Category Archives: Cleaning

Navigating a No Landfill Waste System

The United States produces more waste than any other nation. To change at this point is to fight a tidal wave of cultural norms that threatens to bury each of us in a sea of trash. Feeling overwhelmed and not knowing where to begin we decided to start where all good things do…at home. Before moving to the farm we had always recycled and reused because that is what we were told was the responsible thing to do.

The more I educated myself about environmental issues the more I felt that recycling alone was little different than sending all of our trash to the landfill. A good deal of plastics cannot be recycled due to cost. And depending on market demand other recyclables may or may not get recycled. Most landfill trash is product packaging and food waste. Humans have always produced trash; but, not in the massive amount they do today. The real problem with us being so trashy is not just the amount of garbage, it’s the dangerous chemicals in our plastics, inks, and metals that are leaching into the soil and water that we source our nourishment from.

When we moved to the farm and decided to move toward controlling our own food chain as much as possible the tail end of that chain was the waste we produced. We decided not to hire a garbage service. Dealing with our own trash forced us to consider heavily where our waste was going and the accumulation of it through our purchases. I started to make smarter purchases with waste removal and recycling in mind. The following breakdown is how we currently process our trash. We are ever moving toward better practices with the goal being almost no trash to remove. And as I say with everything it is only one way to do it; there are many wonderful ideas out there and more that are coming.

Food Waste

Having a garden fairly demands having a compost pile. The work that goes into growing and cooking your own vegetables can pay off double if you use your scraps to feed next year’s plants. There are many ways to compost your food waste. If you live in an urban setting you may want to purchase or make a rotating compost barrel so your compost does not cause an odor issue. If you have more space having your compost in a pit or on top of the ground is fine too. The important thing is to have your compost contained or far enough away from your living space so the smell is not bothersome.

A very large variety of things can be composted. What should not go in your compost is more important than what to put in it. Do not put any meat or dairy products in your compost with the exception of egg shells. You should also not put anything in your compost with sugar or yeast in it; so pretty much no baked goods. Our food waste that is not suitable for the compost goes to the animals for scraps. Chickens, dogs, and cats will be more than happy to take care of your meat, dairy, and bread scraps. Coffee grounds and tea bags are great in compost. Some paper products can also go into the pile just make sure they do not have any ink or plastic on them and do not compost paper products that have human waste on them. Human waste can be composted; but, it has to be done with more caution to prevent the spread of disease.

Depending on how fast you want to be able to use your compost factors into how much work you will have to put toward the decomposition process. For decomposition, earthworms will be your most useful tool. If they come of their own accord that is the best scenario. A permanent compost pile on the ground will draw decomposers naturally. If you have a lack of worms you can purchase them. Heat aids the decomposition process; you can add a layer of straw or hay on top to hold the heat that is naturally generated by the breakdown.

Once you have a manageable pile, one that partially fills your barrel or that you can easily handle with a shovel you will need to add new waste to a different spot. If you have an open compost pile it is helpful to add new waste on one end and rotate the compost when you turn it. Compost needs to be turned so it decomposes faster. Once your compost looks like soil it is ready to use in the garden.

Refusing, Repurposing, and  Recycling

Recycling should not be the first option in waste removal. Before that trash even comes into your hands the best practice is to refuse it if possible. This is extremely difficult in our throw away consumer culture. If you are creative you can find ways to reduce the amount of trash you purchase. Some businesses will put products in your reusable containers. The coffee shop I purchase my beans from, Berea Coffee & Tea, fills my mason jars rather than bagging my beans. If everyone did that my coffee would be a little cheaper because we would not have to pay the packaging price. Some grocery stores will also fill your containers eliminating the packaging all together. The more you are your own grocery store the less need you will have for packaged store items.

Berea Coffee & Tea fills up my mason jars with beans eliminating excess packaging.
Old wine bottles cleaned and reused for spring water and homemade castile soap.
Metal coffee cans make great feed cans.

When I have to purchase items that are packaged I try to find products that have containers that I might be able to reuse or at the very least packaging that is recyclable. Glass packaging is always the best because it is easier to clean, safe for food products, and more easily recycled. Be cautious when reusing plastic packaging. Many plastic containers have BPA in them, a chemical that is hazardous to your health. Buckets and larger metal cans are useful for feeding animals. Cardboard boxes that have safe ink or no ink are excellent for putting down in between garden rows. The boxes keep weeds down, water from evaporating, and they compost into your garden. Plastic bags can be reused many times or they can be crocheted into reusable shopping bags.   

Crocheted plastic bags make strong reusable shopping bags.

Plastic is the least recyclable packaging and styrofoam is not recyclable at all. The more you can avoid these forms of packaging the better. Most recycling facilities will not take plastic that does not have a recycling number on it.

Last Resort Trash

No matter how conscientious you are there will be some trash that you cannot do anything with. For that small amount of unusable trash we incinerate it. Having a burn barrel is a very old farm tradition. If you have a good barrel that is well aerated the trash will burn fast and efficient. We use the ashes for fill dirt. We do not use it in the garden because it is not healthy. We do use our wood stove ashes in our compost; but, we only burn clean wood in the stove. We do not use plastic garbage bags for this burnable trash. Our trash cans are metal so they clean out easily. Realizing that at some point you will have to burn trash that you cannot reuse or recycle is a powerful motivator in your purchasing habits.      

Websites Resourced

http://www.usi.edu/recycle/solid-waste-landfill-facts/

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/magazine/winter10plastics/

How to do Laundry the Green Way

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When we first moved to the holler, here its pronounced holler not hollow, and decided to move toward being off the grid we had to reinvent our energy consumption habits. Lowering your energy usage does not mean you have to be uncomfortable. There is no one good way to go about getting off the grid. Most people go about it in stages. For us, being little in pocketbook, we have pursued creative ways to reduce our energy while spending little. Washing machines and especially dryers are a huge energy and water cost. Even the energy and water efficient machines use a considerable about of water and electricity. With five children and dirty farm clothes in spades I started to pursue an alternate way to wash our clothes. I got to wondering if older ways of doing laundry would be effective for our lifestyle. We are home a lot in the summer; but, the school year is filed to the brim with my work as a teacher, the kids school, and after school activities. Sourcing the internet for ideas got me started; but, raw experience and failure were needed to produce clean laundry. I have been doing machine-less laundry for two summers now and have gotten fairly fast. It takes me roughly 30 minutes to set up, heat water, wash, rinse, and hang two to three loads of laundry. During the school year I use the washing machine and hang the clothes out to dry as the weather permits. I would love to be 100% pure green; but, also have to be practical and do what is within my means.  Here is how I do my laundry the green way. Hopefully you can use this and improve on it.

The Set Up

When I first started looking into doing hand laundry I found a website that recommended one wash tub and two rinse tubs. I have found that one wash tub and one rinse tub are sufficient. Depending on how dirty the laundry is I will use the same water to do two to three loads before it requires changing. I use galvanized tubs; you can get them at any farm store. They are durable and don’t rust as long as you let them dry out after use. For the wringer I was very fortunate and was gifted one that my father in law had stored in the barn; it is a 1900-1910 model from the Anchor company. My husband oiled the roller and replaced some pieces of the frame; but, other than that I have just used it as is. The Lehman’s company is a great source for hand laundry supplies. I purchased my washboard and breather, a plunging tool to agitate your laundry, from them. Lehman’s also has a wringer; but, I cannot say how well it works because I haven’t used it. It took me some time to figure out how to properly use the old fashioned wringer that I have. It was just pure luck that I was showing a documentary about Henry Ford in my classroom and there was a clip of a woman in the film from the early 1900’s using a wringer similar to mine. That very old film clip was just enough to get me in a direction.

When I set up I place the two tubs on the wringer and fill them with water packed from my spring. I rinse with cold to save energy. If you have time you can use a black bucket filled with your water and let it heat in the sun; or if it is hot enough the sun will heat the water in your tub if left to warm. Depending on what all I have going on I sometimes heat the water with propane; not totally green but sometimes more practical. Farms are like a triage operation; sometimes we must prioritize. After you have added your water, soap, and fabric softener; you can add your dirty laundry.  It is extremely important to use all natural soaps and fabric softener because you will be dumping the used water on the ground and you don’t want to damage any bees or butterflies not to mention your ground water. As a general rule I do not use bleach at all; it is a known cancer causing agent, among various other very harmful effects. Your skin is a porous barrier; I try not to put anything on it that I would not drink. Vinegar is a very effective bleach replacement. To whiten clothes I use bluing; its the stuff in your grandmother’s laundry room that she would not let you play with because it stains everything blue if its not handled properly. Mrs. Stewart’s bluing is bio friendly. You can make your own laundry soap; but, be careful what you are making it with. Not all soap bars are good for the environment. I usually use Seventh Generation laundry soap and fabric softener when I run out of homemade soap scraps to make laundry soap out of. If you make your own natural soap or know someone who does, those scraps from cutting are great to mix with washing soda and borax to make a homemade laundry soap that is safe to dump out.  Be sure not to  over load the tub so you have enough water to agitate the clothes. Here is a video clip of the washing so you can visualize it.

Washing

For mild to moderately dirty clothes using the breather to agitate your clothes will be similar to the motion your washing machine makes. I usually agitate for three or four minutes; its really great stress relief. For the items that need more attention use a washboard. The washboard that I use was purchased from Lehman’s; it has a bronze surface to prevent rust. As with the tubs, be sure to allow your washboard to dry so it will not rust or warp. Do not be disillusioned by television stars using washboards. I cannot stress enough to use an open hand to rub clothes on the washboard; do not use a closed fist. If you rake your knuckles on the washboard they will blister and bloody making you look like a boxer and simultaneously feel like a crying baby.

Wringing 

When you have the clothes in the wash tub as clean as you want them; run them through the wringer and into the rinse tub. It is helpful to fold the clothes somewhat evenly so they go through the wringer evenly; more water will get expelled this way. You need to fold buttons on the inside of your clothing so they have some padding as they go through the wringer otherwise they will break. I do not recommend running zippers through the wringer and snaps are also questionable. With pants I usually run the legs through and stop at the zipper, then hand squeezing the top part of the pants. I also hand squeeze shirts with an excessive amount of snaps.  A wringer will not get the water expelled from your clothes as well as an electric washing machine; but, they will dry on the line none the less.

Rinse

Once the clothes are in the rinse tub you can use your hands or the breather to agitate the soap out of them for a couple of minutes. When they are rinsed run the clothes through the wringer again and into your basket to hang.

Drying

You can use all sorts of things to hang laundry. I have found that plastic coated dog leads work well and dog chains work fantastic for things you dry on hangers. I prefer to use the wooden clothes pins because they grip better and last longer. And frankly the less plastic we use as a society the better off we will all be. I have seen an endless amount of ways that people dry their clothes from traditional clothes lines, to fold out ones, to racks inside on a pulley system, to lines strung between porch beams. On a dry sunny day it can take only a couple of hours for your clothes to dry. Humidity and wind are a huge factor in the length of dry time. If I get to my laundry late I sometimes leave it out over night and get it the next day.

As with anything you must find ways that work for you. I still find little tricks and different ways to do my laundry more efficiently. The next step for us is an effective solar heater for our water so I can get off the propane pacifier.