Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bags, farmers and worms...oh, my!

So, my post the day before yesterday was my list of "no brainers." And I loved everyone's comments that these were things their family was already doing.

Today and tomorrow I'll get into some of the more...difficult?, unusual?...things my family does to help our planet. Though they really aren't that difficult. And hopefully, in the near future they won't be considered unusual, but mainstream.

Reusable bags
This one almost made it on the "no brainer list." It's really not that difficult and thankfully gaining a lot of popularity.

The average person uses more than 300 plastic bags a year. Multiply that times the number of people in your family and that's a huge number of bags in a year. In my family of four, in the 18 years it would take my boys to head to college, my family would have consumed more than 21,500 plastic bags. Um, that is an obnoxious amount of plastic bags.

Seriously, how easy is it to use reusable shopping bags? I use them at the grocery, toy and drug stores. I use them at Target and the farmer's market. This is about 2/3rds of my collection. I won't spend more than $1 for one but so many stores are carrying them cheap now.
Reusable bags are becoming so mainstream that many stores offer some sort of incentive to use them. My (big chain) grocery store gives each customer 5 points of credit for each reusable bag used and my Trader Joe's enters those using reusable bags in a giveaway for free groceries. Some stores are even going as far as to charge customers for plastic bags.

A tip for mamas...
Another reason why I love using reusable bags is that it cuts down on tantruming kiddos at the store. Let's just say that I'm in Target (not hard to imagine!) and I find something, maybe a snack or a toy, that I want to get the kids but I don't want them to have, or even see, right now.

While my boys are distracted, I slip the item into one of my reusable bags siting in my cart. We go on our merry way up and down the aisles with my boys none the wiser (because they can't see through or into the bags).

When I get to checkout, I hand the whole bag to the cashier and ask them to scan the items while they remain in the bag. Usually, once they see what's in the bag and my two whirling dervish kids they understand what I'm trying to do.

The only downside is that Target's anti-theft employees can be found trailing me throughout the store. But hey, it's nice to have some grown-up company while I'm shopping.

Support your local farmer's market
I love shopping at farmer's markets. I wish I could go more often. Often foods and flowers are organic and grown using sustainable agriculture. Another bonus is that the food for sale didn't have to travel thousands of miles before it enters your kitchen.

Luckily my city offers several different markets. To find one near you, enter your zip code at Local Harvest and specify that you are looking for a farmer's market.

Hi! I'd like you to meet my little friend. This is Mr. Compost Pail. He sits in a place of honor on my kitchen counter, right between my kitchen sink and the trash can.

What goes in my compost pail?
Cantaloupe rinds, dry Cheerios that never got eaten, egg shells, bread crust cut from my sons' sandwiches, strawberry stems, carrot tops, tea bags, bell pepper ribs and seeds, leftover pasta with tomato sauce, cookies that expired (oh, wait...we never let that happen around here!)

I can hear you now. "That's...um...great, Carey. Now you have all your yuckiest trash sitting in a bucket on your counter. What now?"

You've got two options.

You can go full out and buy or make a compost bin. This is kept in your yard and you fill it with the kitchen scraps and every so often mix it up. Did I mention the worms? Yes, there are worms in the compost bin (not the pail!). They eat your kitchen scraps and their poop is the compost. "Um, Carey. What do I want with worm poop?" You use it as fertilizer on your plants.

Because we live in a big city and don't have much room for a compost bin or much need for a lot of fertilizer, we empty our compost pail in our city's green can. Our city provides each house with three "trash" cans. Black for trash, blue for recycling and green for biodegradable waste. For most families, they only use the green can for yard clippings. We add the items from our compost pail to it as well. The city then turns it into compost.

Try this: Instead of automatically throwing all your kitchen scraps in the trash let them pile up for one meal (from the prep and cooking to the leftovers on the plate). Anything that is not meat or cheese can be put in the compost pail. You've got a pretty good-size pile right?

Now imagine this: That pile of scraps from EVERY meal, EVERY day!

I fill up the pail every couple of days, maybe 3-4 days. In a year, my family probably empties the pail 100 times. So imagine 100 pails filled with food scraps...it all adds up. But I'm so happy to say that ours doesn't add up in a landfill.

A couple more points about composting:
  • No, there is no smell from my compost pail. It has two charcoal filters that prevent any funky smells from escaping. I've had the pail for almost a year and haven't even had to replace the filters yet.
  • Compost pails are not hard to come by. They are available on Amazon and at Bed Bath and Beyond for about $25.
  • I used to put the food directly into the pail. I'd empty it every couple of days and by that time it would get a bit grody at the bottom of the pail. I was much a much happier composter when I started using biodegradable bags to line the pail. Several companies make bags specifically to fit compost pails but they can be expensive. I buy biodegradable diaper bags at Target and they work great (Nature BabyCare diaper disposal bags; $3 for 50). I can empty the pail, bags and all directly into my city's green can or a compost bin because the bags are biodegradable.
  • The city I live in offers a free compost seminar every month and discounts on compost bins. Maybe your city has a similar program?
I was going to leave you with a picture of my yucky food scraps, but I'll spare you.

Any questions about any of the above, bring it on! There is a good chance I won't know the answer (again, I'm not an expert) but I'll happily try to find the answer.

Tomorrow's post is titled Scooters, styrofoam and no-waste lunches...oh, my! Intrigued?


  1. Our city has a huge composting program, as you and I discussed a few days ago... but man sakes alive, we don't have the cool, nifty indoor compost pail/container that you guys have! ONE MORE REASON FOR US TO MOVE!!!!!!

  2. Once again, great tips!
    Thanks Carey, I'm learning a lot from you.

  3. Carey...wow!!!!!! I am super impressed!!! I'll have to get those reusable bags! I've seen them before by the cashier but I never what they were for!!

    I'll have to look into the compost bucket too!!

    Wow..so awesome!

  4. Compost pail eh?? I GUESS I can do that.. doesn't seem hard.. and with the bio bags.. there's no cleaning.. pluuuuus, i would for sure be the envy of my friends! hey ladies.. look how hip I am?!?! LOL

    I do have one question for you.. I use the reusable bags when food shopping, but I like getting the plastic bags every once in a while because I use them for my small trash cans in our bedroom.. but I still go thru SOOOOO many this way. What is an alternative?? OK now that I wrote that I guess I can just look up bio bags for small trash cans online.. What do YOU use??

  5. Loved the part about the grown up company in Target following you around. Wish my city had a "green" garbage can for our waste. But, I guess the worms would dry out here in the desert. :)

  6. Okay, I've been wanting to start a compost pile! And I saw a compost bucket on the HGTV Green Home special and I thought-- OH! I want one of those! Just this morning I was thinking that I could look it up online to see where to get one. Now you tell me AND I just got a coupon to Bed Bath & Beyond for $5 off!

  7. That's great. I wish my city offered the composting option, too.

  8. I love how fun you make composting sound! Hee hee! I've never tried that or really knew anything about it, and it sounds wonderful! Now, I can't gaurantee it will happen here today, but I am so glad you taught me more about it!

    You have Target 'shoppers' following you around the store, too?

    and, I'm feeling guilty about having so many plastic bags...but I do re-use them or take the extra ones back to the stores recycling box for them...but I am going to buy some of the canvas totes :)

    Thanks SO MUCH for helping me see GREEN and appreciate it so much more ;) GREAT tips!

  9. OK so I am a proud little peacock at the moment.. I just commented you a few hours ago )if that) and I am now the current owner of.. "The Earth Machine".. I went online to order a Compost Bin but then realized.. wth am I going to do with all the trash once my bin is full?!?! So I called my local recyling dept who didn't do anything as far as composts go.. but they directed me to the county's recycling dept and bingo! they sold me one of these bins for my backyard "The Earth Machine" for $25. Not bad considering the ones online were $70-$200.. I also ordered a bamboo compost bin for my kitchen.. I'm so excited.. I feel so great knowing I am helping Mother Earth.. All because of YOU!! oh, but the hubs.. NOT so excited.. LOL

  10. I always wondered about composting. Thanks for the info...what an awesome idea.
    Your stack of bags looks like mine. pretty colors too.

  11. Ah Man, I was hoping to see inside your pail {kidding!}

    Great info on that. I really need to make myself buy bags, I'm always going to and then I never do. That's high up on my to buy list now. As for the Farmer's Market, I love our local one, I buy as much as I can there!

  12. Does it count if you are reusing plastic bags over and over again??? I think I am really bad at saving the earth.

  13. This is a great post. Thanks for encouraging me to remember to use my reuseable bags! Another note, if you have plastic shopping bags, recycle them. My son's school can turn them in for money.

  14. Great tips.thanks for sharing.

  15. I always worried about the smell with composting, but I want to try it. Even more when I see how well it works. Thanks for the tips. Stopping by from SITS.

  16. Thanks for the tips. I can always use help in this area. Have a great day!! I will be back.

  17. You have inspired me to find my copost pail from the basement!

  18. OK. I think you twisted my arm. I'm seriously considering buying a compost pail.

  19. You like the adult company...LOL!

    I need to do the composting thing...but I have to do more research on it first.

  20. Superb ideas Carey! Thank you for sharing and showing us more ways to respect our precious planet. You ROCK!

  21. I hate when I go to the store and leave those freakin bags at home! Man, that really peeves me. But I HAVE them and I do, in fact, make a concerted effort to use them.

    As far as the composting, I'm a little hesitant, but am thinking about it. We finally moved from apartment to house, so I have the ability now...

  22. "...it's nice to have adult company..." cracks me up. Seriously, I don't think I'd mind the tail, either. ;)

    My mom composts, and they live in the country. I tried it in our small yard, but the flies nearly ate us alive all summer. Now I know! I can get a pail and dump our stuff at my mom's house! She grows her own veggies (which we are starting to do this summer, also) so all that compost will come in handy. Thanks!

  23. I love my stainless steel compost bucket too! I rinse it out after I dump it and then water my plants which makes them so happy!! I have the best soil in the Santa Clarita Valley due to 10 plus years of composting.

  24. Dang, this was my challenge for you on your contest :) I never knew you could buy a pail like that. We have a compost in back, but we don't use it for food that often. This would make it so much easier. Thanks for the info!

    Love the bag idea as well. I use them myself, but I never thought to hide things in them so my kids don't see. I try not to shop with them because they drive me crazy, but I will remember this tip!


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