Living Green Values, special guest post by Susan Howson
Living Green Values
The first thing I’ve learned from the folks at World Class Cleaning is how much I hate cleaning. When Stephanie first came over to check out my house, I kept apologetically explaining that I’m just really busy, and she kept (politely) telling me to chill. There’s nothing wrong with outsourcing something that you’re not good at, don’t feel like spending your weekends doing, hate nagging your family about, and generally never want to have to think about ever again.
But the second thing I learned was the value of a green clean. Not just from Stephanie, who believes it’s not just good for the planet, it’s good for her employees, and good for her clients, but the constant reading and writing I do in my profession, media. Sure, I recycled and tried to buy organic, but if I’m being honest, that was the extent of it. But that twinge of satisfaction in knowing that you (or, sometimes, the person you have carefully chosen to do the thing for you!) have done just a little extra to make the world better—frankly, it’s addicting.
Friends, my addiction has taken over. I started looking at other parts of my life—the things I buy, the things I make, and, most importantly, the things I throw away. And without even realizing it, I was slowly, one step at a time, changing aspects of my lifestyle, and clearing a lot of mental clutter in the process. Yes, I still vote my environmental conscience, and yes, I am aware that it’s going to take huge societal and legislative actions to make a significant difference in the health of humanity. In the meantime, though, there’s absolutely no excuse for not living my values.
Plus, it’s super fun, as I am about to demonstrate.
This series will focus on practical steps to reduce your footprint—stuff you can truly do without too much of a financial investment. I’ve found that steps are the most important concept. Try to do it all at once, and you’ll just frustrate yourself and empty your bank account, but one little part of your life at a time, and progress is made.
Episode 1: Composting Is a Whole Lot Easier and Less Gross than You’re Imagining Right Now
Food, when it’s dumped in a landfill, sits and rots unhelpfully and releases methane, if it can even get to oxygen at all, what with its normal prison of plastic garbage bag (we’ll get to those in another article). Yard waste, too, doesn’t help a landfill much. Paper, when recycled, loses a lot of its integrity and can only be made into inferior products (fun fact: if you want a 1:1 recycling ratio, you’d pretty much have to get everything in aluminum).
But all of these things mixed together in a dark, opaque container with holes in it, turned occasionally (or even just left alone), can turn into something magical—more food.
And listen, you don’t have to garden. I fail spectacularly at gardening about 50% of the time because it takes a lot of effort and I have all these books to read instead. But like me, I bet you know someone who gardens. Even better, I bet you know someone who vegetable gardens. Keep a compost pile going and all the food you eat and leaves you toss and papers you shred could be harvested for their nutrients, stuck on someone else’s garden bed, and turn you into the grateful recipient of an armload of kale, squash, tomatoes, or whatever your green thumb pal is getting into this year. Did I mention, that armload will most likely be free? All because you kept your trash in a holey bin.
About that bin:
Here is the cheapest idea I could come up with, and I adapted it from one of the books I read instead of gardening.
- Go to a hardware store and buy a big black opaque plastic trash can with a lid. If you don’t have one already, get some sort of bungee cord or rubber strap with S-hooks that you can use to hold the lid down so small animals don’t move in. Then, do yourself the ultimate cool favor and buy a small pitchfork. You will learn to love this pitchfork, and wielding it will make you feel powerful and earthy at the same time. Trust me.
- Put a big bit on a drill (I had to get help with this because I also don’t know about tools—I promise I am good at some things, but so far we have mentioned none of them). Drill holes all over the trash can, underneath it, and in the lid.
- Put the whole contraption somewhere outside on a couple of bricks or stones so air can flow underneath it—if you plan on turning your compost regularly with your new pitchfork (I’m so excited for you) it probably won’t even smell much. And since you won’t be putting animal products in it, it doesn’t really attract flies and other bugs I hate.
- Throw some soil in there, maybe some dead leaves lying around, and/or your shredding.
- Simultaneously, you’ll need some sort of bin for your countertop. I like this one because it’s not too heavy and a four-billion-pound ceramic one I had for awhile taught me that I value light things. But you can use a tupperware container or anything, really. Airtight is best, because ants are real.
- Start collecting all your compostable trash with this handy list
- Food scraps that do not include animal products unless those animal products are eggshells, which are fantastic for soil.
- Dryer lint (yes!)
- Paper napkins and paper towels (we’ll stop using those in another episode as well, but sometimes these things gravitate into your house unavoidably).
- Cotton pads (like the kind you use for applying or removing beauty products, but only if they’re actual cotton and not polyester—guess what! This will be in another episode too.)
- Parchment paper (but not waxed paper)
- Bits of cotton string, silk or cotton dental floss (yet another episode, and I’m not joking), that kind of thing
- When it’s full, take it outside, throw it in the mothership container.
- Turn with your new best friend the pitchfork every few days. As it all breaks down in the middle of the pile, the gases released by the bacteria get everything really hot at the core, so you can turn it every couple of days for speediest results and get those cooler outer layers in on the action. Or don’t turn it at all—if you don’t mind waiting a year for compost. I have done this, too, and it still works.
- Continue adding “brown” stuff (that’s dead leaves and uncoated paper or bits of cardboard preferably treated with only natural dyes). Ideally, brown stuff should make up a larger percentage, although I never pay attention.
- Bask in the glow that comes from patching up a couple of little holes in the leaking sieve that is our culture of wastefulness. If anyone tries to give you grief, please show them the latest pics of the Great Garbage Patch, which is roughly twice the size of Texas and made up of what appears to be trillions of Aquafina bottles and the wasted dreams of our grandchildren.
Extra credit: Go down the vermicomposting wormhole. Worms are, they say, a very fast and efficient way to turn garbage into healthy dirt. I am not there yet, but I have a feeling based on my internet search history that I will not be able to resist the call for long.
What do you do when your pile has transformed from a slippery mess to dry, crumbly, beautiful dirt studded with bits of eggshells, supposing you don’t want to bestow it upon some lucky garden-friendly friend? Mix it in the soil of whatever you’re planting, and use it as mulch when your plants are established to add crazy good nutrients, keep in moisture, and discourage weeds. Or, you can even steep some in a bucket of water and make “compost tea,” which you can use to give your plants a drink of the healthiest water they’ve ever tasted—after you’ve finished grossing out your partner by pretending you’re going to drink it yourself.
And if you learn some easy vegetable gardening tips in the meantime, by all means let me know. Even just so I can drop off my compost. My tomato seedlings are, predictably, looking fairly unwell.