Tales about a compost bin

Posted on July 1, 2018

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The start 

I am scared.

Putting out a compost bin near this location is the equivalent of putting out this sign on your front door : ” free food if you can break in” to all the animals who live along side us. Rats and possums were the first to invade. Raccoons and skunks joined the party. I like animals but preferably far far away from my patio ! “Screw zero waste. Most people in the world don’t do anything ! Why should I inconvenience myself? I want to quit” I confessed. But my support system didn’t let me.

  1. “Are you changing your plans because of rats?”, Fernando asked. (He is my landlord.) When you put it like that, of-course not ! “Aren’t YOU afraid Fernando? “, I asked. “I served in the Vietnam for 2 years. We slept in crowded dirty bunkers. They were everywhere. They would crawl over us in the night and you have to lay still to not get bitten. You don’t have the option of being afraid. It’s not a choice. You have to keep going”. He said these words not as a commander giving a pep talk, but as a father asking his daughter to not be afraid : with utmost humility and kindness in his voice. Can I respect this man anymore ? #saluteTheVeterans
  2. “I am no longer afraid. I want to kill those animals. Let’s get some poison”. Harsha spoke his mind. “We don’t live in an apartment in the city. We choose to live here because we wanted the experience of being close to nature. It’s their habitat. You don’t need to kill every animal that comes close to your precious compost bin. You also know that Cinco might find the animal you poison and eat it.” It’s annoying when everyone you live with, is wiser than you. My compost bin made me aware of being a part of my local eco system. I put a lid on the bin. I stopped putting cooked food scraps. After a while, the animals stopped trying.
  3. Rotting is a beautiful process. If done right, the compost doesn’t smell bad. Aging gracefully is a totally accomplishable goal for my vegetable peels.
  4. If I waste anything from my fridge, it stares me in the face until it decomposes. The mistakes can’t be forgotten. I have a whole cauliflower in there for the last month. I have a compostable cup in there for the last 6 months. It doesn’t go away. It made me more vigilant about food waste in my kitchen.
  5. If we don’t cook / eat out junk food, my additions to the bin would solely be coffee grounds and tea leaves. Not ideal for me, not ideal for the soil.
  6. The way food composts is dependent on the composition of the contents. If I throw in a few lemon peels, the acidity goes up. If I don’t turn my compost pile to aerate it, it starts becoming gooey. If it’s too moist, I can see it collapsing into a sludge. Extrapolating the process of rotting to larger picture : landfills are very problematic. It takes months and the right conditions for a potato to decompose in my pile. Imagine all that stuff laying in a landfill ! All of it is rotting aerobically out there and releasing methane into the surroundings. Once it decomposes, the trace minerals are buried too deep in the landfill to be of any use.
  7. For urban dwellers, the city should help us out. It’s a burden if you live in a small apartment.
  8. I can’t bear to put egg shells/vegetable peels in the landfill waste. I experience a special sort of heart ache. The kind that is equivalent to crumpling a 1$ bill and tossing it out of the moving car. I can’t do it. I won’t do it.
  9. I learnt that soil microbes are carbon processors.  They have been linked to drought tolerance, growth rate and other aspects of plant performance. It’s intriguing that they can act as a buffer against climate change. Compost returned to native soil keeps it healthy and properly functioning.
  10. To rot a vegetable, takes time. To make soil viable for growing a plant, takes effort. To keep a plant alive, takes effort. It’s hard to create life. It’s easy to kill a tree to make handsome furniture or pretty bowls or paper towels or that pretty viscose dress that I don’t need.
  11. I have been trying to grow a plant from scratch, like a farmer does. Make the soil, plant the seeds, grow the saplings, transplant them and keep it alive. It is not an easy job. Do we respect our farmers enough ?
  12. Refuse, Reuse, Return, Refill, Reduce, Recycle, Rot – are the 7 R’s of zero waste. After trying to grow a few plants, I think ‘Rot’ deserves a better spot than at the end of the train. Without soil, we don’t get to eat.
  13. The entire process is a joy. My first ‘I made soil’ moment felt invincible. I felt like a god. I don’t do many good things with my life but this act makes my heart sing.

The middle 

I am a plant mother.

 

 

touniversewithlove

 

OOTD : Wrap blouse : Steven Alan. Pants : J.Brand. Ballet flats : Jil Sander.

Keep it going 

I want to learn

 

I started my compost in a hurry to become I was possessed by the idea of going zero waste. I dis-regarded all the instructions. I use the wrong kind of bin – a plastic bucket that my landlord had sitting around in the backyard. I don’t add twigs or dried leaves like I should. I forget to turn my pile all the time. Sometimes, it gets moldy. Sometimes, its dry. But it all seems to add up to soil in the end. Now that I am no longer intimidated by the process, I want to do a better job at it.

Required Reading : This encyclopedia on composting.

A Summer Closet

Posted on June 29, 2018

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Last year, I wrote some notes on my take on an ideal closet. It resulted in a discussion on if the ideal state is a myth we chase. Aren’t we in a constant state of growth which results in different wants ? Is a closet ever really built ? Can desire be contained ? I don’t know the answers to these questions. Instead of over analyzing the idea, I set some rules and a target. I have learnt to be contentment within my bounds. My closet is built. Let me explain :

The right amount

Once upon a time, I had excess and I was underutilizing the clothes I had. There was also a time when I have exactly what I needed but was not content. With time, I found my ‘just right’. I want it to stay clutter free and organized. I want the incoming and outgoing rate to be low. I like the current status quo.

( I won’t call myself a minimalist. It’s alright to not be one. )

The right garments

There is something in there for every occasion life throws at me. The purpose of building a closet is to be stylish. I am not interested in a closet whose only virtue is that it has less than a count “n” , with n being small. But at the end of the day, it needs to be cruelty free and responsible. It should be second-hand, vintage or ethically made. There should be some glamour and lot of pragmatism. There should be a balance of feminine and masculine elements. Some garments exist to be worn out in the next 2 years. Some are to be worn over a decade. Some are to be worn over two decades. Some have the potential to become heirlooms. Getting dressed should be joyful. Else, there is no point to any of this.

[ A silk blouse. A floral print blouse. A pinstripe shirt. A polka dot shirt. A chambray shirt. A shift dress. A shirt dress. A maxi dress. A midi dress. A t-shirt. Blue denim. Black pants. Charcoal denim. ]

A whole lot of navy blue

An ocean of blue. Opening the door to my closet is color therapy. I write this with a big grin : if you want to discuss the “right shade” of navy blue, I am here. If you want to talk “bad shades” of navy blue, I am here for that too.

Some army green, red and pink.

For the full moon days when I turn into a wolf and don’t want to wear navy blue.

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( Missing ) This trio of printed photographs : Charlotte Rampling for YSL, shirt dress by Yohji, sketch by Clemence Poesy. 

My interpretation :

Image 1 : There are two ways to do androgyny – the YSL muse and the office worker.

Image 2 : Yhoji-saan’s women :“Fashion cannot make you sexy. Experience makes you sexy. Imagination makes people sexy. You have to train yourself, you have to study, and you have to live your life”

Image 3 : “Don’t bother me.”

I have a straw and a wool hat on a hook on the walls. ( Not visible in this photo. )

Also missing : a hook right by the closet door on which I hang the garment that I consider most stunning piece I own.

Books

I want an eclectic mix of inspiration on my shelf. Flipping through the street style photos while sitting on the floor is a pleasure.

[ The Sartorialist (my fav), Tomboy Style, Trench, It’s Vintage Darling, Paris Street Style ( must-read) , The New Garçonne, Many of Them, Asian Street Fashion, Men in this town, Women in this town, Elegance ( This book is an abridged version of finishing school for women. Made me cringe a little.) ]

Maintenance gear

Vodka refresher spray. A clothing brush. Some shoe conditioner.

Perfume

My 4 year affair with Jo Malone Pomegranate Noir continues. I sometimes wear it to bed.

Shoes

I have the most used and the really dirty ones by the front door. The ones in my closet are the least used and are reasonably sanitary to bring into the bedroom.

A dresser

Something to hold the scarves, slips, belts, t-shirts, sweaters, pjs, workout clothes, gardening overalls, underpinnings, socks and handkerchiefs.

Collections !

I have lots of shoes but I am not interested in collecting them. They come on a need/want basis. They go when they are worn out. I am not interested in collecting luxury handbags. I carry a canvas backpack or a cotton tote on most days. I want to collect blue dresses …. which I sort of do.

The Trinket box

I wear a tiny gold dot necklace on most summer days. It gets the most accessible hot spot.

Jewellry box

This is where I hide my clutter. I have trinkets from my teenage years. The tacky metal butterfly ring, color changing talismans, plastic beads, silver plated “peace” pendants, ‘I am grown up’ pearls, coming-of-age presents from relatives, heirlooms that I don’t know what to do, unworn wedding rings, ……  I am not okay with owning things that hardly get used – that’s hoarding ! Do you guys declutter your jewellry ? I don’t have the guts.

 

Peace. 

There is no scope to ponder if a certain garment is of the right vibe, the right kind of trendy, the right kind of classic, the right kind of chic, if the French woman would approve, if American woman would approve, if the Indian women approve, if I am rebel, if I am a conformist, if I am a contrarian, ….. There are no “if”s and “but”s waiting. These garments won’t be culled next year. Most of them have been around for years and are old friends. They will be worn till they are worn out. I can walk in, choose something, get dressed and get on. I am at peace.

Reading : Summer Edition

Posted on June 24, 2018

Look ma, no summer wish list !

Creativity is a muscle. It atrophies when not in use. I missed blogging. Surprising side effects of doing a social media detox : increased attention span, reduced interest in acquiring stuff, being in control of what I want to read, privacy, … Less is definitely more ! I am finally getting around to putting a dent in the book stack that I have laying around. ‘Books mean all possibilities. They mean moving out of yourself, losing yourself, dying of thirst and living to your full. They mean everything’, says Ali Smith. The worthy mentions that live up to the hype :

 

Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari.

Homo Sapiens, we named ourselves. It means ‘the wise ones’. Not very modest are we ? The selfish ones, would be more apt from what I now know about our species. I have always looked at our current time period extrapolating from the future I want. When I use the word sustainability, I do so with an assumption that we are capable of co-existing in our eco system. But connecting the lines from our history gave me a new perspective. Spoiler : We have never been eco-friendly. We have been ecological serial killers for the last 40,000 years. We are tribal in our instinct who like being brainwashed by our leaders. Be it religion or the declaration of Independence or the laws we write, it serve a purpose – bringing order among the masses. If you like reading words that make you feel uncomfortable, this book is for you.

 

Medium Raw, Anthony Bourdain.

Anthony Bourdain is my favorite global citizen. He ranks high on a humanitarian scale in my book of life. I will mourn him by learning from him. I want to read everything he has written. ( You can find a lot of content from this book as quotes on the internet or in his interviews. I choose the book form because I wanted the whole essay, not quotes taken out of context for their punch factor. )

 

Buddhist Economics, Clair Brown.

A mathematician who reads my blog asked me out for a coffee. “Everything you say sounds wonderful and important. But how much of it is fact vs emotion. You should be more discerning about the information you present”. The coffee wasn’t strong enough to hear the critique. We should have gone for a cocktail instead?  I talk about sustainability, consuming less, human dignity in sweatshops, capitalism with a good heart, profitable socialism, …. but the problem is – this utopian dream, is it possible ? It is easy to propose simplistic solutions to some very complex problems on a blog. I want to learn more from a view point of economics. This book is still in my echo chamber but it’s a starting point.

 

Denim: Street Style, Vintage, Obsession

Bay Area is chilly. I no longer wear blue dresses the way I used to. I am looking to add maxi dresses to my closet in their stead. I carry a jacket at all times. Chinos, denim and trousers have become my most worn clothing. I currently have two pairs of jeans – a light weight light wash blue in in 98% cotton for summer and a charcoal gray heavy weight pair in 100% cotton for winter.  I want to add one more pair – a black or mid-wash blue. Looking for it made me discover a the world of denim heads. The way these women speak of the color blue, idea of worn-in, their reverence for their old clothes and the fabric – is my kind of love for clothes. I borrowed the book from the library first and later got a physical copy for my home.

 

The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, Edward C Smith.

“We can teach philosophy by teaching gardening, but we cannot teach gardening by teaching philosophy.” — Bill Mollison

I started a compost bin to go zero waste. Once I made the nutritious soil, I wanted to use it. It started with a succulent in a pot. Then came the window box of herbs. A tomato plant came next. Then came the seeds germinating by the window. …… It’s now become a full grown obsession for Harsha and I. We built a small raised vegetable bed and are looking after it. I no longer exercise. I dig, weed, water and plant everyday. I no longer want to go far away to a campground or on hikes to enjoy nature. It’s here in my backyard. I can help grow it and enjoy it every single day. I can create an environment that will attract bees. I can learn a lot by working this land. This book became our bible. A household with two atheists now start a lot of their sentences with “the bible says … ” and “look up in the bible”. This book is that good. The man who wrote it has a way of life privy to people who live in close symbiosis with nature – the philosophy is worth reading about even if growing vegetables is not an intention. Farmers are philosophers in their own right.

 

The Garden Awakening, Mary Reynolds. 

“Gardens these days have nothing to do with the feeling wild places give us. People travel all over the world to see places of beauty, yet their gardens are quite the opposite. They’re manicured laws full of pesticide and weed killers. They should be covered with moss and clover the bees love and only need to be cut once a year. Our gardens often ignore the true spirit of nature. City parks are like cosmetics. Beautiful in the way that a made-up face is beautiful but they are not real. They are not glowing with life force and atmosphere like the magical places of the wild that fewer and fewer people remember from their childhood. “

Firstly, she shares my contempt for cosmetic lawns. She speaks the language of wilderness. In her world, it is something every individual can contribute towards. Not a a fairy land accessible only to hardcore backpackers and botanists. You can watch Mary’s story in the movie : Dare to be Wild, ( on Netflix). Folks, if you are lucky to live in a place with some soil on which you can plant or have an apartment with windows, this book might be helpful.


 

P.S : Please read Sapiens !

Spring Cleaning

Posted on March 24, 2018

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This year, I have nothing to declutter. A deep clean done. A zero waste check list half conquered. A closet that has been declared built. A personal uniform adopted. 3 years since I gave up fast fashion and synthetic fabrics. A 90% plastic free home. What next ? I never addressed the way I consume content online. I am an introvert by nature and have been feeling the brunt of information overload. An detox might be beneficial. I could never stay away in the past. So, wrote a little snippet of python script to enforce it. Aiming for a week’s worth black out. Longer if I can keep going. (That includes this blog too.) See you in a bit.

While I am gone, check out some good podcasts :

Waking up, Sam Harris ( My fav critical thinker )

Dan Carlin, Hardcore History ( Story telling at its finest. )

Quanta Magazine podcast ( For science. )

( Notable mentions : O’Reilly Data Show, Data Sceptic, Linear digressions and Talking Machines. ) 

Bloom and Grow Radio ( For green thumbs. )

 

On Being, with Krista Tippet ( For spiritual enquiry. )

Zero Waste : 100 little steps

Posted on March 23, 2018

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Am I doing zero waste right ?

This is a question that has been on my mind a lot. More so since I started blogging about it. I don’t know enough about sustainability and the optimized solutions. These simplistic low impact solutions to complex problems that I tout on the blog makes me uneasy. I haven’t asked “What is zero waste” until recently. Fitting a solution without properly defining a problem is just bad science. So what is zero waste ? Is it about sending nothing to our landfills ? ( One can dump waste into the oceans and the atmosphere too ! ) Is it about avoiding plastic ? Is it about switching to bamboo and glass appliances ? Should I adopt the essentialist version of minimalism ? I looked up.

A little history 

“The term zero waste was first used publicly in the name of a company, Zero Waste Systems Inc. (ZWS), which was founded by PhD chemist Paul Palmer in the mid-1970s in Oakland, California. The mission of ZWS was to find new homes for most of the chemicals being excessed by the nascent electronics industry. They soon expanded their services in many other directions.”

The Circular Economy 

“The Circular Mindset is a way to rethink our daily consumer and lifestyle habits to help us reduce our trash and plastic footprint. It’s also a mindset that encourages us to add value back into the things we use, the communities we live in, the food we eat, those who create the materials we consume and the resources used to make them. A circular economy seeks to rebuild capital, whether this is financial, manufactured, human, social or natural. This ensures enhanced flows of goods and services.

Transitioning to a circular economy does not only amount to adjustments aimed at reducing the negative impacts of the linear economy. Rather, it represents a systemic shift that builds long-term resilience, generates business and economic opportunities, and provides environmental and societal benefits.

The model distinguishes between technical and biological cycles. Consumption happens only in biological cycles, where food and biologically-based materials (such as cotton or wood) are designed to feed back into the system through processes like composting and anaerobic digestion. These cycles regenerate living systems, such as soil, which provide renewable resources for the economy. Technical cycles recover and restore products, components, and materials through strategies like reuse, repair, remanufacture or (in the last resort) recycling.”

Is it a consumer movement ?

There is only so much I as a consumer can do other than becoming vigilant about what I bring home. From what I understand, it’s a symbiosis between the manufacturers and consumers. Designing good products and making them accessible is important. Us making a good choice is equally important.

Problem Solving :

The right solution. We fixate on this a lot. Most of the criticism this blog gets is about how my solution is low impact and I should be doing something else.

I don’t know if there is the ONE miraculous solution to tackle this problem considering the complexity of our global economy.

Simplistic solutions like “buy second hand and it’s all good”, “buy less and it will all get fixed” or “buy sustainably made and continue consuming” are almost simpleton solutions. We need long term solutions which try to minimize the short term losses. During the World War 2, “loose the battle but win the war” was adopted after the Allies cracked the German code. They used mathematics to come up with the stratergy. We need AI and data driven solutions now more than ever. We need responsible citizens who will do their part.

And Me : 

Do I sit out this battle and wait for a good solution to miraculously drop ? I don’t think so. Zero waste is not as intimidating as I thought it would be, once I stopped caring about my ego and flaunting my empty trash can. You make a few switches and you can bring down the volume of waste. You stay vigilant, refuse things you don’t need, buy well designed products and manage the budget … it keeps going. The rest, I don’t sweat it. It’s a game of optimization given the time, money, resources and resolve. As a consumer, I made a list of 100 little steps that I think help. I do about half of them and am proud to be a part of this movement. I don’t need everyone around me to do what I do, but it makes me very happy when you do.

Our trash tells a story. A story about what we collectively value. We need to put meaning and value back into resources, materials, people, community and planet.

– Andrea Sanders.

1.Fly less.

Trash is not only the solid waste we send to the landfill. It’s what we release into the air and water. Take some solace in the fact that average hipster who flaunts mason jars but jet sets around the world produces lot more waste than an average householder who stays put. The emissions into the atmosphere are a problem too.

Frying economy is more eco friendly than business class / first class.

2. Do not go on a cruise.

It’s one of the most polluting ways to get from point A to point B.

3. Family Planning

I apologize for this and I couldn’t find a way to skirt around this. I don’t mean to associate children with waste but family planning definitely helps in this fight. Have one less child, it has been suggested. Oregon study puts the emissions at ~9,441 tons per child. Even if I recycle properly and do a few eco friendly measures, I would reduce ~17 tons over a lifetime. Everything else we do in terms of lifestyle choices is negligible in comparison. But it has also been found that the birth rate has decreased in developed nations while it has increased in developing nations. Overall average lifespan of humans has increased. There may be a time where retired aging population will outpace the working population. I, obviously don’t know the solution. But I want my tax money to fund any research in this direction.

Women having access to birth control and family planning is cited as the 7th most effective way to combat climate change by Drawdown.

Have one less, applies to pets too. Consider adopting a rescue animal instead of shopping for a bred animal. #adoptDontShop

4. Live in a smaller home

Less wood used, less land needed == less deforestation.

Less material == less resources mined for earth.

Less sft == less in heating/cooling costs.

Less cleaning to do == less products to be used.

5. Use public transport when you can.

Own one less/no car per household. Buy a smaller car.

6. Bike to work for one day of the week.

If its not a realistic prospect, do not buy a bike and hoard it.

7. Find ways to entertain yourself that doesn’t need new stuff.

It could be listening to music, watching a movie, going for a walk, playing with a dog, cleaning, reading, walking around the city taking photos, cooking, playing a board game, solving puzzles, ….

8. With books, borrow from the library instead of buying.

Buy ebooks and read on your existing devices. Keep digital records.

9. Find joy in nature.

These are the folk who are likely to support efforts to conserve it. All consumer goods comes from the nature at it’s expense. Maybe one day, we will love it for more then it’s looks and beauty. We will love it enough to downsize our lives to conserve it. Maybe it will inspire us to live in a more sacred relationship with the natural world.

10. Go meat-less for few days of the week.

( Slowly get it down to eating meat only on special ocassions and weekends. )

If meat must be had, eat chicken instead of red meats like lamb, beef and pork.

A Good Purchase

Posted on March 17, 2018

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A good buy

  1. Words often used to make peace with an indulgent purchase when the item is new and shiny. 
  2. An item bought for a good price.
  3. Serendipitously finding an item you wanted on the second hand market and acting on it.
  4. Saving up and buying a high quality item while resisting the temptations.
  5. Not buying things you don’t need.
  6. An item that give you lot of pleasure and a good cost per wear. 

I am not immune to lust at first sight. Most of my clothes are haphazard accidents that I couldn’t pass up, on the second hand market. I bought these shoes 3 years ago & worn them 400+ times. I think I am now qualified to rave about the product. (This is not a review.) The title of a good purchase is not something I take lightly or bestow upon too many things. But the truth is revealed with time and wear.

A good buy

When a ‘worn in’ blog post is more exciting than the ‘new in’ blog post, you know that it was a good buy. When you cant shut up about all the details that make it special, 3 years after the purchase date, it’s a good buy. 

These shoes were a good purchase. This pair may be the benchmark against which I compare all other ballet flats I will wear in the future. I learnt that it can be done : you can make dainty looking shoes that are sturdy and are made to aide movement. Let me make my case ….

Zero Waste Laundry

Posted on March 16, 2018

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A drying rack :

Mine is from Ikea. ( It is made of steel with a polyethylene coating which is hard to recycle. )

Made with bamboo options : 1, 2 & 3.

This was the first switch I made way before I heard of the term ‘zero waste’. I learnt that using a conventional dryer wears out the clothes faster. If you own clothes with stretch, heat breaks down the elastane over time. I was tired of the buttons falling off, collars becoming frail and seams coming apart. Not having them tumble in a dryer helps. The garments from Zara last a while if they can be mended and taken care of.

Sustainability experts say that half of the carbon footprint of a garment is from the consumer’s side. I took a resolve to wear my clothes till I no longer fit in them or till they go thread bare. The rack helps keep them in shape.

I wash my clothes as little as possible. I wear them multiple times before wash. Having the rack to dry the clothes inside out between washes keeps them fresh. I spot wash the arm pits, hang them dry and wear them again. This rack has helped.

zero waste laundry

Fabric freshener 

I originally bought this from Laundress to keep my sweaters fresh between washes. It currently holds a DIY version of the same.

Washing :

A front loading washing machine is supposedly more efficient than a top loading one.

I have cleaning rags, exercise clothes, towels, pillow cases, handkerchiefs and every day clothes. I use grated soap for the delicates load and soap nuts for everything else. ( Using cloth rags reduced by landfill trash but added to an extra load to wash. I rinse and throw them in the washing machine till I a ready to run it. )

I get my soap nuts from my mother’s farm in India. Amazon sells them. They can be reused. I replace them with fresh ones every 2 weeks. The used ones go into the compost bin. Castile soap and olive oil soap work well too.

I do laundry as soon as I can fill up a load. ( I don’t want the fibers rotting faster with the help of sweat and body oils. ) We are lucky to live in a place which has the washer in the house.

I usually have one silk shirt / one sweater to wash per week. I wash it in the sink using olive oil soap. Fill the sink, melt some soap in, swish the garment in the soapy water, rinse, lay flat and dry. One garment to hand wash per week is manageable. I do not want to use petro-chemicals at the dry cleaners to wash my clothes. ( I had a person I know say “you guys won’t give up air travel or cars or dry cleaning but you want to take away my job in the fossil fuel industry? ” Dry Cleaning is the easiest to give up. So I took it off the table. )

I have the Laundress detergent that I reserve for my house guests. It is a wonderful product and I have loved it for years.

I had a guest “what-about” me on the plastic rim on my thrifted grater to prove that I am not zero waste. It truly deflated me. I don’t want to argue. I don’t have the energy to. I think I will keep zero waste a secret from now. Folks who cant handle criticism should not preach. One last post awaits and I will conclude it on the blog too.


Laundry is “meh” and “argh” to talk about it …. but anything that makes my clothes last longer while being greener is something I will try. My method is one of the many zero waste solutions out there.

Curious : Is there anyone out there who likes doing laundry ?