The Problem With Disposable Chopsticks

11.17.2016

0800

The world’s fast growing appetite for Asian food has a lot to do with both population growth and economic development on the continent. Demand has soared in China, where GDP per capita has increased more than ten fold since 2000, and also in Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia. The long-standing myth that disposable chopsticks are produced with scrap wood products just isn’t true. In fact, an estimated 25+ million mature tree (each usually over 20 years old) are logged each year just to make chopsticks that are used once and then thrown away. The statistics behind disposable chopsticks are surprising:

  • In China, about 57 billion pairs of wooden disposable chopsticks are made each year. They’re made from cottonwood, birch, spruce and bamboo.
  • Half of these disposables are used within China itself. Of the other half, 77 percent are exported to Japan, and South Korea.
  • With China’s 1.3 billion people, in one year, they go through roughly 45 billion pairs of the throwaway utensils; that averages out to nearly 130 million pairs of chopsticks a day. (The export market accounts for 18 billion pairs annually.
  • Globally, about 1.4 billion people throw away 80 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks each year
  • In the U.S., Americans threw out 31 million tons of plastic — including plastic utensils — in 2010, making up 12.4 percent of the nation’s municipal solid waste. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, only 8 percent of that plastic waste was recovered from recycling.

The impact of so many discarded chopsticks is of course unsustainable. With China now the world’s largest importer of wood, governmental organizations are aware that the nation cannot sustain the level of deforestation needed to manufacture so many throwaway products. In 2006 China imposed a 5% tax on disposable chopsticks, a move which resulted in a drop in manufacturing.

Greenpeace China has estimated that to keep up with this demand, 100 acres of trees need to be felled every 24 hours. Think here of a forest larger than Tiananmen Square — or 100 American football fields — being sacrificed every day. That works out to roughly 16 million to 25 million felled trees a year.

The chairman of Jilin Forestry Industry Group noted that only 4,000 chopsticks can be created from a 20-year-old tree, 2 million of which were being cut down each year to produce them.

Then there are the restaurants. The alternative to wooden disposables is sterilizing the tableware (plastic, metal or durable wood chopsticks) after each use. But the cost differential is significant: Disposables run about a penny apiece, while sterilization ranges from 15 to 70 cents. Restaurants, especially the low-end ones, worry about passing the costs on to customers. And the worry would seem to be warranted: Consumer advocacy groups from 21 Chinese cities published an open letter in March arguing that the costs of sterilization should not be passed on to consumers as the food safety law obligates restaurants to provide free, clean and safe tableware.

Here’s the kicker:

Disposable chopsticks are made by boiling them in toxic chemicals. Disposable chopsticks tend to be consistent in color. The exact same color. This is due to the manufacturing process. Sulfur dioxide is used as a preservative on the wood. It’s used to create a consistent color and texture throughout the products.

In 2005, a Chinese consumer council warned that sulfur dioxide from throwaway chopsticks was connected with an increase in asthma and respiratory problems. Sulfur dioxide is a toxic gas and source of air pollution. Small amounts of sulfur dioxide can be used in the wine making process, sometimes even in preserving dried fruits. Technically, you’re not consuming your wood chopsticks, so it doesn’t count?

The most environmentally friendly option is to stick with metal chopsticks — Korea’s preference in utensils — but they can be quite weighty and slippery to use for beginners. You can also buy a set of formal chopsticks with a carrying case, and use those.

Out of all the animal protein options available, I tend to favor fish. My friends and family are also big sushi fans. Whenever we go out we tend to chose sushi diners to indulge ourselves with. (Good thing is that sushi fills us up quickly.) Almost every sushi restaurant I’ve ever been to, uses disposable wooden chopsticks. I always felt bad for using these chopsticks because I know that all of these chopsticks will end up in the landfill. For this reason, I added a pair of chopsticks to my travel utensil bag. It is a bit odd to pull it out during dinner at times, but then again, making waves is always odd in the beginning. Maybe I’ll just invest in a set of metal chopsticks instead. Also…. don’t eat your chopsticks.

What I Stopped Buying- Garage, Living Room and Holidays

11.10.2016

0800

2016-07-26 12.26.26
2016-07-26 12.28.26

My last part in my ongoing list of “Items I’ve stopped buying” focuses on my garage, living room and holiday items. This list is very small in reference to the items I frequently bought. The garage items focus around doing laundry and the items needed to do laundry. The holiday items refer to items I used to buy for wrapping gifts.

Doing my laundry is my least favorite chore and ever since I simplified the amount of clothes I own, it’s not as bad as it used to be. (My capsule wardrobe now consists of 27 items.) But also not needing dryer sheets or dropping my items off at a dry cleaners also make for a simple laundry routine. I have so few items when I do laundry, that I simply hang everything up when I’m done. I used to sit and fold my items for a good amount of time, and had to set aside time to do it.

Admittedly, my simplistic routines have made me slightly lazier, but it’s also saved me time so I’m not packing my days off with things I need to get done. I actually HAVE time to be lazy- it’s weird. But I’ll take it. It’s weird because I’ve been conditioned to constantly be busy or with the tasks I need to get done each weekend or every other weekend. These tasks are supposed to take up a good amount of my day (that way I feel I’ve accomplished something for that day). When you get to the point when you find time to breathe (I mean a lot of time), it’s well worth the zero waste journey.

There’s more planning involved in the beginning and routines to get used to, but honestly….. who doesn’t love naps??

GARAGE

  1. Dryer Sheets ——————-> N/A
  2. Dry Cleaning ——————-> Hang items in bathroom while showering so they can steam.(I’ll iron if I ABSOLUTELY have to.)
  3. Laundry Soap ——————> Paper Packaged Powder Laundry Soap

LIVING ROOM

  1. Candles (Bed Bath & Beyond) ——> Sage leaves
  2. Flower Bouquets —————-> Fresh Flowers from backyard

HOLIDAYS

  1. Wrapping Paper —————-> Colorful Bandanas  [wrap and tuck] & old t-shirts made into reuseable gift bags.

The Simple Route To Less Trash

11.01.2016

0800

1

The route to the zero waste lifestyle is quite simple. As you can see from the illustration above, this route can have nine stops along the way. Even with nine stops, some of these steps can be combined with one another being as the actions follow one another quite closely. The beginning of the journey is a little difficult because you’re still unprepared to get rid of your wasteful items and you haven’t bought items to replace the functional use. To prepare for this, I do suggest you examine what you ABSOLUTELY NEED in your daily routines and then find/purchase products that will compensate easily. Here is a simple outline of how you can get started:

  1. Simplify:
    Edit your belongings. Understand your true wants and needs. This can be in a list form or simply going through each day and examining each routine you go through.
  2. Refuse:
    Refuse single-use disposable items. That’s anything you use once and then dispose of it. This can easily be done because all you really have to do is say no.
  3. Bring your own:
    Have durables to keep single-use plastics away. Items like a reusable bag, straw, tumbler and water bottle. Always bring these items items wherever you go. I’ve been stuck a few times in situations where I did not pack all of my utensils (reusable cup, fork, spoon and metal straw) because I didn’t think I’d run into situations where I would need them.
  4. Whole Foods:
    Become resourceful with food by learning to make easy & quick meals from unprocessed and unpackaged foods. I like to make simple meals from whole produce combined with food I buy from the bulk bins. I don’t like spending a lot of time cooking, so my grocery list is pretty repetitive and simple.
  5. Compost:
    Separate your food waste! From backyard to warm composting, don’t let your food scraps go to the landfill! Composting is a great way to divert your foods waste and also create better soil for your garden.
  6. Buy Better & Repair:
    Buy less, buy better. Seek multifunctional, repairable, and lasting products.If you can learn one or two stitches with a needle and thread, you’d be surprised how much longer you can extend the life of your possessions.
  7. Recycle well:
    Recycling is good, but it’s not the solution. Reduce the amount you recycle by reducing  the amount you consume. This is a really good rule because although “recycling” seems like a solution, there’s still energy and resources being put into the recycling plants and not all “recyclable items” are 100% recyclable. Some items cannot be broken down and others have to be picked apart in order to extract the recyclable materials, which means the rest of the materials that made up the item will subsequently go to the landfill. The best solution here is to simply not rely on recycling alone.
  8. Use your voice:
    Kindly use your voice to express how you want products designed and recovered. Give companies businesses and manufacturers incentive to make the change! If you speak up, companies will listen. It may not feel like it or seem like it, but as a consumer, you have the choice to make each time you purchase any item. You’re voice speaks through your actions and that’s pretty loud.
  9. Support the community:
    Get to know your community. Shop local or start a community garden. You can walk, bike, bus, as a means of transportation too. I tend to shop at local stores because I don’t want to purchase items that are simple cookie cutter products. At times, yes, I will need a cookie cutter item such as a power strip or power cord, but majority of the time I don’t. Local businesses do need our support and voice to continue to let them thrive and flourish. Create a change- be the change.

Understanding Recycling Light Bulbs

 

10.20.2016

0800

cfl-recycling-process

Recycling Light Bulbs Link

Trying to understand how light bulbs are recycled takes a little more research on my part. I honestly have never known how recycling centers go about recycling light bulbs. Due to the many different materials that make up light bulbs, I could only guess that the process was tedious. So here is an overall step by step process of the recycling process:

  1. Lamps are sent to the recycling facility
    1. Upon arrival at the recycling facility, lamps are removed from their containers and fed into specialized machine for recycling lamps. The entire process is fully automatic and incorporated in a container in which the air is brought to subpressure, thereby preventing mercury from being released into the environment.
  2. By-product separation
    1. With the aid of a sophisticated patented air transportation system, the phosphor powder is separated in different steps from the glass and metal by-products.
  3. Glass and aluminum stored
    1. Clean glass and aluminum end-caps are separated and stored for re-use.
  4. Mercury is isolated
    1. The mercury bearing powder is collected in distiller barrels beneath the cyclone and the self-cleansing dust filters
  5. Mercury is extracted
    1. The powder is then retorted to drive out the mercury.
  6. Elements are ready for re-use
    1. At the end of the process the glass, metal end-caps, powder, and mercury can all be re-used.
  7. Recycling certificate is issued
    1. Once the materials have been fully processed by the recycling facility, an official Certificate of Recycling will be produced and emailed to you for record keeping.

This is an overall general process of light bulb recycling. As much as you can- please, please recycle these products carefully and appropriately. There are a lot of different materials that go into the production process of producing lamps that can harm the environment and the toxic materials will always come full circle back to us.

Understanding Recycling Paper And Cardboard

 

10.18.2016

0800

paper_recycling_diagram

Paper Recycling Process Link

Paper is one of the more utilized materials that we use in our society. It’s an amazing material that is very versatile in many uses. Although recycling paper seems like a simple process, different types of paper, create different issues when it comes to the recycling process.

In 2011, 66.8 percent of paper consumed in the United States was recycled. Every ton of paper recycled saves more than 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space, and if you measure by weight, more paper is recovered for recycling than plastic, aluminum and glass combined. Paper is a material that we’re used to recycling, since 87 percent of us have access to curbside or drop-off recycling for paper.

The process of recycling paper can be summed up into a few simple steps:

  1. Paper is taken from the bin and deposited in a large recycling container along with paper from other recycling bins.
  2. The paper is taken to a recycling plant where it is separated into types and grades.
  3. The separated paper is then washed with soapy water to remove inks, plastic film, staples and glue. The paper is put into a large holder where it is mixed with water to create ‘slurry’.
  4. By adding different materials to the slurry, different paper products can be created, such as cardboard, newsprints or office paper.
  5. The slurry is spread using large rollers into large thin sheets.
  6. The paper is left to dry, and then it is rolled up ready to be cut and sent back to the shops.

Here Are Some Facts About Paper Grades:

  • Paper Grades – There are five basic paper grade categories, according to theEPA. While these terms may be most useful to paper mills looking to process certain kinds of paper, you may hear these terms once in a while, and it’s possible you’ll need to be able to distinguish between them.
    • Old Corrugated Containers – You might know this as “corrugated cardboard.” It’s most often found in boxes and product packaging.
    • Mixed Paper – This is a broad category of paper that includes things like mail, catalogs, phone books and magazines.
    • Old Newspapers – This one is pretty self-explanatory. Mills use newspapers, a lower grade paper, to make more newsprint, tissue and other products.
    • High Grade Deinked Paper – This quality paper consists of things like envelopes, copy paper and letterhead that has gone through the printing process and had the ink removed.
    • Pulp Substitutes – This paper is usually discarded scraps from mills, and you probably won’t have to worry about running into it, though it may find its way into products you buy.

Some Paper Recycling Curiosities:

  • Once you know what kind of paper recycling is available to you and which types of paper are recyclable, you might still have some questions about paper recycling. Here are a few common items that cause confusion:
    • Shredded Paper – Ever wondered whether shredded paper can be recycled? The answer is yes, though you may encounter some restrictions regarding the size of the shredded pieces and the way the paper is contained. Check with your local recycling program for specific information.
    • Staples & Paper Clips – Believe it or not, equipment at paper mills that recycle recovered paper is designed to remove things like staples and paper clips, so you don’t need to remove them before recycling. It is probably in your best interest to remove paper clips, though, so they can be reused.
    • Sticky Notes – If your local recycling program accepts mixed paper, it will most likely accept sticky notes. Paper mills that process mixed paper are able to remove adhesives. To be on the safe side, check with your local program to make sure sticky notes aren’t a problem.

Understanding Recycling Electronics

 

10.11.2016

0800

ewaste-recycling-process

Electronic Waste Link

The electronics recycling process has always left me wondering if all of our electronics gets recycled properly. There are so many bits and parts to electronics, it’s hard to believe that there would be no trash leftover to end up in the landfill. In recent years, with documentaries revealing where our old electronic end up, it’s a bit discouraging for me to invest in any new electronics. Although it’s an uncomfortable reality, I prefer to be informed more than leave my understanding in the hands of the media or brush it off. I like to find out truths no matter how painful it can be. This knowledge also helps me shape the decisions in my life so that I can make more informed decisions for my home and family in the future. I thought I would post some information and facts about electronic waste for anyone who might want to know the ugly truth.

  1. Electronics are Difficult To Recycle
    1. Recycling electronics isn’t like recycling cardboard. These products are not easy to recycle. Proper and safe recycling often costs more money than the materials are worth. Why?
  2. Electronics are not designed for recycling
    1. Materials used and physical designs make recycling challenging. While companies claim to offer “green electronics,” we are a far way from truly green products.
    2. Many electronic products are designed for the dump. They have short-life spans, or become obsolete quickly. They are often expensive to repair, and sometimes it’s difficult to find parts. Many consumer-grade electronics products are cheaper to replace than to fix even if you can find someone to fix it. Because they are designed using many hazardous compounds, recycling these products involves processing toxic material streams, which is never 100% safe.
    3. Some of the problematic toxic materials that must be removed before recycling are lead in cathode ray tube (CRT) TV monitors and mercury lamps in LCD screens, as well as PVC, flame retardants, and other toxic additives in plastic components..
    4. Before electronics companies can make the claim that they are green and sustainable, they must shift away from producing “disposable” products designed with a limited lifespan (planned obsolescence) and towards products that are designed to last. Instead of purchasing products with high failure rates and the need for frequent replacement, we should be able to choose long-living, upgradeable goods that have long warranties and can be efficiently repaired and recycled
  3. Electronics contain many toxic materials
    1. Monitors and televisions made with tubes (not flat panels) have between 4 and 8 pounds of lead in them. Most of the flat panel monitors and TV’s being recycled now contain less lead, but more mercury, from their mercury lamps. About 40% of the heavy metals, including lead, mercury and cadmium, in landfills come from electronic equipment discards.
  4. Discarded Electronics Are Managed Badly = Most e-waste still goes in the landfill
    1. The EPA estimates that in 2011, the US generated nearly 3.4 million TONS of e-waste. But only about 25% of that was collected for recycling. The other 75% went to landfills and incinerators, despite the fact that hazardous chemicals in them can leach out of landfills into groundwater and streams, or that burning the plastics in electronics can emit dioxin.
  5. Most Recyclers Don’t Recycle, They Export
    1. And what about the 25% that is supposedly recycled? Most recycling firms take the low road, exporting instead of recycling. A large amount of e-waste that is collected for recycling is shipped overseas for dismantling under horrific conditions, poisoning the people, land, air, and water in China, other Asian nations and to Ghana and Nigeria in western Africa.
    2. When we drop off our old computers at an e-waste collection event, or have a recycler come and get them from our offices, we want to believe that the recycler is going to do the right thing: to reuse them if possible, and handle them in ways that are safe for workers and the environment. Electronics contain many toxic chemicals, and so a responsible recycler is one that is making sure that he – and the other vendors he may sell parts or materials to – is managing all aspects of the business as safely as possible..
  6. Global e-Waste Dumping
    1. The problem is that many electronics recyclers don’t actually recycle the electronics they collect from us. They can make more money by selling old electronic products to exporting waste traders than by processing it here in the U.S. Traders send it to developing countries where workers earn extremely low wages (often a few dollars per day) and where health and safety and environmental laws, enforcement, infrastructure and citizens’ rights are very weak.
    2. Simply stated, we are solving our e-waste problem by exporting it to poor countries around the globe.

Primitive Processing Contaminates Workers, Residents

In these countries, the e-waste ends up in backyard recycling operations, often literally behind peoples’ homes. One example is Guiyu, China, an area where a lot of our e-waste goes. They use crude and unsafe methods of taking apart our old computers and TVs to get to and remove the metals, which they can sell, causing great harm in the process. These dangerous practices include:

  1. Bashing open cathode ray tubes with hammers, exposing the toxic phosphor dust inside.
  2. Cooking circuit boards in woks over open fires to melt the lead solder, breathing in toxic lead fumes.
  3. Burning wires in open piles to melt away the plastics (to get at the copper inside).
  4. Burning the plastic casings, creating dioxins and furans – some of the most poisonous fumes you can breathe.
  5. Throwing the unwanted (but very hazardous) leaded glass into former irrigation ditches
  6. Dumping pure acids and dissolved heavy metals directly into their rivers.
  7. These horrific working conditions plus weak labor standards in China and many of the other developing countries where e-waste is sent, mean that women and children are often directly exposed to lead and other hazardous materials.

How much e-waste do we export each year?

There have been no rigorous studies of exactly how much e-waste we export to developing nations. Industry experts estimate that of the e-waste that recyclers collect, roughly 50-80 % of that ends up getting exported to developing nations. That would mean that we export enough e-waste each year to fill 5126 shipping containers (40 ft x 8.5 ft). If you stacked them up, they’d reach 8 miles high – higher than Mt Everest, or commercial flights.

Understanding Recycling Batteries

 

10.06.2016

0800

recyclingprocess

Recycling Car Batteries Link

rmc-recycling

Processing Alkaline Batteries Link

electronic-recycling

Recycling Lithium Batteries Link

I question the honesty of how items are recycled (especially electronics) and to be more informed is always better. The next series of posts I’m going to post up with cover a small section of the majority of materials that are deemed recyclable. Although the concept of recycling seems like a savior process for all items- it really isn’t. There are uncomfortable truths that the public is not informed about. I hope these next posts will be helpful for those who are seeking more information.

In a nutshell, batteries vary in how they are recycled. Batteries range from lead acid based to alkaline, lithium ion, nickel, zinc and even mercury batteries. Here is an overall information haul about the variety of them but I also included links to some recycling processes under the infographics above. I always hear mixed reviews as to what actually happens to batteries when we recycle them and this is why I thought I should post some information. I tend to use more alkaline and lithium batteries in my day to day life, so those infographics apply more to me. Hopefully this will bring some more information to you as you come into contact with your day to day electronics that use batteries.

  1. Lead Acid– The battery is broken apart in a hammer mill, a machine that hammers the battery into pieces. The broken battery pieces are then placed into a vat, where the lead and heavy materials fall to the bottom and the plastic floats. At this point, the polypropylene pieces are scooped away and the liquids are drawn off, leaving the lead and heavy metals. Each of the materials goes into a different recycling “stream”.
    1. Plastic- Polypropylene pieces are washed, blown dry and sent to a plastic recycler where the pieces are melted together into an almost liquid state. The molten plastic is put through an extruder that produces small plastic pellets of a uniform size. The pellets are put back into manufacturing battery cases and the process begins again.
    2. Lead- Lead grids, lead oxide and other lead parts are cleaned and heated within smelting furnaces. The molten melted lead is then poured into ingot molds. After a few minutes, the impurities float to the top of the still molten lead in the ingot molds. These impurities are scraped away and the ingots are left to cool. When the ingots are cool, they’re removed from the molds and sent to battery manufacturers, where they’re re-melted and used in the production of new batteries.
    3. Sulfuric Acid- Old battery acid can be handled in two ways:
      1. The acid is neutralized with an industrial compound similar to household baking soda. Neutralization turns the acid into water. The water is then treated, cleaned, tested in a wastewater treatment plant to be sure it meets clean water standards.
      2. The acid is processed and converted to sodium sulfate, an odorless white powder that’s used in laundry detergent, glass and textile manufacturing.Lead acid batteries are closed-loop recycled, meaning each part the the old batteries is recycled into a new battery. It is estimated that 98% of all lead acid batteries are recycled.
  2. Alkaline batteries– Alkaline batteries such as (AAA, AA, C, D, 9V, etc.) are recycled in a specialized “room temperature,” mechanical separation process where the battery components are separated into three end products. These items are a zinc and manganese concentrate, steel, and paper, plastic and brass fractions. All of these products are put back into the market place for reuse in new products to offset the cost of the recycling process. These batteries are 100% recycled.

  3. Lithium Ion– Prior to the recycling process, plastics are separated from the metal components. The metals are then recycled via a high temperature metal reclamation (HTMR) process during which all of the high temperature metals contained within the battery feedstock (i.e. nickel, iron, manganese and chromium) report to the molten-metal bath within the furnace, amalgamate, then solidify during the casting operation. The low-melt metals (i.e. zinc) separate during the melting. The metals and plastic are then returned to be reused in new products. These batteries are 100% recycled.

  4. Nickel-Cadmium- Prior to the recycling process, plastics are separated from the metal components. The metals are then recycled via a high temperature metal reclamation (HTMR) process during which all of the high temperature metals contained within the battery feedstock (i.e. nickel, iron, manganese, and chromium) report to the molten-metal bath within the furnace, amalgamate, then solidify during the casting operation. The low-melt metals (i.e. zinc and cadmium) separate during the melting. The metals and plastic are then returned to be reused in new products. These batteries are 100% recycled.

  5. Nickel Metal Hydride– Prior to the recycling process, the plastics are removed from the cell portion. The cells go through a drying process to remove moisture (potassium hydroxide (KOH) electrolyte and H2O) from the cells. The drying process heats the cells in a time and temperature controlled manner via a proprietary and proven formula. Once these cells are dried they become a valuable feedstock for the stainless steel and or alloy manufacturing industries.  The metals and plastic are then returned to be reused in new products. These batteries are 100% recycled.

  6. Lithium Batteries– The contents of the batteries are exposed using a shredder or a high-speed hammer depending on battery size. The contents are then submerged in caustic (basic not acidic) water. This caustic solution neutralizes the electrolytes, and ferrous and non-ferrous metals are recovered. The clean scrap metal is then sold to metal recyclers to offset the cost of recycling these batteries. The solution is then filtered. The carbon is recovered and pressed into moist sheets of carbon cake. Some of the carbon is recycled with cobalt. The lithium in the solution (lithium hydroxide) is converted to lithium carbonate, a fine white powder. What results is technical grade lithium carbonate, which is used to make lithium ingot metal and foil for batteries. It also provides lithium metal for resale and for the manufacture of sulfur dioxide batteries.

  7. Mercury Batteries– The batteries and heavy metals are recovered through a controlled-temperature process. It’s important to note: the percentage of mercuric oxide batteries is decreasing since the passage of the Mercury-Containing Rechargeable Battery Management Act (The Battery Act) of 1996. This act prohibits, or otherwise conditions, the sale of certain types of mercury-containing batteries (i.e., alkaline manganese, zinc carbon, button cell mercuric-oxide and other mercuric-oxide batteries) in the United States.

  8. Zinc-Carbon– Zinc-carbon (AAA, AA, C, D, 9V, etc.) and zinc-air batteries are recycled in the same way as alkaline batteries or by using high temperature metal reclamation (HTMR) method to melt the metals. These metals are then reused in new products. These batteries are 100% recycled.

  9. Zinc-Air– Zinc-carbon (AAA, AA, C, D, 9V, etc.) and zinc-air batteries are recycled in the same way as alkaline batteries or by using high temperature metal reclamation (HTMR) method to melt the metals. These metals are then reused in new products. These batteries are 100% recycled.

T-Shirt Quilt Process

 

09.28.2016

0800

Materials:

  • Old Comforter you want to use as the backing for the quilt
  • Enough t-shirts to cover the back of the comforter easily
  • Sewing machine

Tools:

  • Sewing machine

Not everyone in my family is big on donating items as quickly as I do. I don’t mind that, so I wanted to come up with a solution that would satisfy the use of the items but still make more room in the closet. In this case, the clothing item were the cotton t-shirt collections my family had accumulated. My older brother has a small collection of printed shirts from years of working for different companies or they were from different social events. I have kept a small collection for my mother over the years from elementary school t-shirts, to college t-shirts. I kept these because they marked a point in my life history that was significant. It bothered me that my t-shirts were stuffed into a bag in my old closet, so I wanted to make good use of them.

For both collections, I decided to make a t-shirt quilt for each family member. My brother’s shirts filled up one quilt and by combining my t-shirts as well as some of my mom’s, I would be able to create a single quilt for her. I found my brother’s old comforter which had The Transformers print on it and used that as the backing for his. I used my old comforter which had The Wuzzles print on it, for my mom’s quilt.

A few examples of t-shirt quilts that I’ve come across, suggest to cut out perfect squares in which the logo or image is centered in the middle of the square. I didn’t want to use this method because I didn’t want to waste any t-shirt material. I didn’t see the point in having perfect squares when the images varied so much on where they were located on each shirt. Also, I knew I could overlap the rows and create a slightly thicker quilt by leaving the extra material in place.

I decided to make this process in bullet form since a formal post would be too long to read, so here it goes:

  1. Cut off all of the sleeves and collars from each shirt. Put aside the shirt sleeves which have logos printed on them because you will include them in the quilt later on as gap fillers. Keep your scraps when you make this project because you never know when you may need the extra material to fill in gaps.
  2. Lay out the rows to see how you want the over all tile pattern to sit on the quilt and move them around if necessary. (I wanted each color shirt to create a checkered pattern with their base color)
  3. Gather the sets of t-shirt rows and placed them on the blanket in the order from the top of the quilt, to bottom of the quilt. (You can take a picture before you move the tiles from the final layout on the blanket too) dsc_4946
  4. Start pinning the t-shirts together with the shirts all facing upright and face to face. During this time, you may notice that come of the “t-shirt trimming” might be crooked, but that’s fine because that’s why you have the filler pieces. dsc_4950
  5. Sew the tiles together in each row of shirts so that the rows become one piece. dsc_4951
  6. Lay each row on the blanket as you want them to look and start pinning the rows to the blanket. Use as many sewing pins as necessary and be careful, because you may get pricked by those. Keep in mind that these pins may come apart once you move the blanket to the sewing machine, so you may want to pin the fabric together and give extra room on the pin for movement error. dsc_4982
  7. For the areas that I saw were lacking in t-shirt fabric, I added in the t-shirt fillers. This usually happed around the edge of the blanket. dsc_5002dsc_5001
  8. In order for me to fit the comforter into the sewing machine, I rolled it up on one side and sewed it through like this: (you my want to unravel it due to the weight of the blanket and that it may pull against the sewing machine as you feed it through) dsc_4982dsc_4987dsc_4993
  9. Keep sewing, patient and you’ll finish. I sewed these tiles across the blanket. I have seen some people sew in a grid pattern along the tile edges. Since my tiles don’t line up exactly to the row above, I decided to only sew my tiles across the blanket. dsc_4995

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This is a process and it takes time. There were a number of times when my sewing machine stitching backed up and I ended with a clump of thread on the backside of my quilt or when my needle broke twice. Just keep going and you’ll end  up with the final product in no time. It’s an interesting project and you can put a spin on it however you like. This is a completely customized project which makes the intent that much more meaningful. I really am happy about how the blankets turned out and I know that my family is too.

Upcycling Sleeves Into Reusable Gift Bags

09.19.2016

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Materials:

  • Leftover t-shirt sleeves from the shirts you planned to make into a t-shirt quilt
  • Sewing kit

Tools:

  • Sewing machine

So I started making a T-shirt quilt for my brother and one for my mother. For my brother, I used his old t-shirts and for my mother, I took a few of my childhood t-shirts as well as some of hers, and combined them into her quilt.

After trimming the shirts for the quilts, I had leftover fabric which I sewed into gift bags, however, I ran out of shoelace to use as the drawstrings. These gift bags are for giving away to those who may want them, and I don’t suggest to use these bags for bulk grocery shopping due to the elasticity of the way t-shirts are sewn together. I usually use bedsheets to make the reusable bulk shopping bags because their thread count is higher and it’s a denser assembly. The left over fabric included the t-shirt collars, the sleeves of the shirts and extra fabric from certain shirts which only had print on one side.

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Bags:

I hadn’t figured out what to do with the collar portions, so I set them aside. However, with the pile of sleeves, I thought I would make odd shaped reusable gift bags out of them. I knew that even if I sewed the pairs of sleeves together, the gift bags would be lopsided. Then again, with the odd shape to the gift bags, maybe it would be easier to hide the shape of the gift inside. So I basically paired up the sleeves and sewed the wide ends together, and closed off one of the open ends.

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Once I finished sewing the gift bags made from the sleeves, I ended up with pentagon shaped gift bags. These bags were not expected but they didn’t turn out too bad, I actually like the odd shape that they ended up becoming. I’ve never used this type of fabric for this kind of use, so this was all a new journey for me. However, if you don’t have shoelaces available or have extra t-shirts lying around, you can make your own drawstrings to use.

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Drawstring for the bags:

Since I ran out of the shoelace that I usually use, I had to figure out a way to still create a drawstring for these bags. So I took a sleeve piece and started creating a cut line that spiraled around the sleeve. I started at the seam edge of the sleeve (which usually is located on the bottom of the sleeve), and started cutting upwards. I started here because as I spiraled around the sleeve, I knew I would cut through the thread that held the shirt sleeve together and by starting at the seam, it would look like a cleaner cut.  I wanted the width of each string to be about 1/2″ so I just continued to cut around around the sleeve, keeping in mind the width of the fabric until I ran out of sleeve to cut . With t-shirt fabric, when the fabric is cut, it tends to curl in on itself so that was the goal behind choosing the 1/2″ width. The fabric piece would curl in just enough to fit through the sleeve cuff to create a drawstring.

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(sorry for the blurry picture, but you get the idea)

Final Product:

So with the different parts of the t-shirts and long sleeve shirt I had used to create the t-shirt quilts. I ended up with a few long and tall gift bags, a bunch of square/rectangular bags and a handful of pentagon shaped gift bags. I actually really like the pentagon shaped bags, I didn’t know they’d turn out like that. It was a nice surprise after all the work was done. I hope this post might inspire or help those who might embark on the same journey.

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If you want to check out some other options for eco-friendly gift wrapping, check out these gift wrapping ideas from these other bloggers:

 

Zero Waste Cleaning

09.12.2016

0800

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My cleaning routine is fairly simple. I use a mixture of water and vinegar to wipe down surfaces (in the water bottle) and I use Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Peppermint soap for washing dishes and even cleaning my sink and bathtub (in the wide mouthed Ball Mason Jar). I use baking soda if I want to exfoliate a surface if necessary. I’ve even used the soap to wash my cat when he needed a bath. This soap is so useful in my life and Dr. Bronner’s soap has a long legacy of producing quality soaps.

This is how the Dr. Bronner’s All-In-One soap company explains their quality: Other Ways Dr. Bronner’s Makes Higher-Quality Soaps

  • Unlike most commercial soapmakers, who distill the glycerin out of their soaps to sell separately, we retain it in our soaps for its superb moisturizing qualities.
  • We super-fat our bar soaps for a milder, smoother lather.
  • We use natural vitamin E from sunflower seeds and citric acid from fermented tapioca to protect freshness.
  • We do not add any chelating agents, dyes, whiteners or synthetic fragrances.
  • We use pure and powerful high-quality certified organic essential oils.
  • Our liquid soaps are three times more concentrated than most so-called “liquid soaps” on the market, and they are only a few percent away from being a solid, which saves on packaging materials.
  • Our soaps are a superb value, costing less than less-concentrated, inferior detergent body-wash “liquid soaps.”
  • Our soaps are most popular for at-home washing, but they are also the soap of choice for many campers and hikers, as they are biodegradable and nature-friendly.
  • We also use better packaging; our plastic cylinder bottles are made from 100% post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic.

You can check out the rest of their story and legacy here,Dr. Bronner’s Legacy , and you can check out their website here: Dr. Bronner’s All-In-One .

I haven’t used store bought chemical cleaners for the past five years, and as I discovered alternative ways to clean, I was much happier knowing I wasn’t inhaling the fumes from my cleaning products. Although cleaning can be a touchy subject, due to how people view “dirty” or “clean”, I think it boils down to what you’re willing to sacrifice and risk. Some people are more comfortable with the chemicals, but I am not.

My soap is environmentally friendly and because it’s such a good soap, even when I dilute it with water, it still lathers really well! Due to the fact that I’m constantly diluting this soap, I never have to stock up each week. I make a bathroom bulk grocery run probably once every three months. Honestly, my lotions and soaps last me a long time.

It’s not a bad idea to eliminate the more harmful chemicals from your home. In fact, I’m an advocate for natural and organic cleaning products. Some people have commented that perhaps my way of cleaning isn’t sanitary, but unless I put my home through an autoclave, I don’t’ think it could ever be 100% clean. We as humans do retain a certain amount of bacteria in our bodies and if you’re THAT afraid of what comes out of your bodies, shouldn’t you be more concerned with what goes into it?

*UPDATE- 06.16.2017- I no longer use Olive Oil Dispenser – Square Tall Glass Oil Bottle and Stainless Steel Pourer Spout to contain my bulk liquid soap, but instead I now I refill my  32 oz, Dr. Bronner’s Organic Peppermint Pure-Castile Liquid Soap container. These containers are easier to clean and they have a much more durable design. I use a water bottle that was gifted to me, for my vinegar and water mix for cleaning.

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Dining Out- Zero Waste Leftovers

08.29.2016

0800

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When I go out to eat, I will bring along a 3-tier Tiffin Carrier or a 2-tier Tiffin Carrier, depending on the type of restaurant I’m going to. If the dishes at the restaurant tend to contain large portions or give a variety in the meal, I’ll take the larger carrier. If the restaurant serves very simple and small dishes, or if I know that there will be a small amount to take home, due to habits, then I’ll bring along the smaller carrier. These carriers are very useful for separating different flavors of foods when desired and it also helps if you’re bringing home leftovers from different people, that way, no one gets their dishes mixed up and there’s no need for separate boxes.

When I first started using the tiffin carrier, I would hide it in my large shoulder bag, and at the end of the meal, I’d basically bust it out. There was a level of awkwardness to this action, but my family understood my intentions. It’s not necessary to use a box JUST for transport from the restaurant to home. I think that’s a waste, because you don’t need that extra box in the first place. You can always move the food from the carrier tray, onto tupperware and heat up later to eat. That extra disposable box from the restaurant to our home is only use for transportation. Granted, you may find a use for the disposable box later, but overall, trash is still being produced and manufactured for this simple step.

I do have two small separate sauce containers that came with the tiffin carriers, but I rarely use them. They’re also made of metal and the lid doesn’t have a tight seal, but I don’t really “bring home sauces”. I usually just pour whatever sauce from my meal right onto the food I’m bringing home. It’s one extra piece of the carrier set that I’d rather use for containing spices or other items at home.

I think these tiffin carriers are a great way of transporting leftover dishes anywhere. You can even pack lunches or small sets of meals in these if you wanted to. You can technically use these carriers for just about everything that involves a lot of smaller pieces. I actually use one as my sewing kit, which I’ll give you the link to right here, My Sewing Kit.
You may feel awkward in the beginning when using these, I certainly did. But it’s all for a good cause and you won’t produce that extra piece of trash (which can’t be recycled due to the oils and food particles stuck to it). You’ll save one less item to throw away which will end up in the landfill.

Zero Waste Picnic

 

08.24.2016

0800

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The weather had been nice lately so I thought a picnic was in order before the summer ended. I didn’t pack too much, just enough to fill us up for a bit, but here is what I packed:

  1. Dish: Bean Salad
  2. Side Dish: Boiled potatoes with Nutritional Yeast
  3. Snacks: Wasabi Peas, Smoked Almonds, Olives
  4. Dessert: Peaches
  5. Drinks: Water

Whenever I go out on an outing, I like to pack some snacks so I won’t get hungry later on. Picnics are always a fun way to spend with family, friends, or new friends. Picnics are great when the weather is sunny and cool in temperature and there’s a clean area to set up camp. On this day, I packed a bean salad and boiled potatoes sprinkled with nutritional yeast as the main dishes. I also had some olives from the olive bar from Whole Foods. For snacks we had wasabi peas and smoked almonds and for dessert, we had some peaches.

All of the foods were purchased from the bulk section of the grocery store or in the non-packaged vegetables and fruit area. We used beach towels to sit on and to use the picnic blanket and because I forgot the plates, we ate off of the lids. Of course we ate all of the food so the ‘no plate’ rule wasn’t so bad.

Clutter Free Spaces

08.22.2016

0800

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It’s simple to keep clutter free spaces, but it means more than simply owning less. There’s a strategy and rules to live within to keep your spaces clutter free. It always looks easy, but even for veteran minimalists/zero wasters/tiny living folks, once in awhile- extra stuff creeps into your home. This may come during seasonal sales at stores, birthdays, holidays or maybe after coming home from a vacation. If you give yourself a set of rules, the decision to buy or not buy becomes easier and more clear. There can be even rules to consistently keep areas of your home clean and tidy. Here is my set of rules that I follow:

  1. Live within your means
    1. Let the size of your home dictate how much stuff you have, and not the other way around. If your closet is bursting at the seams, instead of dreaming of a bigger closet, why not try paring down your clothes to fit the space you have?
  2. Purge Often
    1. So set aside a time, a few times a year, to go through your things and get rid of the ones you don’t use anymore. You can even do this once a month or once every few months.
  3. Have a place and a purpose for everything
    1. ‘A place for everything, and everything in its place.’ Almost a cliche, but still some of the best organizing advice out there. If you have lots of things in limbo on tables or countertops or the floor and still haven’t been able to find a place for them, then maybe the answer is to purge it.
  4. Become a habitual putter-awayer
    1. I think the easiest way to make sure you put things away is just to do it, and then keep on doing it until it’s so habitual that you wouldn’t ever think of not doing it. When I accumulate items from around the house to use for a project, and I’m not done with the project yet, I’ll place the items next to the door. I do this so that on my way out to grab another tool/material, I pick up an item I know I can put away on the way to the room I’m headed towards. I do this or I gather all of the items that need to be put away by the door and then walk room to each room to put away each item to its rightful spot. It’s like ‘reverse shopping’, I’m just returning everything.
  5. Store items where you use them
    1. Be smart about where you store things. Store items by function and necessity. Not having to walk halfway across your home to put things away will make #4 that much easier.
  6. Stop clutter before it enters your home with a landing strip
    1. A landing strip consists of hooks and a small side table where you can place items immediately after walking in the door. Setting up a landing strip by the front door is useful because clutter has to come into your home somewhere, and you can stop it right at the source. This location can also be the location where you may place items you are thinking about returning, so that they may never find a place in your home.
  7. Go paper free
    1. Scanning all the documents you’ve been hanging onto may seem like a daunting task, but once you’re done, they’ll be easily searchable (plenty of apps, like Evernote, allow you to search scanned documents for certain words) and you’ll have that much less stuff to manage.
  8. Realize that life is about experiences, not things
    1. We’re constantly being bombarded with advertisements that try to convince us that a happy life is all about having the latest stuff: a new car, an outdoor kitchen, an ice cream maker. But studies have shown, over and over that it isn’t the things in our lives that make us happy: it’s our experiences that we treasure most. So the next time you’re tempted to buy more stuff, ask yourself if the money wouldn’t be better spent on a vacation or a nice night out.
  9. Forgive yourself and try again
    1. Remember that nobody is perfect, and nobody’s home is perfect. Even the homes you see in the magazines aren’t perfect — it took a whole team of stylists to make them that way. Try to stick to these rules each day and before you know it, these rules will become habits and part of your day-to-day life.

Keeping Clutter Away

08.10.2016

0800

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So I stick to a few rules to keep clutter from piling up. Although I do live a simple life with a limited amount of possessions, clutter can still find its way into my living areas. So here are some rules that I use to keep my spaces and surfaces clear of clutter:

  • Wash dishes when you’re done with them. Obvious, I know, but too often we leave dishes to pile in the sink. When you’re done with dinner, everyone should pitch in to put away leftover food, wash dishes, and clean the table, stove and counters.
  • Keep counters and sink clean. If you cook or prepare food, wipe down the counters real quick when you’re done. When you do anything in the sink, rinse and wipe it down.
  • Keep floor clean. I find that most of the house needs sweeping or vacuuming only once a week, so that in itself is a bonus. I don’t wear shoes in the house so once a week floor sweeping is all it takes to keep it clean. I also keep items of of the floor so that running around with my microfiber cloth is a quick task.
  • Put away clothes when you take them off. If clothes are dirty, put them in the hamper. If they’re still clean, put them away or at least hang them up on a designated side of your closet so you know that you’re going to plan to wear it again later. With a capsule wardrobe, I tend to repeat pieces of clothes during the week.
  • Put other items where they belong. Instead of laying something on a counter, table, or floor, take a few seconds to put it where it belongs. This is a simple habit that will save tons of time.
  • Pick up before you go to bed. I like to do a quick pick-up before bedtime, of stuff that has been left around. This leaves the house beautifully clean when I wake up in the morning.

These are the main rules I stick to, it’s not a complicated system being that I also have a limited amount of possessions, but it does help. As life changes these rules may have a few others added on to adjust to everyone in the household. What are your rules you stick to?

Repairing Versus Buying

 

08.01.2016

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Taking my items to a shop to have it repaired was not a common task in my household when I was younger. As I moved further and further into this zero waste lifestyle, it was inevitable that I would go to one eventually.

My decision to own less, meant that I did not own all of the tools necessary to fix every issue I had in my life, this included, auto, clothing, electronics and household items. I started exploring repair shops around my town so at least I had some knowledge of what was available to me.

When I was cleaning one day, one of my new thrift shop purchases, my black heels, fell and the heel tip shattered. I was disappointed because I really had not owned them for very long. I took it to a repair shop and it was a quick and cheap fix! I told a few friends about my visit and they all came up with the same question: Why didn’t you just go buy a new one if the heel tip was that easy to break off?

That was  a great question and I’ve realized that owning a capsule wardrobe meant that each piece I owned was very valuable now. Each piece played a critical role in my overall wardrobe and I knew that it was my fault that the heel tip shattered due to my carelessness. I think when it comes to smaller items, it might be worth the effort to get the item repaired at a small shop, but for the bigger items, there’s more at stake.

For instance, I was hypothetically challenged to a situation where I had a broken residential washer and dryer, would I still repair costly items such as those, or dump them and purchase a new set?

My answer was simple. I will repair a product unless the repair would essentially cost as much as a new version of that same product. Although dumping a product is not something I like to do, in certain situations, it’s the most logical answer. If I truly love the product, and let’s say the repair costs at least 50% of the original price, I still would repair it. I’ve encountered this situation with my current car that I own. It’s a 2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser and although the repairs to this thing can be costly, it has at least 79,000 miles left on it before I’m willing to throw in the towel. I’m still willing to pay the price for this car because logically, there’s really nothing wrong with it other than wear and tear maintenance. Now, if a car repair costs $12,000 in one bill, then yea I’ll probably scrap it and call it a day.

I still stand by the option of repairing items before buying a new version in most cases. I think the repair shops are happy with new customers and overall I enjoy exploring new repair shops and understanding the specialties of what these shops can do.