Coffee Bags as Raw Material for Tote Bags

You know those metallized plastic bags that are often used to package coffee?  Those have been bothering me for years: They’re not recyclable and not biodegradable, so when I throw them in the trash I know they’ll be in the landfill forever.  And Daniel and I drink a lot of coffee!

[UPDATE: We changed to a different method of coffee-bag recycling in 2017.]

About a year ago, in the comments on someone’s blog about difficult recycling issues, I met up with Alessandro DiLella of Italian Coffee Handbags, a Dutch company that is making fashionable tote bags out of coffee bags.  This gives that metallized plastic a new use and creates reusable bags that people can use for their shopping and other carrying needs, instead of single-use plastic or paper bags.  (The Website is in Dutch, but if you write to the email address there, Mr. DiLella can correspond with you in English.  I work for natives of the Netherlands who occasionally forward me emails in Dutch, so I’m accustomed to trying to read Dutch and find it pretty easy–knowing some German helps–and amusing, but here is a free online translator if you want to read it in English.)

I collected empty coffee bags until I had enough to fill a box, packed tightly; that was about 100 bags of various sizes.  No, we don’t drink that much coffee!  I hung up flyers in my office and my church encouraging people to give me their used coffee bags, and those were more than half of my collection.  The flyer at church has actually attracted bags that I find thumbtacked to the bulletin board next to the flyer, possibly brought in by people attending other activities in the church building during the week.  I appreciate that people want their bags to get repurposed!

Earlier this month, I mailed my box to the Netherlands.  Postage was $27, which is disappointing, but Mr. DiLella may be able to reimburse me or compensate me with some free tote bags.  I’d like that, but if it doesn’t work out, I don’t mind putting some money toward responsible disposal of packaging.  Next time I’ll send a larger amount at once to get a better deal on postage.

Here’s Mr. DiLella’s photo of the array of exotic American coffee bags I sent, which he promptly posted on Instagram! (I can’t copy the photo into my post–is that something about Instagram, maybe?)

If you live in the Pittsburgh area and have coffee bags you want to give me, or if you live elsewhere in the United States and want to mail me your coffee bags at lower domestic postage rates, post a comment or email me!

I’m also very interested in hearing about any companies that are repurposing coffee bags in the United States.  It seems like an obvious thing to do–think how many coffee bags must be discarded every day!–but I’m not aware of any.

Of course, one solution to the coffee-bag problem is to buy bulk coffee in your own reused containers.  We do this a lot.  But it’s hard to resist bagged coffee when it’s fair-trade and organic and on sale for less than the bulk price!

Visit Your Green Resource for more environmentally friendly ideas!

My grandmother is blogging from beyond the grave!!

My paternal grandmother wrote a lot of poetry in her twenties, some of which was published in a poetry column in her local newspaper and some of which she read on a local radio program.  After she passed away in 1991, my dad compiled her published poetry into a little booklet which he printed and gave to her family and friends.

Recently I read this booklet again, and it occurred to me that if my grandmother were still around, she probably would be sharing her poems online.  After discussing the idea with the rest of her descendants, I set up her blog:

Poems by Janette Stallings

Every time I reread these poems, I am struck by how, simultaneously, they set you right into a vivid, fleeting moment yet describe experiences that are just the same now as they were seventy years ago.  I hope that readers today will find these poems still very relevant and inspiring.

It’s a funny feeling, though, arranging a blog for someone who never saw a blog or any sort of Website and who regarded computers as a somewhat suspect newfangled thing.  I chose a background color and clip art that remind me of her personal style, and I put them into a WordPress theme that is relatively plain because all the fancier ones just looked jarring.  I tried to use the sidebar widgets she would think were neat rather than unseemly.  It’s so strange–and yet it gives Janmother her own space, like her own little magazine with pretty borders, which is something she never had in the newspaper.  I think she would like that.

Another oddity of this project is that the person whose work I’m publishing is not, exactly, the Janmother I knew.  The newest of the poems I’m going to publish was written 29 years before I was born!  My first idea for the blog background was to use a digital photo of one of her gorgeous afghans–but the poetry-writing Janette was an earlier version of the person who became my crocheting Janmother.  I’ve written about the Janmother I knew and my growing perspective on her life.  The poems, all of them, were written when she was younger than I am now.  So I’m trying to imagine that younger Janette, daydreaming with her hands in the dishwater, and what she would have done with the opportunity to create pages for the whole world to read.

I bet that if the young Janette were alive right now and browsing the Web, she’d be appreciating Works-for-Me Wednesday for the wealth of homemaking tips and the sense of connection with other women that it brings to us each week.  Take a look!

How I told my child the Easter story

I am an Episcopalian, raising my son Nicholas (now eight years old) as an Episcopalian, but I was raised Unitarian myself, so I’ve had to figure out a lot of this Christian parenting stuff as we go along.  I’ve talked with some other parents in the same boat, as well as some who don’t belong to a church but want their kids to understand who this Jesus guy was and what it all means–and one issue that comes up a lot is, How do you explain about Easter?

The rest of the story of Jesus is easier: He was born, and he was so, so special!  He brought hope to the world and reminded us to love one another, and we give each other gifts to celebrate that.  Jesus grew up and traveled around teaching the people to love and forgive.  He helped sick people be well.  He taught about generosity and trusting God.

But then the story gets scary and gruesome, and then this complicated thing happened which is often explained as, “God sat back and allowed his own son to be brutally slaughtered two thousand years ago because YOU are bad!!!” which might not seem to make a lot of sense but sure can make you feel guilty in a helpless sort of way, and then this even more complicated thing happened which easily comes across as, “He was only temporarily dead, so rejoice!!  Never mind about those sins,” and somehow it all has to do with bunnies and jellybeans and tulips, and–well, it can be a bit confusing!  I’m still learning to understand it a little better every year, and I am 39 years old.  So how did I explain it to my kid?

I started a few weeks after he was born.  Read more…

Mexican Pizza

I mentioned in my most recent multi-week menu post making Mexican Pizza, an easy and versatile meal that my mom makes frequently.  As I wrote that, it occurred to me to ask Mom if there is a recipe for Mexican Pizza or she’s just been winging it all along!  She has no written recipe, but with her input, I’ve written some guidelines for making Mexican Pizza.

To make one pan–a meal or main dish for 4-6 people–you will need:

  • 1 batch of freshly mixed cornbread batter, the amount that normally would bake in a 9- or 10-inch square/round pan.  Use your favorite recipe, but consider decreasing the sugar.  You could add a little chili powder if you want.  If you don’t have a favorite recipe, see below.
  • 1 1/2 cups (or 15-oz. can) cooked Mexican-flavored beans.  These might be left over from another meal, prepared by your favorite Mexicanating process, or  just plain beans plus 1 cup salsa.  Mom suggests this: Drain and rinse a can of pinto or red beans; combine with 8 oz. (1 cup) tomato sauce fortified with chili powder, dried diced onion, oregano, garlic powder to taste.
  • 1-2 cups grated cheddar or jack cheese.
  • Optional ingredients: peppers, olives, etc.
  • 9″x13″ baking pan, or cookie sheet with sides.
  • Grease for the pan.  I like coconut oil.
  • Optional cold toppings to add after baking: guacamole, plain yogurt or sour cream, shredded lettuce, cilantro.

Preheat oven to 425F.  Grease the pan.  Pour in the batter and spread it to cover the bottom of the pan.  If using a cookie sheet, start from one end and spread batter toward the other end until you begin having trouble getting it to stay together–it should be about 1/2″ deep and may not fill the whole cookie sheet.

Sprinkle beans and optional ingredients evenly over the batter.  Sprinkle cheese evenly on top.

Bake 10 minutes.  Check to see if you can lift the edge of the crust easily with a spatula.  If not, keep baking and checking every few minutes until it’s done–typically 15-20 minutes.

Cut into squares and serve with optional cold toppings. Read on for the cornbread recipe!

My Coupon Organizer

This is a project similar to our recipe binder, using reused materials to make something that does not look perfectly polished but is cheerful and works well for our household’s specific needs. One difference is that this project started with a purchase of something specifically for the project: I bought this nylon thingy (specifically marketed as a coupon organizer) in about 1994. Originally I used it with the stiff paper tabbed dividers that came with it.

After about a decade, though, those tabs no longer made much sense with the kinds of food I was buying. I mean, it had a separate section for cookies–we hardly ever buy those, because we don’t need them, and when we want some they are fun to bake. Chips and candy also were separate categories. And there was one for meat, but now that we eat less meat that seemed silly. There was no category that seemed appropriate for beans, so I kept forgetting where I had put the bean coupons.

If I had realized this project would be so quick (about 20 minutes) and easy and fun, I wouldn’t have waited so long to get around to it! I was finally inspired 4 years ago when my son’s preschool chucked out a bunch of barely-used file folders in nice bright colors. We used them in all sorts of crafts! The cheery colors of my improved coupon organizer make me happy every time I use it!
Read more…