For this month, I am writing about dishwasher detergent. I am #blessed to have my very own dishwasher at home. Since the coronavirus quarantine, I went from eating at home about two breakfasts, one lunch, and five dinners a week to seven breakfasts, seven lunches, and seven dinners a week. And that’s for four people. So it’s a ton of dishes. I would possibly be crazier by now if we hadn’t gotten the dishwasher installed last year.
Initially we used whatever name-brand product we found at the store for dishwasher detergent. But I started to look around for something else and found Dropps. You may know Dropps from their commercial featuring the CEO in a bathtub. That commercial is just for their laundry detergent, but they also have dishwasher detergent pods. They are free of dyes and fragrances and plastics and are shipped in compostable, carbon-neutral packaging. Having used them for about a month now, I will also say I’ve been able to eliminate the use of a rinse agent. These are better than the brand name combined with a rinse agent. As soon as I am out of laundry detergent, I will be trying this brand as well!
For awhile, I had been looking into using different garbage bags. I don’t love using big-name brands, and I want to get away from all single-use plastic. I finally settled on trying these bags. They are made of recycled ocean plastic that is collected off the beaches. Crazy, I know!
Previously, I had used the bag that is probably the most common name in garbage bags and has a drawstring. Not having a drawstring anymore took a bit of getting used to, but not that much getting used to. And as always, I really like it when I’m able to get away from using the more popular brands of household products!
Last April, I started making sustainability swaps, and I’ve both kept up with and continued to do these. So this April, one year after starting this, I decided to write about a big, drastic, and potentially even (a little) life-changing multi-month project.
This story starts more than seven years ago, when we bought a house. The house and having a washing machine inside it is great, but it also fulfilled a dream of mine of having my own outdoor space. Being in Queens, NYC, of course that backyard space is pretty small. And unfortunately, it was also 100% paved, and that cement had been put in about two or three years before we bought the house, so it looked brand new. I thought it would be stupid to bust it up when it looked that good. I tried to have plants in containers, but it never worked out that well, and I didn’t spend that much time out there, because it was bare and dull.
Last fall, only a few days after having my older son’s birthday party in the yard, we busted up the cement! And when I say “we,” I mean paid contractors. I am not operating a jackhammer! I assume everyone knows concrete=bad, but maybe I am wrong. If you want to read about how bad cement is for the environment, you can start here. And personally I couldn’t finish this article because I started crying, but maybe you’ll do better.
Anyway, it’s gone, and I’m so happy! But of course, this bare surface cannot possibly be the end product I was looking for. And it’s not, but I will save the rest of the story for next week.
It has come to my attention that kitchen sponges are gross. I’ve tried the Scotch-Brite sponge mentioned in the article, and thought it worked just as well as the traditional plastic sponge. However, they are sold wrapped in plastic and have to be replaced every few weeks, so I was still looking for something better.
Fortunately, we do have a dishwasher, so anything we got would not have to be the sole cleaner of dishes. What I landed on was this dish brush. I like the way it looks and the fact it’s made of bamboo and ceramic primarily, with some recycled plastic. Also, it seems like it could last for a number of years. I’ve had it almost a month now, and it shows no signs of wear, although the only items I always use it on are those that can’t go in the dishwasher (my knife, bamboo cutting board, and saute pan). Right now, I got a very large container of dish detergent to add to it, with the thought that buying one large plastic container once a year is better than buying a small one every month.
I am still attempting to slowing swap out environmentally unsustainable habits for more sustainable ones, but as time goes on, this grows more difficult, as I am running out of ideas. Please send me ideas, if you have them!
For this month, I wanted to work on my use (or over-use) of paper towels. I am well aware that I use too many paper towels, and, once again, I think the problem is I was taught to clean using exclusively paper towels. Before this swap, I probably used a roll of paper towels a week!
In my efforts to cut down, I purchased reusable bamboo towels. I bought these over a month ago, and have only used about three each of the smooth and scrubby type. It says they can be washed in a washing machine, but I haven’t done that. I just wash in the kitchen sink until they look really disgusting, and then use for a final gross task and then throw them out. Usually this final gross task is my cat vomiting up a hairball. I imagine these two rolls will last about a year, which is a significant reduction in the amount of single-use paper in my house.
One swap I’ve intended to do for awhile was deodorant. I had been buying Degree deodorant since I was a teenager, and I had never properly scrutinized this choice before. I don’t seem to really sweat or smell that much. I had originally decided to do this swap over the summer, but I still had two and a half sticks of Degree deodorant left. (When stuff is on sale, I tend to buy a few extras.) And I’ve also heard it takes a few weeks for your body to adjust to natural deodorant, so I did think the best time to do this was the winter. As of today, I still have one and a half sticks of Degree left, so either I am constantly forgetting to put on deodorant, I use much less deodorant than the average person, or these tubes are partly magic. Either way, I stored away the Degree to be used on sweat-heavy days next summer, and made the swap now.
In case you haven’t yet looked for yourself, there is a ton of natural deodorant out there to choose from. One big difference between brands is whether or not they use baking soda. As almost everyone knows, baking soda absorbs odors. But it does tend to irritate skin. Since I have sensitive skin, I decided to forgo the baking soda. Also, I obviously wanted a product that came in a non-plastic container. In addition, I am a bit averse to subscription services.
Given all these preferences, I went with Little Seed Farm brand deodorant. The scent I choose was Jasmine Green Tea. The scent is nice and not too floral or overpowering, but I might try a different one the next time. I’ve been using it since the first of the month now, and I haven’t noticed anything like smelly pits or wet armpits. It came with a tiny piece of bamboo that I think you’re supposed to use to remove the product from the container. However, I lost that in the jar almost immediately, and I don’t think you really need it. I personally take a shower at night, and I put all my various creams on right after the shower, so my hands are clean then anyway.
One thing I wonder is if you can use this product on places other than the armpits. Personally, my under-boob area sweats way more than my pits. I don’t see any reason you can’t use this totally natural product there, so I may try it after I’m certain my pits don’t experience any adverse effects.
A couple of months ago, I switched from standard plastic toothbrushes to bamboo toothbrushes. I thought I would hate it or there would be a long adjustment period that began with disgust and ended with hesitant acceptance. What really happened was I loved it immediately and also thought if I was wrong about the brush, I might also be wrong about the toothpaste being an issue. Thus I began to search in earnest for a toothpaste that was not sold in plastic tubes.
What I eventually decided on was The Dirt Toothpowder. I thought I would be grossed out by a tooth powder, but I absolutely wasn’t! In fact, I found myself brushing for longer and more often during the day because the sensation of brushing my teeth with a powder and a bamboo brush was so pleasant. I bought the super mint flavor in a 6-month glass jar, because the smaller size comes in plastic. I wish I could bring the jar somewhere and just get it refilled, but that’s a problem for six months from now. I’m sure I could use the jars for other things when they are empty, or just recycle them.
One caveat is I have not had a dentist appointment since I started using this tooth powder. I usually get a very bad report, so I’m curious if it will be any better or worse.
After taking part in Meat-Free May earlier this year, I’ve been vegetarian for just about six months! Honestly, I didn’t think I would still be vegetarian, but once you stop eating meat, it’s a little weird to go back to eating meat. I still don’t miss it, and I have not craved it at all. I have lost six pounds in the six months, but note I was not specifically trying to lose weight, and also note I still eat potato chips. I did have a physical last month, and was told I am pretty anemic. This was not unexpected, as I was anemic before I stopped eating meat too. My cries of, “But I eat kale every day!” fell on deaf ears, and my doctor insisted I start taking an iron pill a day, in addition to my B12 pill.
In exciting news for me, I found out that every Wednesday the vegan food truck The Cinnamon Snail is parked two blocks from where I work! I used to work by their shop in the Pensy and was sad when we moved offices. But now I have it almost every Wednesday!
What have I eaten these past six months? I’ve eaten at home a lot more, which is good. I’ve gotten in the habit of having the same things on repeat, which the kids actually like (since they like knowing what they will be eating based on what day it is). This also saves a ton of money. Some stuff we have about once a week are: pasta and veggie meatballs, tofu with curry and vegetables, tacos or burritos with beans and rice and cheese, and frozen pizza (I get regular for the kids and dairy-free for me and my spouse). We order sushi about once a week, and we usually eat out once a week.
I have been trying to eat less eggs and dairy to further reduce my environmental impact, and to that end, I made oat milk! Oat milk is one of my favorite non-dairy milks, but I think the ones for sale in stores are overpriced. Oats are pretty cheap, after all. There are a ton of oat milk recipes to be found online, so I’m not getting into that here, but what I will say is, I didn’t have an advance strainer or cheesecloth, so I just used my colander, and that worked exactly as well as one would expect. (Not that well.) The result was a little too thick. It was okay in coffee, but very good in cereal. I will definitely try again once I invest in a cheesecloth!
For the October Sustainability Swap, I focused on cat litter! This is particularly appropriate as our cat, Oz, joined the family two years ago, on October 13, 2016 to be exact. I have lived with at least one cat for most of my life, and I have to admit that I’ve never really thought about cat litter before.
When I was young, my parents used whatever litter they used, and I was not involved. When I was 18 and I moved out with my first cat that I adopted myself, my parents actually still bought all my household items, including cat litter. The next time I adopted a cat, I was a full adult, and continued to buy the same litter, just out of habit. (Fresh Step, if you are interested.)
It’s only now that I’ve started doing these sustainability swaps that I have thought about switching cat litters. Why switch? Clumping clay litter doesn’t biodegrade in landfills, and, from what I understand, is not sustainably sourced.
What I started using instead is Feline Pine. This litter is completely biodegradable (it’s pine!) and also sustainably sourced. You can read about that on their website, which is linked above. I have used this litter for a bit, and there is a learning curve to cleaning the litter box. In fact, I had to watch a YouTube video before I could figure it out! But, it doesn’t smell at all, and Oz seems to have taken to it! This is the video I watched: see someone cleaning a litter box!
September is over but I was so busy posting about the Minimalism Game that I forgot to post my monthly sustainability swap. But I didn’t forget to actually do it!
Last month I got this neat insulated cup. It has a top for hot drinks, and also a straw lid for cold drinks. In a parallel but invisible swap, I also started drinking green tea in the morning, instead of keurig coffee at work. This stops me from throwing away a keurig pod, and, since I drink green tea plain, and coffee with milk, it also stops me from drinking milk, something I’ve been trying to cut down on.
In addition to looking really cute, this cup also keeps the green tea hot all morning (if it lasts that long), and my seltzer with ice cold all afternoon. You can get your own here. (No, I get nothing for a click.) Also, yes, my office has a free seltzer machine. Jealous?