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Last August our family declared war on trash, a war with the express goal of eliminating our household throw-away waste . Naturally, a war’s first  anniversary is a good time to assess gains and losses and set plans going forward, especially if it coincides, as ours does, with a municipal garbage collection crisis, a sobering reminder of the continued pertinence of  fighting trash.

The overflowing dumpster across the street from our house, an eyesore by any standard, paradoxically gives me an eerie sense of pride and relief. It should be a saddening sight , a symptom of many things gone wrong lately in our neck of the woods. Yet somehow, there is a selfish sense of relief in  knowing that ,  even while deeply affected by this problem, we are  not  part of it. For we have  come a long way from the days of  mindlessly throwing “away” bags full of mixed daily trash in the dumpster. This ritual has been all but eradicated from our life routine . And how archaic it now seems!

What little waste we send to the landfill is limited to biodegradable pet litter, and just for now, some sanitary and medical disposables, all in all a negligible fraction of our bulky trash output  of less than a year ago. In our little war, this is a BIG victory,and one  we are resolved to preserve.

But what comes in must go out-eventually at least. So where does our other “waste” go?  For one, organic waste-the largest part of our trash output -goes back to nature. With the compost pile finally stable and in full swing, food scraps, paper , cardboard , cotton, dry garden trimmings, and even pet hair and nail clippings are magically turned into fertile soil, with little effort on our part,  and  no more stench! Just delightful, except for one caveat! What do we do  with all the compost yield ?? Five barrels full to date and still growing. Any takers?

But not all waste is created equal.  In this war, Plastic, our public enemy number one, still seems invincible.  On the battlefront  “Palastica” as I like to imagine it,  we have lesser victories,  stubborn stalemates  and even disheartening setbacks to report.

To be sure, we don’t just throw away plastic trash anymore . Along with a small amount of glass, and tin, it is collected and periodically sent to the recycling center. This alone should earn us brownie points in green land. But to be honest ,recycling was hardly our original strategy for fighting plastic. We still recycle today  only  because our original war strategy failed.

For the plastic enemy, our plan was to block its entry  into our territory altogether,  not face it in combat on the exit. And to be fair to ourselves, we bravely fought and won many heroic battles for this especially in our kitchen. With our food preparation and shopping habits so radically transformed, our eating  is now largely a plastic free clean act. Well, as clean as it can get- and only if you turn a blind eye to the eco disasters embedded in modern agriculture. But we need to take this one step at a time.

And we have  all but exterminated those most decadent of plastic indulgences, the disposable shopping bag, and the plastic water bottle,  without succumbing to  plastic kitsch crafts , or blogging on “The hundred ways to make use of your plastic bottles creatively” . Isn’t it just amazing how ingenious  industry is in making us  well meaning citizens do their green wash!

For a while, we also  managed a  green and clean regime, relying largely on soap, vinegar and baking soda concoctions. But after euphoric successes came  sobering setbacks. This natural regime proved  more than what our “modern” kitchen plumbings  and equipments could handle, eventually  deeeeeeeply clogging them up with hardened soap sludge  and emitting an unbearable  telltale stench.  And our hair eventually suffered visible soap fatigue. You can just imagine the humiliation of having to reintroduce “fairy” back on the kitchen sink,  or to admit  that eggs may be a great natural cleanser but are hardly the practical way to go about washing your hair these days!

It is perhaps exhaustion from the above battles that weakened our stamina and resolve to find , or even attempt to find, persuasive alternatives to the miscellany of plastic insidiously infiltrating every corner of our life. As in other wars, securing a strategic victory may sometimes be much easier than fighting a scattered guerilla warfare. Where are the eco-entrepreneurs when you need them? (Busy with Mega Projects maybe?). You would think that with so much environmental moaning and groaning, the invisible hand of the  “market” would already have reliable and affordable green alternatives for most daily plastic objects!  Apparently not. As long as conventional businesses are not asked to internalize the environmental cost of post consumer waste, plastic will remain king of household gore , and an obnoxious one at that!

So we conceded reluctantly  to make room for a plastic recycling bin in a deliberately inconspicuous corner of the kitchen patio (embarrassment emphasized) . We do so knowing that even when recycling extends the service lifespan of non biodegradable materials, those are ultimately destined to  the landfill dead end. But make no mistake about it. We are not declaring defeat yet, just a truce, until we regain our breath and resume the fight with more vigor.

For now then, it does not look like the troops are coming back home soon , as we may have been drawn into a protracted war of attrition. But so be it. Mel Gibson may have starred in “The Year of Living Dangerously”, and we aspire for  The Years of Living Trashlessly, or…. of attempting to do so!

So  stay tuned for more updates from the battlefront, and happy first anniversary from all of us! MudanDough أبناء طين و عجين

In an all out war on trash, what does one do about the inevitable food “waste” that is intrinsic to the daily act of eating, waste that comprises a big bulk of domestic trash especially for  a cooking household like ours?  The obvious and well known solution of course  is composting, turning organic waste into soil by controlled decomposition. Absent any municipal  composting initiative in Amman , winning our  war on trash, implied that we had to compost our waste by ourselves within our own backyard.

Even while urban green initiatives are slowly gaining ground in Jordan, composting is still an underrated environmental act, especially by comparison to the  now much touted “recycling”of glass , plastic and other non-biodegradables. This may be due to the false perception that organic waste is intrinsically harmless even in a landfill. But this is almost always not the case; the air deprived conditions of a typical landfill, can turn even good bio degradable waste  into a microbe- leaching -methane -spewing environmental curse.

While its merits were clear, the idea of composting was intimidating to say the least, which explains why  did not start composting until  two months into our war on trash, taking the time to grasp the challenge. What to compost, where and  how? Will the compost bin stink and attract funny creatures? Will the process be difficult and unpleasant to handle? Will we arrive in good time at that promised sweet smelling crumbly soil ?

Fortunately, beginning composters are not alone-online!  The web abounds with “how to compost” resources and  practical tips and testimonies . (Here are one of my favorite sites http://www.composting101.com/ and Videos    ). Still when it comes to putting this to practice in Jordan, you are part of a small and largely invisible community. Meeting an urban composter  is  certainly not a common occurrence in Amman.

And at the home front, this was one battle which suffered low combatant morale!  All the other family members (males of course!!) preferred to keep their clear distance from this suspect operation, and never failed to complain whenever it turned “sour”. Thank god for supportive and loyal household help, without  whom the “we” in this post would have been vacuous.

At first, we piled our compostable waste into 100 Liter plastic containers donated by a friend who imports shampoo in bulk (go figure!). We placed the bins conveniently in our kitchen backyard. These were perforated  (apparently not enough) from the bottom and the sides and placed over garden soil to avoid damage to  garden tile and with some luck invite worms! Although using plastic bins  for composting is not uncommon, it turned out that this was not exactly a wise choice and accounted for much of the frustration we faced in the early phase of composting.

Following common  guidelines, we composted most of our food waste,  including fruit and vegetable peels and scraps , tea and coffee grounds, egg shells, and cooked food leftovers except for meat, grease or dairy products to avoid attracting unwelcome pests.  To these , we added a hefty mix of shredded newspapers,  cardboard, the occasional  egg crate and dry garden leaves, all in the attempt to implement the well known mantra of balancing greens to browns  or more technically the nitrogen-carbon ratio. We stirred the pile and added water occasionally and waited for good things to happen.

But good things did not happen. At least not initially. At first the waste mix seemed to decompose quietly and manageably. But as it compacted , under its own weight and perhaps due to too much moisture, it was increasingly more difficult to stir, attracted lots of flies (yuck) and then the composter’s worst nightmare happened. The bins started to exude an awful stench, in no way subtle , replacing the more timid pleasant hues of our bewildered jasmines and magnolias. We may have been fast becoming the neighbors from hell?!!

And whatever transformation was happening, it was not happening fast enough.  We were well into our fourth bin, and running out of  limited space, while the contents of our first bin still looked and smelled more like garbage than soil.

Fortunately, a few weeks ago, things took a very sharp turn to the better. Acting quickly upon friendly expert advice , we moved our compost from the narrow  and now proven to be air deprived plastic bins to a well aerated make shift  spacious and mesh wired wooden bin-located however in a more  distant corner of of the garden where space was available.  (Incidentally the wood crates for the open bin came from the same industrial friends who offered the bins). We poured the  stinking contents of the plastic bins into the open bin between thick layers of  dry autumn leaves ,  sealed with a final hefty  topping of crunchy leaves .  Within a few days, the now well balanced, solarized and aerated pile started behaving in good nature again (Pun intended) ! And yes, we are beginning  to sniff that wonderful and sweet forest smell that is the sign of good things happening. Not surprisingly, complaints about “your” bins gave way to self congratulations on “our” achievement !

To manage the situation practically, we now gather  our daily kitchen waste  in a small well aerated wire lined laundry basket placed in the kitchen backyard (idea courtesy of one of  my genius elves), pouring its  contents periodically into the larger slow cooking compost crate, aka lasagna central as we like to call it.   No stirring. No mixing. Just the right mix of greens and browns with an occasional drizzle of water. No stench so far. Touch wood.

There is still a long way to go  in our composting venture with many mistakes to learn from to be sure. But the hard part is over.  Only a few weeks ago,  giving up was very tempting, and now it seems that composting will be a permanent feature of our household routine. (Meantime, the bumpy  explains the delay in this blog post. Who wants to read or write a  blog on a low note after all!).

And to the question “Is this worth the hassle?”, the answer is without hesitation yes. Of all the other aspects of our war on trash, composting is  the one that truly deserves the title “recycling”. Come to think about it, the recycling of plastic and other non biodegradable materials is a misnomer. There is no real regenerative cycle involved, just the addition of a loop in an ultimately linear process. Nature recycles by taking its own offerings back and regenerating them through its  creative  and endless cycle of  life.

And when you compost, you experience profoundly that amazing mantra that should be at the heart of earth friendly consciousness. Nature knows no waste. Winning the war on trash may be about many things, but it has to be ultimately about aligning our lives more with the infinite wisdom of nature.

Paper  or plastic? Paper of course. To my mind then, this was undoubtedly the right answer. Paper bags are not nearly as nasty as their ocean glutting-toxin leaching- wild life choking-landscape littering plastic counterparts. Whereas plastic trash just does not “go away”,  being readily biodegradable, paper  blends  gracefully into nature.  Paper is of course the right choice …Or is it?

In Jordan, no one bothers to offer this choice, and if someone did today , my answer  would be: Neither. I have my own reusable bag. Paper may be the friendlier domestic trash, but it is certainly not an eco friendly product. Just think trees, water, fuel and carbon and you can imagine paper’s ecological shoe size. And in case you still  need persuasion, check out this excellent video http://www.secret-life.org/paper/. In the war on trash, you cannot be indifferent to the original footprint of the trash components.

So to reduce our paper foot trail,  we have long since opted out of  disposable napkins, tissues, and kitchen towels. And while still holding on to toilet paper, (let’s not get into details), it feels better to know that the kind we use , although not made from recycled pulp ,supposedly comes from “fsustainably managed forests”.  Any gimmick to erase the guilt of flushing away real forests with every trip to the bathroom? (Please let me know if you are aware of any  local toilet paper brands in Jordan which use post consumer recycled paper).

Regrettably though, hard as we continue to try, we still take in disposable paper in many other forms, including newspapers, flyers, greeting and invitations cards,gift wraps (mostly  unsolicited) printing paper , notebooks , inevitable paper  packaging and the occasional bag.

But to be fair,  we pay sincere tribute to the reduce and reuse mantra. I hound everyone at home about wasteful doodling on “dead trees”, and the importance of thinking twice  before pressing the  print command, and of double face printing,  if we really  have to print. I even managed to convince  my more cooperative teenager to use his half full notebooks for two consecutive school years. (Schools should do something about this scandalous waste in school notebooks ).  Still all of this has not prevented used paper from regularly piling up in our garage awaiting its fate. So how have we dealt with this embarrassing paper trail?

Ours is a war on trash ,and sending paper to the landfill via the dumpster is simply not an option.Oxygen deprived landfill conditions  bring the worst out of  paper, turning it into a methane spouting monster stubbornly resisting disintegration. In fact, in some landfills, it is possible to mine decades old newspapers, still in readable conditions, which  papers would  biodegrade within days under better conditions. Paper in landfills is sheer decadence.

Recycling is an obvious solution of course, and one that is now relatively convenient in Amman thanks to Cosmo and Entity Green (no municipal curbside recycling services yet, but but let’s not be picky). Yet,  this would be our option of last resort. Why? Because there is something very suggestive about a pile of used paper . Standing on its own, used disposable paper does not look like trash, but  more like  a potential resource that would be a pity to waste. Succumbing to the  temptation of  exploring waste paper possibilities, this  is what we have been doing ,attempting to do, or planning to do  with used  paper resource.

  • Compost: Paper, especially non glossy newspapers, cardboard and brown bags, are a compost bin’s best friend. A considerable volume of our shredded  paper  goes into our many compost bins,  a great way of turning hay into gold. More about this in upcoming  blog posts.
  • Paper Firelogs: The idea of turning waste into fuel is truly tempting. Inspired by the product advertised on youtube (search paper log maker) ,we custom built our own log maker . Our first dry log    did not burn successfully , apparently because it was over compacted, depriving it of oxygen.  There will be other attempts though, now that it is sunnier and easier to dry the logs .  Hopefully, we will be able  to share a success story in time for winter heating season.Will keep you posted.
  • PaperCrete: Imagine a concrete block, with double the insulation and half the weight. This is the promise of papercrete, concrete made with  a bit of cement and shredded paper rather than sand. Check  out this  http://lxrdesign.biz/Papercrete.htm as well as many other online resources on this subject. If you decide to try  this ,please share your experience and tips. It  would be truly great to  put this  to good use in our upcoming rooftop garden and terrace project.
  • Newspaper Bags: Yes, we still have to throw pet litter and other non compostable organic waste into the dumpster, but at least we now bag it  in old newspapers,  a much better option plastic garbage bags .
  • Paper Mache Furniture: Paper mache can be put  to wonderful practical uses, as material from which to make sturdy and possibly water resistant functional objects.  I am intrigued by the prospects of  paper mache furniture and home accessories and will try this sometime soon. Maybe we should organize   a paper mache object design and furniture challenge in Amman , just to highlight the latent practical (or even entrepreneurial) possibilities of paper trash. For now, before we ship away extra paper stacks to the recycling center, I  think of things like this .
Do we still have a paper trail? Yes but at least ours does not lead anymore to the landfill.

Too much of the trash generated by urban households nowadays is food related.  A bit strange if you come to think about it it. How is it that the aspect of our life supposedly closest to nature is a major source of our daily trash output?

Walk into any supermarket in Jordan, and observe the eerie seamless transition between chemical products, and food aisles. Consider for a moment the space allotted to “food” in boxes, bottles, cartons, jars, cans and bags, by comparison to the space allotted to  fresh and raw basic food staples. Clearly processed foods drive an unprecedented packaging frenzy making the very simple act of eating an environmental burden from production to consumption.

So how does one escape this matrix? How do we make eating again an ecologically sensible act that is part of the living “cycle” of nature instead of the industrial waste stream?

As we shared in an earlier post,we  first started battling food related trash- especially plastic trash- by a radical change in our shopping habits, such as  opting for reusable bags, buying in bulk, buying from small suppliers, skipping on  paper napkins and disposable food wraps, buying and freezing meats in washable linens, and saying no to plastic bottles.

And  these measures helped our war effort greatly indeed, but they do not tell the whole story. The modern food landscape is  littered with processed fruits and vegetables, cured meats, packaged  pastries, industrial milk and  dairy, wrapped commercial confectionaries, sauces and condiments, snacks and drink, and gallons upon gallons of industrially treated  “vegetable” oils. And as the second generation of food industry clones, we have become  accustomed to  this food wasteland , and ironically, we have also come to associate it with affluence, and development. The question then becomes : Is life on planet kitchen possible without the modern supermarket? Is an ecologically sensible kitchen a deprived and impoverished kitchen, and does winning the war on food trash require continuous acts of discipline and self sacrifice in resisting the  temptation, convenience and  ingrained habits of supermarket food?

Not at all. It became evident early on that this is not a war to be won by a test of will and strength , nor by force of guilt or fear . Rather, it had to be won philosophically, emotionally and even spiritually, by a radical yet willing shift in our food paradigm, and a transformation in the way we see and contextualize food. Indeed this was not a battle but more so an impassioned quest , an odyssey to save the soul of our kitchen from the spell under which it was cast .

The culprit of course is not food per se , but rather industrial, and globalized food, de-natured food, food as a “product” abstracted and dissociated from geography, locality, culture, seasons, home and community.  Never mind digital illiteracy, we are the generation of food illiteracy, a generation that has forfeited its connection to spirited foods, in the name of modernity and convenience. Most of us have been lured by industry tactics into confusing between variety and subtle natural complexity, rushed artificial tastes and  deep natural flavors,  generic industrial standardization and natural abundance, provident nourishment and fad diets, food related socialization and food nurtured communities, and so on.

Food trash is not only the result of packaging. It is a symptom of our  increasingly dysfunctional relationship with food, and will not go away until this relationship is healed. So how does one then heal a kitchen?

Because food is so central to our living, this healing journey will be the subject of many more detailed posts. But for now,  key principles can be highlighted.

Cooking with basic natural staple ingredients:  Notwithstanding all the gimmicks, food boils down to few staple ingredients, the basic building blocks of fresh produce, dairy, grains and pulses, herbs and spices and natural non-industrially refined fats and oils. A healed kitchen is a minimalist kitchen that transforms simple natural inputs into subtle complexity through acts of cultural creativity and artisanship . Admittedly, the encounter with food in raw form only can be initially disorienting, much like being asked to construct sentences from the alphabet rather than ready made words. But one regains literacy quickly, and along with that an exhilarating sense of creativity, and abundance at the genuine choices and possibilities that can be articulated from the basic building blocks. Trash wise, with a bit of effort,  most of the basic ingredients are available  in Jordan in  bulk or with minimal packaging. A  minimalist kitchen produces recyclable natural waste, but no trash.

Reclaiming the lost art of home food artisanship:   While “busy” households struggle to meet the needs of cooking, most have no memory  much less actual knowledge of cherished food processing skills that were passed before from one generation to another.  Not too long ago, most homes produced  their own jams and preserves, fermented pickles, vinegars, cured meats, dehydrated vegetables, and a  range of fresh milk derivatives . Otherwise, these items were  sourced from small artisans applying the same principles-not industrial mass scale suppliers who worked by completely different rules .  As the domain of food processing was forfeited to industry, we suffered an obvious loss in taste and quality but also other more critical losses. Traditional food artisanship embedded a deep understanding and connection to nature, an appreciation of the seasons, a sense of shared community and identity , and an intuitive aversion to waste!  And without the need  for disposable packaging, food artisanship spared the home and the world a lot of trash. Could it be that the artisanal home kitchen dismissed and devalued as a vestige of the past, could actually be the better way for our future?

Making the time for food: But can we afford this kind of time? There are two answers to this inevitable question. The right one would be that a healed kitchen does not actually consume more time,  once the basic skills are relearnt and,  by simple calculation, may actually save time  on excessive supermarket shopping and road trips. But the true answer really would be: Yes it does, as it should, because this is about food-real food, sustaining food, nourishing food, soulfull food and healing food. Is there anything more worthwhile?

And there is much more to this healing journey, including eating by the seasons, cherishing and rediscovering the unique possibilities of local ingredients and flavors, reclaiming fresh milk and the simple art of local cheese making, growing a productive garden, supporting small food artisans, sharing food, and yielding residual food scraps back to nature through composting, or  as animal feed,  whether at  home or through anyone who is lucky enough to have a small farm.

Re-centered in nature a healed kitchen is an abundant , creative , spirited , and invincible kitchen, and   in essence  a kitchen that is free of waste and trash. Is it time to break the spell?

Green or Clean?

Isn’t it just mind boggling the sheer size of the supermarket arsenal dedicated to cleaning our bodies, homes, laundry, utensils, furniture, etc. More so, are you also troubled, by the nasty environmental impact of the war on dirt and germs, whether because of the resulting trash from excessive packaging, or the chemicals spewed into our surrounding?

When and how did the business of cleaning up get so complicated, and environmentally unclean!  Is it still possible to be clean while being green, or are we faced with one of  two choices?

In our war on trash, battlefront-hygiene– the answer was clear: clean had to be green, and our pre-war cleaning regime, wasn’t, so there was some heavy fighting ahead of us. To be fair to ourselves though, even before declaring war on trash, we had already moved away from buying excessively into unnecessary cleaning products, more out of health concern,  as we became mindful of the hazards of blindly trusting a rather unregulated industry. So we had  long since stopped reaching for noxious oven cleaners, chemical scouring powders, the toilet rim “duck(s)”, grout and tile scrubs, carpet  and air deodorizers, stain removers , odor repellants and other such potions.

But we still used commercial shampoos, the full laundry and dishwashing suite, toothpaste , mouth gargles, shaving toiletries, commercial bar  and liquid soaps, window and glass cleaners, and the occasional “fresh” smelling anti-septic/disinfectants .We are after all the second generation of the hygiene industry clones, having inherited many of the homemaking habits from our awe struck parents (mothers really) persuaded by  the advertising blitz of the sixties to  abandon their “old fashioned” ways in the name of convenience , liberation and modernity.  And can we blame them ? What chance did the unpretentious- multipurpose- eco friendly, rough on the edges-no frills- olive oil soap cuboid , stand before the glitz and glamour of Ariel ™, Tide™ and Persil™ , Fairy™ , et al. And who could say no then to Fa™  and Lux ™ sexy  allure ,   Sunsilk™ hair shine, and the Crest™ smile?  And what environment?

But that was then.  Things have changed now. Fortunately, in the battle for green and clean we are in good company, at least  within the online community, as the web abounds with green enthusiasts, including those who pride themselves for being liberated from shampoo (“no-pooers”), or others showing off homemade detergent recipes, and  natural or at least eco friendly all purpose cleaning solutions.

Locally, our search for  solutions has yielded some interesting findings. In addition to  the famous Nabulsi olive oil soap, (known to the west as the Castille soap), other natural recipes were traditionally called to the cleaning rescue. Mud, for example is a lesser known shampoo substitute that was used in Jordan (dead sea), Syria (Red Allepo Mud), and Morocco (Ghasool). Impractical? Maybe. But it works well upon trial, and must have been especially  well handled  within the indulgent bath rituals of old times. Vinegar was and continues to be commonly used as the household all purpose antiseptic-as  must have been inferred from  its preserving anti-bacterial effects on pickles! Salt, ash and more recently soda doubled as scrubs, and stain removers.

Picture by Joe Joblin

Other cultures had their original solutions too, with tree grown soap nuts of India now widely recognized as a perfectly green laundry solution, and one which may have inspired the modern nano laundry balls technology.  Indeed, more generally, cultures world wide have always dug into the kitchen and garden for cosmetic and hygiene discoveries.

So beyond nostalgia, when it comes to green-clean, there is much that can be learned from local traditions. And more importantly, there is also much more to be discovered, provided one is willing to take off the hat of the passive home consumer, and don that of the  creative home scientist/homesteaders. And why not? After all, it’s only recently that households have forsaken to the global supermarket their powers to participate collectively in discovering and advancing culturally and geographically specific solutions to their daily problems.  Perhaps it’s time to think again of our homes,  not only as consumption outlets but as productive labs in cultural entrepreneurship.

In practice, and after more than four months of skirmishes on the hygiene battlefront , the outcome in our house is now reversed decidedly in our favor, as we are nicely settled again (not fixed though) into the following simple , effective and environmentally gentle  cleaning routine:

  •  As a laundry, dishwashing, and dishwasher solution as well as an all purpose cleaner, we now use a Palm/Bay leaves/Olive Oil Soap . When diluted in hot water, this  makes a great multipurpose detergent solution. This  is not the traditional cream colored common Nabulsi soap , as we have found  this upon trial to be  too mild as a detergents  especially for whites. The cheaper palm oil  soap makes for better detergent apparently since  palm oil is a stronger surfactant.  Made in Aleppo, this soap is  sold by weight in  down town shops,  although some batches unfortunately come wrapped individually in a thin plastic film.
  • As replacement for the disposable non biodegradable  industrial sponge, which is neither an eco friendly nor a sanitary optimal device,  we now use Natural  Loofah. I wonder why we did not think of this before. This natural beauty is a fantastic, durable, and gentle scouring and rubbing devise, that retains its clean color, and wastes gracefully back into the earth when it serves its mission.
  • Vinegar is the hero it is claimed to be. If there was a deserving Mr. Clean, vinegar would be it.  It is a multipurpose cleaner and anti-spectic , and can be used as dishwasher rinse, laundry softener and whitener,  and glass, countertop and floor cleaner (not on marble though!). For saving money and super market trips, we buy concentrated vinegar essence in bulk from downtown chemists – in a refillable glass gallon. Upon dilution, this provides at least a year’s supply of cleaning power, for less then 10 JD’s.
  • Baking Soda/Salt: Both baking soda and salt are excellent scouring powders, for grease , grout and grime. They are food grade safe with none of the risks associated with suspect chemicals in industrial detergents. Baking soda is an  excellent  stain and odor remover. Cosmetically, it is a wonderful facial scrub for teen age acne especially, and  since two months ago we have been mixing it with hydrogen peroxide and bit of mint oil, for  toothpaste and whitener. Yes you can have the signal smile without signal! Soda can be bought in bulk in paper bags or reusable containers from down town.
  •  High quality artisanal homemade soaps:  Instead of mass produced commercial soap, we now custom order high quality homemade local soap bars, for  hand, face and body wash, as well as shaving  (mint based , and shampoo (transparent fruit and herb based soaps). These are superior to the industrial soaps, but also better  than the average olive oil soaps available on the market, whose quality has unfortunately been compromised over time. We order seasonal unpackaged batches, admittedly at a price premium, but we know we are paying for quality otherwise unavailable in the mass produced varieties, while supporting a local artisan.  I have to admit however, that I have also abandoned soap as a shampoo option in favor of a more radically and completely natural solution, but this would be the subject of another post.

Six month into the war on trash, we have revamped our cleaning regime in a way that serves the purpose and produces negligible trash- plastic or otherwise, while being very gentle on the waste water stream. But as in any war, more important than defeating the enemy is the change of consciousness that emerges with victory. To our mind, it is not a question of green/and or clean any more. Rather, it is firmly set in our consciousness:  if it  is not green , then it is NOT clean. Clean cannot be only home deep.

In our war on house trash,  plastic was public enemy number one, an  enemy we had to confront with courage, or risk humiliating defeat.

And this is one enemy that deserves to be demonized. It takes forever to break down in a landfill, makes terrible litter, and inflicts unspeakable harm upon  nature and wildlife. To my mind, plastic is the eyesore in an otherwise scenic countryside drive in Zay or Ajloon,  sheep and wildlife choked to death on a deceiving bag, leaching landfills, and the ginormous pacific garbage patch.

I did not want to count on recycling as a weapon in fighting plastic. For one, only few plastics are recyclable, and there is doubt as to whether all what we send for recycling is actually recycled. Not to mention the unnecessary energy wasted in giving rebirth again to a harmful product that is destined to the landfill anyway. So  I decided that reduce , reuse and recycle is not an effective war strategy with plastic . What is needed here is the heavy artillery of  reject,  and remove -completely- from- our- life- once and for all.

Looking around our house, it was quite obvious that the kitchen would be the starting battlefield. Ironically, the part of our house supposedly closest to nature was the land of plastic galore. So much so, that in the beginning I actually wondered  whether failure was in our fate and life on without plastic on planet kitchen was just impossible.


And this not because of any faint heartedness about change on our part. When shopping for food, it did not seem that we actually chose plastic, anymore, than we chose, say fuel, when we drove.  It is sort of imposed on us, without much room for choice. Plastic and food in Jordan have sadly become inseparable . This is not limited to shopping bags, and pre packed snacks any more.  Today even the most staple of foods come in plastic (pre)packaging including dairy, meats, fish, poultry , cheese , grains, rice, spices, sugar, tea, salt , fresh  produce, and breads. Even quaint gourmet supermarket sections supposedly evoking  tradition, offer  the plastic/ styrofoam  combo as the carrier of choice for olives, local cheeses, pickles, and spices. What blasphemy!

Still I believe that the answer to the question whether life without plastic is possible is yes. There can be life without plastic-  not only a more eco friendly life, but a cleaner , healthier and more wholesome life. Plastic may be  omnipresent but it is not invincible. As proof, here is a list of the solid advances we have made against it in the kitchen front- in order of time:

Stopped using disposable plastic bags for shopping or produce: Instead, we use a custom made set of reusable bags always deployed on standby in car and purse.  We have tried these produce bags in small grocery stores and the neighborhood supermarket, where staff have been curiously cynical but otherwise accommodating. I have yet to try them in the main large supermarkets, and especially in the  fresh produce section  as a substitute for the slick transparent produce bag-on-a roll.  For  now we are happy getting our produce from small sellers, and  celebrate the fact that the number of disposable shopping and produce bags flowing into the house has been reduced to a trickle.

Stopped using store bought milk, laban and labaneh . No more milk cartons (ok  they are not plastic but they lead to plastic) or yoghurt and labaneh containers. Instead, we now have fresh milk delivered to our door by a milkman , yes a milkman,  who apparently serves many other families in Amman . (thanks to a tip from a facebook friend).  The milk is delivered from pot to pot – no plastic, no containers, no waste . Now we make labaneh and yoghurt  at home (too easy) and an impressive variety of yummy fresh and first rate white cheeses. No thanks, I do not plan to sell, but happy to share tips with you in later posts if you would like to experience the bounty of milk- without plastic.

Stopped using disposable plastic food wrap (as well as other non plastic disposables). Just like disposable paper napkins and kitchen towels, disposable plastic wrap is so decadently wasteful and unnecessary. To replace, we improvise day  to day food coverage solutions through plate stacking. (and a bit of Tupperware does not harm).  Meantime, I am exploring the utility of banana leaves and other potential organic food covers.  Oh what fun . But let’s keep eccentric stuff for later.

Stopped using plastic for wrapping meat, and fish in the freezer. I wrap meat in re-washable cotton muslin fabric available in downtown (very cheap) , and it really works better for preserving food, and  preventing frost bites. I also feel it is safer. I came across this solution from stories about how east Amman women reuse the muslin used in wrapping imported meat. (I had no idea imported meat was wrapped in cotton cloth! )

Stopped buying plastic pre-packed  sugar, rice, grains ,beans, salt, tea and spices.  We completely transitioned to bulk shopping of all such items from downtown stores that offer paper bags. Just in case paper bags are not supplied, we have our own bags on standby. The type of recycled paper used in shopping bags is an excellent carrying medium for dry foods, can be easily used multiple times, and is a great addition to  the compost bins or fireplace. Transitioning to bulk buying has not only saved us more plastic, but also time and a money.

Stopped buying meat and fish in plastic wrapped Styrofoam plates. We now buy our meats from independent small suppliers and ask to have them placed in a container we provide. Again this turned out to be not only less wasteful but more appetizing. The safety of contact between fresh meats,  and plastic/ styrofoam is suspect to say the least.

Stopped buying pickles, and condiments from super market gourmet counters in plastic containers. We buy in bulk and prepare at home in glass jars. It is beyond easy and buying olives in bulk is a great excuse to visit Ajloon during the magnificent olive season. Homemade pickles are a no brainer.

Stopped buying or accepting bottled water for any reason whatsoever.  Fresh tap water, boiled or filtered is the obvious solution. When on the road, we just  refill a glass bottle or a flask.

Now, this may look like a short list, but it stands for a lot of changes in a short period of time.  I feel that we have made some irreversible advances, and slowed down to a trickle the previously heavy flow of plastic foot soldiers into our kitchen . Not a  bad  accomplishment for four months, but we are not losing sight. Our eye is still on the grand victory, a time when our kitchen is trash free, plastic and all, a time when we can for ever get rid of the last remnant of trash, the  notorious black garbage bag.

Do you want to support  the  war effort?  Please share any tips and success stories you may have in fighting plastic.

Did you ever seriously consider your household trash? Did you wonder why there is so much of it, where it goes and what it says about how you live and think?

Well I did, and I didn’t like what I found out one bit. Initially, I was overwhelmed by guilt for failing even what little environmental principles I nominally upheld. But I also didn’t appreciate what our trash said about how we lived, ate, washed, cleaned, shopped or spent money. In fact, I had this uneasy feeling that we were as much victims of our trash as the environment in which it was dumped. Nor did our trash  flatter  my sense of social responsibility ,as it betrayed consumption habits decidedly unfavorable to local and especially small producers.

At first, I talked myself into believing that this is inevitably the reality of ”modern” living in a global economy, but it was easy to be persuaded  out. This was about choice not destiny. So I took the plunge. Last August, I declared war on our household trash, a war with the ambitious goal of  exterminating our input to  garbage landfills.

I planned the war meticulously with elaborate strategy and tactics befitting an enemy that is stubbornly entrenched in every corner of our life. And, off course, I had to enlist the support of all household members who were going to be affected by this, which support they granted not without legitimate resistance. Today, I am very mindful that winning this war requires combatting the enemy while managing combatant morale and unity of the internal front.

Almost four month into this war, there have been important victories, frustrating stalemates and occasional truces . Although, as expected final victory is still far from sight, combatant morale is still high and for a good reason. This is proving to be one war with positive collateral damage. In spite of the expected inconveniences, adjustments and sacrifices, the rewards have been great, whether measured in terms of improved quality of life, empowered consciousness, or yes indeed, substantial savings. And without any illusion about our impact , it still feels good to live in truth and walk the talk about green living. For all of the above reasons, retreating to the old order is looking less and less desirable, and what started as an experiment looks like it may become a way of life.

This blog shares our war story(ies), with all  the attendant successes , frustrations,  realizations and transformations. It also offers useful practical tips should you decide to join the battle in your own home. No originality is claimed, though, as there are many inspiring online stories of courageous green living crusades. The blog, however, tells a story specific to Jordan, its culture and environment. Indeed household, trash may be a global(ized) epidemic,  yet the fight against it must be won in local battles, armed with local solutions, drawing on resourcefulness, traditions and innovations.

This is also not a blog simply preaching the reduce reuse and recycle mantra. Valuable as it may be, based on our experience, the formula  underestimates the enemy, and needs to be extended  to include other critical  “re-s” , among which are reevaluate, restore, remember, reconnect, re invent and redesign.  It seems that the war on trash requires no less than radically rethinking our life from the trash can back.

If you are interested in following this story , you know which buttons to press.  Will be back soon, with live coverage from the battlefield.

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