Tag Archives: eco-friendly

Twelve Posts of Christmas–A Gift for Mother Earth

Not to repeat myself, but… Well, actually, I am fully intending to repeat myself because this is an important topic. I invite each and every one of you to be creative and to use your imagination to wrap gifts in recycled and reused items. As I just mentioned, I previously posted about this, but this is the time of year when we are particularly abusive and create garbage bag upon garbage bag full of stuff that will end up in the landfill. We can do better. I will admit, though, to having been previously very impressed by various family members’ matching presents wrapped in beautiful, shiny, thick wrapping paper. It looks so nice under the tree and everyone knows exactly who it came from. Very fancy.

However, I think you can make beautiful packages with just a little forethought and imagination–and maybe some planning throughout the year. For example, brown paper bags make excellent wrapping paper and a wonderful earthy background for those saved ribbons, scavenged twigs and berries, and home made gift tags. What other materials can you use for wrapping paper? How about old road maps that you haven’t thrown away yet even though you haven’t used them for more than seven years? Or, saved newspapers, park maps or large foldable brochures from an awesome vacation used it to wrap gifts for the people that went with you on that awesome vacation. And save colorful comics for the kids to wrap gifts. Using cloth and fabric to wrap gifts is a popular alternative, too, kind of hobo-chic. For other ideas, especially for creative decor, see these slides from Martha Stewart. Also, did you know that those poofy Christmas bows only look hard to make? Follow this link for step by step instructions. You will amaze yourself.

Now, if you’ve saved decorative boxes or bags, the work is almost all done for you! During this time of year, offices across the country are flooded with gifts that come in fancy boxes and bags. Lay claim to them, as well as all the ribbons and tins. If you don’t they will probably just end up in the trash–and that is what we are trying to avoid, people. You can also make your own boxes. The internet machine has loads and loads of ideas. You can use card stock, backs of notebook paper, the bottom of fancy paper bags from the mall, etc., as material for the boxes. Check out this link for tons of fabulous ideas using salvaged items to make your own boxes.

Yeah, even recycled wrapping will likely get thrown away, filling garbage bag upon garbage bag. Perhaps, a few suggestions? Save the gift bags and boxes for re-use next year, and fold the tissue paper to save for use throughout the year. Helpful hint: if you choose wrapping materials that can be used at other holidays and occasions, you can maximize their use, i.e., don’t get santa clause tissue paper. As to what you cannot re-use, which hopefully will be a smallish pile. Shred the paper and use as packing material or throw it in the compost pile. From what I learned in research for a previous article on paper re-cycling, wrapping paper can probably go into your local recycling program, though you need to do your research. For example, my county recycling, SWALCO,,will accept wrapping paper, but my local Chicago-area Paper Retriever will not.

I know, I know. My intentions to make every gift exchange I participate in zero-waste are impractical–especially at other people’s houses. I was, in fact, unsuccessful last year in swaying anyone to separate the paper wrapping from the ribbons and bows and plastic in order to recycle the paper and minimize the trash. We had a huge family Christmas and produced a lot of garbage that was frantically shoved in bags to try and keep order. However, on a personal level, I have not bought wrapping materials in more than three years. And I know that further change will not happen overnight. I slowly hope to influence my family members, one by one. Even the family member that proudly buys beautiful wrapping paper every year.

When I actually buy some present and wrap them, I will take photos to show you that presents using salvaged materials can be pretty!

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Pressed Paper Pots 2

After the last post on these pressed paper pots I happened to run across this blog called Little Alexander with a post for the seedlings in egg an carton. It’s a fabulous blog with many good ideas. For the post to which I am referring, they used the carton in a not-so-obvious way that made me want to say, “of course!” I thought this post was very clever and was just waiting to read how easy it all was and how much time I had wasted when two perfectly good egg cartons were staring me in the face as I labored over my little paper pots. However, I was gratified to see that some of my latent concerns about the egg carton were a problem in the actual plan. (Click on the title “Little Alexander” above for a link to the post).

AND I was gratified to see that my little project was working.

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The above was right after I planted. These being so small, they didn’t hold a lot of water and I always watered slowly so the dirt was able to absorb as much as possible. The picture below was after almost six days. It helped that I planted lettuce seeds because these seeds are planted shallow and come up fast!
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In hindsight I would use my second idea of scavenging plastic cups from a meeting or office and using those as my molds. These worked, but were maybe just a bit too small. Check back late next winter to see how the new and improved project turns out, or share your experience with me! This was a great way to turn trash into a functional item.

Tank top up cycle

So I had this ratty old tank with a hole in it that I had been hanging onto for who knows what reason. It was just so soft and I thought a use would eventually come to me.
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See…the hole is pretty obvious. I was finally inspired to cut it up when I saw this great head band idea on Pinterest. This I could totally do. Here is my version of this project.

1) Cut a long strip about 1 1/2 ” thick. Make sure to use the seam here as a natural end for the headband.

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2) Measure the strip so that it will go around your head, but so the ends just meet. The jersey material is stretchy so don’t worry you’ll go too small. Cut the strip into three strips only up to seam. Do not cut through stitching of seam.

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3) braid length of strip making sure it doesn’t get all twisty. Secure end with something if you are not going to sew right away.

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4) place ends together and fold the braided end into the seam so there is a nice, smooth finish.

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I was so proud of myself. These were easy and now I didn’t have to get those elastic headbands from the store. You can get creative, too and make them a little fancier. I took one strip, about 1/4 inch thick and cut that into three really thin strips (like, thin enough to thread beads). Cutting the ends at an angle helps to thread the beads. 20130421-211117.jpg20130421-211719.jpg
I originally intended to do this braided thing where the beads always end up on the outside but my tank fabric was not structured enough for this. So I just threaded several beads per strand and then randomly spaced them out. 20130421-211727.jpgIt turned out really cute.

Of course, this project doesn’t use up all the tank. Even if you made a dozen headbands, you would still have scraps left over. I had the seams from the neck and arm holes and small strips I had cut of from the length.

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I didn’t want to throw them away. So I started making flower pins.

The seams were perfect for a rosette because they are already folded for you! It made a very contemporary, compact flower.
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The strips I ruffled by using a running stitch and then pulling taught until I got the ruffle I wanted. 20130421-211210.jpg20130421-211154.jpg<I then sewed the ruffle around until I got a the desired effect. 20130421-211159.jpgTotally adorable. 20130420-131123.jpg20130420-141521.jpg20130420-141528.jpg

I also made a third type of florette. A simple string of five circles, folded in half and connected with a running stitch.

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Going Paper(towel)less

I always considered myself a rebel within my family for buying cheap paper towels. My sis, for example, is a paper towel snob and always has nice, thick paper towels. My mom, while not as particular, was fanatical about keeping them in the house, always. Her day would be immediately ruined if she realized that she was out of paper towels. I was somewhere much further down the spectrum (towards the less crazy end) but sheepishly admit that I never considered giving them up–even my really cheap, thin ones.

As I assessed the paper waste I was producing, I realized that paper towels were a sizable chunk. So I decided to make the commitment to using less. The obvious solution was switching to washable towels.

I resisted this idea for quite a long time because I bought into the idea that re-used towels would just be spreading germs all over the place. Modern marketing has done its job on me. (I mean, when I saw the new disposable towels for the bathroom, I thought for the briefest moment that I had to have them. But seriously, is it that much work to change out the bathroom hand towel? And for the most part, it’s just me and my husband…and we do things a lot more personal than share hand towels, so…no, I did not have to have this new product.)

My first foray into replacing disposable paper towels was a failure. I was in a neat, little shop I frequently frequented and came upon this seemingly brilliant product: Jagneus Design dish cloths. The product came in a pack of three, was eco-friendly and a bit over-priced, so I thought, “this has to be good!” Plus, is was Swedish, and they make nice things, right? The idea with these is that you use them, wash them, and when you are done, they are compostable. They are made of cotton and cellulose.

The problem was that they were incredible stiff unless fully wet, and I was trying to avoid constantly wet towels. Even if they were supposed to dry quickly, quick wasn’t a few minutes. So you were constantly messing with a wet towel, or a stiff towel. Maybe I just didn’t “get” them, but they weren’t for me. I don’t feel bad about this. The company seems to do just fine, and they should…charging what they do for a dish towel.

So I spent the same amount of money at Kohl’s and got a pack of 12, 100% cotton towels. They were just like the face towels I had purchased a couple years before, except in the kitchen section. And from I understand, these kind of towels are bio-degradable as well. Though on this issue, I will follow up because I am a bit skeptical.

As to my transition, I have certain rules. This section is for friends that come over so you don’t think I have a gross house. I have plenty of towels so that I don’t run out before I wash the lot of them, which is about every two weeks. I basically use a different towel every day. I only use counter towels for the counter and floor towels for the floor and I don’t use them for drying dishes. If I wipe up milk or clean up after meat, the towel goes in the dirty bin right away. The towels are never allowed to sit there sopping wet. To me, wet equals a bacteria breeding ground.

The pack of twelve set me back about $10 and I had some random other small towels, though I know it can be done more cheaply with a bit more investigation and planning. I am not counting the money spent on the Jagneus product– I am going to consider that as a donation to a green company. Anyhow, seeing as how I was going through a roll of paper towels a week, at about a buck if i was lucky, and now one roll lasts approximately a month, I feel that it is a worthwhile investment and a valuable effort. I’m not down to zero paper towels because every once in a while there is the warm cat puke or gross thing that comes out of the clogged drain that I just don’t want to mess with, and I tend not to buy napkins, which my mom just doesn’t understand. I am doing better, which meets my goal: to keep improving and reducing.

First… admit you have a problem.

My dear, beautiful sister was always so proud of herself for getting such fabulous deals on after-holiday items, decorations and wrappings.  Perhaps the best example was Christmas.  Every year, she would buy her wrapping papers, tissues, foils, boxes, bags, decorations on super sale after the season and put them away for the next year.  She got such fabulous savings!

When she moved from Illinois to Arizona three years ago she brought out from under the house FIVE bins of Christmas stuff, much of it never opened. Together, with hands held, and tears in our eyes, we acknowledged she had a sickness.  If you buy things and never use them, it’s no deal at all, no matter how cheap it was.

Now, I will admit, I took a lot of it…she couldn’t take it with her and we weren’t going to throw it away…it was all free for me.  But, I have to be honest,  it will be years before I actually go through it all.  Especially since I have made a vow to never buy wrapping paper and gift bags again.  Once you make a conscientious effort to save tissue, gift bags, cellophane, bows, ribbon, fillers, foils, and boxes, it adds up very fast.  People may look at you strangely at a baby shower when you are folding all the tissue into manageable folds, but you’ll be glad you did. (Baby showers are gold mines for tissue paper, by the way).  There are so many uses for tissue paper.  You can shred it and use it for easter baskets, shipping delicate products, and gift baskets. You can even wrap presents with it. You can use if for decor on gifts of plain bags, such as making tissue flowers, bows, or taking some watered down glue and decoupage-ing.

At Christmas time, I collect the ribbon and tissue and bags that people otherwise throw away. And they throw so much away! Everyone so far has rolled their eyes at the idea of shredding and composting the wrapping paper, but I hope to put that into effect soon.  I also collect small boxes and ribbons like the ones that come with all those yummy office gifts. Even if it’s too small to actually use to wrap, ribbons are great for crafting.

Occasionally my husband also has a good idea. Sometime ago he collected a handful of flight maps that the local flight school was getting rid of.  They have now become his signature wrapping and everyone remarks on how clever it is.  Repurposing things like maps, comics, your kid’s coloring book pages, instructions, newspaper, magazine pages, and tissue as wrapping paper is a great and FREE idea. Don’t forget to shred and compost after wards (I know…I haven’t gotten around to that yet, but I WILL.)