» Archive for the 'Ecological' Category

Jenga with recyclables

Friday, September 16th, 2011 by kara

So the Pumpkin and I recycle. Not as much as we could do, but we make an effort to rinse and flatten containers, disassemble boxes and put the newspapers into a paper bag for easier handling.

Only problem is, both of us are equally lazy with regard to putting the recyclables down into their respective bins in the garage, and then getting the bins to the recycling center when they’re full.

It was so easy and convenient to recycle in Saline. The city provided recycling service along with garbage pickup, and it wasn’t even necessary to sort the recyclables! You just put your appropriately-managed recycling materials in a bin at the curb along with your trash can. If there was something in the bin that wasn’t cleaned properly, or if the materials weren’t all truly recyclable, they’d leave the bin and its contents, along with a big sticky note explaining why you sucked at recycling. Sufficiently chastened, you would never make that mistake again.

Here in Knoxville, we could have that same convenience, but we’d have to pay for it. I hate having to pay for something that I think should be available as a given service, so instead of subscribing to our waste hauler for recyclable pickup, we maintain our own bins and take a trip to the recycling center every so often.

Everybody’s got different ways of handling their recyclables. We used to have a really cool basket which was just the right size for stacking newspapers and other paper in; this basket had a big brother which was the ideal size for about a week’s worth of glass/metal/plastic recyclables. These baskets sat on the kitchen floor by the trash can, and they worked beautifully for us for a long time.

Even though we rinsed everything really thoroughly (don’t worry, we don’t waste a lot of water rinsing recyclables–used dishwater performs this task remarkably well), Belle and the other fuzzies would occasionally dip into the recycling basket and pull out the plastic cap from the half & half bottle, and chew on it.

We didn’t think this was a problem, as our dogs didn’t often go to the recyclable basket to find a new “toy.” But when we discovered Belle had swallowed a chunk of half & half lid that was larger than a quarter in diameter and jagged on the edges, we stopped using the basket. It wasn’t secure, and it was just too big a pain in the pants to put it up out of their reach when we left the house.

‘No problem,’ I thought. ‘We’ll just have to make a daily trip down to the garage with the recycling stuff. It will force us to be more conscious of the recyclables.’  Yeah. No, that’s not what happened.

Instead of taking one or two pieces of plastic down each day, Rick and I fell into the habit of rinsing and squashing the containers, and then leaving them sitting on top of the toaster oven. It’s kind of like playing a sadistic version of Jenga, in which the base is the slightly-uneven top of the toaster oven, and instead of smoothly-machined pieces of tree, the playing pieces are irregularly-shaped and made of lots of different materials.

The challenge begins when every square centimeter of the toaster oven is occupied with a recyclable. Then we must begin to carefully stack squashed two-liter soda bottles and rinsed Castlebury’s chili cans on top of the initial layer. The game continues until it’s no longer possible to add another piece to the pile.

The loser of this game is the one who contributes the ‘toppling piece’, the straw (or gallon milk jug) that breaks the toaster oven’s back. The loser must then gather up all the recyclables and take them to the garage to then be Jenga’d up on the bins down there, a punishment worse than death.

(Didja see that? I just made a word! Or maybe not, because Jenga’s been around for a while. I would imagine lots of families Jenga many things in their everyday lives, from library books to unsorted junk mail to cookware, etc.)

Why is it so hard for us to make a daily trip to the garage to take the recycling down, and then to make the trip to the recycling center every couple weeks? The garage isn’t very far (unless my knees are hurting, then going up & down two flights of stairs makes it seem like it’s miles away), and it’s not a scary or threatening place, unless the recyclables are really out-of-hand–then one might be caught in an avalanche, but it would be an avalanche of plastics, because we put metal and glass in the lower bins. So that threat is disproved quite easily, too.

And yes, now that I’m working on Saturdays, that throws a monkey wrench into the weekly chore schedule. Saturdays used to be our marketing/library/recyclable/housework day, and it just lacks a lot of appeal when there’s only one of us working on that stuff then.

We might have to bring the pretty baskets back up out of the garage; maybe if we can keep the kitchen table cleared off, that will make it easier to put them up while the dogs are unsupervised. Maybe it would even be worth paying the extra money to have our garbage company pick up recycling materials…nah, that’s definitely not the solution.

MinuteRant: Smokers and public airspace

Sunday, June 12th, 2011 by kara

I really have got to learn how to calm down and ‘let things go’ but this is something that’s been bugging me for quite a while: Smokers who insist in burning their cigarettes in public airspaces.

I understand that it’s an addiction, and that you need to do it regularly. HOWEVER. Must you smoke immediately outside the ONE DOOR at work through which I must enter? Prevailing winds carry the smoke downwind of the door, so that I have to begin to hold my breath when I’m still 30 feet away from scanning my badge and closing the door on all that smoke. NOT pleasant. And it’s not like I can choose to use another entrance, because trust me, if I could, I would do just that.

And when you’re smoking in your car, can you PLEASE keep the smoke inside your vehicle with YOU? I truly do not want to smell the byproduct of your addiction in my own vehicle, so keep it to yourself. It kills me to see someone light a cigarette, and then dangle the lit cigarette out the damned window, without actually drawing on it. The Pumpkin and I were out doing some errands today, and we saw a woman in her car at a stop light sticking her left hand with a lit cigarette in it out the window, for the entire span of the traffic light. IT’S NOT INCENSE, YOU’RE NOT IMPROVING THE AMBIANCE OF THE ENVIRONMENT AROUND YOU, AND IF YOU WANTED THAT DAMNED THING ENOUGH TO LIGHT IT, THEN STICK IT IN YOUR OWN FACE AND SMOKE THE BLASTED THING. Preferably with your car windows rolled up.

It’s not as big a deal to me as it used to be, now that I have air conditioning in my vehicle and can roll up my own windows, but it still ticks me off when smokers insist on dangling their smouldering cancer sticks out their car windows. If you hate to keep it inside the car with you, what makes you think the rest of us will accept having it out in public with US?

Oh, and don’t throw your damned cigarette butts out the window, either–they take considerably more time to rot and return to nature than something like a banana skin and will stick around considerably longer, so STOP LITTERING.  Endrant.

Toaster oven useful for small households

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010 by kara

I love my toaster oven. I’d even go as far as to say that it’s an essential piece of kitchen gear.

It’s not often that I endorse a specific piece of kitchen equipment. Many tasks have been accomplished over the years using nothing more than a good knife, a sufficiently-large cutting board and basic cookery equipment. I’ve never owned a food processor, nor have I wanted one.

Yes, using a food processor can save you a lot of prep time. You could process all the potatoes for a batch of potato soup in a matter of SECONDS. But then the time it takes to break down and clean the food processor offsets that time saved. It’s so much quicker to keep a sink full of hot, soapy water and wash the knife and cutting board as you go.

We DID have a juicer, once. Once. But it was such a complicated travesty of parts and disks and doohickeys that to use and dissemble it to clean it was a multiple-hour task. We weren’t dedicated enough to the idea of juicing to continue to use it.

We do have a breadmaker that I’ve begun to use again, just for the joy of freshly-baked bread. If you’ve read any of my past blog postings, you may recall my battle to make bread from scratch–I really do feel this is something I should be able to do by myself, without the help of a machine…but I’m lazy. I’ll work on the bread skills later.

I don’t want to mislead you–we do have kitchen equipment with very specialized uses. Of course we have a coffee maker, which just makes coffee, and we have several slow-cookers, which only cook food very slowly. We also have a blender, which is used very seldom, and a Fry-Daddy, which is used more often than I care to admit.

But our toaster oven is the most-used piece of kitchen equipment we have. It warms left-over pizza much more appealingly than the microwave, and if we’re having pasta it heats up to crisp frozen garlic bread in seconds rather than preheating the entire full-sized oven, using much less electricity in the process.

Hot appetizers and baked sandwiches can happen in the toaster oven with much less fuss than the full-sized oven, and I can prepare a hot Westminster dip before dinner even though the oven temperature is different than what’s needed for the entrée.

And anytime we feel like a fresh biscuit, we can take some frozen biscuit dough from the freezer and bake one (or eight) up in a snap. I’ve heard that one can do that same thing with cookie dough, but I’ve always just baked the whole batch of cookies rather than putting some aside to freeze.

All in all, a toaster oven with temperature control is a fast, efficient way to bake small batches of baked goods and not use lots of electricity heating the big oven and then cooling the house. I would strongly recommend a quality toaster oven for every small household.

Frugal, if not environmentally-friendly, solution!

Monday, February 22nd, 2010 by kara

I obsess about pet peeves that could be called achingly trivial. Then I obsess about finding a solution to those peeves. And I have  lot of peeves. All that energy wasted on stupid stuff that doesn’t really matter…oi vey.

But it finally worked!  I came up with a solution to something that’s bothered me for such a long time, and it’s a good solution!

In a bottle of lotion (or shampoo, or shower gel, or what-have-you) that comes equipped with a pump, there’s a lot of product left at the bottom when the pump begins to fail. Because the bottle has a PUMP it’s almost impossible to set the bottle upside down to let gravity help. And then you have to unscrew the pump to get at whatever’s left over, and you end up dumping the rest all over your hand and wasting it anyway.

My temporary solution was to vow to buy only flip-top snappy-type containers, which could be inverted and used efficiently without wrestling with a stupid pump. Hooray! Problem solved!

But when you’re standing in front of the lotions with a calculator in your hand, and you realize that the larger pump bottle is less-expensive per ounce, it’s difficult to stick to that vow.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake, Kara!” you’re thinking to yourself right now. “Just throw the whole mess away and get yourself another bottle of store brand lotion and MOVE ON. It’s only an ounce or so!”

Ah, Gentle Reader, there’s the rub (pun definitely intended). If I waste an ounce of lotion, that nullifies the savings I earned when buying the larger bottle, which cost less per ounce. And at that point, this whole soul-rending struggle becomes “a matter of principle.”

I’ve tried propping one bottle upside-down over the mouth of another bottle, and that inevitably ends in heartache with lotion spattered all over the mirror and faucet when the top bottle falls. Because it will fall–it always does. Stupid bottle.

Yes, I have seen those little plastic doohickeys that allow you to connect two bottles of different sizes mouth-to-mouth, so that you can allow gravity to transfer the remainder of one bottle into another. I just don’t want to pay someone $10 for their idea. (Yes, I’m petty and jealous that I did not think of it, patent the idea, get a prototype and market such a useful little plastic thingy for myself.) Plus, those little thingamajigs don’t fit every bottle well–I have an image of a couple of unsuccessfully-coupled fallen ketchup bottles, and a kitchen splattered with ketchup.

Anyway. I’ve been noodling on this particular peeve for many moons, and finally came up with a workable and elegant solution. Remove the pump top from the bottle, and place a plastic bag over the mouth of the bottle. Upend this, propping it in the corner of your vanity or wherever it will not be knocked over, and when gravity has done its job, squeeze the rest of the product into the bag.

Squeeze the air out of the bag, and fasten the top closed. Get your receiving bottle ready, and snip a small hole in the bottom corner of the bag. Aim, then squeeze, and you should be able to strip all the leftover product neatly into the new bottle. Et voila!

Think “piping frosting,” except you’re not piping something edible and it’ll be much easier because you’re just trying to squeeze the contents neatly into a bottle, not spell out “Happy Birthday, Pumpkin” in legible icing script on top of a too-hot cake before all the party attendees arrive in four minutes.

Greener members of the audience may say “But Kara, that wastes a plastic bag! You’re using all the product, but you’re needlessly using a piece of plastic–it becomes a wash!” Save it, brothers and sisters. If this matters to you, you can rinse the plastic bag and use it again for a similar operation–just don’t empty the next bottle into the snipped corner of the bag. Also, bonus points if you’re using an already-repurposed plastic bag, because then you can throw it away and not feel bad!

I should patent and trademark this blog entry, shouldn’t I?

MinuteRant: Why won’t recyclables manage themselves?

Friday, January 2nd, 2009 by kara

We’re now recycling so much that our weekly garbage output rarely exceeds two 13-gallon garbage bags. More often, it’s more like 1 1/2 bags, as long as we don’t have something like “gutting the garage” going on.

This is great! I love the idea of recycling, putting materials back into the stream rather than putting them into a hold in the ground, but please remember that I’m very lazy and even though my recycling is sorted by type, it’s still not smart enough to drive itself to the recycling station. I’ve got bags and bags and bags of newspapers and pizza boxes and cardboard from packaging, as well as glass applesauce jars and plastic laundry detergent jugs stacked up in the garage. It’s a little better since the Pumpkin and I quit drinking soda (Tennessee doesn’t have a bottle deposit–BOOOOO), but I’m best at ignoring the piles needing transport to the recycling center.

I know, I have to do it more regularly, then it wouldn’t be such a chore. But that goes against my identity as a procrastinator. I’ll try to do better.