Compost update

Compost update

I’m taking the sem break to catch up on my commitments. The other day i managed to finish my own version of the #MinimalistGame (at least the dumping of stuff in my “good-bye” box; i’ve yet to turn them over to our local library, Segunda Mana, junk shops, or any of these orgs). Still, when i look around me, there is still so much stuff. I’m looking forward to doing the game again, but this time following the actual rules.

I also checked out my compost pot. After about eight months, it had been full to the brim, with a mound of hay stacked above it. As no more waste can be added to the pot, i thought maybe it’s about time i harvest the compost. So i removed the mound of hay and saw that the topmost layer was already earth-like. I’m not sure if i did the right thing, but i removed quite an amount of the topmost layer and sprinkled them over some plants. I’m having doubts now because i realized that that layer was newer than the bottom layers and had less time breaking down. But then its texture looked and felt great, although with lots of hay poking out here and there. On the other hand, the middle and the bottommost layers beneath that were quite moist. I’m surprised that despite little air circulation, the compost didn’t smell. In fact, my compost was odorless. I take this as a sign that my compost, in general, did well. Anyway, i thought to give it more time to break down (there were visible egg shells), so i aerated it, mixing the mound of hay i removed earlier in it.

Closed loop: Turning food waste into earth or, rather, returning food back to earth

I’m still learning about composting and most of the time i just go by feel. Nonetheless, i’m happy i was able to get back to it. It had been months since i actually got my hands dirty; the past months i merely tossed in fruit peelings in my pot and occasionally poked the contents. I had almost forgotten how earth feels in my hands so working in the garden again felt therapeutic. Also, i’ve realized how truly amazing Nature works: amidst all the stress of the past months, here She’s been, doing Her work silently, beautifully, closing the loop, somehow reassuring me that with the right attitude and effort things will work out as they would and for the better.

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When stress becomes wasteful

When stress becomes wasteful

The past six months have been eventful and stressful. They went by so fast and with so many ups and downs that i found myself very exhausted and extremely sad at numerous times.

Since end of May up to the time of writing, many events have happened: as soon as i submitted my thesis proposal in May, i immediately applied for teaching positions; went to interviews, exams, teaching demos, and medical tests; got hired; organized a birthday party for my 90-year-old grandmother who, the day after her party, we’d learn has cancer; then became a teacher and the school year began.

I had not taken a real rest during the first few months since May until end of July when classes were suspended for three days due to typhoon Gorio. I slept for the most part of those three days and one of those days was my birthday. I considered that one of the sweetest birthday treats ever.

A lot of things have happened since. It’s been stressful and it is evident in my trash. My goal this year has been to fit a year’s trash in two plastic cans and donate it to The Plastic Solution at the end of the year. I have managed to achieve my goal to fit six months of trash in the first can. But only three months into the second half of the year, the second can is already stuffed.

Nine months of trash. My new goal is to fit the remaining months’ trash in another can and no more than that.
That’s the result of stress-eating, getting sick, lack of preparation, and resorting to convenience because requirements, deadlines, lack of sleep. It’s been very unhealthy.

Anyway, the first semester has come to an end. I am thankful for the break, for this long-awaited rest. I plan to slow down, catch up on commitments (including my unfinished #MinimalistGame), and prepare for what the remaining of 2017 has yet to offer.

Decluttering is forever

Decluttering is forever

Long before i heard of zero waste or minimalism, i’ve always been uneasy with stuff. Of course, growing up in a Filipino middle-class consumerist culture, i’ve had my fair share of enjoying giving and receiving gifts and buying stuff just in case or just because. But as i am really more of a simple, nature-loving person, i find stuff just generally overwhelming. Plus, i just hate how capitalism works.

Anyway, i hadn’t realized then that i could do something about my stuff. I kind of thought, just as i did with trash before, that stuff just happens. So i was so glad to have stumbled upon Annie Leonard’s internet film The Story of Stuff about two years ago. My discomfort with stuff and hyperconsumerism in general had never been so well articulated before: stuff is made for the dump. In other words, we are trashing the planet thru mindless consumption of stuff. The short movie also made me see my clutter in a different way. Suddenly, all my stuff were magnified and i felt so overwhelmed. And i was never even a shopaholic or a hoarder. This might seem exaggerated, but i once did feel a slight anxiety a year ago when i did a general cleaning of my room: there was so much useless stuff and i didn’t know what to do with them but to either keep them or trash them away. Either way, i got slightly anxious. 

Believe it or not, i have been decluttering for a year. I quit my previous job a year ago and started decluttering since. I’m still decluttering. It. Never. Ends. But then again i don’t do it regularly (because thesis ugh) so maybe that’s also why it’s taking me forever. 

And so i am challenging myself this month to do the 30-day minimalism game. This game is inspired by The Minimalists. But because i don’t think i’d be able to get rid of 465 things in a month or afford to get rid of them all by midnight each day–also since we’re talking about just my stuff, not my family’s–i’ll have my own rules. 

And here are the rules of my own #MinsGame:

1. Each day, i will put at least three items in my “good-bye box.”

2. At the end of June, books will be donated to our local public library.

3. At the end of June, clothes, bags, and other stuff will be donated to Segunda Mana or any of these organizations.

My “good-bye” box already has some stuff in it as a result of my decluttering. I’ve also donated an earlier batch of books last March to my local public library and i already have another batch waiting to be donated. The stuff already in the box, as well as the books, won’t be counted for this game.

This game starts today. Wish me luck! 

On habits, culprits, and some good bits

On habits, culprits, and some good bits

Zero wasting, to me, is about changing habits and lifestyle to achieve the utopian vision that is sustainability. It is being mindful of your choices and actions so that you generate as minimal waste as possible.

As such, ever since starting this journey i’ve learned to let go of old habits and develop new ones. The following are just some of the simplest examples.

I used to buy bottled water when thirsty, but now i bring a reusable water bottle everywhere i go.

Before, i just unconsciously accepted plastic bags when buying anything. Anything. Even stuff that can be simply put in my bag. (Oh the things we do if we aren’t mindful!) But now, i always bring reusable cloth bags and refuse plastic bags. That said, i’ve also learned the art of refusing and asking for an alternative. (Well, not really. You’ll see later.)

I also used to just use/accept disposable plates, cutlery, and cups when eating out. Not anymore, tho, as i now always bring my own baunan (lunch box), cutlery, and cup when going out. Hence, my bag has been bigger and heavier since zero wasting!

      Other new habits include segregating and recycling. I no longer put my trash into one bin. They are properly segregated–paper, metals, plastics, ink cartridges–in a cabinet for recycling. Trash that can’t be recycled go into my ecobrick can, which i will drop off at The Plastic Solution once it’s full. These simple habits reduce trash big time, saving a lot of garbage from going to landfills.

      Also, i’m trying to get into the habit of not buying anything new. I’ve never been a shopaholic anyway so this is easy. And really, i don’t need anything new. Since zero wasting and, in effect, minimalizing, i’ve found out that i already have everything that i need. In fact, i have more than what’s needed that i’ve come to see my stuff as overwhelming. Hence, decluttering has become a new habit too.

      Another reason why i’ve decided to not buy any new stuff for myself is because people will do that for me anyway. Now this brings me to what i call “culprits.”

      A while ago i said that i’ve learned the art of refusing. Well, not really. As i’ve said in a previous post, we Filipinos love giving gifts and souvenirs. And gifts aren’t something you can easily refuse: it’s not even because one likes receiving gifts; it’s just considered rude to refuse a well-meaning gesture. That said, gifts and pasalubong are the number one culprits of my trash.

      Thanks but no thanks. My four months of trash–the result of decluttering and so much pasalubong (gifts/souvenirs), which often come in packaging.

      Another culprit is attending conferences. I’ve already been to three this year and realized how wasteful these events can be. Conference kits have so much unnecessary freebies inside. I admit i haven’t really learned how to politely refuse or return these useless giveaways, so here they are adding junk to my clutter. And then there’s also the food. Two out of three of the conferences i attended served food in single-use plastic containers and with plastic cutlery. Lack of foresight and, thus, preparation, is therefore another culprit. Had i foreseen these, i would have brought my own food instead of ending up guiltily accepting them. 😭 In both instances, tho, i used my own spoon and fork.

      Anyway, as i’ve said before zero wasting here is not without its challenges. But once you see your trash in a new light, there’s no turning back: there’s only striving to become better as you go. 

      That’s what i’m doing. And i’m so glad to have found a community in the Philippines who are also doing the same! They’re mostly on instagram where they actively share zero waste tips. Our community of “zero wasters” is not yet that big as in other countries, but i believe we are growing. Recently i’ve learned that my university (UST) gave away free reusable metal straws to students in an effort to make the campus straw-free. Ayala malls are also now plastic bag-free. More and more schools are doing The Plastic Solution’s #StuffItChallenge. And menstrual cups are now getting social media attention. These may be tiny bits of good news, but they mean valuable efforts nonetheless. They mean that people are making efforts to change their habits, as well as address the culprits.

      We’re only in the first half of 2017 and so much has happened already, although not always for the better. And while it’s still rather early to tell that this year is better than the last, i can feel that, in general, we are trying to get things right this time.

      HP’s closed-loop ink cartridge recycling program

      HP’s closed-loop ink cartridge recycling program

      Note: All opinions on this blog regarding a product/brand/company are solely my own. I do not receive any compensation from anyone for these views. (Just thought i’d make this clear just in case someone mistakes this for a paid/PR blog post.)

      When i first learned about zero waste i made a quick mental survey of all of my stuff and habits and assessed how these generate waste. I realized that, from my food and personal care to my work and studies, my lifestyle does generate a lot of waste. As such, i am constantly looking for alternatives and solutions, as well as changing my habits, in order to reduce or avoid trash.

      One thing i can’t entirely remove from my system, tho, is printing. As a graduate student, i tend to do a lot of reading and writing, as well as printing. I know that a lot of the materials i need are available online and that i can actually opt to read papers digitally. But reading from an electronic device (phone, tab, or laptop) for a long time hurts my eyes (and sometimes even gives me vertigo 😔😒), making printouts necessary.

      While i’ve conceded to the fact that i can’t do away with printing, i’m bothered by the waste ink cartridges make. Ink cartridges from major brands (like Hewlett-Packard or simply HP) are usually designed for single use. In addition, they come in layers of packaging and millions end up in landfills every year.

      I initally thought my only option was to send all my spent cartridges to recycling centers (where the cartridges will most likely be collected for reselling). But then i realized i can also have them refilled at shops like Ink All-You-Can, which provide continuous ink supply system (CISS) technologies. And so a couple of weeks ago, instead of buying new and original HP ink cartridges, i had my spent HP cartridges refilled at Ink All-You-Can. Sadly, i didn’t like the print quality: the color was really bad and it was messy. In addition, the ink stuck up within a week. I thought this was a waste of money. (But this was just my experience with Ink All-You-Can and HP ink cartridges. Some people were luckier.) Hence, i had no other choice but to buy original HP ink cartridges again.

      Dissatisfied with having to resort to buying original ink cartridges every time, i wondered if HP happens to have a closed-loop system by which they take back their products and do something about reducing their impact. I googled and found out that HP in fact has a closed-loop recycling system for their ink and toner cartridges! What’s more surprising is that the program has been going on in the Philippines since 2011!

      To confirm if HP Philippines does comply to this, i visited the HP store in SM Fairview and inquired if i can drop off my spent cartridges. I was so thrilled when i heard that, yes, i can in fact drop all of my used cartridges off at the store as HP collects them for its closed-loop ink cartridge recycling program. 

      Saved from landfills. I dropped all of these off at an HP store just before writing this blog post. 

      I’m so happy about this that i’m a new HP fan now. Not only for the reason that we’ve had our HP printer for a long time now (and it’s still working well), but also for the fact that HP is bent on reducing its environmental footprint. I am still hoping, tho, that HP tries better solutions, like making its ink cartridges refill-friendly and having ink refill stations at its stores. After all, reusing ink cartridges conserves a lot more resources and energy than recycling.

      HP ink cartridges, i was told at Ink All-You-Can, supposedly can be refilled at least 10 times. So i’m still interested in refills and will give it a another chance next time, probably with a different refilling brand. I want to be able to maximize the life of an ink cartridge before sending it back to HP for recycling. Nevertheless, when things fail again, i’m glad there’s HP’s closed-loop recycling program.

      Trash talk: Composting

      Trash talk: Composting

      There are a lot of articles and blogs about how to start zero waste. I’ve noticed that most of them list the following as the first baby steps to go zero waste:

      1. Refuse plastic straws.
      2. Bring your own reusable water bottle.
      3. Bring your own reusable grocery bags.
      4. Shop package-free, in bulk, and/or second-hand.
      5. DIY your own products.

        While i find these as indeed easy steps to start lessening one’s waste, i think that to go zero waste one must begin with composting in mind.

        For me, the first two ways to begin zero waste are: 1) use a menstrual cup and 2) compost. (So obviously, at least for me, if you don’t menstruate, you can skip no. 1.)

        I know Bea Johnson said that zero waste must follow the 5 Rs–refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot (and in that order!). But when i first learned about zero waste through Lauren Singer, i made a quick mental survey about all the trash that i generate and realized that the two things that i needed to address right away were disposable pads/tampons and food waste. These two can’t go to landfills!

        So when i decided to go zero waste, i knew i needed a composting site. Luckily, we have a space in the garden where i can dump our organic trash.

        Here are the things we throw away for composting:

        • vegetable and fruit scraps
        • crushed egg shells
        • dried leaves and twigs
        • nail clippings and hair
        • shredded brown paper bags
        • guinea pig poop and fur
        • hay
        Lenny, one of my guinea pigs who help me compost by donating their poop and hay to my compost pit :3

        There are many ways to compost in the city. In fact, i do two different methods of composting.

        The first one is the compost pit method. We have an unused garden bed, which i now use as a compost pit. I simply dump daily food scraps into the pit and cover them with soil, dried leaves, guinea pig poop, and hay to prevent it from becoming smelly and attracting flies. Earthworms and millipedes (of which we already have a plenty in the garden) aid in the decomposition and i have observed that this method works even if i have a continuous or steady stream of new materials to compost. The down side of this method is that i can’t harvest the compost as the compost is constantly mixed with new materials and soil. I’m still figuring out when to stop filling the pit and wait for all the materials to finish breaking down so we can use the “soil + compost” mix for gardening and, hopefully, growing.

        My compost pit. It’s not an ugly sight (or a smelly pit) as long as you have lots of dried leaves around.

        After more than two months of composting using the compost pit method, i thought i wanted to set it aside for a while to give it time to finish breaking down. And so i decided to do another method. This one’s easier to manage for those who don’t have a garden bed. It uses a clay pot (or any container with a hole for draining water) as a composting bin. In this method, i simply dump in our organic waste, covering every layer of greens (nitrogen-rich matter) with a thicker layer of browns (carbon-rich matter). EcoWaste Coalition has made a simple instructional video on how to do this method. I think this method is a slower process than the other, but adding in a bit of soil and/or compost activators can speed it up. This method also works like Daily Dump’s khamba composting: once the pot is full, it can be set aside for a few weeks while another pot is being filled.

        My compost pot. I’ve read that the water that drains out of it is “liquid gold.” I’ll put a container underneath the pot soon to collect the water.

        Composting is so easy and fun to do that i easily got hooked to it. I love returning to Earth what nourished us and it has made me appreciate the concept of ecosystem in a deeper, beyond-textbook level.

        As a beginner, though, there are times when i feel like i’m doing it the wrong way (as sometimes plants sprout out of my compost pit), so i find myself always googling how to troubleshoot composting problems. I’ve realized that composting is a learning process. 

        Now as for leftovers and cooked food waste, well, we let animals–i.e., stray cats–do the job for now. But i’m also planning to start bokashi composting soon in order to manage other food wastes such as meat and fish bones (my family is omnivore while i’ve been pescetarian for more than a year now).

        If you want to start composting at home but live in Metro Manila or have no space for a pit, you might want to inquire with your barangay if it has a community composting project. (I did this and found out that our barangay used to have one but discontinued it. Sad.) If there’s none, your best options are the pot composting that i mentioned, bokashi composting, and/or vermicomposting. 

        Composting is simple and easy. I think everyone must give it a try! 

        Achievements & challenges

        So far, i think i’m doing good with zero wasting. But there are still challenges.

        Achievements so far

        1. I don’t make any waste at all whenever i go out.

        And this is because i now always bring with me my zero waste essentials: reusable water bottle, spoon and fork, reusable bags, reusable baunan (food container) for take-outs, and handkerchief (bye, tissue paper!). I now don’t and can’t leave the house without these with me. They’re as essential as my wallet and umbrella.

        2. I compost our raw kitchen waste.

        I love composting. I’ve never realized before that composting is such a therapeutic activity. Crushing egg shells, cutting fruit and vegetable scraps into smaller pieces, picking up dried leaves and sprinkling them all over the compost pit feel so good to the body and mind. The activity is meditative. I love reconnecting to Earth, returning to Earth what nourished us. I’m still learning my way through it and the learning process itself is fun. I will write about how we deal with our raw and cooked kitchen wastes in a future post.

        Challenges

        I’m afraid challenges are more overwhelming than my achievements so far. But they’re challenges, right? Not setbacks. And i can and will always work on these things.

        The number 1 challenge i encounter in zero wasting is gift giving. Sounds weird, huh? Well, when i learned about zero waste, i realized that my trash is a direct outcome of my choices and habits. I realized that if i don’t want to generate trash, i must refuse and reduce. Refusing plastics and single-use items is easy. Reducing stuff i buy is easy, too, since i was never into shopping anyway. But you know what’s hard to refuse and/or reduce? Gifts! And it’s not even because i love receiving gifts! In the Philippines, people love giving gifts and it’s considered rude to refuse them. I think the same is true in some Asian cultures.

        In the month of January alone, i received many pasalubong from friends who traveled or went home to their provinces during the holidays. Pasalubong are souvenirs Filipinos give as gifts for family and friends back home. Of course, these gifts often come in plastic packaging!

        In January, too, our family received a padala or package from family and relatives in Hawaii. When i was a kid, i loved opening packages filled with candies, chocolates, and junk food. But now, when we opened the box, i thought “oh god, that is a lot of trash.” Of course, i was referring to all the packaging. Almost everything was packaged or wrapped in plastic!

        While i appreciate the generosity of family and friends, i can’t help but be critical of our gift-giving culture. It’s a symptom of our materialist and consumerist culture. And since we’re talking here about a culture, it is going to be hard to change this. But change can happen. After all, not giving gifts is never really an issue to anyone (well, from my experience, no one gives a damn if i don’t give gifts); it’s the refusal to accept gifts from well-meaning family and friends that’s tricky.

        Another challenge i encounter in zero wasting is getting family and friends to join me. This means that my family (my parents, especially) still buys packaged food from grocery. So what i do to change that is avoid or refuse eating grocery food. Hopefully, that’ll start the shift to stop buying packaged food. As with friends, well, I’ve gotten praises from them for yet another “advocacy.” And that’s it. Not that i go about aggressively persuading them to do zero waste with me and immediately. Because i don’t. Well, ok, except for the menstrual cup. I’m pretty serious about it that i think i sometimes look like a menstrual cup spokesperson now. But it’s only because the menstrual cup has been so life-changing and i only want my friends to experience it too! In addition, the amount of waste unwasted by menstrual cup use is huge! Anyway, i’ve raved about menstrual cups to friends but the idea of inserting a cup inside the vagina (or even the idea of using washable pads instead) has always been met with weird looks and i find that a bit frustrating at least for my environmental advocacy.

        As i go on in this journey, i’ve observed that the idea of zero waste seems too challenging for many people. It’s the word “zero” that makes it seem impossible. Or maybe people just don’t see waste as an urgent problem yet. Or if they do, they don’t see it as a mostly direct outcome of their activities. And that’s why i decided to do this blog, too. I hope through this blog i can show others that the waste problem in the country is real and serious and that zero waste is the solution to it. I hope through my actions and this blog, i can show that simply refusing plastic straws and single-use items (like disposable pads or tampons) make a huge difference. 

        *****

        Zero wasting has been challenging and sometimes stressful now that i am conscious of my trash, but i find it even more stressful–and actually, morally burdensome–to not even try.

        In future posts, i’ll try to focus more on giving zero waste tips. Maybe that way it’ll be easier to show that zero waste is achievable rather than challenging.