Friday, May 30, 2008

Soapy Soundings

One of the original ideas behind this blog was to find and list locales where we could buy things in bulk, thus eliminating packaging and allowing us to reuse bags or containers again and again. A particular area where we have encountered frustration is with refilling liquid soap bottles, namely body wash and dishwashing liquid.

Two locations near us provide bulk products: the 4th Street Coop—obviously on 4th Street, but between Bowery and 2nd Avenue; and Commodities Market, on 1st Avenue between 10th and 11th.

We are not members of the Coop, but it might be in our best interest to consider how it could benefit us financially, as well as encourage community. Here is the list of memberships:

Membership Dues

public (non-members): $0
summer working members: $0
working members: $10 your first year, $25 each year thereafter
shared membership working members: $20 your first year, $35 each year thereafter
nonworking members: $35 each year

Membership Discounts

15% - Shared Membership Working Member (members sharing a weekly shift of 2.25 hours every week, coordinating amongst themselves)
20% - Weekly Working Member (2.25 hours per week)
25% - 2+ shift Member (signed up for and committed to work 2 or more shifts, i.e. 4.5+ hours, every week)
8% - Non-Working Member ($35 annual contribution)

Other Discounts

8% - senior
5% - paying with EBT, disabled or tenant of Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association
3% - student or member of another co-op

Even as a nonworking member, there is a chance we could save ourselves $35 a year. Imagine having the time to work 4.5 hours a week, and receiving 25 percent off groceries.

Commodities does not have memberships or discount prices, so I will use their pricing as an example. Recently we refilled a large Dr. Bronner’s bottle of Sal Suds soap, and the price was $3.50 a pound, which has now been raised to $4.50 a pound. We discovered that our bottle holds about two pounds of liquid soap, which, at the new price, costs $9, which is more than it would cost to buy a new bottle; plus all they are doing at Commodities is filling ours from a gallon jug. I found some gallon jugs on sale for less than $25, which is a savings of a few dollars. However from the Dr. Bronner’s site the prices are more, so the refill then becomes a bargain. But I can hear the Chicken asking where all of these large bottles of soap are going to reside in her “300 square feet.”

How do we compute the cost of buying products in different ways? If I were to buy online a gallon jug of Sal Suds, I would get the best price, but then I have to factor in shipping costs, plus the unforeseen cost to the environment. But Commodities would have to have it shipped to New York anyways, and by buying from them, I am supporting a local part of the economy, instead of cutting out the middleman, which the internet has done so infamously. There are many questions I have to ask myself as a consumer, and I have yet to figure out the best answer to the soap conundrum, but I do enjoy knowing that we have used the same soap containers since January, which I have to believe has saved a relatively significant amount of energy—at least enough to know we are heading in the right direction.

Bubbly Rebuttal

Disclaimer: I see that this blog could easily become a venue for the Chicken and me to hash out our grievances, our disputes, our conflicting viewpoints, but, more than likely, it will be a place where the differences in our personalities receive fresh air.

Yes, when we started discussing how to reduce the amount of seltzer bottles we sent out with the recycling each week, I immediately started thinking about the history of seltzer and how it was made.

What I found is that it has been around for centuries, but in its natural form, it is mineral water. These natural springs omitted or omit water that contain a certain amount of dissolved minerals and elements that can have a positive effect on ones health. In ancient times those springs were considered sacred, and often spawned surrounding communities. Not all types are bubbly like seltzer, but there are those that have carbonation because of a chemical reaction. According to there are 3000 brands from 125 countries still being produced, including 183 from the United States. Quite a few brands I recognize: Fiji, San Pellegrino, Perrier, Evian, Mount Olympus, Polar Spring, etc. etc, but short of finding my own spring, I doubt I’ll be able to go directly to the source.

So the ultimate question is how do I provide bubbly good water. The contraptions that the Chicken found are compact, and even a bit cute. I’d imagined having a few glass seltzer bottles like I’ve seen in old movies, but I didn’t think about the CO2. They come with small canisters of compressed gas, which when released create bubbles. Some are one shot, others last longer, and the Penguin requires the consumer to send back each empty for a full one.

This provoked a thought. How did the cowboys bubble their water? I didn’t think the back of the bar was littered in small CO2 canisters. So I went searching. But I discovered that I was partially wrong, because, in 1772, Joseph Priestly figured out how to impregnate water with gas, thus causing effervescence. Until the invention of passing pressurized carbon dioxide through water, the process consisted of different scientific methods of harnessing CO2 naturally present in the air, and encouraging it to dissolve ion water, thus creating bubbles.

I do not think the Chicken would be hip to having a science lab in her 300 square-foot apartment, but I continued thinking about other ways. I knew I would come around to her way of thinking, and support buying one of the seltzer makers she wants, but it is my nature to research and exhaust all possibilities, especially DIY projects, which leads me to my next discovery.

In the research process I stumbled upon a detailed website about installing a seltzer-making system in the house. Yes, more space than we have would be necessary to accommodate such a device, but the idea is intriguing, no? If there was room would it not be better to have the bubbly water come straight from the tap, and to only replace the large canister of CO2 every 500 bottles. That would be an incredible savings, and would eliminate tremendous waste. Nonetheless, like the worms, it will have to wait. (I am beginning to recognize a pattern here.) If you are interested in the DIY carbonated-water system, check out: (Also I am no expert, and perhaps the system is faulty, so if you are an expert and find flaws, please let us know.)

PS. While researching seltzer, I discovered that it is a “genericized trademark” like Xerox, Hoover, Band Aid, Kleenex, and Frisbee, which is a name brand that has been used with such frequency that it becomes the colloquial description of said product. Seltzer is from the German brand Selters.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Bit of the Bubbly, Please

I have an addiction.

An addiction to a bubbly drink that comes in bottles and is somewhat pricey.

An addiction to Soda Water!

I love Seltzer, Soda Water, Sparkling Water...water with bubbles. Bring it on! We've been drinking a lot of it. Especially last month, when we went without alcohol for the entire month. Poland Springs Lime Water was like crack for us. We went through a bottle a day. Then we got into Dr. Brown's Lemon-Lime Soda (inferior in my opinion, but at 99 cents for 2 liters it is a good deal).

Yeah, I know. Not so eco-friendly, eh? Not at all.

As we watched the recylcing bag fill with bottle after bottle we felt guilty. But we also felt entitled. We were giving up alcohol, afterall!

A few months ago there was an article in the NYTimes about a seltzer addict's quest for the perfect soda-maker. He came across the website of, which has several models of soda makers.

We decided we wanted to take the plunge. Of course I wanted to order one right away. The Moose wanted to know about historic methods of making carbonated water and started telling me about 20lb. tanks that attach to your sink so you can have your own fountain.

Remember the 300 sq. ft? Still living in that.

I found a model I like-

I found one that was more expensive and looks like an animal-

Which one do you think he likes the best?

The Early Chicken Refuses the Worm

I was excited. I was motivated. I was in line for the Worm Lecture.

This was last month. Moose and I went to the Worm Talk. As the worm talk progressed, feelings of dread began to build within me. Here was this large plastic bin where the worms dwell, into which you must shred damp but not wet newspaper and then feed your vegetable refuse. The lecturer stressed points about avoiding flies and other pests. My mind flew back to last summer, when we were first keeping compost. It was in an open plastic bag and we got those annoying fruit flies everywhere.

It reminded me of when I dated a vegan hippie in Brooklyn. His house had those flies. And there were cats. Weird small roaches in the bathroom. He wouldn't use the AC even when it was 101 out.

The worm bin is BIG. Not big if you have a normal house. But BIG for NYC. Big for my 300 sq ft. Big for the non-existent space under the sink.

So...I began to think. What is the point of this bin? We eliminate the step of dropping off our waste to the garden. But why? The garden uses the waste. We don't. Our system is good as it is. Why change?

The Moose was upset. He was like a little boy who had been told he could have a puppy and then got a stuffed animal. (I know, man. My parents did this to me on several occasions.) I felt guilty.

He still wants the worms. Should we get them? WHY should we get them? How does it reduce what we produce?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Worm Bins

On April 2nd the Chicken and I attended a worm-bin workshop held by the Lower East Side Ecology Center (LESEC). We started composting last year, and our Alphabet City neighborhood has made it quite easy. There’s a garden next door, which allows us, when open, to drop off our bags of food waste. The LESEC has a drop-off bin at the Union Square Farmer’s Market every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday; and has a garden on 7th between Avenue B and C, which provides 24-hour drop-off service—though at times we’ve allowed our bag of compost to become so big, I’ve had to slowly maneuver the bulk through the iron gate into the waiting bucket. I have, however, preferred those moments to those when I see the gate open and know I have to rip open the bags to empty the refuse into the allotted cans. My fear is normally greater than necessary because I’ve yet to get grossness on my hands, but, nonetheless, there’s something about it that freaks me out. Maybe it goes back to my memories of being afraid of washing the dishes because of the wet food waiting in the sink. But there’s no need to get too psychoanalytical at the moment.

The worms. We had thought about buying the bin earlier, but we discovered that by attending the workshop, we could buy it for a thirty-five dollar price reduction. So I waited for almost a month, and like a boy with a project, I thought about all the fun I could have watching the worms turn our food and paper into usable soil. I couldn’t wait. A friend was going to join us, and I expected we might be the only ones in attendance, but when we arrived at the 58th Street Library (between Park and Lexington), there was a line out of the room. There were approximately 50 people, and we spent the next hour listening to our young host explain to us some of the basic science behind the bin and how to set one up.

It’s possible to build one on your own, and there are instructions online, but the main ingredients are sufficient air holes, damp bedding (our host made clear numerous times that it should not be too wet), a pound of red-wiggler worms, and food. The structure could be made of wood or plastic; one lady mentioned that she had a bin she’d built from an old drawer found on the street. Compost rules apply for the food: nothing oily, no meat, and some suggest no bread. Those regulations are mainly in place to eliminate smells, thus staving pests. Our host suggested that experiments with some of the aforementioned items might work, but it was up to the individual to determine how their bin best functions. One important point she made was a tip on limiting the number of fruit flies—these pests live in the skin of tropical fruits and she recommended putting the skins in the freezer or in the microwave, for one minute, in order to kill the larvae.

The Chicken is more practical than I am, and as the workshop progressed I could tell she was becoming less interested. As on cue she then turned and expressed her worry that the bin might be unnecessary if compost areas were so readily available; plus, she added, the soil produced by the red-wigglers is so rich in nutrients it should only be mixed with regular soil or placed as an inch of topsoil twice a year. We only have so many houseplants, and the wigglers, after three months, will turn the whole bin into compost. What would we do with it? The LESEC said we could drop it off with them, and I suggested we give it away as Christmas presents, but the Chicken wasn’t convinced. I was crushed like a schoolboy losing his recess. I understood everything she was saying, but I was intrigued by not only the fun factor of playing with worms, but with the prospect of watching the process. I walked away without a bin and feeling rejected. The LESEC will still offer me the discounted price if I tell them I was at the workshop, but now I am stuck thinking about it.

Is it worth it? Does buying a bin actually contribute to our waste reduction? We talked about it later, and we recognized that we were approaching the subject in two ways. Orginally the Chicken was interested because she thought owning a worm bin was about simplifying the rpocess, but when she realized the the LESEC has their own worm bins, the notion of dropping of the finished compost seemed redundant. But for me I was looking for the experience of the process, to see what happens to our waste, to be connected to that which so many throw into the trash. Plus it seemed crazy (good) to have a bin full of worms in an apartment in New York City. At least a dozen people walked away from the workshop with bins, so they must have felt the same. For now we wait and see if I’ll be wiggling soon.

LESEC Website:

Bag O' Bags

In every country, state, city, house, and apartment where I have lived, bags have followed me. I do my best to follow all the rules of waste reduction, and try to recycle everything I can, but, until I moved to New York City, I always drove to the grocery store, which promoted large shopping sprees, instead of buying what I needed for the day or evening meal. I attempted to bring my own bags, on occasion, but I often forgot because I kept them in a larger plastic bag under the sink. Often my cache of plastic bags became so great that by the time I moved, I didn’t know what to do. Some grocery stores have recycling bins out front, but I was always suspicious of where they were actually going; it’s just too easy for them to be thrown in the trash. One time, when I was moving from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas, I left the bag o’ bags under the sink thinking the new tenants would be able to use them—perhaps I was just passing on my burden—but the landlord didn’t leave them and instead deducted forty dollars from my security deposit for their removal.

So I had to find other ways of reusing them. When I swam, I could tie up my wet gear in a plastic bag, and since the chlorine was so strong I’d have to throw it away afterwards. I carried lunches in my bags, but would often return home with them and put them back under the sink. I used them for my bathroom trashcan and the recycling, which helped eliminate quite a few, but was I really reusing these bags to their greatest potential, and whether I threw away a plastic bag after using it once, twice, or a dozen times, was it still destined to sit in a landfill longer than my lifespan?

The key is to eliminate using disposable bags all together, but that has not been easy, especially in New York. I have noticed since moving here that people tend to carry many things on their commute, and it’s not strange to see someone walking with three bags full of stuff. Without the convenience of a car, one must be prepared for everything, which, for us, means carrying bags for groceries and such at all times. Both the Chicken and I have a few plastic bags we keep with us, but it’s harder to always have a canvas bag on hand, so we often buy smaller servings of groceries or wait until we get home, and then venture out again. At least we’re getting more exercise.

I do see the original inventory shrinking, but it’s been almost two months, and it’s not going as quickly as I’d like.