Save Your String

We salvage string. Don’t you? When I see rolls of string sold in the hardware store, I wonder who buys it? String is freely available if you just know where to look for it.

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The feed we buy for our chickens comes in large paper feed bags laced up with string. When we pull the string to open the bags, it comes out freely and we have plenty to last us throughout the year. We roll it onto a small roll of paper and it goes into the string box.

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I found an old wooden box that was covered with Christmas wrapping paper a few years ago. This box has been salvaged for the use of storing our saved string. So, shoelaces are salvaged and washed, bungee cord gets thrown in there, craft string, a few pieces of yarn, homemade “plarn,” cordage, twine, even pieces of candle wicking that hasn’t been put in wax go in there. Whenever something has reached the end of its life and we need to throw it away, any string on it gets salvaged and thrown into the string box.

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String is a staple for my gardening, as I use it to create pea ladders between woven sticks for my growing pea shoots, or to hold the hellebore up when the heavy blossoms weigh down the large plants.

The whole family knows where to go when they need a piece of string or shoe lacing to make a repair and tie together a few things. When my son was 5, he connected his favorite truck to its trailer with string when the hitch broke.

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String is the stuff of life, affording us everyday repairs to sew-up, tie together, wrap around, hold up, and weave anew.

Save your string, all forms of it. Don’t throw it away. And find a pretty container to hold it, for all to access for the projects that will come.

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.

Banana Peel Shoe Polish

You heard that right! I used a banana peel to shine my shoes.

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Before

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After

My boots were looking pretty bad, having made a few trips to the hen house surrounded by mud. They’ve also been scraped and battered over the years, and I never seem to have the time to shine ’em up. We don’t have any shoe polish here in the house and I didn’t want to go out and buy some, knowing it’s likely not made with the most environmentally-friendly ingredients. I had also done some research a year or so ago about 20 incredibly versatile things a banana peel can be used for. Shining your shoes with a peel was on the list. I figured it was time to give it a try.

So here’s all you need:

Your scuffed up shoes, made of leather or a facsimile thereof

A Banana Peel

Soft Cloth

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These seriously needed some help.

The Method: Rub the inside of the banana peel all over your shoes. Spread that shiny gook all over and rub some of it in as you swipe peel over leather. Then, grab your soft cloth and buff, just as you would if you were polishing your shoes with that black or brown stuff you see at the airport shoeshine spot. Rub and then buff. Apply a second coat of banana peel goodness and rub and buff again. Do it a third time, and you’re done! They’re not sticky at all. The oil from the inside peel of the banana did its magic and my boots are good to go for a few hundred more miles.

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Maybe not perfect, but so much better! Try it, this banana stuff works.

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!

Give Your Used Clothing Directly To Those In Need

 

Separating clothing into equal piles for 17 families. © Liesl Clark

Separating clothing into equal piles for 17 families. © Liesl Clark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giving used clothing away to the poor here in North America is often a strangely disconnected experience. I’ve donated clothes for years to local charities, but it’s always, sadly, an anonymous gift. There’s so much joy in connecting directly with the people who need your clothing! Putting a human face on poverty and need should not be shameful. What’s troubling to me is that most charities in the US act as a buffer between you, your stuff, and the people who could use your stuff. If we could connect with those in need more easily, I believe we’d all give more freely. The more we can put a face on those who are in need, the less taboo the subjects of homelessness and poverty will become. A recent trip to Nepal compounded these revelations for me.

“Divide the clothing into 17 piles.” We had brought 4 duffel bags filled with socks, jackets, pants, hats, all the clothing necessary to keep a family warm. What we didn’t anticipate was that the clothing would have to be divided into 17 equal shares. This village has 17 households. To keep it fair amongst all families in the village, the decision was made that no matter whether a family had children or not, all the clothing would be divided evenly and the families could then trade amongst themselves for clothing based on need.

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We put 17 pairs of pants, shoes, socks, shirts, jackets and hats, even stuffed animals into discreet piles. A lottery was then devised where a name was pulled out of a hat and that family could pick up a pile of clothing. I saw no bartering or trading after each family received its pile, everyone received their share happily and a little shyly.

© Liesl Clark

What amazes me is that the clothing from my family and my daughter’s best friend’s family, plus some shoes from The North Face and socks donated from a shoe store could clothe an entire village, or keep them happy for a few months with some new things to keep family members warm. A few distributed toys, too, brought joy to all ages.

The women of Samdzong enjoying a kaleidoscope. © Liesl Clark

If you have worn clothing, please don’t throw it away. Your clothes could make a mother or child happy, help keep them warm or even provide material for new clothing that they’ll make from your old ones. I’ve seen my old pants cut up and used as patch material for a child’s pants here in Nepal, or a T-shirt worn by a lama as an under-layer of clothing for months.

© Liesl Clark

 

Socks, shoes, shirts, pants: It's all needed in the village of Samdzong. © Liesl Clark

As we walk away from villages here in Nepal, we take what we can from our personal duffel bags and hand them to those who could clearly use a better pair of shoes or a warm jacket. The more contact we have with those who are in need, the more we can help address all of our basic needs and ultimately share resources, re-allocating our excess clothing and food into the hands of the needy — rather than throwing it away.

Even the pencils our children’s school was throwing away made it into the hands of school children today who will use them until the pencils are mere stubs. If this is all that we do: turn people’s thrown away items into gifts for the poor, we will have done a small bit of good for children and families that have so very little here in the high Himalaya.

Are you looking for a way to donate your clothing so you know it gets to those in need? You could give it away in your local Buy Nothing group. Chances are, if you’re observing in your group, when you post your clothes, you’ll find plenty of families that could use a boost of free clothing, rather than having to buy it all new. These are your neighbors and it’s so easy to do person-to-person giving right in your own ‘hood.

 

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’.