Life without paper towels

I enjoy challenges. Perhaps that makes me the perfect candidate for just about any green living experiment. On the other hand, I believe that it is inaccurate to say that green living is a challenge. Certainly our disposable life has become a life of unmindful convenience, but is it really easier for us than it was for previous generations? Has our quality of life improved over that of our great-grandmothers simply because we have, for example, super-absorbent paper towels?

Ive never lived in a home in which the residents (my parents, roommates, etc.) were willing to pony up for the spendiest name-brand absorbent towels, but Ive always had paper towels. Perhaps the ease with which I have transitioned away from paper is the result of never having lived with the Bounty. On the other hand, paper towels of any quality are deceptively convenient, so I have tallied up my fair share of paper usage over the years. The key word here is deceptively convenient, because I can honestly say that I dont miss my inexpensive recycled paper towels one bit. Cloth does it better every time!

I dont remember the exact day that we stopped using towels. Nor did I record the date that we finally moved the now empty paper towel rack (counter top) to the laundry closet. We have held onto a single roll of paper towels stashed away that allow Mr. Green Me to sleep at night without fear of disaster and maybe someday will come upon a situation in which nothing else will do. Perhaps a winter day without any electricity and not a clean towel to be found?

By now if you are a paper towel devotee you are probably wondering if our house is a complete disaster and whether we are wading around in muck and dried messes. In fact we are not our house is clean (at least once per day while Baby Green Me naps) and at times even sparkling with shine.

 

The Green Me Family anti-paper towel stash:

  1. Regular old dish towels: there are a variety of dish towels with different uses and strengths, so if your current towels dont do the job maybe you need a different variety. Here is what I have found: terry towels are great for messes and moisture but sometimes leave behind lint; waffle weave towels are great for drying dishes or wiping ups spills; flour sack towels are perfect for drying dishes and hands.
  2. The European Sponge cloth is perfect for wiping up spills, wiping down the counter, and washing up spots on the floor. It is highly absorbent and highly wring-able. You can sanitize it in the dishwasher, laundry, or microwave and they are biodegradable at the end (think compost pile) when they’re through. If your cat (or other pets) like to leave you presents get a cloth damp, wipe up the mess, shake it in the trash, rinse off the cloth, spray on some enzyme wash pat clean the mess spot, and toss your cloth in the wash. Ta da! No mess, no towels, no waste!
  3. The Bamboo Sponge cloth is excellent for drying dishes or wiping up spills. This baby is seriously absorbent! After a run through the wash it is also soft and delicate for dusting your china or furniture, but still powerful enough to wipe up your toughest messes! (Think of that commercial with the kiddo and cupcakes you dont need a paper towel you need a Bamboo Sponge Cloth!)
  4. Microfiber towels: A spray bottle with 50/50 water and vinegar and a few clean and dry microfiber towels will have your windows, mirrors, and stainless appliances sparkling in no time at all! Newspaper works great, but it gets your hands all messy. Vinegar and microfiber is the clean, green, and simple solution! Microfiber is also great for wiping down furniture and dusting. But my all time favorite use for microfiber? Soaking up bacon grease!!! The Green Me Family has a somewhat illicit love affair with bacon, but we dont love extra grease. In the past I have wasted 10 or more paper towels trying to degrease my bacon. One microfiber towel does the trick sucking up the grease until my bacon is dry! I keep a few microfiber towels with my dish cloths (dont get them confused with ones for cleaning house) and when washed with a little baking soda and vinegar I never have any greasy residue left behind.
  5. Cloth Napkins: In a pinch a napkin makes for the perfect single use clean-up. I use the single use swipe washing up Baby Green Me after his meal or to pick up something squishy that Ive just dropped on the floor. (Floor towels of any kind go straight to the wash and not back into use!) Cloth napkins are of course also great to use with meals paper napkins are also out!

 

Energy Saving Tips (for you and your dryer):

  • Keep a small basket on the washing machine for soiled towels so you always have a safe receptacle for grimy, wet, or otherwise soiled towels. I line mine with cotton bag, so if it gets dirty I can wash it with out any fuss.
  • Wash your towels on hot if you must, but to save energy wash on cold. To deodorize the towels and your wash use baking soda with the detergent and vinegar instead of fabric softener.
  • If the towels are really stinky or they have been used to clean up pet stains or they are starting to mildew start the wash before bed and use an enzyme wash. Let the enzyme wash soak over night and complete the cycle in the morning.
  • Hang your towels to dry, but fold them how you like them first, this way they will hang dry, but appear to have been ironed and or expertly folded! (See photo above!)
  • Even the youngest among us can be trained to use cloth! Baby Green Me knows to pat his mouth with a napkin and he occasionally tries to wipe down his high chair tray after a meal.

 

The bottom line folks (repeat after me): I DO NOT NEED paper towels!

I DO NOT NEED paper towels!

What have you eaten?

One of the great things about eating local (wherever you go) is that local foods often have a lot of variety and built in creativity that results in the delivery of everything from important nutrients to alcohol. Over time, certain things have become delicacies and other items (depending on where you live) are everyday dishes. GreenStyleMom just shared her take on this meme and since we just got back from a short camping trip and my son has simultaneously decided to skip his morning nap, I thought Id also have a little fun. (Instead of writing a serious blog post or getting other serious work done!)

It would be fun to see what youve eaten, so if you do this meme (either by blog or email) drop me a line or post a comment with a link and let me know!

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.

2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.

4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at http://www.verygoodtaste.co.uk/uncategorised/the-omnivores-hundred/ linking to your results.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses (maybe? Ive had a lot of French cheese over the years)
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes (fejoa, elder berry)
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat (I dont do goat, even sacrificial goat, so no curry either.)
42. Whole insects (Once tried a chocolate covered ant)
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whiskey from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more (This and the cognac/cigar combo are thanks to my husband in his bachelor days.)
46. Fugu Nah (are you kidding? I like sushi, but this takes it to an entirely different level!)
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut. (Mine was colddidnt see what the big deal is!)
50. Sea urchin (First time was raw straight from the ocean in Madagascar with lime kind of like doing a tequila shot.)
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (Must admit that when these first came out and I was under 10 they were absolutely delish!)
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini (Ive had a sip of a gin martini, but only every finished a vodka one. My mom is allergic to juniper, so Ive in general stayed away.)
58. Beer above 8% ABV (Had a 10.5 Imperial stout of some sort on Monday husband made a mixed 6 pack for our camping trip. And, yes we brought the bottles back to recycle them and we made sure the camp fire was completely out!)
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips (I like them okay, but NOT as a substitute for chocolate. Carob is its own deal.)
61. S’mores (Of course! Why else go camping?)
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (not that I am aware of, but sounds like it has interesting insecticidal properties.)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette.
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini (separately? maybe?)
73. Louche absinthe (helps to have a roommate with family in Eastern Europe!)
74. Gjetost, or brunost (I don’t think so)
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu (Uh yes, I wondered for a while why many Malagasy carried white vinegar with them all the timethen I had some. Fire water I tell you!)
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant (Don’t think so, looked up my best prospect and it is only a two star!)
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare (involuntarily as a kid thanks Dad!)
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

And a friend just asked me why I had lemon curd in my ice box! Do you know what else I have in my ice box? How about some grattons de canard à léchalote the next time you come over?

Flame Retardant in PJs?

I believe that one example of government regulation making things worse (not better) was the decision in the 1970s (by the entity which turned into Consumer Product Safety Commission) that loose fitting infant and child PJs must be treated or made with flame retardant material. This decision was made after several little ones died in house fires and or fires in which their PJs caught on fire. And, the decision was initially made before fire alarms and sprinkler systems (in apartments) were common place and often even part of the building code, nevertheless fires scare us, so the rules have become more detailed and received increased enforcement over the years.

Accidents do happen, but frankly I would prefer to dress my son in Flame Retardant FREE PJs and keep a functioning smoke/fire alarm right outside his bedroom door.  Our house is well maintained, we dont smoke or use candles (except the occasional candle with dinner) and we dont store excess fuel in the garage. So barring an odd electrical fire or an errant lightening strike I would not consider our home to have a high fire risk. In addition to working smoke alarms, we also keep a CO2 and gas detector, which is insanely effective at waking one up at 3 am (inevitably the batteries run out in the middle of the night).

For years there has been concern over the human body’s ability to absorb the chemicals in fire retardant fabrics and this is why in many cases it is no longer used. In fact the only commonly used flame retardant in the US today, is the ubiquitous PBDE found in infant pajamas, mattresses, car seats and more. I mentioned in my brief post yesterday that the Environmental Working Group will be releasing a study that shares results regarding how mothers and toddlers absorb the chemicals in the PBDE flame retardant used in foam mattresses and other consumer products. (Here is an article on Falcons and PBDE absorption, which indicates flame retardants might be bad for animals and the environment, not just humans!)

In the meantime, if you are concerned about your kiddos PJs read this article over at the Green Guide (National Geographic) that discusses the history behind the issue. Bottom line is that most PJs made of synthetic fabrics (which tend to be highly flammable) will be treated with flame retardant or made with fabric woven from thread that has been treated. Only tight fitting cotton PJs tend to be fire retardant free and in most cases you can be confident that your organic PJs are also flame retardant free.

From the Green Guide:

Your choices, then, from worst to best are 1) nylon or acetate treated with fire retardants, 2) inherently flame resistant polyester with fire retardants built into the polymer or 3) snug-fitting cotton garments. The healthiest safe choice with the lowest embodied energy and lowest ecological impact would be snug-fitting, organic cotton long johns or union suit-style pajamas with the Wear snug-fitting. Not flame resistant label. These common sense choices conform to the CPSCs standards, give the environment a break and provide your child with safe and comfortable sleepwear.

Occasionally, you may find looser fitting Organic PJs that are not marketed as PJs, but perhaps as buntings or footies or what not that are not treated either. Hanna Anderson used to sell PJs in that way a few years back (but I was told not confirmed truth or fiction) that they had to stop selling them because the CPSC tagged them as PJs. Now, you will only find tight fitting organic PJs at Hanna Anderson.

What about my babys mattress and sheets?

One more reason to go organic or by a natural latex mattress or organic mattress pad is that most crib (and adult) mattresses are also fire retardant.  If you’d like to read Consumer Product Safety Commissions proposals and rules regarding mattresses here are a few links to various standards and proposed standards for mattresses:  16 CFR 1633; 16 CFR Part 1632 (this standard effective of July 1, 2007 is crazy even thought I dont smoke the CPSC thinks that it is only safe to sell me a mattress that will not burn when confronted with 18 lighted cigarettes! Now this rule may be good for those who live in apartment buildings with smokers, but for those of us who live in stand alone homes that is outrageous!)

Here is another link to search any CPSC Product Safety Standard that you may be curious to learn more about. Also, if you have a specific product that you are concerned about your best bet is to contact the company directly and get a straight answer from them regarding the make up of the PJs, mattress or mattress pad.

Green Mes Opinion:

This issue is particularly irksome to Green Me given the current political climate and situation. Here I am as a Democrat who according to the GOP believes in heavy handed government intervention in our daily lives. And yet, I can not stand the idea that the government regulates the addition of chemicals to my household products as a protective measure in case some one out there is stupid or careless. Folks (mostly Republicans and Libertarians from what I can tell) do not want to pay taxes to give someone elses children a solid education or to provide someone elses grandmother, mother or child with adequate health care. And yet, at the RNC or on CSPAN I never once hear any of these folks crying foul at the government standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission that require toxic chemicals to be added to our household goods specifically our childrens pajamas and or every-ones mattress, because it might prevent a few tragic accidents.

In the US fires are the the fifth most common cause of unintentional injury deaths in the United States (CDC 2005) a fact that initially makes fire retardant mattresses and PJs sound necessary, until you read the next statistic that says Most victims of fires die from smoke or toxic gases and not from burns (Hall 2001). Furthermore Smoking is the leading cause of fire-related deaths (Ahrens 2003) and Cooking is the primary cause of residential fires (Ahrens 2003). So, if you dont smoke or live in a building with smokers and you have effective (and functioning) smoke alarms in your home the likelihood that your mattress or PJs need to be coated with fire retardant any more than you everyday clothes or other materials goods is not a solid argument! *

When it comes down to it what is a better investment of our tax and private dollars? Is a dollar spent providing preventive health care more effective at saving lives and saving society money than a dollar spent researching and testing the most effective flame retardant mattresses? Fire deaths are horrific, shocking and frustrating, because in many cases they appear to have been preventable. Deaths, disorders, environmental destruction from chemicals, such as PBDE fire retardants are slow acting, difficult to pin-point and seen by some as a necessary evil. And, yet in the long run I wonder if the use of PBDEs will cause more damage and destruction than it will have saved lives? Frankly, Id prefer to live with out the addition of PBDEs, BPA and other avoidable endocrine disruptors, carcinogens and God knows what else!

*CDC, Fire Deaths and Injuries. Fact Sheets August 08, 2008 1. 6 Sep 2008 <http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/factsheets/fire.htm>.

Return to the old ways and a gentle reminder

As we all know there has been a resurgence in young women (such as myself) learning to can. Every attempt is a learning experience from start to finish. And, eating the canned goods is always a treat! Another great experience is sharing the canned goods with friends and family.

Sharing the bounty is an act that should eventually bring the joyful and tasty experience full circle, when the recipient returns the glass jar to the owner. Returning the jars (versus recycling them or cramming them in your cupboard) ensures that when the next round of canning or the next seasons arrives, the canner has a full stock of jars at her (his) disposal.

Returning the jars makes both ECOnomic and ECOfriendly sense, as it saves the canner fuel in making a run to the store to by new jars; it saves the energy and resources required to make new jars; it saves the canner money invested in jars; and, it lets the canner know that you enjoyed the goods and want more!

So, if you have received any canned goods from a friend or family member, when you are finished, be sure to return the jar(s)!

Have a wonderful weekend I will update you with my activities, which include make and decorating another 1st Birthday cake (for a good friend) and canning pears and more tomato sauce!

P.s. You guessed it! This post was motivated by my lack of jars! Ive already bought 3 sets this year, but am finding myself to small jars short of what Id like to can today!

Does your baby get a rash on his/her neck on occasion?

Very disturbing post over at Zrecs. Also surprising, because I have occasionally noticed a red spot on the back of my sons neck, but assumed it was from fabric rubbing. He rarely wears Carters tag-less clothing, but we do have a few we received as gifts or seconds. One more reason to keep your little ones in organics!

Read more at Zrecs: Tagless Infant Clothing Causes Chemical Burns

BTW on a different note for those of you with infants and Pajamas avoid any clothing with fire retardants! Tight fitting cotton PJs will be retardant free, but most baggy, fleece, and other PJs contain fire retardants, unless other wise noted. There will be a report coming out soon over at the Environmental Working Group. Ill post up a link when they publish their report.

EcoMom Challenge #3: Shop Local (part II of III)

EcoMom Challenge #3 encourages us to Shop Local, Fair Trade and Organic, as part of the EcoMom 10 Steps to Living Sustainably. Last week I covered Fair Trade and this week I am finally getting around to discussing why we should shop local. For those of you who are just getting your feet wet when it comes to green living, you may consider me a local extremist, but in fact, although our family has eaten more local food this year than ever before, we are still a far cry from living a truly local existence!

Upfront, the call to shop local can be a tad elusive. What constitutes local?  Furthermore, legitimate local shopping requires you to be vigilant and on top of your buying habits and knowledgeable about the background of the food stuffs or other goods that you are buying. For example, Crocs shoes were once made locally (from imported foreign oil) with their original manufacturing plant just down the road. In our area the fact that Crocs were locally made received lots of media attention; however, the fact that they shut down local operations (and now manufacture in China) over a year ago has not been advertised at all. I am sure that more than one faithful customer thinks that Crocs make shoes in Niwot not China.

In fact, buying material goods that are locally made, let alone, made in the USA can often be quite a challenge. So, whenever our family comes across locally made goods we get quite excited; however, most instances of material good purchasing focus simply on buying goods made in the USA. Weve been surpised at how many Target products are actually made at home, while also being surprised that certain products, especially kitchen implements, seem to be universally made in China. Consequently, Ive personally put off numerous purchases this year in hopes that I could track down the same or similar item neused. Ive met with moderate success.

Local food is yet an entirely different story it is a story that comes with all sorts of warm and fuzzy tales, and happy endings. Between our local Farmers Market, local farms and our CSA membership the Green Me family has been eating loads and loads of fresh produce this summer and I have been experimenting with canning, pickling and making jams. Weve pretty much stopped buying any produce from the grocery store (except for organic raspberries to spoil the little one) and I seriously find myself wondering what I am going to do in December, January or the rest of the winter with out vine or tree ripened fruit!

When I made strawberry jam in June, I was generous with my bounty passing out jars to friends and family. I only kept 12 jars for our family, which seemed extravagant at the time, but now that I know we can eat a jar of jam in 3 days, 12 jars simply isnt enough for an entire winter! (I made low sugar varieties, so our sugar intake is minimal over said 3 day period!) I will be making grape jelly and perhaps grape juice (or maybe even wine) in a few weeks, assuming that the raccoons do not return this year.

So, the Green Me family is eating local, but what does that really mean? Why deprive oneself of bananas, and eat only peaches everyday for 7 days straight? One of the fantastic features of modern life and shipping routes is that we are able (and accustomed) to eating all sorts of produce out of season. Blueberries in January? Grapes in May? Bananas every day of the year? No problem? Well, there is that little problem, called oil, and then there is that other problem, called human induced climate change.

So, what is a healthy, fruit and veggie loving gal todo?  One option would be to simply eat potatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Potatoes are high in vitamin C, fiber, folic acid and more, plus they store really really well. Nah I may love potatoes, but three meals a day, day in and day out just wont do. Fortunately, there is a great abundunce of fruits that can be grown locally melons, apples, peaches, starwberries, apricots, raspberries, pears, plums, grapes and more can be found in Farmers Market stalls and back yards across the front range. Alas the only fruit I really miss is the beautiful blueberry (Ive read they can be grown in barrels in the backyard, so this may be a future venture.)

And, the sweet thing about eating local and in season fruit is that it not only tastes delicious, but you can be sure that tree (or vine ripened) fruit is being delivered to you with peak nutritional value and without the guilt of fossil fuel trail (or the chemicals sprayed on fruits like apples and bananas to cause them to ripen). And, if you buy or grow it in excess, you can also preserve the fruit for consumption in the winter months. I canned peaches last fall for the first time and I must say that every time I broke out a jar to eat or make a pie, it was like infusing a gray February day with summer sunshine. Id never much liked store bought canned peaches, but the real thing, canned in a light syrup was absolutely delightful!

In addition to saving fossil fuel and energy in general, eating local and especially supporting local and small farms helps support your local economy and keep farming alive in your community. Farming is a very difficult business these days, and many farmers must work second jobs to keep their farms a float. For this reason CSAs are very important, because the reservation monies you pay in the spring, help fund the seasons crop. And, the CSA membership, helps to ensure that the farmer earns an income, even when crops fail. The CSA is most often a very rewarding relationship for both parties, but you can also think of it a little bit like an independent subsidy for small farmers who unlike mega corporate farms get zilch from the government.

Eating local is good for you, good for the economy, good for the environment and a great way to get involved in your local community. So, if you haven’t yet hit your local Farmers Market the season is going strong, so get out there and EAT LOCAL! Your heart will thank you!