Today I’ve got a special guest post on ways to reduce your carbon footprint at home!  This was put together by Julia Weaver with contributions from me and many others.

17 Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint at Home

July 14, 2020 by Julia Weaver

In today’s environment, there are many ways homeowners can reduce their waste and energy use. Whether it be from planting a garden, composting, or reusing items that were previously recycled, the opportunities are endless. And, if you live in a hot climate that receives a considerable amount of sunlight – like Phoenix, Arizona or Miami, Florida – maybe switching to solar power might be the right option for you. We asked experts from across the country to share their tips on how homeowners can reduce their carbon footprint and live a more sustainable life. 

 

 

 

Avoid cleaning products with harmful chemicals

Consider using EPA Safer Choice certified green cleaning products that are biodegradable and non-toxic. These products will not only deep clean your laundry but they will also remove residue you didn’t know was there. This will help you create a healthier home by reducing airborne chemicals and keeping your washing machine clean to keep it running long into the future! – Charlie’s Soap

 

Reduce the amount of food you throw away

We throw away about 40 percent of our food in the US – food that was grown with water, fossil fuels, money, and labor – and this food waste turns into a major greenhouse gas in landfills, known as methane. To help preserve the environment and reduce food waste, store your food properly, keep your fridge clutter-free, freeze excess food, and compost food scraps. – No Trace

 

Opt for green products

Green products are surprisingly powerful and can yield the same results as traditional harmful products if used properly. Not using products properly is by far the biggest mistake people make when using green products, so be sure to follow the instructions on the label. Homeowners love using them as a way to protect themselves, their children, and their pets from health risks that are associated with prolonged exposure to traditional harmful products.  – Modern Maids

 

Invest in solar energy for your home

Installing a solar system on your home allows you to harness the power of the sun and produce your own clean energy, moving away from the dependence on fossil fuels and reducing electric cost at the same time. – REP Solar

 

The Earth’s atmosphere is exponentially increasing in carbon dioxide levels, so now may be the best time ever to invest in renewable solar energy. Going solar has been proven to reduce your carbon footprint, and is an investment that will pay itself back over time. Now is the perfect opportunity for everyone to make an impact by saving our planet. – Altair Solar

Repurpose containers you would otherwise toss out

Instead of tossing food containers – which may not actually end up being recycled – keep a small collection that can be repurposed. For example, a jar of spaghetti sauce can be used to hold pens or small tools, as drinking glasses, to store leftovers, or to keep hair ties. Even if you have a small space, find a shelf where you can store containers in a (reused) cardboard box and grab one the next time instead of purchasing a new container. – Bev Goes Green

 

Make small changes in the kitchen and bathroom

Keeping a waste-free home can be difficult, but a few simple, low-cost changes can lessen your home’s environmental impact dramatically. Consider the two most wasteful rooms in your home, the kitchen and the bathroom. Try swapping plastic straws for reusable straws in the kitchen, and why not invest in a safety razor for your bathroom. – Jungle Straws

 

Grow your own food in your backyard

Having a backyard garden can reduce your carbon footprint substantially. When you grow your own food it takes less resources to grow and to make its way to your table. But one of the ways we have reduced our resource use even further is by installing a rainwater barrel to water our garden. It was super simple to install ourselves in an afternoon and now we save 200 or more gallons of water every month.  – Sustainably Shelbi

 

Discover new ways to live a sustainable lifestyle

Separating and composting your food scraps can be the first step into a world of sustainability. When you begin to separate your waste into three categories–compost, recycling, and landfill, you become more mindful about what is in all three categories. Then you can go about discovering what you’re actually wasting and how you could shop or eat differently to reduce. Reduce, reuse, recycle-it’s a hierarchy! – Collective Resource

Make fertilizers for your garden

Limit your food waste by creating nutrient-rich fertilizers that your indoor and outdoor garden will love. Bananas are full of potassium, coffee grinds are full of nitrogen, and fish bones (if processed properly) are chock full of phosphorus. – Food Cycle Science

Design an edible landscape

Homeowners can help preserve the environment by implementing edible landscapes into their property. Work with a landscape designer to create a landscape with plants that offer both aesthetic and sustainable nutrition, like a lemon tree for example.  – Prana Nutrition

 

Use a solid-state hard drive

Consider upgrading your older laptop or computer instead of buying a new one by replacing the hard drive with a solid-state drive. You will notice your laptop running much faster, adding years to its life. – High Tech Recycling

 

Wash your clothes in cold water rather than hot water

Homeowners can easily reduce their demand for energy by changing their laundry practices. For example, consider washing all your laundry with cold water. GE Appliances estimates that 75 to 90 percent of all the energy your washer uses goes to warming up the water. By switching to cooler water less energy is used and this can result in a lower bill for you! It’s a win, win for the homeowner and the planet. –The Honest Consumer

 

Introduce more vegetables into your home

Homeowners can help preserve the environment by trying to lead a more conscious lifestyle, ditching things they don’t really need to make more space for the things that make them happier and healthier. One practical way to apply this is to decrease your meat consumption and eat more vegetables, which will help you feel better, live longer, and reduce your amount of greenhouse gas emissions. –Simple Vegan

 

Eat more veggies! The vegan lifestyle has the smallest footprint on the environment, as far as land use, water consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions. Plus, your health will benefit from it, too. – Better Vegan

 

Add a solar awning if your roof is too small

Is your roof is too small to get enough electric power from solar? Try adding a purpose-built solar awning facing south underneath your roof eave all along the side of your house. This would also give a little shade and shelter from the rain as you enter your door. – Harvest Sun Solar

 

Incorporate automation to reduce your carbon footprint

Installing automation technology provides an easy way for homeowners to monitor their device usage, which can save you money and wasted energy, and also reduce your carbon footprint. We’re working on a system that can anticipate people’s needs based on how they interact with their home’s devices and take actions proactively to help before you realize you need assistance. –Josh.ai

 

There you have it!  17 ways to reduce your carbon footprint at home.  Do you have any to share?  Leave a comment below!

Thanks for reading!

11 tips to fight plastic pollution during a pandemic.

 

We used to bring home just one or two plastic-packaged groceries home from the store.  Now, with stores closing bulk bins due to COVID-19,  it feels like almost half of our groceries are in plastic.  Plastic is our clogging our waterways, polluting our planet, killing wildlife, and ending up in our bodies.  Even though our world feels upside-down during the pandemic, there are still ways to fight plastic pollution.

 

Instead of giving up altogether, I’ve put together 11 ways to fight plastic pollution during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

At home:

 

1. If your tap water is safe, drink it instead of bottled water.

 

Avoid the packaging and cut down on the amount of microplastics that you eat at the same time! According to a 2018 study, bottled water has twice as many microplastics as tap water.  If your tap water is safe (i.e., you don’t live in Flint, MI or one of many other communities where contamination has occurred), it’s better for you and the planet than bottled water.  See where your communities stands here:  https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/

 

2. Store your food without plastic.

Certain plastic containers may leach harmful chemicals into foods, according to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Save your old plastic containers for non-food stuff, like organizing your kids art supplies or pebble collection.  Use plastic-free containers instead for your food like glass jars, pyrex, stainless steel, and wax wraps.  You can get plastic-free containers at LifeWithoutPlastic.com and wax wraps from yours truly at https://notraceshop.com/beeswaxwraps/

3. Choose to cook at home most of the time.  

 

I admit, this one is kinda tough for me.  I mean, cooking &/or washing dishes everyday and night gets old, amiright?  But we try to limit our take out to once a week.  One of our local pizza shops delivers vegan pizza (no plastic box topper!) so we’ll enjoy it and then compost the box.  And we’re trying to support our favorite restaurants during the pandemic.  Normally we’d dine in.  But we’ve opted for takeout in plastic, just sparingly.  

 

I’ve got a few posts on easy, low waste, vegan dinner ideas here and here  and here.

 

4. Keep microplastics out of our water.

 

Put your synthetic fabrics into a Guppyfriend bag or toss a Cora ball into your wash to catch the microfibers released by your fabrics.  You can get a Guppyfriend bag at Ethos in Capitola (shop online here) and a Cora ball from Earthhero.com. Microplastics are polluting our water and ending up in our bodies.  Stopping them at the source is key.

 

At the store:

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Buy larger quantities.

 

If you can’t shop into your own containers, like we can’t right now, opt for the largest portion you can find that won’t spoil.  Pantry staples like beans and grains are a safe bet, as well as flour, sugar, salt, and other baking supplies.  

 

6. Look for paper over plastic packaging.

 

Since bulk foods aren’t available in bulk right now, we’ve been searching for paper-packaged versions instead.  We’ve been able to find paper alternatives for pasta, sugar, salt, pinto beans, lentils, rice, & flour.  We recycle the paper packaging if it’s clean, and compost it if it’s not.  

 

We’re also looking for glass and metal options over plastic – e.g., certain peanut butter and olive oil brands come in large plastic-free packaging.

 

7. Rethink certain ingredients.  

Can you substitute something in plastic for something not?  Can you find a lower waste alternative?  Opt for unpackaged fruits & veggies in the produce aisle.  Now’s the time to show your flexibility with food.  In our house, rather than buy green lentils in plastic, e.g., we’re eating mostly red lentils that we were able to buy in a huge paper bag.  

 

8. If you can’t bring your own bags, skip the bag altogether.  

 

Lots of stores will let you put your groceries into your cart, then use your own bags at your bike or car or on the curb.  We’ll place loose produce in our cart and then bag it at home in our own cloth bags.  You can shop for cloth bags made by No Trace here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In your community…

9. Write a letter to your local paper

AND

10. Write to your favorite local business thanking them for positive steps and asking for more.

Tell them that we need to return to/move towards reusable options in our shops, restaurants, and cafes.

Wondering if your own containers are safe during COVID-19?  The short answer is YES!

 

More than 100 scientists have signed a statement that “reusable systems can be used safely by employing basic hygiene”.  As long as we follow basic hygiene recommendations, there’s no reason to think that reusable containers are riskier than disposable containers.  In fact, the virus lives longer on plastic than on cloth, glass, and paper (

read the statement by scientists here

.  Also, although washing your hands and not touching your face is still important, the spread of COVID-19 is happening through aerosolized droplets, not from germs that remain behind on surfaces.  Spread the word!  

In the global community…

11.  Reach out to the biggest plastic polluters and demand action.

 According to a

report by Break Free From Plastic

, the 3 biggest polluters in 2019 include Coca Cola, Nestle, and PepsiCo.  Break Free From Plastic demands that corporations “reveal their plastic footprint, reduce the plastic they produce, and reinvent their packaging to be reusable”.  Reach out to them through social media or their websites. Ask your friends and family to do the same.  Take & share pictures of their plastic litter.  Demand that corporations take responsibility for their plastic pollution.

 

 

 

 

There you have it – my top 11 ways to fight plastic pollution during apandemic.  Do you have any to add?  Share in the comments below!

 

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liz

Top 10 reasons to buy organic cotton

whenever you can!

 

Are you wondering if organic cotton is worth the cost?  

 

Or worried about the effects of conventional cotton on you, your family, your home, and the planet?

 

 

Cotton can be a super polluting crop.  But organic cotton benefits the fields, nearby streams and rivers, local ecosystems, farmers, farm workers, fabric manufacturers, you, and your family.  

 

(BTW, recycled cotton is also a sustainable option when you have it!)

 

First – let’s define organic cotton.

 

What’s organic cotton?

Organic cotton is different from conventional cotton in 4 key ways.  

 

1. Organic cotton is cotton that’s grown in a way that has minimal negative effects on the environment.  This means: 

-soils are protected and replenished.  

-toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers are avoided

-crops are grown in a way that supports bio-diversity of crops

 

2. Organic cotton is grown without genetically engineered seeds.

  

3. Organic cotton is grown in a way that complies with the United Nations’ guidelines for human rights.  That means from fields to manufacturing plants, no child labor, no slave labor, and no forced labor is used.  

 

4. Organic cotton is certified by a third-party organization.  That oversight means farmers have to comply with the standards set by third-party organizations. 

 

Sounds great, right?  It is!

 

Now that we understand what organic cotton is, here’s the top 10 reasons to buy organic cotton instead of conventional cotton.  

 

1. Less exposure to toxins

Organic farmers and farmer workers are exposed to fewer toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.  Conventional cotton uses millions of pounds of pesticides per year in the U.S. alone.  These include known and probable carcinogens (OTA website).  Yikes.

 

2. Clean rivers & streams

Organic cotton doesn’t pollute local rivers and streams.  Water treatment is mandatory in the process of dying and manufacturing organic cotton (GOTS standard), but not so for conventional cotton.  You’ve probably seen the damage done from the fast fashion industry to local waterways.  Remember pink rivers, anyone??

 

3. Protects human rights

Organic cotton has strict labor standards whereas conventional cotton still uses child labor and other forced labor in certain areas (EJF report).

 

4. Less conflict over water

Conventional cotton can lead to competition and conflict over water in different regions of the world (EJF report).

 

5. Preservation of water resources

Conventional cotton has led to the depletion of a sea – the Aral Sea – and the loss of local habitats and species (EJF Report).  The unsustainable approach of non-organic cotton allows for this type of destruction to happen.  Without standards in place, the worst is possible.

 

6. Protection of local eco-systems

Cheap, unsustainably produced cotton is destroying local eco-systems (EJF Report).  In the case of the Aral Sea, its ecosystem was destroyed in order to grow non-organic cotton.  Locals who depended on that ecosystem for their livelihood lost that as well.  Organic cotton can only be grown in a way that avoids these types of consequences.

 

7. Fewer medical bills & lower food costs

Organic farmers save on medical bills and food costs (Soil Association Report).  This allows them to save money and invest in their own futures.

More benefits have been found when looking at the life cycle impacts of organic cotton.  A life cycle assessment (LCA) is a study of the environmental impact of a product across all the stages of its life: from raw material, manufacturing, distribution, use, and end of its usable life (recycling or disposal).  The cycle of life.  Get it?

 

8. Fewer greenhouse gases

According to LCAs, organic cotton reduces the global warming impact of growing cotton by 46% through fewer greenhouse gas emissions (Textile Exchange LCA).

 

9. Less soil erosion

According to LCAs, organic cotton reduces soil erosion by 26% (Textile Exchange LCA).  Soil erosion leads to less productive fields and water pollution from the sediment run-off.  That water pollution can impact water life and ecosystems.  The loss of soil also leads to worse flooding. We have to protect our topsoil like the precious resource that it is.

 

10. Lower energy demand

According to LCAs, organic cotton reduces energy demand by 62% (Textile Exchange LCA).  Fewer fossil fuels are used to grow organic vs non-organic cotton.

 

And here’s a big fat bonus reason that organic cotton is better than conventional cotton:

 

11. Income stability for farmers

Organic cotton farmers in India (where much of it is grown) have more stable income than conventional cotton farmers.  It’s because they grow their crops in a more diverse environment, with other crops, in line with organic farming practices (Soil Association report).

 

Before you leave, let’s talk about some claims AGAINST the use of organic cotton.

 

Claims that organic cotton has problems too

 

  1. Organic cotton crops produce less cotton 

 

Compared to their genetically modified cousin (i.e., conventional cotton), organic cotton has been found to produce less per hectare (an area of measurement in farming).  This means it requires more land and resources to grow the same amount of cotton than conventional crops.

 

Here’s the thing about this claim: It’s a tricky point to prove.  There are SO many variables that go into a particular crop of cotton (country, soil qualities, crop rotation, amount of fertilizer, etc).  Comparing the amount grown, or yield, for organic vs. conventional cotton isn’t easy.  It’s varied in different published, peer-reviewed scientific studies (see Seufert & Ramankutty, 2017, for a review).  

 

Scientists have conducted review studies on this topic to try to get a grip on this.  A review study is when lots of different published studies are combined to make broad conclusions across a subject.  In general, review studies have found that organic crops, like corn, wheat, soy, and cotton, have smaller yields than non-organic crops.  The difference can be anywhere from a few percent less to half the non-organic amount (Seufert & Ramankutty, 2017).  

 

There aren’t a ton of studies that look at organic vs. conventional cotton yields.  The most recent review on the topic included four studies (Seufert, Ramankutty, & Foley, 2012).  These scientists  found that in 2 of the 4 studies, organic cotton yielded 8% and 11% MORE than conventional cotton.  And two of the studies found that conventional cotton yielded 35% and 19% more than organic cotton.  If you’d like a few more numbers, that averages to 91% yield of organic to conventional cotton.  AKA a 9% difference in favor of conventional.  

 

But that’s just four studies.  And the average yield difference of 9% seems kinda of small when you think of all the other benefits of organically grown cotton.

 

  1. Organic cotton requires more water than conventional cotton.  

 

Here’s the thing about this claim: according to a report by the Textile Exchange, 80% of organically grown cotton in the world is rainfed.  This means its grown without irrigation or diverting water from rivers etc. (Textile Exchange report).  In fact, the Textile Exchange report found that organic cotton uses 91% LESS water than conventional.  That’s because 1. it’s rainfed and 2. the soil is better able to hold onto water.  

 

So actually, this is ANOTHER benefit of organic cotton.  Make this a top 12 list!

 

If you’re not buying GOTS certified organic cotton, do you really know the impact of the cotton you’re buying?  

 

Do you know where it’s from?

 

Do you know who picked it?

 

Buy organic cotton whenever you can.  

 

And recycled or upcycled cotton when you can – that’s a sustainable option.

 

And avoid generic, conventional, new cotton whenever possible.

 

No Trace uses only organic cotton and, in a few select products, recycled cotton (which is sustainable and eco-friendly).

 

Our wraps cost a little more than the conventional cotton wraps you might find online.  It’s because we use only 100% GOTS certified organic cotton.  Because organic is worth it.

 

What are your thoughts on organic vs conventional cotton?  I’d love to hear in the comments below!  

 

Thanks for reading.

 

P.S. – If you’d like to look at my original sources, check them out here:

 

EJF Report: The true cost of cotton: cotton production and water insecurity.  Available at https://ejfoundation.org/resources/downloads/EJF_Aral_report_cotton_net_ok.pdf

 

GOTS latest version 6.0: https://www.global-standard.org/the-standard/latest-version.html

 

OTA website: Get the facts about organic cotton  https://ota.com/advocacy/fiber-and-textiles/get-facts-about-organic-cotton 

 

Seufert, N. Ramankutty, Many shades of gray—The context-dependent performance of organic agriculture. Sci. Adv. 3, e1602638 (2017).  Available at: https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/advances/3/3/e1602638.full.pdf

 

Seufert, N. Ramankutty, J. A. Foley, Comparing the yields of organic and conventional agriculture. Nature 485, 229–232 (2012).

 

Soil Association Report: Cool cotton: Organic cotton and climate change.  Available at: https://www.soilassociation.org/media/11662/coolcotton.pdf

 

Textile Exchange LCA: Life cycle assessment of organic cotton: A global average.  Available at: http://farmhub.textileexchange.org/upload/library/Farm%20reports/LCA_of_Organic_Cotton%20Fiber-Full_Report.pdf

 

Textile Exchange report: Organic cotton sustainability assessment: Summary of findings.  Available at: https://textileexchange.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/OC-SAT-Summary-of-Findings.pdf

Low waste vegan dinners: what our family’s eating this week

 

We’re heading into week 2 of social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at our house.

No last minute shopping trips for us.

Time to dig deep in the cupboards! And eat what needs to be eaten ASAP.

So here’s our week of low waste vegan meal plans that the whole family will eat.

Very little processed or packaged foods, almost everything available in our local and Bay Area bulk bins, and no animal products :).

FYI: my approach to cooking is pretty free form so apologies if you need strict measurements. I don’t got ‘em :).

  1. Saturday:  Instant falafels, homemade hummus, homemade tahini dressing (Minimialist Baker has 2 different yummy dressings on her site – check them out!), roasted cauliflower, homemade pickled carrots, and mashed potatoes.

It was a little smorgasbord type plate but all the flavors were really yummy together.

A couple recipes for ya:
Instant falafel mix from bulk bins (no recipe, just eyeballing it):
-put the mix in a bowl.
-add a little water, a little olive oil, and stir.
-Keep adding water, a little at a time, til the mixture is pretty thick and holds together.
-Roll the mix into balls – we did about 2” per ball.
-Spread them on a baking sheet & press them down a little to flatten slightly.
-We baked ours for about 15 minutes at 425F because we were also roasting cauliflower. You could cook them at a lower temp, maybe a little longer, until they feel as hard and crunchy as you like ‘em.

Mashed potatoes:
-wash, peel, and thinly chop potatoes
-cook in boiling water with salt for about 15 minutes
-drain over a clean bowl so you can save some of the cooking water.
-mash the cooked potatoes with salt, pepper, vegan butter, and some of the cooking water til you get the consistency you like. We use either a fork or our pastry device that cuts butter into dough :). Use whatever you have for mashing foods.

2. Sunday: spaghetti with tomato sauce, texturized vegetable protein (TVP), shredded brussel sprout salad, sauteed mushrooms & onions.

Easy-peasy spaghetti dinner with shaved brussel sprout salad.
with sauteed mushrooms and onions 🙂

 

3. Monday: vegan pasta alfredo; steamed broccoli with vegan butter, lemon, and salt; chickpea salad with finely sliced red onions, shredded carrots, and a honey mustard vinaigrette. The alfredo sauce recipes comes from Vegan with a Vengeance and is a blend of pine nuts, nutritional yeast, water, cooked onions/garlic, and spices. We used half cashews, half walnuts instead of pine nuts because we’re out of pine nuts :).

Fast vegan alfredo sauce from Vegan with a Vengeance

4. Tuesday: tacos with home cooked black beans, rice, shredded cabbage, salsa or salsa ingredients, if we run out of stuff, chopped on the side; simple guacamole of avocados, lemon juice, and salt.

5. Wednesday: instant chili, cornbread or toast, green salad

6. Thursday: TBD (I like to leave some wiggle room for leftovers or, pre-COVID-19, going out to eat).

7. Friday: pizza dinner with sauteed veggies, olives, tomato sauce, cashew cheese from Nora Cooks Vegan, popcorn, green salad or other veggies.

Homemade pizza with vegan cashew cheese.

 

There’s our week of low waste vegan dinners! All of these take about 30 minutes to 1 hour to prep, but usually we have leftovers for lunches, snacks, breakfasts, and maybe a future dinner. Plus it’s worth it to us to be eating very little processed and packaged foods. So I don’t mind the time to cook. And now that we aren’t shuttling the kids to after school activities or going anywhere ourselves, we seem to have plenty of time to cook.

Are you planning out your low waste dinners? I’d love to hear about it!
Liz

Low waste vegan meal plan:

What we’re eating for dinner this week.

 

The coronavirus has hampered our low waste/zero waste efforts in this week’s shopping trip. We tossed our veggies straight into our shopping cart instead of using plastic bags.

 

All our bulk goods had to go into paper bags or we had to buy packaged.  

 

Fruits & veggies for the week (or longer) in bags: tomatoes, brussel sprouts, and mushrooms.  

Bulk goods: coffee beans, dried mangos, walnuts, red lentils, cashews, instant beans, chia chunks/snacks, almonds, nutritional yeast.

Packaged goodies: bread in paper, toothpaste, rice dream, massive bag of brown rice, pasta in paper boxes, bread flour, pickles, veganaise, earth balance, popcorn kernels in plastic, cereal, soy sauce, wine, olive oil, honey, coconut milk, canned tomatoes, veg broth, & olive oil.  

Plus some canned foods for our outside supply.

Here’s our meal plan for week:

  1. Spaghetti with tomato sauce, texturized veggie protein (TVP), and either roasted or sauteed veggies.  We usually use canned tomatoes with a few dried herbs, maybe some sauteed onions, as the pasta sauce. Plus TVP for some protein.  When I roast veggies, I usually toss them in olive oil, salt, pepper, and spices (whatever suits my fancy) and then cook them at 425F for about 30 minutes, stirring them halfway through.
  2. Tacos with home cooked pintos from the pressure cooker.  We soak the pintos overnight, then drain and rinse them. Toss them in the pressure cooker with chopped onions, cumin, salt, and bay leaves.  Cook for 30 minutes to an hour. Homemade salsa is just cilantro, onions, jalapeño, tomatoes, lemon juice and salt. Shredded cabbage tossed in lemon juice or in veganaise.  Simple guacamole of avocado, salt, and lemon juice. 
  3. Vegan mac n cheese with cashew cheese (check out Nora Cooks Vegan for recipes!), brussel sprout salad (my new fav).  I make a honey mustard dressing and toss shredded brussel sprouts, chopped almonds, and chopped dried fruit like raisins, cranberries, dried cherries, or dried persimmons.
  4. Red lentil soup with toast and a green salad.  We add onions, spices, and a little lemon juice to the soup.  Mmmm yum!
  5. Homemade pizza (I like Bobby Flay’s dough recipe) with cashew cheese (same Nora Cooks Vegan recipe as for mac n cheese) and sauteed veggies (I love mushrooms, onions, and sweet peppers on top) and olives; green salad.

 

And I’ve got a few food storage tips for you in case you’re buying in bigger quantities right now:

 

  1. Store your carrots in water to keep them fresher for longer.  Change the water every few days – pour it on your garden :).
  2. Clean your greens when you bring them home.  Then store them in a cloth bag in the fridge.  A little dampness helps keep them fresh.  
  3. Mushrooms last way longer in a cloth or paper bag than plastic.
  4. Clean and dry/spin your fresh herbs and store them in a cloth bag to keep them fresh and breathing.
  5. Nuts keep best in the freezer.  We put ours in jars in the freezer.  
  6. Fresh nut butters keep great in the fridge but if you go through them fast, you can also store them in your cupboards.
  7. If you have extra room in your fridge – keep extra fruit in there instead of on the counter.
  8. Try pickling your veggies with a quick pickle recipe.  If you haven’t seen Portlandia’s “We can pickle that!”, drop what you’re doing and watch it now ;).  We’ve pickled carrots, cabbage, & beets. Other crunchy veggies like cucumbers (duh) and cauliflower would be delish! 

 

There’s our week of low waste vegan meal planning!  Are you getting into meal planning? Any tips or suggestions for me?

 

Thanks for reading and for all that you do for the earth.

Liz

Here’s the thing – I’m not a chef.  I work full-time (and sometimes more), as does my partner. And we have two kiddos with dance or piano lessons every day of the week (except Sunday).

SO, our dinners have to be FAST.  Easy.  Kid-friendly.  Vegan.  And low waste.  Here’s what we’re eating this week for dinners.

Our low waste vegan meal plan for the week

Fruits & veggies for the week.

We shop for these in our cloth veggie bags that you can buy here.  I take them out of their bag for the pic but we keep them in these cloth veggie bags  in the fridge or in a hanging fruit basket in the kitchen. 

This week we bought:

  • lettuce
  • ginger root
  • cilantro
  • garlic
  • fresh tumeric
  • carrots
  • cabbage
  • sweet peppers
  • onions
  • cucumber
  • jalapeno
  • onions
  • tomatoes
  • cauliflower
  • bananas
  • brussel spouts
  • mushrooms
  • string beans (still in their bags) – see bottom picture.

 

And a day or so before we made our big grocery run, we got kale, bananas, lemons, mangos, oranges, apples, avocados, and bread in a paper bag.

quick mini-grocery run

This is a pretty typical haul for us.  I have lots of green smoothies for breakfasts.  We have lots of veggies at each dinner.  And the kids take fruits and veggies in their lunches pretty much every day.

 

Pantry staples from bulk bins

We take our own clean containers like mason jars, old veganaise jars, old olive jars, and others to fill with staples that are a little messier.  We weigh the jars before we fill them.  Most stores have a scale you can use to get the weight of your container (aka the tare weight).  Or you can ask a cashier to weigh it. 

This week in jars we bought:

  • coffee beans
  • salt
  • corn flake cereal
  • nutritional yeast. 

We put nutritional yeast on everything – pasta, salads, fancy toast, popcorn, veggies.  Nutritional yeast (aka nuty yeast) gives food a little earthy-salty flavor. Plus its got vitamins and minerals.

the main weekly grocery run

For foods from bulk that aren’t too messy, we put them straight into the same cloth bags you can purchase here.  This week in bags we bought:

  • ramen noodles
  • chocolate chips
  • sushi rice
  • cornmeal. 

We should’ve put the cornmeal in a jar – it got the bag pretty powdery and I’m still finding bits of cornmeal in our grocery bags ;).  Next time….

 

Packaged foods

We aren’t perfect and still get a few packaged goods most of the time.  We pick foods that are yummy, will simplify meal prep, and are popular with the kids.  Or essential for my coffee (COCONUT MILK!).  Or when the bulk version is out of stock.  This week olive oil was out of stock, so we got it packaged. 

So this week’s packaged foods were:

  • a yummy vegan dip called Bitchin’ Sauce that my kids will put on just about any vegetable in their lunches and on their sandwiches. 
  • Corn and flour tortillas for taco/burrito night and for lunches and snacks. 
  • Coconut milk for my coffee. 
  • Olive oil for everything every day. 

Our low waste vegan meal plan for the week

Here’s what we’re eating this week.  All low waste vegan meals:

  1. Sushi bowls with sushi rice (I found a recipe online that was yummy and easy – rice wine vinegar and sugar) plus finely sliced carrots, cucumbers, and avocado.  Plus local seaweed we get in a paper bag at the Santa Cruz farmers market.  A little dab of veganaise.  Soy sauce.  Pickled ginger from a little glass jar that we’ll reuse.  We put all of this into a bowl together.  Super yum.  Kids asked for this meal this week and they ate it up!
  2. Tacos/burritos with pressure-cooked pinto beans; brown rice cooked with onions and spices; homemade salsa made with chopped tomatoes, cilantro, onion, jalapeno, lemon juice, and salt; shredded cabbage tossed in a little veganaise; super simple homemade guacamole (avocados + lemon juice + salt), and tortillas.
  3. Ramen noodle bowls with
    • ramen noodles;
    • veggie broth (from bulk);
    • sauteed onions with fresh garlic and ginger;
    • sauteed mushrooms;
    • fresh thinly sliced carrots, zucchinis, and cabbage and cilantro;
    • beef-style TVP (boiled, drained, and then tossed in a quick and dirty “teriyaki” sauce of soy sauce, powdered ginger, peanut oil, rice vinegar and sugar;
    • plus roasted cauliflower for the side or with the bowl
    • lemon wedges. 
    • And a couple hot sauces in glass jars.

This dinner was super popular with the kiddos and grown-ups.  It probably took about an hour from start to finish, but we had leftovers to help out with other meals so I don’t mind the time too much.  Plus I love eating lots of veggies at dinner.  

ramen bowl dinner

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4.  Homemade pizza, with quick homemade dough topped with vegan homemade cashew cheese (see Nora Cooks Vegan for her awesome vegan cashew queso!).  Plus sauteed bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms.  And chopped olives. Plus a green salad and probably some popcorn and probably a movie too.  

 

So there you have it – our low waste vegan meal plan for this week.  Does this give you any ideas for your upcoming dinners?  I’d love to hear in the comments below!

 

Thanks for reading!

Liz @ No Trace

Easy DIY zero waste snack bag tutorial

Hey there!  I’ve got an easy, step-by-step tutorial for you to make these cute snack and sandwich bags!  

 

These sew up super fast and easy.  You’ll want to make a bunch for yourself and give them to everyone on your gift list!

These are an eco-friendly alternative to plastic bags.  Plastic bags are choking our environment!  Use these cuties instead!

 

The smaller bags work great for:

Trail mix

Almonds

Cookies

Goldfish crackers

Pretzels

Crackers

 

Some folks use them for other purposes like:

 

A mini wallet

Dog treats

Holding your essential oil jars

Hair clips & rubberbands

Seaglass and other special treasures

 

Basically anything small.  You get it ;).

 

The larger bags work great for:

A sandwich

A croissant

Lots of popcorn

A big bunch of grapes

A scone

 

Or you could use the larger size in your bag to hold your zero waste kit together.  I like to put a napkin, utensils, straw, and beeswax wrap inside mine and keep it in my purse.  You could also use it in your luggage to hold your hankies or socks or undies together. They work for art supplies too – markers, crayons, colored pencils and a small notebook.  Basically any medium-sized thing.   

 

By now you see that you NEED some of these baggies in your life!  Some in your kitchen. Some in your backpack. Some in your purse.  Some in your luggage. Right??

 

So let me show you how to make them!

 

Materials needed:

 

Fabric: 

All-natural fabrics like cotton, linen, and hemp are the best.  Organic fabrics are even better. Nylon or water-resistant type fabrics are more difficult to deal with at the end of their usable life.  Those synthetic fibers usually end up in the landfill. Plus some aren’t food safe. All-natural fabrics can be composted at the end of their usable life, so they never need to end up in a landfill.

 

I use two layers of organic cotton poplin/quilters weight or one layer of poplin and one layer of canvas for my baggies.

 

For the snack baggies you need 2 pieces that measure 5.5” wide by 9” long.  

 

For the sandwich baggies you need 2 pieces that measure 8” wide by 18” long.

 

Supplies:

Thread, Scissors, ruler or measuring tape, pins, pencil or chopstick, fabric chalk or marker if you have one.

 

Now that you have your supplies gathered… 

 

Step 1: Cut your fabric to size.

 

If your fabric has a pattern with a right and wrong direction (for example, something like this)

 


 

cut it so that 9” corresponds with the length of the pattern, like this:

5.5″ wide and 9″ tall

For the sandwich bag, make sure the pattern length is 18”.

 

That way when your bag is complete, you’ll see the pattern in the right direction.

 

Step 2: Line up your fabric

 

Whether you’re making the snack size or the sandwich size, these steps are the same!

 

Place your two pieces of fabric together with right sides facing each other (so you see the back sides of the fabric).

picture of fabric with right sides facing each other
right sides facing each other

Get some pins and pin them together in a few spots.

 

Mark a 3” opening on one long side with pins or your fabric marker.  This 3” opening is how you turn the bag right side out later. You WON’T be sewing over this 3” opening.  

Pin along sides and mark a 3″ opening on one long side.

Step 3: Sew the two pieces together.

 

Take your two pieces to your machine and start at one side of your 3” opening (remember: you are leaving a 3” opening for later).  Backstitch at the start and then stitch along the edges with a ¼” seam allowance until you get to the other side of your 3” opening.  Backstitch again at the end. 

Finished stitching along all 4 sides, leaving the 3″ opening.

Step 4: Turn your bag right sides out.  

 

Before you turn it right sides out, cut the extra fabric to the right of your seams just at the corners.  This gets rid of the extra fabric at the corners. Make sure not to cut any of your stitches.

Cut off the extra fabric at the corners

 

Use the 3” opening that you didn’t sew over to push the right sides out through the hole.  Use a chopstick or the eraser end of a pencil to pus. Make sure to get the corners poked out with the eraser end of a pencil or a chopstick.  

Pull the fabric right side out through the opening.
Use your chopstick to push out the corners

Press your bag at the iron for nice crisp edges.

 

Step 5 (optional): Topstitch the outer flap of your bag.

 

If you want a more polished look, topstitch the outer flap of the bag with a ⅛” seam allowance.

 

The outer flap of the bag will be the bottom of your fabric if it has a directional print to it.  If the print doesn’t have a right or wrong direction, just pick which edge you want to lay on top of the other flap and top stitch that one.  

Top stitch along this edge of the bag.

 

Step 6: Fold your bag up and pin the sides.

 

For the snack size, you want to fold the bottom up about 3″ (the part that doesn’t have the top stitching). 

Fold the bottom of the bag up by 3″

And fold the top flap (the edge with the top stitching) down about 2 inches.

Top edge is folded about 2″, for total bag height of 4″

This gives you a final bag size of about 4”. Pin along the sides.  

 

For the sandwich size, you want to fold the top flap down about 3 inches and the bottom up about 7”.  This gives you a final bag size of about 8”. Pin along the sides.  

 

Make sure that the unsewn edge/opening is folded in so that it’ll get caught in your seam when you sew.  

 

Pin the flap down to keep it in place as you sew.

 

Step 7: Stitch the sides closed

 

Take the pinned bag back to your machine and stitch up the sides, one at a time, with a ¼” seam allowance.  Make sure to backstitch at the beginning and end of each side. You’re only sewing up the sides of the bag – not the top or bottom folds.  

Stitch along the sides with 1/4″ seam allowance

Afterward, check that you caught all of your fabric in the seams by looking inside your bag. 

  

Step 8: Trim off the loose threads.

 

Cut any loose threads off the sides. 

Carefully trim loose threads from the bag

 

Then you’re done! Repeat and repeat as many times as you need :).  

 

Have you made one of these cuties?  Has it replaced plastic bags for you?  Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you :).

 

p.s. – just want to buy some?  CLICK HERE TO SHOP FOR SNACK & SANDWICH BAGS!

10 reasons to avoid bioplastics

Despite being considered “eco-friendly,” bioplastics might be causing more problems than they solve.  Below are 10 reasons to avoid bioplastics. Each one based on scientific research. But first let’s get to know these materials, shall we?

 

Bioplastics are plastics made from plants instead of fossil fuels.  The two most common and general types of bioplastics are PLAs (which are made from sugars) and PHAs (which are made from microorganisms that are fed plant-based oils).  

 

Bioplastics are often described by manufacturers as “compostable”.  Compostable means it’ll breakdown in a compost at the same rate as other organic material (i.e., food scraps) without any special conditions.  And compostable means they won’t leave any toxins behind. Sometimes bioplastics are described as “biodegradable”. Biodegradable means something will breakdown eventually in the right conditions, but not necessarily in a traditional compost system.

 

Compared to regular plastic, having an alternative like bioplastics that won’t biodegrade into toxins is a huge improvement.  Having an alternative that’s not made from fossil fuels is also a big improvement! The potential to compost food scraps and it’s packaging in the same bin could help cut tons of waste.  And the potential to make bioplastics from organic waste (rather than crops) is also an amazing promise that some companies are working on.

 

With all this good news, lots of businesses have jumped on the bioplastics bandwagon.  Globally, the bioplastics market was worth $17 billion dollars in 2017 and produced over 2 million tons of bioplastic (see this report for details).  Bioplastics are showing up in grocery store aisles, as cups, straws, forks, product packaging, doggie bags, mailers, and more!

Bioplastics are showing up as packaging everywhere.
Bioplastic candy wrapper

But the potential of bioplastics to solve our trash problem isn’t happening.  Right now, bioplastics are creating a slew of problems instead of solving them.

 

Here are 10 reasons that bioplastics are not a solution to plastic pollution.

 

  1. Not always made from plants

To be called a bioplastic, it only needs to contain a minimum of 20% renewable material (i.e, plant-based).  So this means that some could have as much as 80% petroleum-based materials. That means they won’t compost as promised and they create the same plastic pollution problems as regular plastic.  If these bioplastics end up in composts, they have the potential to contaminate organic material.

 

2. Their production is more polluting

One2010 study found that the production of bioplastics results in more pollution than the production of traditional plastics.  This increased pollution comes from the agricultural processes to grow the crops that become bioplastics. Creating bioplastics also led to more ozone depletion and required more land to create than traditional plastics.

 

3. Some have carcinogens

Although they don’t contain BPA (a chemical found in regular plastics that may cause health problems for humans), some bioplastics are associated with increased carcinogens.  The same 2010 study found that bioplastics made with fossil fuels (these are called B-PET plastics) had the highest impact on “carcinogenic health hazards” across its life cycle. 

 

4. They increase pressure on our lands

In order to produce most bioplastics, crops have to be grown.  This creates more demand for farmland. In order to feed the planet without destroying it, we’ll have to take a hard look at how we use our land.  Using land to create packaging instead of food probably doesn’t make a lot of sense.  

 

5. Won’t compost at home

They won’t compost in your yard or worm bin.  Home composting is a super green way to cut waste on lots of levels.  You can turn those organics back into soil. You don’t need any transportation to move them from your house to a facility.  It’s cheap (or even free) to do at home. But bioplastics won’t compost at home. They have to be sent away and processed like all other trash.

 

6. Hard to compost anywhere

Very few cities have facilities to compost bioplastics – i.e., industrial composting facilities.  An industrial composting facility allows “materials to reach 140 degrees F for 10 consecutive days”, according to this report. Although the exact number of facilities that can achieve these conditions isn’t easy to know, there aren’t many.  

 

And even among those facilities that do exist, many of them don’t want any bioplastics because they take longer to breakdown than other materials.  This slows down composting and costs facilities more money. Fastcompany.com reports that less than 90 cities in the US accept compostable packaging.  

 

7. They can contaminate recycling.  

Folks get confused about what to do with their bioplastics, and so they often end up in the recycle bin.  Then they get mixed in with traditional plastics at the recycling plant since they’re hard to tell apart. As a result, our cities can accidentally send loads of traditional plastic that are contaminated with bioplastics to plastic recyclers.  When plastic recyclers see the contamination, they start to reject our entire plastic loads. This puts a major strain on our ability to recycle any plastic. And it’s already become a challenge to recycle traditional plastics across the US.

Bioplastics can contaminate our recycling.
Bioplastics can contaminate our recycling.

8. They release methane

When bioplastics end up in landfills, which is where most of them end up, they release methane.  Methane is a super powerful greenhouse gas.

 

9. They won’t biodegrade on their own

When bioplastics like PLA end up in the ocean or forests or meadows or streams, they won’t biodegrade.  Instead, they become another source of litter, just like traditional plastics.

 

10. Still single-use

Here’s the biggest problem of all: they promote a single-use mentality.  Folks see bioplastics as an eco-friendly single-use option. The problem is that there’s no such thing as eco-friendly single-use.  To create anything that will only get used once and then discarded is wasteful. Of course, in some situations single-use is the only option or the best option, like medical settings.  But single-use plastics should be an exception for certain situations, rather than the norm for everything we consume and use.  

 

We need to switch from a single-use mentality to a reusable mentality.  We need to recognize that the world has finite resources. All of these resources should be conserved and protected as much as possible.

 

This isn’t to say that bioplastics are worthless.  If we had better systems in place for capturing and composting bioplastics, and more efficient, less polluting ways of creating bioplastics, that would be awesome.  Bioplastics have the potential to fill an important need in plastics with renewable resources.

 

But at this point in time, with our current resources, bioplastics don’t solve all our problems.  And they have lots of issues that need to be addressed.  

 

The main problem for us to solve is to reduce our dependence on single-use plastic as much as possible.  Bioplastics don’t get us any closer.

 

Do you have thoughts on bioplastics?  I’d love to hear in the comments below!

Thanks for reading and for all that you do for the planet,

Liz

P.S. Want more nitty-gritty info on bioplastics?  Check out my sources:

https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2017/12/13/the-truth-about-bioplastics/ 

https://www.fastcompany.com/90393297/will-compostable-packaging-ever-be-able-to-solve-our-waste-problem 

http://ncrarecycles.org/2019/03/oregon-composters-push-back/ 

https://www.thebalancesmb.com/what-does-biodegradable-mean-2538213 

https://ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/state-of-composting-in-us.pdf

https://greenamerica.org/take-plastics-challenge/bioplastics-benefits-and-pitfalls 

50 small ways to fight climate change 

Because your actions matter!  

(and these can add up!)

 

You care about climate change because you’re a decent human being.  Climate change affects you, me, every person on earth, all living organisms, and future generations.  It can be overwhelming and terrifying to think of where we’re headed over the next 50+ years. But here’s the good news.  There are TONS of ways to fight climate change as an individual. And if everyone did even a few of these, it would really add up.  

 

So here’s my list of 50 small ways to fight climate change!

 

 

 

 

 

50 small ways to fight climate change

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1.  Fly less.       

    Transportation is our number one source of greenhouse gas emissions.  And pollution from passenger flights across the US and globe is a HUGE contributor to climate change.  Flights result in massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions per passenger. It’s much worse than trains and even long distance car rides, especially if there’s more than one of you per car.  

 

You might have family across the country, or places to see on your bucket list.  I have those too. But if you cut your flights down even a little, the climate will thank you.  Try to combine trips if you need to fly somewhere. Or limit air travel to one really important trip per year.  

 

2. Drive less

Non-electric cars are another MASSIVE source of greenhouse gases.  Try driving less and only when you really need to. Combine your driving trips.  Go to the store a little less often and buy more when you’re there. Or try finding stores and businesses that are closer to your house to make your driving trips shorter.

 

3. Bike more

Yes to biking!  Biking more means less time in your car, which means you aren’t polluting.  And you’re getting to move your body. AND the more bikes on the road, the safer the roads become for bikes. PLUS the more bikes on the road, the more communities have to pay attention to bikes and create better solutions for bike riders.  Imagine safer bike lanes, bike paths/trails, and protected bike ways. Yes, please!

 

And if biking doesn’t come easy to you, consider getting an electric bike.  They take all the sweat out of the ride!

 

4. Ride the bus

I heard an interview with Alan Alda, former actor on M*A*S*H, on how he takes the bus in L.A. as part of his fight against climate change.  If Alan Alda can do it, so can you! Lots of buses will let you take your bike on the bus too, if the bus doesn’t quite get you all the way there.  In Santa Cruz, we also have some great bike lockers downtown. These let you bike to the bus stop and then lock up your bike in a super secure box.  

 

5. Carpool

The more people you get in your car, the more cars you get off the road. And the more efficient your car is in terms of gas per person per mile.  If you can set up some kid carpools, it might also save you some time a couple days a week. (Bonus: maybe you can finish your morning coffee before work!).  Plus, you can ride in the carpool lane if your freeways have those.  

 

6. Take the train

Trains are a more efficient form of travel, regardless of the fuel they use.  So if you can take the extra time to ride by train, DO IT! And as a bonus, you might get to see some awesome scenery along the way.  On the west coast we’ve got Amtrak’s Coast Starlight train ride with AMAZING views of the coast. It’s on my bucket list to ride that train.

 

7. Get an electric vehicle

Have you done it yet?  DO IT!!! Electric vehicles are the future of individual transportation.  No more wars over fossil fuels to fuel our cars. EVs can be charged at home with renewable energy sources like wind and solar.  Get one! Now! Ditch fossil fuels at the pump and never stop for gas again! Also, Tesla has now released their Model 3 which is as affordable as any other new mid-size car.  With a Tesla, you can drive pretty much anywhere in the US and stop to charge about as often as you would stop to pee and get gas. DO IT!

 

8. Install solar panels

Installing solar panels on your house can power your home and put any extra energy into the grid.  It can even earn you money! If you don’t want to purchase and pay for your own solar panels, tons of companies will come and install their own solar panels for you for very little cost.  They’re basically renting out your roof space from you to put solar energy into the grid. This saves you money and puts renewable energy into the grid, although you won’t earn as much money as installing your own panels.  

 

9. Switch to renewable energy with your energy company

In our community, our electricity company (PG&E) has an account option to use renewable energy to power your home.  You can opt in to purchase your household’s energy from renewable power plants. There’s a small fee for using this in our community.  But it’s worth it! Imagine if we all opt-in to renewable energy at home.  

 

10. Switch to LEDs

LEDs, in case you’ve been under a rock for the last decade, are super efficient lightbulbs.  There’s an LED for pretty much every lightbulb in your house. Recycle those old ones and get on the LED bandwagon!  

 

11. Line dry your laundry

Dryers use a TON of energy.  Even the more energy efficient ones.  Lucky for us, there’s this awesome thing called sunlight and fresh air that will do the work of your dryer. For free.  Without any electricity! We even line dry in the wet winters here in Santa Cruz. Just wait for a day with no rain in the forecast and get your laundry outside!  There are also small racks that you can set up in a small space in your home to dry indoors. Smaller racks usually fold up to fit behind a door or under a bed. That lets you dry smaller loads even in the winter.  We’ve been without a dryer for 6 years now! Two grown-ups, two kids, two dogs, and lots of house guests!    

 

12. Conserve your heating

Be scrimpy when it comes to your heating.  Put on a sweater and warm socks before you crank up the heat.  When my kiddos ask us to turn on the heater on a cool fall or winter morning, and all they’re wearing is a tank top, we remind them to put on a sweater!  Do easy, no energy steps before turning up the heat in the winter. An ideal temperature for conserving energy is 68 degrees Fahrenheit.  

 

13. Conserve your air conditioning

Same goes for air conditioning.  Do what you can personally to get comfortable before turning up the AC.  And maybe try feeling a little warmth of the summer air, rather than keeping your space overly cooled.  Aim for 72 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer (or hotter) to conserve energy.  

 

14. Turn off the juice when not in use

You probably already know this but one of the easiest ways to conserve energy and reduce your carbon footprint is this: Turn off appliances when they aren’t being used.  Put your computer to sleep. Turn off your printer. Turn out the lights when you leave a room. Some older appliances even suck energy when they’re turned off, so you might want to unplug it from the wall.  We have an old microwave that sucks energy even when it’s not being used, so we have it plugged into a power strip that we turn off when we’re not using it.

 

15. Buy efficient appliances. 

If you need a new appliance, lots of times it’s worthwhile to buy a new, energy efficient version than to search around for a used one.  And when you’re picking out the new one, get one that’s energy efficient (do your research online to find the best one!). Buying new, energy efficient is especially important with refrigerators, which are major energy sucks in your home.  

 

16. Switch to electric vs gas appliances.  

If you’re ready to replace your stove or heater or water heater, consider switching to an electric version if you currently have a gas version.  We add more renewable energy sources to the grid every year to power electric appliances. Over time, our electricity has the potential to be completely renewable, but natural gas doesn’t.  

 

17. Tighten up your home.  

Our homes are major energy sucks when we’re heating or cooling.  Laying insulation in your attic and crawl space and sealing up openings can help cut your energy use for heating and cooling and also save you money.  Upgrade to double-paned windows when you can afford it.  

 

18. Conserve water.  

You may not know this but using water at home and in the office uses up energy.  Water gets moved across California and other states by giant pumps. In fact, 12% of California’s statewide electricity use is from pumping and treating water.  When we have power shortages, we’re also asked to conserve water. So why not do it all year? Water itself is a precious resources and costs money.  

 

19. Go vegetarian

Here’s the thing about the meat industry – it is a MAJOR contributor to greenhouse gases and a MAJOR consumer of energy, water, and other resources.  Not only do cows and other farm raised animals emit methane (insert cow fart joke here 😉 ), a greenhouse gas, but the process of farming itself contributes greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.  It also requires lots of land. That means deforestation of natural habitats so that you can eat a burger. Is it worth it? Did you know there’s even vegetarian dog food? Our pups like it just fine.  

 

20. Eat vegetarian sometimes

I know, not everyone wants to go 100% veg.  And that doesn’t always work for everyones’ health needs.  So, if that describes you, consider cutting down your meat consumption.  Maybe make it more of a special occasion food. Or try meatless Mondays. Or one meal a day.  Get creative! Reducing your meat eating just a little benefits the climate.

 

21. Go vegan

The environmental problems that come from the meat industry are the same for the dairy industry.  Lots of greenhouse gas emissions and lots of resources are used to make that cheese or yogurt or milk!  Eating vegan is even more sustainable the vegetarian.

 

22. Eat vegan sometimes

Of course, eating vegan isn’t for everyone!  You might have dietary restrictions that make this hard.  Or maybe you don’t live somewhere that easily supports a vegan diet.  Or maybe you’re just not ready to make that change. That’s okay! Try eating vegan sometimes.  In my house, most of our dinners are vegan. But we might have some eggs at breakfast, or cheese at lunch.  If you’re nowhere near being vegan, you might consider adding one vegan meal to your diet per week just to start.  Go on, you can do it! Give it a try! One of the all time easiest vegan lunches? PB & J sandwich! Did you know Michelle Obama ate one for breakfast everyday growing up?  I LOVE that!

 

23. Don’t waste food.  

Did you know that the US wastes about 40% of our food on average?  Lots of greenhouse gas emissions were released to make that food. Plus money and time and water.  So don’t throw it out! Try eating most of what’s in your fridge before cooking or buying more food.  Serve smaller portions and get seconds if needed, rather than serving up more than you and your family can finish.  Serve your guests (especially those pint-sized guests) small portions and let them know there’s lots more of everything if they want more.  

 

24. Compost non-edible foods.  

Once and a while we discover something forgotten in the dark corners of the fridge.  If you have food that’s spoiled, compost it. Compost peels/seeds/pits and other non-edible food scraps.  Food scraps release methane if they end up in the landfill where they can’t breakdown properly. So compost it at home!  If you don’t have a yard, consider a worm bin, which fits in small spaces. There’re also composting services in some cities – curbside pick up with your trash or other compost companies.  And sometimes farmers at the farmers market will take your scraps for their compost. Ask around your community and I’ll bet you’ll find some options if you can’t do it on your own. Santa Cruz has an awesome bike-powered compost collection service called Hard Core Compost.

 

25. Compost other organic material.

Things like wet or food-stained paper, pizza boxes, tissues, all natural fibers like cotton and linen, paper towels, paper napkins, and anything else that’s 100% natural material can be composted.  These will also release methane in the landfill if left there. Be careful about packaging that’s a mixed material. For example, a to-go box with a thin plastic lining. Chinese take-out boxes. Or a paper drinking cup with a waxy coating.  Those materials are generally NOT compostable. The water-resistant material is usually plastic based or a petroleum-wax based material. So leave the mixed materials out of your compost.

 

Also, all those “compostable” plastics WON’T breakdown in your home compost, only in an industrial facility.  Don’t add them to your compost! Chances are you have to send them to the landfill unless your city has something set up to collect those bioplastics.  I hate the problems those have created, BTW. But I’ll save that rant for another day.

 

26. Use a reusable water bottle

Plastic comes from petroleum, a fossil fuel, and takes energy to produce.  Plastic is getting harder and harder to recycle (which also takes energy). And when it ends up in the wild, it becomes a pollutant and a hazard to animals.  Even in the landfill it can pollute our waterways and ecosystems. So bring your own water bottle!

27. Use a reusable coffee cup

Those paper cups and plastic lids take ENERGY and RESOURCES to produce.  And those cups release greenhouse gases when they breakdown. And plastic lids – well, you know the problems with those at the end of their life!

 

28. Bring your cloth grocery bags to the store

Don’t forget your bags!  Switch to reusables to conserve the energy and materials that go into making single use bags.  And if you don’t have a large stash of cloth grocery bags yet, reuse the paper and plastic bags that you have on hand as many times as you can!  But be careful of washing the plastic bags – the more friction and heat they are exposed to, the more potential for releasing microplastics into the waterways.

 

29. Switch to cloth bags for your fruits, veggies, and bulk goods

Those plastic bags are free at the store, but we’re paying the price once you leave.  Shameless plug here – we’ve got lots of veggie bags for sale at No Trace that are made with 100% cotton and all natural materials.  That means you can compost them at home in your own compost when they reach the end of their life. Check them out here.

30. Switch to cloth napkins

We’ve been using cloth napkins since we had our first child in 2008.  We have some that have lasted us that long. We don’t wash them with every use, just once a week (or sooner if they are super soiled).  Go for 100% cotton or linen or hemp napkins that won’t release microfibers when you wash them. Plus cotton and linen and hemp can be composted at home when they reach the end of their life.

 

31. Use a hankie instead of a tissue

It takes a TON of water and energy to produce a box of tissues and ship it to you.  Use handkerchiefs instead! I sell cute ones here but you can also just cut up an old t-shirt!

 

32. Use a dish towel or rag instead of a paper towel

Sorry, this probably feels repetitive to you by now, but there are just SO MANY PLACES in your home where you can ditch single use products for reusable, sustainable products!  Dish towels are a great place to start. And you probably have plenty of rag material in your home already. In our house, we turn stained clothes and household goods into rags.  With 2 kids in the house and lots of playdates and sleepovers, plus 2 dogs, we go through about 1 to 2 rags per day! Plus a few dish towels a week. We toss these in with our regular laundry – no special treatment needed! 

 

33. Use a beeswax or vegan wax wrap instead of plastic wrap.

Okay, another shameless plug for No Trace products, available here.  Wax wraps are more expensive up front than plastic wrap because you’re investing in the planet, not in pollution.  

Remember that cheaper isn’t always better.  Wax wraps can be used again and again to wrap your food, cover a bowl or jar, or cover a plate of leftovers.  Once they’re worn out, you can either compost them or add them to a fire. Even if a wax wrap escapes into nature or the ocean, it’s not going to leave behind a trail of pollution.  It’ll breakdown on its own in just a few months.  

 

34. Buy less stuff

All of our STUFF contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.  Furniture. Clothes. Kitchenware. Tools. Outdoor gear. It takes energy and resources to make and ship stuff to stores near us and to our homes.  Consider borrowing or renting things that you don’t need that often. And loan out your own stuff too!  

35. Buy used stuff instead of new stuff

If you really need something on the regular, try to find it at a second hand store.  We’ve got a few different options in Santa Cruz – Grey Bears, Caroline’s, Thrift Center, Salvation Army, and Goodwill.  Goodwill is my go-to for most kitchen needs or No Trace equipment like pots or table-top display bins or fabric for my veggie bags.  They have a HUGE homewares section. I also buy used clothes whenever I can. There’s no shame in second-hand! It’s the green choice!  Wear thrift store clothes with pride! Listen to “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis if you need more inspiration ;). Check out ThredUp.com if don’t have great thrift stores near you or prefer to shop online!

 

36. Write to the president

You can call, email, or write to the White House at whitehouse.gov.  The chance of your letter actually making it to the president is slim, but staff do generally keep counts of opinions that come in.  Make sure to be respectful, succinct, and use facts! Conservation.org has a great list of 11 facts on climate change.  Maybe pick just a couple to include in your letter, and why you care about this issue, and what you hope the White House would do.  The Union of Concerned Scientists also has great information on what our climate change priorities should be. Check them out here.  And the simplest point to make in any communication with the White House is to remind the president of the importance of SCIENCE!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

37. Contact your governor

Your state can take action without the federal government’s leadership.  California is a major leader in the fight against climate change by turning towards clean energy, clean energy jobs, electric vehicles, and more.  See how your state stacks up at the Union of Concerned Scientist.  Look for targets to suggest to your governor, and let them know you appreciate any steps they’ve taken!  To find your governor’s address, go to https://www.usa.gov/state-governor.

 

38. Write to your senator and congress member

Senators and congress members can introduce and support important climate change legislation.  So contact them and let them know that climate change legislation matters to you! The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions monitors legislation on climate change.  So check them out for up-to-date information.  One of the most important pieces of legislation that the US needs is a carbon tax.  But there are lots of other steps that Congress can take as well. You can find your representative’s contact info here and your senator’s info here.

 

39. Support candidates that care about the climate

When election time comes around, support those candidates who care about the climate with DONATIONS and SPREADING THE WORD!  Nothing shows support like actual money. But if you can’t spare any, share that candidate’s info with your community and encourage others to VOTE.  

 

40. Support your local climate action organization

In Santa Cruz we’ve got the Santa Cruz Climate Action Network.  Across the US, there’s lots of city member organizations of the US Climate Action Network.  There’s also the Citizen’s Climate Lobby.  Subscribe to their email lists.  Show up to their rallies. And send them a check if you can. 

 

41. Tell your friends and family to support climate legislation

Are your friends taking action?  Tell them what you’re doing and make it easy for them to do the same!  Give them one simple step and show them how you did it!

 

42. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper

The message you’re sharing with your friends and family, and the concerns you’re raising with your representatives and governor, and the president – share these with the media!  Write a letter to your local paper and spread the word. Climate action now!

 

43. Support climate science

Science itself is under attack these days.  One way to fight climate change is to support the science that’s happening behind it.  That means staying educated and getting your science news from reputable news sources.  

 

44. March for the climate 

Santa Cruz marched September 27, 2019, but marches will keep happening all over the US.  When there’s a march, show up! Show your support! You don’t even need a sign. Just go and be a part of the movement. 

march for the climate
march for the climate 2019

 

 

 

 

45. Join organizations that lobby for the environment.

The Nature Conservancy and the Union of Concerned Scientists both work to educate and lobby for climate action.  If you can’t make a donation, join their email list. Support their efforts by responding to their calls for actions.

 

46. Build community

Take the time to organize events with friends and family to rally them around climate action.  It could be as simple as hosting a vegetarian potluck and getting folks excited to eat more plants.  Or maybe you want to invite folks into your home and share how you work towards energy efficiency at your house.  Or give a talk at your church or at your kid’s school on climate change. Get creative!

 

47. Organize a school-wide bike-to-school day.

Santa Cruz has awesome bike-to-work and school events.  But anyone can organize this! Just invite other families to bike with you to school some days.  If the school can sponsor the event, even better!

 

48. Participate in Bike-to-Work Day

If you’re not part of a school community, participate in bike-to-work day.  Even if you can’t do the actual biking part, volunteer your time or donate to the event!  Volunteers run the event so get in there! In Santa Cruz, these days are organized by Ecology Action.

 

49. Write to big businesses

Companies like Tesla changed in our options for the better as consumers.  Tesla made electric vehicles cool. Reach out to other companies and let them know that you care about the environment.  Write letters and also show your support with your dollars for companies that are addressing climate change and working for the environment.

 

50. Plant a tree (and other plants)

Plants help absorb greenhouse gases, so add some green to your life!  Keep in mind that planting trees is not the best way to fight climate change, though.  There was a paper published recently that used its findings to conclude that planting trees is the best way to fight climate change. The authors have since back-pedaled on the conclusions, describing them as the “theoretical potential” for reforestation, rather than suggestions for action.  Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the MOST important way to fight climate change, rather than planting trees to absorb those emissions. But plant trees too! The world could use a little more green.

 

There you have it.  50 small ways to fight climate change.  Which ones are you already doing? Which one will you try next?  What would you add to this list of 50? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

 

Thanks for reading and for all that you do for the

 

 

 

 planet, 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liz

8 zero waste gifts for kids! 

Whatever your budget!

 

I’ve been asked what are the best zero waste gifts for kids, so figured it was time to put together a post on our 8 favorite zero waste gifts!  I’ve got easy, thoughtful gift ideas for you that don’t create trash or plastic. The holidays are coming up, after all! Check these out and let me know what you think :).

1. The first zero waste gift for kids is also my favorite: EXPERIENCES! 

 

Instead of a thing, give the young one in your life a special experience.  This could be something as elaborate as a trip to an amusement park (like Universal Studios – thanks, Aunt Olivia!) or something as simple as having your friend over for a special playdate to bake cookies or a cake or a fort or a mud pit (don’t ask me why, but my girls love making mud pits and then smearing the mud from head to toe!). The gift of your time is really the most special, isn’t it?

Here are a few experience gifts, from cheap to pricey:

-playdates to bake, build, or craft something together

-a playdate at a local extra fun park or beach

-a special lunch at your little one’s favorite restaurant

-a trip to a kids bounce house or other fun kids space

-a visit to a local kids museum (Children’s Museum of Discovery in Capitola is super fun for younger kids and the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History is awesome for all ages!)

-going to a sporting event together (Santa Cruz Warriors, anyone??)

-Amusement parks!  Can’t go wrong with a trip to an awesome amusement park, right?? This is definitely on the pricier end though.

 

2.  A membership to somewhere fun. 

Similar to a shared experience, but something the little one in your life could use over and over again.  These can be pricier than a one-time outing, but also give memorable experiences all year long! In the Santa Cruz area, we’ve got the Museum of Art and History that has kid friendly events all year.  Nearby is the amazing Monterey Bay Aquarium.  So much to see that we never get to it all in one day!  We’ve also got the boardwalk that has season passes. And the Children’s Museum of Discovery offers memberships.

 

3.  Something homemade. 

Even if you aren’t super crafty, there’re probably awesome things you know how to make.  Maybe you like to bake? Or sew? Or paint? Or do a little woodworking? The gift doesn’t have to require tons of your time.  I love to make things that will fill a certain need or be consumed, rather than just something to be admired. E.g., an apron for a budding baker.  A veggie bag for a budding zero waster. A homemade mix of powdered hot cocoa. A batch of cookies. A little water bottle holder. A box to hold their toys.  

 

4. An awesome book. 

This is definitely a thing, but I love turning my kids onto some of my favorite books from childhood – especially books they’ll read again and again.  Calvin and Hobbes, for example. Anything by Shel Silverstein. The Farside comics for the older ones in your life. Have they ready Harry Potter yet? Lots of kids (and kids at heart – like me!) will read this series more than once.   You can probably find some of your favorite books at a second hand bookstore. And when your little one is ready to pass it along, it can go back to a second hand bookstore or onto a friend.

 

5.  Paper notebook and colored pencils and other plastic-free art supplies. 

For the budding artists in your life, there are never enough paper notebooks to capture their art.  I wouldn’t get this just to give “something”, but if you know your little friend loves to draw, why not get them a nice pad of paper that can be recycled or composted?  You could also make them a small book from recycled paper. I like this tutorial by Dana of Made Everyday.  And nice new colored pencils are great too.  I tend to steer away from markers, but maybe you can recycle plastic markers in your community.  We have Terracycle at the Art Factory to take old markers and recycle them. Check your area for available Terracycle boxes here.  

 

6.  Lessons or other experiences they’ll enjoy on their own. 

Piano lessons, horseback riding lessons, surf lessons, cooking lessons, sewing lessons  – you get the picture. These can be pricey (unless you can teach yourself) but can be amazing memories for the kiddos and give them skills that they’ll use again and again.  This zero waste gift for kids is one they won’t forget.

 

7. A small plant they can take care of. 

Another thing, I know. But for some kids, it’s a learning experience to have and care for a plant of their own.  My kiddos love getting little potted succulents. And they’re super easy to care for. Some plants help clean the air in their bedrooms, too, to help their little lungs stay healthy at night.  Plants like the rubber plant, peace lily, Boston fern, golden pothos and more help clean the air. Get them something in a nice reusable, plastic free pot to keep the zero waste gift truly zero waste.

 

8.  Zero waste supplies of their very own. 

Of course, these are more “things”. But one way to a brighter future is to get kids caring about the planet from a young age.  Things like reusable straws. Their own small utensil kit. A stainless steel lunch container. An organic cotton lunch bag. Organic cotton napkins and sandwich and snack bags.  These can be fun gifts to receive and also get kids thinking about trash and packaging. These zero waste tools might spark conversations among kids and their buddies about sustainable alternatives.  And of course at No Trace, we’ve got lots of sweet and cheerful options for kids and kids at heart right here.

 

Those are my 8 favorite easy zero waste gift ideas for kids. 

No plastic. No trash. Just special experiences and gifts that kids will remember long after their birthday.

 

What’re some of your favorite gifts for kids?  I’d love to hear so share in the comments below!

 

Thanks for reading,

Liz