Going Zero Waste, Part 2: Hygiene

Welcome to part 2 of my three-part series on my attempt to do a month of zero/low waste! Part 2 is about hygiene, so WARNING: If you are uncomfortable with even thinking about bodily fluids, including blood, please don’t read this post. I don’t go into extremely graphic detail, but I’m not going to mince my words either.

I’ve organized the contents of this post under four different headings—(1) snot (and a brief discussion of fingernails and hair), (2) menstruation, (3) toilets, and (4) toiletries—so if there is one hygiene item that you are particularly interested in, or one that you cannot stand, feel free to skip around the four sections!

1. Snot (and a brief discussion of fingernails and hair)

When M. and I began our month of zero/low waste (see my introduction post about that here), we already owned a stack of reusable “paper” towels (similar items include this and this), so we figured we could also use the reusable towels as handkerchiefs. After all, it was the beginning of autumn, and sniffles were definitely on their way. As long as we did our laundry within a reasonable amount of time, we’d be okay, right? However, as the month went on, I realized that I have a huge reluctance to use reusable towels/handkerchiefs for nose blowing. I have some germophobic tendencies, and the idea of putting a mucus-covered piece of fabric in with the rest of my laundry completely grossed me out. Instead, I found myself reaching for toilet paper whenever I needed to clear my airways.

I realized that what I was doing wasn’t environmentally sound and that my feeling of disgust was not entirely rational, but I couldn’t bring myself to go all-in with the reusables. And because of my germophobic tendencies, I ended up throwing my used tissues into our landfill trash can, because it felt “wrong” to put my snot into the compost. After a couple of weeks of chucking tissues into the landfill, I decided that something needed to change. And the more I thought about, the stranger I felt about being so reluctant to put my used tissues into the compost. The compost contains rotting fruit and vegetables, for crying out loud! And I wasn’t not suffering from any deadly illnesses, so my used tissues probably wouldn’t pose any more of a biohazard than a pile of decomposing fruit. If I was going to use toilet paper to blow my nose, at the very least I could compost the used paper, and that’s what I started doing. I felt a little better about that decision, but not that much better. Even now, I still haven’t been able to bring myself to use reusable handkerchiefs, but I am holding that in my mind as my goal. (M. is a lot less germophobic than I am, for better or worse, so he is succeeding in this arena much more than I am.)

I did/do feel okay sticking my fingernail clippings into the compost though. I rarely, if ever, use nail polish, so I figure my nail trimmings are organic enough to be composted. I also don’t dye my hair, so whenever I clean my hairbrush out I place the hair in the compost bin too. According to the internet, hair contains a good amount of nitrogen, so it’s great for soil!

2. Menstruation

I am a person who menstruates. Since M. and I decided to go for a full month of zero/low-waste living, I knew I was going to menstruate at least once during that period (hehe, punny). But could I menstruate and be zero waste?

See, I use pads. I have never liked tampons. I tried them once and did not particularly enjoy the sensation. I also tend to worry a lot, and when I was using the tampon I couldn’t stop worrying about toxic shock syndrome. Now, let me be clear: I am not judging anyone negatively for using or liking tampons. Tampons are just not for me. I love my pads. Unfortunately, the kind of pad that I grew up using is definitely single-use and chock-full of plastic, and that’s not doing the environment any favors.

I had first started hearing about menstrual cups a few years back, first from the internet and second from some friends who had tried them. While I really liked the sustainability of menstrual cups, they didn’t seem to be right for me, for the same reason why tampons aren’t right for me. So when I started thinking about the zero-waste month, menstrual cups didn’t even register in my mind.

Earlier that year though, I had gone with J., a good friend, to a feminist bookstore in the Lower East Side of Manhattan (go support Bluestockings bookstore if you can, they’re amazing!). We were browsing the knickknacks section, because knickknacks, and I noticed some cloth pads for sale. Reusable. Cloth. Menstrual. Pads! I was very, very excited, and I added a pad to my purchase. By September, I still had not tried the pad out yet, but now I didn’t have any excuses. If my month of zero waste wasn’t the perfect time to try this out, then when was?

Unfortunately, I only had one pad, which meant I couldn’t be zero waste for a full week of menstruation unless I really wanted to test the limits of my personal hygiene. So my goal became to replace at least one disposable pad during that week with my reusable one, and I succeeded! During my second day of menstruation in September, I used the pad for several hours with very minimal leakage (and the leakage that did happen was partially a result of my improper placement of the pad).

Then came time to clean the pad. That was. . . interesting. I am not squeamish about blood if it is my own (and fortunately I haven’t had to see much of anyone else’s), so cleaning the pad wasn’t necessarily “gross.” But it was a little messy. The sink immediately filled with red when I started rinsing the pad, and it took several minutes for the water to start running clear. And I think many menstruating people know about the “chunkiness.” So that was, ahem, fun.

But actually though. Actually it was kind of fun. Some part of me enjoyed being so literally in touch with my menstrual cycle. And I really, really liked knowing that I had avoided tossing one more disposable pad into the landfill.

After rinsing out the pad, I soaked it overnight in some water (in a closed, lidded jar), which took care of most of the staining (although some staining seemed inevitable). Shortly thereafter, I started actively hunting for more reusable menstrual pads. I bought some online, and then I found a supply at the Dill Pickle Co-op. I’ve been slowly incorporating more reusable pads into my menstruation routine. Last month I almost went for an entire cycle without disposables! It is harder to use reusable pads when I’m in my office, because there aren’t any private sinks in my workplace’s bathroom, so I can’t really rinse anything out when I want to switch to a fresh pad without creating a very awkward situation. But I’m hoping I can figure out a solution, because my ultimate goal is to go a full menstrual cycle without any disposables! (Stay tuned for a separate blog post where I’ll review all of the different reusable pads I’ve been using!)

3. Toilets

When M. and I started planning our zero waste month, I very briefly considered trying a bidet. Very briefly. I’m not a stranger to bidets nor am I opposed to them, but during my exploration of this idea I quickly realized that installing a bidet would be an investment. Tushy has a fairly affordable option (less than $100), but M. and I don’t own our apartment. While I don’t think we’ll be switching residences anytime soon, I don’t want to sink money into a piece of equipment that might be difficult (and possibly icky) to uninstall and reinstall multiple times in case we ever did move. I think a bidet will be in my future if I ever end up owning property, but it’s not suitable for me at the moment.

TL;DR: we didn’t extend our zero-waste practices to our toilet-sitting time. 😀

4. Toiletries

There wasn’t much we could change toiletries-wise during our official month of low/zero waste because we still had full tubes of toothpaste and containers of floss to use up, and prematurely disposing of those would have been very, well, wasteful. M. also didn’t want to give up his brand of very mainstream toothpaste because he feared that the more natural toothpastes would not be as effective. Personally, I don’t think M.’s concern is warranted, but I didn’t want to push the issue.

Now that, in February of 2018, I am nearing the end of my toothpaste tube, I do want to switch to something more sustainable, but for me the issue is slightly more complicated as I am currently using Sensodyne under my dentist’s recommendation. Admittedly, I haven’t done any research into whether there is a more sustainable toothpaste that would provide the same benefits as Sensodyne. (If you know of any, please comment below!) I’m also not ready to go the route of making my own, so in this arena we’re definitely not zero waste.

I did do a little research into some sustainable flosses and toothbrushes. Package Free introduced me to a brand of silk flosses that are stored in beautiful and recyclable glass containers. And Package Free has bamboo toothbrushes too—the handles are compostable, and the bristles are plant-based (but unfortunately not compostable). I haven’t tried the toothbrushes myself yet, but I did gift one to M. and so far he hasn’t complained! It’s also much more aesthetically pleasing than the bright neon plastic toothbrushes that we are used to. I’m hoping to switch to bamboo toothbrushes myself soon, but every time I am back home in Brooklyn I forget to pack my toothbrush and so I end up grabbing a new plastic one and then now I have double the plastic toothbrushes. Major zero waste fail.

Alright, so that’s my summary of the attempts I made at zero-waste hygiene during the month of September 2017. Part 3, about zero-waste packaging, sustainable transit, and my final thoughts, will hopefully come to this blog in the next week or two! Stay tuned!

❤ AMisplacedPen (a.k.a. S.)

P.S. I’m thinking of revamping this website a little bit and archiving some of my oldest blog posts. If things start to look different around here, that is why! Once my changes are more concrete, I’ll write an update post on what’s different.

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way to write about any organizations or businesses that I have mentioned. This post expresses my honest opinions.

Advertisements

Going Zero Waste, Part 1: Groceries and Cooking

Back in September 2017, M. and I made a commitment to live a low-waste / zero-waste lifestyle for a whole month. Finishing the month was relatively simple, but I’ve had a difficult time gathering my many thoughts on the matter into a coherent blog post. Four (!) months later, I’ve finally settled on a method for conveying my experience. I’ll be posting about my zero/low-waste month in three parts. Part 1 will discuss grocery shopping and cooking, part 2 will discuss hygiene, and part 3 will discuss packaging and transit and convey my final thoughts. So, welcome to part 1!

When we made our zero/low-waste commitment, M. and I realized that one of the easiest ways to go zero waste is to cook all of our meals ourselves. After all, whenever we get takeout we run the risk of receiving the food in a non-recyclable or non-compostable container, and whenever we eat in a restaurant we run the risk of receiving a plastic straw or being unsure whether the restaurant composts its food waste. In other words, we’d have a lot more oversight when cooking for ourselves. This meant, however, we’d need to figure out how to grocery shop in a zero-waste manner. So we assessed our stock of reusable containers. Between us, we already had about five reusable produce bags, either from personal purchases or received as gifts. So we were mostly set for produce. For storing dry goods, we had several mason jars left over from various other projects: M. bought his about a year ago, when he first became interested in zero-waste living. I also bought mine about a year ago, to store some brandied cherries I made for Halloween of 2016 (following this recipe). And we had some glass bowls with silicone lids that we were already using to store leftovers. I also had an assortment of reusable straws and drinking containers, bought during a brief period of my life when I was obsessed with making breakfast smoothies. Ultimately, we didn’t need to invest in much more equipment in preparation for zero-waste living.

DSC03751
Some of our zero waste equipment: stainless steel straws, a mason jar, a reusable stainless steel water bottle, an organic cotton produce bag.

After taking stock, we rounded up all of our various reusable grocery/shopping bags and made sure they were placed in a visible and easily accessible area of our apartment. We each made ourselves a little “reusables” kit—which included a reusable food container, a reusable hot beverage container, a reusable straw, and a reusable napkin—and stuck the kits into our respective work bags. After that, we were ready.

Week 1 of the zero/low-waste month went very well. That first Sunday, we packed up our produce bags and grocery bags and jogged to the farmer’s market. We were able to buy all of our produce for the week without taking any plastic bags or boxes from the vendors.

DSC03325
Our first zero waste grocery haul! Clockwise, from top left corner: cremini mushrooms in a compostable and recyclable paper bag, organic eggs in a recyclable paper container, an eggplant, organic broccoli, a roma tomato, a green bell pepper, string beans, a chili pepper, shallots, and an iced tea (that I got “to go” in my reusable bottle!).

I did buy a juice from one vendor because we were thirsty after our jog (that day, it was probably 70 or 80 degree weather), but fortunately the juice came in a mason jar that we have been reusing ever since. Our only oversight of that outing was lunch: we bought tacos from one vendor under the impression that the plates they were using were entirely paper, but upon receipt I realized the plates might be plastic coated. So we ended up placing those plates into the landfill instead of the compost under fear of contaminating the latter. 😦

During week 1, we used up most of our groceries making homemade, vegetarian meals. I had a (plastic) bag of rice in the pantry, purchased before we started our month of low/zero waste, so we cooked the rice for our carbohydrate needs. I tried to prepare lunches for myself every day as well, but there were days when I would be too exhausted to. Fortunately, my workplace cafeteria uses compostable or recyclable packaging for their packaged meals, so I was still able to avoid throwing anything into the landfill whenever I would purchase lunch there. I started keeping a glass jar (with an airtight lid) in my office cubicle for the purpose of holding any compostable trash accumulated over the course of a workday. So, if my lunch packaging was compostable, I’d simply stick the packaging into my compost jar when I was done eating, then bring the jar home and empty it into our compost bin. (M. and I started paying for a composting service in the summer of 2017, as the city of Chicago does not provide composting as a utility. We use WasteNot, and I think they’re amazing!)

IMG_20170523_143223_560
My cubicle compost jar!

The Saturday of week 1, we did go to a restaurant for dinner. We typically like to go out on weekends, and we had agreed that it would be unrealistic to try to stay in every Saturday night of our low/zero-waste month. But we dined at a vegan restaurant that didn’t use single-use or disposable plastic serving ware, and when I ordered a milkshake I remembered to ask for no straw! Our server looked a little confused but accommodated me easily. I had actually brought along my own straw and used that instead. 🙂

Week 2 was less impressive. On Sunday of week 2, we woke up too late to make it to the farmer’s market before closing time and ended up buying produce at the Dill Pickle, a co-op grocery store. While the Dill Pickle is an excellent place to shop (they have so many bulk options and they’re community owned!), they use non-compostable stickers to mark the PLU codes on their produce, and a lot of their lettuce and other leafy greens are tied into bundles using rubber bands that are not easily reusable or compostable. So even though we brought our own produce bags, we ended up having some additional trash thanks to these produce “accessories,” which aren’t so much of an issue when buying directly from farmers at the market. Because we were at the Dill Pickle though, I was able to buy some lentils in bulk (using our mason jars as containers), as I was getting a little tired of relying solely on eggs for our vegetarian protein needs. (I am lactose intolerant, so using cheese as a protein source was not really an option, and so far I haven’t been able to find tofu that is package free or comes in a compostable container.)

We also chose to get brunch on that Sunday, but this time I forgot about refusing the straw. Frankly, I usually don’t ever want a straw, so I don’t expect my drinks to come with them. I ordered a homemade lemonade at our brunch place, not even thinking that it would arrive with a straw, but it did. Zero waste fail. 😦

For the bulk of week 2, we still stuck with our vegetarian home cooking, but occasionally we’d be too tired to cook in the evening (especially me, as I had a freelance project to work on in addition to working my full-time job). Whenever I was too exhausted, I would get takeout from places that have compostable packaging. The two places I came to rely on the most were Sweetgreen and Dos Toros (which also have vegan and vegetarian options). Admittedly, I did feel a little uncomfortable getting takeout from chain establishments, however earth-friendly those establishments might be, as I would like to support my local businesses more.

During week 2, I also made the unskilled decision of attending an office event and forgetting my reusables! There was breakfast food (eggs, hash, etc.) being served at the work event, and the only available plates and utensils were made of non-recyclable plastic. Admittedly, I could have refused to eat anything there, but the promise of free food overrode my aversion to using plastic disposables (I do work for a nonprofit, so free anything is very, very hard to resist). Another zero waste fail!

Most of week 3 was spent in Denver and Boulder; see my posts (part 1 and part 2) about our time there for more information on how we attempted to continue our low-waste habit while traveling. A quick summary: We did better in Denver than I had expected, but we still generated much more plastic waste than if we had been at home. And after we returned to Chicago, we were too exhausted to make a trip for groceries, so we ended up getting takeout for the rest of week 3.

On the Sunday of week 4, the last week of our official low/zero-waste month, we actually woke up early enough to jog to the farmer’s market and get produce there again! But I had a miscommunication with one vendor, who handed me fruit in a plastic bag even though I was trying to ask for no bag. My introversion and anxiety got the best of me, and I took the bag without saying anything. If I had refused that one bag, then our shopping trip would have been a complete success!

DSC03670
Yellow zucchini, from the farmer’s market. I had never seen yellow zucchini before!

We also chose to get brunch again on that Sunday, and once again, I forgot about refusing the straw and didn’t realize our drinks came with straws until it was too late. 😦

Throughout week 4, we maintained our goal of cooking vegetarian meals for ourselves, but we didn’t use up all of our groceries because, once again, I had chosen to skip a couple of nights of cooking as I was overwhelmed by my freelance project. On those nights, we got takeout from restaurants that use compostable packaging, so we still generated much less waste for the landfill. But the best course of action would have been to actually use up everything we had bought.

At the end of the month, it was wonderful to realize how much emptier our trash bins were. Thanks to our new grocery shopping habits, most of our household waste was either compostable or recyclable, so we barely had any trash to take out. I loved the experience of going to the farmer’s market and seeing the variety of produce there. And using our own reusable produce bags was very easy, plus the reusable bags are more aesthetically pleasing to see in the fridge than the disposable plastic ones. I also really enjoyed having a compost jar at my cubicle, as most of my day is spent at work anyway, and before we began our low/zero-waste commitment I was generating lots of compostable trash at work that was ending up in the landfill. In addition, the both of us felt a lot healthier eating more homemade meals and more vegetarian meals. Our new habits were also very comforting for me: I think my conscience felt a lot of relief because my actions were finally matching my morals.

But, during these four weeks, we did have two areas where we failed majorly: (1) straws, and (2) snacking. In terms of straws, as I noted above, I don’t normally want a straw, and so I rarely think that my drinks will come with one. Every time we dined in a restaurant or went out with friends and ordered cocktails, I would forget that the restaurant serves its beverages with a straw until it was too late. So I want to be better at anticipating the straw and refusing it.

As for snacking, during our official zero/low-waste month M. continued to purchase chips packaged in plastic, although he did lessen the frequency of said chip buying. (Admittedly, he had warned me that he wouldn’t give chips up as he does really like them.) As for myself, I had a hard time resisting the call of the office vending machine. At work, I rely heavily on snacking to help me get through the day. I had a couple of plastic-packaged snacks leftover from before we made our zero-waste commitment, and after I finished eating those, the packaging regretfully ended up in the trash. And at least five or six times throughout our low/zero-waste month, I ended up purchasing snacks packaged in single-use plastic. During the second week of the month, I realized that giving snacks up completely wouldn’t work; I’d just keep heading to the vending machine if I didn’t have something to munch on already at my desk. So I made a trip to the Dill Pickle Coop to get some bulk nuts and trail mix to keep in my cubicle, which helped greatly. Even then, I continued to have some difficulty refusing plastic-packaged snacks.

IMG_20170915_124438_744
Some bulk trail mix that I bought at Dill Pickle Coop.

Overall, I think that zero/low-waste grocery shopping and cooking can actually be fairly easy, with the right preparation. M. and I were fortunate enough to already have reusable produce bags and mason jars on hand, so all we needed to do was stick to a schedule and remember to bring our reusables. I think that we failed so much in the snacking and straw arenas because we weren’t sufficiently prepared on those ends: I hadn’t realized how much I love snacking until I was forced to think about how often I hit up the office vending machines, and I hadn’t given very much thought to how many restaurants serve their beverages with straws until I was forced to confront the fact that my lack of anticipation would mean more plastic trash in landfills and oceans.

After our official month of zero/low waste ended, M. and I have still continued making trips to the farmer’s market or co-op grocery store with reusable produce bags and mason jars on hand. We still try to cook at home as much as possible, and we have still stuck to a mostly vegetarian home diet. So I’m very happy to say that after a month of forcing ourselves to develop better grocery shopping and eating habits, these habits have stuck! 🙂 I’m still struggling with the snacking and straw issues, but because my awareness around those topics has greatly increased, I’m doing a lot better than I was before that month.

Now, stay tuned for part 2, where I discuss how I tried to manage hygiene during our month of zero/low waste!

❤ AMisplacedPen (a.k.a. S.)

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way to write about any organizations or businesses that I have mentioned. This post expresses my honest opinions.

Sustainable Shopping: Sale Roundup, Black Friday 2017

It’s that time of year again in the U.S.A.! If you’re planning to go shopping for presents (or for yourself) this holiday weekend, join me in supporting brands and boutiques that care about the communities around them and the earth! I’ve put together a list of some ecofriendly and/or ethically run stores that are having sales:

Beauty:

  • Rituel de Fille: Twenty percent off all full-size items with code SHADOW20 from 11/24 through 11/27.

Clothing:

  • American Deadstock: Get 50 percent off everything and free shipping using code FIFTY.
  • Amour Vert: Twenty percent off everything using code GREENFRIDAY.
  • Arkins: Twenty percent off sitewide beginning on 11/24.
  • Beacon’s Closet: Twenty percent off using code BLACKFRIDAY. This sale is online only, and the code is only valid on 11/24.
  • Chromat: From 11/24 through 11/27, use code GIVE20 to get an additional 20 percent off all sale items. Additionally, 20 percent of the proceeds will be donated to empowering organizations like the ACLU.
  • Deadwood: Thirty percent off all items online using code BLKFRIDAY, starting 11/24.
  • Ecoalf: On 11/24, Ecoalf will place a number of items from previous seasons on super sale, and a percentage of every purchase on 11/24 will be donated to sea conservation efforts.
  • Faircloth Supply: Thirty percent off everything using code BLKFRIDAY17, from 11/23 through 11/27.
  • Groceries Apparel: Save 15 percent off purchases of $150 or more, save 22 percent on purchases of $225 or more, and save 30 percent on purchases of $300 or more.
  • Hackwith Design House: Starting today (11/23), get 30 percent off sitewide using code THANKSGIVING17.
  • Hazel and Rose: From 11/23 until 11/27, you get 25 percent off sitewide using code MANYTHANKS. (I also love Hazel and Rose’s blog post discussing their feelings about Black Friday.)
  • Nau: Get 30 percent off fall and winter styles using code SAVE30, from now until 11/26.
  • Nudie Jeans: Get 25 percent off select seasonal items (no code needed).
  • Outerknown: Get 20 percent off current styles (no code needed) and get up to 75 percent off in their warehouse sale.
  • Miakoda: From now through 11/27, use code ETHICALSHOPPING for 30 percent off your order.
  • Poppy and Pima: Get 30 percent off sitewide on orders over $7 with code GETYOURGIFTON, from 11/23 through 11/27.
  • Reformation: Get 30 percent off everything from 11/23 through 11/27, online and in store, no code needed.
  • Tradlands: From now until 11/27, use code BF15 for 15 percent off all orders over $100, use code BF20 for 20 percent off all orders over $200, get free worldwide shipping for orders over $200, and get a free $10 gift card with a purchase over $50.
  • Upstate: Get 25 percent off using code TURDUCKEN, now through 11/27.
  • Zero Waste Daniel: Get 25 percent off everything on 11/27. They are also debuting online their collab with Coyuchi! (The collab seems to be exempt from the sale.)

Home Goods:

  • Boll and Branch: Twenty-five percent off all orders over $150 with code BLACKFRIDAY.
  • Coyuchi: Twenty percent off select styles, plus free shipping; click through the link on their home page.
  • Package Free: Twenty-five percent off the entire store today (11/27) only with code CYBERMONDAY at checkout, plus free shipping with orders over $100!

Underthings:

  • Brook There: From 11/23 through 11/27, get 40 (!!!) percent off clothing and lingerie sets using code THANKFUL.
  • Hanna Broer: From now through 11/24, use the code Pre-Holiday-2017 to save 20 percent off all orders over $120, or, if you shop through her Etsy store, you’ll automatically get 20 percent off when you check out with $120 or more worth of her products.
  • Pact: Get 30 to 60 percent off sitewide (no code needed).
  • Sock Dreams: Get twenty percent off sitewide from 11/25 through 11/27 using code GIVESOCKS2017. Use their search filters to find ecofriendly and US made socks (not everything in their store fits those categories).

Shoes and Other Accessories:

  • Edge of Ember: Save 30 percent sitewide with code BLACK30.
  • Kayu: Save up to 75 percent through their sale section.
  • Oliberté: Save 30 percent sitewide starting now.
  • Proud Mary: Today (11/27) only, use code CYBERMONDAY to get 15 percent off sitewide plus free shipping.
  • Soko: Take 25 percent sitewide with code BLACKFRIDAY25.

I’m trying to buy less and buy more thoughtfully this year, so I’m exercising a lot of willpower right now in the face of all of these great sales from these great companies. If you buy anything good, let me know! 😉

❤ S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way to write about any organizations or businesses that I have mentioned. This post expresses my honest opinions.

Sustainable Tourism, Part 2: Traveling through Denver and Boulder

If you missed part 1 of my discussion of sustainable tourism, check it out here. In it I detail my considerations regarding choice of accommodation in Denver. Now, on to the long-awaited (yes, it’s been a month since part 1, 😢) part 2, where I show you some of the sights of M. and I encountered while traveling through Denver and Boulder and discuss how we went about being sustainable tourists! (Psst, if you don’t want to read several paragraphs about how beautiful and fun my trip was, skip down to the bottom of this post to see my list of six tips for sustainable tourism.)

On our first day in Denver, we couldn’t check-in to our bed and breakfast until 3 pm, but our flight landed at 10 am. What to do in those many hours before we could unload our bags? Well, the Church of Cannabis happened to be open to the public from 1 to 3 pm the day that we landed. Hey, when you’re in the area, you might as well sample the local culture. 😉 So we decided that would be our target destination for the afternoon, and we started figuring out how to get there from Denver International Airport.

M. was advocating taking a rideshare car from the airport, but after we looked at a map, we realized that the Denver rail system has a train that goes directly from the airport to Union Station in downtown Denver (near where we wanted to be). Taking the rail would be cheaper and a whole lot more sustainable, so on the rail we went. The train cars were very clean and comfortable, and I enjoyed just staring out the large windows and noticing how different the views are compared to Chicago and New York.

IMG_20170916_102745988

We got off of the train at the last stop, Union Station, and grabbed lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant nearby. M. chose something vegetarian. I was a bit less sustainability minded (oops) and got something with shrimp.

After lunch, we started feeling sleepy. We had been awake since 5 a.m. or so, and needed to pep ourselves up. So, next stop: caffeine. We grabbed a bus from Union Station to head to our destination, Bardo Cafe, which is within walking distance of the Church of Cannabis. M. got his coffee in his reusable coffee mug, while I opted for my chai latte in a to-stay mug. That’s two fewer single-use cups in the landfill.

IMG_20170916_123236493_HDR

As you can see, I also carried a little reusable stainless-steel water bottle around with me so we didn’t have to buy a new plastic bottle whenever we got thirsty. 🙂

After our caffeine fix, we walked over to the Church of Cannabis. If you’re not a member of the church, you can’t smoke there, but the building itself was still worth a visit. The worship room hosts a beautiful mural that I could have stared at for hours.

IMG_20170916_134801378

After exploring the church, we headed to the bed and breakfast, where we discovered that they offer coffee and tea 24/7 (in reusable pitchers). So, for every morning of the rest of our stay, we refilled our mugs and water bottle from the B&B kitchen.

On day 2, we decide to take a day trip to Boulder. I’ve never done any extensive hiking (I am thoroughly city-raised. . .), and I was very excited to experience the Rocky Mountains. Initially M. and I had considered taking a rideshare to Boulder, but in Union Station we saw an advertisement for the Flatiron Flyer, a Denver bus route going directly from the station to downtown Boulder every fifteen minutes. How wonderful! A well-run and convenient public transit system does loads to help residents lead sustainable lives! So we opted to take the bus. It was a very pleasant and quick ride. And a lot more economical than a rideshare. 🙂

Once we arrived in Boulder, we had brunch at Lucile’s, a Creole restaurant located in an adorable Victorian era building. The restaurant used cloth napkins that seemed to be made from fabric scraps: sustainable and adorable, hurray! And this time I did order a vegetarian dish. 🙂

IMG_20170917_130958699

After brunch, we were energized and ready to hike. We decided to head for the Mount Sanitas trail, since it was the easiest to get to from Lucile’s (about a 30 minute walk). During our walk, it started drizzling, and I got concerned that we’d be caught on the mountain without any protection from the elements. (We hadn’t brought umbrellas because I had lost my old one, and the new, biodegradable umbrella that I had ordered was delayed in shipping. More on that in a future post. 🙂 ) So we went to three or four different stores, hunting for umbrellas, with no luck. At some point we decided to give up and keep trekking on.

Fortunately the drizzling stopped and the rest of our walk was without event. I ended up being happy we hadn’t found an umbrella to purchase, because conventional umbrellas aren’t very sustainable anyway.

As we got closer to the beginning of the trail, the sidewalks became more narrow and unpaved, but the once we reached the beginning of the trail itself the path was very walkable. After about ten minutes of walking, we came upon a fork in the trail. We decided to attempt the steeper and more difficult path. Despite my nervousness about possibly falling off the mountain (my goodness those paths are steep and gravelly), the hike paid off. The views were amazing.

IMG_20170917_150714215_HDR

Once we got back down from the mountain, we felt like we had a good excuse to treat ourselves to some local beers. 😀 Unfortunately, the place that we chose ended up being a tad mediocre. Perhaps we have been spoiled by the Chicago craft beer scene. But it was still nice to sit down and nurse our sore legs. Then we hopped back on the Flatiron Flyer to return to our Denver B&B for a good soak in their hot tub.

Day 3 was spent exploring the areas closest to our bed and breakfast. The B&B’s owner turned out to an expert in both local sights and vinyl, so we had decided to check out his recommendations. First off was Wax Trax, a twenty or so minute walk away. While M. searched through the many racks of used and new vinyl, I browsed the web and sipped tea at Hudson Hill, a cute little cafe/bar across the street. I made sure to ask for a mug for my tea!

When M. was done looking through vinyl and I was done sipping, we headed to the Denver Botanic Gardens. Once again, we opted to walk there. The walk between Wax Trax and the gardens was also about twenty minutes. I enjoyed trekking through the surrounding neighborhoods on foot and gawking at people’s houses. The closer you get to the gardens, the larger the houses get! And oh boy, there are some mansions.

The entrance to the gardens was a little difficult to find, but once we found it, we were taken aback by the size and beauty of the place.

IMG_20170918_161920141

I think we spent at least two hours walking around its entirety. There was even a bonsai section! All in all, I’d highly recommend checking out the Denver Botanic Gardens for yourself. And a giant gold star to the gardens for including composting bins next to the recycling bins! 😀

IMG_20170918_155451549_HDR

For dinner on day 3, we decided to splurge and go to a trendy restaurant. This is where our sustainability efforts went downhill a bit. We knew we would eat meat at our dinner, because that is part of the splurge, but we hadn’t checked the portion sizes beforehand and ended up over-ordering. Neither one of us had brought a reusable container with us, so we had to accept the takeout boxes from this restaurant. And the boxes were definitely not recyclable or compostable. We also had drinks later that night, but we forgot to ask for “no straw, please,” and so, in our lack of foresight, we were saddled with single-use plastics. Sigh.

On our fourth and final day in Denver, we paid the Denver Art Museum a visit. Once again, because of the central location of our B&B, we were able to walk to the museum fairly easily (about a fifteen minute walk). The B&B was also kind enough to hold onto our luggage even though we had already checked out, so we didn’t need to worry about lugging heavy bags around.

The museum has two buildings, so we tried to split our time evenly between them. We only had about three hours total to devote to the exhibits before we needed to leave, so we didn’t get to see every floor, but it was still an enriching experience. And the museum itself is beautifully designed. One of my favorite exhibitions was Mi Tierra: Contemporary Artists Explore Place, a series of site-specific installations by Latinx artists that very much spoke to the current political climate in our country. Below is a photo of part of Plexus no. 36, by Gabriel Dawe.

IMG_20170919_142420297

Sadly, our museum day also ended up being one of our least sustainable. Both of us forgot to bring our reusable travel mugs, so when we got thirsty we ended up buying drinks that came in plastic cups. Fortunately the cups were recyclable, but M.’s drink came with a straw (I remembered to refuse mine 😇), which is definitely not recyclable. After we were done with the museum, we also ended up taking a rideshare to the airport instead of using public transit, since we had cut our plans too close to our departure time, so our carbon footprint was a bit higher than I wanted it to be (and that’s not even considering the carbon footprint of flying. . .).

Well, now that we are back in Chicago and I have had time to mull over our trip, here is what I learned about traveling sustainably:

Six tips for being a sustainability-minded tourist:

1) Always carry a reusable water bottle and a reusable mug.

Ideally, pack some container that can double as both. Carry a reusable napkin as well.

2) Always say “No straw, please.”

Refusing straws was one of the hardest parts, simply because we forgot that straws exist until they were already in our drinks. Bring a reusable straw with you if you prefer to drink with one than without. This is one of the areas where we failed miserably. 😦

3) If possible, stay somewhere close to the center of things.

Our B&B was within walking distance of the Denver Art Museum, the Denver Botanic Gardens, and a lot of good restaurants and bars. So we walked almost everywhere! And because we walked so much, we got a much more personal view of the city than we would have if we had taken rideshares or taxis.

4) Use the local transit system!

Ride-sharing and taxis should be a last resort. The only times we used rideshares were when we were late to our drinks plan (this only happened once) and when we were several neighborhoods away from our B&B and it was too late at night to feel safe walking back.

5) Don’t over-order when eating out.

Because our room didn’t have a microwave, we didn’t think we’d end up reheating and consuming any of leftovers, so we tried not to have any. If you want or expect leftovers, remember to always carry a reusable container, like a small steel bowl with an air-tight lid, so that you aren’t caught unawares like we were. You could also leave the leftovers to the restaurant to dispose of, but this is not necessarily sustainable if the restaurant does not compost.

6) Support the local businesses. Avoid going to large chains for your caffeine/breakfast/snack fixes.

This may be a strange one to put in a list of sustainability tips, but I think it deserves consideration. The heads of large corporations that have lots of outposts are usually disconnected from the areas where their outposts are located. That disconnect means that they are less likely to care about their environmental impact on their outpost’s surrounding community, they are less likely to care about the employees who come from that community, and they are likely using the cheapest ingredients possibly, which usually means they haven’t considered whether those ingredients were sustainably or ethically produced.

These chains almost never have sustainable options for dining in or drinking in. If you get a meal at a certain fast food restaurant with a red and yellow logo and you opt to dine in, you still get your food in the same single-use containers that you would have gotten if you had opted for take out. But if you had decided to get your meal or snack at a local cafe, you could have asked the food to be served on a reusable plate.

And, a bonus tip: if you’re planning to fly or travel in a way that will create a large carbon footprint because you have no other reasonable options, consider buying a carbon offset from an organization like Terrapass. Their website seems easy to use, and the carbon offsets are not as expensive as I would have expected. I haven’t bought one yet to offset my Denver trip, but it is on my to-do list.

If you are planning to travel soon, I hope these tips help you!

❤ S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)

A quick acknowledgment: These tips hinge on a certain level of mobility and financial stability that M. and I are certainly fortunate to have, and I do not intend to shame anyone who cannot follow these suggestions or doesn’t travel at all because these options are not financially or physically viable.

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way to write about any organizations or businesses that I have mentioned. This post expresses my honest opinions.

Being My Best Self: Going “Zero Waste” for One Month

Summer is starting to fade, and as the seasons transition into one another I find myself wondering whether I am being my best self: whether I am working “smart” enough, whether I am doing enough to pursue my creative goals, whether I am being a good friend/daughter/partner/sister/person. (Yeah, I get really reflective during these moments of in-between weather. . . .) And I’ve always felt that my best self would do more to care for the environment than just composting and buying from sustainable brands. Ever since I learned about Lauren Singer’s blog Trash Is for Tossers and the zero-waste movement, I’ve been itching to go zero waste myself. But I kept making excuses not to try: I’m too busy, I’m too tired, I’m too dependent on plastic-wrapped X item. . . .

All of these excuses were tiring me out, because at the end of the day I was still wracked with guilt over how many pieces of nonrecyclable plastic I had contributed to the landfill. The disconnect between my morals, my knowledge about excessive consumption and climate change, and my actions wouldn’t stop nagging at me. And with recent events like Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, which were both exacerbated by the recent, manmade rise in ocean temperatures, I’ve felt increasingly anxious about my carbon footprint, not to mention the ridiculous carbon footprint of this gas-guzzling, war-mongering country that I am a citizen of.

So this month, I’m being my best self. And M. is joining me by being his best self. We have made a pact with each other to, for the entirety of this month, behave as if we are the ideal versions of ourselves. We will be the kindest that we can be to ourselves, to others, and to the environment, as the best versions of ourselves would be. We will be proactive in trying to reduce our carbon footprint and trying to join larger organizations that are working to change the narrative of this country we call home.

M. and I have had this idea for a while, and September seemed to work out well with our respective schedules. We each have our separate goals for this month, in accordance with what our individual ideas of “best self” are, but they work well in unison. My overarching personal goal is to go as close to zero waste as possible, and M.’s overarching personal goal is to have a healthier diet and exercise more. So part of our pact involves taking a jog to the farmer’s market each Sunday and buying our vegetables and groceries using reusable mesh produce bags and mason jars. We’ll cook at home, which is healthier and less wasteful because we won’t use any single-use items and we will compost any trimmings from the vegetables we use. In addition, the majority of our meals will be vegetarian. Several birds, one stone.

I like lists, so M. and I made a comprehensive list of the specific actions we aim to take. Here’s a sampling of what we’ve agreed to do:

  • Refuse single-use plastic bags.
    • We will bring our own mesh produce bags and our own reusable shopping bags to the store.
  • Refuse single-use plastic straws.
    • We will bring our own reusable straws.
  • Refuse disposable plastic utensils and nonrecyclable takeout containers.
    • We will bring our own reusable containers and reusable utensils.
  • Refuse single-use coffee cups.
    • We will bring our own reusable coffee cups when we want a caffeine fix.
  • Buy in bulk and cook at home.
    • We will buy groceries from the farmer’s market.
    • We will buy organic, free-range eggs.
    • We will use reusable mesh bags for produce.
    • We will trade off cooking duties.
    • We will prepare vegetarian meals.
  • Bring and use reusable napkins.
  • Compost consistently.
  • Exercise 2 – 3 times a week.
    • We will take at least one jog a week.
  • Buy ethically.
    • We will boycott Amazon.
    • We will buy from sustainable brands or buy vintage/preowned items.
  • Become more politically involved.
    • We will attend meetings held by local activist organizations.
    • We will volunteer for events or for political organizing.

There are a few exceptions to the above list of rules. We’ll be going on a short vacation to Denver this weekend, so we’ve agreed that we won’t be as stringent about refusing single-use plastic during our getaway (although I still plan to hold myself to these standards, M. will not do the same). Additionally, while the meals that we prepare at home will be vegetarian, we are not sticking to a strictly vegetarian diet; I’m still allotting myself about 3 meat-inclusive meals a week. Additionally, the above rules will not apply to medical issues, such as when we experience allergies or use contraception. Although I’m open to finding non-plastic wrapped versions of allergy pills, for instance, if I have to decide between forsaking over-the-counter medicine for the sake of going zero waste or living a sniffle- and itch-free life, I’m choosing the latter.

Because a lot of these behaviors are new to us, we’ve set up a “punishment” system for when we make mistakes along the way. We’ve dubbed this system the “Jar of Atonement,” although our nickname for it has become the “Shame Jar.” 😂 For every unskilled decision that one of us makes, whether it is forgetting to refuse a single-use straw or slacking on our exercise goals for the week, that person will put a dollar in the jar. At the end of the month, we’ll choose one social justice organization and one environmental justice organization, and donate half of the total dollar amount in the jar to each.

We actually started following these rules on September 1, so it’s been two weeks now since we started attempting a healthier, zero-waste lifestyle. At the end of the month, I’ll write a detailed post about the entire experience and some lessons I’ve learned, so I won’t spill the beans yet on how it’s going. You’ll have to wait a couple more weeks! Okay, well, maybe I’ll spill one bean: so far, I really like doing this. 😊

❤ S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)