Crawly Cuties and Apartment Composting

My apartment here in State College is quite small, but it’s still the first place I’ve lived where I can make it (along with Benjamin, of course) my (our) own. Long hours at campus mean I want to make the most of my time at home enjoying the space and using it to explore any outside interests I try to maintain throughout graduate school. We use this space to develop some of our shared interests, and this is reflected in how we attempt to arrange the living area in a way that extends our tiny, tiny nook kitchen out into the rest of the room.  We try and cook for ourselves as often as possible and we relish our weekly CSA deliveries of local produce, dairy, eggs, and bread. However, this produces a LOT of food scraps that we don’t want to end up in a landfill somewhere. I really wanted to have a compost bin somewhere outside, but we don’t have a lot of space available to use around our apartment building and I wasn’t sure how well it’d be received. An indoor possibility was on my radar for a while, but, as I’ll discuss, I had some reservations. Having a bin full of worms in one’s apartment seems like something that should be filed under “You know you live with/might be an ecologist when….”, but in my research before I found that they are way more popular than I anticipated! Continue reading “Crawly Cuties and Apartment Composting”


Waste not, Want not on Moving Day

White Mt.  We climbed this as the culmination of our
orientation trip.

Note from Rachel:  I actually wrote this post during the last week of August when I was actively moving.  I figured I just needed to throw in a few pictures of the madness and I’d be good to go.  Little did I know, that was easier said than done.  Moving was insane, then I left on the 2nd to help lead an orientation trip for new graduate students…so this post is a bit of a flashback.  Hopefully it will still be helpful to someone!  Further disclaimer:  this post contains only iPhone pictures…mostly of my cat.

It seems like only last year that we moved all our stuff from SoCal, up along the I-5, to the central valley of California.  Oh wait, that really was just last year.  Can it really be that time again?  The painters that came to my apartment Tuesday morning imply that yes, yes it is.  It’s moving time!  Transplanting to a new place is always simultaneously exciting and annoying for me.  I love the possibilities.  This year I’ll keep my room clean.  This time I’ll really put an effort into decoration.  This spring the patio garden will happen!  However, I don’t love the hassle.  Will I get my security deposit back?  Where do I put all my stuff while I shampoo the carpets?  Will my cat finally hate me if I make him move again?

Cat drinking my H2O on hot moving day.

Yes, like almost every other thing in this wild life, moving to a new dwelling has pros and cons.  In times of stress and excitement, it’s very easy to forget our environmentally minded intentions and err on the side of convenience.  I can honestly say, been there, done that.  However, as someone who has moved 8 times in the past 8 years (one time I moved twice in one year!), I can offer up a few little nuggets of practical advice for keeping your upcoming move as sane and eco-conscious as possible.  The way I see it, there are three big things that make up the process of moving:  packing, discarding unwanted items, and cleaning.  I will address the first two in this post.  In the interest of being candid, I’ll say that I don’t currently use that many green cleaning supplies.  I’m hoping to make the switch away from the more conventional stuff (and will probably blog about it).  At the moment, I’ve amassed quite a collection of cleaning solutions/sprays/what-have-you from old roommates, and I’m currently working through the last of that.  Maybe you know the old runner’s mantra “Don’t try anything new on race day”?  Moving day is my race day and is not the time to try a whole bunch of new stuff.  So, here I’ll focus on what to use when packing and how to donate/reuse/recycle those items you might not want to move to your new abode.

1) Packing Materials Matter

Cats also love scavenged boxes.

My ideal moving scenario would be this:  I scavenge cardboard boxes and day old newspapers from around town.  I pack my life away, then promptly unpack it at my new pad.  Then I either put all the boxes on Craigslist for someone to come and pick up, or I recycle the lot.  Following that plan, you get total reuse value out of all the paper and cardboard before, finally, recycling it.  Also, avoid using packaging tape by folding the lids of your boxes closed (PS: this video is really funny to me).  Probably everyone knows how to do this, but if not, now you do!  And hey, that’s one less little bit of disposable plastic you are using!  Editor’s note in retrospect:  Pro-tip, listen to the dude in the video and don’t overload these boxes if they have no tape on the bottom.  I had two near blow outs due to this carelessness.

Here is how it has actually played out this year.  We have been doing really well on getting used boxed from the co-op and businesses around town.  The co-op even has this area right in front of the store just for boxes which can be reused.  Thanks for being awesome co-op!  We also have several large plastic bins that we have had forever.  I wouldn’t personally suggest buying any of these, but if you feel you just need a couple, go down to your local Goodwill or thrift store.  The last one I purchased about three years ago was from a Goodwill, and it cost 1 dollar.  Buying used, better for the environment and your wallet (reuse forever!).  And remember to donate it back after moving if you don’t have room to save it for next time.

We got down to packing our fragile belongings, and realized we needed some sort of packing paper.  We were in a hurry (read: no time to scavenge!) and ran to the FedEx to buy some.  But we were thwarted; the FedEx only sold plastic bubble wrap!  As you have probably gathered by now, I think single use plastic items are pretty pointless (extremely slow to biodegrade, made from petroleum, general health concerns), so this was not going to fly for me because we needed a pretty large amount of the stuff.  We walked to a nearby newsstand and asked for day-old papers, of which they had none, so we ended up buying a few papers.  It only cost 4 dollars, and I read some of it before using it to wrap my plates.  Does that count as reuse?  The next day I went to the co-op and they had some day old papers, so I used those for the rest of our fragile goods.  

2) Donate NOT Dumpster

It happens every time I move.  I wonder, “How in the world did I get all this stuff?”  As a result, I always end up with a pretty hefty pile of things that I just can’t find the heart to move to my new place.  The paring down process is probably my favorite thing about moving, actually.  I think this happens to almost everyone.  This begs the question, what should we do with all those unwanted treasures?  First and foremost, please please please don’t just throw those things away.  I choose to believe that people are generally good about donating things that are nearly new or gently used.  Additionally, there are many thrift shops which will give you cash for donated items of a certain ilk (high quality, name brand, etc.).  In that case, you could, literally, be throwing away money by not taking time to donate your unwanted items.

Sad kitten in a cage on moving day.

However, I’ve had several conversations with people who put the standard a bit too high on things they are willing to donate.  A pair of pants with a stain on them?  Someone could add a decorative patch to cover that.  Missing buttons on that shirt?  I’m sure someone would be willing to mend them.  Have a lamp with a busted lampshade?  There are about a million Pinterest ideas for making new lamp shades for very little money, and I’m sure some thrifty person would be glad to give your naked lamp new life.

Am I advocating that you donate destroyed or broken things?  Certainly not, I threw out several things that were, quite literally, broken with no hope of repair and could not be recycled.  However, just tossing things out mindlessly or because “they aren’t good enough to donate” is a very privileged attitude.  Further, all those things took resources to create, and if you can give these items longer lives by donating them, you are doing a very good thing.  Yes, this does mean making an extra car trip with your load of unwanted items, but I think we can all agree that donation is one of those actions where we get maximum benefits (helping others, saving resources, reducing waste) from minimum efforts (driving 10-20 minutes).

Don’t worry, I’m climbing down from my soap box now.    

3) Reuse and (finally) Recycle

Okay, so donating clothing that has gone to the other side of gently used is one thing, but what about stuff donation centers simply don’t want?  Here, you have a few very good options for both reusing and recycling these goods.  For electronics that are on the fritz, I think Craigslist is a great way to go.  If you want it off your hand quickly, put a posting up on the “Free” section detailing what’s wrong with the item and that it will be left in such-and-such alley or at the corner of so-and-so.  You can also try FreeCycle, which allows you to list things to given away for free.  People build things from used electronics, and those people love these sorts of websites.  If your item isn’t in horrible condition, it will likely be picked up very shortly (PSA:  Don’t abandon this stuff on the side of the road.  Put it in front of your house or near your house so you can retrieve it for recycling if no one comes to claim it.).  If it’s a nice piece of equipment, you could also try selling it or taking it to a local electronics store to see if they can fix it!  If you get no takes on the electronics, make sure and recycle them properly.  Electronics have lots of precious metals in them that can be reused.  E-waste could be a whole post unto itself, so I’ll stop here and provide you with this link to NCER, a database for electronics recycling facilities in the USA.

An example of something which will NOT be thrown out.
Hilarious gift from my BFF on my 16th birthday.

Other tricky items are mattresses, box springs, and older couches.  Note that if your couch is newer or at least sturdy, you can probably get a Goodwill/Salvation Army/etc. to take it; however, these organizations will very rarely accept used mattresses or box springs.  Again, Craigslist and FreeCycle are your friends.  For these items, you will probably have an easier time getting them off your hands if you live in a larger city or if you are moving in the “off season.”  Around the beginning of September, in my area, Craigslist is saturated with mattress offers.  I actually went down a research rabbit hole looking for places to recycle mattresses and sofas.  If you check out Earth911 site you can enter in your zip code and look for a place near you that accepts mattresses.  There was not one in my area.  It seems like your best bet is to try and give it away or sell it for reuse.  There is also the option of breaking down these items yourself, then recycling or reusing the parts.  In the interests of practicality, you should try to avoid this until the end (if you end up doing it at all).  I’d love some other ideas on this front if you have them, because I honestly don’t see myself (or many others) dismantling a couch.  

Really old shoes and clothing also needs to find a home that, hopefully, isn’t the dumpster.  For shoes that are just no good anymore (see tip #2 to assess how good is no good), the best option I’ve found is the Reuse-a-Shoe program run by Nike.  I’m not a huge fan of Nike in general, but this seems like a very cool program.  Essentially, they take all brands of shoes (aside from dress shoes, flip-flops, and sandals) for recycling and convert them into athletic surfaces such as running tracks, turf fields, or playground surfaces.  You can drop your shoes off at your local Nike store or mail them to the recycling facility.  They encourage local drop off to maximize positive environmental impacts.  For super old clothes, first and foremost, try to think of ways that you could reuse those items.  T-shirts can be turned into quilts, headbands, scarves, and about a million other things.  Check out this Pinterest board I started for some cool reuse ideas.  If you’re of the less creative persuasion, like myself, you can always just cut up these clothes and turn them into cleaning rags.  After you’ve exhausted your own creativity (or if personal reuse just isn’t your situation), you can still take these broken and soiled items to the Goodwill or Salvation Army!  Check out this really cool article from the LATimes blog about how these organizations actually work with a secondary organization to reuse (mostly in the form of janitorial rags) these things or pass on clothing items and shoes to developing nations.

In sum:

My new balcony.  Possibilities…

DO:  Reuse cardboard boxes and newspapers for packing materials.  And at least attempt to donate before you ditch unwanted items.  If donation does not work, make sure to reuse and recycle when possible.
DON’T:  Buy single use plastic packaging materials or boxes.  If you must have plastic items, try to get them second-hand.  Throw out unwanted or used items all willy-nilly like.

Last Word:  Wow.  This turned into a way longer post than I thought it would be.  In general, I’d just say to remember that moving can be very hectic.  Try to plan ahead for how you will pack and dispose of items, otherwise you might end up throwing out more than you would really like.  It’s happened to me many times in the past.  As always, remember to go easy on yourself.  If you did your best, that’s really all there is to do.

What do you think?  What do you do to make your move go smoothly?  Any cool reuse or recycling tips or websites?  Mention them in the comments section.

Reduce: DIY Drain De-Clogging

A tall grass prairie restoration site I visited while at ESA

Well, welcome back me.  It has been a second guys!  As you probably know if you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, I’ve been away at the Ecological Society of America conference, then I was a little ill, then I got a fellowship (!!!!), then I started packing for our move at the end of the month, and then my boyfriend started nagging me about unclogging the sink.

See, as anyone who has ever rented housing probably doesn’t need to be told, our bathroom sink clogs up a lot.  We are really careful not to flush a bunch of hair or what have you down it, but inevitably, about every other month, it needs to be attended too.  Usually, the fella’ takes care of this ASAP, but after the last Drano purchase, I told him next time the sink needed fixing I wanted to attend to it.  Earlier this year, I was perusing Pinterest and came across something which I quickly stuck on my Green Lifestyle pinning board:  an all natural drain de-clogger.  Now, Drano itself doesn’t have a ton of explicitly cataloged negative impacts to the environment (read: I couldn’t really find any studies about it).  However, the two major active ingredients, bleach (NaOCl) and sodium hydroxide (NaOH), are known to have several human health impacts (see some EPA reports here and here).  Plus, the stuff comes in a plastic bottle, which I don’t feel comfortable reusing for anything because…you know…it had Drano in it.  The final nail in the coffin, for me at least, is that the stuff costs between 5-10 dollars a bottle.  Generally, if it will hurt me if I accidentally eat it and if it costs a bit of money, I’m over it.

Image courtesy of

Enter the Pinterest solution.  According to the original pin, I could mix half a cup of baking soda and one cup of vinegar together in the sink and then pour a kettle of boiling water down after it, and voila no more clog!  I would link to the website that generated the pin, but it turns out the link just lead me to a picture of a drain…so you’ll just have to accept that I didn’t come up with this, but I don’t know who to credit. 

 Now, both vinegar and baking soda get a seal of approval from the EPA (see the fact sheets here and here).  The only caution is that high concentrations of acetic acid (found in vinegar) can be harmful, but if you ever had college chemistry, you know that vinegar is only 5-8% acetic acid.  Additionally, baking soda comes in a cardboard container, which is great.  Unfortunately, the vinegar I bought came in a plastic bottle.  You certainly can buy vinegar in glass, but it costs more.  I justified by buying in bulk, knowing that I would use the stuff for lots of other things round the house, and feeling like I could actually reuse this plastic container after the vinegar was gone…because vinegar doesn’t sketch me out.  Last, a huge thing of vinegar plus a box of baking soda only cost me about 5 dollars, and I have tons of vinegar and about half a box of soda left over to cook and clean with in the future.  
But that still leaves the ultimate question, did it work?  The answer:  YES!  I had to perform the treatment twice because I let the drain get really bad.  That’s why there are no pictures of me fixing the sink in this post.  My sink was gross.  However, it was super easy, and we’re all fixed up now!  I’m really excited this worked out, and will be using this solution from now on instead of alternative products.  Bonus points, these are the ingredients you used to make your elementary school science class volcano!  There was no eruption at these proportions,  but I did feel like I was playing not cleaning.  Win, win.    

Last Word:  I love DIY solutions that require less chemicals and save me money.  It’s like all my favorite things in one neat little package.  As time goes on I will be testing out a lot more of these all natural internet claims!  I’m excited to experiment and see what happens.  

What do you think?  Have you ever tried a “green” solution off the internet?  Were you rewarded or disappointed?  Do you have any suggestions of things you’d like me to research or try out?  Let me know in the comments section!

UPDATE:  I did this again today (8/30) with my garbage disposal and after two applications and a little plunger action, we were good to go!