Friday, April 15, 2011

Good planets are hard to find.

I talked with Shane last night about my blog and the challenge I'm setting before us. For the most part, he was really supportive. When I mentioned the budget, his first comment was, "Not possible. Not with Alaska prices." It's true, food costs a lot up here. I mean a lot. And when I dug a little deeper, I found out that his main concern was beer. A 12-pack of beer he actually likes to drink (the Alaskan brewery just rolled out their summer variety, his favorite) is around $12-15. When you're looking at a $125/week food budget, that makes beer extremely expensive. So I exempted beer. Well, most beer. I don't drink beer, for one, so that's purely his expense. But I say "most" because I do use it for bread. bread. So that will be part of the budget.
He also made me think of how I'm going to budget this out. I think I'll just make a spreadsheet and enter our food expenses every week, then add it all up at the end of one year (so April 14th next year) and get the average. Some weeks we go to the store several times and spend a lot of money, other weeks we go once and spend less than $50. But knowing that I have this budget means that I'll be far more careful when I shop, too.
The final thing Shane was concerned about, since it truly affects him, was my waste reduction campaign. So I figure I should define what, exactly, I want to do. I should start by saying that Fairbanks is far behind the rest of the country when it comes to recycling. The University is the main place for people to recycle things, and for those not on campus that takes a serious effort. At our house I keep a box where we put our recyclable plastics (only #1) and cans. When it starts to get full, I drag them to work with me and toss them in the proper recycling bins. Plastic bags can be recycled at Fred Meyer's, but I'd much rather not use plastic in the first place.
In my mind, not all waste was created equal. If I can, I would love to completely eliminate plastic from our garbage can, and from most of our house too. It's unnatural and the plastic we've already put in the environment has done and will continue to do immeasurable damage to the planet. The toxins it will be leaching into the environment for years to come is our legacy to future generations, and it's despicable. I really don't think they'll thank us for it. So getting rid of plastic whenever possible is goal #1. I'll need Shane's help since he uses plastic bags for the kitty litter. I do have some biodegradable bags that I use in the bathroom trash bin, but I've heard mixed opinions about those and I'm not sure I want to use them so much. We do keep our old bags from things such as pet food (they're covered in plastic--so I need to figure out a good alternative to them, too) and the bulk flour I buy (paper bags, thankfully). Perhaps we can use those for kitty litter, and leave them in the garage until they get full.
Metals and paper are natural resources, so I don't see them as being as bad as plastic. This does not mean, however, that I'm not doing what I can to reduce them. I'm trying to reduce the amount of paper I get for things like bills (yay for online bill paying!) and junk mail. Even in packaging. I look at things now by how much waste they will produce, and then decide if it's something I really need. As I said above, I recycle our cans and whatever plastics are possible, but I feel that I could do better in reducing the amount of waste I purchase.
One thing I've started doing a lot more of is buying in bulk. I've always bought our white flour in bulk from the Alaska Feed Company (although not wheat flour--it has a much shorter shelf life), and things like dried cherries. But now cereals, all of our other dried fruits (which tends to be how we make it through the winter--you cannot imagine our joy when summer comes and we get fresh fruit!), nuts, and even pastas come out of the bulk area at Fred Meyer's. (Even better, HGMarket just announced that they now have local pasta! I'll check it out this weekend.) Instead of grabbing new plastic bags every time, I simply bring the ones I already had at home and reuse them. At the zero waste home, they have glass jars that they've had the market weigh and put a label with that weight on, but I don't have so many jars. At least not yet. Mostly I've been using mason jars from stuff Shane's mom has given us (canned salmon, cherries and pears she canned years ago) and other glass jars I've saved from products I've bought.
Bea from the ZWH also uses jars for buying meat, and I might actually buy some jars for that. We're not going to store all of our moose meat and salmon in jars (currently it's in plastic and paper), but for bought meat I don't see why it wouldn't work.
One thing we use far too much of are Ziploc bags. The way I've been reducing our wastefulness on that front so far is by washing them out and reusing them at least a couple of times. (The only time I don't do this is when they've had raw meat in them--another reason to switch to jars!) On average, they get used about 3-4 times before getting holes or just falling apart. But I'm hoping that we can even reduce the number of them that we use. I want to get a bread box soon (I found a beautiful bamboo one), and I keep mentioning those jars I need to get for meat. There's also a local business that sells stainless steel sandwich boxes, and I have a coupon for 15% off. I'll go there soon and get one or two of those.
One little thing I've done recently was found a place that sells loose-leaf tea. I'm addicted to tea. Generally I have at least three cups each work day. I've been dissatisfied with the little plastic packets my favorite black tea comes in, so I found a local business that sells organic, free-trade loose leaf tea. And it comes in a stainless steel container! I'll see if the woman who owns the store will buy those back for a few cents so that it gets re-used. If she can't buy them back (or even take them back), maybe she could just refill mine? I'll see. It's good tea, too. Speaking of which, I think I'll go have another cup. :)

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