Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Little Less Impact

Obligatory opening post: Yes, I'm reviving this blog. No, I'm not sure why. Maybe I'll have more than one entry, maybe I'll stop at this. Who knows.
With that out of the way, let's get down to business.


This year I decided that one of my goals was to have a greener household. Not that we weren't before. We were already doing the usual: we minimized wasting water, we didn't litter on the streets, we used energy-efficient bulbs, we switched off lights not in use and we went to the supermarket with our reusable bags. Like I said, the usual. 

But I wanted to do more. So slowly, we made some changes. 

Some were easy: say no to straws, bring your own water bottle, use rechargeable batteries, send our recyclable trash to the recycling centers. Done. 

Others, required a little more effort. In 5 months, these were our changes:

1. Composting
The start of my bin in mid-Jan
I spent weeks obsessing and stressing out over starting a compost bin. I not only read articles and watched YouTube videos, I actually emailed a US-based expert just to give me confidence to start this. Even now when I'm worried that my compost isn't doing what I think it should be doing, I email him for advice. He's been incredibly patient and helpful with my never-ending questions. 

Thank you, Tyler.  

The contents after about 3 months.
I think it's doing well.
I should also thank my husband who was very supportive of this little backyard project. He not only encouraged me, he helped me set it up and always reminds me to not stress my bin out and just let nature take its course. 

My bin is about 4 months old now and is almost full. Once it is, I think it'll need to cook for a few months. Hopefully, I can start a second bin so we don't have to stop composting at all. 

2. Refills

Their fully-stocked refill center
My greatest discovery this year was BYOB  (Bring Your Own Bottle) Detergent Refill Center. Before I found them, I was already considering making my own cleaning materials from scratch. But this is so much more convenient. 

The great thing is that they not only make biodegradable cleaning materials, they let you refill your own bottles or, if you forgot one or didn't bring enough, you can buy their detergents in pre-used (but cleaned!) bottles. 

my happy-filled bottles
Thanks to them, I've managed to switch over most of my household cleaners: bleach, floor cleaner, fabric softener, hand wash and dish washing liquid. I want to try their hand sanitizers, glass cleaners and vegetable wash next. At the moment I'm having a little trouble with their laundry detergent but they've been very helpful trying to help me through it. I'd hate to go back to commercial detergents if this doesn't work out. 

Cost-wise it's not that always significantly cheaper, especially if you're like me and tend to hoard on cleaners when they're on sale. But I'm willing to trade a few sens for less plastic use. 

3. Plastic-free vegetables
A week's worth of veggies, plastic-free

It was only after I became more plastic-conscious that I realized how much plastic you can accumulate on a trip to the supermarket. Particularly when buying vegetables. If they weren't already pre-packed in plastic, you had to get a piece of plastic to put your veggies in so they can get weighed. 

My first step was buying reusable produce bags made from up-cycled curtain fabric. It worked to reduce my plastic consumption by a total of 5 pieces (I had only bought 5 reusable bags). Given how much vegetables I bought in a week, 5 felt like it was barely a dent. 

Then I found Everfresh Food Mart, where produce is sold in bulk, mostly packaging free. While they do have some pre-packed, they're willing to let you transfer them to your own bag and return the plastic to them for their re-use. Now am sure most people would probably say I could have easily gotten this from my neighborhood wet market, but let's face it, I don't have wet market skills. Don't judge me. Hahaha... 

4. Cloth Napkins
Plastic-free feminine hygiene
Ok, this one... this took me a while. I once believed that sanitary napkins were the 20th century's greatest invention. Unfortunately, they also turned out to be terrible for the environment. One of my friends has been using them for years now but every time I thought about it I kept coming back to the same question: how do you clean it? So I thought I'd start with panty-liners. They seemed easier. Then I found the In Between Cultura stall at the Zero Waste Fest. Although they had run out of panty-liners, the nice lady at the booth talked me through the use of cloth napkins. What I really appreciated though was that she actually recommended I only buy one as a first step. She said it was best that I try it out, see if it worked for me and only then invest in more. So that's what I did. Now, two cycles in, I have to say I'm happy with cloth napkins and am ready to get more. As for the panty-liners, I found those care of Athena Empowers, also a discovery made at the Zero Waste Fest

5. Ecobricks

It's hard to eliminate plastic entirely. Nearly everything is wrapped in it. And even though I have taken steps to reduce it, there are some that I haven't quite gotten rid of yet. So what do I do with those? It seemed wrong to just throw them away. Enter, the ecobrick. 

our family's first ecobrick in the making
The concept of the ecobrick is to stuff PET plastic containers (soft drinks, water bottles, etc) with as much non-biodegradable items as possible. Stuff like wrappers for chips, noodles, cheese slices, even plastic labels. Basically everything non-organic (except glass and metal) can go into a bottle. Once that's stuffed full and tight (there's a minimum density it needs to meet to be considered good quality), it can then be used as a building block material. Thankfully, there are organizations in Malaysia that take ecobricks so I don't have to use them myself. While it's a great, immediate option to deal with the overwhelming plastic we produce, it is by no means an excuse to just continue consuming plastic. But for now, this will do. 

You can read about ecobricks here: Check with your local communities about the use of ecobricks. 

6. Bioenzymes
Made: May 10, 2018
This is my most recent project. Now technically, I could just throw my orange peels into the compost and not generate any waste. But I've been reading about bioenzymes and since I had some citrus peels, I thought I'd give it a try. Bioezymes are supposed to be a great multipurpose cleaning product. You can use it anywhere from floor cleaning to washing vegetables. I haven't quite figured out what do with it, but I have 3 months of fermenting before I need to decide. 

In the meantime, if I do intend to keep creating bioenzymes, I need to have a better strategy. Using individual bottles to make batches can be wasteful as I don't think I can easily get the peels out from small-mouthed opening or re-use the bottle. 

Lastly, I have made a very minor habit change.

7. Dishcloth at work

Every morning I wash my water bottle at work and use at least 2 paper towels to dry it. Then I use another 2 to dry my hands. When I wash my lunch box, I use 2 towels to dry them, and another two for my hands. So far, that's 8 towels. Not counting the 2 towels I use each time I wash my hands in the bathroom. All in just one day.

It seemed like an awful lot going into the trash bin. And yes, paper towels are paper and they're biodegradable. But it's still ending up in a landfill somewhere. So, I just started bringing a dish cloth to work. One towel a week to be used on just my stuff. 

a simple change for a bigger cause
And while washing the dish cloth needs water, detergent and electricity, I figured that the energy produced for an item inside a large laundry load, is less than the energy used to produce, pack and dispose of paper towels. So I think I'm still carbon positive there. 

The more I do to be greener, the more I realize there is still so much to be done. And each change requires an adjustment. For example, BYOB and the veggie shop are completely separate trips from my regular supermarket visit. So to get that done, I have to make an errand run over my lunch hour. Thankfully, both are incredibly near my office so it's not terribly out of the way. But yes, it means I have to drive, which means an increase in my carbon footprint. But I'm weighing that against the plastic I save and I've decided I'm going to err on the side of reducing plastic. 

 There are 3 mains reasons all this has worked so far. 

  1. The aforementioned supportive husband. These changes impact him too, but he's okay with it, because he knows it's for a greater good.
  2. Zero Waste Malaysia. Both inspiring and informative, this FB group has introduced me to ways of reducing waste, and to stores that support that idea. 
  3. Household help. I'm blessed enough to have someone at home who helps run the household full time. Her help in implementing these changes makes all the difference. 
I'm far from being a Zero Waster and I don't now if I'll ever really be one. But in the grand scheme of things, I'm happy with the changes we've made.



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