Confessions of a Paper Towel Addict

February 14, 2020 § 1 Comment

I’m a big fan of reality television. Mind you, not just any reality television. Historical reality television. That’s the kind where they take three modern American families and have them, say, live as 19th century pioneers somewhere in the Montana wilderness.

What I just described is one of my favorites shows of all time: Frontier House, which premiered on PBS in 2002. Before being transported “back in time” the participants were asked what things they thought they’d miss most. As they listed off a whole bunch of things, the whole time I was thinking: I know what I’d say: paper towels! I mean, NO PAPER TOWELS!?! How did people live?

I have a problem

Ever since watching that episode I’ve wondered somewhere in the back of my mind if I could ever, truly wean myself from my fully absorbing paper towel addiction.

(See what I did there? I even like bad paper towel puns. Clearly, I need help.)

As if in reply to my question, some time ago on social media I came across a tutorial on how to make your own paper towels out of cloth and then sew little snaps into the sides and snap them together one by one to form a reusable roll. Like a lot of these DIY videos, the slick editing makes this idea seem completely brilliant. Wow! Look how easy it could be. And no waste!!

I’m definitely a crafty, I’ll make it myself kind of person, so at first I was captivated. However after the idea sank in a bit I was made of questions: hold on a sec here Pinterest people. How long would it take to make this gigantic reusable paper towel roll, I mean, without time-lapse photography? And once you had used the towels up and washed them all, how many hours would it take to snap all those tiny little itty-bitty snaps back together? And what if you sewed one snap just a liiiiiittle to the left or right and suddenly your lovely DIY project is NOT COOPERATING? And you accidentally throw the whole darn thing out the window? That’s not very zero waste, now is it? If you ever did manage to roll the whole thing back up again- you know, say, three weeks later- is there any possibility it wouldn’t look like a giant used wad of Frankenstein Kleenex?

I decided the chances of that were pretty much nonexistent, so I kept on using regular paper towels at a rather alarming rate, despite the fact that I have an extensive collection of dishtowels and cloth napkins that I also use. But, you know, sometimes the napkins were all dirty and I hadn’t had a chance to wash them yet. Paper towel. What if it was just a little bit inconvenient to go grab a dishtowel? Paper towel. What if it was a messy, stain-y job involving spilled wine or something that I didn’t want my pretty dishtowels being exposed to? You get the idea.

I keep dishtowels and cloth napkins in a bowl by the kitchen

So in the first few days of our Year of No Garbage, I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to go when it came to the Paper Towel Conundrum. I had discovered that paper towels are compostable, so that was good news, but it was also kind of bad news, because my kitchen compost bin was getting filled up approximately every ten minutes. People were using one-use, disposable paper towels for jobs that really could easily have been going to the reusables, silly things like drying their hands off or wiping the countertop off. It was simply out of habit and because we knew we could.

It was hard to retrain myself and virtually impossible to keep everyone else away from the siren song of old, bad habits rooted in one thing: convenience.

Should I just do away with paper towels all together? I thought. That was one solution. I kind of feel like that’s Zero Waste Ninja Level. I hope to get there someday, but for now I still want to use them for the very slimiest jobs such as wiping grease out of cast iron pans and drying off raw meat and poultry.

Instead, I decided to switch the narrative: if the problem was convenience, how could I make paper towels the most inconvenient solution? So I put them in the laundry room waaaaaay on the other side of our house from the kitchen. In a way I felt like I was just trying to hide them from myself, which seemed silly. I mean, I knew where they were. And anyway surely something that simple would never work.

It totally worked. It worked so well I was kind of shocked. One day I was sighing and emptying yet another compost containing 75% paper towels into my poor starved compost pile in the backyard, the next it was like “Paper towels? Hmmmm. I’m not sure I’m familiar with those. Could you describe them?”

Me in my lovely laundry room

In the old days I am not kidding you, it was not unusual for us to use up an entire eight-roll package in one week. Now that the paper towels live in the laundry room, we’ve been on the same roll for the last six weeks.

Okay, I’m pretty proud of that.

Eventually I may get to a point where we’re so organized we even have a separate batch of dishrags for those few greasy, ooky jobs, along with a separate container to hold the dirty ones between washings. But for now I feel really good that this worked. It all came down to a simple idea that I need to be sure to remember: make the things you want to do easy, and the things you don’t want to do, more difficult.

Now if PBS comes knocking, I’ll be ready.

It’s the Little Things

February 6, 2020 § 7 Comments

I’ve been having a lot of weird thoughts lately. Like, the fact that I’ve been throwing stuff away my entire life. This now strikes me as a crazy thing. Or wondering, how much garbage in a landfill somewhere is directly from my own hand? Then, I think to wonder, what was the first thing I ever threw away? The largest? The worst? How does my invisible pile of lifetime trash stack up against everyone else’s?

Be honest. Is it weird that I am inspired by a piece of gravel?

I suppose such thoughts are bound to be inspired in the stopping, because the whole practice of throwing things away is like a kind of forgetting, a physical amnesia. I forget YOU milk carton! And I forget YOU granola bar wrapper! We all enact this ritual all day long, every day. Which makes a kind of sense: if we all had to keep and look at everything we’d normally throw away, we’d probably go insane, right? I’m imagining nightmares of being chased by every milk carton I’ve ever known.

But sometimes I like to keep objects just to help me remember things- it’s the hoarder in me. So on the desk by my computer I have a tiny little shrine composed of a wood box and a piece of gravel. One day recently, as I was walking through our house I stepped on this piece of gravel, tracked in from our driveway as sometimes happens, and picked it up with annoyance. Without thinking, I headed for the trash, when I realized (as I have done nearly every day over the last month) that there was no trash to put it in. I stopped, stymied.

I looked at the piece of gravel. What the heck was I doing? What, I wondered, had I ever been doing?

Turns out? Fixable.

I mean, seriously. It’s a freaking rock, Eve, I admonished myself. Rocks aren’t garbage… they’re nature. Why would I throw a rock in the trash? To be trapped in a non-degrading plastic bag, hauled to the landfill and sit there, smothered for the next umpteen zillion years? Sure it’s tiny, about the size of a plain M&M, but how many times have I thrown away a piece of gravel, and how many other people have done just the same thing? That, like anything, adds up.

How much more effort would it really have been for me to open the front door and toss that pebble out into the yard? At some point I must have made the mental calculation-oh I’ll just put gravel in the trash because that’s easier, but the difference was truly miniscule: between opening a door and not opening a door. And I know I’m guilty of myriad other, similar infractions… how many times have I tossed out a paperclip or a safety pin just because the trash was closer than the drawer or box where I keep these things? How many pencils have I thrown away because they were missing erasers, or simply weren’t sharpened, because we already had a handful that were? We live in a time of material abundance unprecedented in human history and clutter is the thoroughly modern phenomenon that comes along with it. Surely I can’t be the only person who has ever thrown “perfectly good” things into the trash out of a strange sense of pure, unadulterated self-defense?

But what gives me the right, I wondered for the first time, to send something to the landfill? When did we become such masters of the universe? When did we become so careless with our resources?

The horrific yarn mess before…

…and after.

The piece-of-gravel revelation has played out in our house over the last few weeks in dozens of different ways: what once we would have thrown out, now we are, for the first time, compelled to really look at… and find another way. I’m sheepish to admit that in the past whenever a clothespin came apart I considered it “broken” and would pitch it: too hard to fix! Probably impossible. I’d think. But when that happened to me the other day I sat down and in about a minute and a half figured out how to put it back together. I felt quite unreasonably proud about it, too.

And when my older daughter Greta came across a huge entanglement of random yarns and craft scraps that had somehow all been shoved together in the bottom of a tote bag, she looked at me questioningly… what on earth were we going to do with this? Any other year, we would certainly have thrown it away. Instead, we sat down and started untangling. It sat on the coffee table for a few days getting progressively better in installments until one day it was no longer a horrible mess at all, but instead a neat pile of several different balls of yarns and fabric strips. Again I felt both proud and a little ridiculous for feeling proud. I keep thinking: those bits and pieces can now be used. Used! I felt like an alchemist who had discovered how to turn trash into gold nuggets.

But the real discovery, I think, is that it was never trash in the first place. Trash is a made-up idea, invented in the name of convenience, which I’m coming to view as a dirty word. Because that lovely idea, as it turns out, comes at a terrible, terrible cost.

So sure, I saved a teeny, tiny rock from the landfill and who cares. But it’s a teeny, tiny rock that represents something much bigger, and that’s why I keep it on my desk, to remind myself that just because our culture accepts something, doesn’t mean it makes any sense. Sometimes it’s just a matter of stopping to really look at something for the first time that can change your point of view entirely.

Sometimes it can even be something right underfoot.

Demystifying the Big Supermarket Box

January 29, 2020 § 12 Comments

For a while now I’ve wondered what the deal is with those mysterious boxes at the front of the supermarket offering to recycle your plastic shopping bags. Often they’re just big cartons or barrels with a slot in the top and a green recycling arrow on the side. I can’t imagine I’m the only person who’s ever wondered, yeah, but what is this? I mean:

A Mystery Worthy of a Scooby Doo Episode?

Admit it. You’ve wondered.

Who collects the bags?

Where do they go?

What can you make plastic bags into anyway- more plastic bags?

Can you recycle other plastics in these boxes?

But after a little research the other day, I was able to call up Stephanie, who helped me to sort it all out. Stephanie works for Trex, and Trex is the answer to the question “Who wants a bunch of empty plastic shopping bags?” This is because Trex turns them into composite decking for outdoor porches and railings.

Yes! There is a company that really does want these plastic shopping bags, and that really will do something constructive with them. Best of all, none of this is part of an elaborate hoax to relieve our guilt at having forgotten the reusable bags at home. Again.

But it gets even better, because Trex doesn’t just want your plastic shopping bags; they want all your polyethylene, which is a science-y word for plastic film, and includes a whole lot of things you’re probably throwing away right now. I found a fabulous poster on the Trex website that I printed out and am hanging in our kitchen to remind us of all the many things that— as long as they are clean and dry— can go into this magical box at our supermarket, including:

  • bread bags
  • ice bags
  • produce bags (both the kind that come on rolls in the store and the kind apples and oranges are already bagged in)
  • plastic overwrap from things like paper towels, toilet paper and water bottle cases
  • bubble wrap, bubble mailers and air pillows (deflated)
  • dry cleaning bags
  • Ziploc bags
  • newspaper bags
  • cereal box liners (unless they tear like paper)

 

If you don’t find that list super exciting, then you clearly are not me. For one thing, this opens up a whole host of products I thought I wouldn’t be able to buy at all this year, from sandwich bread to cereal. Yes, I’ll still make my own bread and buy it from the bakery. Yes, I’ll still be bringing my reusable mesh produce bags with me on my shopping expeditions.

Print the full poster by clicking here

Yes, I will still always choose the lowest-plastic option of any product, because at 300 million tons of new plastic made per year the world certainly doesn’t need my encouragement to make any more, whether it gets recycled or not. But still. The other day when my daughter Ilsa felt crappy and asked for toast, it was a relief not to have to drive for an hour or wait for bread dough to rise all afternoon- I could just buy her a loaf at the store ten minutes away.

(When your kid is sick, not having to make a choice between them and the entire planetary ecosystem can be worth a lot.)

Now if you are like me you’ve tried to be good. When you read various recycling instructions you inevitably read the recycling warnings too. This is the part that says, in effect: IF YOU PUT ONE WRONG ITEM IN HERE YOU WILL DESTROY AN ENTIRE BATCH OF RECYCLING AND PROBABLY MURDER A POLAR BEAR IN THE PROCESS. These dire warnings all send the same message: “when it doubt, throw it out.” I take issue with this. We don’t need more encouragement to throw things into the landfill. What we need is better information.

Which is why I like people like Stephanie at Trex so much. Her job has everything to do with giving people more information so they can recycle correctly. More companies should have a Stephanie, to answer questions from the public not just about their products, but about their product packaging, and what exactly they expect us to do with it so as to not strangle the planet.

Stephanie answered other questions I had too. She told me that when the plastic film recycling boxes are full they get returned to the supermarket’s distribution centers, where they are converted into 1000-pound bales. She explained that most distribution centers ship one semi-load of these plastic bales to Trex every two weeks.

Oh, this is WAY too small for you to read! Instead check here to see if your supermarket sends its Plastic Film to Trex

Wow. That’s a lot of not-landfill.

Most importantly, she told me some simple steps to help people avoid putting the wrong kind of plastic film into the Trex boxes. First, check if it is marked with a #2 or #4 plastics recycling number. If so, this is polyethylene and YES! Trex wants it.

If, however, there is no number to be found, here is an easy test:

  1. Is the plastic able to be stretched? YES! Trex wants it.
  2. Is it shiny or crinkly? NO!! Trex cannot use this.

Things that fall into the shiny/crinkly NO!! category include:

  • pre-washed salad mix bags
  • frozen food bags
  • candy wrappers
  • chip bags
  • 6-pack rings.

So there you have it: some bona-fide good news, courtesy a company that is totally getting a Valentine from me this year. On recycled paper, of course.

If You Need Me, I’ll Be At The Store

January 21, 2020 § 3 Comments

I guess, over time, everyone develops a system. The way one goes about regular weekly tasks in order to get the ordinary stuff done efficiently— perhaps almost mindlessly— while we focus our brain power on other, more important things. I certainly have one. I mean I did.

Years ago, when our family decided to do a Year of No Sugar, I had a different routine, a different system, and a significant portion of the discomfort of that year-long project was trying to find a way to develop and establish new norms that fit our lives’ new parameters. At the time I wrote about doubling the time I spent at the grocery store: overnight I went from buying the week’s groceries in one hour, to buying the week’s groceries in two hours.

My weekly grocery shopping used to entail one stop- now it requires five.

At the time I thought that was pretty impressive, but that alteration seems like a cakewalk to me in comparison with what’s happening now.

I’m including a photo of the weekly grocery list I made up this morning. In my system, I loosely plan out the week’s menus on the left-hand side, and list the ingredients for each dinner on the right. The new rub in my shopping, of course, is that I have to go wherever the disposable packaging isn’t, and very frequently that place is not the supermarket.

So where once I would get pretty much everything in one fell swoop, place it all neatly in my reusable bags and come home, now I am running all over town, and occasionally, all over our county, trying to get things like produce and meat and cheese without the landfill fodder. Take tonight’s dinner: shrimp risotto.

Normally I buy one pound bags of frozen wild-caught shrimp, deveined and shelled. I’ve bought it so many times I could probably find it in the fish freezer blindfolded. But I know this product has both an inner and an outer plastic bag, and I’m still unsure if these can be recycled in any way. A trip to the local fish market down the road might be the solution, but can I convince them to put shrimp in, if not my own container, at least a recyclable plastic container, rather than a disposable bag? Cross fingers.

My health food store has compostable produce bags!! Why can’t the supermarket?

Then I’ll head on to the next town over where there is an actual free-standing butcher. They sold me meat in butcher paper last week, so I’m hopeful to get the beef for my beef stew, if I get an amiable counter-person. Cross fingers.

Then I’ll head to the health food store. There I can get things like carrots and celery without plastic bags- perhaps a rubber band or a twist-tie will be involved here or there, which I keep and reuse. I bring my own mesh bags, but if I run out they have a roll of biodegradable bags on hand. YES!! I try to limit how much produce I buy there since it is significantly more expensive than the supermarket, which sometimes translates to better quality, but not always. Things like garlic and lemons can probably be found without packaging at the supermarket for less. Cross fingers.

But first I will head to the Italian specialty shop Al Ducci’s, which I’ve discovered will sell me both bread and cheese wrapped in paper, just paper. Again- it isn’t cheap bread and cheese, but it is fabulous, and I can get by without plastic wrap or cellophane windows, which is huge.

So now I can go to the supermarket, having exhausted all other shopping options. When I’m done I’ve visited five different stores, all in a town thirty minutes from my house (except the butcher which is another 15 minutes further). You can understand why, if I run out of bread at home like I did yesterday, I found it easier to make bread than get in the car to go buy it. An hour’s trip for bread? Forget it.

During our Year of No Sugar, after I got past the initial learning curve I found that I got much more efficient— there were only so many things I could buy after all— and my shopping trips fell to only thirty minutes a week. I’m not sure such a simplification will be possible for Year of No Garbage, however. Rather, what’s required in thinking about groceries reminds me of a more European sensibility. When I was a college exchange student in Italy years ago I was quite amazed at how many different specialty stores the Italians went to just to gather their basic meal ingredients: butcher, baker, outdoor markets with special hours for vegetables… the supermarket was a small, uninspiring affair, and seemed to exist primarily for things like toilet paper and sad-looking frozen dinners.

A lot of this comes down to a European emphasis on very high quality, very fresh ingredients, made by hand. Everyone loves this idea in principle, of course, but for Americans factors like cost and convenience clearly outweigh healthier, fresher, more delicious food. We’re busy. We’re on a budget. Food has to fit in around the important things; it must be practical.

My grocery cart last week. Please notice my reusable mesh bag with onions- I am very proud of it.

For many Europeans I’ve met, practical can take a flying leap. Food doesn’t fit in around the more important things- it is the important thing. A few years ago we were lucky enough to be invited to a wedding in Paris and I noticed that the things Americans tend to spend all their wedding budget on were done comparatively minimally: the dress, the flowers were all tasteful but… simple. The father of the bride proudly explained to us that essentially all of the budget had been spent on THE FOOD.

And what food it was. How many wedding dinners would figure in your most memorable meals? But that’s what was important.

So, to summarize: we’re eating more… carefully. There isn’t a lot of extra food around the house these days (want a snack? If you aren’t up for apples with peanut butter you’re out of luck) and I’ve temporarily stopped packing Ilsa lunches- luckily her school has some pretty good food options as school lunches go. I just haven’t gotten the hang of it enough yet. I still haven’t figured out how to buy chicken at all. Red meat from the butcher or fish from the fish market, in addition to being more expensive and inconvenient, isn’t cryo-shrink-wrapped in fourteen kinds of plastic, so I’m not buying as far in advance as I once did: I no longer buy a pound of ground beef if I don’t think I’ll use it for six days. And yes, this all involves an extra amount of driving around in my gas-powered car, so there’s that environmental impact to consider.

Oh my. But I have faith that, with time, I will develop some strategies. I’ll get a new system.

Cross fingers.

Year Of No Garbage Tip Of The Week

January 20, 2020 § Leave a comment

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Dear Recycling: Please Stop Trying to Kill Me. Thank you.

January 16, 2020 § 4 Comments

I’m doing it wrong. I’m doing it wrong all the time, and I know it, and it’s kind of killing me.

This is the thought I’ve been having a lot, because lately our house seems to be in particular chaos. There’s just STUFF EVERYWHERE.. It’s an awfully good thing I didn’t try to do Year of No Garbage at the same time as Year of No Clutter, because if I’ve learned anything in the last two weeks, it’s that an experiment in being Zero-waste is essentially a machine for clutter.

Kitchen Counter Chaos

As I’ve written about before, clutter is the result of unknowns and unmade decisions, so it does make sense: all the I-don’t-knows and the what-about-this’s are stacking up. I’ll look it up! Has become my new favorite phrase, but always uttered while I’m in the middle of something else, so what I mean is: I’ll look it up later.

Right now I have a bowl of wine corks on my kitchen counter, right next to a small pile of wax pieces from a block of cheddar cheese. On the floor I have a clothespin holding a festoon of Mylar-lined items such as potato chip bags awaiting further investigation (note to self- call Terracycle). Next to that is a supermarket shopping bag filled with other plastic bags that I think can also be dropped off at the supermarket bag recycling bin: plastic bags from bread, from paper towels, from dried mango slices, from dry cleaning. I think this because I read it online- which is always foolproof, right?

A Festival of Mylar!

Next to that I have a large, clear, plastic container holding all manner of serious question marks. What about the penny-sized plastic spout that pops out of the top of the olive oil container? What about the plastic tag welded to the rubber band that came on the organic scallions? What about the broken hair elastic? What about the postage stamp-sized SILICA GEL PACK? And foil lids from the tops of bottles- are they really FOIL? I bend them and they don’t feel like foil, they feel like shiny paper… not to mention the fact that the great recyclers in the sky apparently frown on our attempts to recycle The Small Stuff- the plastic caps and bits of foil that, according to folklore, jam up the mysterious machines.

Have I mentioned that these are only the piles in my kitchen?

Sometimes I feel like a Recycling Detective trying to ferret out the truth from among a million different myths. Every person I talk to “knows” something different, and it certainly doesn’t help that the rules have been in constant flux ever since I encountered them for the first time as a college student years ago. This was in Ithaca New York, well-known for being even more crunchy than your average college town, and it was in my senior year that I encountered the city’s shiny new curbside recycling program. Who had ever heard of such a thing? Up until then my efforts to save the earth had consisted mostly of me wearing long flowery dresses; I was excited to be in my first “real” house and in the forefront of green technology.

Ugh.

Immediately I was frustrated by the fact that after rinsing and separating all my items and placing them carefully by the curb in a series of baskets and cardboard boxes, about half the items would not get taken by the trash collectors.

In retrospect I find it kind of amazing that the trash people had the time to sort through my proposed recycling as if it were my senior thesis. But what was I doing wrong? “Oh, that’s because you can’t put in any container that could stack with another container.” One of my more eco-savvy friends said. “Like yogurt containers or sour cream- it has to have a smaller top opening so things don’t get stuck inside one another.”

Now BOTH our bins are devoted to single stream recycling, and I’m amazed how fast they fill up

I don’t even know if she was right. It just felt like I was failing some kind of earth-loving test, to which no one had given me the textbook. I clearly recall thinking, Seriously? If they want people to recycle they can’t make it this hard to figure out.

And here I am having that very same thought thirty years later.

Going into this I knew I’d have trouble. I knew I’d want to be No Garbage perfectly right away, which is pretty much impossible. But then I remind myself that that’s the whole darned point: if it were easy there wouldn’t be much to write about. I imagine it’s likely that humans have always had some concept of garbage, but never have we had so incredibly much of it: for the first time in history we’ve made disposability a way of life. Undoing that will take some time. And thought. And uncertainty. And doing it wrong. So I’m working on being okay with that.

If you don’t hear from me for a few days though, it means I’ve been eaten by the piles.

The Learning Curve Goes Straight Up

January 10, 2020 § 8 Comments

We are one week in to our No Garbage Year and our family has officially caught our first break. And that’s good because lately I’ve been feeling like I say “oh shit” about every ten minutes. This learning curve is so steep I’m getting a nosebleed.

Three foods have quickly surfaced as being the most troublesome, but the good news is that they’re just small things. You know, things like meat, bread and cheese. I know what you’re thinking: well, duh. Of course meat, what with all the concerns about contamination. Heck, we can’t seem to keep our meat disease-free as it is, even though we wrap it in enough single-use packaging to kill a goat.

But bread? I’m not even talking about sandwich bread, which clearly comes wrapped for protection from the apocalypse, but even the “let’s pretend we have a real bakery in the supermarket!” bread that comes in the homey brown paper bag, because those bags all have shiny little windows, presumably so the consumer can see the lovely bread without having to touch it with their dirty consumer hands.

When did cheese and plastic get married? More importantly, why was I not invited?

And we all have dirty consumer hands. Don’t get me wrong. For the health advances made possible by modern packaging science I am eternally grateful- truly. In fact, when I posted a frustrated picture of my favorite peanut butter jar yesterday with a heretofore unnoticed-by-me plastic ribbon around the lid my friend John rightly commented that those plastic bands are there to keep people from putting poison in my peanut butter.

I mean, really. How DARE Teddie Peanut Butter try to save my life!?! The NERVE.

But seriously, (and at the risk of sounding like a broken record repeating the mantra of my previous projects) the problem of how to exist in a less damaging way upon the earth, while deeply important, is nevertheless a first world problem. If you are facing starvation or fleeing oppression, you aren’t going to care about whether your rice comes in a dolphin-friendly bag. You’re just not.

In short, trying to figure out how to live with less or zero garbage, while a legitimate problem, is a problem we are lucky to have. So if I’m whining about the annoying plastic wrap on my favorite peanut butter, I just want to be extremely clear I realize how fortunate I am that, on any given Thursday, this is the biggest of my problems.

But back to cheese. This one I honestly did not see coming. Just try finding a cheese- any cheese- in your local supermarket that doesn’t incorporate any plastic wrapping. I’ll wait.

SEE WHAT I MEAN? It’s crazy. It’s as if cling wrap had to be developed first, just to pave the way for the invention of cheese.

Listen. I was a vegetarian of one kind or another for twenty years. If necessary, I can do little or no meat. And I have been known to make some pretty decent homemade bread when pressed (cough cough Year of No Sugar). But cheese? I adore cheese. At this point in my life, I’m pretty sure my body is made up of about 95% cheese. I may or may not be tearing up right now at the very thought of a cheese-less year.

Pardon me while I mortgage the house, people. I have cheese to buy.

Which brings me to our big break. Before abandoning all hope and barricading myself in the basement with a tear-stained copy of Cheeses of the World, it occurred to me to check in with our dear friends Patty and Robin who own Al Ducci’s, an Italian specialty food shop in Manchester, Vermont. Patty assured me they’d be happy to cut from any wheel of cheese in the big glass case and… wrap it in paper for me. (Cue the Hallelujah Chorus.)

AND, as it turns out, they ALSO sell several types of homemade bread made on site that comes in plain brown paper bags… with no plastic windows. (Cue even louder Hallelujah Chorus.)

Sure, the ladies working the counter looked a little confused when I asked for Parmesan cut from the wheel even though they already had about twenty different wedges in the case pre-sliced and wrapped in Saran Wrap. I settled for Romano instead. Heck- Parmesan, Romano, Velveeta- WHO CARED? I was getting cheese, people. (Cue the Hallelujah Chorus, hip hop/extreme dance club version.)

I know, I know. This is expensive cheese. Which brings us to the ever-recurring conversation of whether living more lightly on the earth is a luxury only available to The Fancy People. This was a recurring theme with No Sugar as well: sure, you can spend hours reading ingredient lists, cook homemade food and buy more expensive products that have better ingredients, but most people can’t. Most people don’t have that luxury.

Well, yes. Money and time are ever-present problems in our culture and exist in myriad ways as barriers to changing the way we do things. But things can change and change has to start with people showing up and asking for it. Organic produce, bulk shopping, coops, health food stores and farmers markets, while still not mainstream, are both now more popular and much more accessible than ever before. Acknowledging that everyone may not be able to spend the time or money necessary to go Zero Waste, doesn’t let us all off the hook. We’re still on the hook. And it’s a big hook. Planet-sized to be precise. But we can all start somewhere.

After all, thinking about something differently is free.

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