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The Be the Change Project’s Top Tips for Regenerative Living: Part 5

 

Photo by Peter Grubb

Voluntary Poverty paradoxically has provided us with more time for hobbies and travel: backpacking with the kids and nephew in the Sierras

Number 5 in our series for tips to live more regeneratively.  Climate change bad, regenerative living good!

The word “regeneration” means to be born again or to make over and it stems from the word “genesis” which means origin or when something came into existence.  And “Genesis” (big “G”) is the first book of the Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible which describes how God made the world. So, if you’re Jewish or Christian maybe trying to live regeneratively is doing God’s work.  Or rehabilitating God’s original work.  Or something like that.  Anyway, it’s good work worth doing.  

We’ve chosen to live in voluntary poverty not because of religious or spiritual calling per se but as another way of putting connection over consumption, of health (big picture) before wealth, simplicity with service, passions…(what’s a word that starts with “p”?), blah, blah, blah.  I wrote about this in a previous Mother blog article and got some great responses.  I don’t want to repeat myself here in my new “Top Tips…” series so check out that piece for the whole picture.  I’ve tried to distill this article to the basics while offering some new insights.

Here are the details:

Our family of four has lived on between $6,000 and $14,000 over the last 8 or 9 years  
It was a several-year journey to get there which started with job-sharing
We fundraised/crowdsourced to buy our home with help from over 200 supporters.  It cost $40K, was a complete wreck, and we bought it at the bottom of the market
We pay forward their investment in us through community, enviro, and social justice work. Their support has been the wind beneath our wings.
We have few bills (and no electric or oil) and property taxes are low in Reno (like $400/year for us)
We grow lots of food, volunteer for most of the rest
We earn money through a mix of work for our nonprofit, natural building, writing, teaching, construction
We share with friends and neighbors: stuff, time, knowledge...that creates circles of connection, friendship and caring
We get Medicaid (see my blog on health) but also work hard to stay healthy and create healthy communities
We buy used or salvage & upcycle resources before buying new (or “ScAvenge!” as I like to call it)
Our kids are our biggest single expense - camps, classes, sports, activities, music lessons…
It’s challenging, fun, inspires creativity, requires a lot of time at home/on our land
It paradoxically provides us with lots of free time (be it weekly or seasonal) to pursue our interests
We’ve learned so many new skills from candle-making to rabbit-raising, canning to dehydrating that have connected us with more people, our food, our land
Money’s not evil, just another tool we get to choose how to use

It’s not a choice that went over well with my mom who described my lifestyle as pathetic and pauper-ish.  That stung a bit but heck, trying to live in alignment with one’s values is not always a cake-walk (and we’re good, now). I get where she’s coming from, too; she wants the best for me and her family worked hard to get their part of the American Dream.  There’s nothing wrong with that except that now we know that how we’ve done the American Dream is destroying life as we know it.  Can we take the good and leave the bad while moving forward with love, wisdom, and compassion?  That’s the work of our time.  

Here are my tips for getting to voluntary poverty:

1. Read the book, Your Money or Your Life. This will help you prioritize your stuff, jobbing, and time.

2. Take small steps regularly; risks and leaps when you’re able.  This might be giving up a car, downsizing significantly into a smaller living space, finding opportunities for sharing, getting creative with jobbing...

3. Think contextually to make these bigger changes: in other words what changes can occur at the systems levels (water, heat, food…) or in your environment that strike more deeply at habits and have greater impact.

4. Find guides, people here now and from the past.  Put your life into the context of history - who’s done it before (sages, mystics, faith traditions, back-to-the-landers…), what was their story, how does it resonate with what you’re doing?  

People will be intrigued by what you’re doing and why so...

5. Craft your story and be able to share it powerfully.  Stories impact people more than information and, guess what, lead to more connection and opportunities for regenerative living.


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The Be the Change Project’s Top Tips for Regenerative Living: Special Report! Action for Insects

 

This is an unexpected but timely entry in my ongoing series on tips for regenerative living.   Unexpected because I had not meant to include a separate piece just for insects: we support them through many of our homesteading and community-building activities and their health and wellbeing are nurtured alongside the other beneficiaries from a regenerative lifestyle.  But, that was before I read a shocking article last week in The New York Times Magazine called, “The Insect Apocalypse is here.” 

With a title like that it’s no surprise that it’s more big-time bad news, this time concerning the dramatic decrease in insect numbers (both in species diversity and biomass) across the world.  It’s a powerful and depressing read but important to give more context to our time, our work, our lives.  In it, the author, Brooke Jarvis, shares several draw-dropping statistics about insect and other animal declines up the food web.  Here are a few standouts:

By weight, the abundance of flying insects in German nature preserves decreased 75% over 27 years

The world’s largest king penguin colony shrank by 88% in 35 years

The population of monarch butterflies fell by 90% in the last 20 years, a loss of 900 million individuals (see my greywater article which talks about monarchs and milkweed here)

More than 97 percent of the bluefin tuna that once lived in the ocean are gone

96% of the total biomass of mammals is human and livestock; just 4% is wild animals

Wow!  Talk about a punch in the gut. Further, she shares that scientist and author E.O. Wilson has termed our epoch the Eremocine, the age of loneliness. Sigh, sad face emoji. This being a blog about tips for regenerative living, what can we do to address this nightmare?  Choose one:

Watch more Fox News (or CNN or MSNBC or whatever)

Curl up in the shower and suck our thumbs

Go shopping

Drink excessive amounts of alcohol

Design our landscapes to support a diversity of insect life

No, not really.  Our land - a half acre in a semi-urban Reno neighborhood - was equal parts bare dead soil and pokey invasive weeds when we moved onto it in August of 2011.  We noticed very few insects and birds other than the colony of house sparrows nesting in the ivy.  We started soil-building that first week when we met a neighborhood landscaper who was happy to dump truckloads of grass and leaves in our backyard.  We followed with loads of wood chips, aggressive composting (all types...all types), some purchased soil and compost every now and again, scores and scores of scAvenged, funky straw bales, nutrient-accumulating plantings, chicken, rabbit, and goat manure, and the occasional infusion of seaweed, mountain sand, and animal carcasses.  Seven years later we now have amazing soil rich in nutrients and humus that supports a vast diversity of insects and microbes along with plants. 

Now we are blessed with katydids and cicadas, butterflies, moths, beetles, bees, wasps, praying mantises, spiders galore, centipedes and millipedes, the occasional mosquito, wood borers, grasshoppers and crickets, ants and ant lions, flies, snakeflies, dragonflies, earwigs and potato bugs, and more.  Not all are considered “beneficial” to the urban gardener but overall they contribute to a healthy system. This insect life in turn supports animals up the web but birds most of all - the happiest addition to our land.  I could write another list, but...OK, I will. I like lists:

Robins
Mourning doves, pigeons
Starlings
Various sparrows
Mountain chickadee
Steller’s Jay
Great Horned Owl
Scrub jay
Hummingbird
Woodpeckers
Flicker
Lots of little gray birds
Nuthatches
Goldfinch, house finch
American kestrel
Cooper’s hawk
Red-tailed hawk
Golden Eagle (attacking a chicken)
Cedar waxwing

Some nest, some pass through. Twice this past summer I was heartened by comments about the bird life on our place. The first exclaimed, “My god, there so many birds here” and the second came from a first-time visitor biking over for a natural building class: “I figured this was your place because of all the bird song.”  That’s a nice reward for the years of effort. 

Here’s some of what we’ve done at our place that supports insect life and life in general:

Planted native species

Built a greywater system: read my article and go to work

Composted and built soil:  read my article and go to work, again

Installed perennial polycultures throughout our property

• Established a food forest in our backyard that’s a mix of trees (fruit, nut, natives…), nutrient accumulators, berry bushes, shrubs, herbs and flowers.  It’s at about year 5 now and really starting to pop in terms of productivity.

Built a pond: read my article

Kept records of what’s on/visits our space and linked up with scientists and conservation orgs. We actually haven’t done this yet in any scientific manner (poco a poco) but our buddies run Nevada Bugs & Butterflies so I’m reaching out to them as soon as I get home

Lastly, we always consider how we can stack functions and amplify all of these actions at the neighborhood and community scale.  This includes sharing seeds, plants, compost, labor, knowledge and enthusiasm

Don’t have land?  Get some planters on a sill, work with those that do have land (including community efforts, schools, parks…), go guerrilla and plant the “edges” - along sidewalks, empty lots, etc, volunteer with bug people, and so on. 

Here’s another quote from E.O. Wilson:

"If we were to wipe out insects alone on this planet, the rest of life and humanity with it would mostly disappear from the land.  Within a few months.”

Are we just pissing in the wind with our efforts?  Maybe.  But I’ll be pissing on my perennial polycultures. 


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Rights for Doljanka River in the Blue Heart of Europe

Doljanka River by Anes Podic

Source: Doljanka River by Anes Podic

The Bosnia River Action Network Advocacy (BRANA) in Bosnia and Herzegovina https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bosnia_and_Herzegovina, seeks recognition of rights for the beautiful Doljanka River, one of the few wild rivers left in Europe which is now being threatened by a hydropower plant. Members include Earth Law Center, Eko akcija (“eco action”) and Gotusa

The Blue Heart of Europe

By NordNordWest

Source: By NordNordWest [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The blue heart of Europe refers to the wild rivers that still exist, primarily in the Balkans. Over 80% of these vital lifelines are still healthy. By comparison, only 10 percent of Germany's rivers is still classified as near-natural, whereas 60 percent are heavily regulated

A documentary produced by the firm Patagonia, Blue Heart highlights how 3,000 hydropower plants planned across the Balkans will destroy the last wild rivers in Europe. Dams destroy rivers. Activism on the ground grows. EcoAlbania won its first court case against one of the largest approved dam projects. Local communities in other parts of the Balkans are fighting back as well

Three-quarters of the rivers in the Balkans are so ecologically valuable that they should be completely off-limits for hydropower development, according to a recent assessment.

Destruction of the Doljanka River

Financed by the former NBA Player Mirza Teletović, construction and development teams started destroying the river banks in order to lay 1.8 meter diameter pipes at a pace of 100 feet a day, according to Anes Podic, of Eko Akcija (Eco Action) in Bosnia. They have obtained an environmental permit based on flawed impact studies.

''This is just the latest example - we now see and hear almost weekly of the Balkans wild rivers being destroyed,'' says Podic.

The sacrifice of the river isn’t even worth it. Most of the small hydro plants in the region produce no more than 1 megawatt (MW) each — roughly enough to power 750 homes, but environmentalists say they disrupt fish migration routes and pose a threat to dozens of species, including the Danube Salmon and Balkan Lynx.

“In a world in which the climate is changing, the value of hydro becomes more uncertain,”says Peter Gleick of the Oakland, California–based Pacific Institute. “We know that one of the worst impacts of climate change will be impacts on water—on droughts, on floods, on demand [via increased evaporation].” 

Doljanka River by Anes Podic3

Source: Doljanka River by Anes Podic

Eco-Tourism

With almost a decade of ethnic conflict behind them, the Balkans seek to rebuild their economies with the help of tourism, promoting their rich history while appealing to eco-tourists seeking wilderness adventures such as hiking, kayaking, white-water rafting and caving.

Call to Action to Defend Doljanka:

Watch the video.

Sign the petition.

Donate here.

More about partner organizations

Eko akcija, based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, is working on pressing environmental problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina such as protection of its rich biodiversity, water supplies, air pollution, garbage disposal thru grassroots campaigns. They are founded by Green Visions who pioneered eco-tourism movement in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Gotusa are a grassroots community organizer from Fojnica and have been instrumental in the fight so far.

Earth Law Center works to transform the law to recognize and protect nature’s inherent rights to exist, thrive and evolve. This includes advancing the inherent rights of rivers through initiatives with local partners to secure rights recognition.

By Eberhard Grossgasteiger from unsplash.com

Source:by eberhard grossgasteiger unsplash.com

Darlene May Lee is Executive Director of Earth Law Center, which works to transform the law to recognize and protect nature’s inherent rights to exist, thrive and evolve. She works to build a force of advocates for nature's rights at the local, state, national, and international levels. Connect with Earth Law Center on TwitterFacebookand LinkedIn. Read all of Darlene’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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The Be the Change Project’s Top Tips for Regenerative Living #4 Compost & Soil Building

 

Katy making a Biodynamic compost pile in our backyard with restaurant scraps, coffee, straw, and amendments.

This is the fourth installment of my series on tips for regenerative living. Our goals are to improve the environment around us while nurturing closer connections to home and community.  Each tip requires a little more energy and a little more chutzpah to make happen but, hey, it’s worth it.   Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

Of all there is to do in our backyards (actual or figurative), I can’t think of any other process that is as blatantly regenerative as improving soil.  And, at the heart of soil building is composting.  As things are now, most of our country’s organic waste winds up in the landfill.  This is a no-no.  Once there it decomposes anaerobically giving off methane gas while creating a toxic leachate that can foul groundwater.  Instead, we can transmute our food and yard scraps into nourishing compost that gets nutrients to plants, holds and filters groundwater, creates habitat for critters, sequesters carbon in the soil...and so on.  It’s modern day alchemy - the transformation of lesser materials into veritable gold.  There’s serious science to composting, of course, but it’s also just not that hard to do.  Go online (motherearthnews.com, for example) or grab a book from the library to get the basics and get started.  Regenerative living takes some effort so set up a composting system that works with your life so it becomes part of what you do and who you are.

NOTE: You may be thinking that composting is not so hard, not so radical, and you’re right!  But how many of us don’t do it?  And, if you do, how can you do it with more impact on multiple levels (what’s called “stacking functions” in Permaculture parlance)?

We’ve been composting at our BTC homestead since day one and we were far from experts when we started.  However, we learned by doing and by getting advice from friends.  We got so into composting that we eventually launched two successful composting businesses:  the Reno Rot Riders (Reno’s first compost collection service) and Wormtopia (vermicomposting at a larger scale).  Both of them have helped increase composting awareness in town, developed composting advocates, and actually composted tons and tons of material that have improved soils and grown plants all around Reno. 

So, in addition to composting for yourself or signing up with a compost collection service here’s some bigger actions to take if your city’s behind the times and needs some role models like you:

Involve your friends and neighbors.  If you have the space, or someone in your ‘hood does, make a drop-off spot to get more people and bigger piles in action.  Leaves, food, grass clippings...This may not be legal but do it anyway and be sure to keep it clean and perty.   

“What are you in for?”

“Composting.”

And they all moved away from me on the bench there, with the hairy eyeball (“Alice’s Restaurant” lyrics, mostly)

Host several green waste days to collect large quantities of organic matter.  Pick a day, tell your friends and neighbors, get a dumpster dropped off, charge a little fee, and fill it with green waste (leaves and grass clippings) to be brought to a nearby composter.  Look to local orgs for allies.

Start a collection business.  From small to large there are successful examples out there   (check out the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Composting site). There are opportunities with restaurants or cafes (trade for meals or espressos), events (both public and private), residential (a kid on a bike in your ‘hood). 

Teach.  Once you know what you’re doing, mainly, offer some classes to share the knowledge.

Importantly, measure your success by both how much you collect & compost and by the connections that result from your efforts. That is regenerative living on multiple levels.


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The Be the Change Project’s Top Tips for Regenerative Living #3 Health and Health Care

 

This is my third entry in our series, Top Tips for Regenerative Living where we take a deeper dive into what we can do and how we can be to live better for ourselves and the planet.  Each “tip” includes what we’ve learned from our lives with our Be the Change Project, background info giving some of the bigger picture, and usually a suggested stretch or two to help guide changemakers. Tip one. Tip two.

Health and health care are biggies for regenerative living.  Like the biosphere around us, when we’re ill things start to break down.  And there’s serious economic costs, too: health costs average $4,800/year per household and represent 18% of our overall GDP.  So what is our role on a personal level within this big system that helps us live more connected and regenerative lives?

When I present about our lives and work (which includes voluntary poverty, simple living…) people often ask how we navigate health care.  What they usually mean, though, is how do we pay for health insurance.  The short answer is that we don’t; we’re poor so we’re on Medicaid and Medicaid is just about free.  The longer answer, and what I share in detail, is a more holistic approach to healthier lives, communities, and ecosystems.  During the conversation I am also sure to point out that we take our health very seriously and that we are grateful to receive health care as needed.  It is a gift and one we’d like everyone to receive through Universal Health Care, Medicaid for All...whatever we choose to call it.  For us, it’s a human right that‘s encompassed by “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”  

Here are some examples of our Be the Change Project health care program:

Low-stress: We are, in large part, spending our time doing what we want to do and what we feel called to do.  Of course we’re still raising children, married, engaging with friends and neighbors in America in the 21st century, but we’re hardly jobbing and our immediate needs - shelter, food, water and warmth - are covered. 

Good Diet: We raise and eat a significant percentage of our own food.  It is all grown organically and our animals are raised with a lot of love and space.  Seasonal and fresh eating is the norm be it with hearty greens through the winter, apples in the fall, cherries in the summer, eggs potatoes, onions, garlic...all year from the root cellar. 

Beauty: What if every object in our lives was both beautiful and useful?  Now, we’re not there yet but we have made progress through the years and that’s been a function of how well we’ve gotten our systems to run and how much time that has allowed us to practice beautification. 

Flowers and plants, design of our space, natural materials, old and reused materials all contribute to good vibes on our property where we spend most of our time.  Along with the physical representation of beautiful objects, there is also the great satisfaction of making a beautiful thing and using it in our daily lives.  A good example of this is our cob oven which we built over a couple workshops with good people and then finished with a tadelakt plaster. It is so well-shaped and the finish is so lustrous that I can’t pass by it without running a hand over it or outright laying atop it.  And, we use it for pizza parties - gatherings with friends and music around fresh-cooked food.  Beauty and function.  Amen!

Sunshine and Fresh Air: We’re outside a lot!

Abundant Sleep: I wake up about 20 minutes before sunrise every day throughout the year no matter what the season.  I get tired when it gets dark and go to bed early.  I sleep a lot in the winter.  In short, we live with our natural circadian rhythms. 

Community: We have a wide and diverse community of people who love, or a least like us.  Throughout our week we get to engage with people on different levels as neighbors, friends, family, collaborators, and even strangers.  

Leisure time: Every Sunday I play basketball with a great group of guys.  Most nights with my family we’ll play a game or read aloud.  Often we have potlucks, get-togethers, sing-alongs.  And, we are able to travel, often for extended periods of time, to see friends, to work, to explore, to learn. 

Craft & Mastery: I am learning and improving at my crafts year-by-year.  My passion is natural building.

Fitness: I walk, hike, play ball, and work out multiple times a week. 

Creativity: This is happening all the time with our projects, building, art, writing and organizing. 

We also share a lot of what we grow and about how we live which sends ripples of wellbeing further into the world maybe helping others live healthier lives.  Our healthy land, too, sends its own ripples to passersby and the broader ecosystem. Altogether, a pretty amazing health plan. 

By this time, as you might imagine, the conversation about health care has moved beyond  health insurance.


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West Paw: A Pet Products Company Helping The Environment

Plastics polluting the oceans are a common sight on news outlets these days. Plastic water bottles seem to be one of the biggest culprits. I’m constantly looking for ways to reverse the damage done by plastic. During research I conducted on The Heathman Hotel in Portland Oregon for a story on pet-friendly travel; I stumbled across West Paw. Here’s what a Heathman press release said that caught my attention:

As believers in the luxury of a good night’s sleep, when travelers check into any of Provenance Hotels’ eight properties with a furry family member in tow, they will find their room equipped with a plush dog toy and an Eco Nap pet bed produced by West Paw Design. Created using recycled plastic bottles and eco-friendly materials, these lightweight sustainably produced pet mats make for dreamy travel beds, perfect for adding comfort to travel carriers or positioned bedside in a guestroom.

Sophie in bed

Author's dog Sophie loves her West Paw bed.

Intrigued, I looked up West Paw online and read their Who We Are page. When I saw that they have recycled over 15 million plastic bottles to make toys and beds I was sold. I purchased a bed and toy from their website immediately. My dog Sophie loves her West Paw bed and we take on all our road trips. It seems Sophie is able to relax at a strange home for the night when she has her own bed. With over 300 million pets in the U.S.A. just think of how many plastic water bottles would get re-used if half of those pet owners bought a pet bed made from recycled plastics!

There’s a growing concern for our world’s use of single-use plastics and many of us are looking for ways to do our part. We reduce, re-use, and recycle what we can to help. What we need is more companies manufacturing goods from recycled plastics that consumer’s desire.

Digging deeper I fired off several questions for West Paw’s CEO and President, Spencer Williams to share with Mother Earth News readers. Here’s what West Paw’s Amy Schumann said Spencer had to say about my questions and concerns.

When did Spencer decide to use recycled plastics in dog beds and toys and why?

Spencer Williams bought a small pet toy company in 1996. A 5th generation Montana, Spencer grew up on a ranch in Montana and was determined to take care of the place he called home.  One way he knew he could take care of this land he loved was to manufacture pet products in a sustainable manner, and source environmentally friendly materials that could help lessen the company's carbon footprint.  This desire to do the right thing solidified West Paw's leadership role in the "green" movement among pet product manufacturers.

 One way Spencer went about sourcing environmentally responsible materials, e.g., recycled plastic, was utilizing technologies and materials that were already in existence but not used in the pet industry. After seeing a pair of recycled plastic Birkenstock socks in a shoe store in Bozeman, Montana, Spencer was curious how recycled plastic could be turned into clothing. Spencer followed the trail to find the supplier, and West Paw is happy to report they have been using this type of recycled plastic fill in their eco-friendly pet beds and toys ever since. To date, West Paw has kept over 15 million plastic bottles out of the landfill, a huge point of pride for their 70+ employees.

How hard was it to fund the startup of the company?

Spencer purchased a small cut and sew pet toy company and with a small team turned that company into what is now known as West Paw, a world-class manufacturer that sells in over 35 international markets.

Why Montana when it's so much cheaper to manufacture outside the US?

West Paw is about attracting and keeping exceptional local talent that makes our unique company culture thrive. Bozeman, Montana is a tight-knit mountain community with a commitment to sustainable growth and land conservation. As a fifth-generation Montanan, Spencer was serious about putting down roots in Bozeman and investing in people, especially those with a Montana work ethic. As a community, Bozeman gives our employees and their families a healthy place to grow and it’s full of pet lovers who have helped West Paw test the durability of their toys and the comfort of their beds. West Paw has made pet products in this special place for over 20 years, and because of these reasons, they have no plans to leave.

Was there ever a concern of toxicity using recycled plastic?

Never. West Paw's eco-friendly recycled fabric, fill and batting has all been tested for safety by a third-party international certifier, Oeko-Tex. This is the same company that tests the safety of the fabrics used in children's toys and baby carriers. After all, pets are our family and we take their safety seriously.

What has the growth of the company been like from day one?

Over our past 22 years, West Paw has experienced steady growth with a few bumps in the road. We've been lucky enough to have operated in Montana since 1996 and luckily the vast majority of those years have seen financial growth. Since 2012, we have practice Open Book Management (OBM) to keep our employees knowledgeable about the company's financial health. We have discovered that practicing OBM increases employee involvement in day-to-day decisions which results in more buy-in. As a result, most years West Paw has experienced growth and offered more jobs to people in their community.  

What eco-friendly practices does West Paw engage in other than making products from recycled plastics?

Wet Paw uses eco-friendly hemp in our leashes and collars. Hemp is an incredible agriculture product as it does not require much water and grows extremely fast. It is strong, so great for collars and leashes and soft to the touch (for both humans and dogs). We also use excess materials from our Montana Naps to make our Montana plush toys.  By cutting materials smartly, we reduce the amount of scrap material that goes into the landfill. 

West Paw lessens their environmental impact by using technology that allows them to greatly reduce paper usage, they have seen a 600-lb. reduction in paper. West Paw installed LED lights that will result in a 60% reduction of energy over the prior metal halide light fixtures. Additionally, they redesigned their product packaging to use 25% less material than their previous packaging. 

In 2017 alone over 1,480 pounds of post-consumer Zogoflex® were recycled. (Through their Join the Loop® recycling program West Paw has recycled over 6,600 pounds of Zogoflex material back into our Zogoflex toys since 2014.)

What future products might be in the works?

West Paw is looking forward to diversifying their product offerings. In 2018, West Paw introduced our first collection of leashes and collars and in 2019 we have more exciting news that we look forward to sharing with our consumers and retail partners in the near future. 

What Can You Do ?

Find manufacturers that sell products made from recycled plastics.
Come up with your own idea to form a company making useful goods from recycled materials.
Reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Buy beverages in aluminum or glass containers instead of plastic when possible.

I hope Mother Earth News readers find their own solutions for re-using the glut of single-use plastics. Maybe there’s an untapped business opportunity that’s as good as West Paw for you to develop and make our planet cleaner and safer. I remain hopeful we will fix this problem before it’s too late.

Sophie and author at the top of Independence Pass Colorado

Sophie and author at the top of Independence Pass on Colorado road trip.

Kurt Jacobson writes about travel, food, wine, organic gardening, and most anything else from his varied professional life. His articles appear in Alaska Magazine, Fish Alaska Magazine, Metropolis Japan Magazine, Edible Delmarva Magazine, North West Travel and Life Magazine, and Mother Earth News. Kurt lives in the Baltimore, MD area with his wife, dog and cats. Kurt’s articles also appear on several websites like:GoNomad.comTrip101.comMotherEarthNews.comAdventuresstraveler.comand several others. Kurt is a regular contributor to GoNomad.com writing about Alaska, Colorado, New Zealand, Japan, and the Mid-Atlantic areas.


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The Be the Change Project’s Top Tips for Regenerative Living #2 Greywater

 

This is the second installment of our Be the Change Project’s tips for regenerative living. Here is the first.  We’re out to restore and improve the environment while also improving our quality of life through closer connections to people, place, and purpose.

What comes up in your mind when you hear the word “greywater”?  Several years ago before we lived with greywater systems at several places across the country I would have pictured some fancy system of pipes and filters, probably a storage tank, maybe even a pond with cattails and some fish.  It would probably involve some expensive gizmos, maybe a pump, too, that had to be found online and was made in China.  But what did I know then?  Very little.

Creating and maintaining a greywater system is easy to do. Don’t let the word, “system” scare you, though, because a system is just a solution with multiple parts.  Sure, a big system like health care can quickly become complex but we’re just talking about dribbling your water into your backyard.  A hole in the wall, a couple pipes, and a hole in the ground (technically called a “mulch basin”) are the basics.  There is a strange tendency in people to complicate systems so consider yourself warned as you start your research.  And, fine, depending on your home’s foundation or your living circumstances you may need a pump or a bucket or a hose or some other stuff made in China but that’s OK.  Just remember that in most cases simple is the rule and learning (read: mistakes) will happen along your journey. 

Check the laws, too. I’m pretty sure every system I’ve lived with was not code-approved, God help us, but every system worked and served a higher purpose.   

Having a greywater system is, to be clear, another responsibility.  In terms of effort it falls somewhere between owning a cat and having a pet rock: not much but it’s there.  We have to remember that we can’t expect meaningful connections to nature and place to just happen around our conventional toxic homes in cities or suburbia without some conscious input.  A walk on a lovely beach and Bam! you’re in the moment with the cosmos. My backyard that backs up to a busy road with crummy condos perched above our doings?  Not so much.  Connection and regenerative living takes a little something.  But, this responsibility is a good thing because what living with greywater does is create a positive feedback loop that impacts what we buy, what we throw “away” and how we live. One has to be a grown up and change their habits to do right by greywater.  Follow along with me as I wax poetic about our own Greywater experience to see what I mean:

Since day one of BTC when we first started fixing up our wreck of a home, we’ve been routing all of our sink, shower, and wash water into a wood chip mulch basin in our backyard.  Choosing greywater started a feedback loop that caused us to stop buying nasty cleaners and soaps because if we put those down the sink in an attempt to throw them “away” they would now go into our backyard.  Yuck!  So one choice impacts another.  And if we’re not buying nasty soap then maybe we’re supporting a smaller company that makes greywater-safe soap that is also trying to be the change.  Loops...

And, then, with this water in our backyard, how about we plant some berry bushes there and tomatoes in the summer and maybe earth worms show up by the thousands and help feed our chickens which give us more nutritious eggs and happier hens.  And then those wood chips break down over a year or so and become mulch for our trees making better soils that support more carbon sequestration and hold water which in turn reduces our irrigation needs while providing more habitat for bugs and birds.  Loops...

Next, milkweed shows up in our basin, too.  Milkweed; with it’s pods of fluff that burst open and send their seeds on the wind hoping to find a spot just wet enough to take root and grow and thrive.  Milkweed; on which monarch butterflies lay their eggs and which is the exclusive food for their caterpillars.  Monarchs, amazing monarchs, who, over several generations in each season, migrate thousands of miles north and south and who are now threatened due to habitat loss.  Monarchs which now call our yard home for their young.

And every person who tours our place learns this and, if the season is right, might even see a majestic and beautiful and bold black-orange-white monarch flitting about during that tour.  And our youngest son is sure to find us everytime he sees a monarch because he too knows they’re special even though he may not realize, yet, that they’re here because we drilled a hole in our wall and ran a pipe into a pit.  One choice became a system, became an example, became an inspiration that has led others to drill holes in their walls and await the milkweed and the monarch.

Make a bold and beautiful statement yourself and get that greywater going. 


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