Category Archives: Reduce/reuse/recycle

Thinking About Consumption: “Highest Use”

One of the things I’ve been thinking about is whether I am using something for its “highest use ” or “highest purpose” – something like electricity or space or whatever. If what I’m doing is not its highest use (general lighting rather than task lighting, for example) could I avoid using it if there is a negative cost to it (walk through a dimly lit room)? Is there something else I could do?

I recently became aware of the fact that desktop computers use a lot more power than laptops (supposedly), which use more power than tablets and phones. When I turn on my very old desktop computer for some small task, or just to stay connected to Facebook, how much electricity am I actually using? I decided to look it up.

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Permaculture Principle 6: Produce No Waste

In 2012 we participated in the Three Actions Project. We choose three lifestyle changes that would make our household more sustainable. We had ambitious goals:

  • Eliminate all waste
  • Live within our solar budget
  • Eliminate food waste (my goal)
  • Live within our water budget (my husband’s goal)

We thought we were ready for the “no waste” challenge. We weren’t.

Food packaging was our undoing. It is nearly impossible to buy groceries without packaging! We brought our own jars and bags to the co-op but … I think it’s just not possible to get away from packaging waste if you buy food in the American food system.

Organic Waste

The compost bin that finally worked

The compost bin that finally worked

We had more success with the goal of composting all our food waste. We no longer “throw away” food. Our city composts organic food waste but most of our scraps go to our compost bin or our worm bin. Even in the winter we feed the bins. Sometimes a little animal will get into the outdoor compost bin to find a warm home. That’s okay. They need to survive too and I’m happier if they do it outside rather than in our house.

We no longer bag our fall leaves to give to the city garbage haulers. Now I put it into my fenced garden and let it start to decompose. In the spring, we rake it up and put it on top of the winter food scraps and we watch the magic of composting begin. Our compost bins have hit temperatures of 165 degrees Fahrenheit! We love to see it steaming in the morning.

We also don’t bag our weeds. We practice “in place” composting for some of it, leaving it on the ground to dry up and feed the soil. Others we put into the compost bin. And some nuisance ones we put in a special bin for longer-term composting.

Garden Plastic

That doesn’t mean we don’t have waste from our yard. The most problematic waste is plastic plant containers from our newly purchased plants. These are not accepted at the Hennepin County recycling facility. It’s a long way to drive, but Lowes garden centers in West St. Paul and Shakopee accept black plastic garden pots.

I’m always looking for more information on zero waste. Here are a few websites I’ve learned from:

Kitchen Remodel to Reduce Food Waste and Organize Recycling

Reducing Waste in the Kitchen

The kitchen is not only the location for much of our household consumption, it’s also the source of much of our household waste production, including one of the worst greenhouse-gas-producing waste products — food waste.

A Few Facts About Food Waste

According to a National Resources Defense Council report, getting food from farm to table uses 10% of our nation’s energy budget. This morning on MPR, Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, said that we use about 40 percent of the (non-ice-covered) land on the planet to grow food, and “70% of all the water we consume is used to irrigate crops.” Agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to climate change.

That’s an extremely costly food chain and yet approximately 40% of all food produced in the world is never eaten. According to the EPA, 21% of our municipal waste is food waste. More food goes to landfills and incinerators than any other type of material.

Not only are we losing an estimated $165 billion in food that could be used to feed hungry people, but food in landfills produces methane as it decays. Methane is 21 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide so this is a very big deal. Landfills are the source of 20% of all methane emissions.

Our Goal: Reducing Food Waste

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Kitchen Remodel: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Any time you undertake a remodeling project, you are going to have some amount of waste. We were completely gutting the kitchen so we would be producing quite a lot of it. You can make mindful decisions about it – or you can rent a dumpster and just let chips fall where they may. We tried to be mindful and we used the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” to guide decision making.

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Remodeling? Think Recycling

Natural Built Homes, conveniently located right here in the hood at 40th and Minnehaha, is having their warehouse sale TODAY! from 10 am to 2 pm. They specialize in green and recycled materials. If you have some home repair or remodeling to do, this could save you money and reduce the impact your project has on the environment.

We’ve been a customer of theirs for a few years now, buying our low flow toilet there and low/no VOC paint, as well as smaller items. They often have flooring and tile at the ware house sale.

Wondering how far you can go using recyclables? Here’s a story from Parade magazine about a guy who wondered just that. As a home builder, Steve Loken was in a position to have a big impact. You never know what you can do until you try!

Garage Cleaning with Reduce/Reuse/Recycle in Mind: Part 1

Our household, like so many American households, has too much stuff. Despite getting rid of 1,079 things when we took the “1,000 things” challenge two years ago, we still had so much stuff that I sometimes wound up buying things I knew I already owned simply because I couldn’t find them. My house didn’t look cluttered, but hidden from public view in the storeroom, laundry room, office and garage was a tidal wave of stuff that I’ve been working to remove for the past two months. Finally, this week, I was ready to approach the space I dreaded most — the garage.

I dreaded it not only because of the amount of work, but also because I knew this cleaning project would require a trip to the landfill and I HATE to contribute to the waste stream. Here’s how we went from “I can’t move” to “Wow, I could put a car in here” while working to reduce the number of things that became waste.
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Low-Carb Vacation (carbon, that is)

Last week we took a mini-vacation to Hastings, Minnesota for an overnight stay at The Classic Rosewood Inn. I wanted to bring this lovely B&B to your attention for a couple of reasons.

  • Hastings is a short drive from the Twin Cities so no need to burn up a lot of gas for a nice little getaway. There is a nature center that would interest kids. Lots of antique shops close by each other for a day of walking. For history buffs, there’s a historic estate down the road — the LeDuc Estate. A winery just south of town offers tours in the spring and summer. And the town is located at the convergence of two rivers so plenty of boating opportunities, as well as many trails for walking and biking.
  • The Rosewood is an 1880 Queen Anne building with beautiful, unique rooms, an interesting history and, I hope, a long future. The owners, Dick and Pam Thorsen, are committed to the three R’s — reduce, reuse and recycle.
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    Excited about Recycling? Become a Master Recycler/Composter

    We have a friend — Annette — who knows everything there is to know about recycling and waste reduction. It’s so fun to go out with her because waste is everywhere and we learn so much from her. In fact, we’ve gotten quite interested in waste because of her willingness to share what she knows.

    Well, Hennepin County is now giving everyone a chance to become an “expert” in recycling and waste reduction through a Maser Recycler/Composter program. The six-class program covers waste prevention, recycling, home composting, alternatives to hazardous household products, “de-construction” and construction sites, and the ever-so-important topic of psychology of sustainable behavior change.

    The cost of the program is $30 and graduates need to volunteer to share their knowledge for 30 hours. The next session begins April 4 and runs every Wednesday evening through May 9. The program is limited so register soon if you are interested. Register at

    September Mini-Challenge: STUFF

    Trash Pickup Facilitates Endless Consumption

    A friend of ours just came back from studying Spanish in Guatemala. One of the things that stood out for her (aside from chickens everywhere) was the fact that the community in which she lived did not have regular garbage pickup and therefore the things people bought stayed with them. No throwing away a pop bottle and having it disappear. Nope, it stayed on the ground where it was dropped.

    If that was the case where we live, think about what the typical American neighborhood would look like. We’d all be living on a trash heap — OR

    • We would buy less
    • We would find a way to use that piece of refuse for another purpose
    • We would give things away and share
    • We would complain to manufacturers who over-package the products they sell us
    • We would ask our stores to carry more things in bulk so we didn’t have to buy the packaging
    • We would buy things locally rather than have them shipped from so far away, which is why it requires so much packaging
    • We’d try to make things ourselves so we didn’t have to deal with the waste

    If you stop to think about it, garbage pickup is a way we hide the truth from ourselves about what we are really doing to the planet. It’s one of the luxuries that allow us to keep consuming.

    Check out a few interesting pieces about waste:


    What makes it a “green” sex toy?

    When we saw that the latest issue of “Curves” magazine had an article on “green” sex toys, we just had to buy it – you know, in the interest of science. Now, before you roll your eyes, we don’t believe that the fate of the world hinges on the composition of a vibrator. But the article does provide a fun opportunity to  think about how a commitment to sustainability may impact every aspect of life.

    And, as you’ll see, it provided us with a good opportunity to think about “greenwashing.”

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