Posts Tagged ‘squeamishness’

Hardcore Ways to Go Green

I saw an article on The Atlantic a few days ago  called ‘The Most Hard-Core Ways to Go Green,” and frankly, it was a bit rubbish. The suggestions were either not very low impact or not very hardcore. An expensive shower that forcibly ejects you after a few minutes? Unnecessary. DIY cleaning supplies? Check. A menstrual cup? Pfft.

Let me translate what hardcore seems to mean here: further than the writer is willing or able to go right now. In other words, hardcore is in the eyes of the beholder. Some of my lifestyle choices that seem very ordinary and do-able to me, like not eating meat or line drying my clothes, might seem hardcore to people more entrenched in a standard American lifestyle. And some choices that I haven’t wrapped my head around yet, like going car-free, no doubt seem very normal and unexceptionable to people who have been living that way for a while. Wherever you are on the green spectrum, hardcore is a moving target.

As it should be. Nonetheless, here’s a fun thought experiment: How far is too far for you right now? Here are a handful of changes that I consider hardcore. I have two basic criteria: 1) It has to be something with a significant impact on my environmental footprint, and 2) It has to be something that I haven’t done already. Ask me again in five years, and I hope I’ll have moved on to new standards of hardcore-ness!

Jennifer’s Hardcore Ways to Go Green

Switch to a composting toilet. Even with high efficiency toilets, we use gallons of clean, potable water to flush our toilets every day. If you don’t have a high efficiency toilet, it’s likely your biggest indoor water user.  A composting toilet takes water out of the equation. I was incredibly grossed out by the idea of one until I realized that the simplest ones were basically litter boxes for humans. Although I’ve never used one personally, I am in regular contact with a litter box. It doesn’t smell. It’s not a big deal. But my current home has flush toilets that I’m not intending to switch out.

Go plastic free. Beth Terry has my sincere admiration for remaking her life in a plastic-free form. When I look at how pervasive plastic is and how much time and knowledge is needed to avoid it, I feel a little daunted. I’ve cut down on my use of plastic greatly and choose plastic free options when available, but the issue doesn’t reverberate with me the way it does for her.

Swap my car for a bike. My car is one of the least environmentally friendly pieces of my life. I don’t drive very much, and I could theoretically bike or car share for the errands I need to run. I’m reluctant to; I have a completely irrational affection for my old ’97 Taurus and an equally irrational fear of biking in a busy street. Actually, it’s not totally irrational. Drivers here aren’t used to bikers and frequently don’t look when entering the bike lane. I’ve seen enough close calls to be worried.

Never fly again. As an acknowledged shut-in, I take about one round trip plane ride a year. In May, I’ll be heading back to the Big Island, Hawaii. According to the TerraPass carbon calculator, this equals  1,857 lb of carbon dioxideOuch. I don’t even like flying, though I do like looking at new and different plants and have favorite spots several places around the world. I’d be sad never to visit Durham Cathedral again, but I might eventually give up flying.

Get off the grid. Solar thermal and solar photovoltaic panels, rain water catchment system, composting toilet, the whole nine yards. I’m interested, but not quite going for it. For anyone who knows me, the thought of my voluntarily roughing it is laughable. I’m a suburbanite in the early stages of recovery.

Eat the pet. I came across this chillingly rational idea a while ago and was utterly revolted. I have a carnivorous pet who can’t fend for herself. Brie’s meaty diet has a significant impact; I acknowledge the fact that it makes ecological sense to have pets that double as food, but I absolutely refuse. I won’t do it. I can’t. And if I could, I think you should be scared to know me.

Boycott the grocery store. I used to enjoy looking at supermarket ads. Now, on the rare occasion that I have a flip through, I find that they rarely advertise anything that I buy anymore — it’s all high profit processed and packaged food. I’m not quite to the point where I get everything from the farmers’ market and the bulk bins, but I’m inching closer.

Grow most or all of my own food. I haven’t been bitten by the gardening bug yet. Partly because I live in a condo with no land, but partly because I’m just not that motivated. (If you want to see how another apartment-dwelling green blogger gets around her restrictions and grows tons of food, visit Living Lightly in a Wavering World.)

Buy nothing new. After I was patting myself on the back for going all of March without buying anything, I came across a year long buy-nothing-new challenge. Hardcore? Harder core for sure. I was getting a little antsy at the end of the month, although the terms of my challenge (buy nothing, including used items) were a bit stricter. I’d be up for a longer challenge, but a year or more is intimidating.

Reach out in my community. If you’re an extrovert, reaching out to, you know, actual people instead of words on a screen might not seem very hardcore at all. I’m on the extreme opposite end of extroversion. I hate talking to people I don’t know; I haven’t got the faintest idea how to network and make a difference for the people I actually live among. I have vague ideas of volunteering to be a naturalist docent at my local open space, or doing something with our urban tree organization, or helping promote scientific literacy. Instead, my volunteer work is currently limited to socializing cats, which involves — you guessed it — zero interaction with humans.

Get sterilized. This might seem like the hardest core action the list, but honestly, the only reason I haven’t gotten myself sterilized is that low cost spay/neuter days are limited to quadrupeds. Apparently humans don’t qualify for the discount, even though I’d argue that human overpopulation poses far more problems than cat or dog overpopulation. If it were only a matter of shelling out $50 to ensure that my carbon legacy ends with me, I would do it tomorrow. Or on Earth Day. I can’t think of a more effective way to ensure curbing my total impact.

That’s what hardcore looks like for me. What about you? What’s pushing your green envelope?

Everything you wanted to know about cloth pads (and then some)

Custom Mimi's Dreams Starter Package "The Mini"In high school, I didn’t daydream about being smarter or more popular. I daydreamed about being completely asexual: physical androgyny of the tall, elegant, sculpted variety. In short, I wanted to be an elf — with none of the inconveniences and embarrassments of being merely human and female. Let’s just say that I’m still not on good terms with my uterus, an utterly pointless expenditure of resources as far as I’m concerned. But if being physically insubstantial is the greenest way to go, it’s not one that’s available to me or to anyone else I know.

I’ve noticed that a lot of women who are otherwise interested in going green draw the line at reusable menstrual products, which seem to provoke a knee-jerk ‘eeew’ reaction. I get it.  It’s one thing to roll up a used pad and throw it away, and quite another to rinse it out and reuse it. Cloth pads require a certain lack of squeamishness. (It’s one of my theories that our alienation from our own bodies and resulting squeamishness are bad for the environment.) But speaking as someone who is still recovering from a serious case of squeam, I can also say that they’re better in a lot of ways than disposable pads. I wanted to address some of the common questions that come up about cloth pads in case you’ve been hesitating about trying them. These are my personal opinions; there are no affiliate links of any kind below.

Why quit disposable pads and tampons?
Take your pick: there are environmental, health, and financial reasons to choose reusable pads or menstrual cups. One source estimates that the average woman throws away 250-300 pounds of used menstrual products in her lifetime. Unless you buy organic cotton pads and tampons, they can contain pesticides, petrochemical products, and/or irritating synthetic chemicals. Tampons can cause toxic shock syndrome, which I was surprised to learn can be deadly even if you use tampons according to the instructions. (Learn more about TSS at And finally, there’s the cost factor. Even if you only spend $5 a month on pads or tampons, that’s $60 a year for approximately 35 years — $2,100 is a low estimate.

Which works better, cups or cloth pads?
I don’t know, since I haven’t tried the most popular cup, the Diva Cup. I find tampons uncomfortable, and disposable Instead cups give me mild cramps and a feeling of continuous pressure, so I opted for cloth pads. Cups are probably a better choice for athletes and anyone unwilling to rinse out cloth pads.

How many do I need?
It depends on how often you’re willing to do laundry. I’d say the minimum is probably three — one to wear, one in the wash, and one clean one to change into. Since cloth pads can take a while to dry, especially in a bathroom, having a few more is convenient. You can fold up one for your purse; no one will recognize that those small rectangles of fabric are pads.

Don’t cloth pads leak?
They can, but it takes some doing. Some companies offer cloth pads lined with waterproof fabric, but mine are just backed with water resistant polar fleece. I haven’t had significant leakage issues, and I rarely use anything heavier than the pantiliner.

Aren’t they bulkier than my ultra thins?
Yep. A little. Most cloth pads have terry cloth or flannel cores for absorbency, and they can be a little thicker than ultra thin disposables. I think mine are between 1/8 and 1/4 of an inch thick. But they don’t crinkle when you move and they don’t feel as hot or sticky as disposables. It’s a tradeoff.

How do I clean cloth pads?
I give mine a quick rinse in the sink and then stick them into a small container of cool water (changed daily, sometimes with soap or some hydrogen peroxide) until laundry day. Surprisingly, they don’t seem to stain much, if at all. If you’re especially non-squeamish, the soaking water — as long as there isn’t too much soap in it — can be used to fertilize your plants.

How high is the ick factor?
It’s really not that bad. I hate the iron-y smell of blood, so rinsing out cloth pads is a little unpleasant. But in the end, blood is just blood. We’re filled with the stuff. Deal with it.

How do I store used pads until I can soak them? 
Most cloth pads have snaps, so you can fold them up into tidy little rectangles (back side facing out!) and stick them in your purse until you get home. They might stain a little if you can’t get them in water for hours, but soap and hydrogen peroxide really do work wonders.

How long do cloth pads last?
Years? I’ve had mine for about a year, and they’ve held up beautifully through multiple washings, wringings, and even a dryer cycle or two when I needed them right away. I expect them to last several years more.

Where can I get them?
Some Whole Foods now carry GladRags (expensive by my standards), but the internet is still probably the best way to get cloth pads. Some other companies include Luna Pads and Party in my Pants. I haven’t tried too many brands because I got lucky with the ones I bought from Mimi’s Dreams on Etsy — they’re affordable, well made, and totally comfortable. Also, you can choose from lots of cute prints, and the shop owner Hope is a wonderful person to deal with. I totally recommend one of her $25 starter packs.

Can I make my own cloth pads instead?
Absolutely. If you’re handy with a sewing machine, they’re not difficult to make using cloth and old towels you have lying around. You can make a pattern using a disposable pad, or check out some of these patterns and ideas. I was going to offer you a tutorial, but my project got derailed by having a foster cat in the room with the sewing machine.

And that’s about it for the whole cloth pad experience. Not that scary, right? Have you tried cloth pads or menstrual cups? What do you think? If you haven’t, what’s holding you back?

Getting my hands dirty

There are really only two types of kids: mud-puddle-philes, and mud-puddle-phobes. Let’s just say that my mother had absolute confidence in sending me to preschool in pastel pinafores and white tights. I liked her garden, to be sure, but I liked wandering around it, dissecting berries, chewing thoughtfully on flowers that my rabbit seemed to enjoy, and licking the single drop of nectar at the end of honeysuckle stamens. Sit in the dirt? Dig in it? Jump in a mud puddle? No thank you.

After the last post, I realized that a part of the reason (the part that doesn’t have anything to do with my intrinsic unsociability) I’m not more actively involved in the environmental movement is that I hate the look and feel of dirt under my nails. My primary source of vanity is my hands: bird-bone fine and clever-fingered. I really don’t like grime. I’ m squeamish.

Even I roll my eyes at my own lameness sometimes.  So this weekend, as a part of my new challenge-to-self to try to be part of the solution, I mortified my vanity and got my hands dirty, not just once, but twice. Kind of.

Saturday: Henry Cowell Redwoods
It’s disappointing to find litter in a state park as beautiful as this one. Really, people? Really? I was with a friend who is a lot more gung-ho about picking up trash than I am. (It’s not that I don’t care; it’s the dirt-under-the-nails thing that gives me pause.) She braved poison oak, muddy patches, and rivulets to retrieve detritus. I volunteered my reusable bag for her collection of bottles, Slurpee containers, fallen name tags, and even a mud-infused cotton sock. At one point, I gingerly retrieved a wine bottle covered in leaf mold.  Not much, but a step in the right direction for someone who has a major dirt aversion to overcome.

Sunday: Tentative Attempts at Indoor Gardening
Maybe it was the balmy weather or the realization that dirt wasn’t going to kill me, but I decided it was time to increase my indoor plant population. I’m an insoucient gardener at best, with nothing more than a few scraggly orchids and ferns in my big south-facing window. (My mother’s green thumb has not proved to be a heritable trait.) Armed with totally unwarranted optimism, Kevin and I went to the small family owned nursery nearby and picked up a donkey’s tail succulent, several organic herbs, walking stick kale (which might turn out to be a really, really bad idea), and plenty of organic potting soil.

The soil contained manure, worm casts, and some other things I didn’t relish getting too close to. Nevertheless, when I opened the bag, it was sun-warm, loamy,and smelled cleanly, well, earthy. I had some extra pots and seeds, so I also tried planting some basil, parsley, chives, and catnip. It was messy, but oddly relaxing. Maybe even a little addictive.  We’ll see if any of my seeds sprout. Maybe there’s a gardening enthusiast somewhere in me.

Are you also a recovering mud-puddle-phobe?  What do you do now that would have surprised your younger self?


Getting Over the Squeamishness

Like many people who spend a lot of time up in their heads, I’m not a huge fan of physical embodiment. I like the taste of food, but I could do without digestion and excretion. I like dreams, but — come on, body, eight hours of sleep a day? As a teenager, my fantasies were mostly about being a brain in a tall, androgynous, bodily-function-less body. (Yup. Says a lot about me.)

So, I get the squeamishness. I’m up there with the squeamishest of squeamishers. And yet, I see that it’s a problem. Our culture is, at least in part, about rejecting ourselves as physical beings. We generate mounds of non-biodegradable rubbish because we’d simply rather not deal with our own messes. Years ago, scraping off and cleaning cloth diapers was part of the deal of having a child. Soaking and washing bloody cloth pads was a necessary component of being a female homo sapiens of reproductive years. Now we have diaper genies, disposable ultra-thins with wings, flush toilets, and automated litter boxes so you don’t have to handle your cat’s [odor absorbing substance covered] waste from the safe distance of a scoop. We’ve got squeamishness down to an art.

And even avid greenies avoid doing environmentally responsible things out of squeamishness. Some people hesitate to line dry because they don’t want other people to see that they secretly wear pirate-print boxers. Others don’t compost because they have no outdoor space and can’t face the thought of vermicomposting in their kitchens. Most people (myself included) would give up their flush toilets over their cold, dead bodies, even though ‘humanure‘ has a long and illustrious history of being an effective fertilizer. (So much for the argument that animal agriculture is a necessary component of healthy soil!) And after death? We want to be embalmed so we can look good for the wake, and to be buried in airtight steel coffins so we won’t go all mushy and smelly. (Sorry — it’s basically unavoidable, short of mummification.)

The problem with our squeamishness is that it’s kind of killing the planet.  Not singlehandedly, but in our plastic-loving disposable attitude, our conviction that we are somehow above having to deal with the messes we make as biological beings — surely enough.

It’s not easy getting over a lifetime of squeamishness, I’ll give you that. If it were, I’d already have worms in my kitchen and be watering my tomatoes with the soaking water from my cloth pads. As a recovering squeamisher, I’ll get there eventually. However, it’s a good first step just to realize that being responsible for our own crap (literally and figuratively) is the price of admission for being alive, and refusing to pay it now means that we’ll pay it tenfold later.

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