Unstuff Your Holidays And Share

Our kids know to not get us “things” as gifts over the holidays. We’ve worked hard to demonstrate that consuming less at holiday-time means less hassle of managing a household of stuff for the year to come. But, how can we take this one step further and try to bring-about a community-wide movement of buying less “stuff” and consuming what is already around us? I’ve found one way to do this: Get proactive, find the perfectly-shareable things that are out there, and help jumpstart collaborative consumption, i.e. sharing what’s already in our midst.

When I was a little girl, I had dreams of owning a shop and offering everything for free. I wanted to take money out of the bargain and let those who truly needed a loaf of bread simply have it, no strings attached. I imagined the happy faces when my clientele would realize they could take it home, along with the freshly ground peanut butter and handmade jellies. I didn’t have a business plan for this sort of shop, of course, but I knew it would thrive somehow. What I didn’t know then was that I was dreaming of a gift economy. Experience now tells me it works, and it can be a huge success.

IMG_5545, Photo © Kim Scott-Olson

Six years ago, my friend Rebecca and I started a local free food gathering that happened every Saturday morning before the farmer’s market. Gardeners would bring extra produce they’ve grown and home cooks would offer fresh baked and canned goodies. We’d see grass fed beef being shared, vegetable seedlings, and locally-caught crab at our gatherings. Everyone would bring a basket and take home their fill of produce, fruit, flowers, and other consumables. Participants departed enriched by the offerings and the knowledge that their food bills would be much less that week. A sharing economy is joyful. It brings neighbors together to share their bounty and eat locally-grown, caught, and foraged foods.

Bainbridge Bounty-Share, Photo © Liesl Clark

Taking this successful model of collaborative consumption further, Rebecca and I wanted to help take the burden of buying out of the holidays. What if we opened a “Buy Nothing, Give Freely Gift Boutique?” The idea is truly simple: Every family has, for example, toys their child outgrows and most are made of plastic. Or perhaps families have clothing, jewelry, kitchen items that they never use. Why not offer them up to others in exchange for free goodies that you might be able to give to family members or friends?  I tend to have excellent toy karma. So, we have plenty to keep 10 families happy for years. So every autumn, I start boxing up our unwanted toy bounty in preparation for the free gift boutique.

A Free Gift Boutique Makes Christmas Shopping Easy and Fun

We also have an arrangement with a local school that conducts a gift boutique for their students. When their shop (of donated gifts) closes, they want to get rid of the nice housewares and toys quickly so we pick up those boxes of goods and add them to our mix so kids and adults can browse for gifts for family members of all ages. Some families come with toys and items to share in the shop and others come simply to gather much-appreciated gifts. All are welcome.

The holiday boutique idea is a one day, once-a-year event and pure joy to see the happy faces and thoughtful children as they think of everyone in their family they’d like to find a special something for.

Free Frames! Photo © Kim Scott-Olson

Free Housewares, Photo © Kim Scott-Olson

Free Housewares, Photo © Kim Scott-Olson

We took this idea about a thousand steps further and created The Buy Nothing Project, which has grown into a worldwide social movement of hyper-local gift economies set up in communities all over the globe. At last count, we have well over 1500 groups and we’re approaching 200,000 members. We’re like Freecycle, but our emphasis in on community-building.

Free Toys For All Ages, Photo © Kim Scott-Olson

Yet, this year I didn’t have the time to host a holiday boutique here in our home, so I collected the items from the school, had my kids go through their toys, and I purged things from our housewares, and we’ve simply been offering them up to the community through our local Buy Nothing group. A truck-load of items that I got from the school has been given away, with only 1 box left for Goodwill. Families are so happy to receive items to relieve the burden of gift-buying, and perhaps free up some funds to spend locally.

My reasoning is this: If we all just take our perfectly-usable unwanted things to Goodwill, we’re removing those items from our community wealth. If we continue to share them with our neighbors, offering up what we no longer need or use, our community  benefits in small but measurable ways by buying less stuff in general and saving that money to spend nearby: in a local restaurant or shop, for travel and exploration, for concerts and exhibits, for education. Over the holidays, there’s so much right here in our neighborhoods that’s shareable. The key is to seek those items out, and divert them away from the landfill or anonymous charity, and circulate them throughout the community again and again. I’m warmed by seeing my children’s dollhouse gifted 5 years later to yet another family. These things last many lifetimes, and sharing them sends a message to manufacturers that we don’t need to make so many, especially of they’re well-made.

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So, I look at our “stuff” as a community asset. Things we should keep circulating around our neighborhoods, for reuse, so we don’t go out and buy the same things over and over, producing the mountains of waste we see heading each week to the landfill. If we change the way we handle our stuff, add sharing into the picture, we can make a huge impact on our planet. In fact, each gift, in our original Buy Nothing Holiday Boutique, had a printed reminder of where the gift came from, the benefits of a gift economy, and the responsibility we each have as stewards of each item, ensuring that it stays in our materials economy, and not in our landfills or oceans, for a long time hence.

The Virtues of a Circular Economy, Photo © Kim Scott-Olson

20 Wine Cork Uses

25 Reuses For Natural Wine Corks. Photo © Liesl Clark

Wine corks have a natural mystique. There’s something attractive about those stoppers of cork once they’re released from a bottle of fine wine. And when you’ve accumulated a few, cork projects come to mind. One of the first DIY projects I made for my first home was a cork board out of a frame of recycled old painted wood found at the dump in Aspen, Colorado. It was such a thing of beauty, I made several of them, collecting corks from local restaurants, and I sold them to a shabby chic antique barn.

Before I start in with this list, I feel compelled to bring attention to the fact that cork is a renewable recyclable material. Recycling your cork through Recork or Cork Forest will keep your cork out of the landfill and result in cork flooring and other cool products made of cork like shoes. Each organization can point you to your nearest recycler or you can take corks to a bin at Whole Foods Markets since they have a partnership with Cork ReHarvest.

The cork forests of Portugal are one of the oldest forms of sustainable agroforestry in the world. They’ve been in production since the 13th century and harvesting of the cork does not require cutting down the tree. Buying wines that use natural instead of plastic corks helps sustain these forests and their biodiverse habitats that need continued protection. But how do you know which wines have natural corks? There’s now a web app for that!  Put out by Recork, I love this app called CorkWatch. I did a search for my favorite local winery, Eleven Winery, and found that all of their wines are corked with natural cork. Kendall-Jackson by contrast has a Reserve chardonnay in natural cork and their less expensive everyday chardonnay in plastic.

Although there’s risk of getting a wine with cork taint if you sample a natural cork wine, I still prefer purchasing a plastic-free wine. We know plastics leach BPA into liquids and there is good evidence showing that the plastic corks are not allowing wines to mature properly. Recork’s CorkWatch is helping me reduce my plastic footprint. Furthermore, Cork Forest Conservation Alliance has a method of identification on the bottles themselves which some wineries are using: If you see an acorn on the bottle it means the cork is natural.

If you have accumulated some plastic corks, apparently the industry says you can recycle them. Of course our recycler won’t take them. I couldn’t find any information whether Seattle takes them and Earth911 had zero results for a recycler in our region. Hmmm. I think I’ll stick with traditional cork.

Ok, so you want to do something cool with your saved natural corks rather than recycle them? Here are a few ideas.

1) Wine Cork Cork Board: It’s as simple as gluing the corks against particle board with a frame around it. I use wood glue.

2) Wine Cork Pot Grippers: I squeeze them inside the handles of my cookware so I can pick up the pot tops when they’re hot without the need of a pot holder. Corks don’t conduct heat so these cork handles have become a staple in our kitchen.

cork potgrippers

3) Cork Stamps: If you’re good with an exacto knife, try carving some stamps.

4) Bulletin Bar: Line up your corks and glue them to a yardstick. This makes a yard-long bar for pinning things like your children’s art.

5) Cork Placemat: With 50 corks, a utility knife, and a hot glue gun you’ll have a cork placemat in no time (Okay, it’ll take some time.)

6) Cork Plant Labels: Cork looks natural in the garden labelled with the names of your veggies and herbs you’ve planted.

7) Furniture Leg & Floor Protector: Little cork disks make great furniture leg pads to protect your wood floors from scratches.

8) Wine Cork Key Chains: They might keep your keys afloat!

9) Cork Centerpiece: If you have a large glass bowl and a tea light you can make a pretty cork centerpiece.

10) Cork Trivet: Cork is a great material for making a trivet.

11) Cork Backsplash: If you have a wet bar, a cork backsplash would look great.

12) Cork Ornaments: Corks and beads make pretty Christmas ornaments.

13) Wine Cork Wine Coasters: They might be a bit wobbly for your wine glass but the do look cool.

14) Cork Wreath: Even wreaths can be made from wine corks. Next thing you know, you’ll be able to make a planter out of wine corks.

15) Wine Cork Bird House: This video shows you how to do it. Doesn’t look tough.

16) Wine Cork Place Card Holder: These aren’t difficult to make and they leave a great impression.

17) Wine Cork Curtain: Alas, I can’t find a decent tutorial, but imagine stringing corks and beads together to create a 60’s-ish curtain of cork-strings in your doorway.

18) Wine Cork Base Board: This Old House shows you how to make a base board runner made of wine corks.

19) Wine Cork Dog Leash: Really! And it’s not hard to make.

20) Plant Pot Moisture Absorbers: This one is 2 ideas in 1. You can place corks in the bottom of your large pots to reduce the amount of potting soil you need to put in while providing drainage. But you can also grind up some corks in your vitamix and put the bits in your soil to help hold moisture on hot days.

33 Eggshell Reuses

33 Eggselent uses for your eggshells. Photo © Liesl Clark

In the heart of the summer, our chickens lay a dozen eggs for us a day. For a family of 4 with 14 hens, we go through a lot of eggs. Here are a few reuses for those hardy shells.

1) Garden Fertilizer/Compost: Throw your shells in your compost or yard waste bin if your municipal recyclers allow kitchen scraps in there. Try to crumble them as they’ll decompose more easily if you do. They add calcium and other minerals to your garden soil. I use a stone mortar and pestle by the composter to crush them. Some people even put them in the blender.

2) Worm Food: Our worm bin worms love egg shells. Truly. I find their eggs inside eggshell clusters.

3) Garden Pest Deterrent: Crush and spread them around your favorite plants. Some slugs, snails and cutworms just don’t like them so they won’t “cross the line.”

4) Pot Drainage: Crumble them up and add them to the bottom of potted plants that need drainage. Tomatoes and eggplants will love the added calcium to deter end rot.

5) Chicken Egg Hardener: If your chickens are laying eggs with soft shells feed them some…..eggshells. I know that sounds gross, but it helps give them a dose of calcium and the girls love it. Be sure to crush the shells. Chickens go on the shape of things for foraging so if they get used to eating egg-shaped goodies they’ll start eating their (gasp) own eggs.

6) Eggshell Candles: Yes! They’re beautiful and easy to make.

7) Homemade Space Geodes: These are really cool to make with the kids and they even glow in the dark.

8) Spring Flower Vase: These look quite beautiful with hyacinths held in an egg cup. I only have one chicken that lays white eggs, but seeing these makes me want to save all those white shells.

9) Organic Seedling Starter Pots: Just plant your seeds inside the shell (with potting soil too, of course you dummy), put the shell inside your cardboard egg carton, fill all the other egg carton cups up and you can plant the whole thing in your garden.

10) Egg Shell Succulent Planters: Make a lovely mini succulent garden using your egg shells and the carton, too.

11) Sidewalk Chalk: Big sticks of sidewalk chalk are easy to make and you can use a toilet paper tube roll as your mold and just peel it off.

12) Science Eggsperiments: Here are 10 cool science-y experiments for your child to try with eggs. Fun!

13) Calcium Supplement: Skip the pills and simply bake your shells at 350 degrees for 8 minutes. Let them cool and grind them to a fine powder. Add your supplement (a teaspoon or less) to your favorite smoothie or juice once a day.

14) Pet Calcium Supplement: Do the same as above but just add the powder to their food.

15) Egg Shell Mosaics: You can make beautiful mosaics with Easter egg shells or from ones you dye just for this project.

16) Drain Cleaner: Occasionally send a few crushed-up egg shells down the drain. They can help keep it unclogged by their abrasive action.

17) Egg Shell Decor: Getting in the Easter spirit? Try this idea of hanging your egg shells from a tree as a pretty accent.

18) Instant Bandaid: This one’s my favorite. Technically, you’re using the inner membrane of the shell. Tear a bandaid-size piece of it from your egg shell and place it over your ow-ie. By overlapping the 2 ends together, they stick and will stop the bleeding, too. Love it.

19) Vanilla Custard Pots: Serve up your vanilla custard in natural egg shells.

20) Egg Shell Frame: Make a cool modpodge picture frame with egg shells.

21) Christmas Ornaments: If you blow your eggs out you can turn the shells into pretty ornaments.

22) Abrasive Cleaner: Crush them to a coarse texture and use them to scrub down your pots.

23) De-Bitter Your Coffee: If your coffee is too bitter, add finely crushed egg shell powder to your coffee filter and your joe will taste smoother and sweeter.

24) Bird Food: Add some crushed shells to your bird seed mix. The birds need calcium, too.

25) Garbage Disposal Drain Cleaner: Feed some to your garbage disposal. They are an eggsellent cleaner and sharpener for it.

26) Soup Stock Booster: Add egg shells to your soup stock when boiling it. The nutrients can’t hurt.

27) Garden Walkway Addition: I add crushed shells to a garden path made of white gravel and sea shells. The egg shells just blend right in and hopefully deter the slugs, feed the birds, amend the soil, etc, etc. I guess I like walking on egg shells.

28) Stain Remover: According to Apartment Therapy crushed egg shells can help remove stains in your sink, on your tea pot and from other kitchen or household items.

29) Laundry Whitener: Some say that if you toss some shells in a mesh bag in your laundry, the gray tint to your whites will disappear.

30) Sensory Play: Egg shells make great sensory play items for your toddler.

31) Eggshell Toothpaste: That just about says it all — follow the directions in the link. My daughter and I are going to make some this weekend.

32) Cute Halloween Ghost Decoration: They hang like wind chimes but look like little ghosts on the breeze.

33) Try the Walking on Eggs Experiment: Want to make eggs into eggshells fast? Try this! No, seriously, this experiment conducted by a 6-year-old is a pictorial essay worth checking out.

Now that you’ve reused your egg shells so nicely, what to do with those egg cartons?!

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.

img_1601-photo-c2a9-liesl-clark

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!

10 DIY Fire Pits

The allure of the fire pit. Photo © Liesl Clark

The allure of the fire pit. Photo © Liesl Clark

We love outdoor “rooms” with fire pits. They extend your outdoor time by weeks. Seems the latest craze is repurposing metal things into fire pits. Here’s a list of some of the most innovative ones we could find:

1) Metal Wheelbarrow Fire Pit: If you’ve got a metal one that’s broken down, try to turn it into a fire pit. It’ll look cool in your back yard.

2) Washing Machine Drum Fire Pit: Our app users love this. Next time someone you know is getting rid of their washing machine, ask for the drum inside. They make beautiful fire pits.

3) Paver Brick Fire Pit: Brick and concrete pavers make easy fire pit insulation material. There are many tutorials to find on the web for these homemade fire rings.

4) Wash Pail Fire Pit: A metal wash pail can work as a fire pit. Just be sure that if it’s galvanized you give plenty of time for the chemicals on the metal to burn off.

5) In-Ground Fire Pit: This is a classic and easy fire pit to make at home.

6) Old Grill Fire Pit. Wait for an old grill to come up on your Buy Nothing group for this fire pit option.

7) Shopping Cart Fire Pit: My favorite, with built-in log storage rack.

8) Industrial Wire Waste Fire Bowls: You can always try your hand a making fire bowls like these.

9) Tractor Rim Fire Ring: If you have access to a tractor rim, it makes a great fire ring.

10) Castiron Bathtub Fire Pit: Maybe you have an old tub hanging about?

Reducing Waste on Earth Day One School at a Time

Schools love Earth Day because it’s a kid-friendly time of year to educate and celebrate Mother Earth while taking stock on how we’re measuring up with our waste footprint. A couple years ago, we took the opportunity to audit 2 schools’ waste on Earth Day week, and the impact of the exercise has huge potential. But it’s up to the schools themselves to learn from the experience and find easy ways to change their collective behavior.

This article walks you through an informal audit that can take as little as 1 hour to conduct, if you have a few hands to help. We’ve also cut a short video to inspire you to do your own waste audit in the classroom with the kids. It’s hilarious, because it involves our trash, and enlightening at the same time.

1) Weigh the trash that the school is planning to throw away. In this case, we had 2 weeks’ worth of one school’s trash. There are approximately 45 students and 6 staff in the school.

A Carload of Trash = 2 Weeks' Worth of One School's Waste.

Total Trash Headed to the Landfill = 23.31 lbs.

2) Start sorting! Can anything be diverted? Start with recyclables. This school recycles, but there’s always room for improvement. We found a lot of recyclable paper and plastic in the trash.

We sorted 2 bags'-worth of recyclables out of the landfill-bound trash.

Total Recyclables Diverted from the Landfill: 9.24 lbs.

3) Are there any organics, meaning compostable materials in the trash? Remove them from the trash, pile them up, and weigh them. This school has a Bokashi composter, but there’s always room for improvement.

Compostables Found in the Trash.

Compostable matter is a resource! Put it back in the earth by composting it or sending it to the worm farm.

Throwing away a dried-up plant and soil? We put the soil and plant in the compost and the 4" pot can be reused.

Total Compostables Diverted from the Landfill: 6.27 lbs.

4) Are there any reusable items in the trash? Separate them out and weigh them. A lot of pencils, some clothing, and bookmarks were recovered from the trash for donation to an organization that needs these items.

These pencils can be reused. Photo © Liesl Clark

Total reusable items: 5.76 lbs.

5) Are there any polyethylene plastic bags in the trash? Separate them out and weigh them. We found 45 totally clean trash bags in the waste.

Mount Polyethylene. Photo © Liesl Clark

Total plastic bags: 1.16 lbs.

6) Are there other specialty recycling items in the trash, like scrap metal, batteries, printer cartridges, and styrofoam peanuts? They don’t need to go in the trash.

Packing Peanuts Can Be Recycled at UPS or Freecycled.

Total speciality recycling items: 0.52 lbs.

7) Are any of the compostable items good for chickens to eat? Separate them from the trash and weigh them.

Chicken Vittles, Courtesy of School Lunch.

Total chicken bucket items: 0.36 lbs.

8) Now re-weigh your trash headed to the landfill.

Final Landfill Tally? 3.76 lbs.

Total Trash Headed to Landfill Post-Sort: 3.76 lbs.

That’s a diversion of 19.55 lbs. or 2 and 3/4 trash bins-full. We pay $4.00 per trash can of waste at our transfer station. This waste audit saved the school (or the school’s volunteer who takes the trash to the landfill) $11.00. In one year, that’s a savings of $286.00. For a small school, that’s a significant savings!

How can we keep our school waste down in the future? Here are some simple recommendations that any school can follow to reduce their landfill waste:

Recommendations

1) If your school doesn’t have a composting program in place, consider starting one or a worm bin. Failing that, a parent volunteer who has a farm or garden will happily take your organic waste away for their own compost. See your organics as a resource!

2) Place a small recycle and compost bin next to every landfill trash bin in your school. This way you give everyone a CHOICE.

3) Clean and wet paper towels can be recycled. Place a recycle bin in the bathrooms for this along with a sign reminding people that the bin is for their clean and wet paper towels. Or better yet, lose the paper towels and switch to cloth ones. This school did.

4) Set up specialty recycling containers where appropriate. For example, a plastic bag recycling spot should go in every classroom and in the lunchroom and kitchen. A school volunteer can come and pick up the plastic bags once a week and take them to the grocery store for recycling. I’ve happily done it for our children’s schools for years.

Do the same for other items such as batteries and printer cartridges. These items should never be put into the landfill. Your community will have a recycling location for them, or look “batteries” or “printer cartridges” up in our Trash Backwards app. Staples takes printer cartridges worldwide and most municipal recycling programs have a safe disposal location for batteries.

5) If your school has a pencil sharpening area, place a can near the sharpener for collecting shredded pencil bits for the compost. Also place a donation can for the small pencils that your teacher might want you to throw away. Children at our libraries in Nepal would love those pencils, or let the students take them home for their homework. The image below, shows a yellow pencil stub my son found in a schoolyard outside one of our Magic Yeti Children’s Libraries in Nepal, lined up with the pencils we sorted out of a school’s waste yesterday:

Yellow pencil found in a schoolyard in Nepal vs. the pencils (and shapeners) discarded in a 2-week period by one US school.

The pencils can go to good use in the hands of kids who have no pencils in Nepal.

These discarded colored pencils will bring joy to children living at 14,000 feet in the rainshadow of the Himalaya. Trash. Backwards.

6) Each classroom could have a reuse bin for students to throw items (like the discarded pencils) that others could take for reuse or donation. Some students might be able to use a plastic container that might otherwise be thrown away, for example.

7) Set up a chicken bucket in the food-eating areas. You’ll likely have a family or 2 that have chickens. Getting the students involved in seeing their food waste as a resource for another animal is a good thing. The families can switch off chicken bucket pickup each week. We use a galvanized bucket decorated by our children for our chickens.

6) Be aware of what’s headed to the landfill monthly and set community goals to reduce even further. If your cleaning service doesn’t empty the trash bags but simply removes a bag no matter how much waste is in it and replaces it with another, you might recommend they pour the trash from all your waste bins into a single bag, to conserve plastic trash bags.

This trash bag only had a single dry paper towel in it.

If they use single-use swiffer dusters, perhaps invest in a reusable micro-fiber swiffer duster.

If your school laminates a lot. Consider going lamination-free. Laminate is a non-recyclable plastic, is costly, and isn’t the most healthy material for children to be handling on a daily basis. Using reusable plastic sleeves might be a more sustainable option.

8) Educate parents and students about food packaging used in school lunches. Plastic snack packaging was the single-most thrown-out item in this school’s landfill waste. Encouraging students and staff to find plastic-free options will make a large dent in your overall waste bill. Students, when made aware that plastic is forever, often prefer plastic-free lunches. A popular option to suggest is a “pack it in, pack it out” policy for school lunches, putting the waste onus on parents and students, not the school. Parents can then see what their kids are truly eating, or not, and modify their portions and lunch choices accordingly, saving money and waste.

Single Most Common Item in Landfill Trash = Snack Wrappers.

Have you found this information useful? Share it with others, especially your school!