How to: Reduce your paper towel usage by 99%

Peeps, listen up. Eliminating (well, almost) paper towels from your house is one of the easiest things you can do to reduce your waste and wastefulness. You do not need paper towels to dry produce, to wipe down kitchen counters, or to wipe up anything. Yes, they are convenient and compostable, but why not use something reusable instead?

Here’s how I did it. I replaced paper towels with a combination of dish towels, bar towels, and rags cut from old shirts. They don’t get gross and smelly because I treat them just like single use paper towels; once they’re dirty, I put them in a mesh laundry bag in the pantry and wash them weekly separately from clothes in hot water. That’s it. 

I have only one roll of paper towels that my parents left behind and the only time I use them is for draining grease off fried food. This occurrence is rare because we kicked the bacon habit, but I did recently discover that cauliflower Parmesan is even better than chicken parm, and yes, I fry it like Cook’s Illustrated recommends. 

Last week's laundry: cloth napkins, cute dish towels, tshirt rags, bar towels, and a washable dust cloth.   

Last week’s laundry: cloth napkins, cute dish towels, tshirt rags, bar towels, and a washable dust cloth.   

Please give it a shot. Next time you want to wipe off the counter or do whatever else people do with paper towels (I don’t even remember anymore!), grab a dish towel rather than a paper towel. Let me know how it goes!

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Simple Homemade Lotion

Apologies for not sharing this recipe until now. It’s great on dry winter hands.

A few notes:

  • Every time I’ve made this, I’ve changed the proportions of the ingredients to try to optimize it, but it always comes out good. It’s very forgiving. 
  • This lotion is made of oil. It is going to feel oily. It will soak in, just don’t expect it to feel like store bought lotion. 
  • Because it is made of just oils, no water, it is safe to keep at room temperature without preservatives. I guess this makes it technically a “cream,” but it is thin enough to use as a body lotion (and you can make it thinner by decreasing the beeswax or increasing the liquid oil).
  • You can turn this lotion into a lip balm by increasing the beeswax and decreasing the oil. If you mess up and make it too think or thin, just remelt and adjust.
  • You can buy all of these ingredients at Whole Foods or online. 

Recipe: Easy Homemade Body Lotion

adapted from A Sonoma Garden

Ingredients & Materials: 

  • 1.2 oz unrefined coconut oil
  • 2.0 oz raw unrefined shea butter
  • 0.4 oz beeswax
  • 2.0 oz almond oil (can sub extra virgin olive oil, sunflower oil, avocado oil, etc. See here for information on the specific properties of these oils)
  • a few drops of essential oil of your choice (I use peppermint)
  • 8+ oz glass jar
  • immersion blender (optional)

Directions:

  1. Combine the first four ingredients in the jar. If you are using solid beeswax, use a box grater to measure it and help it melt faster.
  2. Place the jar in a pan with 1″ of water to simulate a double boiler and turn the heat on low. Stir together until melted and uniform. 
  3. Remove the jar from the water bath and let cool, stirring occasionally. Stir in essential oil to taste.
  4. Optional: Once at room temperature, you can whip the mixture with an immersion blender. You may need to make a double batch to do this effectively. I don’t usually bother. 
  5. Store in jar or other screw top container. 
  6. Clean up: Hot soapy water will removed all beeswax residue. 

 

Meatonomics & Sometimes Vegan

When I was a freshman in high school, I read Fast Food Nation in English class and I didn’t eat a hamburger again for years. I went for hotdogs and chicken fingers instead, which aren’t exactly the greatest alternatives, but everything about a burger was wrong to me. I don’t even remember anymore what part of the beef story convinced me to quit burgers cold turkey (hah), but that book certainly did it. I still sort of feel weird when I eat one, even when I make it myself from grassfed beef.

I just finished reading another book that is going to change my diet a lot more than Fast Food Nation ever did, and it’s called Meatonomics. Written by lawyer David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics explores the “rigged economics” of the meat and dairy industries.  It hits hard in all the areas that get to me; sustainability, humane treatment of animals, and corporate control of consumption.

I really enjoyed reading Meatonomics because it is well researched and clearly written. Each chapter has a thesis sentence, subtitles on almost every page, and a bulleted summary of important points at the end. Everything is described in economic terms, which usually means unfathomably large sums of money, but the quantification is powerful. Simon also devotes a significant portion of the book to outlining solutions to the problems he describes, and they’re not absurd. And finally, of course, I learned a ton reading this book. I’m going to recommend it to my vegetarian economics-major sister, to my sometimes-vegan other sister, and to my parents: read it, because our family has fallen for a lot of the problems described in Meatonomics. Continue reading

Toxic Air Fresheners

I hate air fresheners.  Hate hate HATE.  All they do is cover up smells with other sickly smells.  Seriously people, there are better ways to make your home or car or garbage cans more olfactorily pleasing.  (Is that a word?)

Taylor and I recently came in close contact with a hawaiian scented Febreeze thing that was meant to cover up garbage stench in our building. A few minutes later Taylor was turning pink and having a hard time breathing.  Meanwhile, I was shuddering at the thought of all the hormone disrupting chemicals in those things.

A little research when I got home told me that the only “ingredient” in that air freshener is “fragrance,” which we’ve talked about before. Fragrance is a catch-all term that may include tens or even hundreds of different ingredients.  Fragrances are proprietary, so companies don’t have to disclose what is in them. Additionally, the government does not have any safety regulations in place for air fresheners.

So how do we know what’s in them if the ingredients aren’t disclosed? Continue reading

My Lovely Green Flame Retardant Free Couch

Our wireless is down right now at home.  The internet that magically comes out of the modem still works, so it isn’t Comcast’s fault (for once!) but my cheap-o refurbished router seems to have kicked the bucket in the middle of a streaming a James Bond movie.  Sad, because we didn’t get to finish the movie, but actually not so sad at all because we’re finding the lack of wireless to be quite refreshing.

In my daily perusal of The Kitchn this morning, I spotted this little piece on a family who has decided to ditch all technology pre-1986.  This is pretty extreme, but I get it.  I don’t like how America’s tendency is to come home from school or work and immediately flip on the TV or browse the depths of the internet (keep me away from the food blogs) for hours instead of doing something, anything.

In our living room, we have a couch, but no TV. (It’s in the bedroom, not hooked up to anything, not even Netflix.) How many American families do you think have a living room that isn’t arranged around the TV? We’re probably one of the few.

I like to sit on my couch and read or even just look out the window. It’s the first couch I have ever owned and I plan to keep it for a long time, so I took great care to find an affordable one that wasn’t going to poison me.

That’s right, toxic chemicals!

A year ago, flame retardants (FRs) were all over the news. The crusade against flame retardants, chemicals put in furniture to slow fires, was led by environmental health scientist Arlene Blum.  Her research in the 1970s contributed to the ban of carcinogenic flame retardants such as the molecule brominated tris in children’s pajama fabric. The tris family of flame retardants didn’t just go away though; they continued to be used in couches, notably by Ikea until quite recently.

TDCPP, or chlorinated tris. Yum.

Since the 1970s, Blum has continued to study flame retardants. She found FRs in 85% of couches purchased in America between 1985 and 2010, mostly polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and halogenated organophosphates such as TDCPP, a relative of the tris from the 70s. Scientists have known for a long time that these chemicals cause cancer.  Some PBDEs were even banned in 2005 because they mimic the thyroid hormone in the human body and bioaccumulate.  These chemicals are persistent, resisting breakdown in the environment, and so are the couches that are filled with them. Continue reading

DIY Pottery Barn Style Sheer Curtains

I have been sitting on this post for over a month now. Seriously. Bad Genoa. I made curtains for our new apartment right after moving in, but I have had an unusually tricky time writing about it. Curtains aren’t a difficult DIY in the cutting and sewing sense, but they are harder on the wallet than you might expect.  Two apartments in a row now I have made my own curtains, and both times I spent way more than I intended to.

So here it goes. I would like to begin this post with a disclaimer: DIY curtains are rarely economical.  They’re the sort of project for somebody who knows exactly what they want, but can’t find it in a store.  If you’re planning on saving a bunch of money by making your own curtains, hopefully my Monday morning quarterbacking of this project will help. Either plan carefully, or make a trip to Ikea.

The new place has west-facing wall-to-wall floor-to-ceiling windows in both the bedroom and living room, and we are only a stone’s throw away from the next building over.  I found the ease with which I could watch my neighbors eat dinner to be a little creepy, so curtains were a priority.

IMG_1046

Before curtains. Hi neighbors!

Continue reading

A Chemist’s Response to “How Junk Food Can End Obesity”

This post is for Steph, who wanted to know what I though about the Atlantic’s July/Aug cover article. 

Last March, my mother was oh so excited that McDonalds’ Shamrock Shakes were back, but I spoiled her fast food party plans with this info graphic on the ingredients in one of those processed premixed cup-full-of-chemicals.

Just look at this image, and you will never want one again, not because of the calories, carbs, fat, and sugar, but because of all that other crap in there too. I prefer my milkshakes made with good old ice cream and milk, hold the polysorbate 80 please.

As an environmental chemist and foodie, I have a lot to say about David H. Freedman’s Atlantic piece “How Junk Food Can End Obesity.”  His main argument is that we can solve the obesity crisis in America by putting pressure on the fast and processed food industry to be healthier, rather than shunning it altogether.  The nineteen page article also devotes a significant amount of space to disparaging the grassroots real food movement and getting the science of common food additives disturbingly wrong. Continue reading