Monday, March 18, 2019

green-ing my horse habits

The Atlantic recently ran a piece on the increasingly dire state of current affairs vis-a-vis recycling. Basically, uh, it ain't really happening right now in a lot of places, since China stopped buying some classes of waste from America, especially plastics.

Apparently, China's manufacturing boom over the last few decades meant they had a near-insatiable appetite for materials, and would pay top-dollar for recyclable plastics and paper from the US and abroad. Paired with the cheap labor to handle sorting the good from the bad, it seemed like a win-win. Except.... the "bad" that got sorted out from what was recyclable had to go somewhere, right? And it ended up getting dumped in communities and contributing to the nasty state of ecological affairs in many areas of China. So, finally, their government decided to end their practice of buying other countries' trash.

in other "green" news, the spring grass is on its way!
So now, much of the carefully sorted and set aside recyclables from US households are being lumped in with the rest of our garbage for incineration. Mostly bc alternative options are straight up cost-prohibitive for many communities, esp those whose resources are already stretched thin. Which makes sense, right? Up until recently, the recyclables had an actual market value and could be sold. Now the tables have turned and communities are paying to handle the waste.

Meanwhile, the Atlantic notes that individual consumption and waste production are actually on the rise in recent years:
In 2015, the most recent year for which national data are available, America generated 262.4 million tons of waste, up 4.5 percent from 2010 and 60 percent from 1985. That amounts to nearly five pounds per person a day.

There's more here from NPR if you're curious about the situation and it's implications. This article in particular points out the pervasiveness and problematic nature of thin plastic wraps and films. Apparently those types of plastic are basically non recyclable plus have a nasty habit of gumming up sorting machines. And, go figure, they're practically everywhere. Like... The 24pk of individually wrapped vet wrap that's sitting in my tack locker right now....

suddenly all the little blooming flowers are waking up!
Anyway tho. Ahem.

The world is so very, very full of problems. And I am just one small being. What possible difference could I make? Like. It's hard to believe that even cutting my own waste by some fraction could make a difference. But I *am* a numbers person. Telling me a metric to beat like "5lbs a day" gives me at least something to work with, right? And telling me that thin plastic wraps and films top the list of "things to avoid" helps me make better choices.

Reading that article reminded me of another story I read years and years ago about this dude who spent a year collecting his own trash. A quick google didn't turn up the story I'm thinking of, bc apparently it's been repeated and copied by many others since then...

But the gist was: this guy decided that for an entire year he would keep ALL his garbage, to see what it actually amounted to over time. When he first started, it was overwhelming and awkward. Especially while he was out and about during the day - he'd have to hang on to all those nasty wrappers and napkins and packets and byproducts all day long until he could get home to squirrel it away in his basement.

Likewise, his poor wife and kids had to put up with all that actual literal trash in their house (tho he did not subject them to keeping their garbage too). Over time, tho, his habits and choices adapted and evolved to where he was producing less and less waste until eventually it was just a fraction of where he started.

He discovered that the mere act of confronting his waste in real time allowed him to understand what produced it, and be realistic about what steps he could take to reduce his "trash footprint."

they won't last long, but they're so pretty!
Now. Right off the bat, I can promise you that I WILL NOT be doing anything even remotely similar to that experiment haha. Not even the temptation of some sort of weird book deal could induce me. But it's interesting to think about, right? And I thought I'd put a little bit of a horsey spin on the whole idea, within reason of course.

Basically, I wanted to think through all the avenues in which my horse habit produces waste. And, in doing so, think of ways that might be a little more environmentally friendly. Or at least, ways of reducing my overall footprint, especially in light of the current recycling crisis.

So. What are the byproducts of my horse habit?

Feed bags. Charlie goes through a bag of grain a week, so that's 50+ feedbags thrown out over the course of the year. Well, maybe slightly fewer than 50 bc my barn uses feedbags as liners for our trash cans. Apparently there are other creative ways to reuse these bags, too, ranging from wildly impractical to more realistic (like using bags to store hay during trips, or for storing blankets during the off season. Oooh and lots of uses in the garden, who knew?).

Supplement containers. I buy most supplements in bulk, and the 5gal buckets are usually easy to rehome haha, esp for watering chores. Smaller tubs can also be useful for storage and organization, tho many are not very durable.

Baggies. My barn requires that I premix and measure Charlie's supplements, and I've been using baggies for this. The baggies are reusable, but generally not indefinitely. At some point they get holes or the seals get gummed up. I've used small tupperwares before too, tho they can often be bulky. This is an area I'm brainstorming for improvements!

related image: my trash hound of a horse LOVES that we use feedbags as liners haha
Bandaging material. This is obvi a big one lately for Charlie, considering he spent the better part of two weeks getting a daily hoof wrap, which included cotton pads, vet wrap, and a not-insignificant amount of duck tape. All of which just got thrown out at the end of the day. Stephanie recently reviewed Woof Wear's reusable medical hoof boot, and ultimately felt like it wasn't durable enough for the price. But now I'm wondering, even if that boot only lasts 2 weeks, would it still be an improvement on the disposable wraps? It's hard to say.

Misc containers. I've reused a fair amount of old bottles and such (esp spray bottles!) from grooming products and what have you. Mostly tho, they go in the trash when they're used up.

Fly spray. I buy mine in concentrate form, and then mix batches throughout the summer. Just googling this subject tho brought up a really important point: Every chemical I use on the farm, stays on the farm for a long, long time. Whether it's processed through manure, or rinsed off the horse in bathing, or whatever. Those chemicals stick around in the ground and ground water. Fly spray in particular is a big contributor (so, apparently, are bathing products), and also a product that can be swapped for DIY home remedies.

Dewormers, it turns out, are kinda a big deal in this regard too. Apparently they're considered hazardous waste, something I've literally never thought about once in my life. And many of those chemicals pass through the horse and end up in manure in the pastures. My habit with Charlie has been to only deworm in response to a positive fecal test. There's a lot I don't know about this subject tho, and had actually planned to attend a lecture on dewormers held by one of my vets at the local Dover, but unfortunately couldn't make it. Anyway, some of my research suggested the following as alternatives to chemical dewormers: medicinal plants (blackberries, periwinkle, pine needles, queen anne’s lace, tarragon, wild ginger, and wild onion) and diatomaceous earth (glass like powder from fossils of aquatic organisms that cuts the parasites).

Packaging from everything else. This includes shipping materials or whatever other packaging that comes with the products I buy. And, god but there's so much of it...

shout out to Amelia who sent me this freakin adorable duck tape!!!
All the above outlines most of the actual physical byproducts of my horse habit. The pieces that are most directly related to the question of "How much trash do I actually produce in a day?"

There's more to it than that, tho. Isn't there always?

In looking further into the subject of eco horse keeping, farm management is one of the biggest factors. Obviously I don't manage a farm. I don't get to make those big choices around water and land resources and management. But I still have a footprint:

Water. When I really sit down to think about it, I use a lot of water at the barn. Bathing my horse or even just hosing him off after a ride. Cleaning tack. Rinsing the dust off stuff. Desperately trying to get the magic cushion off my hands. Etc etc etc.

One idea to reduce my consumption is bathing with a bucket and sponge instead of a hose, or at least making sure the hose has a nozzle on it so it doesn't run when not directly in use. Another is to use "gray" water (like from the barrels that collect rain water and roof runoff) for chores like tack cleaning or giving things a quick rinse.

Hay. Prices around here have skyrocketed over the past months. Our weather last year was so atrociously wet that the hay crops were not only bad quality, but also low quantity. Not a great combo. My farm has had to raise prices bc of this, and also recently instituted a new hay net rule to reduce wastage.

Energy. In the summer we're allowed to put box fans on our stalls while the horses are in during the day time. It's required for safety reasons that the fans be on timers, but this also helps avoid running the fans when they're not needed.

lol charlie would just rather be a dirty dusty piggy anyway
- Transportation. Soooo.... I own three vehicles haha, one of which is a 20 year old pickup that nobody would consider "green." Still tho, there are choices I can make to improve efficiency - like keeping the truck tuned up with air in the tires. Carpooling where possible. Choosing routes that avoid inefficient stop-go traffic in exchange for steady and efficient highway travel.

My buddy who helped me truck shop in the first place has always encouraged me to consider getting a diesel engine, esp for my eventual next tow vehicle. Turns out, apparently diesels are also more efficient than gasoline engines too, so that's worth considering.

Another transportation related idea: keep the trailer stocked with reusable supplies like cups, refillable water bottles, thermoses, etc. In the past I've always just grabbed a case of water bottles or what have you for horse shows, but considering the current plight of recycling, I want to rethink this.

- General equipment. My final thought on my horse-related environmental footprint relates to all the various gear, equipment, tack, accessories, etc., that I use every single day for riding and horse keeping. I'm already a big fan of buying used bc generally my dollars can go farther in the second hand market when it comes to quality. Plus, I'm lucky in my area to have robust consignment shops.

But obviously some things I buy new, too. Which means packaging and often shipping. My own frugal habits tend to lead me toward buying cheaper stuff. But then maybe those items don't last as well, or aren't in good enough shape to donate when I'm finished with them. So I'm going to try to make better choices about shopping for durability and quality too.

just trying to enjoy this view responsibly haha
So, to sorta summarize my ideas after this little thought exercise, there are a few things I can personally do to reduce my waste. Just small tweaks or adjustments to my normal day to day horse habit:

- Find alternative ways to store Charlie's pre-measured supplements for barn staff. Ideas or suggestions welcome!! (For reference, whatever I use needs to accommodate a volume of ~1 cup, and I usually mix out ~30 servings at a time).

- Use a bucket and sponge instead of the hose for rinsing the sweat off Charlie after our rides. He's a sweaty foamy lathery dude tho, so I anticipate that we won't exactly go cold turkey on the hose haha. But the key word is "reduce," right?

- Plan ahead for show day needs - esp re: water and snacks. I'm imagining getting some sort of larger water cooler for the trailer, but even a plastic gallon jug of water is better than individual plastic bottles.

- Generally, make more conscientious choices at the point of sale. Is what I want available second hand? Or, if not, is what I'm buying going to last and be durable? Or, if it's a disposable or consumable product (like duck tape or mane detangler or electrolytes), try to make choices with packaging, chemical content, and volume in mind. Like buying in bulk when it makes sense.


What about you? Do you think about stuff like this? Do you have any tips or tricks for more environmentally friendly horse keeping? Like maybe you have a killer homemade fly spray recipe, or have some inspired approach to dealing with all those feed sacks?

I know a lot of you have your own farms too - have you had to make choices about farm management with the environment in mind? Or perhaps you've had to walk that fine line between cost-effective vs eco-friendly?

Or maybe you're sorta like me, and never really thought deeply on this subject before? If that's the case, do you likewise see any wiggle room in your current normal routine for making adjustments to reduce waste?

24 comments:

  1. My husband and I make a huge effort to recycle - it's depressing to think that it isn't making any difference. I've also recently switched over to a reusable water bottle for work. I was feeling guilty that I was going through so many cans and bottles. I think if everyone made just a little effort, it would make a huge difference.

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  2. Soooo many good thoughts! For the supplements, small Tupperware-type containers can work well instead of baggies that wear out after a few uses. For my own water and food, I try to use a Nalgene bottle and bring lunches and snacks in reusable containers instead of buying 'on the go' in throwaway packaging, but that doesn't mean I don't still often fall prey to getting snacks or a Diet Coke in wasteful packaging! Gah!

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  3. Awesome post - this is something I worry about and have been reading more about too. Plastics are the big one that bother me, especially when you hear stuff that we try to recycle can't or won't be processed anyways...that makes me sad. I don't live anywhere near the ocean, so my straws don't make it to turtles, but having just been in Maui where there are actually turtles and whales, etc. and seeing that they hardly recycle and have plastics everywhere kinda shocked me!

    Supplement packaging and remixing is a tricky one - not sure how to get around that. I was thinking glass jars - but not practical to have 30+ little jars clinking around.

    I have to admit I've not been super concerned about water usage at my little farm - I did growing up, as we had a limited well and it could go dry in the summer, but not so much now. Something to consider - I'm hoping to get eavestroughs and a rain barrel on the barn this year, so that would be a start.

    I also insist on getting shavings in paper bags. One place has plastic and paper and after I had a mini-freak out about buying plastic, the farm store guy knows not to offer me the plastic ones now! lol

    Sorry about the long post - this topic is one I'm super interested in!

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  4. I am not that dedicated, tbh. But I do think about water consumption a lot. In 2012 we had a severe drought in Indiana, one that compromised the available water table at my barn. For the whole summer we were not allowed to bathe the horses, except in dire circumstances (washing wounds, etc). That time made me think about water use, and some habits stick with me. For example I'll use a bucket and sponge to get rid of minor sweat marks instead of bathing. I also started using vinegar around this time as a rinse. It cut down on the amount of water needed, by cutting through the sweat quickly and rinsing clear. Side note, I also like vinegar for bathing as it's not so bad for the surrounding environment.

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    Replies
    1. ditto the vinegar! I did a glug of white vinegar in a bucket of water and it really cut out the sweat.

      I had the same situation at a barn I was at austen. It was on a well and if we had a rough summer... the BO would literally take the hoses away.

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  5. I love this post and its something I definitely want to do. I was actually looking at my refuse output last week, which is 1/3 trash and 2/3 recyclable. Which hey - that's great! But that's still A TON of waste.

    My worst vice is probably amazon prime. Everything comes in it's own packaging, and I don't know how to get around that. I've wondered if I do the locker pickup I won't have the cardboard situation I currently have.

    For supplements, I think nothing's better than the tupperware bins. I think smartpaks are hugely wasteful. I was measuring out my own, and I had 10 containers so I was doing it pretty frequently but 10 containers didn't take up much space!

    also diesel engine ftw. Luckily that gets driven so infrequently hopefully it's not doing too much to stink up the whole world!!

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  6. I think about this all the time, especially as I'm driving, because driving! I try not to use individ plastic water bottles, though I do drink A LOT of sparkling water in aluminum cans. I bring home all my plastic from the barn so it can be recycled in our residential pick up (barn doesn't even try; in the city I hope they're at least trying). This year I may buy concentrated fly spray and mix my own to avoid extra bottles. Beyond that, I'm still working on it. It's nice to know I'm not the only person who thinks about this in relation to our sport.

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  7. For supplements: you can get silicone bags that will basically reuse indefinitely and can go through a dishwasher. They're a touch pricier but far better than single-use.

    I think also that one way to make an outsized difference is to lobby equestrian manufacturers of various types to use more responsible & sustainable practices.

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  8. Conservation biologist loves this! Water, particularly is crucially important to protect. A few more tips:

    KEEP HORSES OUT OF WATER BODIES, especially streams and rivers. If you have a farm, fence horses out of creeks (mine are) and off of banks -- they do a lot of damage, introduce bacteria & pathogens into water supplies, & are exposed to additional parasites and contaminants.

    When ordering anything, combine shipments as much as possible. Resist the impulse Amazon buy. This reduces packaging and reduces all the impacts of extra delivery truck runs.

    When trail riding, stay on established trails & don't ride trails when they're wet - this preserves trail, water, and wildlife. Erosion/sedimentation is a leading pollutant wiping out aquatic life & impacting water supplies around the world.

    I use a lot of solar powered things; you can actually get a panel with charge controller that will keep a deep cycle battery charged and run plenty of things off of that (I use this to run my fence charger). But you can also run lights and fans.

    My fridge is full of reusable 1 L water bottles, both for work & play. I pick them up cheap at drugstores or on sale & stash them everywhere.

    I'm shifting to buying more supplements in bulk too (I also love the 'free' buckets) & have found a handy little container which comes with the KFC $5 meals if you get mashed potatoes -- this sounds weird, but I get lunch there sometimes at work & these are reusable, stackable, small, super-handy, & now I hoard them, LOL.

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  9. I'm trying to be concious of/reduce my plastic use as well. Supplements are my biggest frustration. I have been putting my horsesh supplements in brown paper lunch bags, which eliminates baggies. But I really wish Smartpak would offer more eco-friendly packaging options.

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  10. We don't have trash service out here so I have to collect all my trash and drive it to the dump every week (or so). And then I pay for it by the bag(or lb if I have a lot). It's not quite the same as keeping my trash for a year, but it really has made me confront how much trash I go through instead of just putting it all out by the street and ignoring it forever. The dump is also really strict about recyclables. Because they know they can't get rid of a lot of it, they won't accept a lot of things that are theoretically recyclable and that's made me change how I handle some of those things as well.

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  11. Our community is currently having a big recycling discussion. The cost of shipping recycleables elsewhere needs to come out of someone's pocket and honestly, is the carbon footprint of shipping negating the benefits of recycling???
    Throwing away 30 tubes of ulcergard post use was painful for me. Individually wrapped ANYTHING is painful for me.
    I think they are making better plastic alternatives? I use poop bags made from corn! But its going to be a while before we see a huge change.

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  12. This is a great post. I need to take a look at my habits and see what I can change. I will likely still use the hose though. :)

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  13. My husband and I big on living as cleanly and with as much reduced waste as possible. We also have horses at home. These are the things that we are currently doing:

    We have rain chains instead of gutter pipes that empty into rain barrels. We use the gray water to water the garden or fill up our aquaponics system.

    I buy my supplements in bulk since we were horrified at the smartpak waste. The bulk containers are generally pretty rugged and we've put many of them to use as slow drip waterers for our baby trees that we've planted. Others are used to organize things in my tack room (like all my Hoof armor supplies are in a 5g bucket). I also use old feed bags as trash bags. I'll have to look into other uses for them for when I have extras. Same goes for baling twine. So MUCH plastic baling twine :/

    Our manure is composted and put back into our garden or removed in the dumpster. Fly control is done via fly predators and a feed through system that dries manure out super fast so it's harder for larvae to grow. I use very little fly spray.

    Pest management in general on the property is done with minimal chemical intereference. For example: Our invasive japanese beetles are controlled via application of soil bacteria. We don't depend on our gardens for our livelihood so we honestly just accept that wildlife will take a bit.

    I premix all horse food/supplements in tupperware containers. They've lasted two years at this point and are only just now starting to show some breakage and that's with Michigan's extremes of deep freeze to super heat.

    We have incorporated as much reusable cleaning material as possible into our home routine. We have reusable water bottles, either heavy duty plastic or stainless steel. We don't use paper towels. Instead we bought a ton of small dish cloths, and once one gets soiled cleaning up a mess it just gets tossed into the washing machine with the next load of clothes. Likewise, I don't use disposable menstrual products anymore. Everything is washable. I'd love to be fully cloth diapering but our daycare wasn't down for it :/ We have zipper pouches for snacks instead of ziploc bags and small and large containers for food leftovers. We try to minimize food waste and will also compost that as well.

    We do have three vehicles, one of which is the truck, but in all but the worst parts of winter we're both driving either fully electric or hybrid electric vehicles (Chevy Spark and Volt). Our plan is to eventually get solar panels to offset the electric use of charging those vehicles. We did have solar panels when we lived in Washington state and we got a big enough installation that we were able to sell the excess energy generated since we didn't use it all.

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  14. I am already fairly conscious about single use items and recycle almost everything I can.
    I am also trying to convince my husband that we need a composter in our yard. A) cutting down the food waste is a good thing and B) hello good dirt for our garden! I haven't fully convinced him yet though.

    I hardly ever buy single use items. But it's so hard when you need medical supplies. That hurt when Luna got hurt and some of the things didn't come in bulk.

    I also try not to use much water with bathing etc. I hardly bathe as is, and don't normally hose her down after rides in the summer.

    Water is probably one of the biggest things to try and cut down on for sure. Which also reminded me that we should get a rain barrel for watering the garden. Hmmmm......

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  15. I worry about water use at home because we are on a well for everything, the house and barn. I don't spray after every ride, instead I use a sponge and bucket on the worst parts and brush the rest to let air dry. Filling the tubs in the field is a necessity but ugh...watching the 100 gallons go in is painful.

    I really want to try Liz's homemade fly spray this year to cut down on the chemicals around the farm plus add fly predators. Thankfully we have a ton of insect eating birds, bats and frogs so last summer wasn't that bad bug wise.

    In my every day life I use as many reusable products as possible though sometimes I wonder the impact on the environment is from making those too.

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  16. I'm definitely not very "horse green" right now, as I'm going through 1/4 roll of duct tape + one full roll of vet wrap EVERY DAY for P's stupid Foot Hole. I've looked at the different boots, but don't trust any of them as far as durability for the price, based on reviews.

    The barn I board at recycles and has special water conserving things, like rain barrels. I recycle at home, but honestly haven't given all of this too much thought. Great topic!

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  17. I wrote a paper in 2005 on how we use China as a giant dumping ground. (UCSC very ecologically conscious school). The recycling bit isn't even the worst part of the whole deal - the throw away consumerist culture we have and how it's seeped into our love of electronics has really fucked rural Asian communities.

    Honestly the best thing any of us can do for the planet is to stop reproducing! The fact I'm not having kids + whatever small part I do helps me feel smug enough.

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  18. I love all of this. I think that being more conscious is awesome.

    One thing that I think would be great is if we could encourage all the companies that we but from to be greener oi their production as well. On a realistic scale, they can do far more than any individual!

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  19. Being a "green" horse person has been on my mind for a while. It's kinda hard to look at pretty horse farms and think about the carbon footprint. If I could devote my entire career to designing sustainable barns, I'd be the happiest person on this planet. I've cut back a lot on my personal consumption over the last year mainly because moving from place to place during school is a large task when you have more to move. It's been a process, but I'm undergoing my second clearing out . . .

    What you said about the reusable medical boot is intriguing because it shows the overlap between sustainability and accessibility. A roll of duct tape is cheaper and lasts longer than the boot. If you straight up can't afford the boot, then it's difficult to find ways to cut back on the waste in that situation.

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  20. Recycling and trash disposal is a critical issue worldwide, and especially easy to visualize living on a tiny island where, before we had our wonderful dump/transfer station, people either dumped on their property, or out in the surrounding waterways - in this case the Pamlico Sound and Atlantic Ocean.

    China changing their stance on taking our recycling has trickled down directly by raising the tipping fees - the price paid to transfer truckloads of recycling to the containers that will make their way to ships heading overseas.

    Over the winter our recycling dumpsters disappeared with no notice, apparently because the county decided not to afford the increased cost. We have spent the last ten years training the tourists to recycle. Our transient population grows by 20,000 people per day during the season. You can imagine how much trash is generated.

    A stink was raised (ha!) and recycling restored. In the process, I learned that how you recycle is even more important than that you recycle. Not mixing recyclables, rinsing containers, removing caps - basically following directions - directly impacts how much labor is needed to sort, and therefore how profitable the recyclables are - especially glass.

    That said - here on the farmette I do what many have already mentioned: feed bags are reused multiple times, buy in bulk and reuse containers, leftover scungy water from troughs goes to water the garden, hose valves on all the hoses used to fill containers, and I've been trying out recycling broken down shipping boxes for weed suppression.

    Another aspect is hay + manure. Leftover hay goes to mulch around the gates where the ground stays churned up, and I compost the horse and chicken manure for use in the garden and plant beds.

    Thanks for bringing up such a timely subject, and I apologize for the novel...

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  21. Our area is REALLY really environmentally conscious...the ONE time I bought a big bottle of water to take to a horse show someone in the check out line shamed me :) There is a store here that claims to be zero waste - goods sold in glass containers you return and refill, paper wrappers, everything locally sourced etc. It's a cool idea, and the concept of consuming mindfully grown local products is huge in this area so I think the store will be successful. It's almost back to the days where a lot of people are shopping numerous specialty farms and stores rather than one stop at the supermarket. They banned plastic straws and plastic bags here altogether a while ago too - the stores charge you for paper ones if you don't have a reusable bag, although realistically having worked in a paper mill I can say paper bags aren't friendly in any way either. I joke my husband has stuffed half the worlds missing plastic bags under our kitchen sink though, so there's that, lol.

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  22. Emma this is a great post! And gives SO much to think about.

    My horse-related trash is pretty minimal and pretty limited to feed bags mostly. I LOVE that link for reusing them - so many fantastic ideas I never thought about!

    I don't often spray horses down with a hose, opting instead for a bucket and sponge. I need to incorporate Austen's vinegar trick though!

    I don't feed supplements, so my waste in that regard is lessened. I am a self-appointed hoarder and re-user of plastic bags tho, so when I do need to individually bag feed stuffs, those bags get used again and again. I have some from YEARS ago that are still in rotation. I hate wasting lol

    And beyond these things, I'm incorporating as much environmentally friendly stuff into my farm as I can: pasture rotation, a dry lot, manure management system, mud management (via the aforementioned), utilizing rain runoff for the trough, and incorporating lumber from trees I have to cut into the structure itself.

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