(Cont. from last post)
Composting – This year, I started vermicomposting (composting indoors using red wiggler worms) and have to admit that harvesting the compost can be labor intensive. Like all projects, it’s a process that takes tweaking so perhaps I still need to get the hang of it. Regardless, I’m happy to learn the science (and art) behind composting and incorporate it into my kitchen habits.
For apartment dwellers who are looking to compost but don’t necessarily want a hands-on project, there are plenty of services that will pick up your compost for a fee. Though it costs money, the added plus is that municipal composting facilities allow meat, fish, and dairy in the bin, further reducing the amount of waste you throw away. Personally for my next apartment, I’m going to look into buying a compost bin on Craigslist if I have a small backyard. This method just calls for throwing your compost in, adding some leaves or grass clippings on top, and stirring every once in a while to keep it aerated, which seems easy enough.
Cleaning products – I do most of my cleaning with vinegar, baking soda, castile soap, and essential oils. You can find various recipes on the internet but here are roughly the recipes I use:
All purpose cleaner: 1/4 cup castile soap with 1 quart of water in a spray bottle. Add a few drops of tea tree oil. This can be used on tabletops, kitchen countertops (granite included), and bathroom surfaces.
Window cleaner: Mix 1 part water with 1 part vinegar. Add essential oils if desired. Use an old newspaper to wash the mirror for a smudge-free shine.
Floors: Mix 1 part water with 1 part vinegar. Add essential oils if desired.
Bathroom disinfectant: Again, mix 1 part water with 1 part vinegar in a spray bottle. Add essential oils if desired. Spray on bathroom surfaces and let it sit. Wipe down with a sponge or toilet bowl cleaner. Sprinkle baking soda on surfaces that need scouring and scrub with a sponge.
Drain cleaner: Pour a half-cup of baking soda down the drain then add a half a cup of white vinegar. Wait ten to fifteen minutes. While waiting, heat a tea kettle full of water until boiling. Pour the boiling water down to drain to flush the vinegar and baking soda through. I tend to do this every time I clean the bathroom because I find that it does a better job of preventing clogs than unclogging them when the drain is full or blocked.
Thrifting – This year I moved into my new apartment and had to stock up on kitchen and household items so the place wouldn’t feel bare. Heading to the thrift store every other week was incredibly helpful during the process. I have been thrifting for clothes for a while but I find that home goods are much more abundant at your neighborhood Goodwill. Glasses, coffee mugs, jars for bulk storage, ceramic pots for plants, crock pots, cookbooks, and artwork were all fairly easy to come by.
I think in order to get items you actually enjoy, you have to go often, with an astute eye regarding what it is you are really going to use, and browse without any one item in mind. It may seem strange to buy items that you eat and cook with used but I found cleaning tricks on the blog Heart of Light, which puts my mind at ease about purchasing secondhand. Helpful tips: if you purchase clothes or sheets, put them in the dryer immediately. The high heat kills all bedbugs. 10 minutes will do but you can go for 30 if you want to play it safe. If you purchase dishes or cookware, soak them in the sink for 30 minutes in a 10% bleach solution. Afterward, wash normally. This sterilizes the dishes and makes sure they're good and clean before using.
Bags – Due to freebies and giveaways, I’ve collected reusable grocery bags without really trying and make a conscious to take them before going grocery shopping. For day to day to purchases, I avoid plastic bags by putting a Chico bag in my purses. You can purchase sets of four here or here. Or if you don't want to make the purchase, throw store-given plastic bags in your purses and bags for everyday purchases. It's better to reuse them over and over rather than recycle, especially in Chicago where the plastic bag ban made plastic bags thicker but just as disposable.
Laundry – I wash my laundry with cold water and use whatever green laundry detergent I find at the store that's available in bulk. I recently bought a drying rack and plan on air drying my clothes, like I did when I lived in Honduras and Spain, though we'll see how long this lasts. I know many eco-friendly blogs suggest making your own laundry detergent but I don’t do that, nor do I make my own hand soap or dish soap. I buy them because there are so many brands (Mrs. Meyer's, Method, Honest Company, 365) that do the job. If you worry that these products are just green washing, install the Good Guide app or the EWG's app and check how clean any product is before purchasing.
Changes I still want to implement – Mostly small things like using handkerchiefs instead of Kleenex, buying tea in bulk, purchasing reusable ziploc bags and Bee's Wrap for food storage.
So there are my tips, if you’re into that kind of thing. Of course, there are other ways to advocate for the environment. You can vote in local and national elections, donate money to organizations who are working on systematic changes, volunteer to help change local systems, sign petitions, and organize. There are other habits to consider looking at too; mainly, meat consumption, driving, and flying - all of which i do occasionally.
If you are interested in living low-impact (or lower-impact), I recommend The Carbon-Free Home, which I like many reasons. One, it explains projects for apartment and home dwellers, diving into both small, doable projects and larger ones. Also, it gives sensible advice, explaining how small changes like living in closer proximity to things you need, hanging your clothes up to dry, and insulating your house may have a greater impact than the expensive, flashy ones (i.e. installing solar panels).
Post script: Recently, I watched Michael Pollan's Cooked on Netflix, his docu-series urging people to return to the kitchen for the sake of their health and the health of the environment. While it was cinematically beautiful and educational, I also found it a bit holier than thou. I don't prescribe to Michael Pollan's make-everything-from-scratch ways. That seems exhausting and honestly, a bit inefficient. I love a pot of homemade beans, simmered with spices thrown in. I also love canned black beans when I need to whip up something quick. Which in a way, sums up my take on it all. I'm not ayurvedic or zero waste or even a vegetarian (though kudos to those who are) but I believe in doing what you can, in the ways that are best suited for you.
Or, as Tim Mazurek of Lottie and Doof so brilliantly says, we are not flawless! See here: