Sunday, March 31, 2019

Trial and Error Toward a Plastic-Free Lent and a Zero-Waste Future

If you have ever thought about making changes toward a lifestyle with less impact, you will probably need to remind yourself regularly that baby steps are okay. We make progress little by little. The important thing is to not give up and continue with forward momentum. Don't remain satisfied or stagnant with the little victories; incorporate them, make them habitual, and then move on.

That said, remember that living more lightly takes intention, investigation, and experimentation. We no longer have home economic classes taught in schools in the States, though I would argue strongly that we should! I wouldn't argue that because I think we need to revert to a particular way of life of past generations, but because there are SO many skills that have been lost when it comes to managing our personal wellness, our nutrition, our finances: home economics! And there are so many new, important developments continually happening around the globe that trickle down and can - or should - affect our day to day lives, that we need to be diligent about educating ourselves in order to be a blessing and not a curse to the futures of our children's generations.

So yes, experimentation. That is the name of the game.

What are alternatives to the readily available items of our daily lives that are causing us to bury ourselves in our own waste? There are many things to do, many areas to address, but it's easiest to start with the things you know are creating the most waste in your own life (check your trash bin!), the things you use the most often, or something you are about to run out of.

One of the things for me was a vegan coffee creamer. There are many in the marketplace nowadays, but did you know that even those creamers and milks - dairy and non-dairy alike - that come in cartons are in cartons that are all lined with plastic? What used to be lined with wax and was biodegradable back in the day (little paper cups, for instance) are now all lined with plastic and are not recyclable. That's right, your "paper" coffee cup from your favorite coffee shop can't be recycled; it is garbage. Another reason to bring your own thermos or cup, but I digress...

So, I took to the internet to figure out a way to make myself a creamer with hopefully zero waste and I have found it! It was not without it's own trial, however, because that lovely little bottle pictured at the top of my post (in an old salsa jar!) is my first try in years at oatmilk and I wasn't impressed. Actually, it is pretty great for cereal, baking, etc, but I didn't really like it in my coffee.

I have made homemade almond milk in the past too. It's super easy, as all of these nondairy milks are, but almonds are VERY resource intensive and as the demand for it has increased, so have the environmental effects in the regions in which it is produced. Plus, I'm not a big fan of almond milk in my coffee either, as it has a slightly bitter taste and seems to react a bit with the tannin in coffee.

Cashews on the other hand...

Oh, cashews, you creamy, dreamy little things. They take hardly any time at all to soften up and are, for me, the perfect match with my French Roast in the morning. Cashews blended with water, a pinch of salt, as teaspoon of vanilla, and sweetener (I used some agave nectar I had on hand) and oh, my. It looks just like the milk at the top and, in fact, is living in that very jar in my refrigerator as I type this. I had too much for that jar alone and have frozen a second portion for later in the week. My understanding from my research is that fresh cashew milk freezes better than commercial brands anyway, as they have additives that tend to separate out when thawed (they can be reblended to fix this, but with homemade, you avoid that extra step).

All of the ingredients for this recipe were vegan and zero waste: cashews from bulk bins, vanilla, in bulk from the co-op, and salt from a paper container. The agave is not zero waste - at least mine wasn't; it was in a plastic container I purchased before Lent. I am hoping to find a bulk source (maybe when TARE opens in April in Minneapolis), or I will just use a bit of maple syrup which I purchase from my friend Katie's sister, Becky. (THANK YOU BECKY; I LOVE YOUR SYRUP!!!!!!!)

Three more experiments to report on - two passes and a fail.

The first is this hairspray I tried making this weekend. It's essentially lemons simmered in water with a tablespoon of vodka to aid in dispersion. It was incredibly cost effective, but unfortunately, did not hold my hair the way I wanted it to. Depending on your hair type, it may work perfectly for you. There are plenty of super easy recipes online that cost pennies on the dollar.

Today I whipped up my second try with a sugar spray: 2 T sugar to 1.5 c water and 1 T vodka. I added a bit more sugar (but not too much, as I was warned it could get crunchy), since I need more hold. You can add essential oils too, for fragrance. I'll wait to see if it works and report back. And then if I find it effective, I may add some fragrance. In the meantime, I just put it in my old hairspray bottle and will try it from there.

The first win is the pair of pants that I have in the photo above that the vodka and lemons are sitting on. I love my tailor. Do you use one? I would say that 90% of my clothing comes from thrift stores. When I find something that is really nice quality that I want to have for a long time, but doesn't fit exactly as I want it, I have it tailored. I think I'll talk about clothing in another post, but suffice it to say that I love the ability to shop second hand as well as have my clothes made to fit me perfectly. Yes, that adds to their cost, but my reasons for shopping second-hand are not always about the bottom line. For me, it includes keeping tons upon tons of clothing out of the waste stream too.

My other win is a fun one. I picked up this gum at Mississippi Market. It is completely paperboard, the pieces of gum are not individually wrapped, and the gum itself doesn't have plastic in it. Did you know that conventional gum does? Bleh.

AAAND finally:

While I continue to share with you my own experiments here, I also plan to share with you in posts about easy ways you can get started right now. Even if you don't shop regularly at places designed for sustainable shopping, it doesn't mean that you can't make small changes that will have a big impact. Those will be coming up here on the blog and if you have specific questions you would like me to try to answer, please leave them in the comments or on my Facebook page comments. I would love to answer those there or use them to create future blog posts.

And if you can't wait, here are 3 small changes you can make the next time you go to the grocery store:

1) YES - bring cloth bags if you have them. Leave them in your car. Try to get in the habit. BUT, if you forget them, choose paper bags and refuse plastic.

2) Choose loose, not bagged produce. Produce is often bagged in plastic bags or plastic mesh. It may save you a little bit of money, but not so much. The bags are so the stores can sell at unit prices and for ease in shipping. You don't need them and will throw them away as soon as you get home. Even if you plan to recycle the plastic, remember that plastic never really recycles: it only downcycles to a lesser plastic that will then break down into particles too small to every be used but never actually go away.

3) Don't bag your own produce in the produce aisle. Yes, the cart may be dirty, but you are going to wash the produce anyway, because beyond the cart, the produce has come from the ground, has traveled in a dirty truck, and has been handled by many, many hands. You will wash it anyway, you don't need a bag. (Note: There are wonderful sellers of reusable produce bags on Etsy if you want to buy some for smaller produce such as grapes, green beans, snow peas, mushrooms, etc. Support a small business! Or you can make some of your own!) 

I have many more ideas to share, but these will just get you started and can make a difference even if you did not plan ahead to do more intentional shopping. Good luck and let me know how it goes!

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