Archive for September 2010

The Quest to Recycle Carpet   1 comment

Back in early July when we closed on our house, the first order of business was to rip out the old carpet. Well, since I was focusing on getting the house cleaned and ready for move in, the old carpet just got rolled up and piled in the back yard. Recent rains (and a friend’s home renovation) have reminded me that I need to restart my search for a carpet recycler. Carpet recycling is the hip new thing, right? But Sacramento is also a very non-“green” town.

In early July I wanted to make sure that there was an option to recycle the carpet so I did a web search and found the CalRecycle website, which lists carpet recyclers in the state. There was one listed for northern Sacramento, so I called them. The receptionist at company A said they only recycle carpet that they remove, but she’d have the owner call me. He never did, and I got distracted by other things.

After the rain, I started looking for company A’s name and phone number but couldn’t find where I had written it down. Going back to the CalRecycle website, I found that they are no longer any listed for the Sacramento area, and only three in the Bay Area. One of the Bay Area listings is for Goodwill in San Jose, and I am kind of skeptical that they are recycling and not reusing the old carpet. Plus driving to San Jose might be too much even for me. Union Recovering located in Hayward only accepts carpet pads, not carpets. But before I committed to hauling my carpets to Oakland, I decided to do a bit more searching.

Another web search led me to the Sacramento County website listing two local companies for carpet recycling. But one of them, Habitat for Humanity, does not accept used carpet anymore. I called the second, G&B Carpet Recycling in Lincoln, which only just opened in July. I called, left a message, called, left a message, and waited.

The G&B Carpet Recycling website led me to Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), which only lists the San Jose Goodwill as a Northern California reclamation partner. I was about to give up. By sheer chance, I found the Rancho Cordova Recycling Guide and Handbook, which lists a couple more local companies.

So I called L&N Pad and Foam Recycling and left a message. I tried Sunshine Padding and Foam Recycling where someone actually answered the phone! He told me that they only accept carpet pads, and are only open M-F 7-3:30. Ugh. At this point I tried G&B Carpet Recycling again, and got a hold of a live person. Who told me that they no longer accept carpets for recycling, even though “there is demand”. He told me that Oakland is the nearest carpet recycler currently. So I called Carpet Recyclers in Oakland. They are open M-F 7-4; but they don’t accept rolls that have been tied with string.

At this point there was a little voice that said re-rolling all of the carpet, renting a truck, and driving to Oakland (all while using what little vacation time I have left at work), and then possibly paying a fee to give my old carpet to someone to recycle is absolutely insane and I shouldn’t do it. Then the angel on my other shoulder piped up, commenting that part of my commitment is to go beyond what “normal, sane people” would do so that I can make inroads and make it easier for those normal, sane people to take the same actions.

So now I have to re-roll the carpets in accordance with Carpet Recyclers’ instructions, and then take my road trip before it rains again. I think I will take the padding to the local company to demonstrate that there is local demand for carpet and pad recycling.

Posted September 29, 2010 by mayakey in conscious living, home, mission

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Nature Does Not Hurry   Leave a comment

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.


(I think this expresses nicely my craving for a simpler life. This is my ideal.)

Posted September 26, 2010 by mayakey in quotes, simple living

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Compost Trials: The Mission   Leave a comment

One of the reasons that I was really looking forward to owning a house was composting. One of my few cases of enviro-guilt was not composting. It pained me so much for the last few years to throw away kitchen garbage that couldn’t go in the green waste bin. I actually moved into the old rental with plans to compost and garden in the back yard. Then I moved in and discovered that there was a lot of trash in the planters and in the side yard; and that the cats owned the back yard and left it liberally strewn with land mines. All my gardening aspirations went out the window. With no outlet for the finished compost it didn’t seem like a very good idea then. I did eventually start growing some herbs in pots, and I suppose I could have started a small compost to support my pots, but I really didn’t know how to make that work.

With this move, though and a yard that I now own  and “control” (ok, so the cats have staked many claims on part of it), I am committed to compost! Developing a system is definitely still a work in progress, but here’s my first status report.

For me, the primary purpose for composting is waste stream reduction. I feel that we generate way too much trash. Based on my 2001 and 2006 trash audits, kitchen waste is about 10 pounds per month, or 10% of our total waste stream by weight. Paper is another 60% of our waste stream, but I prefer recycling that rather than composting since paper can be recycled into more useable paper. Ultimately, I’d love it if no food waste at all gets thrown in the trash. That means meat as well, which will require special composting techniques.

At the moment I’m kind of ignoring the green waste bin for yard stuff. I’d like to make the yard a closed loop, although there may be a place for the green waste bin. I’d heard that weed seeds can be a problem in municipal waste, but our city recycling brochure specifically lists weeds as acceptable green waste. I guess municipal composts reach/get treated to high temperatures that kill most weed seeds. If that is the case than weeds with seeds would go in the green waste bin rather than our home compost.

My time scale: I have at least half a year and maybe a year and a half before I will be using any finished compost since I’m not going to do much in the [concrete] yard as far as gardening goes right now. I predict that I’ll have my hands full with in-house, nursery, and curb appeal projects.

Posted September 25, 2010 by mayakey in environment, gardening

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Hybrid Owner Questions   Leave a comment

I was going to do a post on either composting or carpet recycling today, but I realized that my response to my husband’s uncle’s questions about hybrids would make a good post instead. (And since it took me almost an hour to write the email response, I ran out of time to write a separate blog post.)

We are a two-hybrid family. My husband is a “newbie” hybrid owner with his 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. I’m a veteran owner with my 2001 Toyota Prius. I was one of the experimental owners. I ordered my Prius in the first couple of months that Toyota started taking orders for them, so my baby is a 2001 model 1st generation Prius. She’s driven in Albuquerque, Bay Area, Sacramento area, and three times between Albuquerque and Bay Area/Sacramento, plus various other trips around California. Ooh, I just realized that today, 23 September 2010 is her 9 and a half anniversary! I’m so proud of my car (I should probably give her a car wash for her birthday).

My husband’s uncle will be teaching a class on hybrids this semester, and he emailed us some questions about our experiences with our cars:

1. Overall reliability, repairs, any nagging problems. Overall, she’s perfect. I’ve had no problems with the hybrid system. Really, I’ve had no major problems at all. I can tell that she’s not a new car any more, but I’d say she’s still running great for 9 and half years. There have been various recalls over the last decade, but they’ve all been taken care of and I never had any problems. I don’t notice reduced performance of the hybrid system, but I’m not sure that I would notice it until there was a noticeable decrease in gas mileage.

The only minor mechanical problem that I’ve had is related to long crank time in cold weather. Since the driver doesn’t crank the engine when turning the car on, there’s no way to know when the engine is having trouble turning over. When it is cold and the crank time is longer, the warning lights can come on. It first happened to me the first Thanksgiving that I had her, when she’d been sitting outside for a long weekend while I was out of town. When I got home it was below freezing and when I started her up, the warning lights came on. I panicked, spent the night at my mom’s instead of driving home, and carefully drove in to the dealer the next morning. They read the diagnostic code and told me that it was just the car telling me that the crank time was unusually long. Last winter after we were out of town for a long weekend while my car was outside, I started her up and the warning lights came on. I drove my errands like usual, figuring that she just needed to be warmed up, and sure enough the next morning the warning lights were gone.

2. Fuel economy as advertised. In the first year and a half that I had Hagan I averaged higher than advertised gas mileage. Since moving to CA, though, my lifetime gas mileage has decreased (I suspect it’s because of the ethanol), and I’m now only 47 mpg (advertised was 48). It’s depressing that recently my 3rd quartile gas mileage dropped below 50 mpg. That was a depressing month when I realized that. My inter-quartile range is approximately 43.5-49.75 mpg. Hagan has a high variability in gas mileage depending on weather. Mike’s car has demonstrated little to no temperature-related fluctuations in gas mileage over the last year and a half. In CA my gas mileage fluctuates about 10 mpg between winter and summer. In Albuquerque where the temperature range is greater (teens to 100s), the fluctuation was more like 15-20 mpg between summer and winter.

3. Performance with pedal to the metal as needed when passing or climbing hills. When I first got Hagan (spring 2001), I had been driving my family’s old 1986 Toyota Corolla. I felt like I had major power under the hood with Hagan. The old car couldn’t maintain 75 mph on the big hills on the freeway to my mom’s house, but Hagan could accelerate past 75 on those hills. I’ve never “taken her out to see what she can do” despite that being one of the questions I get the most as a hybrid owner. But when I need to accelerate on a hill or passing (or passing on a hill), she’s usually quite up for the job (although it is sometimes a bit noisy). I do experience some unpredictability in the amount of get up and go, though. I don’t think Mike has this issue with his newer hybrid, especially since it is an SUV. I figure it is because of the dynamic allocation of power draw between the engine and the motor based on the level of charge of the battery and the amount of power needed. Since the engine and the motor have very different horsepower and torque ratings, there is a noticeable difference in the response if the car is running more on motor or more on engine at a given moment. As a result, she does sometimes feel sluggish when I need to accelerate quickly, but it hasn’t been a problem for me. If I were an adrenaline-craving young man, however, it might not be enough.

4. Any high voltage battery problems covered under long term manufacurers warranty. I have had no problems with the high voltage battery either while I was under warranty (8 years), nor since. When I was approaching the 8 year mark I was getting really exciting about the prospect of converting my baby into a plug-in hybrid (I didn’t want to risk voiding the warranty). Unfortunately, Hagan’s 8 year anniversary was the same month we found out our former landlady was going to be foreclosed, and we decided that spending $2k to convert my car was not a wise move at the time. Hopefully in the not-too-distant future I can get a conversion kit, and then I’ll really be using/taxing the high voltage battery.

Posted September 23, 2010 by mayakey in energy use

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3 For 3 Eating at Local Restaurants   Leave a comment

So I had to drive to Carson City, Nevada yesterday to take the Nevada Certified Environmental Manager exam this morning. Usually I use these short business trips as excuses to get my once a year or two fix of national chain restaurants like Applebee’s, Chili’s, etc. It’s the lazy side of me that sees the name that means a known quantity and chooses that over chancing the unknown of a local restaurant. It’s the one thing that marketers have on me (at least I think it’s the one thing). All those ads make those restaurants seem attractive, so every once in a while I go to one and then remember that I don’t actually like most of those restaurants.

I’m so proud of myself though: for this trip I went 3 for 3 (meals) eating at locally (or regionally) owned restaurants. I guess it’s proof that blogging is making me more accountable to my own values. (And I do have to say that I had three great meals. I’m not usually a down-home diner kind of gal, but a vegetable eggs benedict in a croissant? So there! And so yummy!)

The reason that supporting local businesses is so important is because then your money is going directly into the pockets of people who need it (theoretically) as opposed to wealthy CEOs, and the money stays in the community. This is especially important in areas that are not wealthy. I was recently reminded of this when reading an article about the recovery (or not) in Haiti and the risk of putting too much effort into increasing tourism. Yes, tourism can be a big boost to a local economy. But only if the tourists stay at locally/regionally owned hotels/resorts, eat at locally owned restaurants, and spend money at local attractions. In so many places (read third-world countries) tourists stay in resorts, eat in restaurants, and play at attractions owned by wealthy outsiders. The local economy gets very little of the money, and in many cases the few local workers in those resorts don’t get paid a living wage.

Posted September 21, 2010 by mayakey in conscious living, food, travel

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Bye-bye Blueberries   Leave a comment

Last week was officially the last week for blueberries. Two weeks ago they said it was the last week as well, so I was hoping there would still be blueberries this week. No such luck. We’ve been buying blueberries every week at the farmer’s market this year and eating them on our cereal for breakfast. I’ve never done that before but it just kind of happened naturally this year.

This spring/summer the search was on for cereal toppings that aren’t super sweet. In the past I topped my cold cereals with a variety of granolas, but the sweetness had become overbearing. I love the crunch and the extra kick of flavor, though. I found that the really expensive granolas at the grocery store that come in small bags aren’t too sweet. In fact they are full of nuts and dried fruit and I would have fallen in love if it weren’t for the fact that they’re really expensive and coupons are few and far between. I realized that what I craved wasn’t really a granola, what I wanted was the flavor of the fruit and the texture of the nuts.

So when blueberries showed up at the farmer’s market, I pounced. I pulled the walnuts out of the freezer, chopped a few up, and threw them in my cereal as well. Oh it was wonderful. My plans to learn how to make a low-fat low-sugar granola at home disappeared. All I needed was the nuts (walnuts or pecans) and the blueberries.

But now fresh blueberries are gone and I’m not sure what direction to go for that bit of extra flavor. I have to admit that I don’t get excited by raisins in cereal, and most other dried fruits at the store are sweetened. I’m hesitant to go with bananas because 1) they have to be shipped from far away, and 2) now that I’m making smoothies per my naturopath’s instructions I’m only eating one or two bowls of cereal per week so there’s a risk of having bananas go bad. Oh, and bananas have never been my favorite fruit. Strawberries would work, but I try to avoid strawberries unless I am certain that they are organic.

Maybe until the weather turns cool and I switch to hot cereal I’ll live with only chopped nuts as cereal topping.

Posted September 18, 2010 by mayakey in food

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Beef vs. Sea Bass   1 comment

I recently responded (late, woops) to a wedding invitation and had a bit of a dilemma with the meal selection. The choices for dinner were beef and sea bass. I laughed when I saw the choices because isn’t it always true that when you are given two choices for a meal you don’t want either one? In this case both options have the potential to be great choices or not-so-great choices.

Beef: Last year I committed to avoiding all (to 95%) meat and dairy containing synthetic growth hormones. This usually means avoiding beef dishes (and lamb, sob) when eating out. Most restaurants do not serve organic or hormone-free beef. There’s always a chance, though, so often I ask the server.

Sea bass: For the sea bass it depends on what kind of sea bass. Black sea bass has apparently recovered sufficiently from past overfishing and it is now on the Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s yellow “good alternatives” list. Chilean sea bass (toothfish) is currently overfished and is on the red “avoid” list.

My dilemma in this eeny-meeny-miny-mo is that I don’t want to be a pill. It’s part of my conscientiousness I guess. I don’t want to make life any more difficult than it already is when planning a wedding. Been there, done that. I know first hand how difficult it can be to be conscientious when planning a wedding. It was very important to me that we have organic food at our wedding, and that was how we narrowed down reception sites; but I never got around to asking for any verification beyond the word of the wedding planners, so I don’t know for sure if it really was organic food. Anyway, the celebration isn’t about me and my quirks (it’s not like I have a serious food allergy or am a committed vegetarian, we’re talking minor lifestyle choices here). I decided to select the sea bass and send a note with my reply card asking what kind of sea bass and a request that if it is Chilean sea bass to change me to beef. I figure that the beef thing counts as just a Maya-quirk. I probably could have tried requesting a vegetarian meal since there is probably a hidden vegetarian option, but since I’m not vegetarian I don’t really think that is fair.

The response that I got to my note deepened my dilemma a bit. It is Chilean sea bass, but they were assured by the chef that it is farmed and therefore okay. According to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium, Marine Stewardship Council, and Wikipedia, though, Chilean sea bass is a deep water fish that is wild caught; and I did an unsuccessful Google search looking for farmed Chilean sea bass. There is a Chilean sea bass fishery that has been certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. Maybe that’s what the chef meant. I’m not comfortable with the uncertainty, though. Especially in the case of something that is being dramatically overfished I’d rather avoid consumption (and therefore not increase demand).

So beef it is. It’s not like I haven’t eaten conventional beef several times in the last year anyway.

Posted September 15, 2010 by mayakey in conscious living, food

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Removing Duct Tape Adhesive   Leave a comment

One thing that I have learned during our recent move is that it really easy to clean up after duct tape.

Back story: During the last minute packing rush I realized that most of our paper, tape, the big labeling marker, and the sticky notes had all been packed and transported to the new house before moving day. So the morning of our moving day I was desperately looking for some way to label the destination room for furniture and boxes. My eyes landed on the roll of duct tape and that’s what I used to label EVERYTHING that was left. It worked really well, but then we had boxes, cloth, wood furniture, and plastic stuff with duct tape on them. At first I was really worried. I was afraid that in my haste I had ruined all of my wood furniture. Then I carefully gripped the corner of one of the strips of duct tape, and slowly pulled it back. Most of the glue came off with the tape, and there was no damage to the item. So far so good. I figured that I would need orange oil cleaner as a solvent to remove the duct tape glue. I’ve learned during the bottle cutting and reusing that I’ve been doing the last few years that removal of most glues in use today for labels and such seem to require an oil or a degreaser like orange oil. Since all I had in my immediate vicinity was a bowl of cold water with a dash of castile soap when I removed that first strip of duct tape, I decided to give it a try. And you know what? It worked! All I needed to completely remove duct tape adhesive residue was a damp rag!

Duct tape has this reputation as being able to do anything. People consider it an uber-tool. There are books with hundreds (thousands?) of uses for duct tape. I’ve heard of people holding cars together with duct tape. (Of course, sealing ducts is one of the things that duct tape is not good for.) But for all that propaganda, the adhesive apparently dissolves in water and dries up in heat, making it a relatively mild adhesive.

Seems like there’s a message here about being strong, yet gentle. Utilitarian, yet low impact. Or just that even when a major aspect of something is weak (the adhesive of the tape), the whole can still be very powerful.

Posted September 14, 2010 by mayakey in cleaning, musings

Choline Summary   Leave a comment

Back to the research on nutrients. I had to take a break when I finished researching the nutrient deficiencies from my test results, so now I’m back researching my borderline nutrients. I hope this series isn’t boring anyone else to tears. The borderline nutrients are of concern because they may actually be deficiencies. For one thing, as I described in my first nutrient research post, since this is just one data point the natural amount of fluctuation is unknown. For all I know, my blood had a particularly high concentration of that nutrient the day my blood was drawn; or an unusually low concentration. The second reason is (shhh) lab results are not necessarily accurate; there may be up to 10 or 20% error in the result (or at least that’s my experience with environmental chemical analyses). Another thing is that everyone’s body is unique and the actual boundary for deficient/enough of a nutrient probably varies somewhat by person. Since I’m preparing for pregnancy, better safe than sorry.

To start this new rash of research I’m looking into choline. And I can say with absolute certainty that I don’t know what choline does. I tried reading the Wikipedia page, but it was going way over my head and I started skimming. At least until I reached the phrase “…important for pregnant women to get enough choline, since low choline intake may raise the rate of neural tube defects in infants…”. Ok, so this is another important nutrient. Don’t understand what it does, but it’s important for me right now. Got it.

Interestingly enough, choline is apparently associated with the B vitamins, which seem to be my nutrition Achilles heel. It’s water soluble, so the body probably doesn’t store much. When it comes to food sources, though, I am indignant. One of the best dietary sources of choline is eggs. I loooove eggs. I would probably eat a couple of eggs a day if it weren’t for a history of high cholesterol on both sides of my family. How am I not demonstrating a high blood choline concentration? This is why I had to take a break from the research. If the foods I eat regularly are great sources of things that I am deficient in or borderline, and I apparently have a confirmed case of leaky gut causing excessive absorption of some things (for a future post), what is preventing the absorption of these specific nutrients? It’s frustrating. My and my darned need to be involved in my own health…

Posted September 10, 2010 by mayakey in health, pre-pregnancy

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Cling Wrap Alternatives   Leave a comment

At the beginning of the summer there was a comment asking about cling wrap alternatives, and I wasn’t able to give a very good response at the time. It’s been processing in the back of my mind throughout all of the goings-on this summer and I’m finally going to take a stab at posting a better response. There were two main reasons why the question was difficult for me to answer. The first was that it has been so long since I regularly used any cling wrap that I couldn’t remember how I transitioned, and the second was that I have unanswered questions myself when it comes to some of the alternatives.

Personally, my original reason for avoiding plastic wrap was waste reduction. Plastic wrap is in the category of “single use” products since it is nigh impossible to re-use most plastic wrap, and as a result there is a ton of waste products to consider. The tip of the iceberg is the little wad of plastic that fits in the palm of your hand. Then there’s the box, cutting strip, and tube. Don’t forget about the shipping container from the factory to the distributor to the retailer. Or the trimmings in the factory during the manufacture of the plastic, box, cutting strip, and tube. And then there’s all the waste that occurs during the extraction and refinement of the raw materials. Oh, and all of the energy and water required for this whole process. See what I mean about the actual plastic wrap being the tip of the iceberg?

A few years ago I also became concerned about the potential for chemical leaching from plastic wrap. Some plastic wraps, including nearly all food-service wraps, are made of PVC, the “toxic plastic”. I understand that most of the plastic wraps sitting on grocery store shelves are no longer made from PVC, but even if they are made from “safer” plastics I’m not completely comfortable. Try this: go to the website for your brand of plastic wrap (for this exercise I went to the Glad website, but I’m guessing any brand will have almost the same language). Find the FAQs or information page about the cling wrap. It’ll say “blah blah… no PVC, plasticizers, phthalates or BPA… blah blah… made of polyethylene… blah blah… “The only additives are proprietary cling agents used at low concentrations which are FDA compliant”. Yeah, like I’m going to trust the FDA or a large conventional company. Have these “cling agents” been tested extensively with regards to human health concerns? Considering how few new chemicals have been tested, my guess is no, and therefore I’d prefer to avoid exposure rather than find out later that there was indeed a problem.

Here’s my list of alternatives, roughly ranked in the order of my increased comfort level.

  • Nothing. There are lots of things that really don’t need to be wrapped. That’s the best solution, when practical. I could have put this at the bottom of the list, but since there are even more foods that cannot be left with no cover or seal it goes at the top.
  • Wax paper. Wax paper and a rubber band can seal a bowl, or an item could be wrapped in wax paper like a package. BUT, what kind of wax and other additives are used? I have had little success finding that information, which makes me uncomfortable. Personally, I prefer to avoid petroleum-based waxes for potential exposure and environmental impact reasons.
  • Foil. Works when wrapping an item, and ok for covering a dish. I’m guessing that I’m not the only person who has a problem keeping the foil in place and sealed on a large bowl without having to wrap the bowl twice-over. And aluminum foil should never be used in direct contact with acidic foods. There’s also the matter of recycling. Theoretically, aluminum foil could be made of recycled aluminum and could therefore have a fraction of the energy footprint of a mined ore product. Unfortunately, not all boxes of foil say whether or how much recycled material is used. Also theoretically, used aluminum foil could be recycled. However, aluminum foil seems to be a frequent guest of the “do not recycle” list because of food contamination issues. By that I mean the food left stuck on the foil attracts pests and rots, and recycling companies don’t want to deal with that. I understand that contamination with food residue is the biggest reason for recyclable items to be landfilled by solid waste companies. Even though I always wash used foil and then fold it instead of wadding it, I have a sneaking suspicion that it gets sorted out and landfilled anyway. If I can’t get the foil clean, it just goes straight into the trash. Of course, foil can be reused; at least until it tears.
  • Resealable plastic bags. These things are just so darned useful. We put cheese in a zippered bag so that if it goes moldy nothing else will, and open sausage/hot dog packs so that we can prevent a mess. Yes, it’s plastic, and no, I still do not trust the FDA and plastic manufacturers. But these bags typically only contact part of the surface of the food, and I hope that since they don’t have to have the fancy stretch-cling properties as cling wrap, that they have fewer additives.
  • Plastic containers. I rely on my drawer of plastic containers. Tupperware, Gladware, whatever. They are made from “safe” plastics, but I always see the advice to not heat food in them to avoid concerns with leaching chemicals. Admittedly I regularly microwave my leftovers in Tupperware. Unfortunately, after several years this means the plastic has absorbed a lot of food odors and now contaminate new foods with the odors of years and years of leftovers. My current wish is to transition away from plastic food containers because of the same chemical concerns as plastic wrap. This was a goal reward for myself last year, but I unfortunately did not meet the goal, so I still dread opening my lunch most days.
  • Glass or metal containers. Pyrex or metal bowls with plastic lids, cooking pots, the glass-lidded bowl from the rice cooker, a plate covering a bowl, reused jars, etc. There are lots of options and each has its own pros/cons. Maybe there’s not a huge difference between plastic lids and plastic wrap, but the reusability factor is big.
  • Fabric. Our fridge is filled with unbleached organic cotton bags. Most of our farmer’s market haul goes into fabric bags or loose. Fabric bags don’t work for leftovers, of course, but for other stuff they’re great. They are easy to wash, organic, and repeatedly reusable. A fabric cloth can also be placed over a bowl or plate instead of a plastic lid or wrap in the microwave.

Posted September 6, 2010 by mayakey in food, home, resource use

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