree out of the colors I had been given. Laughing, he asked everyone to see how their neighbor had organized their M&Ms. Everyone had organized them into color columns or blobs. He points to mine and says “everyone does things a little differently, and we can all be right.”
Life up close
A travel and lifestyle blog
The Culture Of Now