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Updated: Nov 25

We have been moving away from paper as much as possible, including the following:

We've put all bills on electronic only delivery, and pay our bills online. This is an example of using modern technology to reduce waste.

We would like to reduce the amount of junk mail solicitations and catalogs we receive. In the meantime, we shred them and use the shredded paper for worm bedding (mostly unopened and unread!) We also shred the packing paper and cardboard boxes from deliveries and compost it. Large cardboard boxes have been handy as weed barriers at the bottom of our new garden beds.

We use cloth cleaning towels and rags as much as possible, to reduce our use of paper towels. We also use cloth napkins instead of paper ones at the table. When the kids were little, each person had a different napkin ring, and the used napkins went in a basket so they didn't have to be washed every day. They got washed once a week, or whenever they were dirty. Cloth napkins are nicer as well as more environmentally friendly. These are both examples of going back to the traditional ways of doing things to reduce waste.

We bought a bidet toilet seat to reduce our use of toilet paper. This is an example of using an approach common in other cultures to reduce waste.

We use washable cloth face masks instead of disposable ones. The ones we have are highly rated. They are two-ply and fit tightly enough that we are breathing through them, rather than around them, so we don't feel that our health is at all compromised by this choice.

I bought some organic cotton handkerchiefs (from a woman-owned company in the US, not from Amazon). I plan to carry hankies in my pocket. I'm glad they won't shred in the wash when I forget to pull them out. And I'll be happy to reduce my use of paper tissues. This is another example of going back to the traditional ways of doing things to reduce waste. My dad always used cloth handkerchiefs, and they work fine.

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We've been in the habit of bringing reusable canvas tote bags to the grocery store for decades. It is just the way shopping for food is done in many other countries, and we picked up the habit while visiting Europe. Once you get used to it, it is not difficult to grab the bags along with the grocery list as you leave the house (or store them in the car so you have them for a spontaneous stop).

On the other hand, we have often found ourselves with half a plateful of food after a restaurant meal regretting having to ask for a leftover container to take the extra food home for tomorrow's lunch. Our regret deepens when the waiter brings a plastic or polystyrene container instead of a waxed cardboard one.

Finally, we remembered to bring our leftover containers with us when we went to one of our favorite Mexican restaurants. We wondered how the server would react when we fished our own containers out from under the table at the end of them meal. She laughed, and said that, growing up in Mexico, her grandmother always took little dishes with them to a restaurant to take leftovers home in.

I appreciated the fact that we had remembered our little reusable glass dishes all the more the next day, when I was able to pop mine straight into the microwave, eat my lunch, rinse the dish, and add it to the dishwasher. No scraping the food from the non-microwaveable foam container into a microwave-safe dish, no washing the food from the greasy plastic container so it could potentially be recycled, no taking it out to the curb for pickup, and no guilt, knowing that those containers were likely to end up in the landfill. Actually, though it takes a tiny bit of planning ahead and changing habits, bringing our own containers is MORE satisfying and convenient overall!

This incident reminded me that there is much we North Americans can learn from our neighbors, and from previous generations. The wasteful habits we have gravitated towards in the last 50 years or so are relatively new and can be unlearned. In some cases, new technology can help us use fewer resources and pollute less, like changing from gasoline cars to electric ones, incandescent light bulbs to LEDs, and coal-fired power plants to renewable energy. In other areas, we simply need to go back to time-tested ways of living to reduce our fossil fuel use and climate impact.

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Ever since we began gardening as kids, we've both been fond of growing herbs. They are easy to grow, taste fantastic, and are so expensive to buy fresh that they seem like a luxury item. We love wandering out to the kitchen garden to cut a sprig or two of fresh thyme, rosemary, and basil to brighten up a medley of sauteed fresh vegetables. At the end of the season, we dry the culinary herbs and find that they are far fresher than the pricey dried herbs sold at grocery stores. (Makes you wonder how old those herbs are! But maybe they are just processed at high temperatures and that's why they turn dull and nearly tasteless.) We re-use herb and spice jars by refilling them with home-grown herbs to avoid buying more packaging.

Drying home-grown herbs is very easy to do. Cut off a stem or several from the plant (or the whole plant, if it is an annual and it's the end of the season). Put them upside-down in a paper bag, tie the opening around the stem(s) with string, and hang the bag by the string in a dry place, like the garage. When the leaves are dry, which only takes a week or so in our climate, simply press on the outside of the bag, so that the dried leaves fall off the stems and into the bottom of the bag. Then pull the dried stem and any twigs out of the bag, and pour the dried leaves into jars. We like to use recycled jars already labeled with the name of the herb, but you can also clean and relabel jars or bottles that originally held something else. You can also reuse the bag!

I see it as a positive that herbal supplements are readily available now, and that it is relatively easy to educate oneself on which ones to use for a variety of ailments, or to support your health.

For example, Ota suffered a long bout of shingles recently, and it was a relief to learn from her medical doctor that a common inexpensive herb (lemon balm) soothes the discomfort of post-herpetic neuralgia. It works! But, we asked ourselves, why should we buy capsules of dried lemon balm in a plastic bottle packaged by a large distributor and sold at a drugstore or online? It's in the mint family and (in other climates), we've found it easy to grow -- in fact, it had a tendency to take over a garden bed and had to be confined to a pot. So we've decided that lemon balm is our first foray into growing our own medicinal herbs. It didn't do very well outdoors at this altitude, we discovered, but we are going to try it in the greenhouse next and see how it goes. It will probably benefit from a little shade, more water, and not freezing at night.

We also are at the beginning of learning about the medicinal uses of the native plants that grow around us. We have some leads (friends who are into gathering medicinal plants). We hope that, as we learn, we will be able to reduce the number of plastic bottles of herbal supplements we use to maintain our health.

In the meantime, since we can't count on their being recycled, we re-use the herbal supplement bottles. They are pretty useful for organizing small items -- screws, needles, you name it -- that didn't come in a convenient package for storing them. We bought an old-fashioned label maker to make it easier to re-use empty bottles for other purposes. And of course, we will refill those commercial lemon balm bottles with our own dried lemon balm when we have a crop!

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