Changing Old Habits

Oh boy, you don’t need to tell me how hard it is to change old habits.  Each year, for example, I remind myself if I could just stick to that diet for ONE year I would manage to lose the excess I’ve been carrying around for decades. But……well, you know the rest of the story.

So, when do I find myself able to make changes? Maybe it’s similar for you. I believe when the change is not that large, it solves a problem, AND it provides an immediate “feel good” result.

Anyone older than 30 can remember going to the grocery store and there were no such thing as plastic shopping bags. Our purchases were piled into brown kraft paper bags. Remember using them for covering books each school year?  Those are pretty sturdy and last a long time.

Meanwhile, I noticed on my first trip overseas in 1972 and then again in 1981 that paper was rarely used, but plastic bags were the thing. Decorated with logos of the shops, with sturdy handles, these heavy plastic bags also could be reused and reused.

However, here in the United States, the chosen option was thinner plastic that is considered a single-use item but might be able to be reused a couple of times. Maybe more for trash collection (just the right size for those bathroom garbage cans)and also appreciated by dog owners who were responsible and picked up the intended droppings of the constitutional stroll.

These plastic bags most often are tossed into the garbage and then head to the landfill. Most end up buried, to stay there to amuse archaeologists 500-1000 years from now.  Others blow around, end up in waterways and then clogging up sea animals’ digestive systems when mistaken for jellyfish or other food.  I wrote about how we are Swimming in Plastic last week.

So, we have a need to change our ways, and here in McMinnville the time is coming. September 1 marks the date when these thin single-use plastic bags will no longer be available at the major supermarkets and stores in town as well as at any event inside the city limits.  McMinnville joins a small but growing community of other cities in Oregon and around the nation where consumers have converted to re-usable bags.

One of the first events where you can obtain a free cloth re-usable tote is on Earth Day, this Saturday. A recycling event will be held at Cascade Steel’s Rolling Mill from 10-2.  You can bring the plastic bags you’ve collected in that drawer or under the kitchen sink and trade them in for a cloth tote. 

There will be other chances to pick up bags, but yard sales are also a place where they may sell for as little as 10 cents. Some stores, like Roth’s, will offer bags for sale. The McMinnville downtown farmers’ market also has bags for sale.

So, when I learned about this coming restriction I really had no issue. We’ve been using cloth totes just about the whole time we’ve lived here.  I’ve learned to immediately hang the totes on the doorknob after I unpack the groceries so I can take them out to the car the next time I go.  Some bags even fold up into their own pocket which permits them to be put into purses.

I got to thinking about the other times I use thin plastic. The bags that are located in the bulk section as well as the produce section will continue to be available. But the problem still exists with these…they are even thinner so don’t get much reuse and again, they will head to the landfill.

I started searching the Internet for alternatives that would be relatively inexpensive and offer multiple re-use and found-and purchased- one product for use in the stores and another to use instead of plastic wrap at home.

Mesh bags are great for collecting produce and bulk products that are not wet. I purchased a set of nine bags that were on sale for $11.97 on Cleaning is easy- you can just drop them into the wash.  I asked the checker on a day that the supermarket was not busy to see what the tare weight was for the largest and it was 0.03 ounce, so may add a penny to the sale. Roth’s will be selling this kinds of bags and will have the tare weight marked. 

Trying to replace the plastic wrap at home has some choices above and beyond plastic or glass containers. I have seen little plastic circles that almost look like something we used to put on the top of soda cans to try to keep the fizz in if we didn’t drink it all.  Made of BPA-free silicone, these caps cover the cut ends of produce, blocking air.  I found a set of four for $11.95 on

Additionally, moving away from plastic,  I found Bee’s Wrap. Made in Vermont, this organic cotton comes in several sizes and is permeated with beeswax. It seals with the heat from your hands. I found a set of three for $19. They also have a sandwich wrap with a tie string to keep it sealed.





These are just a few options that are available to take the place of plastic in the lives of our food. We can do this change and it really won’t be that hard. Now, if anyone has any great ideas how I can magically lose weight this easily, please let me know!



Swimming in Plastic

My first airplane trip was in 1968 when I headed to Puerto Rico on a Girl Scout event. I don’t remember anything much about the flight except I was reading The President’s Plane is Missing and we went through a thunderstorm.

My next trip was in 1972 when I crossed the Atlantic. The flight was fine. I was young and the long trip did not bother me.

I took another flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1981 and I noticed something that I had not seen on the flight 11 years before. In 2010, I noticed it again…and more of it. What was it? White stuff.

Seriously, white stuff?  On the water. And no, I was told we were too high to see white caps on waves.

It was trash.

Our throw away society also is a throw on the ground society.  Trash washes into storm sewers and sometimes directly into rivers, which flow, obviously, into the oceans. Light weight trash at landfills, like the plastic bags you get when shopping at the supermarket,  also gets blown by the wind and where landfills are located near rivers, guess what happens?

So, we’ve been hearing for years now that we have floating islands of plastic trash in the Pacific Ocean. Check out this video which was compiled by CNN on Midway, an atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles away from population centers along the Pacific Rim.

And, in case you live in the middle of the US or along the eastern seaboard, you are not guiltless. The same problem shows up in the Atlantic, as I noticed from my jet window.  

And yet, most of the plastic in the ocean is NOT large intact pieces. Over 90% are pieces of plastic smaller than your thumbnail. Plastics floating on seawater deteriorate because of the chemicals in the water as well as the sun.  As horrible as the floating islands of large trash are, these tiny particles are even more of the problem. 

We here on the west coast are well aware of the radiation concerns about fish we consume. The meltdown at the Fukishima nuclear reaction with the subsequent leakage into the ocean makes us wary, but this is already on top of the ambient nuclear signature caused by a multitude of bomb tests on various atolls in the 1950s and 1960s.  Now, in addition to those radiation concerns, we need to be aware that fish ingesting small pieces of plastic are most likely entering our diet also.

We have all seen these photos before. Please understand that this is reality. We are not being good stewards of our planet. 





So, what can you do? From this day forward, never never never toss your garbage on the ground. Carry it with you from the beach, from the trail, from the backyard. 

Dispose of your trash properly. Recyclables need to be put in the appropriate containers so they can be reused.  Things that can be put into compost need to be. The smallest amount of our garbage should be what goes to the landfill or incinerator.

When I visited India a few years ago,  I saw first hand what happens in a society where trash removal is not a public priority. Now, the government of India is trying to overcome decades of throw-away consumerism. 

We are fortunate that waste disposal is provided in just about every area of the United States. Those people who opt not to pay for trash removal may be part of the issue, but there are many of us who just get sloppy or careless or indiscriminate.

Help model behavior that shows you are a good steward of our planet.  Reduce plastic as much as possible in your life.  Switch from plastic bags to reusable ones you carry into the store when you shop.

First Choice: Stop Using. Second Choice: Recycling Coming

There are a few things that are part of our way of life and we tend not to think about the influence they might have beyond our need. It’s time to start thinking about those things. Zero Waste McMinnville wants to help by pointing out where we need to make changes. This is one.


We all know Styrofoam…’s that hard foam used to insulate things…the inside of our walls and our hot cups for coffee and trays for microwavable food are the most common uses. Styrofoam is a trade name fora petroleum-based plastic named polystyrene.  Like Kleenex for facial tissues, Coke for carbonated soft drinks and Xerox for copiers, Styrofoam is the commonly used name, no matter who makes the product.

LIke other petroleum based products, styrofoam causes problems in our environment both in the production, use and disposal. Manufacturing the base chemical polystyrene has a number of toxic effects on workers, including irritation of the skin, eyes, and upper respiratory tract, and gastrointestinal effects. Chronic exposure affects the central nervous system showing symptoms such as depression, headache, fatigue, and weakness, and can cause minor effects on kidney function and blood. Styrene is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the EPA and by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

Then, we use much of it to hold food. When warm, chemicals leach out of the food container into the food. This also can result in a number of health risks.

Finally, we toss the container into the trash. Currently, McMinnville has no system to recycle Styrofoam, so it goes to the landfill.  Not only does it take up about 25-30% of all landfills, it does not break down, essentially maintaining that mountain of trash for generations or centuries…..or millennia.

Portland has restricted the use of Styrofoam but it obviously is heavily used elsewhere within the metropolitan area. Agilyx, a polystyrene recycling plant in Tigard has developed and is now installing the technology to process waste polystyrene such as packing Styrofoam and other containers.   The process will reduce it to its chemical elements so that it can be sold to manufacturers and be used repeatedly. 

Recycling polystyrene currently is economically feasible.  The process demonstrated to the Zero Waste McMinnville team at the Agilyx facility involves chopping the waste material, cleaning it, drying it, and extruding it with heat to form pellets, which can then be used for more production.

Zero Waste McMinnville volunteers are looking for ways to collect polystyrene waste and facilitate local use of a densifier, which presses the material into blocks that then can be shipped to a recycling facility such as Agilyx.  Efforts are being made to identify sources for grant money and submit an application for the needed equipment.
Zero Waste McMinnville volunteers are interviewing local merchants to identify the amounts of Styrofoam waste generated and possible collection and storage sites.  Our goal is to reduce the amount of polystyrene waste taken to the landfill by 90% by 2024.  This means businesses and households will need to take responsibility to reduce use of Styrofoam or take advantage of the developing recycling technology resources.
Our end goal, of course, is to eliminate the use of polystyrene, with its toxic manufacturing processes and by-products.  This means that we need to bring to the attention of customers, manufacturers, and businesses who presently use polystyrenes that other materials are available and more environmentally sound.


Alternatives, such as recycled paper, bamboo and corn plastics, are biodegradable when composted and would be diverted from the landfill. Recyclables can be  and compostibles will soon be picked up curbside at your homes and businesses.


Time for Vitamin D

This morning, after a kazillion years of gray skies and rain, the sun rose. And after my eyes adjusted, I wanted to be out, soaking up the rays. Getting my daily dose of Vitamin D from the source, not a dietary supplement.

This time of year even the most intrepid sunbathers have to agree that the air temperature is not quite warm enough for stripping down, but there are ways to enjoy the sunshine AND feel great!

  • Go for a walk and bring a trash bag. McMinnville rarely has trash along the streets, but it happens.  So wear a pair of gloves and pick up that trash to improve the visual appreciation of our city. Remember to sort when you get home to put the trash in your trash barrel and the cans and bottles in your recycling bin.Image result for pick up roadside trash
  • Take a look at your yard and set some goals for sunny days.  Get the rake out and clean out the leaf debris from areas where it will impede your flower beds. Pick up loose twigs and branches that have fallen over the winter. These can go into your yard debris barrel that Recology will haul away.
  • Trim back bushes and shrubs. Pull the weeds that don’t belong. Those also go into the yard debris box. What? You didn’t order one yet?  Call (503) 472-3176 or go to  the Recology Website to sign up.
  • It’s still too early for seed starts or seedlings. Basically, if it’s too cool to sunbathe, the soil is most likely too cold to help nurture growth.  But the time is coming so you might want to start them indoors or, if you have one, a greenhouse or high tunnel. Here is the OSU reference for planting and here’s the one for the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
  • You know how much better things grow if the soil is full of nutrients?  Order some compost from Recology to be delivered to your home and then mix in your gardens!  Enhanced microbial activity and added nutrients to the soil
    • Increase drainage in clay soils and water retention in sandy soils.
    • Stimulate leafy growth and succulence.
    • Promote strong root systems and build disease resistance.
    • Revitalize old soils and clean up chemical contamination.slide1.jpg


  • And finally, once things warm up –and they will (we’ll probably be complaining about how hot the summer is later) —a top dressing of some bark or mulch can help keep moisture where it is needed-in the soil. Recology has a variety of products to customize your beds.landscape-banner.jpg

Enjoy our Willamette Valley weather, however it acts. It’s all good!

Getting Older…..But Wise Choices Can Start WAY Younger

On cold damp mornings in our Oregon winter I often am reminded by my aches and pains that I am no longer a spring chicken. The years have taken a toll but also provided a lot of insight that younger, more spry people may not have gained. And yet, I am encouraged by how many young people ARE catching on that changes need to be made. And sometimes, just sometimes, it is a step back.

We love our technology. Most of us carry our mobile phones with us, feeling naked if we leave them at home. Those of us who remember the original Get Smart shoe phone are amused (and challenged) by the multitude of apps that new cell phone provides. I grab it often to check my email, post an appointment on my calendar, make notations of my driving for work. Sometimes, I even make phone calls.

Technology brings us wondrous advances, but sometimes, it creates a bit of a monster.

My first baby will be celebrating his 33rd birthday this week and would be chagrined to find out I am talking about how I diapered him, but it is time we do that. Not him, specifically (phew!) but the choice made by millions of parents to use disposable diapers presents us with a mountain that will not disappear in our lifetime. Nor in our babies’ lifetime and even their grandchildren’s lifetime. The ease of taking that sodden mess and putting it in the trash has to be balanced with the hassle of washing cotton cloth to use and reuse and reuse again. Long after that baby is toilet trained, those cotton cloths can be used and reused as rags.  And when it is time to retire them, they can be composted, where they will return to the soil.

One of the best gifts I received when my first son was born in 1983 was six months of a diaper service. By that time I saw we could save money by washing them ourselves instead of renewing the service, and so, we used the cotton. Not to say we never used disposables, but they were for car trips and vacations when access to a washing machine was restricted and the aroma was not able to be contained as well.

However, technological advances have offered even more options since my now 22-year-old was born in 1994. Now there are disposable diapers that can be flushed down the toilet and get broken down in wastewater treatment plants with other human waste. There are also compostible diapers but some brands are better than others.  For more info on choices, check out this blog.

And guess what, it basically boils down to cotton is still the best option if you have easy access to laundry facilities.  The cost of clean supplies is less with cotton and the cost to wash them, while considerable, is less than the cost to dispose of flushables or compostibles that have plastic.

That is the personal cost benefit analysis, but when you look at what your community deals with, it becomes more evident that the discussion has to be made that technology is not the winner here.

This is a representative (clean) pile of the disposable diapers one baby will use.  If that doesn’t make an impact on the decision making process for parents who consider themselves to be green, then perhaps the consideration of how long the used diapers will take to decompose may do the trick. 

So, the choice is clear. Can we invite you to join the club? 


Reduce. Most of us may first think of weight loss when you hear that word, but in the world of Zero Waste it means something much easier to achieve, at least for me. To reduce means to lessen the amount of items you use that end up needing to be sent to the landfill or incinerator.


My daughter lives in California so, like many of her neighbors, she made great efforts to reduce her water usage during the past few years of extreme drought. Because of efforts like hers, the state’s residents reduced their water usage much more than the expected goal with the mandated restrictions.

One example of conserving water that went well beyond the simple effort to turn off the tap while brushing her teeth was to place several buckets in the tub while the water was warming up for a shower. That cool water was then used to irrigate their garden, producing an abundance of tomatoes and other items without requiring any additional water. Now THAT was a win win!!

Conserving resources is one way to reduce. Others are just small tricks and trade-offs that can really add up.

For example, in the summer I get carrots from local farms at the farmers’ market, but in the off season I am dependent on my local grocery store.  For years I purchased carrots in one or two-pounds bags.  A recent trip to Roth’s provided an interesting and pleasant surprise! img_2014img_2015 So it really makes sense…and cents… buy the loose carrots. Don’t bother putting them into a plastic bag provided in the produce section. You can carry them home in your shopping bag without that extra plastic that can not be recycled and would end up in the landfill.

img_2018When we moved to Oregon I was surprised and very pleased with all the choices I had in the bulk section. One of our weaknesses is the freshly ground peanut butter. It is perfectly acceptable to carry in a previously used and washed container and lid to refill. I use and reuse the same plastic container and lid often.  When we eat the last of the peanut butter, I wash them and place them in one of my shopping totes to bring back into the store. If you prefer to use glass you will need to tare the extra weight, so check with your supermarket on how they prefer you mark the container.

I think McMinnville’s  largest bulk grocery section is in WinCo, but all the supermarkets here have them.  They provide nuts, grains, pastas, candy, sugars, flours, dried fruit, coffee and so much more. Some stores have bulk available for liquids like syrups and honeys. Others have cleaning items. And in other parts of the country there are some local items. I still miss the oranges to make fresh squeezed orange juice I enjoyed one winter years ago when I was in Miami on assignment for three months. Bulk purchasing permits you to obtain the amount you need at prices typically considerably lower than what may be found packaged in excess cardboard and plastic on one of the inside aisles of the supermarket. And that cardboard and plastic needs to be disposed of afterwards….why bother with it at all?img_2019

Once you’ve shopped you need to carry all those yummies from the store to your car and then into your home. The effort to eliminate the use of plastic shopping bags is huge since there is only potential reuse for those, not recycling at this time.  It is better to reduce by opting for reusable cloth bags.

When we moved here we had not started using cloth totes to grocery shop so it had to become a new habit. There were just too many times we forgot to get the bags back to the car until we figured out a simple solution.  As I unpack I push all the totes inside one and then hang that one from the doorknob to grab the next time we head out to the car. Then the only time we really need to remind ourselves to grab them is when we pull into the supermarket parking space.  If anyone has any tricks, please share!img_2021

Here are a few more ideas for reducing how much trash you produce:

img_2025Stop using dryer sheets. I grew up with a mother who did not use any kind of softener, so was happy when dryer softener sheets became available. But about two years ago I stopped using them. Instead I buy liquid softener and use a plastic container (the one I use now had mozzarella in it originally), for dryer top storage. Inside the container is half a kitchen sponge. It soaks up the softener. I squeeze the sponge to reduce how much liquid it holds and then put it in the dryer with each load. The clothes come out with the same softness as the dryer sheets and without all that excess trash.

Never buy bottled water. If you don’t have access to a good well or spring, it is much better to get a reliable water filter and drink from the tap.  Then you can carry a reusable water bottle. This could be as simple as using a mason jar.

img_2024Take a reusable travel mug to the coffee shop or make your coffee at home. Use a French press or coffee maker and avoid those single-serving packages used in Keurig-like machines.  If you prefer those single serving coffees, there are reusable coffee filters that fit in your coffee maker, too!  And of course, standard drip machines have reusable filters.

Take your own reusable containers to takeout restaurants. If you hand over the containers when you order and ask nicely, most restaurants will oblige you. I know that the Saturday breakfast served each week at McMinnville’s Cooperative Ministries provides sit down as well as take-out servings. The expense of the take-out containers is a big factor in the breakfast budget and there has been discussion about asking people to bring their own containers.

Return egg and berry cartons to the vendors at the farmers’ market for reuse. Or use the berry containers when you take advantage of the many pick-your-own opportunities nearby.img_4812

better-than-store-boughtDitch the processed, packaged food altogether. Make your own soup, yogurt, salad dressing, ice-cream and other foods that come in cardboard, aluminum, and plastic packages. Batch cook on weekends with friends to make it easier. You’ll save a ton of money, and eat much, much healthier this way too. Lots of cookbooks on the market including this one can help you see how easy it is!

Which Bin?

I assume we are not the only household where each person has a regular chore. My husband takes out the trash typically and then also keeps track of the scheduled pick up so hauls the right bin out to the curb early enough on the pick-up day. Last week he was out of town and I noticed as I returned home from an errand that the neighbors’ trash and recycling cans were out so I dragged mine to the curb.  Apparently I was too late and the truck had already come, so we will wait for the next pick-up.

The trash barrel is not a problem. We have one lone plastic bag in there for the past week.   The recycling barrel is pretty full though and it will be interesting to see if we make it to the next pick-up two weeks from now. The glass recycling was not on the schedule for last week so at least I did not blooper with my delay for the glass!

I asked Zach Dotson to come over to help us figure out if we are sorting correctly and we found out we’re doing pretty well but there were some surprises.

We have small trash cans in the bedrooms and bathrooms and two larger cans in the kitchen. In the kitchen we do a regular sort of the trash and the recyclables.  The week before Zach was to visit we saved overflowing recycling for his audit in a plastic sack which we later just set aside for later trash bin use.  img_2004

We dumped and then sorted out the items I had put into my kitchen recycle bin. Zach sorted it all so we could much more easily see the amount of what kinds of things we had.

Not everything we thought was recyclable turned out to be.  Here in McMinnville, plastic sandwich bags and other ziplocks are NOT able to be recycled. (in the future we will be working on an arrangement with the larger transfer station in Hillsboro to bring those and other items not processed in Mac.)

img_2009-2Also not able to be recycled are the plastic tops of plastic tubs like you use at the grocery store to buy salad items or freshly ground peanut butter (our weakness) or even good tops to better storage containers. (I just went through the periodic match the lid to the bottom and sure enough, came up with about three orphaned lids. Time to clear the drawer but unfortunately they now go to the landfill.)

I bake and love using parchment paper. I had been putting this into the recycling but Zach pointed out the box indicates it is compostible, so now it goes into counter top container I have for veggie trimmings and coffee grounds and carry out to our compost pile when that gets full.   img_2005-2

img_2006-2I also learned that when I tossed the small metal caps from bottles into the recycling that causes a problem and then end up in the landfill.  While they are usable by the recycling station, they are small and end up falling into nooks and crannies, sometimes fouling up the conveyor and usually ending up on the floor. Zach suggested putting metal caps inside a metal can and then crimping the can (smash it) to hold the caps inside.

img_1998Finally,  I preserve a lot of food by canning so during the year we have a lot of lids to toss. (You can reuse canning lids if you are using the jars for storage of items that do not need to be sealed, but you should never try to reuse the canning lids if you plan on water bath or pressure canning food. Those are one use only to provide a secure seal to inhibit botulism growth in canned foods.)  So metal lids with a plastic or rubberized gasket or lining into the trash. Also foil bags or wrappers that do not hold their shape (too much plastic in the mix) when squeezed. This was the post sort collection that will go to the trash…not bad for a week.  (We’ll talk about reducing by substitute concepts for those plastic bags in a later blog.)img_1997

We also had Zach check out the small trash can in our downstairs bathroom which also has the washer and dryer. img_1982In that trash there were numerous used facial tissues. I have sinus issues and sometimes nose bleeds, so was happy to hear that “bodily fluids” are all compostible.  I also asked Zach about feminine sanitary items and that answer is probably trash, as many contain plastic. But if a woman opts to use one without plastic it most likely is recyclable. Now don’t get squeamish…you know animal manure is used in composting. All these are things that are full of nutrients that the soil will enjoy.img_1985

Paper items are, as most people know, recyclable.

img_1983Dryer lint is for the most part compostible. There are some people who restrict that only to 100% cotton lint, but our clothing has some cloth that is part polyester, which, of course, is a petroleum base thread and not truly recyclable. Think about what kind of clothes you wear and if what you are drying in your home dryer is less than 50% polyester you can probably feel okay to put it in compost.  An alternative use was suggested by a bird lover friend: leave small clumps of dryer lint in bushes for nest making material.

img_1990Finally, I found some items related to medicine I take has to be separated. The desiccant found in some vitamin bottles and other medicines can be reused in anything that is dry and you want to keep moisture out.  I have some liquid medicine for my sinus problem that comes packaged as 5 plastic vials to one foil wrapper. img_1984The foil held its shape when squeezed so it can be put in recycling. The plastic vials are not the kind that McMinnville’s Recology center can handle, so I must put that into the trash going to the landfill where it will, unfortunately, sit there for 1000 years or more. And THAT kind of sad misplacement of an item is the reason our landfill is so large and we must all get on board with the mission of Zero Waste McMinnville!

And meanwhile, I can get a financial benefit because of this audit. I now know since we have diverted over 60% of our waste from the landfill by composting and recycling, we can exchange our large garbage bin for a smaller one and save money on our fee to Recology! SCORE!

Composting 101: Personal Action

I did it again. Cleaning the refrigerator a few weeks after the family all left following the holiday gathering I discovered several containers of fuzzy stuff. We obviously had prepared too much food, put some in a container in the frig to eat “later” and forgot about it as it got shoved to the back, behind other items. I suspect you know exactly what I mean.  Food waste at home happens.  But with a small change in behavior, it can be reduced.

So now, what to do with that disgusting science experiment. Certainly not edible, at least by me. Should I put it down the disposal, trash it or compost it?

I was surprised to learn that decaying food that has been put in the trash is one of the largest producer of methane at the landfill. Regardless of the cause of climate change, the basic science still exists and each of us can reduce our contribution to the problem. Once you understand the role that methane plays in climate change, you can see why making a very small change in your food trash habits can have a large influence on the health of our planet.methane-cycel

Food waste has become a larger and larger issue in the United States since the 1970s. Not only do we forget about the leftovers in the container in the back of the refrigerator, but our purchasing habits contribute to this issue. Sometimes the opportunity looks great to buy the economy size of some produce, planning to put some away in the freezer for another day. But then we get distracted and within a couple of days that concept is no longer viable, as the produce is limp or spotted or even moldy.

It is an amazing and horrible statistic that 40% of all food purchased in the US ends up as waste.  A couple of minor lifestyle changes can help reduce that.

  • Consider shopping more often than once a week. Many cultures have farmers’ markets that operate throughout the year, permitting the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables in smaller quantities as needed for meal preparation. In those nations, home refrigerators tend to be much smaller than ours.
  • If you want to have the fixings for a salad, think about buying the mixture you want at the store’s salad bar instead of buying individual packages of veggies. You can opt for the specific items you want and the quantity you need.
  • Prepare a shopping list before you head to the market. Better yet, prepare a meal plan and then make up the shopping list. This will help reduce impulse shopping and also eliminate the issue whether you need a specific ingredient or not. (And help your food budget!)  I know I have been guilty of having several containers of yogurt in the frig and not being able to eat it all before the mold starts growing.
  • Recognize when older food is safe to eat and unsafe to eat. The “best by” and “sell by” dates used by food processors is not the day some magical event happens that makes the item turn bad for you. They are the recommended dates for the most flavor and perhaps also the highest nutrition. However, as I had to teach my own kids, the milk is not bad on that date. It is generally good for at least three or four more days. Learn to sniff and yes, sour milk is not pleasant, but throwing good milk away is wasteful.

    This milk, in my frig still on Jan 13, is still drinkable.

    This milk, in my frig  on Jan 13, is still drinkable.

  • Keep a written food waste audit. Write down the food items you end up throwing in the trash for two weeks. This will help you understand that it is not just food you are wasting, but your money.

Another area where considerable food waste happens is at restaurants.  If the plate served to you is too much to eat, ask for a doggie bag.  Make sure to eat it or give it that day to one of our outdoor neighbors.  Restaurants along McMinnville’s 3rd Street are participating in a trash audit which helps them determine how better to presort food waste from recyclables from landfill trash. We’ll talk more about this in another blog.

Finally, when you do realize you have lost the battle of eating the fresh produce before it spoiled, instead of throwing it into your trash, start participating in McMinnville’s Zero Waste program by ordering a compost bin for biweekly pick-up.  Go to the Recology Website ( to reserve your bins.

This is the result of what a composting program produces, good for your garden! compost-for-your-garden

Composting 101: Take One

Back in the late 1970s I was visited by a French friend and besides her disdain about jello, I remember her surprise and dismay as I gathered my kitchen trash one day. The garbage can was full of food scraps and paper and plastic packaging.  She said she would show me what she trashes in a week. She then sorted through the mess, putting all uncooked food scraps to one side, all paper and plastic and metal to another, all glass to another. When she finished there was about one cup of trash, mostly uneaten food scraped from plates after the meal.

One cup. Instead of 13 gallons.

At the time the concept of recycling was not common. So, I did not change my ways then. But over time, I started to be more aware of my contribution to the care and loving of Planet Earth and slowly started sorting.

Before moving to McMinnville the city where I lived in West Virginia offered a recycling curbside pickup for a fee. There were several issues, though. One was the container was pretty small. The other was that the service was intermittent and finally ended. There were some collection containers in the city, but we got out of the habit again.

We had, however, started composting. We had a small garden in our back yard and saw how quickly our kitchen produce waste could become green manure for our future food plot.  We continued composting when we moved to McMinnville, building a larger collection area in our backyard.

Our plastic container on the kitchen counter has recently been replaced by a designed compost bin. It has a filter and is easy to clean. With the lid kept in place there is no odor nor any enticement for fruit flies to gather.

So, when I am fixing dinner and cutting up the veggies for the salad or for cooking, the ends I don’t use get tossed into the compost bucket. I also put egg shells in it when I bake and the coffee grounds when I make a fresh pot. When the bucket gets filled, a short walk to the compost pile in the back yard is all it takes.

However, not everyone wants a pile of decaying vegetable matter in their yard, especially if they don’t garden and recognize the benefit of the feeding the nutrients back into the soil. Good News!!!  In the movement to becoming an outstanding example of a Zero Waste city, McMinnville will start having curbside pickup for yard waste and uncooked vegetable matter.yard-waste

You must sign up for the service, which is included in your trash and recycling service fee. Go to the Recology Website ( to reserve your bins.

Glass pick up is also available so sign up for that as well, especially if you drink as much wine as we do.  We’ll talk more about glass later.