This Homemade Citrus Power Cleaner Works

We have hard water in these parts, which means that whenever it sits around, like at the base of a water faucet, you get calcium/mineral buildup. Here’s what ours looked like a few hours ago. Ew!

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Thanks to some homemade citrus vinegar that I made last month, I now have a power cleaner that’ll cut through the boilerplate mineral deposits found around our sinks, shower, and bathtub.

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This mineral deposit is hard and sticks like glue.

First, to make the citrus cleaner, just throw your orange peels into a mason jar and pour in some distilled white vinegar to cover the orange rind. Keep adding orange peels until the jar is filled, adding vinegar to totally cover over the peels.

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Screw a lid on the jar, and let it sit for a month with all of the peels totally submerged. Remove the orange peels and the remaining liquid is your all-purpose citrus cleaner that’ll work wonders in your home.

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I dilute it with water 1:1 into a spray bottle and use it wherever I’m cleaning: countertops, windows, ovens and stoves, bathrooms. But the kitchen sink faucet was where I hit paydirt. This stuff cut through that mineral deposit and enabled me to get my faucet back to looking like new.

hardwater before after

Just spray the 1:1 solution on your affected area and let it set for a few minutes and rub off.

closeup before and after

I had to repeat this several times, but it eventually removed the white caked-on material.IMG_4494

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So the next time you eat an orange, just save those peels, stuff them into a jar and cover with white vinegar, adding more peels and vinegar until the jar is full. After a month, you’ll have a citrus cleaner ready for your toughest jobs.

How To Do A Classroom Waste Audit

By Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller

Conducting a classroom waste audit is a hands-on way for kids to learn how to reduce their waste at school. Whether kindergarteners or highschoolers, waste audits resonate with students of all ages because everyone handles trash on a daily basis. Zero waste in schools takes commitment from both teachers and students and we’d like to be your hub for learning the process and obtaining the tools necessary to make your waste audits a success. This simple guide is an easy resource to get you started with waste audits in your classrooms or schools in your community. If you have any questions or need any further resources, don’t hesitate to contact us at Trash Backwards, and the following video is to inspire you to get into classrooms, have fun, and teach students these simple steps to school waste reduction!

If you’re not a teacher, you’ll first need to obtain permission from the school to do your audit. Meet with the school’s principal or director and pitch the idea. If you have to get permission for a larger body, like a school board, here’s a sample letter you can edit to make the formalities easy for you.

Materials Needed:

1 Tarp for the floor or plastic table cloths to cover tables

1 Scale

2 Buckets with the tare weight written on their sides

Paper and Sharpies for making 2 charts

Small signs for “compost,” “recycling,” “reuse,” and “landfill.”

10 Simple Steps

1) Save 1 days’-worth of classroom trash, including food waste.

2) Tell your personal story about why you’ve discovered how important it is to reduce waste. You can do  a slideshow, showing the students pictures of their landfill, how a landfill (or incinerator) works, how far away it is, and how trash is transported there. We have a movie about how our children discovered plastics washing up on their beaches that you can download or play off the web here as a teaching tool, showing how kids can take action, learn where the ocean plastics are coming from, and what they can do about it.

3) Weigh your recyclables and trash separately.

4) Spread it all out on a tarp.

5) Have the students separate all items into discreet piles next to their appropriate signs: “Compost,” “recycling,” “reuse,” and “landfill.”

6) Teach recycling: Discuss what goes into your local recycling and help the students identify those items.

7) Start a composter, vermicomposter, or chicken bucket. Some classrooms or schools have composters or vermicomposters outside. If not, find a volunteer family that will take the organics home to their chickens or compost bin.

8) Teach reuse: Save items like Ziploc bags, rubber bands or paper clips that were in the trash but can be reused.

9) Weigh your newly separated piles of trash, compost, reuse and recycling.

10) Celebrate your results by making a graph so the students can see the change in landfill trash versus recycling and compost. The decrease in landfill trash will be surprising.

Follow-up activities include having the classroom write a manifesto for changes in behavior to create less waste. Suggestions might include some of the following:

1) Place pictures of recyclables on the recycling bins as a reminder to students.

2) Move a recycling bin near the paper towel dispenser (wet, clean paper towels can be recycled).

3) Start a compost bin, worm bin or a chicken bucket.

4) Start a reuse box as a place to put items that can be reused.

5) Start other recycling streams that don’t go in the recycling bin but can be taken to other recycling facilities, like plastic bags (local supermarket) and juice boxes (a local Terracycle brigade).

Please feel free to contact us with questions or needs. We hope to be your go-to school waste audit resource! And if you’ve conducted a waste audit yourself, do send us a note to let us know how it went.

DIY Taco Seasoning in Bulk

Buying taco seasoning is pricey and when you have the ingredients in your own home, why not just make a batch that’ll last you days. Your own seasoning is also lower in salt content. Here’s our family recipe that we’ve used for the past year, and sometimes the amounts of each ingredient change a little, based on just how much we have in the spice rack. We buy our spices in bulk, too, to save money, have a zero waste kitchen, and so we don’t accumulate a lot of those little plastic bottles.

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Taco Seasoning (makes about 1 2/3 Cups)

  • ½ Cup chili powder (we sometimes use speciality chili powders we find in Mexico. Go with your favorite!)
  • 1/3 Cup cumin
  • 3 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 3 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 Tablespoon coarsely ground pepper
  • 2-3 Tablespoons ground coriander seeds
  • 2 Tablespoons paprika (sometimes we add smoked paprika)
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons salt (feel free to add more if you like your seasoning salty)
  • 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons oregano (we like Mexican oregano)FullSizeRender 83Enjoy!

Paper Bag Cast Iron Skillet Cleaner

We stopped buying paper towels years ago. Never really needed them.

And since we were eating mostly vegetarian meals, we rarely had the dilemma of what to do with a greasy cast iron skillet. Now that we eat bacon occasionally, because we’ve reintroduced a little locally-produced organic meat now and then, we have to contend with the leftover grease. We’ve used a few rags on the grease and just wash the rags, but that isn’t the best use for the rag.

And then, one day a week or so ago, I posted a dozen lunch-bag size bags to give away in my local Buy Nothing group. (I save these little bags whenever they somehow make their way into our house, and the kids use them when they go on school field trips.) A member immediately posted a comment explaining that he uses those thin lunch bags to sop up his bacon grease. It was an “aha” moment for me.

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Here’s what he wrote:

“If you have a new, or not-so-well-seasoned pan, a thicker bag will leave little micro fragments of paper. So generally, the smoother the pan and the finer quality of the bag, the better it works. Newspaper is completely unworkable because it’s such lo’grade.”

I decided to keep the bags, and now I have a small stash of little brown bags I can use to clean out my cast iron skillet when it gets a little too greasy. The thin bag is pretty darn absorbent.

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I throw in a little Celtic sea salt to scrub the bottom of the pan with the crumpled up bag, and the salt acts as a perfect scrubbing agent.

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No need to run soap and water over the well-seasoned skillet. And the pan is ready for its next job.

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The greasy bag goes into our next fire as fire-starter or we just toss it in our compost.

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Save those little bags for jobs like this!

Use Crayons For Dry Erase Boards

We ran out of dry erase markers and made a discovery. You don’t need to buy more of those plastic markers! Large crayons work just fine on dry erase boards. Simply use a soft cloth to wipe it off, with a little extra elbow grease.

 

Crayon going onto a whiteboard…..And crayon coming off the same whiteboard with an old sock eraser. This really does work, and it does wipe clean! Just sayin’.

How To Reduce And Reuse Chip Bags

Potato chip bags are something we’ve all handled and then thrown into the trash.

If your conscience has you wondering if there are alternatives to sending that bag into the landfill, you’ve come to the right place.

If you simply want to try to reduce your chip bag footprint, just make your own easy microwave chips using Rock Farmer’s simple method. If you want an oil-free recipe with a few more steps, give this one from the Kitchn a try.

Reuse and Repurpose:

1) If you’re not able to resist purchasing snacks in crinkly bags, then use your bags as gift bags! It’s easy to do: Turn your chip bag inside out, wash it with dish soap to get rid of any grease. Dry it out. Then reuse the silvery or white side as a mylar-style gift bag. We do this all the time and reuse them over and over. We just attach some pretty ribbon like these pictured here which we found on the beach (no kidding) hanging beneath a deflated helium balloon all twisted up in seaweed. These ribbons last forever, they’re made of plastic, and look as good as new even after years of floating in the open sea. I’ve picked up so many of them on the beach, I’ve had occasion to give a bag of them away on my local Buy Nothing group, with the caveat that the person agrees to keep the ribbons on indoor gifts and not set them free with a helium balloon. When you’ve seen them wrapped around the necks of baby seals and sea turtles, you can’t help reconsider why we risk sending them into our seas via floating balloons in the first place. But I digress.

2) Make a shoulder bag. Some chip bags have a cool vintage look to them and could make a great shoulder bag.

3) Make a gum wrapper-style chain bracelet. Remember making paper chains from gum-wrappers? If you employ the same method with chip bags and candy wrappers, you can craft some amazing things. First step is making a bracelet.

4) And when you’ve mastered the gum wrapper-style bracelet, you’re ready to move on to the purse.

5) Craftbits has a tutorial for a nice clutch.

6) Make a potato chip bag mini scrap book. At making-mini-scrapbooks.com, you’ll learn how to make your own cool books that would also make excellent gifts for friends.

Mini Potato Chip Bag Scrapbook, Photo © making-mini-scrapbooks.com

7) Instructables has a tutorial for a chip bag wallet.

8) Craft a baby crinkly square to appeal to baby’s need for tactile and aural stimulation. We think a snack bag would make some good crinkly sounds for your little one.

Baby Crinkly Squares Can Be Made With Potato Chip Bags, Photo © Joy’sHope.com

Remember the Sunchip compostable bags and how loud they were (95 db)? Maybe stay away from those. They’ve been discontinued, apparently, but consumers certainly had fun with the deafening chip bags. Even a Facebook group was started, called SORRY, BUT I CAN’T HEAR YOU OVER THIS SUNCHIPS BAG. We were excited to see that compostable snack bags were being tested on the market, yet when we did our own compost test of the Sunchip bags in a commercial composter for a month, the bags, surprisingly, were still intact — no decomposition visible.

9) Make an adorable robot from the silvery side of your bag.

10) Yet another Instructable. This time it’s a pencil case. Who needs Terracycle when you can upcycle your own stuff?

11) Cover over an old bracelet with delightful snack bag colors to make a new one!

12) Make party tassels!

I figure that’s enough to keep you busy with your snack bags, but let’s face it, all of this will end up being tossed in the landfill eventually. Although my kids love to occasionally have a junk food fix of chips, we’re continuing to do our best to stop buying foods that come in unrecyclable bags. Until chips can be sold in something a little more sustainable, we’ll do our best to just say no, or make our own.

How Toxic Is Your Garden Hose?

Think Twice About Your Garden Hoses And How Toxic They Might Be. Photo © Liesl Clark

One of the cheapest, happiest forms of warm weather play for children is a garden hose with a sprinkler hooked up to it. For our children, it means hours of joyous play.

Sprinkler Fun. Photo © Liesl Clark

The challenge for us is the knowledge that most hoses are made of toxic chemicals and hence are full of pthalates and Bisphenol A. Both are known endocrine disruptors and if children drink from a hose their BPA levels will rise significantly.

Be Sure to Play in a BPA-Free Garden Hose Spray. Photo © Liesl Clark

Lead has also been detected in most garden hoses. It’s unknown what the effects are to the soil and plants, but what’s clear is that the next time we buy a hose we should be aware of studies on the chemicals hoses can leach and which hoses are safest. Here’s a 2016 study on the toxicity of hoses done by the Ecology Center.

Photo © Liesl Clark

We do have one PVC-free hose and that’s the one we use for kid water-play. In fact, we use it as often as possible, as we phase out our other old hoses. An irrigation project we’re longing to do is a hose-free drain system from our pond to the vegetable garden so we can skip the hose quotient altogether. No wonder our waters are full of estrogen-mimicking chemicals that are affecting indicator species like fish.

Photo © Liesl Clark

If you’re interested in phasing out your old hoses or reusing one that’s broken, we’ve seen them sliced lengthwise in small sections to be used as blade protectors for hand-saws, or used on the side of a garden shed for wall-art, or woven on an old chair to create some cool outdoor furniture.

But, for the purposes of watering our garden or for kid-play, from now on we’ll be seeking out BPA and lead-free hoses.