May 29, 2011

Squeaky Clean - Homemade Natural SOAPS & Cleaners

I can't wait to make my own cleaners of all kinds. And I'm not super crafty or even a great cook. I am just curious about something that I know can not not only make a big impact on the planet, but which I also happen to know is easy to do. Most household cleaners can be summed up in two ingredients: baking soda and white vinegar...the wonder components of household cleaning. Check out Care2's homemade non-toxic cleaning kit.

In fact, I recently used this wonder-duo on some super stinky stale laundry.  I'd inadvertently turned my load on and left it on soak...for five days!!! It was only by accident that I discovered the rank laundry when my husband cracked the lid to add some items to what he believed was an empty washing machine. When he opened the lid, I nearly lost my lunch.

After re-washing the clothes, then sun-drying them, they were no closer to being saved from certain death, until I decided to look up online what could be done...and wouldn't you know it, good old tried and true baking soda and vinegar were the two most mentioned solutions. I tried them. They worked like magic. My clothes came out scent free. The first time.

What I find a bit more complicated is soap. Soap is something I use a lot of, and so it's a product that can really reduce my footprint, if I can cut down on both its packaging and harmful chemicals. I looked into soap nuts, which seem a might too gentle for my cleaning tastes, and into making my own soaps from acid and base----Crikey! I don't have the time for that--soap making is a very slow and arduous process. While it could be worthwhile, there are other hobbies I'd rather take up, like guitar or tennis. Neither am I convinced it's significantly more economical or demands significantly less packaging, save for the possible exception of professional soap makers.

What I have found, though, that I'm very excited about is soap flakes. Once harder to come by, Soap Flakes are again available in the USA in compostable cardboard packaging (but be diligent, as they're also found in plastic bag packaging) and can be found online or locally in bulk (if you're lucky) at places like Whole Foods Market. Soap flakes can be used to make just about any kind of soap that one may desire, from hand to laundry. It can be customized in concentration and scent. In short, soap flakes are my new best friend. Visit soap flakes site to check out some great recipes. If you try them and you love or hate them, or have in the past, drop a comment. Are they really more economical? Let me know what you know.

Happy cleaning!

08/2011 UPDATE:
I lost interest in soap flakes, though if I find them reasonably priced in bulk, I may go for them. What I've discovered is it's usually much cheaper and not that much more trouble to simply grate your own flakes from bar soap. Additionally, most of the soap flakes I found were packaged in plastic. So, making flakes myself is just plain preferable.

May 26, 2011

Cleaning and Living without Papertowels for a Change

I spent the day cleaning the house. I cleaned because family from the UK are arriving for a two-week stay.  Six hours worth of cleaning. Although, some of the time was invested as it was spent organizing, and that I'm happy about.

The cleaning part itself seems more like a waste of life energy, especially if it goes over 45-mins.  The first 45-mins once or twice a week are finely spent. Because the return on the investment is a nice looking home and the pride of being the maker of said nice looking home. It even gives my ADD a little thrill. But time beyond an hour or two a week cleaning house is just loss of life in my opinion.

Also, using old cloths to clean was FUN. It's much more encouraging than the bygone era of cleaning with paper towels (can you believe I did that? Oh, it's sad to think of it now.) Cleaning with paper towels uses LOTS of them, and is just unpleasant. 

So the guests arrive and life starts happening, water is spilt on the kitchen floor, a small pile of crumbs missed the trash bin, and my dog ate a steak bone, which the remnants of then needed picked up off the floor. In the past for all these occasions, a paper towel has been the go to weapon and the convenience. And in the frenzy of the moment (with guests) and not being "used to" dealing with these little issues in another manner, I felt somewhat helpless. I wanted to reach for the old familiar wasteful piece of paper towel. But I didn't. What I did was grab a lightly used piece of cloth (cut up old clothing) and attempt to remind myself that while this feels wrong...even wasteful, it's not. The reusable cloth towel *feels wasteful* --isn't that strange? My mind is so used to thinking cloth = use 1-time, then it's dirty and needs washing. And that process feels wasteful. But the reality, and I'm still telling my mind this, is that the cloth is not only not wasteful, but it shouldn't be used just one-time before washing. That's why I've created a gently used towel space in the first place. But I need training and repetition, lots and lots until I can create my new normal. But that takes time. And I won't lie, it hurts a little. I could see it in my husbands eyes. He wanted to reach for a paper towel more than once this evening. The stress of being thrown off your routine by outside factors, while also attempting to incorporate a new lifestyle change--ain't easy. But we did make it through. And we didn't use the PTs (we still have some in the cupboard awaiting a time of real need--like a gallon of oil being spilled).

May 24, 2011

The pain of ending one life...and beginning another.

I went shopping today. The trip was supposed to be a prep-my-life-for-wasteless-living trip, and I was ridiculously excited to get to the shops and gather my ZW necessities. Unfortunately, I was too excited.

It is absolutely an addiction and a high for someone like me to be in shops with limitless options. I even found myself eyeing things that weren't ZW to start my ZW lifestyle. How much sense does that make? And it's made more difficult by the fact that the line becomes finer and finer the closer one gets to actually acting in a wasteless or zerowaste manner; until of course, one sorts these issues out for oneself so as to never ever have to deal with them again, if at all possible.

Reusable Bags--not always an ecologically sound choice
An easy example is reusable shopping bags. Sound great. They are great. But they're not all created equal.  I'm not just talking about differing sizes, or the fact that some stay open and others are forever floppy by design. Some reusable bags are made of plastic, or poly-something-or-other which is an awful lot like plastic, or perhaps you find a lovely great big canvas tote, only to find inside the manufacturer has taken the liberty of coating the bag with that's right, plastic!--to waterproof the item, or even just to make it look "cooler."

Breaking the Addiction to "Normal" Consumption-Mode
These types of choices make my head spin. And yet they are still very tempting to me. I'm just a beginner after all, and now realizing that it will be a true process of learning and of learning to let go, in order for me to free myself of convenience mind. My materially and convenience-addicted mind says, "how do I know that that barely noticeable lining is actually plastic, and even if it is, how do I know it's the common non-biodegradable variety and not some new generation compostable plastic." The addiction wants my convictions to remain unconscious. But no more. The truth is that really, when I step away from the pretty bag I know the best answer is to avoid temptation, avoid purchasing anything questionable.

Transitioning off the Invisible KoolAid
But having said that, I am going to need to define for myself what I will and will not accept in a product. Then, I'll modify as I become more entrenched in purposeful living. For now, I'm going to start with not allowing my convictions to sleep, but still be gentle with myself. Changing a lifetime addiction to convenience and to blissful ignorance is not going to happen overnight.

May 23, 2011

Designing Wastelessness (Step 2: Family Agreement)

Okay, it was scary, but I did it. I had "the" talk with my husband. The decision to live a zero waste lifestyle yourself is one thing, but involving the family is crucial to success, when you share space. I knew Jack, our super-cool labradane mix, would be an easy sell, but my husband is quite a strong character.

And it's tough because we've never seen eye to eye on environmental issues nor on how individuals can effect responsible environmental change. So I was nervous. Really nervous. I didn't want to come off as too extreme or dictatorial. I wanted my passion and enthusiasm to be catching. Turns out, it is!

We stumbled a bit through the beginning of the conversation, as Alan didn't want this change to feel unilateral or dictatorial. But the more we talked, the more it became clear that my husband had also been wanting to make some changes for the better. So here we go! I'm sure our visions differ, but the important thing is we know to tread lightly, use kindness and understanding and to look for solutions when issues arise and friction heats up.

I'm not sure the details of the discussion are relevant or helpful, but if you're curious, let me know. I couldn't be happier with the result. We're now a newly committed zero waste family. Let the fun begin.

What are your obstacles to change?  Or, share your secrets of relationship success with change...

May 22, 2011

A Lifestyle Less Wasted (Step 1: The Decision)

Today is the first day of my "wasteless" life. After weeks of frenzied searching inspired by examples of zero waste efforts, weeks I spent under the perceived impression that I could do nothing of the sort save for a resolution to compost here or a promise to spend less there, I finally knew I could live a waste less lifestyle, too.

During the weeks of skepticism, I told myself it must take too much time & energy to be so diligent, not only to live such a conscious lifestyle, but to BEGIN it. Besides, it would be too expensive to change everything about how I live, right? But then last night as if "let there be light" commanded, I simply woke up and realized I could do more. Of course, I could. And once I realized it, the belief took on a life of its own. My light bulb went off when I uttered "I can give up paper towels. I just won't buy them anymore" (two months ago the very idea would have been heresy.) Then within seconds, I made the same decision about plastic containers, and in less than 24-hours I wanted to start bulk shopping instead of continuing normal, (ie prepackaged ) shopping. And making my own cleaners? fun! Suddenly, I'm excited about every aspect of this new lifestyle. And I feel reborn! What could be more creative than consciously constructing my very own lifestyle, liberating me from the one I've been invisibly controlled by my entire life. And I can't help but be healthier--giving up what will surely amount to a substantial amount of processed, prepackaged junk food in favor of simple ingredients and cooking. So, I've decided to start now and dive in to 0%, or as close to it as I can get. Not everyone would decide to go all out all at once, but it's the right decision for me.

Today, I spent the afternoon clearing kitchen space for the new jars I have arriving soon. I also dedicated  space to "clean" cloths (cut up old clothing), and a space for lightly used cloths (used but clean enough to reuse before washing). I'll be using these instead of paper towels. And I chose to dedicate my simplehuman plastic bag dispenser to store used cloths, since I'll no longer be needing it for plastic!

I'll also chronicle my waste less journey on this blog, using it as a space to discuss progress, challenges and as a simple guide to how I'm doing. I'll also share the tips I find on living as close to zero waste as possible, as cheaply as possible.

Tip #1: Wholesale Jars (for the ZeroWaster jumping in all at once). 
Wholesale jars are the way to go, if you're starting 0-waste at 100-percent. The site I used is They have a site for wholesale ($150 min order) and retail pricing (less than $150). On my jars purchase, I averaged $3.75 per canning jar including shipping! A 65% savings over sites like