I wear a cup

A warning to my dad and anyone else who’s not keen on reading about menstruation in general and mine in particular: you may want to skip this post. If you feel up to it, though, by all means read on! This is human biology: the topic and your interest in it are nothing to be ashamed of.

Here it is, with the cute (and handy) little storage bag that came with it. Overall length of cup is 2.75″. And, yes, my bathroom countertops really are purple. (sigh)

It is estimated that modern women experience about 450 periods in their lifetime[1]. At 5 days a piece, that’s 2,250 days with Aunt Flo, or 322 shark weeks. More than six years of my life will be spent bleeding from a major orifice! If I live to be 70 that will be almost 9 percent of my life on the rag. I will spend significantly less time, say, brushing my teeth, but I have no qualms about talking to the strange woman beside me at WinCo about floss and bristles. If we were ten feet further down the very same aisle, however, (in front of “feminine hygiene”) chances are we wouldn’t even make eye contact with one another. While I can acknowledge intellectually that this is a total crock, I cannot force myself to throw aside conventional manners and strike up a conversation with a real life person about vaginas in the grocery store.

That, my friends, is the beauty of the blog. Even someone with social anxiety such as mine can pose as a self-assured woman of the world in digital print.

* tosses hair triumphantly and looks into middle distance *

(Or, to paraphrase a text post from Tumblr: Some things are so private you can only share them with 17,000 strangers online.)

Longtime readers know of my obsession with natural alternatives and all things reusable. I use washable cloth coffee filters. I go nowhere without at least one canvas tote bag. I wash and reuse zip-top baggies. I bring my own mug to the espresso stand. I special-ordered a reusable K&N air filter for my beloved Volvo. But until very recently I was still using disposable pads and tampons — and putting myself through paroxysms of guilt and anxiety about it. Guilt for continuing to create unnecessary landfill waste once a month and anxiety about the alternative methods that would prevent that waste. (In my defense I was using Natracare products, which are organic, plastic-, perfume-, and chlorine-free and just about as awesome as disposables can hope to be.)

I had toyed with the idea of reusable pads for yeeeeeeeears. They are easy to make if you can so much as sew a button, and are plentiful online in sizes and colors and shapes and fabrics galore if you can’t sew so much as a button or just enjoy supporting cottage industry. Initially what kept me away from reusable pads was the mess: without a plastic layer there is still a chance for soak-through if you aren’t diligent about changing them. Also, the idea of a bucket under the sink full of water and used pads was too much even for this home butcher of backyard livestock. Many pad makers use PUL (polyurethane laminate) fabric on the backside of their pads to prevent the evil from wicking into your panties, and while the cloth diaper movement has made PUL fabric widely available, machine-washable varieties were not available until fairly recently.

But what finally pushed me past the “intermediate” step of washable pads to the greenest of all menstrual options, the cup, was yoga and my bum shoulder.

I have kvetched in a previous post about hurting my shoulder in the spring of 2014 (and subsequently re-injuring it twice). I have regained almost my full range of motion but I still cannot sleep on my right side. This means that for 5-7 nights a month I can only sleep in one position (on my left side) unless I employ le tampon. Without “shovies” (thanks, MST3K) I am also unable to do pretty much half of the yoga poses in my favorite routines. (Half an hour of nothing but mountain pose and the various warrior stances is kinda boring, to be honest. Yoga without downward dog just doesn’t feel like yoga.)

So I did it. We had a few extra bucks and Amazon was having a sale on Diva cups ($27.99 + free shipping, and they were $49.99 on the shelf at the local Hippy Connection*) so I placed an order super duper quick before I could change my mind.

(I was a little disconcerted when a ring of blinding light radiated rapidly out from my heart chakra and a disembodied voice boomed “LEVEL UP!!!” I haven’t been keeping track,but I think this makes me a level 4 or 5 hippy. I’m not a vegetarian or vegan (although I’d say I’m a flexitarian these days) but I drive a car that can run on alternative fuel; I have a fully paid membership in a natural foods cooperative; I garden organically; I don’t use commercial shampoo, conditioner, or deodorant; I bake my own bread; I have made my own soap; I have made my own yogurt; there are two active carboys of homebrew bubbling away in the house right this minute; and I have raised and butchered my own meat . . . and now there’s this thing. I don’t think I can level up again until I finally purchase a brick of tofu. CHEAT CODE: Installing a PV array or wind turbine will take a level 1 hippy directly to level 10.)

There are more than a dozen brands of menstrual cups out there. I chose Diva for the simple reason that I am not very good at making decisions. Diva is the #1 seller on Amazon (and worldwide, I think) and it was also on sale at the time that I made my purchase. I could have made one of my very extensive charts but then I would have lost my nerve again. I can’t tell you which brand is right for you or how to make that decision.

So, for those of you not in the loop, what the hell is a menstrual cup? It’s a silicone cup worn inside the vagina to catch menses. (Cue Flora Poste.**) You put it in before the show starts, empty it 2-4 times in each 24-hour period until the river runs dry, store it, and reuse it again the next month. Modern cups are made of medical grade silicone and can last up to 10 years. Somehow I had gotten the idea that these babies were invented in the 70s but in researching for this post I found out that the first menstrual cup was patented in 1932! They were on the market back in 1937 and new models were introduced sporadically from there on out, but the first the mainstream heard of them was in the 1980s with The Keeper. Cups were generally made of rubber until the last decade or two when manufacturers started making them out of silicone, which has the dual advantages of being hypoallergenic and much more durable than latex.

My cup arrived on a Monday and Aunt Flo was due on Thursday morning, so I had some time to experiment before show time, as all the blogs and FAQs suggested. I was nervous but determined: I am not afraid of my own body (anymore) but every single source I had consulted on this topic warned of a steep learning curve. I knew I was going to fail a lot before I succeeded. So why did I persist? Because I have yet to find a single woman who does not, once she has found the right brand and mastered the technique, emphatically, evangelically rave about the cup. Those who use them are very very insistent: It’s sooooooo worth it. You will be soooooo glad you switched. You will die before you go back to pads and tampons.

My very first experience with the thing was unpleasant to say the least. I followed the directions on the package insert but both insertion and wear were super uncomfortable. The next day I consulted the oracle of YouTube and got some magnificent tips that made my next attempt a breeze. From there on out, as long as I remembered to “bear down” when inserting and then allowed my body to put the cup where it wanted it was 100% leak free and so comfortable I couldn’t even tell the thing was up in there. (If I insist on positioning it where I think it should go it both leaks and feels absolutely bizarre. I want to put it in like a tampon but the vagina, when you are sitting, is almost horizontal — not vertical — so that’s 90 degrees of wrong. Let your lady parts do the work and you’ll all be happy.)

The videos that helped me were from a short series on YouTube channel Dirty Diaper Laundry. She has a magnificent visual aid: a menstrual cup full of fruit punch in a champagne glass so you can really see what’s going on in there and finally feel confident (when she flips the glass upside down and shakes it vigorously) that it’s really really really not going to leak.

Every woman who uses one has her favorite thing about the menstrual cup. For some, the best part is the money they save, for some it’s the lessened environmental impact. Some women claim that their cramps have disappeared since they started using the cup. Some like that they only have to fiddle with it once or twice a day and many enjoy the peace of mind that they’ll never be caught unprepared again (Aunt Flo at the door, an empty sanitary pad box, and five miles of snowy roads between you and a store that sells feminine hygiene products). Having now survived one period with a cup I have to say my favorite thing is feeling clean. I shudder when I think of all those hours sitting on a soggy, warm mess. Even with a tampon I wasn’t free of that feeling since they leaked without fail. (And then there’s that tickly, dangly string soaking up pee and getting all up your undercarriage.) Ughhhhhh. Blech. Twenty years of my life I have spent a week a month shuffling around like a newly-infected zombie about to turn, expecting someone at any moment to point at me and recoil and shriek “Unclean!” None of that anymore!

— Amanda

[1] “Menstruation and Menstrual Suppression Survey”, Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, (https://www.arhp.org/Publications-and-Resources/Studies-and-Surveys/Menstruation-and-Menstrual-Suppression-Survey/Executive-Summary). Accessed 01/07/15. Excerpted from Thomas, Sarah L. and Charlotte Ellbertson, “Nuisance or Natural and Healthy: Should Monthly Menstruation Be Optional for Women?,” The Lancet, 355, March 11, 2000, 922-24.

*The natural foods co-op.

** Miriam (derisively): What would I look like in a little rubber bowler hat?
Flora (gently, but patronizingly): You wear it inside, Miriam.
Miriam (recoiling in horror): Nah, ma’am — ’tis flyin’ in the face of nature, that is!

(Please, for the love of all that’s good, go rent Cold Comfort Farm already.)


The most energy-efficient way to boil water

This time of year I seem to put the kettle on a half dozen times a day.  After inhaling two or three cups of coffee in the morning I pass through the kitchen again and again: black tea with lunch, green tea with my snack, hot cider in the afternoon when the fireplace is flagging (ooh, that was good — I think I’ll have another), and cocoa after dinner as a sort of “dessert”.

Recently, I got to wondering: is firing up a burner on the electric range really the best way to heat that water?  I use a good, tight kettle, I put it on a burner it fits, and I generally only heat as much water as I’m going to use.  But maybe I should be using the microwave?  Or maybe I should invest in one of those snazzy electric kettles the Brits swear by?  Help me, Google!

Well, I consulted the great oracle and here’s the upshot:  It’s no biggie.  Really.  The Christian Science Monitor, in an article on this very topic, quoted Michael Bluejay of the energy use website michaelbluejay.com : “You’d save more energy over the year by replacing one light bulb with a CFL [compact fluorescent light bulb] or turning off the air conditioner for an hour … at some point over the whole year.”  (For the record, the microwave is a teeny bit more efficient at heating that cuppa than the stove, and quite a bit better for reheating small amounts of food.)

At the end of their article, the Christian Science Monitor adds another bit of advice from the energy guru:

However, Mr. Bluejay reiterates that most of us won’t put a dent in our overall energy use just by choosing one appliance over another. “Focusing on cooking methods is not the way to save electricity [at home],” he says. “You should look at heating, cooling, lighting, and laundry instead.”

Still gotta know?  I don’t blame you.  Even though, as the Christian Science Monitor article says, even the most hardcore tea drinker will hardly even save a dollar a year by fiddling with boiling methods, you may still be curious or need to know the environmental impact.  Stanford Magazine rated the methods thus, from most to least efficient:

  1. An electric kettle or induction cooktop powered by renewable energy (solar panels on the roof)
  2. An electric stove powered by renewable energy (solar panels on the roof)
  3. A gas stove
  4. An electric kettle with grid electricity
  5. An electric stove with grid electricity
  6. A microwave

Keep in mind that the wattage rating of your microwave, the age of your stove, and the efficiency of your electric kettle all play into this. (And if you’re approaching it from a purely environmental angle, the source of your electricity does, too.  Is it hydroelectric? Coal burning?  LP? Wind? Solar?)

Another ranking, done by Pablo Päster of TreeHugger, gives an entirely different order to the list because Mr. Päster tested his own (and we can assume, given where he works, very efficient) appliances. (Electric kettle followed by microwave followed by stove.  Interestingly, he also had a much higher estimate of possible yearly money savings, as high as $5.00.)

In the end, this is the only way you can really know: personal testing. If you still have the manuals for your appliances they should list the wattage. Wattage x time to boil 8 oz of water = energy usage. If you don’t have a clue what the wattage is (or you want to be really really sure) your local library or public utility district probably has Kill A Watt® meters that you can rent. Plug your appliance into the Kill A Watt®, plug the Kill A Watt® into the outlet, and go to town. (On a side note I have always wanted to rent of these but I am afraid that I would go bonkers and test every single electrical item in the whole house and take a whole notebook worth of notes and spiral out of control. I can get pretty obsessive about science.)

In conclusion I would like to reiterate my original point: it’s not that big a deal.  As interesting as this is, if you want to save money or lessen your environmental impact, focus elsewhere.  Think bigger.

— Amanda

Caution: overuse of italics ahead

There are two reasons that I haven’t been writing here more often. 1) Due to unusual circumstances that I am not yet ready to discuss here in detail, we may have to completely change the way we garden. Research on this topic – as well as constructive activities to distract myself from the stress of the problem – have taken up most of my time lately. 2) I have a bee in my bonnet.

The bee is this: I’m ticked off about absolutism. About the growing trend of homesteaders and greenies sniping at one another for not being sufficiently committed to the cause – calling one another hypocrites for lapses in perfect adherence to the dogma of the three Rs, eating regimens, attachment parenting, and other “lifestyles”.

(Cue the Fight Club music; here comes my Tyler Durden speech.)

I say: There I no right or wrong way to live your life.

More specifically, there is no right or wrong way to “live green” or be be more self-sufficient.

Joel Salatin and Michael Pollan are not gods. The words they speak must not necessarily be accepted wholly and unquestioned as gospel. They have some great ideas, brilliant ones – but they are not infallible – they are not always right. And I – and you – are allowed to disagree with them.

You are not going to hell for throwing away that recyclable container when no one was looking last week. You are notgoing to hell for buying a loaf of bread when you didn’t feel like baking from scratch. Even if it contains high fructose corn syrup. Even if it’s Wonder® Bread. You are notgoing to hell for feeding your child something from a vending machine or the mini-mart or giving them formula because breast pumps were invented by the devil. I have every right to serve my home-grown, humanely-butchered, locally-smoked ham alongside store-bought national-brand canned peaches. I am not giving up prescription medication just because the packaging is not recyclable.

The world will continue to spin on its axis. The storm troopers of the politically correct are not coming for you. And anyone who gives you crap about any of the above can kiss your ass.

I say: Life is about balance, not perfection.

I strive to live a a better life: a more handmade, more environmentally responsible, more self-reliant lifestyle. And for the most part, I do. But sometimes I have to compromise or accept failure because a) the “correct” option is too expensive, b) a better option does not exist, c) I cannot do without something, d) I need a break from living like a farmer’s housewife in the Great Depression, d) I don’t give a damn about some facet of the “lifestyle” I’ve been told I have to freak out about.

The life that writers in my field have romanticized is idyllic, to be sure: organic cotton sheets and towels hand-washed in home-milled soap snapping on the repurposed clothesline in a soft breeze while a TV-less, homeschooling family spends 24 hours a day together in their straw-bale home growing and preserving heirloom vegetables to feed their vegan lifestyle by the light of hand-dipped soy candles and solar power. Later, they will bicycle into town to trade organic rainbow chard for free trade, shade-grown coffee. For most of us such a life is highly improbable, if not impossible.

I like my chickens and I like vegetable gardening. I like canning and cooking. I like hanging my laundry on the line. I like fixing things and repurposing things. I like shopping at the natural foods co-op.

But: I like junk food now and then. I like going to the hardware store and buying stuff to get nagging or emergency projects done right now instead of always waiting a week, a month, a year, for someone on Craigslist to be giving away what I need. I like getting 2 weeks worth of food in one place for less than the price of a tank of biodiesel, especially when times are tight.

Stand up for yourself. If you are at the grocery store and you have to choose between perfectly good food in a plastic container for $1.00 or gourmet food in a recyclable glass jar for $5.00 and you’re on a budget, you can get the plastic one and throw away the container. It is fine to be a follower. It is admirable to want to make the world a better place through the way you live. It is foolish to do by bankrupting yourself or making your family uncomfortable. If going off grid is doable for you then I applaud you. If not, but you do what you can with what you have where you are, I give you a standing ovation.

– Amanda

We have recycling!

My new, huge recycling bin: already 2/3 full.

I finally managed to talk Matt into getting curbside recycling pick up.  Yes, recycling is free at the dump, and yes, the dump is only two miles away, but the dump doesn’t have plastic recycling and the curbside service does.*  The fee for this service is tiny (equivalent to about two espressos a month).  Not having big, bulky, air-filled, non-crushable plastic containers taking up room in our garbage cans should, I hope, mean we go to the dump less.  At worst, we break even but I sleep better at night knowing that my plastics are being recycled.  Also, I don’t have 4-5 grocery bags of recyclables taking up room in our very limited household storage areas.

I cannot stress how elated I was when our backordered can arrived today.  I ran down the driveway and waved and yelled “Thank you!” at the delivery guy (who was either shy or freaked out).  Then, I proceeded to toss in all the stuff I’ve been hoarding for this moment.  The bin is almost full already!  This is seriously the most exciting thing that’s happened around here since we got cable internet.**

— Amanda

*Huh?  Lemme ‘splain:  curbside service is provided by Waste Management, who are not affiliated with the dump (or, as it is more accurately called, the County Solid Waste Transfer Station).  When Waste Management picks up our neighborhood’s trash and recycling they do not take it to the county facility, like Matt and I do — did, well, still do for trash — they take it to a third party MRF or Municipal Recycling Facility.  The MRF Waste Management uses accepts plastics.  The MRF the County uses does not.

** Just last year.

Mailing my trash to New Jersey

One of the brilliant suggestions in Amy Korst’s Zero-Waste Lifestyle was to make use of TerraCycle.

There are some things that simply can’t be recycled in the usual sense (of being melted down and remade into more of the same), usually because they are made of composite materials, like the plastic and metal laminate that makes up potato chip bags.  But they can be upcycled, which means that instead of heading directly to the landfill they can be made into a new product first.  A lot of the materials that TerraCycle accepts are upcycled: Capri Sun® pouches are sewn together to make reusable lunch bags and backpacks, newspaper is wrapped tightly around graphite to make pencils, and soda can pulltabs are woven into chainmail-style purses.  Some items really do get melted down or ground up before seeing a second life: otherwise non-recyclable plastic bath and beauty product packaging becomes faux-terra cotta pavers, cigarette butts and packaging are made into industrial pallets.

Schools and other organizations, like churches and clubs, can form brigades to collect materials of one particular kind or another (in the same way that we once hoarded cereal box tops and soup can labels for our teachers) to raise money for charity while ensuring that their items bypass the landfill.

If you are like me, a small household incapable of collecting the massive amounts of drink pouches and dairy cartons that are necessary to form a brigade you still help out.  This isn’t made terribly obvious by the website, which is very heavily targeted toward brigades, but I sent some e-mails and got confirmation that, yes, you can collect whatever you’ve got that they accept and box it up in one comingled mess.  When you have filled a shipping box you just print a prepaid shipping label from TerraCycle.com and away it goes!

There is a large surprising list of items that you can save for TerraCycle. (I mean — cigarette butts!  Was no one else blown away by that?  There’s a useful second life for cigarette butts?  That’s enough to make me question reality.)  Here’s what I’m stashing away*:

  • Athenos packages (with lids)
  • Candy wrappers (even fun size)
  • Cheese packaging (any plastic cheese wrapper or bag — does not need to be washed)
  • Chip and pretzel bags (any size bag from any kind of salty snack)
  • Dairy tubs (with lids and even foil inner seals)
  • Writing instruments (pens, highlighter, mechanical pencils, markers, and lids)
  • Beauty products and packaging such as any personal care or beauty product packaging including, but not limited to, lipstick cases, shampoo bottles, powder cases, etc. Nail polish bottles, hairspray and deodorant cans are NOT acceptable.
  • Oral care packaging such as any brand of toothpaste tubes, toothbrushes, and floss containers.
  • Plastic tape dispensers and plastic tape cores.
  • Plastic cereal bags and plastic cereal bag liners.
Mailing my waste to New Jersey is not my first choice for dealing with trash.  In the grand scheme of things it is inarguably not an A+ choice for sustainability.  However, until I find a way to do without things like feta and pens — or find at-home substitutes — this eases my conscience somewhat.

— Amanda

*Parts of this section have been copied and pasted directly from TerraCycle’s website.

Plastic bag recycling

I carry at least one reusable bag with me almost all the time. Emphasis on almost. Try as I might, plastic bags still infiltrate our home: the plastic carrier bag that the new girl at the local grocery store insisted on putting all my stuff in before putting it in my canvas bag, the produce bags I still use sometimes when my lettuce or radishes have just been misted, and bags from the deli counter that carry home my cheese and meats. (I haven’t gotten the nerve yet to ask them about putting my stuff in a reusable container — but I’m working on it.)

I keep the nice bags (the ones without holes) and use them to line the little wastebaskets in the bathrooms. But now that all the bathroom garbage gets composted I just dump the contents of the wastebasket liner into the compost bin and there’s no need to change the liner. (I’d say there’s no need to havea liner anymore but I’m not the only one who uses these bathrooms . . .)
All the other bags I wad up inside a bigger bag which I eventually take back to WinCo with me and cram it in the plastic bag recycling bin in the foyer by the carts. This has worked magnificently for me. Well, it did until I started asking questions. The whole month of analyzing my garbage thing got me second-guessing myself all over the place. If masking tape was compostable and tea bags could be nylon of all things, then maybe the bags I was putting in the recycling bin weren’t actually recyclable — or maybe there were other plastic films I could be putting in there and I was missing out.
The plastic bag recycling bins at my local WinCo are provided by Hilex, one of the leading manufacturers of poly films in general and plastic bags in particular. They have especial emphasis on bags with post-consumer content. Have you seen the “Gray is the new GreenTM bags? That’s them.
This is their official acceptance policy from the Bag-2-Bag®Program’s website:
  • Yes– clean HDPE grocery bags, retail bags, dry cleaner bags—These are items with and SPI symbol 2 or 4 (2 or 4 inside of chasing arrows)
  • Yes–LLDPE pallet stretch film
  • Yes–clean LDPE merchandise over wrap shrink film—These are items with and SPI symbol 4, or 4 inside of chasing arrows–this is the plastic often used to cover flats of soda, water bottles and bulk purchases of toilet paper and paper towels as well as other products.
  • No–PVC or PVDC (Saran) films (meat wrap is PVC)
  • No–moisture – dry bales only
  • No–trash, paper or corrugated materials inside bales (attached paper labels ok)
  • No–strapping twine or tape (within the bale)
  • No–wood, broken pallets
  • No–polystyrene, polyurethane foamed, polypropylene
  • No–PETE trays
  • No–plastic bottles
  • No–oil or grease
  • No–hazardous materials, medical wastes, or packages of these products
  • No–metal
  • No–food or food packaging
  • No–produce packaging
Here’s the list from their blog post “What can be recycled in the Bag-2-Bag program?

  • Grocery bags (don’t forget to remove the receipt!)
  • Produce bags (make sure to clean bags to avoid pests!)
  • Dry cleaning bags
  • News paper bags
  • Toilet paper packaging and paper towel packaging
  • Bottle overwrap (the plastic casing around packages of water or other beverages)
  • Bread bags (make sure the bread is gone!)
  • Zip lock bags (remove the zipper – it can’t be recycled with the bag!)
  • Trash bags (remove the draw string!)
  • Plastic packaging around consumer electronics

And here were my questions:

  1. One list says yes to food packaging and one says no. Does that even mean bread bags? Many bag recycling programs accept bread bags (on the theory, I believe, that bread is fairly dry and the crumbs can be shaken out).
  2. I was also curious about the exclusion of other food packaging, in particular fresh and frozen produce bags. It seems that if they were rinsed and dried they should present no hazard to the recycling process — but from what I understand, the process of sorting is largely visual and since I am likely the only person in my whole county who would go to the trouble to wash and dry a bag before recycling it that most of this kind of bag that end up in the stream are “contaminated”.
  3. Degradable (fragmenting) and biodegradable (compostable) bags are notrecyclable, correct?
  4. I have heard for years that one incorrect item in a bale of recyclable material will cause the whole bale to be rejected and sent to the landfill. Is there any truth to this?
  5. I have a stash of frozen food bags because I stopped taking them to the Bag-2-Bag®bin after reading that they weren’t acceptable — but when I looked over the bags I had in hand they were marked LDPE, resin code 4. This makes them technically acceptable, but if the sorters are going to remove and destroy them I think it would be best for me not to include them in the first place.
  6. Is polywrap (the white on one side silver on the other plastic sheeting used by many mail order companies) acceptable in the program? I recently received a large package swathed in the stuff and it bears no useful markings whatsoever.
I put these questions to Philip R. Rozenski, Director of Marketing and Sustainability at Hilex, and he was kind enough to answer them all for me. Here are his answers:
  1. Yes to food bags. “This includes empty bread bags and other plastic food bags as well!”
  2. “To answer your question about frozen produce bags, packaging made from polypropylene [PP, or #5] or polyvinyl chlorides [PVC], such as the plastic used to make frozen produce bags, are not recyclable and can cause problems in the recycling process. These plastics are used to solve specific problems with exposure to oil, water, bacteria, or oxygen, which is used to keep food items from perishing”.
  3. “In response to your other questions about degradable bags, these bags aren’t generally recycled at recycling plants as they are actually designed and intended to break down on their own so they can contaminate other plastics if recycled. As a sustainable manufacturer we promote recyclable product rather than degradable.”
  4. I was relieved to learn that “the most common item recovered during the sorting process is paper receipts from stores. Any recovered non-recyclable items are properly disposed of or sent off to the appropriate recycling facility.” If you want to see the actual recycling process watch this video from Earth911 that Mr. Rozenski suggested to me. (Further reading* has reinforced the debunking of this myth. In other recycling — the commingled curbside kind — an incorrect item does not stop the works or “spoil” the product, but it does slow it down.”
  5. “If it has a 2 or 4 please put it in, we are good about letting the right items through.”
  6. For 3 many “mailers” are made of multiple plastic types. It is best to look for a 2 or 4 resin identification code or RIC. If not on it you may contact the maker for an answer and it could lead them to include markings in the future. If not known it should not be included. As a side sealed air bags used to ship from Amazon and other online shippers is typically recyclable 4 as well.”
I have cut down on my use of plastic bags — and plastic in general — quite a bit over the past year, but it does sneak in! But now I feel less leery of the film and bag type. There’s still nothing I can do about bottles and jugs in our area, since the transfer station doesn’t accept them, but I do have an easy disposal method for plastic bags that I feel I can trust. (I’m not just saying that because Mr. Rozenki is reading this!)
As for the bags and films I can’t recycle through the Bag-2-Bag®program: just you wait. I have been reading up and doing some experimenting and I have found some clever reuses for non-recyclable plastics!
One last note: Please keep in mind that these acceptance policies are unique to Hilex’s Bag-2-Bag®program. Hilex is the company that collects bags at the grocery store where I do most of my shopping — and, indeed, they have “over 30,000 locations” for consumer bag dropoffs — but they are not the company that collects bags at the other, smaller grocery store where I do occasional shopping. These guidelines may not be anywhere near what your collector accepts, so please check with them.  

— Amanda
*The Zero-Waste Lifestyle by Amy Korst. Review here.

    A month of garbage

    L to R: 1) Henna hair dye.  Not plastic-free, but a readily-available product that let me see if I like henna.  Now I can order the bulk stuff and mix my own!  2) Plastic-free, biodegradable floss in recyclable packaging.  3) Compostable household gloves in recyclable packaging.

    I don’t mean that March sucked. Quite the contrary: I enjoyed the heck out of it. But it was also the month I arbitrarily chose to conduct an experiment on myself. I wrote down everything I threw out and then took a good hard look at it to see if I could avoid throwing it out in the future. (Waste stream analysis and reduction is what the municipal professions would call this kind of nerdery.)  Click here to see my spreadsheet.  (I can’t believe I just said that.)
    To make the experiment feasible I only wrote down what I threw away (ignoring Matt, who usually just leaves stuff on the counter for me to dispose of anyway), and only what I threw away at home (not at restaurants or gas stations or what-have-you). I’m not ignoring this other garbage, I’m just focusing on one thing at a time.
    I learned that the following items are compostable: cotton swabs, toilet paper (used as facial tissues), toothpicks, unwaxed pizza boxes, used matches, the stuff in the dustpan (sweepings, I think, is the term), masking tape, pencils and pencil shavings (minus the eraser and metal bit), vacuum cleaner canister contents, and dryer lint (the man-made fiber content is usually negligible because things like rayon and polyester don’t shed like cotton and wool do).  I was able to keep all of these things out of the trash.
    One item that is still stumping me is eggshells. As I’ve mentioned before, they aren’t breaking down in my compost bins in a timely fashion – and they attract rats. An internet search tells me that I can wash and crush them and feed them back to the hens,use them in coffee to take out bitterness, scrub with them, scatter around plants to deter slugs;,and even make sidewalk chalk out of them. I haven’t decided what to do yet, and given our limited space I am not yet diverting them from the garbage can, either.
    Now that I’ve analyzed my data I’ve made (or will be making) the following changes:
    1. Keeping that one thing *ahem* out of the bathroom garbage. That means that what remains in the can is all compostable.  (Once I’ve used up my current package, which was purchased in a hurry, I go back to the plastic-free compostable kind.)
    2. Found a new source for glass-bottled milk, which means I can make my own sour cream and yogurt again and not have to deal with plastic tubs or “waxed” cartons.
    3. Buying CFLs from the local (non-big box) hardware store, where they sell them wicked cheap and in recyclable cardboard boxes instead of plastic clamshell packaging like at the grocery store.
    4. When I run out of waxed paper I will go the co-op and get the If You Care brand, which uses soy wax and is compostable.
    5. Got myself a “new” (thrifted) reusable travel mug for the smaller size I now drink. At least one of us isn’t generating plastic-lined cups and straws anymore.
    6. Next time I need lime or lemon juice I’ll just buy a lime or a lemon.
    7. Started using henna instead of grocery store hair dye. Available online without plastic packaging.
    8. Started making my own almond milk again to avoid those cartons.
    9. My eczema demands that I use gloves when washing dishes or cleaning. If You Care makes 100% latex household gloves (which are compostable!) in a 100% recyclable cardboard box. They carry them at the food co-op and I will use them exclusively as soon as I use up the plastic pairs I have on hand. (On hand . . . heh.)
    10. Since I seem to be addicted to microwave steaming (even though I own two steamer baskets) I’m looking into reusable lids for this purpose. There are several on the market.

    I’m proud to say that we don’t generate enough trash to warrant pickup from the garbage men. It takes us three months to fill up our three 30-gallon cans. Our local dump (and by local I mean two miles away) is startlingly beautiful (You heard me. Beautiful. It looks like the freaking Hoh Rainforest.) but I still wouldn’t mind going there less often.
    – Amanda