Earth Day 2018

We don’t typically go all out for Earth Day -- Every day is Earth Day, ya dig? However, since we’re retuning the blog and putting ourselves back out there, we thought we’d share a list of the top items and services we employ to keep us aligned with the earth. One huge part of sustainability is usability (like, are we going to have the energy to keep up that practice long term?), so we’re always down for services that make being more ecologically sustainable easy in the long run. (These things are listed in no particular order and the list is by no means exhaustive - there are a LOT of ways to be sustainable!)

So, let's dig in! First off, seven things we love that are available nationally (and internationally, in some cases):

Rachel was stoked about our Who Gives a Crap delivery!

Rachel was stoked about our Who Gives a Crap delivery!

1. Who Gives a Crap: Sorry, not sorry, to start this in the toilet, but toilet paper is a huge drain on resources, especially when folks use first use paper to wipe their bums. Who Gives a Crap’s recycled paper is BPA free and all their packaging is plastic free. 50% of all their profits go to build toilets for folks that don’t have them. The TP is decently soft and they are looking at developing a tube free option. (If you use that link, you'll get $10 off your first order!)

2. Spaghetti Scrubs: We just wrote a sweet review of these babies. They now use 100% cotton backing, so if you compost, you can send them back into the soil when they’re spent. (Apparently these are currently sold out pretty much everywhere, but will be available again around mid-May.)

3. Bike Sharing: There’ve been so many times that we’ve said we’d bike somewhere if only our bikes were fixed. Excuses are hard to come up with when there are dozens of bikes on every street corner. Bike sharing has come to many cities recently, and in Durham we have three different dock-less bike rental companies competing for the market: Ofo, Spin and LimeBike. Rachel has used Ofo so far to bike to work and loves it. (We do have our own bikes, but they’re both badly in-need of tune-ups. We’re planning to head to the local bike co-op soon so we can learn how to fix them up ourselves!)

4. Shopping at the Farmers’ Market/Co-op: This isn’t a specific service or product, but choosing to shop locally and put our food dollars back into the local economy is something we do intentionally every week. We know how hard it is to be a farmer (Rachel does especially, from first-hand experience) and so we want to make sure as much of that money as possible goes directly into their hands. Also, the closer to harvest you get the veggies, the better they taste. Being a member of a co-op means you are a decision maker and eligible for member discounts, and at some co-ops you might even get a dividend.

5. Kootsacs: We have been working hard to reduce our plastic usage because plastics are not too kind to the Earth, from start to finish. Kootsacs are made out of ripstop nylon or silk and used for getting bulk food from grocery stores. We have three of the silk variety and they last forever and are completely washable. We have put everything in them from sugar to nuts to lentils to spices. They recover completely in the wash and are ready for another trip to the store. Kristl always has at least one in her bag in case she finds herself at the store unexpectedly!

Aren't those whales so cute?!

Aren't those whales so cute?!

6. Use your own reusable utensils and straws: More than 100 million pieces of plastic utensils and move than 500 million plastic straws are thrown away in America EVERY DAY. One of the easiest ways to help the planet is to refuse single use cutlery and plastic straws - and if you want to go even greener, bring your own! We use this cutlery holder from Don’t Waste Durham (available for sale at that link or at a variety of events around Durham, if you’re local) - it comes with bamboo cutlery, a stainless steel straw + straw cleaner, and a cloth napkin, all in one easy-to-transport cloth roll. They sell them on their website (and at local events, as well). Prior to using the cutlery holder, Kristl kept two metal forks in her bag at all times, but the cutlery holder is much more useful (and Kristl’s way less likely to stab herself on tines when she reaches into her bag now).

7. Reusable menstrual products: We promised a post on these years ago and haven’t yet delivered, but it’s coming! We both use Lunapads and Kristl also uses a menstrual cup (GladRags is also a well-known reusable pad company). While reusable menstrual products can cost more than disposables up front, they are significantly cheaper in the long run. Our Lunapads have been going strong for well over 5 years (probably even longer) and a few of them are just now starting to show signs of wear. Most recently Kristl used the Lunette menstrual cup and loved it, but the silicone showed some cracks after 3 years of use, so she decided to try out the Stem Cup from Tulip Cup this time around. The Diva Cup is the most well-known cup around, but there are a ton of different cups out there - and a number of guides on how to find the best cup for you. We like this recent one from Wirecutter.


Now on to five things we love here in Durham, NC:

Making use of our GreenToGo membership!

Making use of our GreenToGo membership!

1. GreenToGo: In Durham, a local non-profit called Don’t Waste Durham sponsors a reusable take out container program called GreenToGo. If you follow us on instagram (@SustainablyQ) you will have seen a couple of pictures of us with the telltale hard plastic green clamshells (like the one on the right). We just learned yesterday that GreenToGo is expanding into pizza boxes, soup containers, and more. The yearly membership is $25 for one box (they also have multi-box plans) and they just keep adding restaurants. No more styrofoam! If you live in Durham and ever get take out, please get GreenToGo!

2. CompostNow: Just this week we got our first bucket from CompostNow in Durham and we couldn’t be more excited. CompostNow is a door-to-door compost pick up service with weekly or biweekly service. We eat a lot of veggies and eggs, plus this service accepts meat scraps and bones and soiled cardboard (e.g. dirty pizza boxes). We’ll be able to divert a huge amount of waste out of our garbage and our recycling. Compost NOW and forever. (P.S. You bank the compost you produce and can use it for your own personal garden or choose to donate it to community growers, isn’t that amazing?)

3. The Scrap Exchange: “The Scrap Exchange is a nonprofit organization with a mission to promote creativity, environmental awareness, and community through reuse.” The essential awesomeness of The Scrap Exchange is how they accept and sort and sell an amazing collection of almost anything you could imagine and everything you couldn’t. They’ve got scrap wood, fabric, paper, test tubes, bottle tops, CD’s, sewing machine cases, tubes, picture frames - and that’s barely scraping the surface. It’s the epitome of one person’s trash is another one’s treasure. You really have to experience it to understand it. If you have any clutter whatsoever in your home, the patrons of The Scrap Exchange will find a way repurpose most of it. They also recently opened a thrift store as well, for more “traditional” second-hand goods.

We got this sweet little cactus at Urbane Terrain today.

We got this sweet little cactus at Urbane Terrain today.

4. UrbaneTerrain and The Zen Succulent: We are still settling into our apartment in Durham, and being plant loving people, we have gradually been adding living things to the space. The Zen Succulent and Urbane Terrain are two separate local plant shops that are owned and run by people who are not cis white men and we're always looking for ways we can support local businesses run by marginalized folks (we haven't asked specifically how they each identify, though, so aren't including that information here). We are so excited to add beautiful plants to our home from each of these businesses and we hope they (the plants and the businesses) continue to thrive.

5. Fillaree - A zero-waste business that makes refillable, sustainable soap and cleaning products! Small batch, handmade, organic, vegan, synthetic-free - it doesn’t get much better than that. They also make body butters and bath soaks. There are refill stations available at a number of places in Durham and they also recently opened a storefront. More exciting, they’ve just launched a mail order subscription service, so you can use their refillable products anywhere you live!

There you have it! A roundup of 12 products and services we love that help us live more sustainably. What are your top tips for sustainable living? Let us know in the comments. :)

Nine on the Ninth - True Confessions

We're doing our Nine on the Ninth a little differently this month. Some readers may think that because we try to live a sustainable lifestyle we eschew anything that doesn't fall under the eco-friendly/sustainable umbrella. That just isn't true. It's about choices and education. We make choices that make the most sense for us in a specific moment - based on knowledge, budget, and need. Those choices are not always the most sustainable or eco-friendly. And, honestly, sometimes we're just lazy. So, without further ado, here are nine ways in which we do not always make sustainable choices. (This was also inspired a bit by the Christian lenten season, because, let's be real, this is confessional.) 1. We do a lot of dishes by hand, even though we have a portable dishwasher. Dishwashers have been shown to use less water and energy than hand washing, but we have a number of items that aren't dishwasher safe and we cook so much that we have to hand wash most of our cooking utensils because we're going to use them again immediately. All this is to say, we often use more water than we should to wash dishes. (Excessive water usage is only going to become a bigger issue as climates around the country continue to change.  We may be blessed to have the Great Lakes, but who knows how long they'll be around.)

2. We both have a soft spot for peanut butter M&Ms and they do occasionally jump into our basket when we're at CVS or Target. (Ditto for Kristl and gummy candy.) Eating candy isn't 100% unsustainable, but supporting multi-national companies that benefit from exploiting workers and the agriculture system in the U.S. is not sustainable.

Kristl loves gummy candy (though, to be honest, the gummy tummy series from Trader Joe's is not her favorite)

3. We tend to buy our clothes at national retailers who likely have terrible practices and exploit the garment industry (Gap used to be notorious for this). Though we would like to buy well-sourced, fair trade, organic clothing, a lot of it is out of our budget and/or doesn't suit our needs. Rachel has a little more luck, since there is more available in her size, but there just isn't much out there for Kristl's plus-size needs.

4. Rachel has a habit of putting hot soups directly into old plastic containers, even though she knows that can cause the chemicals to leach out. (In Rachel's defense, the liquids are rarely boiling and it takes high temperatures to release anything potentially dangerous.) What is more of a concern is buying canned vegetables/beans in cans coated with plastic containing BPA (specifically tomatoes, because of the high acid content).  See this article for some legitimate pros and cons.

5. We use more plastic and paper in the kitchen than we would like - specifically ziploc bags and paper towels. Even if you are buying paper towels and plastic bags made from post-consumer recycled products, the best choice here, for all of us, would be to use rags and reusable containers (like Pyrex glass containers).

Seriously, we weren't kidding about using a few too many Ziploc bags (also, it's hard to resist a Costco deal).

6. We have a car and use it a lot, definitely more than we need to. It's a luxury we aren't completely willing to give up, even though we know it isn't the most environmentally friendly choice. We're hoping to decrease our car use with some upcoming changes, but we're not going to get rid of it. Check out this infographic about how wasteful it is to idle your car (which is sometimes unavoidable in traffic or extreme weather conditions like we get in Chicago).

7. We don't always eat well-sourced food. Sometimes we just want some chicken wings and fries from the local bar, and that's okay.

8. We LOVE a good sample. Whenever we go to Trader Joe's, Costco, or Whole Foods, we gobble up the samples (sometimes more than one per person - shh!), even though they're frequently in non-recyclable plastic cups. Even the ones in paper cups are problematic, as they are likely not made out of recycled material and probably won't get composted. And don't even get me started on toothpicks! The best way to get around this would be to only sample the things that are served in a sustainable way (e.g. chips served with reusable tongs.)

9. *GASP* We have thrown away perfectly good containers because they'd gotten pushed to the back of the fridge for months on end and were filled with some unidentifiable substance and we couldn't stomach the thought of opening them. Real talk, though, if you haven't done this at some point in your life, more power to you. (We had to have a friend of ours who works in a hospital to get rid of some former pumpkin that had transformed into a many-splendored mutant multi-organism that probably is still lurking out there somewhere and will start the zombie apocalypse.  Thanks, Ashleigh!)

So, that's it for now, since we're keeping it to nine.  We aren't perfect, we aren't even trying to be perfect or preachy or bastions of sustainability in our community.  We are simply sharing our struggles and successes when armed with knowledge and faced with a global system that has (d)evolved to the point of self-destruction.  Swimming against the current is super exhausting and sometimes we fall back on our old habits simply because they are the paths of least resistance. Our hope, the only hope out there really, is that small changes can help, and that our stories will inspire you to make small changes too, so we can get the current moving in the right direction!

Reusable Swiffer Sweeper Cloth Tutorial

Hi friends! Rachel and I are skipping town for a bit, but wanted to get a post in before leaving. We'll be in Hawaii for a week (we know, poor us!), so keep an eye on our Twitter for updates on our trip! I don't know about you, but I tend to go into a major cleaning mode right before a big trip. Usually I wait until the night before I leave, but Rachel is a good influence on me and got me to help her clean on Sunday, a full 3.5 days before our departure. Amazing. I have a Swiffer sweeper which I purchased probably 7 years ago, when I moved into my first Chicago apartment and was not nearly as committed to sustainable living. I've dutifully kept it with me, occasionally buying refills, but usually just letting it sit in a corner. Last year when we were moving out of our condo and into our new apartment, I bought some Swiffer refills to easily clean the floor between showings.

Aside... 1. My goodness, if there is ever a time when sustainability manages to fly out the window, it's during moving. We probably used more disposables that week than we normally do in a year. 2. The refills I bought were Febreeze-scented and gave me a headache every time I got near the box. Seriously. I had to seal the box in plastic to avoid smelling the fumes. I swore that I would make some reusable, fragrance-free Swiffer cloths the next time I needed them.

That brings us to Sunday. We were cleaning and I needed to dust. We were out of Swiffer cloths and I said (yet again), "Dammit, I really need to go get some fleece so I can make more Swiffer things." Rachel went into her room, rustled around a bit, and returned with a spare bit of fleece she had leftover from some previous project. It was perfect!

Navy fleece scrap
Navy fleece scrap

It measured roughly 27.75"x17". I was able to get four perfect cloths and one slightly small cloth out of it with just a square leftover (for which I'm sure I'll find some project or other).

Place the Swiffer to get an adequate size pad
Place the Swiffer to get an adequate size pad

I placed the Swiffer's edge flush with the edge of the fabric, then lined up the yard stick about 1/8" away from the other edge of the Swiffer, and drew a line with a Sharpie. I then moved the Swiffer so the left edge was flush with the line and drew another line. These would be my cut lines.

Lines drawn
Lines drawn

I figured that if I just cut down those lines and then cut the resulting pieces in half, that would suffice, but to make sure, I placed the Swiffer back on the fleece and folded up the edge, to make sure the cloths would be wide enough to tuck into the little holes.

Fold the fleece over to make sure there's enough to grab
Fold the fleece over to make sure there's enough to grab

Success! I cut down the marks I made, then folded the pieces in half and cut down the center. I was able to get one more out of the smaller piece of fleece that ended up on the right, but I'm not 100% convinced it will securely stay on the Swiffer.

Navy blue cloth on Swiffer
Navy blue cloth on Swiffer

I tested out the cloth that night and holy crap did it pick up a lot of dust. I will oh-so-thoughtfully refrain from showing you an "after" picture of the cloth, mainly because I don't want you to know how dusty our house was. I picked off the larger clumps of dust and then rinsed the cloth out in the sink to see how well it cleaned up. Answer? Really freaking well. I think I'll rinse them in the sink after each use and then toss them in the washer for a deeper cleaning when I do towels/rags/rugs/etc.

Navy blue cloth on Swiffer - back
Navy blue cloth on Swiffer - back

So, in a matter of minutes and for a cost of $0 I made 4-5 reusable, fragrance-free Swiffer cloths. I can tell you right now that our house will be a lot less dusty from here on out.

Swiffer Sweeper Cloths

(For my Swiffer, each cloth ends up 10-10.5"x8-8.5", but make sure you measure your Swiffer to be sure of the size you need. Then you can determine how big a piece of fleece you need by how many cloths you want to make.)

1 piece of fleece (the one I used was 27.75"x17")

Sharpie or other way to mark the fleece

Yard stick

Scissors