I dream of sustainability

Ever since I saw the blog The Zero Waste Home last week (thanks ShalomMama!), I can’t stop thinking about the idea of living a life with less, if not “zero” waste.  I’ve been hyper aware of every single thing I put into the trash.   And I’ve been asking myself, what would I do with that, if I didn’t throw it away?  Bea Johnson, says “Refuse, refuse, refuse, and then reduce, reuse, recycle.”  And I certainly like the idea of simplifying my life and reducing my carbon footprint.  But I’m just not sure how far I’m willing to go to get there.

I mean, I think I can handle using a hanky instead of tissues, but I’m not so sure I’m willing to give up toilet paper.  And, while I enjoy buying bulk, I also really like some foods that are pre-packaged.  Hmmmm

I feel I’ve been working toward a more sustainable lifestyle for a long time now.  I’ve composted for about seven years and I love watching the soil come alive with organisms when it’s given some nutrients.  Last spring we raised chicks at our house, and now we’re getting three or four eggs a day from our four hens.  The chickens are such sweet pets and the eggs are delicious.

This year we’ve harvested quite a few mature apples from the apple tree in the front yard, and there are still several more on the branch.  I fertilized the tree with bat droppings.  I wonder who collected the bat scat and where it was harvested.   Does anyone know if chicken droppings would work as a flower/fruit fertilizer?

I also shop secondhand a bunch.  I use my local kids resale shop, Kids-n-Style like a rental house for toys, clothes, and baby gear.  I walk in with something to trade and walk out with the thing I’m really wanting that is perfect for my daughter’s current stage of development.  It’s really a win/win.  And then there are the environmental benefits of less manufacturing, less transportation and shipping.  Oh, and I bring my re-usable bags with me everywhere, and I use them.  So I think I’ve made some really positive changes that help me to live a more sustainable life.

One of the choices that I’m most proud of is my choice to cloth diaper my daughter.  In fact, I have NEVER used a single disposable diaper for her, even when we traveled across the country.  I’m really happy to know that we haven’t added any diapers to our landfill.

On the other hand, I LOVE hot water.  In fact, conserving water at all is a BIG challenge for me.  And while I’m thinking of putting up a clothesline, I’m not sure if I’m going to like the stiffness of the line-dried clothes.  Does that make me an irresponsible energy hog?

We also have a hot tub and I do NOT want to give it up just to reduce our energy consumption.  I find the hot water absolutely therapeutic.  My husband and I often spend “date nap” in the hot tub.  It was absolutely wonderful to be in the warm water during the first stages of birth…mmmm.

Oh, and I really enjoy having bananas and other tropical fruits on hand, no matter what time of year it is.  I understand that it would be better for the environment if I ate only locally produced food, but we have a very short growing season here in Bend, Oregon and come on, who can resist the bananas at the grocery store?  I surely can’t, at least not yet…


So, what if I had a solar powered home and I set up a very tall grow room for my banana tree?  That’s eating locally and producing the energy to grow my own food, but I guess I didn’t really take into account the production of the solar panels.  OK, I’ll admit that’s a pretty outlandish example, but isn’t it strange to be learning to produce less waste and use less energy while typing away on my laptop?  I wash some of my clothes with an old fashioned washboard, but I also stream movies through my big flat screen TV.  By the way, are the photovoltaic production plants running on solar power yet?

As you can see, sustainability is a VAST topic and at our house we’re no where near achieving it, but I think we’re doing pretty well so far and I know we’ll continue to learn, change, grow, and improve, because, well, that’s just what we do!

Have you made any recent changes at your house to improve your impact on the environment?  I would love to hear about it!  Have a super week, Shelly


Wow, I LOVE the blog you linked to.. those are some great ideas. She mentions buying a pressure cooker, but... I just bought a sun oven. Passive solar cooking! So far I have only dried shiitake mushrooms in it, but you're supposed to be able to cook anything in it. I have yet to start bringing jars to the grocery store, but I always bring my reusable bags. She mentions buying used whenever possible, but doesn't mention buying "made in USA" whenever you have to buy something new. Makes sense to me, same concept as local food, right?

It's way more environmentally conscious to simply reduce your energy usage, rather than using the same amount of energy from a "renewable" resource (you're right, there are no solar powered solar panel factories). For example... do you really need a computer AND a big screen TV? The computer, the internet, and things like Netflix have really made TV an obsolete bit of technology, and therefore a waste of resources if you own and use both of them.

Any animal waste can be fertilizer for plants... but I would compost it first to get rid of any bad bacteria. I'm pretty sure they do that with the bat droppings you buy. What do you do with your chicken droppings right now?

Buying local food whenever possible is also very important... and your health will thank you. Baking your own bread is a fun activity for parents and kids to do together, and it's also way cheaper. If you buy fruit from faraway lands, only buy organic so you at least know you aren't poisoning someones drinking water by enjoying your exotic fare. Bend may have a short growing season, but people have been living in Bend for thousands of years... maybe do some research and find out what the people of the past found tasty?

My family probably makes about one trash bag per month right now, but I'm hoping to get it down to zero in the next year. I'm surprised at how hard it is, I feel like waste is all around me, the more I am consciously trying to get rid of it.

You can add half a cup of vinegar to your rinse cycle to make your clothes/diapers less stiff when they line dry... but really, like any other change in life, you will get used to a little stiffness if you really want to. Dryers do use a huge amount of energy (something like an average of 17% of a household's energy bill?). If you do use your dryer, make sure your wash cycle has the very highest spin setting on... that way most of the water is spun out and doesn't need to use the heat for so long. I had to use 4 disposable diapers this month... my dryer broke and it rained for 4 days, and I did not have enough diapers to get through it. I was very sad. In hindsight, could have used T shirts or something.

My husband and I take sustainability pretty seriously. We are in the planning stages to build our own eco home. It will be a straw bale/cob house (all materials coming from on site) with only two rooms and little electricity (maybe one lamp). It will be heated with a rocket stove, which is a wood burning stove that uses very little wood and produces no smoke. We can catch rainwater and put it through a biosand filter (just sand and gravel, google it!) for washing/cooking, and then the used water will be recycled into our permaculture garden which we hope will grow 50% of our food in 3 years time (permaculture methods do not require buying fertilizer and are 100% organic). We use soap nuts (which yes, are shipped here from India, we are trying to grow our own soap nuts tree) for all our washing (clothes and our bodies/hair) because they are 100% natural and do not make "used" water unusable (they work great on our cloth diapers, too!). We will also be making a low tech composting toilet. The toilet paper can be 100% recycled, and then composted right along with everything else.

The only thing we can't get rid of is driving. We live out where the buses don't run and it's way too far to bike to work. Oh, and the computer I'm typing on :) I'm thinking the computer isn't totally necessary, really, since libraries exist, but... I think I'll cross that bridge when I come to it (I will probably not replace this computer after it dies).