Yesterday I happened to be in a neighborhood that is having bulk trash collection this week. Although I’ve previously found bulk collection to be a great source of treasures, I was feeling a bit under the weather yesterday and was only up for walking eight or ten blocks before heading home to rest up again. Fortunately, in just those few blocks I discovered a nice metal plant stand to liven up my living room with the pots I’ve collected previously.
But this morning I was feeling better again and decided to explore another part of that neighborhood. There were lots of cardboard boxes in front of houses as usual, and I had to go up to each one to see whether it was full of junk, a plastic christmas tree (it’s amazing how many plastic trees get thrown out in January!) or something more interesting. Just when I thought I wouldn’t find anything interesting, I noticed a long box that said Everlast on the side. Could it be?
Yes! It was an Everlast canvas heavy bag in good condition. Usually people buy exercise equipment at this time of year, not throw it out. It would have been such a shame for it to take a trip to the landfill. And lucky for me, a friend with a car was available to give me a ride home with my newly acquired toy.
But this was especially great because I had also found a heavy bag during bulk collection last year. That heavy bag came with a stand but unfortunately was never used because the bag wasn’t in good condition and at least needed to be thoroughly cleaned out. It was full of tiny scraps of fabric that had gotten wet, making the bag even heavier and gross enough to encourage me to tackle any task other than cleaning the bag during my free time. Just this morning, I cleared out yet another small chunk of the inner gunk before giving up again for the day. In the meantime, the heavy bag stand has also sat there unused. Until today. The chains for the bag were also in the box, and this bag was not so heavy as the other bag. Between two people it was easily raised onto a stepladder and then attached, followed by a few light punches to test it out.
We already have bag gloves, so the only things left to do are to put some weights on the stand to make it a bit more stable and replace the one remaining lightbulb in the garage with two new ones before it goes totally dark. Oh yeah, and punching. There is still much punching to do. 😀
Twice a year everyone in the neighborhood takes all the stuff they don’t want want or need and sets it out for neighborhood swap day. Like the large metal milk jug that my aunt gifted me because she didn’t want it. Someone else loved it and took it away, while I strolled around and got my pick of the other goodies folks have set out.
Well, technically it’s called Residential Bulk Collection, and it’s for bulky items that folks consider trash and just want to get rid of. The scrappers get a lot of the good stuff, too. There’s constantly another scrapper trailer driving around looking for metal pieces they can collect. It’s kind of disappointing that they end up recycling some items that could be reused, but at least it keeps things out of the landfill.
And it’s a great way for much other stuff to find new homes also. Need a new-to-you dresser or table? How about a book to read? This is a perfect time to get something for free and to save stuff from the landfill.
Here are the various treasures (and less treasured items) I collected:
(Ignore all the grey bricks. I did pick those up from the curb, but it was for a nearby multi-family residence that doesn’t have the same bulk service.)
Blue shelf – Not pictured since it was set out earlier and grabbed earlier. It’s already in the garage happily organizing pots, trowels, and other garage-dwelling items that were previously scattered on the floor or resting somewhere inconvenient.
Hanging pot – There were two of these and I was only interested in extra ingredients for the compost, so I dumped the soil from one into the other to tote it back more easily. Folks must have thought I was crazy carrying around that thing, but they don’t know what they’re missing.
6 light grey ceramic tiles – In retrospect, I’m not sure if this is enough tiles to be useful to me and I may keep passing these along.
Citronella candles – To discourage mosquitoes. They’re probably not too effective, but I’m sure I can find someone who wants them if I decide not to keep them.
Wide-ruled paper – I know plenty of people with school-age children.
Fabric adhesive – I’m second-guessing this now, but no matter. Even if I can’t find a new home for it, I haven’t done any harm by delaying its trip to the landfill.
Christmas greeting cards – I’ll use these next year.
Card games rule book – Mostly so I can learn another type of solitaire sans computer.
12 brick pavers – I can always use more brick pavers for my garden. This was a perfect find for me.
White marble chips – It says erosion control on the bag, worth a try.
Pink ceramic pot – Which will be perfect for the previously neglected snake plant that a coworker passed on to me recently.
If I had a truck, I would also have grabbed the three or four Christmas trees I saw while out. They’re going to be turned into mulch so it’s not a bad future for them, but they’d be even better as mulch in my yard or protecting the area by the creek from erosion. Well, that’s okay. I can share.
Of course my favorite find ever from a bulk collection week was Free Serenity, still hanging serenely on my bedroom wall. Has anyone else scored something great from what other folks considered garbage?
Since we bought this house and planted our first baby fruit tree almost three years ago, I’ve wanted some kind of path for the backyard. It’s not an immediate need that I’d have to resolve by purchase, but it’s a dream. I’ve tried many things.
Wearing a path in the earth. Well, I did spend many hours out in the garden and a visible pathway did eventually appear, but it would disappear into the weeds after the spring rains.
Brick. Who wouldn’t want a lovely brick path? I still collect any abandoned brick I come across, but I’ve also calculated how many bricks it would take to build a path around the whole backyard. Nope. Even with my acquired hobby of started watching Craigslist for unwanted bricks or pavers, I found mostly heartbreak because whenever there was a really interesting listing, the givers wanted them to be gone pretty much immediately and that would have required a truck or the like.
Gravel – I was able to get a bagful from someone who wasn’t using it, but it wasn’t long before I could barely see the gravel through the weeds. Gravel alone wouldn’t cut it. I needed some kind of weed barrier underneath the gravel. Some sort of durable plastic would be the obvious answer, but at the same time I have a hard time putting something in the ground that is just going to turn into bits of trash instead of contributing to the soil.
Cardboard – I looked at materials that were in true abundance, and cardboard may have helped under the gravel. Could it stand up on its own as a short term path? Unfortunately “short” term was right. Anything that wasn’t super thick would start to disintegrate rather quickly. And it’s amazing how quickly weeds can grow through a double layer of thick cardboard!
Pinterest-type stuff – I saw pictures online of people making pathways from glass bottles dug into the ground or with wooden rounds cut from fallen trees. I even went so far as to collect a few bottles at the office but gradually came to the realization that these would be more work than I was willing to sign up for. And I didn’t really trust a pathway made of bottles that could break or wood that might start rotting after several good rains.
Last week a posting by one of my neighbors on NextDoor gave rise to a new idea. He had a few bags of sawdust to get rid of. Online research showed some folks love sawdust in their garden pathways. They used super thick layers, more than I’m willing to use, but maybe combined with the cardboard? Anyhow, it’s worth experimenting with.
As a bonus, while walking over to the neighbor’s house to pick up the sawdust, I noticed a pleasant surprise beside a dumpster in the nearby alley. There was a good pile of bricks waiting for me to take them home.
I immediately set to work in the area I had recently started bricking in an attempt to protect my Meyer lemon tree from being overrun by grass. I added multiple layers of cardboard, set some of the new bricks temporarily on the other side to hold it down, and then added some of the sawdust, damped it, and tramped all over it to try and compress it. It’s still a bit fluffy, but I’m hoping the rain helps.
Of course, this is still an experiment. I have no doubt that weeds will still make it through. Also, the pathway needs to be moved a bit further away from my baby tree. But it’s getting better. And it comes with the bonus of adding a little color to my yard during these dull winter months. I just need to rake away a few more of those leaves and stick them in the compost so I can soon be surrounded by more green. 2019’s going to be a good year. I can feel it.
At the start of the month there were several things on my list of purchases I wanted to make. I must have been on a spree because now that list is totally empty!
I bought food, a bus pass, and paid the bills. As for everything else, there were a bunch of plants and plenty of not new stuff, but there were a few brand new items thrown in as well.
These are mostly perennials which will last us year after year. The only short-lived plant in this batch is the bluebonnet but, well, this is Texas and the seeds I scattered around the yard apparently didn’t take this year. If they don’t sprout next year, I’ll just have to deal with it and visit a bluebonnet patch elsewhere to relive my childhood memories.
Potting soil (my last bag lasted a year, so not too bad)
Esperanza (to help shade the south side of the house in summer)
Fuyu persimmon (for shade and future fruit)
Not New Stuff
I’ve been careful to avoid Goodwill several times this month and didn’t even stop at the Really Really Free Market, so before tallying this up I had no idea I got so many new-to-me things! Fortunately, they’re mostly useful. I’d been wanting/needing a good ladder for the past year, have worn out a couple of pairs of shoes recently, and checked off a few punch list items for the house.
This list could have been shorter, but I wouldn’t take any of it back.
Toilet paper and bar soap.
Rat traps and cementish puttyish stuff because rats got into the attic. I was planning to take care of this myself but then a month passed without me doing anything, with possible chewing of wires and everything else the whole time. Fortunately, we were able to get an expert, who took care of sealing up all entrances to make sure our home is protected. We’re now proudly rat-free.
Loppers. I’ve been borrowing my mom’s off-and-on for the past year to cut vines and prune shrubs and small branches. They’ve gotten a lot of use, so a pair of my own was definitely a need. And after a year of not coming across any in the secondhand shops, yard sales, or Freecycle/Craigslist, it was time to return my mom’s loppers for good.
That’s it for January. Unfortunately, writing this up has reminded me that there are still new things needed for other home repairs in the near future. Time to update the list and see which I can get secondhand. *fingers crossed*
October is over, and with that Buy Nothing New Month has come to a close. I’ve been working towards not buying anything for a couple of years now, so there’s not much difference between this month and any other but it did turn out to be a slow month in goods needed for the house (other than the plants, of course). So without further ado, here are the non-food items that I purchased in October.
They’re new, but I had an explicit exception at the start of the month because October is the perfect time to plant perennials in central Texas. I have a huge, mostly empty yard now but if I keep getting a handful of perennials each year and learn how to propogate them so they multiply, well, eventually it’ll be full of life and beautiful. My plant finds from the nearby nursery include:
two lavender plants
a foxtail fern just because they’re so cute
a Mexican mint marigold (smells delicious to me, horrible to mosquitoes)
a variety of salvia greggi
a lemon verbena plant which smells divine but was getting a bit straggly in the clearance section
a chile pequin, also straggly-looking, also from the clearance section, probably would have been tossed without my intervention
pack of carrot seeds for my mom’s garden
Mexican Mint Marigold
Chile Pequin (surrounded by leaf mulch)
One weekend while browsing Goodwill, my husband and I found a nice mirror with keyhooks to put by our front entryway. I also found what looked like a great light jacket but it turned out to be slightly too large when I tried it on. I don’t really need another light jacket right now, so I returned that one to the racks and will wait to find one I truly love.
Not sure if I should even mention this because they’re not only not new, I didn’t even buy them. Anyhow, I stopped by the Really, Really Free Market this month and found a few shirts that I wanted to try out. Two immediately got placed back in the bag to return next time after I got home and tried them on, but I have a couple which are likely winners. If I don’t love them after wearing them once, they’ll also go straight back. I also picked up a couple of random pillowcases to use as wraps for Christmas gifts.
Speaking of Christmas gifts, I arrived at Recycled Reads early for book club this month to search for some second-hand finds to give to family. For most of them, I have no idea what they would really enjoy getting for Christmas, but there’s a common expectation to get something. This trip found me presents for four people for the hefty sum of $4. Some of them may appreciate also getting the cash that I could have spent on something that would wind up in the trash quicker; so for them I’ll be sure to slip in a special bookmark. They might use it to buy new crap, but at least in those cases it’ll be new crap with a higher likelihood of making them happy.
I’ve given up on most disposable products but, nope, not this. Does it count as not-new if it’s made from recycled paper? 😛
That’s everything. I’ll have to declare this Buy Nothing New Month a resounding success!
Buy Nothing Day is November 25th
If you missed BNNM and want to participate, don’t feel like it’s a requirement to do so only in October. My first time I missed it and did my own BNN month in November. And even if you’re not interested enough for a whole month, I strongly encourage you to participate in Buy Nothing Day this November 25th (a.k.a. Black Friday).
I have a colleague whose post-Thanksgiving tradition is to stay home, watch the news reports and laugh at the people who get trampled in the Black Friday stampedes when the stores open. Now, I’m not encouraging anyone to laugh at folks who are getting hurt, but I do advocate staying home, staying safe, and avoiding the stress, the crowds, the long lines of Black Friday. What do you say? Do you thrive on shopping or are you ready to give your wallet a break?
At my office, on most days there is some kind of a meeting with leftover food. It usually winds up in one of the kitchen areas for people to randomly find. Some gets eaten, some ends up in the trash. At my office, we also use a chat program for communicating, so I created a chat channel called #free. This has worked great for not just meeting leftovers, but has included some items culled from folks’ pantries at home, personal lunch leftovers, non-food items, and a successful call to eat (or take home for banana bread) the very ripe and spotty bananas in the kitchen one day before they would have been thrown out. This has to be one of the easiest ways to keep food out of the landfill in an office. We’re up to 59 members now who share info on food that needs saving or at least will happily eat some of it. 🙂
Here are just a few of the many recent postings with successfully adopted items:
Woohoo! It’s the last day of Zero Waste Week and I’ve made it through with, well, minimal waste. Today the Austin Zero Waste Lifecycle Meetup group went on a tour of the Goodwill Resource Center in south-east Austin. If you give something to Goodwill instead of throwing it in the trash, that’s no guarantee that it won’t end up in the landfill but they definitely do a lot working towards zero waste.
It started out with what definitely wasn’t a Zero Waste lunch, but I was prepared for this and had already eaten before arriving.
A few of the nice folks from this Resource Center and from Goodwill Central Texas shared some more information as other folks finished eating. The mission of Goodwill Central Texas is to empower people through work. That’s not just temporarily working at Goodwill but building the skills and experience to continue on to other opportunities. They’ve even done a ton of advocacy, going so far as to get laws changed, so they can offer the training and GED programs necessary for people to be successful in the workforce. Finding a job isn’t always easy for folks who are trying to make a life for themselves after getting out of prison, who have a disability, and other groups of people, so I’m glad that when I shop at Goodwill any profits are going to a good cause.
Next up, time for the tour! We all put on some orange vests and unfortunately for those of us who weren’t wearing glasses, we had to use some packaged glasses. (They were returned at the end of the tour.)
The tour was worth it though. First up we passed through the Goodwill Outlet Store where as much as possible of the goods are sold. And then we passed along through the curtained doorways to where the real magic happens. Here a bin of unsold clothes gets loaded into the baler and ready to ship out to whomever is willing to pay for it.
A bin of unsold clothes gets loaded into the baler
The baler takes them all up and then, duh, bales them!
Baled clothing ready to be shipped out
Next up, we saw the sorting area where tons of hanging signs showed where to put almost every conceivable type of item. Depending on the type of commodity, these boxes and bales can then be sold for anywhere from $0.03 to $0.55 per pound.
Beyond that there are just boxes and boxes of stuff. All tagged and organized with what they have in them. Some are things that are ready to be sold either at this Outlet Store or shipped to one of the local Goodwill stores to be sold there. But it must be that that type gets disbursed fairly quickly because the majority of labels I saw was stuff that didn’t sell in the stores and is waiting to be sold on the commodity market.
Computers are a special item because if they’re in working condition, they go to the MacFarlane store to be refurbished and resold. The machines and parts that are hopelessly broken just go to the recyclers.
TVs and monitors that no longer work
Hand-wrapped computer parts
So many machines
But wait, that doesn’t look like a computer…
Towards the back there are just stacks and stacks of bales of different materials, but definitely more clothing than anything else.
And then of course, there’s the eCommerce department. Jewelry, books, expensive stuff. That all gets sold online so Goodwill can get the most possible value from it to put towards their mission.
It’s not perfect, but Goodwill Central Texas is able to divert about 80% of the resources that come its way away from landfill, which is pretty amazing considering all the crap that people send to Goodwill constantly.
So that’s it, Zero Waste Week is over. I failed a bit at the end just because I missed eating out. Our final meal of ZWW was some fried rice from a chain not far from home. They still have real plates and real silverware, but at some point since my last visit they switched over to disposable cups. I survived without a cup of my own, but my husband’s cup of water tonight knocks off a few points for me. (And probably also his fortune and cookie wrapper, since he wouldn’t have gotten those had I not suggested eating out.) Oh yeah, and the receipt. At least I was prepared with my own containers for the leftovers and those will disappear tomorrow for sure.
I haven’t harvested any food from my garden in a while and it’s a bore. At least the melon, squash, and cucumber seeds I recently planted seem to be doing well. And soon I’ll be adding to their ranks.
In the meantime, I’ve been dreaming about seed independence. Not having to go to the garden store to pick out seed for the next season. Having seed that was grown (super) locally so I know it can grow in these conditions. Someday selecting seed for the best characteristics and most delicious food possible. (Right now I’m just saving haphazardly.) Plus, another notch on my zero waste efforts.
My broccoli was unimpressive last winter/spring, but at least the leaves were tasty added to my salads. Almost time for another try. There’s still plenty of seed from the last packet, but a month or two ago I also harvested some new seed from the old broccoli plants. It’ll be exciting to see which grows better this winter!
Some of the lettuce from last winter also went to seed. Picking and opening the tiny pods was probably unnecessary. I bet there’s some trick to letting the heads dry out in a paper bag until the seeds fall out on their own. But, not being so patient, I instead carefully disassembled them to collect all the seeds. Judging from their dark color, I’m assuming these are seeds for the Black-Seeded Simpson I planted. More than enough to get me through the cool gardening season it looks like. It’s definitely more than came in the original packet.
I bought a pack of Marigold seeds earlier this year but for a long time was afraid it had gone to waste because I either started them indoors and didn’t understand their needs or started them outdoors way too early. Fortunately, a couple of them survived my abuse and are super resiliant in the summer heat so next year I won’t have to buy any seed here.
I’m storing them in one of my old foundation bottles. I wasn’t sure if they’d actually be recycled or thrown out from the single-stream recycling so have kept them around for a while. It’s so awesome to finally have a good use for them. Seeds make for a lovely display.
The zinnias have been way more prolific than the marigolds. I’ve been scattering some seed in the side yard straight off to see if it still has time to come up this year. But I’ve already collected at least as much seed as I got from the two packets I bought at the start of this year and will probably have much more by the time the season’s over. Probably won’t ever need to buy zinnia seeds again! 🙂
Random Flowering Bush
The other day I came across this lovely bush with beautiful yellow flowers and reddish seed pods. I don’t know what it is yet and if it can be started directly from seed, but I’m sure going to find out and if possible grow one myself.
Melon / Squash
From time to time I’ve also been setting aside 20-30 seeds from each good melon or squash I’ve eaten and will be making that into a more regular thing. That’s how I got my canary melons this year, and it was a delicious endeavor.
I keep most of these seeds in a large peanut butter jar in my closet. Some folks recommend refrigerating seeds, but for now they’re doing just fine.
So that’s it, a small yet solid start on my way to seed independence!
The Austin Zero Waste Lifestyle Meetup is all about getting people to try new zero waste activities, and getting food is definitely one of my favorite activies so I was excited to see this as an upcoming meetup. Today we met at the in.gredients grocery store, with the intention of learning more options about buying without packaging waste. Of course, this idea stemmed in part from a recent book club discussion with Josh Blaine, manager of in.gredients.
As we settled in I checked out the grounds and was pleasantly surprised to find a Little Free Library.
And then had a look around their on-site garden. Maybe one day mine will look similar.
Inside the store, there was plenty of local food stuffs to make your mouth water. And they had bulk options for all the basics like flour and salt and chocolate-covered almonds, laundry detergent (no longer available at Wheatsville unfortunately), pet food, and even a soap log that you could cut your own bar of soap from.
Since it was a Saturday afternoon, I was already stocked with groceries but tared one jar by the door for something special.
So, what did I get? They had samples of dragon fruit (so strange! yet delicious), which I was then sure my husband would want to try also. I managed to avoid the chocolate and grabbed some unsweetened coconut flakes to fill my jar. (Not a local option I’m sure, but they’ll come to good use.) Plus, I grabbed some long beans because they looked really good. I was already at the checkout when I spotted the package-free breads behind the register and took home a loaf of sourdough (in what was formerly a shoe bag).
Afterwards, the meetup organizer Melissa shared a bit of her kombucha, which was awesome for two reasons. One, because it was on tap and she was able to get it in her growler with no additional waste. And two, because in.gredients provides real cups to use when dining on-site. (They wash them of course.) This was my first taste of kombucha, and it struck me as tasting a lot like natural ginger ale. I may have to try more of that in the future also.
So all in all a successful meetup. And I’ll be back!
I haven’t bought as many groceries this month because of the invasion of relatives who visited and left behind so much food that I can’t stand to see go to waste. But there’s still some decent variety in this week’s grocery trip so you can see what I do to try to keep my shopping plastic-free and where there’s room for improvement.
In Austin we’re very fortunate to have a number of stores in the area with bulk bins. I’ve found that even at the stores where they don’t tare containers, no one blinks if you bring your own light-weight bags to purchase bulk goods in. But I really do like seeing what I have on hand easily, and have been using glass jars for my bulk purchases from Wheatsville. Most of the time I can even get away with reusing the same sticker as a previous visit or rubberbanding a piece of scrap paper to the jar as a label to get the goods home without any waste. Mason jars are especially good for this because I can cut out a piece of scrap paper using the lid as a pattern and display it in the lid after screwed on.
There were plenty of delicious fruit options at the farmers market today. A small watermelon, a basket of peaches, and a basket of figs made their way home for me and with nary a produce sticker. Anything left over after we devour them can go straight in the compost bin (although I’ve been eating the watermelon seeds and saving some of the peach pits for a future peach-tree-growing adventure).
We were already mostly set on veg too, but I needed an extra onion from the farmers market. And to fill out our salads for the week, Wheatsville has both organic carrots and mixed greens available in bulk. I just have to be sure not to squash the lettuce! Yes, the avocado has a sticker, but my husband really enjoyed it so it was worthwhile. Today I used up many of last week’s veggies by dicing them up and making a hearty spaghetti sauce–no spaghetti jar needed.
Yum, fresh package-free bread from the farmers market. Plus a package-free bagel picked up from the display at Wheatsville with my clean napkin. (It was a full bagel until I left the store.) Normally, I’d get more bread than this but we’re still working through frozen bread leftovers from my sister’s visit.
Normally a cardboard carton is good enough to get through plastic-free July. But bulk eggs that you can take home in your own (reused) cartons? Even better! This is an awesome option at Wheatsville… although this carton should probably be retired soon.
I know, I know. TetraPaks have at least a couple of layers of plastic, and there aren’t even facilities to recycle them in my area. I’m about to try my hand at making some oat milk again. But I got this as a backup because my husband would be grumpy if he didn’t have some kind of milk product to drink. Well, only grumpy until he went out and bought some himself, likely picking up other plastic-wrapped goods in the process. If I keep my husband away from the grocery store, that in itself is a less-plastic success.
Originally I hated not getting quite as good a deal on toilet paper as was possible with the multi-packs wrapped in thick plastic. But since then I’ve grown very attached to the idea of only having to pick up a single roll or two of TP every week and never having to lug home one of those monstrocities. Totally worth it.
Well, that’s it! I told you it was a smaller shopping trip this week. What do you do to keep your groceries plastic-free?