Another Look at Plastic-Free July: Traveling

Plastic-Free July is a concept that started a few years ago in Australia. (You can read my previous Plastic-Free post here)

I knew I’d be traveling this summer, so before I even started Plastic-Free July, I thought about my two main challenges: produce and coffee.

I already use canvas shopping bags for toting purchases from the farmers’ market and the grocery store, so it’s no trouble to keep one in my suitcase; I usually do that anyway. But I often end up using the plastic produce bags at the stores. I decided to take some old ones along for reuse, and that worked, most of the time.

When I got home, I went shopping and found these cotton produce bags.

Cotton produce bags: plastic free AND washable.

Cotton produce bags: plastic free AND washable.

I can use and reuse these. Of course the best option would be to plant a garden, but I don’t have the space, the light, or the dirt for more than the three pepper plants and little spot of herbs that I already have.

As for coffee: here’s the shameful result of 2 weeks of forgetting to keep my travel cup with me.

Accumulated coffee lids and cardboard sleeves: I'm guilty during Plastic-Free July.

A guilty admission: there were a couple more lids that were not recyclable and I didn’t bring them home.

I have a sense of failure here, but at least I collected the lids and cardboard sleeves and brought them back to recycle, then spent the rest of the month drinking my coffee at home. At first I congratulated myself on thinking that it’s easy to find coffee beans in a paper, rather than plastic, container — then I noticed that my electric coffee pot is plastic with a glass carafe. Good grief. I’m going back to using my glass and metal cafe press, so I can feel a tiny bit virtuous.

I think the main lesson of plastic-free July is awareness. Now that I’m actively looking, I see plastic everywhere: jars of prepared foods, bottles of juice, cups of yogurt, plastic-wrapped cheeses, plastic-bagged carrots, plastic clamshells of mushrooms, berries, grapes, tomatoes. Plastic water bottles? No — too big a subject for this post. Not going there.

Now that I see all the plastic, I’m able to think of ways to work around some of it. Even small changes can add up. My home made yogurt tastes pretty good, and saves a few plastic cups per week. And I can’t resist using a photo of these amazing farmer’s market mushrooms one more time.  (Nope. I didn’t push the color. What you see is what you get.)

Plastic-free farmer's market mushrooms.

No clamshell plastic-free mushrooms.

And yes, it hasn’t escaped me that I popped the plastic SD card out of my plastic-bodied camera to load these photos.

Let’s take it one more step: could there be a downside to all this plastic besides the obvious load on the landfills and oceans for the percent that doesn’t get recycled? What about our bodies? What happens to us, with our constant exposure to BPA, pthalates, and possible endocrine disruptors? In other words — all this plastic? Here’s some food for thought…

Plastic-free July is over now, and I admit that being completely plastic-free is beyond my reach. But it’s still possible to use plastic less. Will you join me in a “plastic less” year?

For more information on Plastic-Free July, visit:

Still Selling Used Books on

I veered off to related topics on recent posts and haven’t mentioned things I’ve been able to get rid of – er, find homes for.

Bobs alligator IMG_3314

What? You mean not everyone has an alligator on their book case?
(I found that in Bob’s stuff too)

It’s always a pleasure to sort books, and from April through June I brought up four more of Bob’s book-boxes from the basement and went through them, as well as the residual stacks of books from my failed eBay experiment. There are only five boxes left now, and I’ve decided to save them until I make some room. Mind you that’s just the books, there are plenty of other boxes left in the basement.

My shelf of non-fiction books for sale on

Non-fiction for sale on seller account “Bob’s Stuff”

Above is my shelf of the non-fiction books I’ve listed on I have just as many more on other shelves that are fiction — see why I’m not unpacking any more boxes for a while?

Here are some close-ups for title reading purposes…

A shelf of fiction books for sale on

This is from a fiction shelf: lots of Pogo, and look Ma, “Robots Have No Tails”.

Some more favorites:

The Gentle Art of Mathematics

The Computation of Orbits

The 5-minute Guaranteed Ukelele Course (what?)

The Large Scale Structure of Space Time (sold in 3 weeks)

The Bawdy and the Naughty (that’s “Lewd Limericks, Pungent Parodies, Rowdy Repartee, Worldly Wisecracks,” and more)

Practical Poultry Management (wait, what again?)

Books I've saved for Donald and Emily.

Books I saved for Donald and Emily.

In the April-June books, I found over a hundred to list for sale on Amazon and gave dozens to friends (thank you friends). Meanwhile, I  perfected the art of asking people what they’d like. Now I stack the books, photograph them, and email visual lists of what’s available. As for the rest, I gave bags full to my Library and to Goodwill.

I have to admit I’m reluctant to finish unpacking books – a task much cleaner and more intellectually stimulating than, say, cleaning out the garage (still in progress). It’s also more personal. When I unpack a box of Bob’s books I see things he packed away before we even moved here, yet they’re things that were important to him to keep. And they’re not just things, they’re books, which means to me they hold a kind of magic. Poetry, fiction, dense philosophy, complicated mathematical theories, bawdy limericks, it doesn’t matter: each one opens a little window of insight.

Since Bob’s death, I’ve sought to know him better through the things he left behind. What we read forms our minds and nurtures our spirits. Could there be a better way to learn about someone than by seeing the books he’s read, and meant to read, and was amused by, inspired by, or instructed by? I don’t think so.

Five more boxes – I’ll try to finish with them by the end of the year. And yes, if/when I’m successful in downsizing, someday my heirs can just donate my e-reader.

Related Posts:

Selling Used Books on

Too Much Stuff: Buying Multiple Copies of Books

Book Donations

Four Choices for Plastic-Free July

Oops. On my bleary 1st day home after a trip earlier this month, I stopped at the store and bought some yogurt – in a big plastic container. I was halfway home before I realized what I’d done. I joined up to participate in Plastic-Free July, so I shouldn’t have acquired that yogurt.

Then I thought – I’ve still got my Yogomatic (click here for the post about finding it) – I can use some of my yogurt as starter to make more. Oh good grief – the Yogomatic is plastic. Despite that, I finally tried it today. Now I have a quart of new yogurt.

Plastic-Free July is meant to help increase our awareness of unnecessary packaging, all that we buy and throw away and/or attempt to recycle. It’s helped me realized that if I’m mindful, there really are choices. Here are 4 relatively easy ones:

Bar soap: Looking around the house, I saw that every sink has a (plastic) container of liquid soap beside it.  I even had liquid shower soap.

soaps packaged in plastic

Here, everything but Lava is in a layer of plastic.

At the store, I checked out the soap aisle – but most of the bar soap, which used to be wrapped in paper, now has an extra outside layer of (guess what?) plastic.

Last month, looking for soap without the some of the controversial chemical ingredients, I’d come home with a bottle of Dr Bronner’s.  With a little searching I’ve found more choices: an equivalent bar in paper packaging, plus an unpackaged bar of Aloe Baby from Sevananda, a local health food store.

good better best packaging for soap: Dr Bronner's liquid, Dr Bronner's bar, Aloe Baby bar

Here are my good/better/best soapy finds.

Laundry soap: There’s a choice in laundry soap packaging too. Here’s my old plastic container and my new box:

laundry soap choices- paper or plastic?

Laundry soap: paper or plastic?

publix recycles prescription vials

Publix Pharmacy recycles pill containers.

Pill containers:  Another place where all I see is plastic. My recycling center takes them, but for those who don’t, I saw this good news at Publix Pharmacy.

Still, not using plastic at all would be better than recycling it, even if all of us recycled (which we don’t).

The pharmacy told me they can’t dispense medication any way but in plastic containers, so I’m going to cut back on packaging by using the mail order pharmacy to get 3 months worth at a time.

market mushrooms

No clam-shell packaging, and almost too pretty to eat.

Produce: Shop at your local farmer’s market. Our weekend market had these amazing plastic-free mushrooms.

It’s not realistic to think we can be plastic-free everywhere, but small choices aren’t difficult, and they can add up to make a big difference. Can you help?

Appreciating the Local Art Market and Farmer’s Market: Re-using is Still Better than Recycling

Glass bottle serendipity:

I have a thing about colored glass and window light. When my back porch plants got too big for my thift-store plant stand, I re-purposed the stand as a bottle-tree.

bottle tree with blue and green glass bottles and hyacinth vases

The hourglass-shaped hyacinth vases are for starting bulbs in water.

Bob liked it too, and I remember when he brought me home that tall blue bottle on the left  – it was some fancy kind of water that he bought just because he knew I’d like the cobalt blue bottle. He was right, and it’s been on my bottle stand for years now, along with my colored hyacinth vases and some other bottles I found in the basement. When I found that basement trove of empty (but interesting) bottles, I took some to the recycling center but saved the rest, hoping some other uses might present themselves.

Then I noticed the local Art Market /Farmer’s Market has a booth selling wind chimes and other things made from melted bottles.

repurposed bottles at market IMG_2861

Cool, I thought, maybe that’s who’d like to have my bottles. I asked, and the answer was yes. So I got my bottles gathered up and delivered. I even gave up the tall blue bottle. It’s one more thing I’ve been hanging on to when I should be letting go.

bottles to deliver to the Market

Here’s what I donated.

Songbird and Twig Market Stand

Thank you Songbird & Twig, for using the bottles!

For those of us into re-purposing, a local market is also an opportunity to take back berry boxes and egg cartons for re-use. That’s something you can’t do at the grocery store.

Now, what to do with my extra hyacinth vases? I don’t start as many bulbs indoors as I used to. Come September, when they’ll be useful, how about I have a give-away on this blog? Anyone interested?

Related sites:

Related articles:

Re-using is better than Recycling

It’s hard to get back to work after a few days away. I’m quick to grow accustomed to having a maid clean the hotel room, having breakfast ready downstairs in the morning, and having nothing more to decide than which art museum to visit next or where we should stop for coffee in mid-afternoon.

Now I’m home, deep into vacation-entertainment-withdrawal, and trying to focus on the next organizing and downsizing task. Maybe if I write about the last thing I did before vacation it’ll lead me to what to tackle next.

Serendipity at the UPS Store: a couple of weeks ago I was dropping off packing material when someone came in with a load of cardboard boxes. Inspired, I asked if UPS took boxes for re-use. “No,” said the lady behind the counter,  “she’s just dropping those off to be picked up by the recycling truck.”

“Too bad,” I said, “I have several large wardrobe boxes and I’d like to find someone who could use them.”

“I could use some for storage,” she told me… and I have to admit, I was thrilled. It was like little bells and whistles went off in my head.  Really.

Tall clothing boxes side by side in the basement.

I get a lot of space back by finding a home for these boxes.

Three boxes fit in the bed of my pick-up truck.

Three boxes fit in the truck (I wish she’d wanted ALL the boxes).

Just before leaving on vacation, I got three of the storage boxes delivered. This is becoming my mantra for getting things out of the house (I like it so much that I’ll say it again) — Re-using is better than Recycling. I’m slower for being picky about getting “stuff” to someone who wants it, but I like finding the right homes for things.

I’m still not sure what to work on next, but here’s an idea — with my history of starting too many things and not getting any of them done — how about finishing something I’ve already started?

Neglected Leaves Can Compost Too

Hoarding the Compost, Redux: A Secret in Plain Sight

The four garbage bins sitting at the side of the house were there when Bob and I moved in. We never used them. Years ago, when we were out of town for several weeks while Bob was in the hospital, my saintly friend Susan came over and cleaned piles of autumn leaves off the driveway for us. She brought her leaf eater, crunched an amazing number of leaves, and (my compost was full) put the results into those garbage bins for safe keeping.  I thought that was brilliant, so after working her leaf litter into the compost, I filled the garbage bins again myself. Then I forgot all about my new hiding place, though I walk by there several times a week.

Now I wonder what’s inside: could there be secret compost?

secret compost IMG_2433

One has compost, one still has leaves.

secret compost inside one of the bins

I know, “ewwww”. It’s not pretty, but it’s compost. It really is wonderful stuff.

Two bins leaked, and over time, moisture allowed the dark and mysterious process of composting to take place.  It may look disgusting, but it’s good stuff. Sam helps me haul the “black-gold” to a flowerbed and take the leaves to my newly reorganized compost containers.

secret compost IMG_2431

The leaves in the dry bin look like I stored them yesterday.

Now I just have to figure out what to do with the empty garbage bins. There’s no recycling emblem, so I’ll ask at the Recycling Center and/or write to Rubbermaid. Soon I’ll have a clutter-free driveway.

Do you have a secret hoarding-place that you walk by every day?

What Is This Doing In My Garage?

paper grocery bag full of pine cones

— WHY? —

It’s hard to believe I kept a bag of pine cones. What was I thinking?

I still haven’t finished my utility closet project. I admit I have so much stuff (like a bag of pine cones) piled up that it’s hard to get to the door. It should be ready to paint by now; I’ve vacuumed and washed it. But the floor is rough and I’d really like to sand it, and the wall has places that need filler. I need to get a grip… my closet will be seldom seen and it doesn’t need to be perfect. It’s been like this since the house was built. I make a pact with myself – I will allocate one hour, no more, to getting it ready to paint.

I will not – repeat NOT – dither over color. I will use what’s left over from painting the garage and trim.

Meanwhile I deliver my accumulated recyclables to a nearby recycling center (thank you for pointing me there).  These are things my weekly service doesn’t take, and I’ve accumulated a pick-up load.  Even the seat beside me is full (and yes, I still have my pick-up truck, but that’s a subject for another day). The Recycling Center accepts even more than I thought they would — broken CDs and a stack of old floppies, yes! They take my old electric kettle and 2 worn-out lawn sprinkler attachments, plus some other metal pieces I cleaned out of the garage,  3 1/2 trash bags full of shredded paper, and the old PC tower that’s been sitting in the garage for 5 or 6 years. They even have a bin for old eye-glasses. With this and a trip to leave Goodwill donations, I feel much lighter.

Anyone need a bag of pine cones?

Can I Have Too Many Recyclables?

I gather up my trash and recyclables, so proud of my big bag of recyclables and little bag of trash that I decide to photograph them. Then it occurs to me that maybe this is not such a good thing after all. Can I have too many recyclables? I look through the bag and I see how much is junk mail and newspaper and realize the answer is yes.

Small trash bag on the left, large recycle bag on the right

Trash on the left, recyclables on the right.

For the last two years I’ve been fretting about the newspaper. Every time its up for renewal I keep my paper-subscription and think “next time” I’ll go digital. I love walking down the driveway in the morning, picking up the paper, reading it while drinking my coffee, and saving articles to share or reference later. Uh-oh, my newspaper subscription is due for renewal now. Can I make myself go through with it this time?

What’s stopping me? – Old habits and a 13-inch laptop screen. But, paper saved in the first place is better than paper recycled. It’s past time to try that digital subscription.

Then I realize there’s another, deeper reason that I’m still taking the newspaper. It’s a link to a happy time in my life B.C. – Before Cancer – when Bob’s cancer was years in the future; we had apartments and lived in Kansas City. We always got the Kansas City Star on  Sunday. It amused us when it started coming out the evening before, and when we were out on Saturday night we always stopped to buy one on the way home. So I have to acknowledge that the newspaper stands in as link to a simpler time, not just pre-cancer, but pre-hoarding.

I have good newspaper-memories from this house too. Bob used to bring me a New York Times and a weekend Wall Street Journal as a treat on Friday afternoons. We worked the crossword puzzles together, passing them back and forth across the table.

Now, as for the recyclables – I’ll go to work on cutting down on junk mail, but maybe I’m not quite ready to give up the newspaper after all.

What physical things are you hanging onto for reasons of the heart?

Clean up the paint supply

Garage (the beginning)

 My first hoarder-blog project starts in the garage. I haven’t opened the utility closet in years. Well, maybe I did crack the door open far enough to lean in and swish away some of the spider webs, see if there was anything I could easily do about the accumulation of stuff, and quickly close the door again.

The closet was full, so for the last few years I’ve stacked my paint cans on the floor outside the closet – paint from the past that I didn’t know what to do with, new paint that was the wrong color and couldn’t be used, paint I’d used and wanted to keep for touch-ups – all of it’s there, a rainbow history of the rooms of this house.

First task, sort out that paint. I label and store what I need to keep for touch-ups. Now what? I check for paint recycling and find that even empty paint cans may be accepted at recycling centers as scrap metal. But, if there’s paint involved, it’s considered hazardous waste and should not be discarded in the trash. Here’s what I’m working on now:

If paint is usable, find someone who wants it.

  • Friends who are painters
  • Schools
  • Theaters
  • Local paint collection drives that deliver the cans of paint for recycling or responsible disposal
  • Recycling centers that accept paint. I look on Earth911 but find my local paint recycling company charges to take donations.  I’m frugal enough that I want to donate for free, so I’m still doing my research.
  • Or, new thought – find something else in the house that needs painting and use it myself

If it’s not usable, use a ‘paint hardener’ or kitty litter to dry the paint and make it acceptable to my trash company.

Next project: get into that utility closet.