Friday, January 26, 2007

Reusing your vegetables

On Wednesday, I made a big batch of vegetable soup. Carrots, onions, celery, potatoes, tomatoes, and broccoli were the main ingredients, but I also used two large vegetable bouillon cubes, leading me to throw away two cube wrappers, and bringing me one third of the way to having a small bouillon cube box to reuse. A small contribution to the week's half-bag of garbage, sure, but today I've taken a step toward eliminating even that. I used the scraps and peels from the soup vegetables and a few others that were ready for the compost heap to make my own vegetable stock.

I sort of knew this was simple, but having tried it I can now officially say: Making your own stock is really easy. I just threw the scraps into a pot, covered them with water, added a few spices and salt, and simmered for about an hour and a half. I got about 12 cups of stock from this--the equivalent of a box of vegetable bouillon cubes. It's a small victory--probably an hour's worth of work to save a few dollars and the small amount of waste generated from that small box. But I am excited to be getting an extra use out of something on its way back to the earth. I'm freezing the stock tonight, and the soggy scraps are headed to the compost tomorrow. Another bonus: the boiled scraps should take up less space in the bin and take less time to break down into worm food.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Junk mail

As is clear already from my fr(ECO)logue posts, junk mail is a frequent visitor at my home. I normally receive one or two pieces of mail each day that are bills or welcomed or solicited in some way by me. The rest--sometimes two or three times as many pieces--is trying to sell me something or solicit something from me.

This is not just my personal dilemma. As this list of statistics from the Native Forest Network show, the junk mail bounty is commonplace, and its effects spill out of our home and into the landfills.

Cutting back on junk mail is possible, by calling/mailing/emailing the perpetrators, and by getting off of mailing lists. It is a time-consuming prospect; on one of the first days of this project, I spent a couple of hours calling each of the senders of eight pieces of junk mail I got that day. But I am putting off the rest of the calls not because I don't relish the hours of phone calls in my future, but because I would like to give myself a month of relatively normal mail deluge to compare with what I hope will be the post-call mail dribble.

I'm holding off also inspired in part by a fellow compacter, who is weighing her entire mail pile week by week (or maybe month by month) to compare the decrease by weight. I won't be doing this, because I don't own a scale and don't want to acquire one, and because I'd like to move the stuff I don't need into the correct piles more quickly than that. But I should get a similar effect from counting the number of letters per day.

The above link (to the Native Forest Network) also gives a few ideas on how to stop junk mail, for those interested.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Pre-ground or whole bean?

We had a small gathering at our place last night and baked bread and made dip, hummus, etc. This meant a fair amount of stuff to discard or reuse, but aside from the beer bottles actually not a horrible amount because of the amount of bulk foods and fresh produce we used to make everything except the chips from scratch.

I like making food from scratch, especially with bulk and fresh ingredients. I generally assume that homemade is better in many ways. For one, I have complete control over each of the ingredients if I make something from scratch, and can use fresh, local and organic ingredients, often more cheaply than buying a fresh, local, organic product made by someone else. One of my resolutions for the year (alongside the less drastic resolution that eventually became this project) was to try to eat and cook with single ingredient foods as much as possible, and particularly to avoid anything with more than five ingredients.

But since I am focused here on packaging, and on minimizing and reusing said packaging, I began comparing yesterday the amount and types of packaging used for prepared foods versus homemade. For example, to make hummus I bought bulk garbanzo beans (using a "biodegradable" plastic bag), a lemon, and a jar of tahini, and used some oil and spices I had around. I think this is better than buying a plastic container of hummus--besides being fresher and (I hope) tastier, a bag of bulk garbanzo beans makes a huge amount of beans, and a jar of tahini can make several batches of hummus. In fact, I see now that tahini is pretty easy to make from scratch, basically from sesame seeds, oil and spices, so that the tahini jar purchase could have been avoided. Other ingredients are in pretty miniscule amounts or from fresh produce. So I think the amount of packaging used for my own batch of hummus, when compared to a store-bought container, is at least comparable, the ingredients cheaper, and the result as good or better. Plus packaging for homemade is mainly the glass holding the oil, tahini, and spices, and glass is a material I would prefer over plastic if I am reusing.

On the basis of packaging alone, sometimes it is difficult to choose between prepared and homemade. I made two loaves of bread yesterday. Most of the ingredients were basic bulk ingredients, but one of the loaves had an entire jar of kalamata olives in it and the other had half a carton of buttermilk. Had I bought these prepared I would have brought home two paper or plastic bread bags; as it is I will have an empty buttermilk container and an empty glass jar. Here I have to remember that any food production will result in containers being discarded along the way. I guess, in general, the fewer intermediate steps the food takes on its way to my house the better.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The inaugural post

This year, when I wrote my resolutions for the year, one of the things I resolved to do was to think carefully about the items that I use, and to try to reuse things at least once rather than throwing them away or recycling them. In the days after I made this pledge, as I thought about the potential uses for things I would normally have thrown away or recycled, I quickly realized what an enormous task keeping this pledge would be. I was faced with a choice: give myself a break and water down the pledge, or really go for it. I've chosen, with some trepidation, to not only try to keep the pledge, but to push it to its limit (or, at least, to my limit).

I will be posting daily on my other fr(ECO)logy blog, fr(ECO)logue, giving the mundane details of my daily acquisitions, discards, reuses, and piles of potential reusables. This log is for transparency for those who want to see it. It is what I would otherwise be doing in my notebook. I'll be more likely to keep doing it if there is some chance of someone checking up on me.

I intend to use this blog for my thoughts and discussion of issues that come up along the way. So if you are interested in the project but don't care to know what I got in the mail or threw away today, this is the place. This blog will be personal; I'll continue to post about general news commentary, including stuff pertaining to ecology and environmentalism, along with essays about compacting, feminism, language, and anything else I feel like writing about at my main blog, the lucky achiever. I am also working on a website of some sort to centralize information about my project and all the things I learn this year about garbage, recycling, resources and resourcefulness, and creative reuse throughout the year.

I am posting this process in blogs because I hope doing so will keep me motivated, because I tend to think things through best by writing my thoughts down, and because I have a feeling at least a few people may find reading about this project as it happens interesting, thought-provoking, informative, or even inspirational. Feedback, support, and information from readers, along with comments from anyone who would like to call me a freak is welcome.