Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

Thinking about Sustainability

On the way home from yesterday’s interminable visit to the Mayo, I dropped by a friend’s shop in mid-town Phoenix, a serendipitous little brainchild that morphed from a nonprofit thrift store to a wonderful design, clothing, art, and gift store featuring nothing but sustainable crafts and products. More about my friend Loral later: I’d like to feature her in Funny’s “Entrepreneurs” series.

Meanwhile, check out what she sold me!

This gorgeous purse is made of a 1970s leather skirt. Remember how we used to make purses out of jeans and denim skirts? Well, the crafter who designed this, Shannon Wallace, came across a buttery-soft purple (love!) leather skirt and used it to build this wonderful, incredibly lightweight bag. It has a silken lining, and the skirt’s pockets morph into handy exterior pouches for the bag. It’s actually reversible—you can turn it inside out and have the wild fabric lining on the outside. But being a sucker for purple, I’ll probably keep it this way. The gaudy flower is detachable; I’m thinking I may move it to one of the handles.

KJG and I came across it while we were doing the Willo Neighborhood Tour–my friend’s shop is in darkest Willo, and so of course she had a booth for the tour. I was going to pick it up when we finished the tour, but we both pooped out a distance from the booths. Hence, the visit to retrieve the purse, not quite on the way home from the Mayo, which from downtown Phoenix is halfway to Payson.

So while I was exploring Loral’s shop, she showed me this amazing patch of wood cellulose and cotton, called a Skoy cloth.

It is said to substitute for not one, not two, but 15 rolls of paper towels! You get it wet and use it as a kitchen rag/sponge, and supposedly you’ll never have to use another paper towel as long as you live. Loral said she tried one and was convinced. Well…nothing would do, of course, but what I had to have one of those.

Amazingly, the thing actually works as advertised! Maybe better than advertised. I just tried it on the kitchen counter, which once again had acquired a fine haze of olive oil and dirt, and by golly, the tiles are shining. It also cleaned the brightwork around the sink better than I’ve managed in many a moon—with no special products.

Visiting Loral’s shop and imbibing her enthusiasm for sustainability left me thinking about ways that I might waste less paper, use less gasoline, spread fewer chemicals around, live a little lighter on the asphalt-covered land.

Pretty soon the City is going to stop picking up the garbage in the alleys, instead inflicting yet another barrel on residents to roll out to the front curb and requiring everyone to dump their bulk trash in their front yards. My plan is to get rid of the blue recycling barrel at that time, since I don’t have room to store two big barrels in the garage and there’s noplace in the yard I wish to grace with an extra garbage bin.

To accomplish that, I hope to start producing a lot less recyclable trash than I’ve been doing. So…have begun thinking about how to live a less trash-intensive lifestyle. The trick would be to avoid bringing stuff into the house that has to be thrown out or recycled. Among the strategies that come to mind:

Use cloth bags or reuse plastic bags for grocery shopping and small sundries from hardware stores, drugstores, and the like.

Buy products in bulk. Even if something comes in plastic and cardboard, obviously if you can buy a larger store of the product, one package is better than a half-dozen.

Get off mailing lists.

Buy food at farmer’s markets and other local merchants who use minimal packaging.

Cancel newspapers; read news online instead.

Read books on a Kindle or similar hardware.

Substitute ordinary household products such as vinegar and baking soda, often available in bulk, for commercial chemicals. Package them in your own reusable squirt bottles.

Use steam, not a mop and harsh chemicals, to clean.

That’s just a few ideas. Many folks have made an art of low-impact living and can offer more and better strategies. But it’s a start.

With Trader Joe’s and now even Safeway peddling “green” reusable shopping bags, it’s surprising that Americans haven’t discovered the wonderful string bags we used to see in England. I had a couple of them, which would roll up and hide in a tiny corner of a bag, briefcase, or pocket. None of the shopkeepers up and down the streets, to whom one repaired every day or two because one’s flat didn’t have a refrigerator large enough to hold a week’s worth of groceries (nor did one have a car to carry that much stuff in, anyway), ever imagined handing out paper or plastic bags to customers. That you would bring your own bags was a given.

The beauty of the string bag is that it expands almost indefinitely. I could easily fit two or three days’ worth of goods in just one of them. Two would hold a lot of food.

Amazon offers a couple that resemble the version the English carried around: This one from EuroSac

And one from Simple Ecology that comes in colors and costs two and a half bucks less.

And there’s a variant designed with a shoulder sling, also from Eurosac…

Any of these will hold a lot of stuff and take up hardly any space in your purse, briefcase, or car trunk.

Costco, my primary source of groceries, household products, and casual clothing, already eschews bags. But they pack your stuff in cardboard boxes, which take up a lot of space in the trash bin and are a nuisance. They’re too heavy to lift out of the cart, so I have to unpack each one, repack it into the plastic bins in the back of the van, and then once home unpack and carry the stuff indoors one, two, or three pieces at a time. My plan, then, is to get a bunch of string or fabric shopping bags, ask the Costco staff to pack the junk in those, and let Costco keep the cardboard. Maybe if enough of us do that, Costco will ask their suppliers to ship in less wasteful containers.

Maybe we can all use less wasteful containers!

Author: funny

This post may be a paid guest contribution.


  1. I do believe lots of Americans are using reusable bags for groceries. Certainly not everyone though.

    But I have his embarassing question. Now that I’m not bringing home “trash bags” from the store I don’t know what to use. I’m clearly not going to purchase trash bags as that would defeat the purpose. Do people just throw kitchen/bathroom garbage in the kitchen/bathroom trash and then dump it loose into the larger bin? I’m used to containing trash in neat little packages.

    Am I a crazy woman or is there a solution out there I’m not familiar with?

  2. Some of us are being forced into reusable bags – Oregon plans to outlaw plastic grocery bags and have grocery stores charge 25 cents for paper bags. I have been using reusable bags for quite a while and am getting better at
    taking them into the store instead of leaving them in the trunk of the car.

    But I have the same question E. Murphy does. If there’s a solution, please let me know!

  3. @ E. Murphy and Ellen2: Not clear to me. For actual garbage pickup, we’re asked to put all garbage in…what else? plastic bags! That includes any yard trimmings we choose to drop in the giant garbage bins. I guess they expect us to buy garbage bags, or maybe to wrap wet garbage in sheets of newsprint?

    I have the same issue with the dog mounds. Normally I save plastic bags for mound pickup, either in the backyard or while on doggie walks. The tube-shaped plastic bags that come with the newspaper are perfect for doggie walks; grocery bags fit nicely into a small plastic trash can for backyard policing.

    To pick up the backyard, I have a big pooper-scooper, which can be carried into the alley and just dumped, its contents unwrapped, into the big bin. In fact, this would allow the dog doo-doo to compost quickly in the landfill. But…..but before it gets picked up, it’s gonna sit and ripen in the alley for three days to a week (depending on the garbage pickup guys’ mood). That will attract flies and annoyed neighbors.

    At least paper bags biodegrade. In that sense they’re an improvement over plastic bags. But the fact that cockroaches lay their eggs in them and the eggs then hatch when you bring the bags into your house could be regarded as a drawback…

    Thinking, thinking… What DID we do during the Pleistocene, back when no one ever saw a plastic grocery bag?

    Hmm…. Well, we got paper bags. There were little paper bags in the produce section, and at the checkout they packed all your little paper bags into regular big paper grocery bags. Meat — all meat — was wrapped in butcher paper; there were no Styrofoam trays with shrink-wrap in those days. I saved every paper bag (don’t ask about the roaches, please). These bags slipped perfectly inside the plastic trashcans that fit under the kitchen sink (cabinetry was larger when dinosaurs roamed the earth). I used the bags for garbage, and I also used them for wrapping packages to ship, and sometimes I would color them or stamp them and (believe it or not) use them for gift wrapping. Sometimes I made sewing and crafts patterns out of them. If you had a fireplace, you could use them for tinder.

    Dog mounds… I would dispose of the mounds in the alley, causing one of my neighbors to fly into apoplectic fits when he found them fertilizing the oleanders. If I felt polite, I would dump them in the steel one-household garbage can outside the back gate. The neighbor’s dog would then come along and knock over the garbage can, pull off the lid (even after I’d bungee-corded it down), and scatter the garbage and dog mounds all over the alley. This would cause more apoplectic fits, both on my part and on the neighbor’s.

    Those were the good old days!

  4. I’ve been using cloth bags for groceries forever. I don’t like the string mesh bags because they stretch too much (especially if you have heavy items) and things poke through the mesh. They’re best for light items or just a few things. I used some organic cotton ones for 20 years. Just replaced them with a recycled nylon-type that we really like. I also have a few nylon ones that stuff into an attached tiny bag, which is smaller, neater & lighter than a wadded up string bag.

    We do purchase plastic garbage liners for the kitchen – there are biodegradable and recycled ones on the market. For cat litter cleanup, we use either leftover plastic produce bags or the random plastic bag we still get from some retail stores. There are also cellophane (degradable) bags available if you’re hardcore.

    We also have a huge roll of produce-type bags we got from a grocery supply store (Smart & Final – not sure whether they’re just local to CA) when we were selling produce at a farmer’s market. I think it may last us a lifetime. Many of our customers at the farmers market brought their own collection of bags they were repurposing – produce or retail types, but we still had to provide bags for those who didn’t.

  5. Yes, ’tis a puzzlement. We have been putting trash inside plastic bags for decades now.

    I come from the same Ice Age as Funny and in the ’50s in the L.A. area there was some primitive recycling. We were supposed to use three trash receptacles. One for cans, one for actual food garbage and one for paper trash. That is AFTER they stopped the use of incinerators. I don’t know what they did with the stuff after they collected it.

    But I honestly don’t get using cloth bags for shopping while buying plastic liners for your trash cans.

  6. ERGH. Here I am: Debbie Downer. I always find it ironic/strange that being sustainability often is presented as making more purchases!

    I must write a post about garbage. Mr. FS is obsessed with producing little garbage and, indeed, we hardly have any most weeks. We do have some obese raccoons who are obviously chowing down on the compost.

  7. @ frugalscholar: LOL! I can just picture those raccoons now! Will they eat meat scraps, too, or are they strictly vegetarian?

    I suppose one could make shopping bags with fabric scraps from around the house…or, w00t! so obvious! From old skirts and jeans! Actually, a recycled jeans bag would make a good shopping bag, because its pockets would give you places to hold small, fragile items.

    You do need something to wipe up the water and grease around the kitchen. I try to avoid paper towels as much as possible, but they’re so convenient I find myself slipping back into the habit of using them all the time. A pad that supposedly will last as long as 15 rolls of paper towels seems like a product that would cause you, over the long run, to buy less instead of more.

    There are some things you do have to buy…food, for example. If you can get it in bulk with as little packaging as possible, you kill two birds with one…uhm, whatever. Often you can get it cheaper, and you end up with less cardboard, paper, and plastic to throw out. Stuff like baking soda, vinegar, and rubbing alcohol, you’re likely to have around the house anyway. Though obviously you’d have to buy more of it if you planned to use it for cleaning, the return on investment would be large savings on expensive commercial cleaners.

    The Kindle, I will say, is a pricey little number. Also I’m suspicious of its lasting power… In a way, I’d rather have a book, because I know Amazon (or whoever) can’t take it away from me if they decide maybe it shouldn’t be published, as has happened in the past, and because a real book doesn’t rely on electronics to work. On the other hand, real books are expensive, they require the purchase or construction of bookshelves, and they take up a ton of space. Plus they sure are heavy when you have to move! 😀

  8. Not done yet here. About that Skoy cloth being better than 15 rolls of paper towels. Sounds great. But do you wash it somehow? I mean I use sponges to wipe around the kitchen to save using paper towels. But I can only stretch them for a week because they get nasty. Then I have to toss them.

    Was wondering how the Skoy cloth will deal with that.

    Keep us apprised.

  9. @ E. Murphy: Yes. The instructions say you can run it through a dishwasher (my sister-in-sin does this with sponges, to good effect, BTW), wash it in a clothes washer, or zap it (wet, not dry!) in the microwave. Loral says she’s tried all three of these, and that her Skoy cloth has never picked up that familiar stink we all love to hate with sponges.

    Apparently, if you’re going to put it in the micro it’s REALLY important for it to be wet–zapping a dry one can start a fire. Also the tag says to remember it’s going to be very hot coming out of the microwave.

    I’ve managed to extend the life of sponges by massaging a squirt of dish detergent into a damp sponge and then setting it on edge (instead of flat) next to the sink or in the dish drainer. If you rinse the sponge every time you finish with it, saturate it with detergent, and leave the broad sides exposed to air, that seems to delay the growth of smelly microorganisms. And it has the advantage that your sponge is always soapy and ready to go.

  10. oops! Just re-read these comments and mine has a typo – it should read 5cents instead of 25. Sorry!