Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Kicking more of the paper habit

We've been a recycling family for a long time, and I've been a recycling crusader since about first grade. I come from a family of scientists, teachers, Boy Scouts, and conservationists, so I "come by it honest".

But it's always bugged me that there are some things you can't recycle, such as some types of plastics (we only recycle # 1 & 2 here) and some paper products, such as waxed freezer cartons and the ubiquitous tissues. I've figured out how to use those other plastic containers for packaging leftovers/food for gifting and for starting seedlings. I've also begun using the waxed paper cartons for starting seedlings, just cut them off to fit the size you need (a butter carton will give you two containers if you cut it in half and retape the open end, a milk carton or cream container will work perfectly if you cut off the spout end, etc.). Then it's easy to give away these seedlings and you don't have to worry about getting your containers back.

But what about the tissues? I know there's a sanitation issue with recycling them; totally get that. So, I've begun using handkerchiefs as most of my grandparents generation did, and many still do. Certainly there are times when a tissue is best (when you're sick), but for the occasional nose blow or wiping sweat from your face when you've finished yardwork, a handkerchief works wonders. By folding it over a few times, you can get a few uses out of it (sorry if that's too graphic for some of you more sensitive readers out there). I keep one in the bathroom where the tissue box used to live and one in my pocket when gardening. When it's dirty, I throw it in the wash with the sheets and towels, since these get washed in warmer water to sanitize them.

All in all, I figure this has saved us a small amount of money in our monthly grocery/toiletry budget (since we used coupons anyway, we could generally get tissues for about 50 cents a box), but it's definitely saved the amount of paper that's thrown out in our house. It means the bathroom trash fills less frequently, which means we're saving on plastic bags there. (Not that we purchase these bags, we simply reuse plastic grocery sacks that seem to find their way into our house, even though we use reusable totes at the store.)

So, I'd love to know... was this post too extreme for you? Would you ever consider using handkerchiefs as tissue substitutes, or is it just too Depression-era or hippie for your taste?

Simple Greywater Solutions

Throughout the summer, I've been indulging my love of reading, which in my adult life has come to mean more nonfiction works in the form of things by Michael Pollan (such as The Botany of Desire and The Omnivore's Dilemma) and other similar works on simple living (of course these were borrowed or from the library, so my reading habit hasn't eaten up any of our budget this summer). Among the things I've been reading about this summer, greywater (water that has been used for laundry, dishes, etc. and could potentially be reused to irrigate the gardens) has been a topic, one which very much intrigues me.

One day we'd love to install a greywater laundry system, since we already use phosphate free laundry detergent (Charlie's Soap or Seventh Generation) and our homemade lavender laundry booster. However, the current NC building code doesn't make this the simplest thing to do in a residential setting, and our budget for household projects wouldn't accommodate it anyway since we're replacing the roof and covering the front deck with a metal roof. So, in the interim (or perhaps forever, depending on how the code and our budget go), we're implementing some simple greywater solutions.

1. All leftover water and icecubes in drinking glasses at the end of the day go to water indoor or outdoor plants. This means that I don't have to remember to water the houseplants once or twice a week and these small amounts of potable water don't go to waste by simply pouring them down the drain. (It's taken a while to train the family, but they've got the hang of it now.) The icecubes are great because they provide a slow gradual water source over an hour or so. We really try to drink only water in our house, though we sometimes succumb to the "need" for sweet tea or juice in the summer, or hot tea/coffee in the winter or mornings. This makes things easy and we don't have to worry about giving the plants something that might not be healthy for them. (Black coffee or unsweetened tea is fine for plants, especially blueberries which love acidic soils, so we sometimes pour leftovers of these on the blueberry plants--when I remember.)

2. Water from boiling pasta, corn on the cob, seafood, or canning is caught and cooled. Then, I take it outside to water the veggie garden or flower garden. If it's salted water, then I am more selective about where I put it (it might go on the weeds growing in the gravel driveway to kill them, rather than killing my flowers or stressing the veggies).

3. Water from washing dishes by hand is caught in a pot/bowl rather than the sink and poured over outdoor plants. The small amount of soap helps to deter pests and any organic matter (bits of lettuce, pasta, etc.) just decomposes in the soil. We try to use phosphate-free soaps here too, so they don't contaminate the groundwater. (This is key for us, since our water comes from a shared well and not a municipal source.)

All in all, I figure these actions lessen our need for irrigation considerably. I've really tried to subscribe to the xeriscaping philosophy with my flower gardens and only water the veggie garden on a regular basis. The flower gardens are watered with all this greywater I've described above. I can't imagine what else I could grow if we had the laundry greywater system in place!

So, what about you... what're you doing to capture greywater or conserve water on a regular basis? Have you experimented with a greywater system, or is yours just hodge podge like ours? I'd love to hear from you!