Stone Garlic “Press”

If you’re a lover of kitchen gizmos like garlic presses but just haven’t enjoyed the clean-up factor, get yourself a big stone to use in your kitchen. Skip that gizmo that’s a pain to clean up, is going to eventually break, doesn’t give you all the garlic from that clove since it gets stuck in weird places, and simply use a pestle-shaped stone instead.  I’ve used one in my kitchen for 10 years now and I couldn’t live without it. In Nepal, my friends use stones in their kitchens: One flat one and one cylindrical one for crushing, mashing, and grinding either garlic, chili peppers, whole grains or whole spices. I brought a stone home with me and would recommend you look for one, too. Maybe there’s a pestle-shaped on out in the woods, in your garden, or on the bank of the nearest river or stream. Think cave man, not Pottery Barn. One hit on the garlic and it’s peeled. Another smash and it’s crushed. Easy.

DIY Tooth Powder (Plastic-Free Toothpaste)

When you’re trying to go plastic-free, toothpaste is a crux issue for most people. But crux no more! We have a plastic-free toothpaste/tooth powder recipe that’ll keep you happy and make you wonder why we all strayed from this basic recipe years ago in the first place.

Plastic-Free Tooth Powder is Easy to Make. Photo © Liesl Clark

I remember the days of tooth powder. It came in a family-size metal bottle with a top on it that you could shake over your toothbrush and the powder would come out. Pretty basic. But this stuff was great and I wonder why we’ve replaced it with paste in a plastic tube?

My family has used variations of this recipe for the past 4 years, on-again and off-again, and we’re always happy when we get back to using it. The baking soda cleans my teeth better than any other toothpaste out there.

And it takes less than 3 minutes to put it together:

2 tablespoons Baking Soda

2 pipette stoppers-ful of liquid stevia (liquid stevia comes in glass jars with stoppers)

1/4 teaspoon organic peppermint flavor (It’s a combination of sunflower oil and peppermint oil)

1/8 teaspoon organic mint extract

Mix your ingredients together in a small bowl or small mason jar.

The next step is perhaps the toughest: Finding the right container to hold and apply your tooth powder with. I found a pretty vanilla extract bottle with a small lid that works perfectly. We just shake it over our toothbrushes over the sink and if any powder falls into the sink it’s an added bonus for cleaning the sink! Baking soda has many uses. Cleaning your teeth AND your sink are just 2 of them.

My vanilla jar with a pretty paper label. The kids love it and our sink stays extra clean! Photo © Liesl Clark

So, why not give it a try? You’ll love the clean feel of this toothpaste/powder. It’s truly somewhere half-way in between a paste and a powder and feels great!

And to the question of toothbrushes:

A Bamboo Toothbrush With Plastic-Free Toothpaste is How We Roll at Chez Trash Backwards. Photo © Liesl Clark

Toothbrushes wash up on our beaches much too often, presumably because of the sewage that oft seeps into Puget Sound and the Pacific. Imagine that, some people flush their old toothbrushes down the toilet.

Going plastic-free in the bathroom is a great way to reduce our overall impact. Our post on toothbrushes can help you find ones that have less plastic and we’ve also found some helpful reuses for your old brushes so they can be utilized for special jobs around the house.

Kick The Can (Habit) And Slow Cook Your Beans

By Mr. Everest

Cooked beans are a staple in our family. Whether they’re pinto or black beans, we cook up a pot of beans at least once a week. Today, the house smelled wonderful as the beans cooked in the slow cooker with garlic and onions.

Nothing smells better than a pot 'o beans in the kitchen. Photo © Liesl Clark

For the past 3 years, we’ve gone plastic-free in the culinary arts so that means no canned food. Most cans have bisphenol A (BPA) in them which is an epoxy resin-like substance that is an endocrine disruptor and a chemical linked to cancer. Beans in a can are among the top BPA-laden canned foods out there. When we converted our kitchen over to a plastic-free one, canned beans were a favorite staple we had to rethink. But the Greek ancestry in me knew it wouldn’t mean we’d go without beans for long. My Dad always had a pot of lentils on the stove, so why not do the same with pinto and black beans?

Crock Pot Beans. Photo © Liesl Clark

Every few days I pull out the slow cooker, throw some beans in (say 4 cups-worth) add quadruple the amount of water, throw in a bay leaf from our friends’ tree, several cloves of garlic from our garden (whole cloves are fine), a few extra garlic skins, chopped onion, and about a teaspoon of sea salt. Each time I do it the recipe changes but this is a basic one that works. Put the cover on the slow cooker and let ‘er cook for about 18 hours or until your beans have reached their desired tenderness. No stirring is required. Just leave the slow cooker alone and enjoy the rest of your day.

Red onion, chives and garlic with black beans. Photo © Liesl Clark

We buy our beans in bulk, 25 lbs at a time, so they come to us in a big paper feed sack. We then store them in glass jars for easy access.

Bean Storage in Large Glass Jars. Photo © Liesl Clark

I tend to turn half of the cooked beans into refried beans (just mash ’em down as you fry them with a little more garlic and onion and add some cumin and liquid aminos for salt) and then make burritos or enchiladas that we can freeze for easy school lunches to reheat for the kids. We also make black bean soup with them or just a simple bean dip.

IMG_5177 Photo © Liesl Clark

These beans are always better than anything I’ve eaten from a can, and they cost about a tenth of the price. But the real benefit of kicking canned food is the mindfulness of slow-cooking and making your staples from scratch. Cooked beans in a slow cooker are so simple, yet they require a few minutes of forethought and planning for the meals that your family will enjoy in the week ahead. Four cups of dried beans will result in about 8 cups of cooked beans, enough for a family of 4 to enjoy for a week in many different creations. As your home fills with the buttery and savory smell of cooking beans, enjoy the pleasure, as my Dad did, of slow-cooked food and the sweet time it takes for the flavors to blend together completely.

Mapping Plastic: The Lost Coast

Exploring Bainbridge Island's Lost Coast © Liesl Clark

Exploring Bainbridge Island’s Lost Coast © Liesl Clark

Who owns the shoreline?

This is the question we’re asking after walking one of the most beautiful stretches of Bainbridge Island’s coastline. The mile-long stretch of nearly house-free shore had very few plastics along it, too. Does this prove that the plastics are washing down into our waters from our homes? Possibly.

Kitchen Sink Scrubby. They're Made of Plastic. © Liesl Clark

Kitchen Sink Scrubby. They’re Made of Plastic Fibers. Try a Plastic-Free Alternative. © Liesl Clark

This gorgeous stretch of beach lies along the southwest side of the island, skirting Port Orchard Bay and leading up toward the Poulsbo Marina in the distance. There’s about 2 miles of water between this shore and Bremerton’s shoreline, and the tidal currents move through here pretty swiftly, leaving little ability for plastics to make purchase ashore. Yet they still do.

Water Skiing Anyone? © Liesl Clark

Water Skiing Anyone? © Liesl Clark

The Lost Coast starts with a hike down the Close Property Trail to the rocky shore. It’s a classic Northwest coastal hike through old douglas firs and ferns, the trail switch-backing down the steep green scape to the water. We turned right and headed north, my two children and one of their good friends. Everyone had a bag in hand, to pick up plastics, or pretty shells and rocks. We had a feeling this stretch of shore wouldn’t have many plastics because we come here often and only find the occasional offender.

Hiking Through Ferns on the Close Property Trail © Liesl Clark

Hiking Through Ferns on the Close Property Trail © Liesl Clark

A high bank leaves jungle for us to enjoy, with a few properties that have carved out a beach presence, stashing their plastic lawn furniture in the brambles. It’ll only be a matter of a few storms before the plastic furniture is set free onto the billowing seas. Some kayaks were imaginatively lashed to trees and a couple of landowners had cool pulley-elevators for getting people and gear down to their stretch of paradise.

The Ever-Present Marine Rope, Made of Plastic © Liesl Clark

The Ever-Present Marine Rope, Made of Plastic © Liesl Clark

But after about an hour, our walk was cut short by a sign indicating we couldn’t pass.

No Trespassing!? © Liesl Clark

No Trespassing!? © Liesl Clark

Can the beach, even at the lowest mean tide, be privately owned? According to The Public Trust Doctrine, passed down from English Common Law, we have the right, especially at extreme low tides, to walk shoreline beaches, to recreate along the shore’s edge. The thinking is that below the common high tide mark, the land is not privately owned. But some homeowners beg to differ and the state of Washington, in particular, has no final judgement on the matter. Can we cross this section of beach at the lowest winter tide possible to continue our beach plastics survey? Or do we have to take up a friend’s offer to ferry us by row boat past this 100 yard stretch of beach to the other side? Fletcher Bay is a narrow residential bay, one of the significant watersheds of our island, that could hold clues to the question of where our ocean plastics are coming from.

Nursery Plant Tags are a common Beach Plastic © Liesl Clark

Nursery Plant Tags are a common Beach Plastic © Liesl Clark

Most people think the plastics in our oceans comes from boats. We’re convinced it comes from our homes. Case in point: Those plastic tags you have in a nursery plant pot, giving you the latin name of your purchase and growing instructions. Do we find nursery plants on boats? No. This culprit has washed down a watershed into the salty sea and we plucked it from Bainbridge Island’s Lost Coast.

Landed Umbrella © Liesl Clark

Landed Umbrella © Liesl Clark

If it has plastic in it, even if a small percentage of it is plastic, you’ll find it on the beach. I don’t think there’s anything made of plastic that we haven’t found washed ashore. The tally from our Lost Coast walk included, shoe soles, lots of styrofoam pieces, motor oil containers, plastic toys, and easily a hundred meters of marine rope.

If you’d like to join us on a leg of our circumnavigation of Bainbridge Island, to see for yourself, just let us know in the comments.

Bainbridge Island's Lost Coast. The Most Plastic-Free Stretch of Beach on the Island. © Liesl Clark

Bainbridge Island’s Lost Coast. The Most Plastic-Free Stretch of Beach on the Island. © Liesl Clark

Read about the previous leg on our circumnavigation of Bainbridge Island.

New Year’s Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (Re)Solutions

New Year's Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Re(Solutions) Bring Simplicity and Joy. Photo © Liesl Clark

New Year’s Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (Re)Solutions Bring Simplicity and Joy. Photo © Liesl Clark

In the New Year, I believe many of us have dreams of simplicity, homes de-cluttered and made minimal yet functional. Can this be achieved in a sustainable manner? Yes!

Sustainably reducing our junk brings a sense of freedom and joy, and I can tell you from experience that it’s entirely attainable, without trashing the environment. The key is to take simple steps toward offloading your excess items. As a byproduct, you’ll find real pleasure in seeing the value in your things and the joy they can bring others, rather than just tossing them into the landfill.

Here are 9 of our favorite New Year’s (Re)Solutions to help you reduce the stuff weighing you down:

I suggest you take a week to truly de-clutter and reduce.

STEP ONE: Each day of the week choose one room to focus on, so you don’t wear yourself out on day one. Do a decluttering pass through the room, carrying a box which will hold the items you’re ready to offload.

STEP TWO: Can any of your unwanted stuff be reused? Join your local Buy Nothing group, a gift economy where people share what they have with their neighbors. Keeping our stuff in our local materials economy is one of the greatest gifts you can give your own community, connecting you to the people around you and helping us all to reduce our consumption. See if there’s a group near you or ask the founders team to start a group in your area if you’re willing to be a local admin.

You can then post each of your items in your group. Don’t be shy! Your stuff is another person’s treasure. People give cement blocks away in our group, sticks, even used bubble wrap, extra pans of homemade lasagna, chicken feed, and unwanted jewelry. There’s no such thing as “trash” in our groups as you may find an artist who could use your discarded item or a small business owner who needs bubble wrap for packaging their items for shipping. If you don’t have a Buy Nothing group in our area, then move on to step 3.

STEP THREE: Have a few spare boxes ready to hold your leftover unwanted and unused items in your garage, basement, attic or spare room where you can then separate the pile into distinct categories:

1) Stuff to Donate to an Animal Shelter: Do you have old blankets, towels, or extra pens and pencils hanging about? You’d be surprised to learn what items most animal shelters could use. Here’s a typical wish list for a local shelter.

To find an animal shelter near you, click to The Humane Society‘s website where they have links to the best resources for locating local animal shelters. All you need to do is input your zip code to find a local shelter. Most have a wish list online, but you can call to find out their specific needs.

2) Stuff to Donate to a Charity That Will Come and Pick Things Up: There’s nothing better than people who come to you and take away your unwanted stuff. Donationtown has a website where you can input your zip code a find a charity that will come to your home and pick reusable household items up. But if you have a local charity, like GoodWill where you can drop off your items, that’s another great option.

Are you seeing the forest through the trees? Ridding of your excess stuff sustainably isn't so hard. Photo © Liesl Clark

Are you seeing the forest through the trees? Ridding of your excess stuff, sustainably, isn’t so hard. Photo © Liesl Clark

3) Electronics Recycling: Take stock of your e-waste — your electronics that no longer work or that you haven’t used in a year or 2, and take them to Best Buy! Best Buy is one of North America’s top e-waste recyclers and you can easily find one near you. This task is a simple one: load up a cart with your old TV, computers, vacuum cleaner, and wheel it through the front door and there will be a place by the front door to leave your electronics for recycling. Done.

You Can Recycle 3 Electronic Items Per Visit to Best Buy

You Can Recycle 3 Electronic Items Per Visit to Best Buy

4) Metals can go to a nearby scrap metal facility: We save our metals in a special box to be taken periodically to our scrap metal bin found at the local transfer station. Metals of all types have value and can be repurposed into new items made of metal. Saving things that are primarily made of metal can benefit your scrap metal facility greatly and keep those precious materials out of the landfill and in our materials economy for years to come.

5) Do you have a cupboard filled with plastic containers? Reduce it by half and you probably won’t miss what you’ve removed. Save your favorite ones for storing dry goods in and then go through your jars and do the same thing. If you have extra lids, recycle them. Or if you’re missing lids, recycle the jars or containers themselves. The new year is a time to take stock and simplify! I reduced my jars by half and passed the good ones with lids on to our local senior center that collects them for projects. Check with your senior center to see if they can use them or post your jars on your Buy Nothing group. Someone will have a use for them.

6) If you’re trying to reduce old stockpiled boxes of random stuff, make a pledge to go through one box at a time. Give yourself time to go through it and separate the items into recyclable items and those that can be given away and reused. I try to remind myself that we’re stewards of our stuff on this planet and our job is to, at the end of your stuff’s usefulness to you, dispense with it responsibly.

Stockpiled Boxes in the Attic: Emptying Them Out One Per Week is Do-able.

Stockpiled Boxes in the Attic: Emptying Them Out One at a Time, Even One a Day Makes the Task Do-able.

7) If you have old family photos you want to reduce, you can always check with family members to see if they want them. By scanning them digitally, you can save them on a small thumb drive and then you have the photo paper waste to think of. There are some great ideas out there for photo reuse, like turning them into tile coasters or donating them to a scrap art store. Remember, your old family photos do have potential value, especially for your family’s future generations.

8) Books: If there were ever an easy item to help you get rid of, it’s books! Most libraries want your books as do many non-profits worldwide.  We have a local “Books and Beer” get-together every few months in our Buy Nothing group where we can meet neighbors and share our books.

9) Make a promise to yourself to be mindful of what you acquire. Promise that all new things going into your home this year will be used and loved extensively, not squirreled away in yet another box to be offloaded at the end of the year. If you don’t take my advice, you might want to listen to a slightly different perspective on reducing. It all results in the same thing, however, less waste and less unnecessary clutter in your life for stepping out into a new year.

There is an elegance to beginnings and endings of years. Make yours a stuff-free one by following our simple steps. Photo © Liesl Clark

There is an elegance to beginnings and endings of years. Make yours a stuff-free one by following our simple steps. Photo© Liesl Clark

Mapping Plastic: First Days of Our Journey

Even Point White Pier ain’t plastic-free. We found Chapstick tubes lodged in the cracks. Photo © Liesl Clark

Our journey started on a windy day. Circumnavigating Bainbridge Island to map the plastic on its shores has started off like any other beach walk where we tease plastic detritus from tall grasses, seaweed, and huge boulders. Our friends, Rebecca Rockefeller, David Dale Campbell, and their daughters met us at Pleasant Beach, aka Lynwood Center Beach, and we headed south at the day’s lowest tide in hopes of reaching Point White Pier by dark. But we hit a snag.

Rich Passage is a narrow waterway providing access between Seattle and Bremerton for ferries, submarines and naval boats from the nearby seaports. Strong tidal conditions prevail and a winter shoreline walk along the Bainbridge side of the passage is impossible. Lined entirely with bulkheads, houses built right up to the coast, Rich Passage isn’t actually passable on foot. Our map here shows the section, right at Point White, that we had to skip, but we’ll return at a minus tide in the spring to complete as much of it as possible and collect whatever plastics are plastered to the human-made coast.

Legs 1 and 2 of the Bainbridge Island Plastic Mapping Project. Our Track is in Blue.

It’s a 53-mile circumnavigation we’re undertaking and we’ve done about 2. Beginnings are all about logistics, so the fact that we managed to track our progress by GPS and map it for you here is a huge feat.

Rebecca Rockefeller Inspecting “The Armored Coast,” Photo © Liesl Clark

We resumed our route on the west side of Point White 2 days later and cleaned the armored coast of plastic to Point White Pier, a landmark on Bainbridge where the fishing is good and summer swimmers hurl themselves into Puget Sound’s frigid waters.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, “One of the largest estuaries in the United States, Puget Sound has roughly 2,500 miles of sheltered coastline, about one-third of which is armored. An increasing regional population and rising sea level will likely increase the pressure for additional shoreline armoring. Bulkheads, seawalls, and other armoring structures protect shoreline properties from damage and loss due to erosion, but armoring can also affect the nearshore habitat that is so important to restoring and preserving the health of Puget Sound.”

The man-made basalt armor of Crystal Springs. Plastics are jammed around the boulders. Photo © Liesl Clark

We see the daily affect of the sea upon the armored coastlines we walk and know climate change and sea level rise will ultimately win out. And studies are proving that armored coasts cause increased erosion on neighboring shorelines and adversely affect wildlife habitats. For us plastic pluckers, the armored coastlines mean there’s little plastic to be procured as there’s no true high tide line. Those plastics will have to deposit themselves somewhere else.

Rope Is Easily Caught in Man-Made Boulder-Strewn Coastline, Photo © Liesl Clark

Marine rope and fishing line is easily found behind and around boulders placed along Puget Sound’s shorelines, a barrier between sea and land but a catchment sieve for ropes and lines. We approach these coastlines with steely knives, our tools to free plastic filament ropes so we can remove them permanently in an effort to prevent future entanglement of marine species. The ropes placed by people to moor or tie down their boats, of course, are left alone. Most ropes we free, we’re able to simply pull from the rocks or pick up from the high tide line.

Some marine rope is reused by our researchers. Photo © Liesl Clark

Every beach walk brings surprises, sometimes in the form of items our intrepid children would like to keep — gifts from the sea — or bizarre relics in plastic that have no purpose on a beach. The new-looking basketball was a surprise, until we found a second one and realized they can’t be uncommon. Then the plastic spongy pig thing brought shouts of joy.

A Pig on the Beach? Photo © Liesl Clark

What the? Photo © Liesl Clark

But it was the white plastic replica sculpture of “The Last Supper” that won first prize this time.

“The Last Supper” on the Beach. Photo © Liesl Clark

What weird stuff have you found on the beach?

Our beach plastics survey would be remiss if we didn’t highlight the usual suspects, like balloons. This is one of the hundreds we’ve picked up in the last year alone.

Balloon and Pool Noodle Washed Up On Bainbridge Island. Photo © Liesl Clark

If you haven’t noticed, balloons blow, and when they have a ribbon attached to them that ribbon gets wrapped up in seaweed or around the necks of curious seals. We’ve seen countless images of seals entangled in plastic. Balloons and their attendant ribbons contribute to this problem. Please consider alternatives to balloons for your next birthday party to help prevent their inevitable migration to the sea. We don’t buy gift ribbon anymore, now that we’ve seen how much of it lines our shores.

Inner Plastic Lining of a Mylar Balloon, Washed Ashore. Photo © Liesl Clark

The Tally So Far:
We’re inventorying our island plastics by item. And so far, the most populous plastics are plastic bottle caps, styrofoam chunks, earplugs, construction zone tape (37 feet), fireworks, pvc piping, snack food bags & wrappers, plastic drink bottles, styrofoam food trays, tape, and 209 feet of marine rope. We’ve recycled the plastic bottles along with any glass bottles and aluminum cans we pick up along the way — just putting what’s plucked from the sea back into our materials economy.

Items of Note?
Three plastic wreath frames presented themselves on a high shoreline bank. In an upcoming post we’ll expose what ecologists say about the affects of throwing your yard clippings and organic waste into the sea. Grass clippings are not good for our oceans, yet we’re finding that Bainbridge Island residents are piling their yard waste and organics along their sea walls so they can be pulled out to sea with high tides and storm events. Hence the wreath frames, nursery tape, plastic plant pots, and those plastic tags that tell you what kind of plant you’ve bought are found all over Puget Sound. If we find things that can be reused, we put them back into circulation. So, we’re proud to note that the two of the plastic wreath frames were shared on our local Buy Nothing group and an island neighbor will use them for upcoming holiday wreath-making. I was inspired by her enthusiasm and reused one for a wreath I made of rosemary clippings from one of our plants. We’re also collecting all golf balls, tennis balls, and beach toys to be reused by local friends.

On a lighter side, we found a very old and rusty plastic lighter from The Derby lounge in Ketchican, Alaska!

Want to join us, physically or virtually, in our adventure around Bainbridge Island on our Plastic Mapping expedition? No need for us to do this alone! Drop us a line in the comments and we’ll arrange a date.