bare feet in the sand

the beauty of nature in a consumer economy


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Living sustainably

Last August I moved to the Philadelphia area in order to go to grad school. I am going to get a Masters in Environmental Science. But this blog post isn’t going to be about that. This post is about what I learned about living sustainably as I moved into my own apartment.

My apartment, like most places in the U.S., has single stream recycling. My goal was going to be to limit the amount of things I put in the trash, as well as the amount of things that go into recycling. I have handkerchiefs around the house to use and wash, and tissues only when I really need to blow my nose. But the truth is a lot of goes into the trash and recycling is food packaging. And I haven’t solved that.

However, there are certain items in the kitchen that generally go into the trash and then into a landfill I can reduce my use of. Paper towels is one of them, so I went out and bought small cloths and use them instead. In August I came with two rolls of paper towels (bathroom cleaning, cleaning up after my cat) and I’m proud to say I’ve used less than half of one roll.

Finally, I’ve worked hard to reduce my use of food storage that goes into the trash. I have yet to buy ziploc bags and I do have plastic tupperware and I also keep jars and other containers that I can reuse from items I purchase. I have also bought beeswax food wraps which do a good job of keeping produce fresh and covering bowls in the fridge. (Not a complete substitute for aluminum foil which can go in the oven, but close.) I also use reusable ties and clips. Maybe it’s time to look at your kitchen and see what you can replace with reusable items?

Carrots in a tupperware with a towel to soak up moisture, reusable tie on the broccoli, cucumber in beeswax food wrap and a pepper.
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Environmental Economics

I love to shop.  I really do.  Recently I was scraping ice off my car, or trying to.  It wasn’t really working.  I thought, well I guess I should go buy a new scraper.  I thought, I can look around and maybe find a better version.  I’m trying not to buy things unless I’m really going to use them, so every time something like this happens, I’m kind of excited.  (Perhaps that makes my life a little sad, but mostly I’m just poor and like to shop.)  After being excited I realized something.  What I have isn’t working and I need an ice scraper that works in New England in the winter, but buying a new one means I’m going to be throwing out the old one.  It will be put on the curb, dumped in a garbage truck and taken to a landfill where it will stay for decades, maybe centuries.  The thing about it is there’s almost nothing I can do about it.  If I took my scraper to a hardware store and asked them to sharpen it and fix it for me, they’d look at me like I was nuts and tell me to buy a new one.  Our economy isn’t based on making things that last a long time and getting them fixed if anything happens.  Mass production has created an economy where we buy things as cheaply as possible and replace them when they break.

In order for this post not to be a total downer, I’m going to give a few pieces of advice, based on The Green Book by Elizabeth Rogers and Thomas M. Kostigen.  Try to buy things with minimal packaging, and as much recycled and recyclable packaging as possible.  Shop local because they won’t have spent a lot of energy to get the products there from far away.  Shop at secondhand clothing stores first.  Consider buying clothes made from organic cotton and natural dyes.  Use rechargeable batteries (4 rechargeable batters can replace 100 regular AAs).