Friday, February 27, 2009

Comments of Note

The votes were cast and counted ... and ... we have a winner: Continue with the new "Comments of Note" format. Thank you to all who took part in the poll ... and a big thank you to all who left comments this month. Now ... Comments of Note:

From Waste-Free Lunch:

Quirky Mom said...

This is a topic I keep stashing away in my head for when my Apple starts K in a year and a half. Right now she has lunch provided at preschool, so I don't do any packing yet.

Have you seen all the wonderful handmade reusable packaging on Etsy? As on example, check out these reusable snack bags that I bought several months ago.

Heather said...

Tupperware make a lunchbox that's waste free:

My kids each have one. My son takes milk is a reusuable box in his, with half a sandwich. My daughter takes a juicebox (no, not reusable, but that's usually her only trash) and a whole sandwich. There are two more sections. Usually they have one fruit (sliced apples fit great) and a treat. My favorite part is the it fits on the edge of the dishwasher that's usually wasted to get squeaky clean.

Here's a picture of one of their lunches (although the new boxes are a different color, but they're the same size/layout):

There are more pictures of lunches in similar boxes in the Tupperware Flickr pool:

Living Green and Natural @ Delphi Forums

From Strange Bedfellows: Paper, Sugar Diapers:

sober white women said...

I had to laugh a little about bleaching. I don't bleach because I have a daughter with breathing problems.
It was not until years later that I learned how harmful bleach is. I was green and did not even know it.
When I would like something to be a little whiter I soak it in vineger water. Yes, vineger is a natural bleach.

Argentum Vulgaris said...

SF, as a chef, white flour is essential sometimes, I prefer to use wholemeal or mandioca flour.

Coffee filter is cloth, reusable, life about 18 months with twice daily usage.

Raw sugar in coffee is just great.

Try not to use those products, tea-towel has it hands over paper towels. I reuse brown paper bags to drain fat etc off food. Toilet paper IS one of the essentials, but unbleached is impossible to find in Brazil.

The clothing one is difficult too, unless you shop a chique botique which are horrendously expensive.

Smoke pipe or cigars more often than cigaretts.

Prefer brown paper bags to plastic, have a cloth shopping bag. Prefer to buy loose items than prepackaged if I can find it.


Quirky Mom said...

This is a topic I've been keen on for several years, since learning that dioxins are implicated in endometriosis (which my mother had, and I may have). I pretty rapidly did away with bleached tampons and pads (and since then have switched to a menstrual cup), paper towels, etc. I've never been a fan of bleached flour, and we rarely use bleached sugar now as well.

The thing I struggle with is finding affordable clothing that hasn't been bleached.

MaryC said...

This is a great post. I went bleach free about two years ago because of my dh and grandson who both have asthma. You can use Hydrogen Peroxide or tea tree oil to kill mold, the former to bleach clothes, clean algae from a fountain or bird bath,etc.
I hadn't considered a cloth coffee filter. That was a great suggestion by one of the posters. I'm on it right now.
Thanks Small!

Quirky Mom said...

Yep, vinegar is great for mold and mildew.

I've used 7th Gen laundry products but prefer Bi-O-Kleen. Another great option is Charlie's Soap. Oxy-Bright (I think that's the right name -- not the one on the TV ads) is chlorine-free and is good at whitening as well. But most of all, don't forget the sun! Hang your dingy stuff out to dry in the sun and you may be surprised at how good it looks after!

From 15 "Green" Tips, Hints and Interesting Facts:

cara said...

Great ideas here! Another one to add to #11 is to check out I just found out about this service-- the either pay you for your used electronic item or if it's not worth anything, they will recycle it appropriately. Paid postage! It's a win-win!

From Vegan Recipe - Lo Mein Noodles:

Chourou said...

Hello,Small Footprints!
I think this nice meal is rather similar with what we call "yasai-ramen",or chinese noodle with various vegetable.It is popular way to cook and eat noodles in Japan, and maybe also in other Asian countries,even though the ingrediants would be a little different respectivly.

From I Can See Clearly Now:

John said...

Make sure your optician or optometrist is honest. Most are dishonest and tell you that you need new frames, just because the previous lens will not fit the new frame, or whatever other excuses.

And just to share something my ophthalmologist friend shared with me... your eyes' long-sightedness will improve as you age, to the point you won't need glasses anymore! So watch out also for those opticians or optometrists that keep prescribing a higher power for you on every visit.

Thanks to everyone who left comments this month.

As always ... I would love to hear from you!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Three Easy Things

Here are three easy ways to help the earth today:

  1. Watch the following video.
  2. Mark your calendars for March 28, 2009, @ 8:30 pm.
  3. Tell everyone you know.

For more information on Earth Hour 2009, click HERE.

For teacher/parent materials, and fun activities for kids, click HERE.

As always ... I would love to hear from you!

Monday, February 23, 2009

For My Mom ...

Every morning I drink my coffee while watching the birds that visit our feeders. They usually come in pairs ... each couple choosing their spot after investigating the possibilities. Some like to hunt and peck on the ground ... others like to nibble from the hanging feeders. All of them seem to tolerate other species ... including my cat who sits on the porch and watches them.

Watching birds isn't new for me ... I first started enjoying them with my mother. For as long as I can remember, she has loved birds. She feeds them and has bird baths set up. She even makes bird houses and every year we wait for the babies to take their first flight.

So much of the person I am today is, in large part, due to my parents. As a child, their example shaped me and, even though I'd like to think that everything I do and think is unique to me, the truth is that my belief system comes from them. Including my passion for "green" living.

When I was a child, my mother cleaned house regularly (she still does). When the hardwood floors needed polishing, she'd apply the wax and then, rather than use an electric buffer to finish the job, she'd put old pairs of my father's socks on our feet and let us "ice skate" our way to a high gloss. We had fun polishing floors in a natural, "green" way.

Preservatives and toxins in food were never an issue in our house because my mom canned fruits and vegetables for us. Most of the produce she used came directly from a farm or our own garden. She bought locally and preserved food without chemicals. She also cooked for us ... wonderful, delicious meals made from scratch with fresh ingredients. They were healthy and always made with love.

Before it became a popular, green activity, my mom reused and repurposed many things. Shopping bags were saved and used to line her garbage pails. Plastic butter or cottage cheese containers were washed and used to store leftovers or to send food home with friends and family. And glass jars were either reused for canning or they found their way into my father's garage to hold nuts, bolts and all manner of small things.

It was a way of life for us ... for my mom. She didn't talk about living green ... she probably didn't think about it those terms. She just knew what was right. We lived a natural life and used what we had. We never wasted ... whether it was electricity or used containers.

In thinking about those times, I am reminded, once again, how our actions matter. Yes, using what we have and not wasting has a direct affect on the earth ... but it also serves as an example to others, especially the children in our lives. We can help our children develop a respect for the earth by our example. We can teach them, in fun ways, to live green.

Tomorrow is my mom's birthday. We are many miles apart but I'll be thinking of her ... and thanking her ... as I sit and watch the birds at my feeder.

Happy Birthday, Mom ... I love you!!

Friday, February 20, 2009


As I promised you on Wednesday, I have another worm article for you.

My bloggy friend, E. Michelle of Navigation Through Education and One Soul's Journey, is starting a garden ... and a worm farm. She has very kindly agreed to share her experience with us.

If you've never visited E. Michelle's blogs ... I recommend that you do. In One Soul's Journey, she talks about the inner person ... and getting to know the soul. In one of her recent posts shes says "... once you understand how to feel your emotions, you have no choice but to just feel them and ask for release." It's truly a beautiful and profound blog. In Navigation Through Education, she talks about her experiences as a teacher and the things she's learned along the way. She also publishes a regular feature called Sunday Gratitude Times where she lists the things in life that she's grateful for. So if you have a few extra minutes when you're done here ... head over to her sites and check them out.

A big THANK YOU to E. Michelle for this article:

Vermiculture…interesting word…it actually brings to mind vermin…ick. But what is vermiculture really? Well, simply put it’s growing worms. This year, now that I’m working from home, I feel like I’m finally organized around the house. And being organized I decided to start that garden I’ve been talking about for the last three years. After watching several episodes of Victory Garden, reading a square foot gardening book and a lot of internet research, I realized that if I wanted to be any kind of gardener, I would have to start a compost pile. Being pretty scared of snakes and “vermin”, I decided I needed some type of enclosed composter and not just a big pile in my backyard. Even though I live in a respectable subdivision in a city, there are enough wooded areas around that my dogs have found a few copperhead snakes in the backyard before. I wouldn’t want to meet one of them up close and personal. So, then on another last minute episode of Victory Garden, I saw it…I knew I had to have one…a WORM FARM. Ahh Awesome…I love dirt, I love worms…perfect match. So last week my worm farm arrived. I purchased mine from the worm wrangler

They had a decent price and quick shipping. I ordered the 5 tray model, although you can get ones with less trays. I liked the fact the farm itself is made out of recycled plastic. It also comes with a little vented roof to put on top. I also ordered 1 lb of worms from the same place. They send the farm first and then about one week later you receive the worms to give you time to get things set up. I’ve had the worms for a few days now and so far so good. I ordered red wriggler worms, which according to my research was the best type of compost worm to have. Apparently regular earthworms, while they do a good job of aerating the soil, they do not compost. The nice things about using worms to compost, besides just being fun, is that not only do they produce a solid fertilizer, they also produce a liquid fertilizer, appropriately named worm tea. To begin you place food (veggie scraps) and some dirt and coconut coir (included with the worm farm) in the bottom tray. You then place the worm in that bottom tray and then place the next tray on top, half full of food. Once the worms eat the food in the bottom tray, they will migrate up to the next tray. So basically you just keep filling one tray at a time with the empty ones always on top. Essentially worms will eat nearly anything and can denature chemicals. However, considering that you will put their compost on food crops you need to watch what you give them to eat. Nearly all vegetable scraps will work, excluding citrus and other acidic fruits like tomatoes. Also, you cannot compost meat or dairy. Basically no protein, however you can give them eggshells. Also good to use is newspaper, and other paper (no colors). The directions say to feed once per week. I can sense though that it will take a little trial and error to find the best feeding schedule and types of food for my worms.

Another great thing about the worm farm is that it’s fairly affordable and fun. You can also build your own worm farm as well out of plastic buckets. Here’s a website that details the process:

I should be planting my garden this week! I’m looking forward to using that great worm tea and compost on my veggies!!

UPDATE: E. Michelle sent the following update and pictures:

I am SO excited!! My worms had babies! Hahaha yes it’s true…I found baby worms in there today, they are tiny and white…too small to take a pic of unfortunately. I also found an egg, but I dropped it before I could grab a shot! Also, I had about 2 tbsp of worm tea that came out of the little spigot! I really believe everyone should own a worm farm! :)

The Farm

Inside the box

An older baby

My first worm tea

Another big THANK YOU to E. Michelle. And as always ... I would love to hear from you!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Day I Bought Worm Poop, or The Crazy Get Crazier

My bloggy friend, Connie Mishali of Connie Mishali's Weblog, shared this funny story with me. It's all about ... worm poop. Yep ... you heard me right ... worm poop! When I read it ... I just knew that it would be perfect for Reduce Footprints.

Connie Mishali's Weblog is a wonderful site. She talks about relationships, green living, religion and so much more. You'll find book reviews and book giveaways. You might remember Connie from this month's vegan recipe ... Lo Mein Noodles. She graciously shared that fabulous recipe with us ... and now shares this fun post.

A big THANK YOU to Connie. And now ... her article:

The Day I Bought Worm Poop, or The Crazy Get Crazier

As promised, today I will share the story of the day I bought worm poop. It started out as a seemingly sane pursuit: my husband mentioned he was going to buy fertilizer for the lawn this past Spring. "Wait! Let me find something safe for the pets and birds." I wanted to find fertilizer that wouldn't harm our two Chihuahuas or the birds, bunnies, beach mice, toads and other wildlife we have around our home. So I started looking online for "pet safe" fertilizer and found a number of options, all of which were labeled "natural" and "organic". Do you know what's in natural, organic fertilizer? The blood and bones and manure of cows, pigs, chickens and other slaughtered animals! I felt myself getting faint.

So now I'm typing "pet safe, vegan" fertilizer into my browser wondering, "Is there such a thing?" Yep. It turns out the very, very best fertilizer for one's yard is "worm castings". That's a nice way of saying "worm poop". I found about a dozen different websites. I was overwhelmed by the choices and didn't know how I was going to make the best choice. Well, after doing some research I found out not all worm castings are the same. Long story made short, you have to find red worm castings for high quality fertilizer; you need to make sure it's 100% pure; you need to make sure the worms are fed high quality food. Unfortunately, the websites weeded themselves out with usually bad customer service. I had a number of questions being uneducated in the ways of worms, so I sent out messages to each one. Sadly, about half the website owners didn't respond. The other half gave me incomplete answers or seemed irritated by the follow up questions I had.

The only website I found which met the above product criteria AND responded promptly and completely to every question was Rising Mist Organics. The owner thought it was hilarious when I wrote that I didn't mean to sound completely nuts, but could she please assure me that her worms were treated well, their poop was harvested humanely and they were given a good life. She explained to me that it sounded like I was "her kind of nut". She and her husband were both vegans and believed in doing no harm. She described the worms' diets (all organic food; their diets are better than mine) and their treatment (very good lives). She requested that when I was ready to order, I please call instead of placing the order online.

When I called her, I asked if she wanted me to call in order to facilitate my order or only because I was so crazy, she wanted to talk to me in person. She laughed and admitted it was mostly the latter. We talked for almost an hour and I found a kindred spirit! She lives in a small, rural town and we agreed that sometimes it's hard being the only crazy person where you live. She told me a couple of weeks prior, they had a huge rain storm and she was out with her front end loader, moving the worms to higher ground. She said she was sure the whole town was talking about her like they did about Kevin Costner in "Field of Dreams" when he started mowing down his corn fields. She told me several months prior, she was at the town hall for a meeting. Someone was going to kill a bug and she yelled, "No! Don't kill it!" without even thinking. She then went and scooped up the bug on a piece of paper and carried it down the center aisle to the door to set it free. She said not one of several hundred people said a word, but they never took their eyes off her or uttered a word as she made her way to the door with the bug and again back to her seat. I told her stories of my own. We agreed that living together on a commune -- or at least having a few more like minded people in the neighborhood -- would be comforting sometimes.

By the way, worm castings are the BEST fertilizer ever!!! They will NOT burn your grass (or plants or flowers or vegetables). Although "expensive", they actually are a better deal than anything you'd buy at Lowes or Wal-mart because they need application only once a year and, in fact, they continue to fertilize the ground 2-3 years after application. They are completely safe for pets, children, wildlife and ground water. Finally, no animals -- including worms -- are harmed.

I started out with a seemingly easy task . . . find fertilizer safe for our pets and wildlife . . . which evolved into finding vegan, organic, safe, humane fertilizer. I was not disappointed with worm castings, or with Rising Mist Organics and their funny, friendly, do-good owners. And now you know how crazy can feed on itself!

Another big THANK YOU to Connie for this fun ... and interesting article. I hope you'll come back on Friday ... we're going to be talking about more ... worms! As always ... I would love to hear from you!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bananas ...

Banana Splits ... Chocolate Covered Bananas ... Banana Bread ... Banana Pie ... Banana Smoothies ... Banana Pudding ... and freshly peeled bananas as a snack. The list goes on and on. We love our bananas! The average American eats approximately 28 pounds of bananas a year. Nutritionally, bananas are very low in Saturated Fat, Cholesterol and Sodium. They are a good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin C, Potassium, Manganese and Vitamin B6.

Most of the 6.4 billion pounds of bananas consumed in the U.S. every year are not grown here ... they are produced on massive monoculture plantations in Latin America, West Africa and the Philippines. And ... they are typically grown with one of the highest pesticide loads of any tropical crop ... not to protect the actual fruit ... but to ensure that consumers see a picture perfect banana on their shelves.

In truth, when I began my research into bananas ... I intended to talk about pesticides. But I quickly learned that pesticides are just one concern of many. Another problem is that current farming practices, in many areas of the world, are contributing to the destruction of the tropical rain forest. The rain forest is one of the most diverse ecosystems on our planet. 75% of the earth’s biodiversity lives in these forests ... and it is being lost. Unfortunately, it doesn't end there ... banana production is associated with the following concerns:
  • soil erosion
  • heavy use of chemical fertilizers
  • loss of soil fertility due to monoculture farming practices
  • destruction of natural habitat
  • water and soil pollution
  • poor working conditions/wages of banana workers
  • small farmers being evicted from their land through violent means
Who knew that this sweet treat was such a controversial product. I certainly didn't.

Once again, there is power in our purchases. Did you know that the three largest producers and distributors of bananas are Chiquita, Dole Foods and Del Monte? These three US transnational corporations control up to 70% of world exports. They are public companies with shareholders ... and that means they respond to consumers' demands. There are two things we can look for when buying bananas:
  1. Buy organic. In 2004, less than one percent of bananas sold in the US were organically grown. According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, that number is growing approximately twenty percent annually.

  2. Buy Fair Trade bananas. Read the label and look for the words "Fair Trade Certified". The Fair Trade certification system strictly prohibits the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), promotes integrated farm management systems that improve soil fertility, and limits the use of harmful agrochemicals in favor of environmentally sustainable farming methods that protect farmers' health and preserve valuable ecosystems for future generations. If you don't see the label, tell your store that you'd like them to stock Fair Trade produce (including bananas). You can do this my sending an email or letter to their corporate offices, calling them or by visiting the following site:

The Dole Food Company now offers organic bananas from Ecuador, Peru and Columbia. This is a start ... and offers us hope for a better world.

As always ... I would love to hear from you.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

8 Quick "Green" Tips

Here are a few quick "green" tips:

  1. When going to an ATM, "Pay at the Pump" gas station or Starbucks ... say "no" to a receipt. You'll save tons of paper.

  2. Here's a great idea for towels, pillows, blankets, jackets and coats (even furs) that aren't in good enough shape to either use or donate to a thrift store ... donate them to an animal shelter or Humane Society. They'll use them for bedding, baths, etc.

  3. Rather than defrosting food on the counter or using a microwave, plan ahead and defrost food in the refrigerator. It'll take a little longer ... but it will lower the temperature of the refrigerator and ... save energy. Brilliant!

  4. Have a pair of shoes that are no longer wearable because of a hole in the bottom or a broken heel? Before rushing out to buy a new pair, take them to a shoe repair shop and see if they can be fixed. Often times, the fix will be far less expensive than a new pair of shoes and ... you'll keep one more item out of a landfill.

  5. Receive and pay your bills online ... and, rather than print out the receipt or confirmation ... save it to a file where it will be accessible if you need it. You'll save time, a stamp and paper.

  6. Get a few houseplants ... they'll clean up the air and decorate your home.

  7. Rather than buy bagged vegetables from the grocery store ... buy whole vegetables. Bagged veggies, like salad mixes, are washed using ... yep ... you guessed it ... chlorine. Chlorine causes all kinds of environmental problems. If you'd like to read a good discussion about it, click HERE (towards the end of the article there is a discussion about bagged lettuce).

  8. Spring is just around the corner and that means that birds who have wintered in warmer climates will be returning to nest. Help them along by building a bird house. If you have kids, invite them to participate ... it is a great way to get them interested in "green" activities.

What quick green tips do you have?

As always ... I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, February 9, 2009

I can see clearly now ...

Do you wear eyeglasses? How about sunglasses? Perhaps you use reading glasses and, to ensure that you are never without them, keep a pair at home, at work, and in the car.

Most of us have them ... to assist failing vision, correct vision problems, protect our eyes from the sun or ... simply to make a fashion statement. As our vision (or preference) changes, we get new ones. Unfortunately, the old ones usually get tossed out. According to Unite for Sight, over 4 million pairs of eyeglasses are thrown away each year in North America. That's a lot of spectacles in landfills. Is there a better way? Well sure!

Typically, both frames and lenses are made out of plastic. This is a lightweight and safe option ... and the plastic used is recyclable. While plastic, of any kind, is hard on the earth ... it is difficult to find other, earth friendly, materials for eyeglasses ... especially for the lenses. Yes, glass would be a better environmental choice but it is heavy and comes with safety concerns. There are some companies who offer Eco-friendly frames made out of recycled materials. There are others who sell frames made out of sustainable materials like bamboo. Unfortunately, they are hard to find. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't ask providers for Eco-friendly options ... I'm a firm believer that the more we ask, letting them know that there is a demand, the more they will consider meeting that demand. Until mainstream providers offer us "green" alternatives, however, most of us are stuck with plastic eyeglasses.

That being said ... let's consider some ideas for minimizing the environmental impact of eyewear:

  • Instead of buying new frames when a prescription changes, try having the new lens inserted into the frames you have. Or, if you want a "new look", browse thrift stores and garage sales for frames. One note ... be sure to call your eyeglass provider ahead of time ... not all of them will accommodate this request.

  • Did your glasses break? Try replacing the broken part only. For example, if a frame breaks, try to find something compatible to the existing lens. Again ... call your provider to be sure they'll work with you.

  • If both the lens and frame are broken, recycle them in the plastics container. Remove any metal screws or components first.

  • If the glasses are in good shape, consider donating them. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 153 million people around the world need glasses for nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. 90% of all people who need glasses live in low- and middle-income families. To donate, check out these programs:
  • OneSight takes usable eyeglasses and distributes them to people in need throughout the world. According to their website, they need "to collect and recycle 1.2 million pairs of used eyewear annually in order to support 20 Global Clinics each year". In North America, bring used eyewear to any LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, Sunglass Hut, Target Optical or Sears Optical to participate in their program. Or, click HERE for a drop off site near you. For drop off locations in other countries click HERE for Asia Pacific ... HERE for Europe ... and HERE for the rest of the world.

  • The Lions Club, a non-profit organization, donates eyeglasses and vision services to people throughout the world. Click HERE to find out how to donate to their program.

Sometimes, it's the most common items that offer us the easiest ways to be kinder to the earth. Follow these ideas and I'm sure you'll "see" a greener world.

By the way ... Earth Hour is coming up. So mark your calendars for March 28th @ 8:30 pm and tell all your friends. To learn more, click on the link in the side bar.

As always ... I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Vegan Recipe - Lo Mein Noodles

Our bloggy friend Connie Mishali, of Connie Mishali's Weblog, kindly agreed to share one of her favorite vegan recipes with us. I recently tried it and ... it's delicious! Connie said it's one of her favorites because "... it's super easy and fast. Plus, it doesn't require any exotic "vegan" ingredients so it's user friendly for the carnivores and omnivores among us. It's fairly cheap and is easy to double or triple to take to a potluck or otherwise feed a crowd."

A big
CULINARY THANK YOU to Connie for sharing this with us!

Lo Mein Noodles

2 Tbs soy sauce
½ lb linguine
2 Tbs oil (I like peanut oil)
1 large onion, minced
1 ½ lbs broccoli
1 red pepper, cut in thin strips
1 Tbs minced garlic
2 tsp minced ginger
1 c vegetable broth
2 Tbs hoisin sauce
2 tsp cornstarch & 2 tsp water
½ c chopped peanuts

Cook noodles, toss with 1 Tbs oil, set aside. Heat 1 Tbs oil in pan, cook onion, broccoli and pepper until veggies are soft. Add garlic and ginger. Add soy sauce, hoisin sauce and broth. Thicken with water/cornstarch mixture, cook about 3 minutes. Add noodles and toss well. Sprinkle with nuts. Yum, yum, yum!

Again ... a big THANK YOU to Connie for this recipe. I don't know about you ... but I'm heading for the kitchen.

As always ... I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Strange Bedfellows: Paper, Sugar, Diapers

Paper, Sugar and Diapers ... Strange bedfellows indeed.

That bed has a few more occupants, however: Flour, Coffee Filters, White Cotton Clothing, Tampons, Toilet Paper, Tea Bags, and Cigarette Papers (to name a few). What do all of these "bed mates" have in common? They are brilliantly white thanks to bleaching ... a process which releases dioxins into the environment.

Dioxins are environmental pollutants and have been associated with health complications such as cancer, birth defects and an increased risk of diabetes. Because dioxins are "fat loving", they bioaccumulate in both humans and wildlife. Bioaccumulate means that they are absorbed into our bodies faster than our systems can get rid of them.

Waterways are particularly susceptible to dioxin contamination as a result of bleaching practices. The toxins get into fish and plant life ... and travel right up the food chain to us. Additionally, dioxins linger on the bleached items ... this is a concern because those items come in contact with us and/or our food.

There are many ways that dioxins enter the environment ... burning coal, using products with chlorine, burning trash in a can in the backyard, plastics (think PVC) ... and bleaching consumer products. Here's an interesting fact ... most natural, raw fibers and products aren't white at all ... they are brown or off-white. But somewhere along the line we came to believe that white equals clean. So we started bleaching things ... and hurting the environment.

Once again, there is power is our purchases. Refusing to buy bleached items increases the demand for unbleached items ... and a healthier planet. Here are a few ideas:

  • Buy unbleached flour.
  • Instead of white coffee filters, go for the natural, brown variety. Or better yet, invest in a reusable filter.
  • Try raw or unrefined sugar or honey instead of white sugar.
  • For paper products, look for unbleached varieties. This includes computer paper, toilet paper, paper towels and napkins, etc.
  • Buy clothing made from natural organic cotton or, if you can find it, go for clothing made from hemp and bamboo. Both hemp and bamboo are sustainable crops and use less resources than cotton crops.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Check packaging ... anything white is a bleaching "giveaway".
As always ... I would love to hear from you!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Waste-Free Lunch

If you've read this blog for any amount of time, you know that we're all about easy ways to live a greener life ... to walk a little gentler on the earth. One of our bloggy friends, Wendy from Like sand in an hourglass, has come up with a very creative way to minimize waste. It's a brilliant idea and one that can also be a lot of fun.

Like sand in an hourglass is a wonderful blog. Wendy writes about all kinds of things, including a regular feature called "Going Green" where she talks about her green living efforts and the new things she's doing to save the planet.

A big THANK YOU to Wendy for this brilliant idea. Are you ready? Here we go:

The Birth of a Waste-Free Lunch

As I do periodically, I sat with my 6-year-old son in his school cafeteria for lunch one day last week. Because I am bored with the lunches I pack for him – the “same old, same old” day after day - I paid attention to what the other children were eating with the hope of getting some ideas for different things to pack in my son’s lunch. I got some ideas, sure, but what I really got was a fire in my belly about the amount of waste I saw. Most of the children sitting in my immediate vicinity had reusable lunchboxes and bags, but inside those reusable containers were individually-wrapped foods in disposable packaging. You know what I mean: juice boxes, yogurt tubes, individually-wrapped snack foods, single serving applesauce, Lunchables (gasp!), etc. I did not think too much about it until I watched the kids – my son included! – gather up their trash and take it to the bin. My son, for example, tossed the remains of two individually-wrapped foods, two plastic baggies, orange rinds and a paper napkin!

When I got home, I took stock of the reusable containers in my cupboard and made a list of what I needed to purchase to reduce the need for plastic baggies. Then I went online to start shopping, and while I was browsing, I stumbled on this “culture” of waste-free lunches. My journey started with bento – the Japanese art of packing compact, balanced, visually appealing meals in a box - and moved into what appears to be a green movement occurring all over the country.

Just The Facts, Ma’am

Did you know that the average school-aged child who takes a disposable and pre-packaged lunch to school each day generates about 67 pounds of garbage per school year? That equals approximately 18,760 pounds of lunch waste in a single school year for the average-sized elementary school. It is about 40,000 pounds of garbage for an average middle school. Lunchtime trash is second only to office paper as the leading source of school waste.

We cannot blame all of the lunchtime waste on the children bringing lunches from home. Approximately 12% of food served as part of the National School Lunch Program is wasted (resulting in an estimated direct economic loss of $600 million). Putting good usable food into landfills costs Americans about $50 million per year.

Packing a disposable and prepackaged lunch is also more expensive than the greener waste-free version. The average disposable lunch for a school-aged child is $4.02 per day – more than it costs to purchase a school lunch at my son’s school - which translates to $20.10 per week or $723.60 for a school year. Compare that with the average cost of a waste-free lunch: $ 2.65 per day, $13.25 per week or $477.00 per school year. In addition to helping the environment by reducing trash, packing a waste-free school lunch will save you $246.60 per year!

Just Do It

Bento – as the Japanese do it – strives for a 3:1:2 ratio of food (3 parts carbohydrates, 1 part protein, 2 parts fruits and vegetables) with no candy, junk or oily foods. The size of your bento container depends upon your age and gender. The size of the container often coincides with the amount of calories that fit inside. (For example, a 600ml box holds a 600-calorie meal, which is way too much for a school-aged child.) To help plan your traditional balanced bento, consider the bento planner developed by Makiko Ito at

Nothing says you have to follow the traditional Japanese guidelines for packing a bento. In fact, the American version of bento is more relaxed and really just encourages packing healthy food in a way that creates no waste. In my case, though the majority of my son’s lunch is healthy, he is allowed one “junky” treat in his lunch as long as he is behaving in school and doing his work.

To get started, find a shallow reusable container that has an airtight lid. I am currently experimenting with Sterilite Ultra Seal containers, but other popular ones include Lock and Lock and Snaplock. You may want to purchase smaller containers to put inside the larger container, either to separate foods or to hold sauces. You can purchase a full kit designed for waste-free packing at If the idea of a bunch of small containers and lids is enough to make you crazy, consider using edible dividers like lettuce, or use silicone baking cups, which are great because they are flexible and can be manipulated to use up the available space inside the large container.

The possibilities of what to pack are (almost) endless. Use up some of last night’s leftovers. Pack a deconstructed sandwich if it will fit in the container better. Be mindful of food safety and avoid foods that will spoil if they are in the lunchbox for more than two yours. (Yogurt, for instance, is not a great bento option unless you include an ice pack to keep it cold.) Search the internet for bento and waste-free lunch blogs to find recipes. Use finger foods like cherry tomatoes, grapes and olives to fill gaps. Using all of the available space in your container stabilizes the food, making it less likely to shift during transport. Place the container into an insulated reusable bag, toss in an ice pack if needed, and do not forget about the waste-free accessories; a fabric napkin, stainless steel utensils, and a drink in a reusable sipper.

Tales of a Novice

After a bit of research, a purchase or two, and some planning, I packed my son’s first waste-free lunch today. I tend to pack on the heavy side in case he needs a bit more fuel as the day wears on. Overall I would say it was a good effort, but I definitely need some practice.
Total containers used: 3 (2 smaller containers inside 1 larger container)
Proteins: Turkey and cheese in sandwich, cheese stick
Carbohydrates: Bread for sandwich
Fruits/vegetables: cucumber slices, carrots sticks, mandarin orange
Other: soft mini cookies, water
Room for Improvement:
Color: Too much orange, not enough of anything else
Space: I had some space leftover
Amount of waste: I packed a paper napkin!!

Take It To the Next Level

If you develop a passion for waste-free lunches, why not start a Waste-Free Lunch Program at your child’s school? Go to for ideas or get a copy of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Waste Reduction Guide for schools and offices at Start planning now for your Waste-Free Lunch Day during Earth week in April.

© Wendy A. Taylor, 2009

Another big THANK YOU to Wendy for this wonderful article. And as always ... I would love to hear from you!