Is it Easy Being Green?

My daily adventures in attempting an environmentally-friendly lifestyle

No Impact Experiment, part 2: Trash January 13, 2010

Filed under: composting,recycling,reducing waste,Reuse — isgreeneasy @ 5:56 pm
Tags: ,

The second week of my No Impact Experiment focused on one of my favorite subjects–trash. I think about trash a lot–maybe a little too much. But this gave me a chance to think about it even more! The instructions were to save all of my trash for one day and separate it into piles of stuff I used for more or less than 10 minutes, and then think about how it made me feel. Then I was supposed to put together a no trash travel kit consisting of a reusable water bottle and mug, tupperware, old t-shirt or handkerchief and reusable produce bags. Throughout the week I was to keep track of what I absolutely had to throw away and couldn’t find an alternative for.

So what I found out is a) I’ve been dropping the ball on reusing a durable coffee mug when I buy my americanos; b) I use a decent amount of tissues; c) food waste is definitely, by far, the thorn in my trashy side; and d) the answer to how creating trash makes me feel is: crazy. I weighed my waste one day and had 1.7 pounds, most of which was food waste like vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and egg shells, plus a hefty five pound turkey carcass (it was a couple of days after Thanksgiving and I made turkey soup). Food waste is heavy and takes up a lot of room in the garbage. Since starting my little composting project I’m able to compost some food waste, but because I have a small bin I can only compost a fraction of what I create, which is so frustrating! I looked into how No Impact Man was able to compost everything in the middle of NYC, and he had worm bin for some of the waste and dropped off the rest for a local environmental group that does composting.

I also looked through my recycling bin, because even though it’s not going to the landfill, these are still resources that I used for a short time and will be “down-cycled” to the point of not being able to be recycled anymore at some point. Our recycling bin always fills up fast, which is definitely better than throwing things in the garbage, but it still isn’t ideal. Many of those things could just not be there in the first place. I had one pound, 12 ounces of recycling from two days, and it consisted mostly of paper–newspaper, mail, packaging–and then also included a milk container, apple cider jug and a couple of glass jars.

So where can I make improvements? Since the trash week I’ve been much better at taking my own mug when I buy coffee; I’ve used it probably half of the time which isn’t too bad. I’ve also worked on reusing produce bags when I shop; I’ve been good about using durable shopping bags, but I’ve been pretty inconsistent with the produce bags. I’ve been thinking a little more about packaging, for instance, I’m trying to never buy meat in the plastic or styrofoam containers–instead I’m getting the paper-wrapped meats from the butcher counter. That will still create waste, but it’s not quite as evil as the plastic. Those are a few changes I’m working on so far, and I’m still thinking about other changes I can make. I don’t know if I’m willing to replace tissues with handkerchiefs, just don’t know about that one right now.

The unavoidable food scrap waste is just going to be an ongoing dilemma I fear. I am going to look into giving my food scraps to a local farm at my farmer’s market; I’ve heard that some of them may take organic waste. I’m at least working on wasting less food buy buying/cooking more realistic amounts, so hopefully that will help a bit. Fortunately my husband is a leftover-eating king, so he’s doing his part for the team! More trash-reducing updates to come!


I Must Compost! March 23, 2009

Filed under: composting — isgreeneasy @ 1:50 pm
Tags: , ,

Several posts ago I wrote about my strong desire to compost in my apartment, and listed a few options for how I might do that. I decided to go with the plastic garbage can route, mainly because it seemed like an easy, cheap and mobile way to compost on my balcony.

I started out by buying a small garbage can with a locking lid. With the help of my husband, we drilled holes throughout the container, on the bottom and sides. The holes are small, but big enough to let air in and liquid out.

Drilling holes into the bottom of the container

Drilling holes into the bottom of the container

Drilling holes into the sides

Drilling holes into the sides

I then started building the bin by creating layers of “browns” (carbon) and “greens” (nitrogen). It’s important to have a balance between these materials for the composting process to occur properly. I began by putting a layer of shredded newspaper in the bottom of the bin. Newspaper will be serving as the main brown material in my compost bin.

Shredded newspaper at the bottom of the bin

Shredded newspaper at the bottom of the bin

Next, I added my first layer of greens to the bin. I had been saving kitchen scraps in freezer bags for weeks, so I had a good supply of material ready to go. It’s truly amazing to see how much kitchen waste, in size and weight, comes from organic materials.Yard trimmings and food residuals together constitute 24 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream (US EPA). Since I’ve started collecting it, the frequency that we need to take out the garbage has drastically reduced. And, the smell has drastically improved!

Layer of kitchen scraps added to the bin

Layer of kitchen scraps added to the bin

I continued layering, with the next layer of browns largely consisting of dried grass, leaves and twigs from my flower pots on the balcony. It was around this time that I cut off the tip of my finger, but I won’t get into that. I’ll just say to ALWAYS WEAR GLOVES when composting or gardening! Days later, I’m still having a hard time typing, among other things that I need my finger for. (I just hope the tip went in the compost bin.) I know, gross!

Layer of dried plants and grass

Layer of dried plants and grass

One more layer of greens…

More greens

More greens

Then, a final layer of browns (always having browns on top is a good idea) and some water. Moisture is very important to composting. The material should always be the consistency of a wrung-out sponge.

Final layer of browns and some added water

Final layer of browns and some added water

I clamped on the lid (yes, I was doing all of this one-handed) and picked a spot for the bin to stay on the balcony. After noticing some water come out of the bottom, I realized it should have a tray under it. I think a huge flower pot tray should do the trick.

Now the question is, will this work on a balcony? Will the critters find their way into it and create composting magic? Stay tuned to find out; I’ll write an update later this spring.


Putting on some weight December 18, 2008

compost1Garbage weight, that is. I’ve never noticed the magnitude of my kitchen waste until composting for three years and then going without it. It’s just as impressive to me as the amount of recyclables we accumulate, if not more. Food waste is unavoidable: vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, moldy leftovers and stale bread seem to fill up our little garbage can every few days. It’s so sad knowing that it’s going to the landfill when it could become beautiful, glorious compost. So, what are my options?

A Bin with a View
Living on the 11th floor of an urban apartment building leaves out the option of having a backyard compost bin. We do have a balcony though, and I’ve been looking into the possibility of setting up a compost bin out there. At first I thought that the critters wouldn’t find a compost bin on a balcony, but I guess where there’s a will, there’s a way. It could be worth trying out on a small scale and see what happens. Using a garbage can with a lid seems like a good option for an apartment balcony. Check out this video that shows you how. But, I wonder if I would be going against some city code…

There’s a Hair in My Dirt
I’ve already mentioned my husband’s opposition to having a worm bin in our apartment. He’s not anti-composting at all (in California he contributed to our food scrap bin just as much as I did) but had a bad worm bin experience years ago when his sister attempted to vermicompost in their apartment. I’ve tried to convince him that I know we can have a worm bin without problems like fruit flies, but he’s still skittish. I still think there’s hope for a worm bin. But there’s also the issue that worm bins can only handle a small amount of food waste, so that wouldn’t completely solve the problem anyway. Meanwhile, I can study my Worm Woman book.

Can Donating Food Waste be a Tax Write-Off?
I’ve been curious about whether there’s a community garden or urban farm out there that is in need of quality food waste for composting. Sure, I would be willing to fill up a kitty litter bucket and deliver it somewhere within a reasonable distance. While at the FamilyFarmed Expo last month, I was thrilled to find out that a really cool local organization called Growing Power is going to start accepting organic waste for its urban farms in Chicago in the spring. I just have to wait a little while and this might turn out to be a great partnership!

Compost Wish List Item
I recently found out about the NatureMill electric composter. This is pretty darn nifty. The only issue I can see (other than the cost at $300 and up–yikes!) is that you have to plug it in, using electrical energy that other methods of composting wouldn’t need. But, they claim that it uses just 5 kwh/month–“less than a garbage truck would burn in diesel fuel to haul the same waste”. Wow, they even have one model that composts pet waste. Is it too late to ask for this for Chrismakkuh?


My top five December 4, 2008

Having finally just read High Fidelity, I thought I would start with a top five list. This will be the kind you check things off of–the good kind. My list consists of some greenish things I’ve had on my mind lately. Some have gone no further than my mind, while others I’ve done a little something about, but not enough. Here we go (in alphabetical order):

1. Composting — I want to compost! Having lived in CA for three years and worked at an environmental education center, I had three, count ’em three, composting options at my fingertips. My workplace had a compost bin, a worm bin and a “green bin” for the municipal organics recycling program. Now in Chicago in a high-rise apartment building with no municipal program, no yard for a compost bin and a husband adamantly opposed to having a worm bin in our home, the options are more limited. I’m going to see what I can do…

2. Dryer Sheets — These are just one of those things that I’ve somehow overlooked. I grew up using them and have just never stopped. I thought I was doing a good thing by not using any of that liquid stuff, and I use the unscented kind. But then I read something about the chemicals in dryer sheets and I suddenly felt like an eco-dummy. What can I replace my beloved dryer sheets, and do I in fact need to make the switch?

3. Food — I do love my food. As Liz Lemon on 30 Rock says in response to the question “Are you hungry?” she replies, “Always!” I’ve been getting more into organics, farmer’s markets, cooking healthy, etc. over the past few years. I recently attended a “locavore” class and an event focused on local farming, and both of those have really motivated me to go local. I want to see how feasible and practical it is to get more local stuff into my shopping repertoire.

4. Plastics — Just when I think I’ve rid my life of the majority of plastics, another plastic container will pop out in front of me. Oh, how they taunt me! Let’s face it, it’s impossible to be completely rid of plastic, but what else is there that I can get rid of or replace that I haven’t yet? I will investigate.

5. Home Air Quality — Just what are those candles that I (used to) enjoy burning putting out into the atmosphere? And even though I’ve been known to kill a few plants, what kind of difference can plants make for air quality in my apartment? Indoor air quality is supposed to sometimes be way worse than outdoor, so what else might be going on at home that affects the air we breathe? And will sniffing the breeze from the chocolate factory a few blocks away make me gain weight?

There’s more where these came from, but that’ll do it for now.