Amphibians On The Farm

Teeny tiny baby toads have emerged on our farm this week. I’m not sure how many there are (dozens, hundreds?) but there are more than I’ve ever seen. Members of the new generation are currently smaller than garden peas.

That huge boulder on the right of this picture? A small piece of driveway gravel. The giant shellbark hickory shell on the left? Just a little acorn.

Frogs and toads are some of the most delicate members of our ecosystem when it comes to herbicide and pesticide exposure. One study from the University of Pittsburgh found that even at low levels, the common herbicide Roundup® killed 71% of tadpoles, and at normal use levels, the same herbicide killed 79% of all frogs within a day. Because we are an organic farm, herbicides like these have not been used on this land since my husband and I purchased it in 2015. The transformation has been significant and astonishing. After three years, the fireflies returned to our fields in breathtaking numbers. The gathering of butterflies and birds has been more gradual, but the steady increase each year has been noteworthy. After five years I started to notice more reptiles and amphibians. A snake took up residence in my garden, then it raised offspring there. Frog and toad sightings have gradually become more common, and my issues with other pests (insects, voles, etc) are significantly declining as their predators increase. A full seven years after transitioning this farm to organic and regenerative methods, this toad population boom has arrived. The ecosystem is balancing.

Not only are the tiny little toads adorable, they are true garden allies. They eat insects and garden pests like slugs, beetles, and flies. They don’t harm plants, and they don’t bite (they don’t even have teeth).

So what can you do to increase the population of frogs and toads in your garden? First of all, adopt an organic approach to land management, and stop spraying herbicides and pesticides. You can also create a toad habitat in your garden, which should include water, shelter, and native plants. Birds&Blooms offers a detailed guide to creating your own toad habitat. I find that my toads enjoy hanging out in a less formal toad habitat (my potted planters and seedling trays).

Check out this cute little chamomile seedling

Thank you for taking the time to consider the needs and wellbeing of these important amphibian neighbors. I wish you a bountiful summer!

If you enjoyed this totally ad-free, affiliate-link-free, sponsored-content-free, subscription-fee-free, 100% honest free article, please consider sending some love my way! You can help further this cause of Earth-positive agriculture by commenting on this blog, sharing this article with your friends, following me on social media, and interacting with my posts. If you’re feeling especially generous, you could also toss me a few coins through a free platform called Ko-Fi, or make a purchase from my online shop. Thank you for reading.
“Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.” -Garrison Keillor

Whole Earth

I recently read the book “Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life” by Edward O. Wilson. It’s a very thought-provoking book about the rapidly declining biodiversity on planet Earth. In the book, he proposes that the only way to limit future extinctions in a meaningful way is to leave half the planet totally wild, without human intervention. In the other half, our human half, he suggests we concentrate some of our existing activities. Among other things, he suggests we turn to more intense agriculture with more genetically modified crops in an attempt to limit the amount of land we have to damage with our agriculture.

I think Mr. Wilson makes a lot of good points in his book, and his observations on extinctions are certainly eye-opening. But at the end of the book when he proposed his solution, I found myself imagining a different one. What if, instead of separating ourselves more completely from the wild and thriving parts of the Earth, we connected ourselves more deeply? What if, instead of further intensifying our agricultural practices, we rewilded them?

“Clearing a forest for agriculture reduces habitat, diminishes carbon capture, and introduces pollutants that are carried downstream to degrade otherwise pure aquatic habitats en route. With the disappearance of any native predator or herbivore species the remainder of the ecosystem is altered, sometimes catastrophically.”

Edward O. Wilson, “Half Earth”

What if we didn’t farm this way at all? Strawberry Moon Farm is one example of a different kind of farm. On our land, where there once were acres of GM corn and soybeans sprayed with chemicals and likely shipped thousands of miles away for processing, now there are tended forests of native plants. These forests are still very young, but when they mature, my calculations show that they will produce more pounds of food annually than the industrial crops ever could. That food will be more nutritious and (in my own humble opinion) more delicious than industrially produced food. It is food that can be consumed locally, without industrial processing. It can be grown organically, and without irrigation.

While the land produces all this great food for people, it also provides habitat for all kinds of wildlife and insects because it is also a forest of native plants. I’m intentionally reintroducing and tending many species of threatened or endangered native plants to help them re-establish their populations. The farm is producing cleaner water and fresher air and sequestering carbon and preventing erosion at the same time and in the same space as producing food. In the few short years since this project began, flood waters soak into the now permeable earth in days rather than weeks. Butterflies and fireflies have returned in full force. Songbirds, bald eagles, hawks, owls, foxes, snakes, tree frogs, toads, two kinds of squirrels, and more thrive on the land. In the process of doing this work, my own personal connection to the land has deepened, providing immense physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits to me as a human.

“It sometimes seems as though the remainder of American native plants and animals are under deliberate assault by everything Humanity can throw at them. Leading the list in our deadly arsenal are the destruction of both wintering and breeding habitats, heavy use of pesticides, shortage of natural insect and plant food, and artificial light pollution causing errors in migratory navigation. Climate change and acidification pose newly recognized, yet game changing risks.”

Edward O. Wilson, “Half Earth”

I propose that it is not humanity itself but our present culture that assaults biodiversity. Prior to colonization, the Americas were not wild as is commonly said. The “wild” land that settlers “found” was actively and successfully stewarded by indigenous humans in a mutually beneficial partnership. The vast forests were skillfully managed and tended in a way that increased biodiversity, plant health, animal health, and human health.

What if, rather than limiting ourselves to living on half the earth, we rejoined the whole earth in harmony, reclaiming our place as caretakers and stewards of the wild places. What if we stopped eating twinkies and rekindled our taste for acorns and nettles and sunroots and wild berries. What if we didn’t cut down the forests, but replanted them? What if we disconnected our televisions and reconnected to the land. And what if we stocked our farms, yards, and communities with these wild native food plants. What might our world look like then?

Yes, I am proposing a big cultural shift, but a beautiful one. Rather than giving up half the planet, adopting a culture of restriction, and accepting our role as agents of destruction to everything good in our world, we could choose to reorient ourselves towards abundance, partnership, and care-taking. I don’t believe our hope for the future necessarily lies in genetically modified crops and more intensive bioidentical agriculture as Mr. Wilson proposes. Our future could be free, wild, and bountiful. We could grow healthy crops that are native to our bioregions and consume those nourishing foods locally. We could embrace our local ecosystems and work to enhance them. Rather than separate ourselves from the healthy part of the world, we could choose to thrive as a part of it.

For more information on agricultural methods that help make the world a better place, look for books and articles on the topics of Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Permaculture, Native Plant Agriculture, and Regenerative Agriculture. And check out these other articles from Strawberry Moon Farm:

If you enjoyed this totally ad-free, affiliate-link-free, sponsored-content-free, subscription-fee-free, 100% honest free article, please consider sending some love my way! You can help further this cause of Earth-positive agriculture by commenting on this blog, sharing this article with your friends, following me on social media, and interacting with my posts. If you’re feeling especially generous, you could also toss me a few coins through a free platform called Ko-Fi, or make a purchase from my online shop. Thank you for reading.
“Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.” -Garrison Keillor

Can You Beat an Energy Star Dishwasher?

A few months ago, my dishwasher stopped working. I had a lot going on in my life at the time, and since I had never fixed a dishwasher before, I knew it would take me considerable effort to learn how to take it apart and fix it. So I delayed that repair and instead tried life without a dishwasher.

Much to my amazement, I found that I actually like washing my dishes by hand! Back in my college days, I had such a negative experience washing my dishes in the dormitory bathroom sink that I never tried again in a full kitchen. It turns out, the process is very fast and easy in the double kitchen sink I now have, and I feel like I am actually spending less time washing dishes than I did when I used the dishwasher. I eventually repaired my dishwasher, but didn’t go right back to using it.

Intuitively, it feels like hand washing is more eco-friendly than using a dishwasher. Especially when I consider the whole picture, including the environmental cost of manufacturing, shipping, maintaining, running, and eventually disposing of the actual machine, plus other factors like pre-rinsing the dishes before loading them to prevent clogs like the one that inspired this whole inquiry. And while many people seem to agree, there are also numerous claims touting the opposite conclusion. Convictions run high on both sides of this argument, but the science runs low.

I zeroed in on an often-cited claim from the Energy Star web site: washing dishes by hand costs about $1300 more in water and energy vs washing with an Energy Star certified dishwasher over the 12 year expected lifetime of the dishwasher. This claim seemed surprising, specific, and credible given the source. I was curious how they came to that number, and I wanted to learn more. So I contacted EnergyStar to request more information about the scientific studies they conducted or referenced in order to reach that number. They were gracious enough to respond. This is an excerpt from the email they sent me:

“On average [study participants] used 42.3 gallons when hand-washing that test load…. The energy consumed during hand washing is from the water heater.”


Holy steam, 42.3 gallons is a lot of hot water! The average shower, by comparison, consumes about 17 gallons. This information illuminated a potential source of the confusion. While 42.3 gallons may be the average amount of hot water used to hand wash dishes, I suspected that it was possible to do better. But, is it possible to use less hot water when hand washing dishes than an efficient dishwasher uses? Which methods of hand dishwashing are most efficient? And which methods of hand dishwashing are most wasteful? I headed into my own kitchen to find out.

Note: this is a long article, so if you want to skip the details, feel free jump straight to the findings!


Faucet: My kitchen faucet is equipped with a low flow aerator that has a maximum output of 1.2 GPM (gallons per minute). I also have a spray wand off to the side, which has a maximum output of 0.55 GPM.

Sink: I am using a double sink (a sink split into two halves). Each side has a maximum capacity of 10 gallons.

Dishwasher: The dishwasher used in these tests is a Frigidaire LFBD2409LF0B purchased in approximately 2015, with an EnergyStar certification.

Environment: This is not a controlled lab experiment. I am more interested in real world data from a real kitchen. I have taken careful measurements and notes from my real life, which includes hand-wash-only dishes, double-load-days, and half-load-days.

Funding and Bias: This is a citizen science study, conducted at home, by me, because I was curious. No money was exchanged as a part of this study, and I’m not on anybody’s payroll.

Hand Dishwashing Methods, Compared

Part 1: Water-Wise Hand Dishwashing

Considering all the information I gathered in the parameters about water flow rates, I put forth my best effort to optimize my wash routine. On four separate days, I carefully measured my water use and documented my dishwashing strategy. Even in my worst attempt, I used only 5 gallons of hot water, less than a gallon more than my dishwasher’s Energy Saver cycle uses (not counting the pre-rinse water that I would have had to use in addition to running that cycle). My best attempt used only 2.5 gallons of water per load, nearly twice as efficient as the dishwasher. As long as I was being careful of my water usage, I never came anywhere near the 42.3 gallon average.

Soaking In The Wash Basin

  • Water Use: 5 Gallons
  • Time Spent: 25 Minutes
  • Notes: Since many of these dishes would have needed a pre-soak treatment even if they were being washed in the dishwasher, I would have needed 2-3 gallons of soaking water in addition to whatever the dishwasher uses.

With both sides of my double-sink clean and empty, I plug the drain in one side, add 1-2 TB of detergent, and turn on the hot water. As the hot water runs, I scrub some of my cleaner dirty dishes, the ones that don’t need soaking, and move them to the other side of the sink without rinsing. By the time a couple of inches of water have accumulated in the sink, I’ve typically finished with the original pile of dishes. I turn the water off. I continuously add dirty dishes to the reserved soaking water in the basin. Without running any more water, I use the soapy water in the sink to scrub those dishes, and when each one is scrubbed, I move it over to the other side of the sink. If there are more dishes, I keep repeating this process without using any additional water until all the dishes are scrubbed.

When all that is left is to rinse, I lift each soapy dish and individually, hold it over the basin filled with water, and spray it clean with the wand. That way, all the rinse water is collected in the basin for measurement. Note that use of the spray wand here contributes to efficiency, since it uses much less water than the main faucet, and because the water is more pressurized, it cleans the dishes faster.

If you anticipate generating more dirty dishes later in the day, you can leave the soaking water in the sink and reuse it until it becomes too dirty.

Reduced Soaking Water

  • Water Use: < 4 gallons
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Notes: I also washed a clay pot that did not fit in the dishwasher (not pictured), and some recyclables and plastic wrappers for ecobricks. That clay pot isn’t dishwasher safe, so I would have needed at least a gallon of additional water to soak and hand wash it separately, over and above whatever the dishwasher used.

I begin with a clean sink, plug the drain on one side, add soap, and begin filling the basin with hot water as I wash dishes. This time I only allowed 2 gallons of wash water to accumulate in the sink instead of 3. I scrubbed all the dishes in this 2 gallons of water. I found it worked just as well as the 3 gallons in Method 1. It took a little more time, due to smaller but more numerous soaking batches.

Fixed Position Wand

Faucet Wand

After a couple days of careful wash optimization, I contrived a slight modification to my setup. I mounted the spray wand onto the main faucet using two rubber bands. This allowed me to use both my hands to rinse the dishes, without having to hold the wand in one hand. This made it easier to rinse the plates, but harder to rinse the insides of glasses and bottles.

(Reminder: the reason I want to use the wand is to save water, because the flow rate of my wand is much lower than my faucet, while being more pressurized.)

Days With Multiple Loads & Reusable Soaking Water

  • Washed: one very-full-dishwasher-sized load and one pretty-full-dishwasher-sized load
  • Water Use: 5 gallons for two loads, an average of 2.5 gallons per load!
  • Time: ~50 minutes
  • Notes: In addition, I cleaned all the day’s recyclables in the same soaking water.

On the days when there are multiple loads of dishes to be washed in the same day, there is an even greater opportunity for water savings when hand washing by reusing the primary soaking water all day.

Part 2: Low Effort Hand Dishwashing Methods

We have seen how water and energy is used in hand dishwashing when a person is actively trying to conserve resources. Obviously, there are myriad ways to waste water while washing dishes, and I can’t test them all. But I did examine four specific short-cuts that I think are pretty common.

Not Fitting The Faucet With Low-Flow Aerators

You’ll recall from the Parameters section that I’m using a low-flow aerator and a super low-flow spray wand. Normal (not low) flow kitchen faucets output about 2.2 GPM. If you have one of these 2.2 GPM faucet aerators and you run hot water for 19.2 minutes, you have used 42.3 gallons of hot water like the participants in the Energy Star study.

If you have a 1.2 GPM aerator like the one I use on my faucet and you run hot water for 35.2 minutes, you have used 42.3 gallons like the participants in the EnergyStar study.

Using the spray wand with 0.55 GPM output, you would have to run hot water for 76.9 minutes to match the 42.3 gallons used by participants in the study.

Using The Main Faucet Instead Of The Spray Wand

In my own tests, regardless of how much water was allowed to accumulate in the wash basin, I used about 2 gallons of rinse water each time with the spray wand.

If I had not used the spray wand and instead used the faucet with 1.2 GPM aerator, I would have increased that rinse water usage to about 4.3 gallons, bringing my total water use to about 7 gallons.

If I had used a faucet with a not-low-flow 2.2 GPM output, I would have used about 8 gallons of rinse water, bringing my total use to about 10 gallons.

These numbers assume that the dishes are pre-soaked, pre-scrubbed, and arranged in a way that facilitates quick rinsing. More time rinsing would increase the number of rinse water, as described above. I suspect I could rinse even faster if I had a dish drying rack. I could place the drying rack in the empty half of the sink, load it with the scrubbed-but-still-soapy dishes, and aim the spray wand at the fully-loaded drying rack to rinse all the dishes at once. Since I don’t have a drying rack, I stack them neatly in the empty half of the sink and lift one at a time for rinsing.

Running Water While Scrubbing

Since it took me about 30 minutes to hand wash an entire load of dishes each time, if I had left the faucet running that whole time I would have used about 36 gallons of water. Without the low-flow aerator, that could be as much as 66 gallons. Wow. I think I see how the Energy Star study came to an average of 42.3 gallons used. This is one method we should all stop using. I cringe to think that I used to pre-rinse my dishes this way before loading the dishwasher, thinking it too wasteful to fill up the sink and soak them. Going forward, I will always use the wash basin method, whether I’m pre-rinsing before running the dishwasher or hand washing the dishes. Not only does filling the wash basin appear to save significant amounts of water, it is much easier and faster to do. Soaking my dishes this way is also responsible for the time savings benefits I noticed when I switched to hand washing. If you don’t have a double-sink, you can buy a wash basin that nests inside your sink and fill that, or you can fill the whole sink and then drain it when you’re ready to rinse.

Filling The Whole Sink

Instead of carefully filling only 2-3 gallons of soaking water in my sink and soaking my dishes in batches, admittedly it is easier to fill the sink most of the way up and soak all the dishes at once. Since the capacity of one side of my sink is ten gallons, the most I would use is 8 gallons. This increases my total use water from 4-5 gallons to about 10 gallons.

Electricity As Water

Even if you live in an area where water is not scarce (as I do), there is an energy cost associated with water use, especially with hot water use. To calculate approximate energy used by an electric water heater similar to my own, I used the data here.

  • Approximate Energy Used To Heat 1 Gallon Of Water: 0.195 kWh

My water comes from a well on the property, so I see the energy cost of the well pump and pressure tank included in my electricity bill (we have solar power, but it’s a grid-tied system). Even if you have city water, there are machines involved in pumping, filtering, and pressurizing the water that runs from your faucet. It is very difficult to determine exactly how much electricity is used to pump water, because there are so many unknown variables. I put forth my best effort to come up with an average number that could roughly represent energy used to deliver a gallon of water to a faucet. I used this publication as a guideline to find an approximation of the energy required to pump and pressurize one gallon of water.

  • Average Well Depth In My Area: 60′
  • Average Pump Height: 10′ higher than the bottom
  • Average Pump Efficiency: 60%
  • Average Home Water Pressure: 55 psi
  • Approximate Energy Required To Pump and Pressurize One Gallon of Cold Water: 0.00066

Combining those numbers, one gallon of hot water carries an energy cost of approximately 0.196 kWh.

Dishwasher Cycle Water Use

MethodGallonsMinuteskWh   (Water)
Pots & Pans9.11501.78
Normal Wash + Hi-Temp & Sanitize8.11201.59
Normal Wash4.11050.80
Eco Wash4.7900.92
Top Rack4.6900.90
Rinse Only 2.3150.45
**Taken from my own dishwasher’s users manual.

**Note: The water used by the dishwasher is sourced from the hot water hose. This means that the water going into the dishwasher is already hot, so when we compare gallons of water used by the dishwasher to gallons of water used in the sink, that is a fully equivalent comparison in terms of both water and electricity per gallon. But the dishwasher also uses electricity in order to run, in addition to the energy already used to heat the water. Unfortunately, I have so far been unable to find out how much electricity the dishwasher uses.


If you turn on the faucet full blast and leave it running while you scrub and rinse all your dishes, then you could be using up to 66 gallons of hot water every time you wash your dishes. That’s almost as much as four average showers, and carries an approximate energy burden of 12.9 kwh. If this is sounds familiar, then you have some room for improvement, and you have some options. One way to reduce water and energy use over that particularly inefficient method of hand dishwashing might be to purchase an efficient dishwasher. But that is by no means the only way to wash dishes efficiently. If you learn to wash your dishes carefully by hand, doing all your soaking and scrubbing in a shallow wash basin with the faucet off and then quickly rinsing the soap off of them after they are already clean, you can beat or tie an efficient dishwasher in terms of water and energy use, as I did.

Even if you take a few short cuts and use a little more hot water than the dishwasher uses, there is still a strong argument to be made that washing dishes by hand is more environmentally friendly than owning a dishwasher. Consider the noteworthy environmental impact of mining, manufacturing, transporting, and disposing of all the components in the dishwasher machine. Consider the electricity used to run the dishwasher, over and above the energy needed to produce hot water, and whether you need to run extra hot water to soak or pre-rinse the dishes before loading them into the machine. Consider the ongoing maintenance of the machine. And consider the satisfaction we can gain by relying on our own hands and minds instead of the global industrial system.

Since I already have a dishwasher, I think I’ll keep it for hectic days when I feel compelled to save a little effort, and on those days I’ll pre-soak my dirty dishes in the wash basin instead of rinsing them in running water. But when this dishwasher is done, and it is send off for disposal, I don’t plan to buy a new one. It is no longer a priority for me to own a dishwasher, now that I have learned to wash my dishes quickly and efficiently by hand. If your needs are different from mine and you feel you get great value from your dishwasher, then keep using it in good conscience, because it seems this is a pretty efficient device as far as devices go. Perhaps you are better able to reduce your environmental footprint in another way, maybe by driving less, buying used, hanging your laundry to air-dry, or growing a garden. The world is full of possibilities.

For Further Reading:

If you enjoyed this totally ad-free, affiliate-link-free, sponsored-content-free, subscription-fee-free, 100% honest free article, please consider sending some love my way! You can help further this cause of Earth-positive agriculture by commenting on this blog, sharing this article with your friends, following me on social media, and interacting with my posts. If you’re feeling especially generous, you could also toss me a few coins through a free platform called Ko-Fi, or make a purchase from my online shop. Thank you for reading.
“Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.” -Garrison Keillor

Life in the Flood Plain

“When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.” -Alanis Obomsawin

This is my home, and I love it. Mosquitoes are everywhere, flood waters often interrupt my schedule, and none of the popular crops grow well here. But it’s wonderful. Some of the most exciting, nutritious, delicious food crops are native to this kind of habitat. And if I plant the right things, the flood waters will actually help my crops grow better by providing free fertilizers and no-work irrigation. Some fascinating animals live here too! On many a summer night, I am serenaded to sleep by a world class symphony of frog singers. I’ve met snakes and lizards and herons and eagles and fish and butterflies. It’s a challenging, but very rewarding habitat.

Bucket of litter collected from a wetland

The wetland at Strawberry Moon Farm is awash in the river about four times per year. After each and every flood, the byproducts of modern convenience are left behind in that field. Gallons and gallons of trash float in on the wild currents. If I don’t clean it up, it will float downstream to one of my neighbors during the next storm. It will become someone else’s problem, but no less of one. Large items crash in and crush our small trees: a picnic table, a fire extinguisher, hunting gear, and mounds of agricultural waste. Small items float through and cause harm to our wild friends: plastic wrappers, straws, and bottle caps.

A picnic table in an open field
Plastic Straw Littered In A Wetland

An image of one specific plastic straw became infamous last year. That particular straw was lodged inside the nostril of a sea turtle. Encouragingly, humanity is rallying together to help reduce ocean pollution and protect sea creatures like that turtle.

The straw pictured above was found here, in our wetland, in Midwestern USA. Indiana is not near an ocean, but it is home to more than fifteen species of turtles. Our rivers, streams, and lakes host a myriad of fish, reptiles, and amphibians. Majestic Bald Eagles and stately Blue Herons dive into these fresh waters every day, in attempt to feed themselves and their offspring. The plastic epidemic is not confined to the oceans. Litter is not someone else’s problem.

Styrofoam and a Medicine Bottle Littered In A Wetland

Feeling outraged or depressed or disillusioned will not change our situation, so let’s not waste our energy. There are simple, specific things we can all do to spark positive change in the world. Start with your own community. Take care of your own trash. Pick up litter where you see it (if you can do so safely). Ask your friends to do the same. Pack out your trash when you go camping or hiking rather than leaving it in the woods. If you can avoid consuming single use plastics, do so. If you can’t, try to dispose of those plastics in a responsible way. Recycle what you can recycle and build ecobricks. Secure the lids on your trash cans so your discarded items don’t blow away. And plant trees. Did you know trees are one of the Earth’s natural filters? Not only do they help clean the water and protect the soil, but they also help us catch our mistakes as they float or fly by. They give us a chance to clean those things up before they float farther downstream.

Escaped Plastic Flower Arrangement
I can almost always find a synthetic flower arrangement or two in this drainage ditch near my home, across the street from a cemetery. Well-meaning people often adorn the graves of their loved ones with arrangements like this one, but the wind blows them away into natural areas where they may end up causing significant harm. Please consider honoring your loved ones with biodegradable arrangements instead.

We Earthlings are dealing with a lot right now, and much of it is beyond our control. Taking responsibility for my own consumption and waste is something I can control. Taking responsibility for yours is within your control. It’s a positive step we can take to make the world a better place. Things that once mattered, still matter. And maybe they matter even more now. Let’s care for each other in this way.

If you enjoyed this totally ad-free, affiliate-link-free, sponsored-content-free, subscription-fee-free, 100% honest free article, please consider sending some love my way! You can help further this cause of Earth-positive agriculture by commenting on this blog, sharing this article with your friends, following me on social media, and interacting with my posts. If you’re feeling especially generous, you could also toss me a few coins through a free platform called Ko-Fi, or make a purchase from my online shop. Thank you for reading.
“Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.” -Garrison Keillor

Our Plastic Legacy

I try really hard to avoid plastic waste. I recycle, I carry reusable utensils in my pockets to avoid consuming single-use flatware, I bring my own reusable bags to the grocery store, and I try to avoid the infamous plastic drinking straws at restaurants. But try as I may, plastic is everywhere. It’s unavoidable for most of us. And much of it is not even recyclable. So what is an eco-loving citizen to do with all those unavoidable plastic wrappers, bubble mailers, old toothbrushes, zip ties, and other small miscellaneous non-recyclable plastics? We could throw them in the trash, but these small, lightweight articles are very likely to blow away and cause harm to water, wetlands, wildlife, and ultimately to ourselves. Since these deadly convenience items persist in our environment for many lifetimes, their cycle of harm repeats on a loop.

The ultimate solution to this problem is too big for any one person to solve completely. We need corporations to refuse to make this stuff. We need scientists to develop better building materials for products. And since so far, the money is on the other side of this argument, we’ll probably need politicians as well. But I do not fit into any of those categories, and likely, neither do you. Nevertheless, we don’t have to participate in this harmful cycle. We can choose a more responsible, constructive second life for the unavoidable plastics that cross our paths. And in the process, we can also build cool, useful stuff that just might make the world a better place.

Enter: the Ecobrick. An Ecobrick is a plastic bottle, packed tightly with wrappers and small plastic items, then sealed with a screw top lid. If you pack the bottle tightly enough, it can become a weight bearing building material, similar to a brick. Even better, the tiny wrappers and other small items stored inside the bottle are effectively imprisoned, thereby prevented from wreaking havoc on the greater ecosystem.

Completed Ecobricks
My Collection of Completed Ecobricks

I’ve been packing my own plastic (and some plastics from friends and coworkers) into empty drink bottles for the past 10 months. It takes some time, but I find it meditative and stress-relieving. It’s surprising how many items fit inside one bottle. It can take me multiple weeks to fill one bottle, even when combining my home plastics with those from my office. Someday, eventually, I hope to collect enough of these “bricks” to build a new potting shed in the garden using Ecobricks and cob as the primary building materials. It will probably take a long time to collect enough bricks for this goal, but that’s okay. I view it as a lifelong practice. Or at least, for as long as disposable plastic items remain ubiquitous on our planet.

Let’s Get Started!

There are already really good instructions on how to make an ecobrick from the Global Ecobrick Alliance, so I won’t repeat that here. To start, all you need is a clean and dry drink bottle, and a sturdy, smooth stick that is longer than your bottle and less than half as wide as your bottle opening. You can pack the bottle with plastic items as you encounter them, or store up all your packing plastics throughout the week until you have a free evening to stuff them. I do a mix of both depending on my schedule. Everything that goes into the brick must be mostly clean and totally dry. For example, if I have an empty bag of chips, I might turn it upside down and shake out the crumbs before stuffing it into the bag. If it’s oily inside, I’ll wipe it out with a towel before packing it inside my bottle. If I have an item soiled with significant food residue, I wash that with water and dish soap and then dry it alongside my clean dishes before packing it inside the bottle.

What Can Go Inside The Bottle:

Examples of plastics that can be packed inside of bottles to make ecobricks
  • Empty bags of chips
  • Candy bar wrappers
  • Drinking straws
  • Empty bags of frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Cellophane wrap
  • Sandwich bags
  • Shopping bags
  • Twist ties
  • Zip ties
  • Bubble Mailers
  • Styrofoam
  • Discarded toothbrushes
  • Crushed up plastic utensils
  • Empty bags of coffee
  • Tea bag wrappers
  • Wine capsules (the colorful plastic seals that cover the cork and bottle neck)
  • Lots of other items. If it’s plastic and it’s soft or tiny, it can go inside your brick!

What To Do With Completed Ecobricks:

The Global Ecobrick Alliance has another great article called Building with Ecobricks that is definitely worth reading. The section called Earth Bottle Building describes the cob technique I plan to use for the potting shed. If you decide you don’t have any use for ecobricks but you’re still interested in making some, you could donate them to someone who can use them. We do accept ecobrick donations here at Strawberry Moon Farm, as do some other organizations and individuals. If you know you want to donate your ecobricks, find out in advance what kind of bottle your recipient builds with. It’s important that all the bottles be the same size for effective and aesthetic building, so your bottles will need to match those of the project you’re donating towards. You can look for someone accepting ecobrick donations near you on the GoBrik website. This site also encourages you to log your ecobricks, assign unique serial numbers to them, and share validations within the ecobrick community. Feel free to join the Strawberry Moon Farm community on GoBrik!

Gatorade and Pepsi Bottle Ecobricks
28oz Gatorade (left) 20 oz Pepsi (right)

I use two types of bottles. The first is the 28 ounce Gatorade bottle. It’s the middle size gatorade that is often sold at gas stations. This one is nice because it is a very sturdy bottle, and it has a wide opening so you can include larger items. The other bottle is the 20 ounce Pepsi bottle (or any other 20 ounce Pepsi product such as Mountain Dew, Dr Pepper, 7-Up, Bubly sparkling water, Aquafina bottled water). This is a flimsier bottle with a narrower opening, and I find it a little harder to stuff than the Gatorade. However, they’re much more common, so if you have trouble finding a 28 ounce Gatorade bottle, this might be a great option for you. Whichever bottle you choose, happy bricking!

If you enjoyed this totally ad-free, affiliate-link-free, sponsored-content-free, subscription-fee-free, 100% honest free article, please consider sending some love my way! You can help further this cause of Earth-positive agriculture by commenting on this blog, sharing this article with your friends, following me on social media, and interacting with my posts. If you’re feeling especially generous, you could also toss me a few coins through a free platform called Ko-Fi, or make a purchase from my online shop. Thank you for reading.
“Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.” -Garrison Keillor