Archive for instead of paper products


Positive Progress

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I’ve been off and running…networking myself into a new business – at least that’s the idea. I’ve been noticed and now I am talking to some very interesting and plugged in people. The energy, enthusiasm, and joy evident in the Urban Sustainability movement is stunning! In fact every single place we need reform, or just flat out a new system, is in a marvelous state of ferment. It’s quite pro-biotic,organically growing in communities of ideas, and dreams, and deeply grounded intent. The will is there to create something new. The pieces we need are all here as well. Creativity is fountaining up in people; they are all meeting each other and immediately connecting. The air in these meetings is so delicious – full of  local, organic, flexitarian home cooking, an old fashioned pot luck with people who are ecologically conscious! We’re also bringing our own plates, cups, silverware, and napkins again! Ah! Shades of the Hippy sixties and the ‘back to the land’ 70’s! Only now it’s going mainstream.

We are all practicing the best practices for the Earth as far as we can – and ready to stretch for tomorrow. It’s so excellent to be in a room full of people who (in one way or the other) sound like you do. Or more accurately, have the same underlying vision about this next step. We all want to know what the other is doing, and enjoy seeing how it all fits into the whole. What a delicious time. This type of community is so very important right now, with the world loosening at the seams to allow for the newest configuration to emerge. And it’s full of optimism!

The “greenies” are gathering around food and becoming more eco-conscious in the process. There is a wonderful sense of comradery when you find others that don’t use paper towels, or put their tissues in the compost instead of the trash. A woman  in the same master composting class as I came up to me today, beaming, because she was so pleased to know someone else that uses handkerchiefs and turns off water!

What’s interesting is this is the way I grew up! We had a well on the farm, and particularly in summer you just didn’t take your hand off the faucet. The water went on and off fast, or you filled a basin to wash, because you didn’t want the well to run dry and burn out the pump! Then the water was dumped on Mother’s roses. Cloth napkins were normal, not fancy; and just about everything got turned into something else. What happened in the mean time? Check out for an interesting answer!

Like the first line in the Tale of Two Cities, “It was the worst of times; and it was the best of times…” Whenever you can, wherever you can, focus on what is the best about these times.


The Life of a Garment

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As I was pulling up my underwear yesterday my hand went through it as the elastic pulled away from the fabric with a soft ripping sound. As I looked at the damage in the mirror, my first thought was on what they would become next. Another part of me simply said “Throw them out!” Here is a perfect example of what used to be and what is now.

Long ago and far away, when I was small, worn garments were sorted by fabric and type. They were all useful still, just in another form. Would the collars and cuffs get turned on a dress shirt? Would the soft cotton knits become polishing cloths and dust rags? Would the old clothes be washed and folded neatly to be ready for the rag man? Could this dress be made smaller for a younger sister or turned into doll clothes? This may sound very frugal and time consuming to us now; and yet I wonder if there are not some good ideas for these strange times as well. Let me just touch on some ways Grandmother reused a garment.

We got chicken feed in calico cloth bags during and, for a time, after the War. When the feedbag was empty the seams were carefully ripped out and these one yard lengths of cloth became curtains, aprons, napkins or a child’s dress. Fancy church and party dresses became pieces for a special quilt. Linen was eventually turned into fine quality writing paper, and everyday clothing became rag rugs. We always had a rag bag to grab out of for wiping up spills, washing the car, and polishing our shoes.

The best pot holders ever were made from the cut-off legs of jeans, filled with a thick square of old cotton mattress pad and decorated with apples and pears cut-out of bright colored napkins. You never got burned through these no matter how hot the pot or the oven. Sweaters and flannel shirts with stains, or holes in the elbows, became mittens or glove liners. Big sheets became small sheets and table cloths became placemats or napkins.

Now that I am again thinking about what I buy and whether I need it, my rag bag has taken on new life – no more paper towels! Cloth napkins are more common again – no need for paper napkins. In the garden the tender plants prefer to be tied up with strips of cloth ripped off an old cotton t-shirt rather than a plastic and metal twist tie. All natural fiber cloths can also be composted.

So the life of a garment starts out decorating our body, becomes a different piece of clothing or a useful household item, then a rag or a garden tie and finally returns to the soil as compost. It could also become paper, filler for quilts, or a rug. So when you buy clothes, realize you are also buying something for the future, something that can be so much more than just a pair of pants!


Before Paper Towels

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There was a time in my memory when both paper napkins and paper towels were considered a luxury; potentially a handy convienence and also a wasteful expense. Now that this is one of the items to eliminate completely, or greatly reduce to help lower our carbon footprint, I am thinking back to those days and what we did instead.

We had dozens of cloth napkins, the every day ones made from stained, worn out  tablecloths or chicken feed sacks. The feed sacks were made out of a yard of gingham or calico and became curtains, aprons, pillow cases, and napkins. Only the company napkins were fine linen or damask. Paper napkins were a special luxury for Birthday Parties and the like.

Instead of paper towels, there was the rag bag for spills and icky cleanups. For draining bacon and other fried foods we used brown paper bags and to peel potatoes newspaper was opened on the table to catch the scraps. Then the whole bundle went into the compost. Under the sink were more t-shirt pieces for dusting and old washcloths for wiping little faces. While cooking we wiped our hands on the apron, which could also be used for emergency clean-ups, little faces, and a temporary potholder to get a pot off the stove quickly.

All of these napkins, rags, aprons and so forth were washed then when full of holes and stains moved down to the next level: tablecloth to napkins to rags; t-shirts and socks to rags; then any that were a natural fiber (cotton, silk, linen, wool) were cut up or torn up and went into the compost since the rag-man no longer came around. This is still a good system once  it’s started and it makes me feel wonderful as well.

I’m sure there are other ideas out there and I’d love to hear them!