Easy Wrapping Paper Storage

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We’ve had three rolls of wrapping paper for the past two years since we typically use cloth bags for “wrapping” our gifts. Yet occasionally a wrapped present is shipped out because it’s easy to pack into a box filled with paper-wrapped items. Our three rolls of paper seem to be lasting forever and we’ve found the most simple way of storing them.

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Just cut a toilet paper roll open and place it around your wrapping paper roll. It holds that paper together gently, without the ripping we sometimes get from rubber bands.

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Happy wrapping paper storage for next year!

Driftwood Building Blocks

We all love manipulatives, items with soft shapes made by the rhythms of the Earth. Give children a few hours and a place to play with found objects, and you’ll be surprised where their imaginations go. During a gorgeous 3 days of camping on our favorite Olympic National Park beach, we picked up not only washed-up plastics battered from years of travel atop the Pacific waves, but we also gathered a beautiful selection of years-worn driftwood.

The organic shapes were beguiling: Sticks worn into rounded gray pieces any child would love to handle, contemplate, and build magic worlds with.

We brought a few favorite pieces home to be used again and again as building blocks for the imagination. And now, whenever we go on our beach camping trips, we collect more, to give as gifts for friends who like to have a basket centerpiece for all ages to enjoy. Gather some up to offer at your next creative meeting with colleagues. They’ll get engaged, quickly. Collect some of nature’s beautiful bounty for your children and friends, and they’ll thank you for the plastic-free tactile experience.

It’s local, organic, and sustainable. What natural found objects do you use for mindful play?

Clementine Box Doll Bed

By Cleo Clark-Athans

This one is a simple trash hack by a 7 year old.

1) Take clementines out of wooden clementine box.

Clementine Boxes Have Huge Potential, Photo © Liesl Clark

2) Place small towels, rags, hand-knit blankets, anything soft inside the clementine box to make a “mattress.”

Inserting the "Mattress" Photo © Liesl Clark

3) Find a cute fabric scrap, a doll’s blanket, or a pretty place mat to use as your bedspread.

4) Add a small pillow (mine was hand sewn at sewing class).

Outer Bed Layers Need to Be Appealing. Pink Seems To Work for My Small Animals. Photo © Liesl Clark

5) Put your favorite little animals or dolls to bed!

No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, Photo © Liesl Clark

How To Recycle Plastic Bags

Let’s talk polyethylene, or plastic bags. They’re stretchable plastic bags, or film, that are #2 or #4 plastics. Amazingly, most people don’t recycle them, but you can. These things just never go away, so doing your best to not acquire them in the first place is a tall order, but well worth it. And then, reusing them as much as you can until you have to recycle them is your best course of action.

Most supermarkets have a recycle bin where you can take your polyethylene or plastic bags. The most common polyethylene bags are plastic bags that you get at the grocery store, but there are many more items that you might otherwise throw away that can be recycled in polyethylene recycling. Let’s review them in a simple list, below.

When you take your bags to get recycled, simply stuff the rest of the polyethylene from your life into that bag to get recycled, too. But please remember: Recycling plastic bags is not a closed-loop system. Best to think about ways to avoid it altogether.

Ok, Here’s the List of Plastic Bags/Film That Can Go In Your Plastic Bag Recycling Bin

Grocery Bags: On our island, we’re lucky these things have been banned. So, they’re few and far between.

Bread Bags: Some bread comes in polyethylene. Be sure to recycle them when you’re done reusing them. And if you want to reduce this plastic altogether, try my fail-proof bread recipe. It’s a staple in our home.

Air Bags for Shipping and Bubblewrap: Definitely reuse these, or offer them up on your local Buy Nothing group. People and businesses who ship items often are always happy to take them off your hands.

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Ziploc Bags: If you use resealable bags that have those zipperlike locks on them, just rip that hard block off of your bag and recycle the bag. I’m proud to say I haven’t bought resealable bags in years because I clean, dry, and reuse what I have.

Garment Bags: Man, that’s a lot of polyethylene. Maybe your dry cleaner will take them back if you keep them clean.

Mail Order Clothing Bags: My husband works for a clothing company and we get samples from them every week. They all come in polyethylene bags. Bothers me.

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Beverage Shrink Wrap: These are usually clean and can just be thrown right into recycling. This excessive packaging is disturbing.

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Newspaper Bags: Digital subscriptions are looking a lot more eco-friendly these days.

Magazine Covers: Be sure to remove the paper address label and recycle that paper label, or throw it in your compost.

Frozen Food Bags: It’s super important that you wash and dry these bags so there’s no food residue inside.

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Cereal Box Liners: According to this website, you can recycle them.

Toilet Paper Roll Packaging: This is the one we can’t seem to avoid. I don’t like buying individually-paper-wrapped toilet paper rolls.

Paper Towel Packaging: Or, just skip them altogether.

Individual Kleenex Tissue Wrap: I found this in the woods on a hike. Using a handkerchief can go a long way toward reducing these kinds of plastics.

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Produce Bags: I reuse mine, taking them back to the store, and no one seems to care.

Plastic Shipping Envelopes: Just remove the sticky label. We reuse these, too.

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Trash Bags: These have to be clean and dry.

Wood Chip Plastic Baling: We used to use wood chips as bedding for our chickens (but now we use shredded paper.) This stuff is polyethylene! If you make sure it’s clean and dry, it can be recycled.

Little Hardware Bags For Nuts, Bolts, Screws, Etc: These little bags are what the hardware store provides for you when you buy bits of hardware in bulk.

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Furniture Wrap: This is film, and it should be recycled.

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What can’t be recycled? My rule of thumb is, if you can stretch your thumb through it, it’s polyethylene. But don’t include Saran Wrap/cling wrap. Apparently, that’s a different plastic (until recently, it was PVC.) If your plastic item crinkles, it’s not recyclable and you’ll have to throw it away. The risk of putting the wrong plastic into your recycling is that the recycler will reject the entire recycling container-full of bags. So, be sure you’re sending the right stuff to get recycled.

I’m a big believer in every office and classroom having a polyethylene bag recycling area, so long as a volunteer will take it to the supermarket for recycling every week or so. Imagine the impact you could have by doing this? It would reduce the waste-to-landfill by a lot, and save the school and office a bundle in solid waste pickup fees.

What can you add to my list?

 

A Trip To The Dentist And The Plastics Therein

Our Trip To The Dentist and the Plastics Therein. Photo © Liesl Clark

“Please don’t have him eat candy for a day.”

What? I was standing in a dentist’s office, and these were the first words out of the dental assistant’s mouth after my child had some ‘routine’ protective sealant put on his molars. No candy for a day? How about a month or 6? We don’t do candy all that regularly, so to hear her put the limit at 24 hours felt like a license, to my child, for everyday candy in the house, perhaps even a piece or 2 every 4-6 hours. Thank goodness that happy gas was still in effect, for he had a look of mirth on his face while he questioned me about it.

But what I want to know is this: Why is a dental office for children the purveyor of so much cheap plastic crap? This trip to the dentist was truly enlightening for us all — and has served to alter our trust in dental-care in general. I can give you 4 reasons why:

1) That little bin with the plastic junk in it, meant as “prizes” for even showing up at the dentist, was an early highlight. My kids both chose the same toy so they wouldn’t be jealous over the other’s better choice. Their choice x 2!?  A squeezable caterpillar that off-gases more toxic fumes than a PVC shower curtain.

2) Both children complained at how sick they felt from the sweetness of the stuff the dentist used to clean their teeth.

3) Quite disturbing for me was the amount of plastic we left with, each child carrying a little plastic bag filled with free stuff (see the photo above.) Here’s the short list of their freebies x 2:

— A new sample-size tube of Colgate toothpaste.

— A single-use plastic applicator flosser packaged in a plastic bag.

— A new plastic toothbrush complete with plastic packaging.

— A plastic baggy filled with those cool pink pills that show you how well you’re brushing, or not.

— A bigger plastic bag to hold all the plastic crap held in smaller plastic bags.

— A carton of dental floss (okay this one’s an acceptable freebie in my book as there are no plastic-free alternatives that I know of, yet.)

Well, the kids’ teeth got high marks for cavity-prevention from the dentist, yet I didn’t dare tell the dentist we use bamboo toothbrushes and make our own toothpaste mostly in an effort to reduce our plastic footprint. How is a family to keep up their standards of low-impact sustainable dental care after a visit like that? And we have to do this every 6 months?

On the drive home, as we sniffed our new PVC caterpillar toys now flung in the back of the car, I started wondering if my child truly needed those protective molar sealants in the first place? The molars looked good on the X-rays. “It’s optional, but we highly recommend it,” were the words of encouragement from our dental professional.

4) I looked up the sealant as soon as we got home to see what it was made of and, surprise of all surprises, it’s a plastic resin akin to those found in baby bottles, complete with the same endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as BPA and pthalates. What have we done?! 

Now that I’m well-versed in the the debate over whether dental sealants are safe for kids, I’m kicking myself for not having had a clue. I, the mom who has spent the past 6 years divesting our home and bodies from plastics, opted to seal them into my child’s mouth. Anyone know if sealants can be unsealed without the use of toxic chemicals? Likely not.

Easy DIY Snack Boxes

By Finn Clark

Aunt Kelly's Cool Carton Snack Boxes. Photo © Finn Clark

My Aunt Kelly gave me the idea to make snack box containers because she made us one as a gift for Christmas. Since we get local organic milk delivered in cartons, I started saving some so I could try to make my own, using Kelly’s as a template.

Aunt Kelly's Cool Snack Box, Opened Up. Photo © Finn Clark

Here’s how it’s done:

1) You’ll want your box to be square. Each carton is about 3.5 inches wide. Measure 3.5 inches up from the bottom of each corner and put a dot there with a Sharpie. This will be the point where you will cut down to from the top.

2) Then measure another 3.5 inches above that and put another dot there. This is the high point of your arch.

Drawing the high point of your arch. Photo © Finn Clark

3) We used Kelly’s as a template so just traced the arches, but I’ve given you the measurements above, so you can now draw your arch like we did.

Put a dot 3.5 inches up from the bottom. This is the point where you cut down to from the top. Photo © Finn Clark

4) Now that you have an arch drawn for each side of your carton, start cutting them out with scissors. Be sure to cut on the corners all the way down to your 3.5 inch mark (up from the bottom.)

Cutting down the corners from the top of the carton all the way down to the 3.5 inch mark. Photo © Finn Clark

5) Now cut out your arches.

Cutting the arches. Photo © Finn Clark

6) Fold your sides down at the 3.5 inch marks.

Folding the sides down.

7) Sew on a nice large button. Just sew it on like you would normally sew a button. We chose our favorite side to sew the button onto, centered it, and measured about 1.5 inches down from the top.

Sew on a button. Photo © Finn Clark

8) Wrap a rubber band around the button once tightly and use it to cinch down your little snack box.

The right size rubber band adds the finishing touch. Photo © Finn Clark

You’re done! Enjoy your snack box. I use mine to hold apple slices, or home made crackers, nuts, whatever I can find in our pantry for a school snack. And it’s really easy to wash out!

Me and my DIY snack box.

Oh, and you can save the left-over cut carton and use it as a crown.

50 Things To Never Buy

50 Things You Never Have to Buy

A few months ago, I posted 10 items we no longer buy and have had a resounding response. Well, they were actually 20 items, since the original list of 10 came from Suburban Pioneers. I’ve decided to up the ante and compile a list of 50 items you could cross off your shopping list. I’ll start at 50 and work my way down to the first 10 listed by Suburban Pioneers.

Here goes:

50) Bottled Water: Let’s just not ever buy bottled water unless we absolutely have to. Ok? With a little forethought, there’s no need to buy water packaged in plastic.

Bottled Water for Sale

49) Air:  Who buys air? Apparently the air is so bad in Beijing, the Chinese do.

48) Note paper: Notes can be written down on any scrap paper. We write notes on the backside of letters with only one side printed, that come in the mail: envelopes, anything with room for a few paragraphs, a list, or some doodles.

47) Wrapping Paper: There are so many wonderful alternatives to wrapping paper, including cloth, paper bags, your children’s artwork, and chip bags. We have a stash of reusable cloth bags that I make each year to use as gift bags. We save wrapping paper, too, and reuse it and reuse it and…

Chip Bag Gift Bag

Chip bag turned gift bag.

46) Fly Paper: We’ve started making our own sweet fly paper and it works most of the time..

Hanging out to dry. Photo © Liesl Clark

45) Pot Scrubbers: Crumpled up aluminum foil works. Really. Don’t laugh. It totally works.

44) Planters: Almost anything can be converted into a planter — you just have to use your imagination. If it can hold anything, it can be a planter. I’ve seen bras and toilets as planters, bike helmets, and baby shoes. Here are 5 planters that I photographed while in Nepal.

43) Trellises: As above, trellises are a garden feature that can include whimsical reuse. Here are 25 beautiful trellises you can make from your trash.

42) Chicken Bedding: We use cut grass, dried leaves, roadside grass and — our favorite — shredded paper.

Shredded Paper Bedding Photo © Liesl Clark

41) Yogurt Maker: Skip the yogurt maker and make your own in glass jars. It’s easy.

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Off-The-Grid Yogurt Over The Pilot Light ©Liesl Clark

40) Window Washing Liquid: Vinegar and water works perfectly, along with newspaper instead of microfiber rags or paper towels.

No-Smudge Newspaper Method. Photo © Liesl Clark

39) Laundry Detergent: Try this DIY recipe and save some money.

38) Dish soap: Here’s a DIY Dish Soap recipe that’ll surprise you.

37) Salad Dressings: Remember simple balsamic and olive oil dressings? Just make your own delicious dressings in a jar. They get better with age and will give you no excuse for not eating your greens. Try our favorite recipe and you won’t be disappointed.

Adding Vinegar to Taste is Best. Photo © Liesl Clark

36) Fire Starters: These are so easy to make and they make excellent gifts.

35) Balloons: If you visit Balloons Blow on the Web, you’ll understand why you never want to buy them again. And as an alternative, try a pretty no-sew bunting.

34) Saran Wrap: We never use plastic food wrap any more, now that there’s the ultimate reusable alternative.

33) Gift Tags: We’ve been known, come Christmas, to repurpose last year’s cards as gift tags. You can do the same with all the pretty cards you receive throughout the year — turn them into tags to add to your gifts.

32) Padded Envelopes: We receive so many of these throughout the year, and reuse them of course, that we even give away in our local Buy Nothing group a box or 2 to other local businesses that can reuse them.

Don't Buy New! Reuse Your Padded Envelopes.

31) Christmas Ornaments: Ornaments are one of the sweetest items to make, as they’re treasured year after year. It’s a family tradition.

Click Through For Trash Backwards Trash to Treasure Ornament Roundup in our app!

30) All-Purpose Cleaner: Orange peels and vinegar will style you with an all-purpose cleaner you’ll love.

DIY All-Purpose Household Cleaner

29) Fruit Vinegar: Fruit scrap vinegar is one of the DIY recipes that’s really changed my buying habits. I make a better apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, and blackberry vinegar than I can buy in the store.

Vinegars Photo © Liesl Clark

28) Potatoes, Arugula: If you’re a gardener, you’ll understand this. When you inadvertently leave a potato or two in your garden, you end up with more next year. Same goes for arugula which always goes to seed in our garden. We never have to replant it. So we simply don’t buy it.

27) Garlic Crusher: In a pinch, use a wide knife to whack at your garlic cloves. Or, go caveman-style as I do and find a great stone for crushing.

Garlic Crushing Pestle.jpg Photo © Liesl Clark

26) Furniture/Floor protectors: So many items can be used to protect your floors from the scratching legs of your furniture. Flip flops are one among many.

25) Silica Gel: We get a lot of silica gel through products that are sent to my husband for his work and then give it away. Silica gel has so many uses! If you need it, just ask on your Buy Nothing group and you’ll likely find plenty.

Silica Gel, Photo by Liesl Clark

24) Beach Toys: So many beach toys are washed up on our beaches, obviously left behind by others, I’d love to see people simply stop buying them. There are great alternatives to buying these redundant plastic items.

Metal beach toys from the thrift shop, photo by Rebecca Rockefeller

23) String: We rarely buy string anymore, because we aren’t ashamed to say we salvage it from all sorts of items, like our chicken feed sacks.

22) Doorstops: Get creative with your doorstops and you’ll find joy in refraining to buy one.

Boot Doorstop © Rebecca Rockefeller

21) Easter Egg Dye: We discovered a great reuse for an Easter egg dye that we’ll definitely use again — magic markers! Whether they’re used up or not, soaking them in water for a while doesn’t hurt them one bit.

Use your dried up Non-Toxic Markers for Easter Egg Dye

20) Paper towels: Um, use cloth ones.

A few good rags in a basket = alternative to paper towels. Photo © Liesl Clark

19) Hair ties: Look in every parking lot and on any sidewalk and you’re bound to find a hair tie or 2. I mean it, they’re everywhere. I find them on trails in the woods, too.

Hair Ties and Hair Clips Recovered From the Parking Lots and Sidewalks of the World. Just wash them. Photo © LIesl Clark

18) Pens: As above, look in every parking lot and on the side walks. Pens are everywhere.

Pens Recovered on Puget Sound Beaches

17) Ribbons: Simply look on every shoreline and ribbon can be found there.

Ribbon Found on Our Beaches (including the spool), Photo © Liesl Clark

Ribbon Found on Our Beaches (including the spool), Photo © Liesl Clark

16) Styrofoam Packing Peanuts or bubble wrap:  (Just ask for it on your Buy Nothing group.)

15) Ziploc bags: Wash them.

Gaiam Bag Dryer, Photo © Liesl Clark

Gaiam Bag Dryer, Photo © Liesl Clark

14) Plastic children’s toys: Just ask any parent for them, they’ll gladly give you a box or 3.

13) Books: Of course, I do support buying books from your favorite author, but for many of the books you’ll need throughout the year, use your library!

12) Plastic straws: Plastic straws are a scourge upon the land and water. Use your lips, or find a glass, bamboo, or metal alternative.

plastic straws recovered from Point No Point and Schel-Chelb Estuary, WA, photo by Liesl Clark

11) Cigarette Lighters: Plastic cigarette lighters replace matches way too often. We still collect cool looking matchbooks from bars and restaurants.

Lighters Recovered from Puget Sound Beaches

Lighters Recovered from Puget Sound Beaches

(For these last 10, be sure to visit Suburban Pioneers for their full post)

10) Post-Its

9) Plastic Funnels

8) Microwavable Neck Pillow

7) Pet Fur Remover (Brush or Stone)

6) Travel Toiletry Containers

5) Rubber Bands

4) Reusable Grocery Bags

3) Pet Poo Bags

2) Cleaning Rags

1) Plastic Leftovers Containers

What can you add to our list?  Enjoy your frugal living!