The Simple Life

Dinner was over and I was cleaning up.  It was a fairly simple dinner – ravioli, broccoli for those who would eat it, and some of that easy garlic bread – the kind that went from the freezer to the oven to the table.  I rinsed the Chef Boyardee cans and set them next to the overflowing recycling area as the kids began bringing their plates and cups to the kitchen.  I stood by, overseeing the disposal process, poised to direct.  Glasses and silverware went into the sink for washing.  Leftovers, if not sufficient to save for another meal, were scraped into the compost bucket that stood in the corner of the sink.  If you did it fast enough the fruit flies were barely disturbed.  The bits of broccoli trimmed before cooking have already been stored in a container in the refrigerator for later bunny snacks.

The paper plates, which we are using because the drought has dried up the well and we are on water restrictions – limited dishwashing, no clothes washing, and very little personal washing – had to be assessed.  If they were the sturdy coated plates that wouldn’t decompose easily they were sent to the trash, if they were the flimsy plain paper plates, so thin that you really needed two of them to keep your food from soaking through and creating another dilemma – ought you clean up the resulting mess with an expensive ecologically unfriendly paper towel, or with a cloth towel which would require laundering – could be added to the compost bucket.  And if you were lucky and your food had not soaked through then the 2nd paper plate could be placed back into the cupboard to become the first paper plate of the next meal.

The empty plastic milk jug posed another problem – recycle or reuse?  In most households you could pat yourself on the back for your recycling efforts; yeah you – saving the landfill from one more plastic jug! But here recycling takes 2nd place to reuse.  Anything that can be reused is reused.  No need for Tupperware – that’s what old sour cream and margarine containers are for.  And that pickle jar – its perfect for a collection of tacks or screws, or marbles.  (I’ve been thinking about snagging one for all the marbles I’m losing.)  Even things so easily recycled – such as cardboard – are better reused if possible.  We’ve been collapsing all of our packing boxes and setting them aside.  We will use them for mulching our vegetable garden – that along with a generous amount of compost and rabbit poop will get us off to a good start next spring.  So – can we use the milk jug for something else?  Sure, filling with drinking water for the inevitable next power outage, or I could cut off the top and use the bottom for planting indoor herbs.  So, set it aside.

The saucepans are washed and drying in the dish drainer along with the glasses and silverware and the counter has been wiped down.  I spot the bag the garlic bread came in and ponder its fate.  I will fold it up into a small thing and tuck it inside the fire-starter bag.  It needs to be small because the fire-starter bag is full.  There’s a county-wide burn ban on due to the drought and with the heat wave there isn’t any reason for a fire anyway.  But come winter those small bits of cast off paper will come in handy to light the woodstove, the source of heat, if not, as I’ve been told, for the entire house, for at least the areas immediately adjacent to the stove.

I feel a small amount of pride – another meal prepared and very little has been added to the trash container.  This is good, not just because the landfills are spared unnecessary material, but also because there’s no trash pickup (or recycling pickup) around here.  Everything that goes out of the house has to be hauled out by the residents.

The compost is an easy walk a short distance into the woods (providing you don’t wander off the path into the poison ivy) where the bucket (and rabbit poop) is dumped.  Some of the material composts – some feeds woodland creatures.  The reusable stuff is stored wherever there is room – and at some point there isn’t a lot of room and you begin to wonder whether you’ll ever come up with enough projects to reuse it all but the possibility of doing so, combined with the guilt at passing by something that could be used is enough to keep the piles growing.  The trash is bagged and, when it reaches a critical level, hauled to the trash disposal company which charges $2 a bag (any bag up to 33 gallons in size so it behooves one to use the largest trash bag and to encourage your children to stand on it to compress the trash within).  They also take the recycling (but unlike in the city, they won’t pay you to take it).

Sorting through things on this scale makes us confront just how much packaging trash we bring home from each shopping trip.  Take for instance that six pack of top ramen soup with an overwrap and six individual wrappers and six little flavor packets – none of which are reusable, recyclable or compostable – wouldn’t it be better to buy a large package of pasta?  You develop a shopping mindset that goes beyond “paper or plastic.”

It’s complicated living this simple life!

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14 Responses to The Simple Life

  1. An alternative to aerobic composting is the use of plastic garbage bags as mini-anaerobic digesters. The bags are easy to handle and require minimal maintenance. To break down garden wastes using this method, 30-40 gallon plastic bags should be alternately filled with plant wastes, fertilizer, and lime. About one tablespoon of a garden fertilizer with a high nitrogen content should be used per bag. Lime (one cup per bag) helps counteract the extra acidity caused by anaerobic digestion. After filling, add about 1-2 quarts of water. Dry material may require more than this quantity of water. Close tightly. You may want to double-bag these digesters to keep them as airtight as possible. Set the bag aside for six months to a year. Bags can be set in a basement or heated garage for better decomposition during winter months. Using garbage bags requires no turning or additional water after closing. The main advantage of this system is that it requires little maintenance; however, because oxygen is limited, the process is slower.

  2. Kathleen says:

    Just saw the coolest idea for turning old milk jugs into scoops. I have to believe you’ll have plenty of uses for cheap scoops when you get the animals.

    • boxcarkids says:

      Exactly! And much cheaper than the ones at the feed store that cost between $5 and $15 depending on size and material.

  3. Celeste says:

    My daughter’s teacher is running a school project I had never heard of. They are recycling through TerraCycle. The company pays for them to ship the items in, and the school gets money from it. Last year the school got $1300 doing this. We were given a list of the things they were willing to take, and we’ll send in something every week to keep the load from getting too big. The teacher used to have her family help her sort and pack boxes once a week, but now she is switching to having some kids who can stay after school do it with her. TerraCycle proceeds can only be donated to a school or charity, not to individuals unfortunately. This is a good fit for our semi-rural school, where not everybody has access to recycling service. I wonder if it’s something you can introduce to your school, to help with the school’s finances as well as to help families like yourself not have to pay to dispose of as much trash.

    • boxcarkids says:

      Thanks Celeste – I checked it out – very impressive organization! I’ll speak to our PTO association about it and see if there is any interest.

  4. We have used those cheap paper plates for years and can usually get by with using only one at a time. We have the wicker- type underplate. I’ve found them at garage sales for as little as 10 cents each! Bummer on the water restrictions- not fun. Hopefully the rains will start again with fall coming on. Oh and instead of the freezer to oven bread – you can make really good breadsticks from left-over hot dog buns. Just open and spread butter/garlic and toast tops lightly. Many blessings!

  5. Kimber B says:

    Milk jugs are my favorite – I keep refilling mine w/ rain water and have used it for the garden and chickens for 3 weeks w/o having to use water from the hose 🙂 The bottoms also make great dishes for the scraps we give to the chickens (they are incredible composters!) and the tops are used to protect sprouting seedlings from the garden pests who want to nibble them to the ground.
    Have been SO frustrated for 3 years to be in the 2nd state that doesn’t do curbside recycling! It’s so hard to rinse it well enough to not smell (wasting water the whole time) to then have to store it somewhere and then have to take it to a recycling center (using gas to get there). So I commend you for your efforts, I know they aren’t easy.

  6. MSW says:

    If you’re not already on Pinterest, I highly recommend it. Lots of very creative ideas for reusing everyday items, and it’s also a good place to cross-promote your Etsy shop. Anyhow, I thought of some ideas for re-using those milk jugs that I had seen. Maybe you could make these scoops to use for spreading compost, scooping animal feed, etc.:

  7. Becky R says:

    This post read like poetry.

    I try to save stuff to reuse but it just piles up and in my tiny house their is no where to put stuff.

    So I try to buy stuff with less packaging to begin with. I also compost.

    The weird thing is my trash has been reduced greatly but my recycables are still more than I would like. But even to make from scratch I still have to get things in cans and jars. I use vinegar to cook and clean and go through 1-3 gallons a month.

    I do use all cloth in my house, to save trees and trash, but with water restrictions that would be hard.

  8. Nancy says:

    Having moved from 2 high recycling areas to one where people barely make an effort, I have to remind myself that my contributions do help the earth because I do often feel like I’m the only one trying at all. It just amazes me at work that people throw their water bottles into the trash, along with newspapers and a ton of other things that can be recycled, without a second thought that the items could be recycled. There are recycle boxes in the coffee centers for bottles, cans and cups, and recycle bins all over for paper; it would just take them a few extra steps.

    So good job, whatever the reason for the new shopping and trash habits.

  9. V's Herbie says:

    Sun Tea recipe passed down from my too-poor-to-leave-when-the-dust-bowl-happened oakie grandmother.

    One gallon pickle jar
    Four Red Rose orange pekoe tea bags (any kind of black tea really, but Granny insists on these)
    Fill with water and put the jar in the sun for an afternoon.
    Poof! Lots of cheap, caffeinated not-water to drink that didn’t heat up your house or use cooking fuel.

    I mod it a bit by replacing one of the regular tea bags with a celestial seasonings fruit teas. Very yummy.

  10. Maryl says:

    I’m amazed at how much goes out in the recycling bin, especially now that the city accepts plastics 1 – 7. I compost, too, so most of what goes into the trash is kleenex, meat scraps, and some other nonrecyclable stuff. Basically it boils down to less than a 13-gallon trash bag each week. I look at my neighbors who set out huge cans stuffed with bags and wonder what the heck they put in, and why won’t they recycle.

  11. wondering says:

    Quick tip: The milk jugs also make quick little coldframes/greenhouses for plants if you cut the tops off.

  12. Shannon says:

    Long-time reader of this blog. While I understand that you’re stressed and that the drought is very inconvenient, to me this post sounds really hopeful. Best wishes, can’t wait for goat pictures.

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