Wednesday, June 3, 2009

June 3, 2009: Natural Selection

Well, Natural Selection could have many meanings.  For me, it has two important meanings.  The first and most important is the band Natural Selection that sings one of the greatest songs in terms of signifying the best of high school times: Do Anything.  Check out this link ( to a YouTube video and it will come rushing back to you the minute you hear it, assuming you were in high school in the early 90's.  I actually remember my friend Steff and I listening to this song over and over again to see how many times we could hear it without going bonkers. I am actually doing it again, right now. The YouTube video is now on it's fourth play.  This was a common game - similar to the game my girlfriends and I played in the middle of summer when we would roll up all the windows and turn the heat on full force to see how long we could last until someone gave up.  Oh, those silly days....

The second meaning of Natural Selection is literally about making natural selections in daily life.  As the past few months have progressed while living here in France I have really enjoyed only buying what we need (this does not include pointless Costume Rooms and Secret Stash Rooms - those are 100% bribes to keep the girls happy) in terms of kitchen stuff, house furnishings and food.  Not only have I enjoyed this but I feel better about myself and the trash/waste imprint my family and myself are leaving in the world.  Pretty much any time I am thinking about buying something, I first question whether I REALLY need it.  If I really do need it, then I ask myself if there is a better way to go about fulfilling that item that I need.  Here are the basic reason that I feel these questions are important to ask before making a purchase:

1) Most of the time when you buy an item, there is packaging that has to be thrown away.  We often think about whether the product is organic or if there is food coloring or the expiration date or if it has gluten, things like that.  But we don't often consider all the garbage waste that is caused by buying packaged foods - regardless of their health content (which is important!) or the ingredients.

2) Even if you were to buy items that are contained in 100% recyclable packaging or it was made from 100% recycled materials, there are problems with both.  If you buy something that is 100% recyclable, you still have to 1) recycle the materials which people often don't do.  2) Some company has to pick up that recycling in a truck which uses gas, causes pollution, clogs traffic and sometimes runs you off the road.  3) That truck drives the recycling to a plant that may be 10 miles away - but most likely it is 1,000 miles away!  Because that far away plant will pay the company more money per lb for the recycling than the one that is located closest.   And everyone is trying to make a buck.  So now you have recycled to save the world but have caused more problems by causing other environmental issues.  4)  The recycling plant that recycles the products has to RUN.  It takes time, energy, and employees - all which cost money.  If you buy products that are made from 100% recyclable materials you may have noticed that 1) Often, the products you buy that are made from recycled materials, such as clothes, are MORE expensive than those made from non-recycled materials. 

Here are some examples of things that I have been doing to help reduce the waste produced by our family.  Keep in mind that the goal is to not have to buy items that add to the amount of waste and garbage we produce.  But what you will also find from a food consumption standpoint is that it ends up being healthier, that the chemicals in your home are reduced, and finally that the amount of money you spend is reduced.
> Cloth napkins instead of paper napkins
> Cloth kitchen towels instead of paper towels
> Baking my own bread instead of buying bread
> Using outgrown or stained clothing to make other items such as costumes, belts, purses, rags, crafts - endless uses. 
> Making cleaning products at home instead of buying those icky chemicals at the store. Baking Soda, lemons and vinegar are quite handy in many respects.
> Using rechargeable batteries
> Making homemade popsicles with apple sauces and yogurts - you can buy containers at Target and use them over and over and over again.
> Making homemade yoghurt - takes practice but with the amount I know my family eats, it reduces a lot of packaging if I make it myself.
> Bringing my own reusable bags to the grocery store and only buying as much as I can carry with my own two hands. 
> Only buying what my family will eat for a day or two and avoiding any pre-packaged products that are not cereal, or would be quite messy to buy without a package - rice for instance.
> Avoiding any kind of bulk stores that sell 10,000 pieces of salmon in one package or 700 rolls of toilet paper in a box.
> Using stuff from home (old paper bags that are decorative, for instance) to wrap a present instead of buying wrapping paper.
> Taking public transportation, carpooling or walking instead of driving.
> Keep containers, decorate and reuse them to hold children's and adult craft items such as markers, scissors, beads, rulers, yarn, etc...
> I brew my own coffee instead of purchasing at a coffee shop
> Bringing water from home in a water container instead of buying bottled water
> Packing lunches and snacks in reusable containers instead of plastic bags or brown bags

Over the next few weeks I plan to focus on making more cleaning products and household items such as that and I'll keep you posted if I find anything that is just fabulous.

Now, you are probably cussing me out right now, thinking who in the heck has the time to consider these things?  Who has time to shop at the grocery store every day?  Well, for starters, a woman who is living in France with no job and a few hours each day to herself has the time (me)!  But I understand that often time constraints can get in the way of what we would prefer to do but simply can't.  But maybe you could try a few things?  Andrew and I used to go to Cosco and spend hundred's of dollars and we rationalized our actions by saying we hated going to the store every week for things that we constantly ran out of - so why not buy tons at a time and then only have to buy them every few months?  But then we'd get home and unpack and have stacked high a pile of boxes from all the packaged items that we bought.   And many times we didn't consume the 2nd and 3rd jars of the  1,000 pickles (metaphorically speaking) economy pack because we just got plain sick of pickles so we ended up wasting the food AND the containers.  Or those Pita Chips that we sampled at the store just didn't cut the mustard after eating them for 8 lunches in a row so we would throw away the 3/4 of the bag that was left.  

On a daily basis, we create so much trash and waste.  We buy, buy, buy and get the latest and greatest gadgets even when the older one works just fine (if you have seen The Story of Stuff, this probably sounds familiar).  We buy a shirt at Kohl's for $6 on the sale rack because we think no big deal if we only to wear it once on vacation, it was only $6!  We spend $45 on a car wash that no one will ever know about because your car is dirty 1 mile down the road after you left the car wash.  But the reality is that all of these things cause waste - time waste, garbage waste, money waste.

The number of people in the world is growing. The number of products that companies create and produce to keep us all happy is growing. For instance, why wasn't Clorox Bathroom Cleaner Original Formula enough?  Why did they have to create Clorox Bathroom Cleaner New and Improved with Bleach, too?  They produce both, we try to choose between them but the reality is the original was probably just fine.  The trucks (sorry Andrew, I know we ironically survive because of trucks) needed to get the products to stores is expanding. The packaging of products is expanding - and just consider that packaged products are actually packaged TWICE. They are bulked together to be placed onto a pallet for trucks and wrapped tightly to keep them from falling all over in the truck. And then they are unwrapped and then sold in their own packaging for sale at the store.  And when you go to Cosco or Sam's Club, they are sometimes TRIPLE packaged. Think Honey Bunches of Oats cereal, three boxes stuffed into one big box.

You probably wish you didn't read today's blog!  But I blogged about it because I find it very important and a big part of how I try to live each day.  My children are taught to do the same and they often catch me and question me on my actions.  Two years ago my focus was more around eating healthy, local and natural.  And though I find those food qualities still important, I have expanded what is important to me to include being wasteful and wise.  The first jolt to this awareness was when we were living in Colorado and then the second jolt to continue to keep it up has been living here in France.  Certainly I have more time to consider these things.  But I also know that one day when I go back to work (and I will, I like to work) these practices will be ingrained in our daily lives and won't be hard to continue.

Ahh. I feel better.  Thanks for listening to my rant!  Also, if you have any other ideas on how to avoid causing or creating waste, please share with me and others by commenting on the blog post. 

Pictured above: A shopping bag I made out of old curtains; A purse I made for my mom out of old curtains; Dress-up dresses I made for the girls out of old clothing; bread I made out of flour, water, honey, butter and salt!


  1. Great blog.

    We belong to a CSA and LOVE it. We were able to freeze the veggies we didn't use and have them all winter for soups and stuff. (We have a HUGE freezer in the Garage.)

    I will quibble with you about COSTCO though. We do go once a month, but that started last Summer during the Gas hikes. It saved us on extra trips back and forth to the grocery. We stll do it now because it really is much less expensive and we waste less food too and save on gas. W also reuse some of the huge container to store food.

    I do make my own cleaning stuff too. Vinegar and baking soda is really very good at cleaning and non toxic.

    Dean bakes bread all the time.

    I really enjoy getting back to basics.

  2. don't know what happens to my comments - I will try to retrieve them

  3. Westport, where we lived for 20years is the first in the area to ban plastic bags in the grocery store! I always bring my bags to the store, and I notice more and more doing it. Good for you to be so aware of the waste problem, and teaching the girls at such a young age is fantastic!!

  4. It's funny, I've been doing many of the same things. Most recently, I'm replacing all my baggies with reusable containers instead. Far bulkier, but more reusable. Biking more often. (Oddly, I'd been driving more often for a while and I had forgotten how much I love biking. Silly.)

    Great blog post. I doubt I can do all of that, but I will think about more! Thanks!

  5. Kristin - Glad to hear you guys feel similarly! I should have mentioned that COSTCO does have some important benefits. Specifically, buying 50 rolls of toilet paper is a total winner - TP is a product that has yet to deliver on a "re-usable" item (we'll keep leaves and corn cobs out of this like they used in the old days) as opposed to napkins and paper towels.

    As far as the list of things I mentioned above about how I try to prevent waste, I should also mention that this list started at 1 and grew. If you really want to start the helping reduce the mounds of waste, I suggest starting at 1, getting comfortable and efficient at it so it become part of your daily life, and then adding second and third, and so forth. For instance, it took me a while to get used to baking bread. But once I got that down, I was ready to conquer yogurt. And once I sewed my first bag, I was ready to conquer sewing other things. Anyway, Happy Wastelessness and thanks for your comments!

  6. Take waterford chrystal and china mugs on road trips to eliminate styroform and plastic - also, vegie oil on the stainless sink does wonders!! - Now, will this get to you?