Zero waste advent calendar

 

Okay, you are in LUCK because today I’m spilling the beans on our awesome zero waste advent calendar so that YOU can have a low waste holiday too!

 

Rather than focusing on things, we use the holidays to focus on experiences together and soaking up all the holiday awesomeness as a family.  

 

My kids get SO excited for the advent calendar – they’ve been talking and asking about it for weeks.  They remember these mini-adventures more than any gifts.

 

Our actual advent calendar is a hanging fabric tree with 24 pockets.  We write the activity on a little slip of paper and put it in the pocket.  But you could use anything that lets the kids track the days and read the event for each day.  Check pinterest for loads of cute ideas.

 

So, if you want to make the holidays more memorable for you and your kiddos, and focus on experiences rather than things, here’s my guide for you.

A zero waste advent calendar – experiences, not things

A couple of the easiest ones are:

1. Decorate the Christmas tree

Whether you buy one or have an artificial one, or hang something simple on the wall, this is a great family activity.  We have a couple big bins of ornaments that we put up every year.

2. Decorate the house.

Mixed in with our tree ornaments are a few other decorations – gifts from my mom – including a nativity scene, mini Christmas carousel trees with candles, and some nutcrackers.  We’ve made a few garlands too that we hang.

3.  Make a wreath.

We have this awesome spot in town to make wreaths called Rancho Del Oso.  But you could make one with scraps from a Christmas tree yard, or go onto Pinterest for ideas that don’t involve real tree scraps.  

4. Family Christmas carol night

I’m not sure about you guys, but we love singing in our house.  We get the lyrics to a few popular songs and light up our Christmas carousel trees and sing a few together.  We even recorded ourselves singing one song and shared it with close family (ONLY!).

5. Make paper snowflakes

All this takes is a few sheets of paper and scissors.  We love to hang them in the windows once we’re done. If you’re ambitious, make enough for a strand of snowflakes.  So cute.

6. Write a letter to Santa

We still do gifts and ask our kiddos to pick one thing to ask Santa for.  Something within reason, of course. We get veto power (Apple watch? I don’t think so).

7. Family movie night

We don’t watch a ton of movies so this still feels special for us – Elf is one of our holiday favs.  

8. Hot chocolate for breakfast!

We don’t normally make hot chocolate, so it feels special.  AND it’s easy to do before school. Win Win Win.

9. A teeny tiny gift

Okay, this is another thing, but it’s awesome for busy school mornings to just slip a little something in the calendar.  We’ve done bulk candy before and little hair barrettes. Maybe a tiny glitter crayon, a tiny notecard, or necklace charm.  Or a tiny succulent cutting (they’ll need something or somewhere to plant it, of course). Or a tiny eraser. Or a tiny magnet.  Or a little homemade chapstick in a tiny jar. I try to think of stuff that isn’t just going to collect dust in their room, but might actually get used.  Also, google tiny gift ideas for some of the CUTEST things you’ve ever seen.

 

We have a few fun outings too:

10. Breakfast at Gayles –  before school!

I know this might feel a little crazy.  But if you can get up a little extra early, maybe pack lunches the night before, you might be able to get a nice quick bakery breakfast before school.  It feels extra special this way.

11.  Donut breakfast!

Another before school treat, if you can fit it in.  Or bring it home to them. Either way, we don’t get a lot of donuts around here, so it’s an indulgence.

12.  The Nutcracker ballet

13.  The symphony

14.  The holiday lights train

These can be a little pricey, but it is super memorable for them kids.  And it could be a great gift from grandparents, if they need ideas. (Hint hint, mom 😉 ).  We don’t do all of these each year – usually just one.

 

And we get the family and friends involved too:

15.  Make Christmas cookies with Grandma

An annual tradition that they look forward to each year.  I look forward to the cookies.

16.  Special playdates with family friends

We have grown-up friends who are like aunts to the kiddos.  We make a special effort to schedule something with them during this time – a little tea party or making ornaments together.

17.  Picking out an ornament with the grandparents

Okay, this is a thing but it’s also an experience.  They each get to pick out one ornament a year.  The kiddos get super excited about this. I think it’s not about the actual ornament, but really about looking at all the shiny and creative options at different stores – surfing pink flamingo for the tree?  Yes, please.

18. Craft date with momma

I try to come up with a few simple craft ideas that we could do in an hour after school (a simple necklace, sculpey ornaments,  popcorn garland, or other simple garland) and then let the kids pick one for us to do.

19.  Holiday party

Any holiday parties?  Put ‘em on the calendar!  We have a family birthday during this time, so that party counts as one of our advent calendar events.  

 

And we try to think of others who are in need during this time.

20.  Get gifts for a family in need and wrap them.

Their school often adopts a family, and a lot of churches do this too.   Rather than making this an errand for MOM or DAD, this is a family affair – we go together to pick it out and the kids wrap it up themselves.

21.  Volunteer for a few hours

Last year the kids spent a morning volunteering at an organization that was wrapping gifts to donate to families in need.  This one is a little tricky because it might not be easy to find something to volunteer for if you aren’t already involved with the group.  And finding something that’s age-appropriate can be challenging too, so call around to find some options. And scheduling this can also be tricky when weekends are already jam packed.  So plan it out in advance!

22.  Donate a toy

We ask the kids to pick one of their gently used toys to donate.  Last year this ended up being a major toy closet clean-out, which was awesome.  But in other years, when they were younger, picking just one toy was a good goal.

 

And finally, I think our all time favorites are these:

23.  Night time Light walk .

We bundle up and grab an umbrella if it’s rainy.  We usually walk over to Depot Hill in Capitola for an awesome view of the town and all the lights at night.  It’s fun walking in the dark and cold together. And this is an easy after-dinner activity too for those busy weeknights.

24.  Tea party for dinner

This does require a little planning and effort, but it is so worth it.  We make a ton of finger foods including mini sandwiches (cream cheese and cucumber, peanut butter and jelly), deviled eggs, hummus and veggies, fancy olives from the bulk bar, popcorn, maybe some cookies or other baked goods and tea, of course.  We sit on the floor in the living room and eat around the coffee table. I love this dinner so much.

 

There you have it!  

easy zero waste advent calendar ideas. 

Do you have any to add?  I’d love to hear about them!  Share in the comments!

 

Thanks for reading!

Liz

We all have our reasons to go for zero waste.

 

Your reasons might include:

 

-fighting plastic pollution

-reducing exposure to plastics

-cutting waste

-worry over landfills

-simplifying your home

-beautifying your kitchen

-shrinking your carbon footprint

-keeping our oceans healthy

-making the world a more beautiful place

-preserving the planet for generations to come

 

It might feel really overwhelming to get a year of your trash into a mason jar – and might be impossible, depending on where you live and what you can recycle.

 

But there are actually TONS of easy ways to cut down your waste.

 

Think beyond the mason jar!  

 

 

 

Here’s a roundup of 75 ways small ways to cut your waste.

1. Bike more

Did you know that transportation (i.e., cars) is one of the top sources of pollution and contributors to global warming?  Driving less is an amazing way to reduce your waste and have a positive impact on the planet. Check out local bike resources for bike paths and bike-friendly routes near you.  In Santa Cruz we’ve got www.bikesantacruzcounty.org for loads of awesome resources on biking safely in our community.  And don’t forget to wear a helmet!

2. Fly less

Each flight you take is a major resource drain.  Just like cars, planes are a major source of greenhouse gases.  Try some local travel and explore your own part of the country. Or, if you have to fly, offset your flights with carbon credits.  And try to limit flights to those that you really want or need to take. If you live in California, we have so many amazing state parks that you can drive to.  Check them out here.

3. Eat vegetarian

This is a MASSIVE way to reduce your waste WAY beyond the mason jar.  The meat industry is a MAJOR source of pollution. Even if you can’t do this all the time, try swapping out a couple meals a week for vegetarian.  Good for you, good for the planet! And there are so many great resources out there. I love Minimalist Baker for vegetarian recipes.

4. Eat vegan

Going vegan has even more benefits for the planet than vegetarian.  All those animal products really have a negative impact on the climate – especially the dairy industry.  Try swapping some vegan meals or vegan substitutes when you can. Or go all the way! Join the millions of others in the world who do it every day.  My favorite vegan blog is by my friend and favorite yoga teacher, Amey. Check it out here!

5. Compost at home

This is also a GREAT way to cut down your waste.  All those fruit peels, veggie skins, egg shells, and more can go into your compost.  No yard? No problem! Try a worm bin that fits under your sink. And if you live locally, check out the Santa Cruz Compost service, which collects your compost by bike!  They are here.  

6. Line dry your laundry

Dryers use loads of electricity (pun – ha!).  You can line dry all year too – some racks are easy to set up in even the smallest space and then fold up to be tucked away behind a door or under a bed.  We’ve been dryer free for about 4 years and it’s still working great for our family of four. If we can do it, so can you! We even were mostly dryer free during the cloth diapering days!

7. Use hankies

Tissues be damned!  Switch to reusable hankies.  I say buy mine here or make your own or look for some in the thrift store.  When all of ours are in the wash, I start in on our rag stash for hankies – hey, they’re clean!  Any ol’ rag will do.

8. Use dishtowels instead of paper towels

Paper towels can be composted, but why not preserve those resources for more essential goods?  We have a stack of about 20 dish towels. We use each dish towel until it gets soiled and then we toss it in the wash.  I make some here, you could make your own, or look for them at the thrift store!  Try finding all natural fibers – much better for the earth.

9. Use your own coffee mug

Those disposable coffee cups are the worst!  Some super progressive coffee shops have even stopped handing them out because they are such massive polluters.  Bring your own! Buy one from a locally owned business to support the locals. I got mine from Wild Roots in Felton.  Love that shop.  And you can buy No Trace goods there (another shameless plug!!).

10. Keep a napkin in your purse.  

How many times have you needed a napkin when you are out and about?  This still happens to me sometimes but I almost always have a little napkin in my purse.  I make really cute ones here but make your own or find one in a thrift store super easily.

11.  Bring a water bottle.

You are already doing this, I’m sure.  We’ve got to get rid of plastic water bottles!  Even though often times you can recycle those, our recycling days might be numbered and these are ending up in the landfill more and more often.  Just bring your own. I got mine at Jones and Bones in Capitola.  I love supporting local business.  

12. Shop in bulk.

Look for what you need in the bulk section of your grocery store.  I’ve got a whole post about zero waste grocery shopping that you can see here.  Also, i make these gorgeous bulk bags here.  Made from recycled cotton.  If you can’t get something in a bulk bin, try getting something with as little packaging as possible or in the largest amount possible that won’t also spoil.  

13. Shop at the farmers market.

Again, check my post here for resources to find farmers markets near you.  You can often buy loose produce here that come without those pesky stickers.

14. Stop buying those prepackaged treats.

I know they are super convenient.  You can do it, though! Just say no.  Fruit, anyone?

15. Try making it yourself.

Is there something you really miss?  Crackers? Granola bars? Hummus? Pesto?  Pick a few of those prepackaged treats and try making your own. Read about my favorite easy homemade zero waste snacks here and you can start having snacks on hand whenever you need them!

16. Get your beer in a growler or just enjoy a pint in person.

You might not want to pay micro-brewery prices, but you can treat yourself and the planet once a while with something fresh and local.  Although you can recycle glass and cans almost everywhere, recycling is not the solution to our problems – reuse is way better.

17. Get your wine from a local winery.  

They might let you bring your own container for refills.  Some wineries even have harvest or tapping parties where you can fill up loads of bottles to get you through the year.  Or at least the week ;).

18. Buy your clothes from a local thrift store.

Fast fashion is a MAJOR polluter.  Think twice before buying new and see if you can find it used.

19. Get your shoes repaired at a shoe shop.

Do you have a cobbler or shoe repair person in your town?  Buy shoes that are built to last and be repaired.

20. Go to a repair cafe to mend your worn clothes or small appliances or other household items.  

If you live in Santa Cruz, reach out about repair cafes in town!  No Trace has hosted this!

21. Grow your own food.

Even if all you have is a sunny window, you can grow fresh herbs like basil from home.  If you have more space than that, consider planting some trees and growing what you can. In northern California, we can grow some veggies all year like kale, chard and lettuce.  

22. Compost worn out, all natural textiles

These are good for the soil!  Fibers like cotton, hemp, and linen can be composted at home.  I wrote a post about keeping fabric out of the landfill here, so check it out for more tips.

23. Recycle synthetic, worn fibers

If something is beyond repair, not useful as a rag, and not compostable, find a fabric recycler.  Some cities have curbside fabric recycling (San Francisco! I’m so jealous).

24. Try sashiko stitching

If something has a small stain or tear, don’t toss it – mend it with sashiko stitching.  This is a beautiful way to fix something. I get loads of inspiration from Miniature Rhino.  Check her out here.

25. Try canning your own food.

Zero waste chef has loads of great resources on this topic.  When tomatoes are in season, you can stock up and then make some awesome canned tomatoes for all your cooking needs during the year.  Or make some fresh fruit preserves. Yum yum. Read her amazing blog here for loads of home canning and preserving tips.  

26. Make your own Kombucha.

Another zero waste chef specialty.  Eliminate all those bottles you might recycle and make your own.  Save money, too! Check her out here.

27. Think about the household goods and furnishings you buy

Try to avoid synthetic fibers and toxic resins in the furnishings that surround you.  Buy high quality pieces that can be repaired rather than tossed out. I wrote a piece about building a simple bench at home that you can read here.  It’s important that we think about the full life cycle of what we bring into our homes.

28. Don’t print it!

Might be obvious, but try getting comfy with your laptop rather than a print out whenever you can.  All those papers can be recycled, of course, but why not preserve those resources for things we really need?  Need a break from the desk? Move your laptop around and try reading in a different spot before thinking you have to print something.

29. Give experiences, not things

I love this one for kids.  We try to avoid “filler” gifts – little things just for the sake of giving something – unless it’s meaningful and sustainable.

30. Plan a zero waste halloween

I’ve got another post on that here.

31. Plan for zero waste travel

Be prepared and bring a kit to help you avoid trash on your travels.  Read my post here about that here.  

32. Plan for a zero waste Christmas.

We give lots of gifts, but we avoid plastic.  We also wrap in fabric that we can reuse, rather than in paper.  I make these adorable furoshiki wraps here but any old fabric will do.

33. Host zero waste birthday parties

Keep the food and drinks simple and you can avoid all that trash!

34. Loan utensils, plates, cups, napkins to friends for their parties or borrow some for your own.

Some communities have lending libraries for big events.  Ask around to see if yours does.

35. Bring your own utensils, plate, cup, napkin

If you’re going to a party and you’re not sure what they’ll serve on, bring your own stuff.  

Also, don’t leave it in the car and forget to bring it into the party like I sometimes do!

36. Recycle broken, unrepairable electronics

We’ve got awesome Grey Bears in town for this amazing service but check your local waste management agency for ideas.

37. Make your own deodorant.

I use the recipe by Trash is for Tossers, but you can find loads of free resources online.

38. Swap out some beauty products for what you can find in bulk.

For example, you might try some light body oils or even lotions in bulk.  Sunscreen even if you’re lucky enough to have it in your town!

39. Make your own household cleaning products

Lots of folks make citrus vinegars with citrus peels and use this for cleaning instead of packaged cleaning products.  And isn’t it nice to know what’s in your cleaning products?

40. Buy sustainable art and school supplies for you and/or your kiddos

Can you swap in some colored pencils and all natural crayons?  Use recycled paper? Get your school supplies at the thrift store?  A little effort can help cut down on trash from school.

41. Recycle old markers with TerraCycle.

At The Art Factory in Aptos you can drop your worn out markers off to get recycled!  Hooray! Check around for TerraCycle options near you.

42. Make your own cough drops!

Okay, I found a pin for this on Pinterest and admit – I haven’t tried it yet – but I’m sooo excited to try it out.  It’s on my board here.

43. Get a pressure cooker

No more canned beans.  Seriously. We don’t buy these any more.  Hip hip hooray! Save yourself time and money by making these at home.  You really can cook beans in a flash with one of these. Works great for rice, artichokes, and other food that can take a little time.  

44. Try meal planning.  

If you can prep out some meals and snacks on Sunday afternoon, it’ll make the week go more smoothly.  I love doing a bunch of salads in a mason jar, or making a pot of beans, rice, and some roasted veggies to last for a few days.  And I try to plan for quick snacks to have on hand for after school and other busy times.

45. Get a safety razor

No more disposable razors!  The Zero Shop SC sells them – check them out here.  And there are loads of resources online for how to shave with a safety razor too, so get some help and make it easy for yourself.  

46. Buy shampoo and soap in bulk.

We bring our own containers and refill them at our local bulk store – Staff of Life in Santa Cruz.  We weigh the jars, but some stores will ask how many ounces your container holds, so it’s good to know that too.  Also, you might be able to find unpackaged bars of shampoo, conditioner, and soap in your town. Lush offers these too.

47. Switch to reusable menstrual products.  

I found reusable pads on Etsy that I love.  There are loads of others on the market now too.  Reusable menstrual cups are also available in lots of natural food and bulk stores – maybe in your local pharmacy too.  I found mine at CVS!

48. Recycle your toothpaste tubes

In Santa Cruz, New Leaf Market on 41st Avenue has a TerraCycle box for recycling Tom’s packaging!  Yay! You can call around to see if there is some place near you as well – schools sometimes have TerraCycle boxes.

49. Use compostable floss

I haven’t found the perfect solution for compostable floss yet, but Dental Lace will breakdown in your home compost.  Unfortunately, it does come in a plant-based plastic bag, which may or may not breakdown in your home compost. But it does create less waste than a big plastic box full of plastic floss.

50. Use a bamboo toothbrush

Easy peasy!  Usually you’ll have to pull out the nylon bristles before you can compost it, but it beats throwing out a whole plastic toothbrush!

51. Make your own mouthwash

Seriously, this is so easy and will save you loads of money, too!  I make mine with 1 cup water, 4 tsp baking soda, and a few drops of essential oils (4 of tea tree and 4 of peppermint).  

52. Make your sunscreen or find it in a reusable container.

I’ve got a recipe from PareDownhome.com that is super easy to make, although the ingredients might be hard to find, especially not in plastic.  I’ve also found sunscreen in reusable, plastic-free containers from Raw Love and Elevated Sun. I personally preferred Raw Love to Elevated Sun – I found the latter a little gritty when putting it on.  But I LOVE what they are doing.

53. Make your own lotion.

Have you made your own body cream before?  It’s an awesome chance to make something just the way you like it – adding in whatever scents you’re drawn to.  Check out my Pinterest boards for recipes!  

54. Make your own shaving cream.

Or just use conditioner!  One less packaged thing to buy.

55. Buy zero waste makeup or make your own.  

I found this shop on Etsy and LOVE the lipstick we bought.  Highly recommend for vegan, zero waste, all natural make up.

56. Switch to metal and fabric hair accessories.

Another area of your life to cut down on plastics and trash.  But use up what you have first! Kooshoo makes biodegradable hair ties, but have shipped in plastic bags in the past.

57. Use a wooden hair brush.

When it’s time for a new brush, trying getting one that’s plastic free.  

58. Compost your hair!  

Yes, sounds gross, but it composts!  Nails do too. Is that TMI? Sorry not sorry ;).

59. Shop less.

You don’t have to be a minimalist, but the less stuff you have, the less waste you’ll make.  This is so true for kiddos. So many of their things – especially those freebies and party favors – end up as trash.  

60. Buy the bruised veggies and fruits at the store.

If you know you’ll eat them soon, you can save them from the landfill!  Lots of stores will toss out old looking produce, even if it’s still edible.

61. Finish the old before buying new.

I’m talking about the food in your fridge – you can toss less food out if you just put in a little more effort to finish what’s there first.  Bonus – save yourself $$$.

62. Eat old before new food.

Same idea as above – if you do need to shop before your fridge is empty, try getting through the old food first.

63. Give the uneatable to your animals.  

Have you had kids or friends over, and one of them doesn’t finish the food on their plate?  If your dogs or chickens tolerate human food, pass the leftovers on to them. I’ll finish my own kids’ food or ask them to at another time, but I’m not going to eat outside the family.  I’m sorry, that’s just not my style.

64. Compost that pizza box.  

Yes, we still order pizza sometimes in a pinch or when we are just too pooped to cook or go out.  But you generally can’t recycle a pizza box because of food contamination. So tear it up and add it to your compost.

65. Bring a container for leftovers whenever you eat out.

Have you ever ordered a little too much, and then been torn about tossing the food vs getting a to-go container?  Try packing a jar or tupperware in your bag so you can pop those leftovers in your own container.

66. Get take out in your own container.

Ask your favorite place if they are open to this – you might be surprised.  Our favorite Thai restaurant in Soquel (Sawasdee’s) let’s us bring our own containers.  Let them know on the phone and then get there early enough so they can put it right into your bins after they cook it.

67. Remind folks – NO STRAW! – when you eat out.

If you have a reusable straw, put it on the table to remind you to say No Thanks to the straw.

68. Have a low water lawn.

Water is a precious resource too, and if you care about reducing your waste, you care about preserving water.  Succulents are gorgeous little water savers and I love this website for loads of good succulent info – sunshineandsucculents.com.  But there are tons of other awesome low water lawn ideas out there in the world.    

69. Drive a low emission car.

Tesla?  Yes, please.  I’d love one of those.  But for the average person, a Nissan Leaf is great electric car.  Seat warmers! Back up camera! That quiet, quiet engine. I highly recommend one – it doesn’t go long distances, but works for closer ranges.

70. Conserve energy in your house.

Energy can be a massive polluter as well, depending on the source.  We try to be mindful of our energy use in lots of ways – using LED lightbulbs, wearing layers in the winter to reduce our heating requirements, turning off lights when we leave a room and the home, and having energy efficient appliances like dishwashers, washing machines, refrigerators, and microwaves.

71. Try to follow recommended energy conservation hours in your town.  

For most places in the U.S. (and elsewhere) energy requirements are greatest during the day, when we’re all up and about and doing stuff.  So daytime hours put the greatest strain on our power plants, and certain peak hours require the use of some of our less efficient, more polluting power plants to keep up with energy demand.  So, to help out, we run the dishwasher late at night and try to run the washing machine early in the morning, outside of these peak energy use hours.

72. Order it plastic free.

Online shopping is so convenient, right?  Especially when you’ve got a job, a family, and all those other life obligations.  So when you order online, always ask them ship your order without plastic packaging.

73. When businesses mess up, let them know.  

On the same note, if you are trying to order plastic free and the business doesn’t follow-through, write to them and encourage them to cut down on packaging.  Try tagging them in social media or commenting on their own posts. A little encouragement can go a long way.

74. Say no to freebies.  

Free sample in a plastic cup?  Free packet of energy goop at the store?  Free bag of crackers? Just say no. You don’t need it.  The more we all say No Thanks, the more businesses will think twice about these practices.

75. Get your kids or partner or roomies involved.

You can ready my post all about getting kids into zero waste here.

 

There you have it – 75 small ways to cut your waste.  What’s easiest for you? Which is the most challenging? Share in the comments below!  

 

Thanks for reading,

Liz

 

 

What is zero waste?

 

You might be hearing this phrase a lot lately – zero waste.  

But what is zero waste?

I’m going to give you a quick and easy overview of zero waste.  So let’s go!

 

In simplest terms, zero waste is about not sending anything to the landfill or creating any trash.

On a deeper level, zero waste is the idea of keeping our resources in circulation and in use; reducing or eliminating the need for landfills, and is one result of a circular economy (an economy where products are designed to stay within a cycle of use and reuse).  In a circular economy, each phase of a product’s life is connected to another, and disposal in a landfill is avoided. So zero waste is actually a key piece of a new way of thinking about the resources that we use to sustain ourselves.

 

We all know that there are a limited number of resources to support us humans and other creatures and plants on Earth.  Zero waste and the circular economy are connected ideas of truly valuing those resources and planning for the use and reuse of those resources.  Zero waste is a concept that applies to all the things we interact with our lives, from our roads and buildings to our breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

 

In a perfect world, zero waste would look like this: any product that is created (and a product includes everything from the walls of your house to your breakfast cereal) starts with sustainable and renewable raw and/or recycled materials.  The manufacturing of that product results in no waste. The product is delivered without waste (e.g., transportation powered by renewable energy). The product is used and is either completely used up (e.g., breakfast cereal is completely eaten without any waste) or is used until it needs to be repaired, in which case it is repaired. Or, the product is used completely and can no longer be used again, in which case it’s collected and remanufactured back into that product, or into another valuable product, that enters this process and stays in the circular economy.  

 

Here’s a way to visualize a circular economy with zero waste.

Zero waste as part of a circular economy

Zero waste in practice doesn’t look like that, because we don’t have a circular economy.  So in practice, as a individual, zero waste is about making the best choices possible to minimize waste and support sustainable practices.  As an individual, zero waste looks like this:

Zero waste as an individual

As an individual, we can take steps to do our best to reduce waste and live more sustainably.  The first step is to refuse – say no to those things that you don’t truly need. For some zero wasters, this includes refusing all gifts and freebies.  In theory, refusing will result in much less waste and can be applied most broadly to all areas of your life.

 

The second step is to reduce what you consume.  This goes for all areas of your life – the size of your home, clothing, beauty products, etc.  It also applies to things like air and car travel – these also have huge impacts on the planet.  The less we consume in general, the less waste we create. Some zero wasters strive for a minimalist lifestyle.  Living closer to minimalism reduces the things you bring into your home and life and, as a result, the trash that you create.

 

The third step is to reuse.  How can you reuse things in your life?  Rather than tossing something, repurpose it.  For example, clothes that can’t be mended could be turned into rags.  A broken shelf is repurposed into something else functional. A jar that held your jam is reused to hold leftovers.  

 

The fourth step is to recycle.  This should apply to fewer things in your life because recycling is not a great solution to reducing waste.  In fact, much of what we send to our local recycling plants doesn’t actually get recycled. In a circular economy, recycling would be even more effective.  But as things stand today in 2018, recycling is a smaller piece of living sustainably, relative to refusing, reducing, and reusing.

 

The last step is to allow things to rot.  Anything that is compostable should be composted once it reaches the end of its life, but again this should happen only after refusing, reducing, reusing, and recycling.  Although compost is important for healthy soils, it’s more important to preserve our resources and keep them in use, rather than dispose of them as compost.

 

If you are new to composting, search around for tips and resources.  Anyone with a space for a small bin can start to compost, even without an outdoor space.  Local cities and communities might have compost pick-up available. And anything that is made of 100% natural materials and has not been heavily processed in a way to change its composition can be composted at home.  Things like bioplastics and bamboo rayon come from plants but have been heavily processed – they cannot be composted at home but there may be recycling options near you. Other things like cotton fabric, paper plates, food scraps, wood scraps, etc. can be composted at home.

 

To summarize, going for zero waste as an individual means: 

  1. Refuse

  2. Reduce

  3. Reuse

  4. Recycle

  5. Rot

 

So there you have it – an introduction to zero waste at both the large scale and individual level.  Where are you at on your zero waste journey? And what’s been hardest for you? Share in the comments below!

 

Thanks for reading,

Liz

My 4 favorite easy homemade zero waste snacks.

 

I LOVE to have snacks around the house for me, for my kiddos, and for their friends that come over to play.  Snacks are the best! H-anger, be gone!

 

But it can be hard to find snacks that aren’t packaged in plastic.  Like crackers. I miss buying crackers. Ya feel me?

 

So I’ve slowly built up a little repertoire of easy homemade zero waste snacks I can whip up when needed to feed me and any hungry pint-sizers.  And today I’m sharing my 5 favorites!

 

These are amazing because they are:

  1. KID FRIENDLY!
  2. EASY!
  3. VEGAN!
  4. GLUTEN FREE!

And

  1. DELICIOUS!

 

So let’s get started!  

Here are my 4 favorite easy homemade zero waste snacks.

 

  1.  Cashew cheese on ANYTHING! (carrots, sweet peppers, celery, cauliflower, bagels, bread, tortilla chips, etc etc.)

 

I got this recipe from Minimalist Baker and make it ALL.THE.TIME.  The awesome thing about it is that it only takes about 10 minutes to make it.  No nut soaking required. And you can make it on any blender or food processor – no fancy or powerful equipment required.  AND it works great even if you don’t have all the ingredients – just use what you have.

 

The way I make it, it comes out like a thick spread.  You can also add hot water to make it more saucy and dip-like.  But the spread is great for a quick snack with ANYTHING.

 

So here it is:  

 

Easy Vegan Cashew Cheese (adapted from Minimalist Bakers Easy Vegan Mexican Cashew Cheese):

 

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup raw cashews (I get these in bulk and keep them in my freezer)

3 T nutritional yeast (or less, if you realize last minute you’re almost out of it!)

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp garlic powder (or none – I never have this stuff on hand)

½ tsp cumin

1 pinch chili powder

1 chipolte in adobo or any salsa or hot sauce you have on hand

1 T olive oil or more for blending (if you don’t have a super powerful blender)

Optional: water to help blend (I ALWAYS have to add a little water to get it blended because we don’t have a super fancy blender)

 

Instructions:

Put it all in a blender and blend it up!  Ta-da! Done! And sooo good.

 

Like I said, this stuff is great with sooo many things.  And it keeps pretty well in the fridge too.

 

  1.  Nut butter energy balls
Yummy nut butter balls!

These are SO yummy and filling and satisfying.  Bonus: they also satisfy your sweet tooth! These are probably the most involved to make of all of these easy snacks, but you can definitely whip up a dozen of these in about 10 minutes.  You can also customize these to your liking and swap out or cut out some ingredients.

 

This is also based on a Minimalist Baker recipe.  What can I say, I love her food!

 

Ingredients:

About 1 cup dates (a mix of raisins and dried apricots work too if you don’t have dates!)

3 T nut butter (peanut, almond, or other)

¼ c chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

1 T chia seeds (or your favorite seeds)

⅔ c gluten free oats (or whatever oats you have)

Optional: shredded coconut, maple syrup or honey

 

Instructions:

Blend the dates or other dried fruit into small bits.

Add everything else and pulse it together.

Roll it into balls as big or small as you like.  

Optional: roll the balls in shredded coconut.

Optional: put them in the fridge to set, or just start eating them!

 

So good.  Totally worth the 15 minutes to make them.

 

  1. Roasted chickpeas
Delicious roasted chickpeas!

Okay, these are super fast to prep!  But do you need to have some chickpeas on hand.  We cook a big pot of chickpeas about every other week.  Sometimes we freeze some, but usually we eat them up pretty fast.  I love to make bean salads with them, and we also do a lot of chana masalas and soups.  Gotta love the chickpea – such a flexible little bean.  So, if you don’t already, this might be another staple to add to your fridge.

 

And here’s the recipe for easy, no fuss roasted chickpeas:

 

Ingredients:

Chickpeas (however many you want to make)

Olive oil

Salt

Pepper

Any other spices you want to add

 

Instructions:

Pre-heat oven to 400 or 425 F (depending on how hot your oven gets).

Put your chickpeas on a clean dish towel and roll them around to dry them out.

Spread them onto a baking sheet, making sure they aren’t too crowded.  

Drizzle them with olive oil, and add salt, pepper, and any other spices.

Toss them around a little on the sheet so the seasoning spreads around.

Bake them for 15-30 minutes, depending on how crunchy you like them.

*Note that you will want to stir them around a couple times while they bake.

 

These are SO good.  I’ll eat them on their own or add them to a salad.  Yum yum.

 

  1. POPCORN!

This is my all time favorite easy homemade zero waste snack.  Hands down. I probably eat popcorn about 3 times a week. Seriously.  I love it. Kids love it too.  Duh.

 

I make sure to have popcorn kernels on hand ALL of the time.  For me, the easiest way to pop it is with an air popper, which you can probably find at a thrift store.  I like to then drizzle olive oil, nutritional yeast, and salt on it. SO GOOD!

Popcorn is THE BEST!

You can also pop it on the stove in coconut oil – also delicious!  You have to keep a close eye on it, though, and constantly shake your pot as it pops.  It might also take you a few tries to figure out the best heat to pop it at – sometimes I have lots of leftover kernels when I pop this way, sometimes they burn.  I definitely haven’t mastered this technique, but it sure turns out tasty!

 

Another easy popping technique is with a paper bag in the microwave.  You can reuse the bag a few times. Add the seasoning after you pop it.  Yum and easy!

 

So there you have it – my 4 favorite easy homemade zero waste snacks.  Do you make some of these too? Or do you have some favorites of your own?  Let me know in the comments! I love hearing from you.

 

Thanks for reading!

Liz

Best eco-friendly lunch kits for kids

 

It’s the middle of summer right now and I’m trying to soak it all up.  Long hours of sunshine. Warm days on the beach. Family trips. Ocean swims.  Ahhhh…

 

But I also know that school will start up again in the blink of an eye!  And with school comes LUNCHES! Our weekday mornings are usually a little hectic – we make breakfast, walk the dogs, make our lunches, and gather up whatever we need for the day (dance today?  Piano? Permission slip? Bake sale? Your friend’s shoes need to be returned? You get the drift).

 

In case you were thinking it – I know we are a little overscheduled at times!  To say the least.

 

BUT, we do have our morning lunch packing pretty well figured out and I thought I’d share it with you in the hopes that it can make your morning just a teensy tiny less hectic 🙂 .  BONUS: our approach is a greener way to pack your food!

 

So, for all you busy parents out there, or parents to be, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about some of my favorite eco-friendly lunch kits for kids that keep your kids safe from plastics and also keep the planet healthy!  No packaging, no waste!

 

So here they are: Top eco-friendly lunch kits for kids (and adults!) – plastic-free!

 

Insulated food jar/thermos:

  • Bentology insulated food jar is great for warming before school leftovers and keeping them pretty warm until lunch time!  The container is stainless steel, although unfortunately there is plastic on the lid and base of the container.
  • Thermos brand makes an insulated food jar that is almost entirely stainless steel, but it comes with a couple of plastic containers.  
  • Thrift store thermos – if you can find a wide-mouth thermos for food at your thrift store – buy it!!  And consider yourself lucky :).
  • Lunchbots makes an insulated thermos too – also with some plastic, though and i haven’t tried theirs – but I love their other lunch box, which brings me too…

 

Stainless steel lunch box

  • Planet Box:  I love their stainless steel lunch box and my kids do too.  It has separate compartments to help portion out different types of food.  In our house, we ask the kids to pack a fruit, veggie, carb, and protein for every meal.  Sometimes they take a small treat like chocolate chips too. What can I say – I’m weak! Let me recommend that you say no to the magnets, though.  These are hard to recycle once the stickers are worn out.
  • LunchBots:  This company makes some great 100% stainless steel lunch containers with separate compartments or a single compartment.  We love using our two-compartment box. Sometimes we’ll grab one other small container if the two-compartments aren’t quite enough for our food, or we want to keep things separate. 
  • Tiffin lunch box:  These are stainless steel lunch bins that connect together in a sort of tower.  We haven’t used one in our home, but I do see lots of rave reviews from other zero wasters.  
LunchBots holding veggie sushi – yum!!

Sandwich bag or beeswax wrap

  • Sandwich bags:  These are a super easy way to tote a sandwich or pastry for lunch.  Simply fold it open, pop in your food, and fold it shut. Easy to wash, reusable, biodegradable.  I would encourage organic cotton only for these – non-organic cotton could potentially leech chemicals into your food.  Also, nylon-lined bags, although nice for moisture, are not biodegradable and nylon is a synthetic fabric that is essentially a form of plastic.  Check out my offerings here.
  • Beeswax wrap:  If you are worried about keeping your sandwich really moist, or if your sandwich is really drippy, a beeswax wrap is another great way to tote your lunch.  These are super easy to clean (wipe or rinse off between uses) and are 100% biodegradable and all natural. I make mine with organic cotton, beeswax, pine gum rosin, and jojoba oil.  They last over and over again about a year. If the stickiness starts to wear off, you can also use a rubber band or string to keep it shut.  See mine here.  

 

Mason jar

For older kids only – A mason jar is a great way to store food that doesn’t need to be kept warm.  But I wouldn’t recommend a jar for kids under 7 unless they are pretty careful.  And you’ll still have to remind your kiddos not to throw their lunch bags on the ground.  

 

Cloth napkin

These are a great alternative to paper napkins – reusable, biodegrable, and sustainable.  I make organic and upcycled napkins that you can see here. Help keep those finger tips tidy!

 

Reusable utensils

A couple of options for utensils…

  • Camping utensils:  I love our Coglan camping utensils – they are stainless steel, small, and super affordable.  We got them at a local camp store. And we don’t feel bad if they get lost since they weren’t too pricey to buy.  
  • Thrift store utensils:  these are even more more economical.  You might be able to get forks and spoons and knives for under a dollar each – maybe even all three for $1.  Check around and see what your options are.

 

Organic cotton lunch bag

Of course I make these too!  But I would recommend ANY cotton or all natural fiber bag over the typical plastic-y, lined lunch bags, which are sadly destined for the landfill.  Unless you have some spectacular recycling resources near you. We don’t.   All natural materials like cotton, bamboo, linen, and hemp are much better choices for toting your lunch.  I would avoid nylon or other synthetics. You can see my offerings here.

Organic cotton lunch tote

 

Use what you have

Last but definitely not least.  I’ll be honest that we also use some old plastic tupperwares on occasion that we bought or otherwise acquired before going zero waste.  These come in handy and sometimes everything else is sitting in the sink, waiting to be washed. I would encourage you to use up what’s on hand rather than spending a ton on new supplies!

 

If you’re just getting ready to send your little one off into the world with a lunch, start out green and eco-friendly with any of these reusable, sustainable options.  These are all awesome ways to send your kiddos into the world with a plastic free and waste free lunch.

 

There you have it – my list of the best eco-friendly lunch kits for kids.  To sum it all up, here are my favorite pieces:

  1. Insulated food jar/thermos
  2. Stainless steel lunch box
  3. Sandwich bag or beeswax wrap
  4. Mason jar
  5. Cloth napkin
  6. Reusable utensils
  7. Natural fiber lunch bag
  8. What you already own

 

Do you have any favorite eco-friendly lunch kits to recommend?  Or awesome thrift store finds? Leave a comment below!  And thanks for reading.

 

 

 

Liz

Zero waste travel tips

Right now it’s summer time, which in my house means family trips!  Traveling opens doors to new experiences and perspectives and I really value our family trips.  It also changes up our routines and takes us from the comforts of home, which creates a few challenges for our zero waste goals.

 

So, to help us all cut down travel waste, I’ve put together my top 4 tips for zero waste travel.  These steps are simple enough for even the busiest families and individuals, so check them out and give them a try!

 

Here are my top four tips for zero waste travel.

 

1. Prep a simple travel kit.

 

If you’re traveling with your family or friends, it’s a great idea to have at least some of these things for each person.  Here’s what we pack in our zero waste travel kits.

 

  1. Water bottle – and fill it up after security if you’re traveling by plane!
  2. Napkin, handkerchief, or both – say ‘no thanks’ to paper napkins and tissues.  You can even wash this in a small sink during your travels if you can’t easily run a load of laundry.  Check out my napkin & hankie offerings here or find some at your local thrift store!
  3. Small fork, knife, and/or spoon (or, my personal fav – a spork)!  Note that you don’t want to bring knives if you’re traveling by plane!  Airport security doesn’t like that :). I got us each a little set at a local camping/outdoor gear store in Santa Cruz.  
  4. Mason jar – perfect for leftovers, a smoothie, juice, you get the idea :).  We usually bring one with us when we go out to eat to avoid the doggie bag/box, which can be made of plastic.  
  5. Sandwich bag or beeswax wrap – great for bringing along a sandwich or picking up a pastry or cookie when your out and about.  You can buy a sandwich bag made by me here and a beeswax wrap here.
  6. Travel coffee mug – if you need some caffeine in the morning like me, this is a great way to get it to go and avoid disposable coffee cups and lids.  Your kids may not need to bring one along, but hey, maybe they’d like some hot cocoa in the morning!
  7. Market bag – again, maybe kids don’t need this, but I would recommend bringing along at least one bag for shopping.   Our market bag often doubles as our kit bag. I’ll ask the kids to carry their own water bottles, and usually I’ll toss a few napkins, utensils, mason jar, etc., into the market bag.  I try to bring this along for our outings in general, and especially if we are going to be out and about for the day or going to eat somewhere. And of course, I make a market tote that you can see here.  
Part of my travel kit from my recent trip to Seattle

2. Bring extra snacks.

 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to buy some last minute packaged treat because we didn’t have enough snacks!  For example, ever have a morning bike ride that was supposed to end before lunch? And suddenly it’s 1pm and everyone is losing it?  Been there. Or that flight that was delayed now that you’re in the airport surrounded by shiny packaged treats? Been there too. So, I try to bring snacks that travel well (i.e., the opposite of a peach).  Think nuts, granola, carrots, apples, and banana chips. What’s available in your local bulk bins or farmer’s market that will hold up well on a journey? Or, can you squeeze in an hour to make a tin of cookies or granola bars?

 

One more thought about snacks – I try to bring snacks that are a little extra special – good enough to compete with roadside and airport junk food.  I’m sure that’s different for every family, but try to find some options that everyone will get excited about.

 

3.  Check out nearby bulk foods, farmers markets, and natural food stores.

 

Look into bulk shopping options wherever you’re headed!  There might be some fun and unique offerings, and I’m pretty confident that you can find bulk options almost EVERYWHERE.  Bea Johnson of zerowastehome.com has a cool bulk finder app to help you find something wherever you’re headed. Check it out here.

 

If you’ll be visiting somewhere long enough to shop for food, you might want to bring along some reusable bags and jars to avoid waste.  I’ve got some made by me with love for sale here, but you can even use an old pillow case or make your own!

4.  Consider your compost options.

 

Anywhere you travel, you have some compost options.  Some cities have curbside compost pick up, making it super easy (yay, San Francisco!).  Other cities have composting services you can check out. Santa Cruz, for example, has a local business that will come pick up your compost for you – by bike!  How cool is that? Check them out here. The local farmers market might collect compost as well.  If you’re staying with friends or family, maybe they have a little compost pile you can add to, or maybe you can inspire them to start something simple.  You can purchase some compost bins for under $50. Some folks also recommend burying your non-meat, non-dairy food scraps (think eggshells, fruit and veg peels) in the dirt, at least 10 inches deep.  My cautions, though: 1. You need to be aware of possible pest issues – you don’t want to burden your host with an onslaught of new critters in their yard. 2. You need to be careful of nearby plant roots and landscaping.

 

Another option, which we do whenever we camp or road trip, is to collect your scraps in a bin or bag and bring them home to compost.  We’ve done this for up to a week of waste scraps with no issues – no smell, no pests. We’ve used a big cooler as our bin before, or a big plastic tupperware, or even a big plastic bag when we forgot our bin in the past.  Back at home, we just add it to our compost bins and voila! Soil! (months later 🙂 )

compost after a week of vacation with 2 other families

So there you have it – my top 4 tips for zero waste travel.  I hope you found these helpful! Do you have any to add? Have you tried any zero waste travel tips?  I’d love to hear, so share in the comments below!

 

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

Liz

Earth Day is a day to show our love for mother Earth. It’s a day for political action and community organizing. It’s a day to celebrate the environmental movement.

And it’s also a day for small personal actions! If you aren’t taking part in something big on this day, there are TONS of ways to show your support for the environment. These are 5 super easy ideas for actions anyone can fit into their busy lives. Check them out!

My 5 super easy actions for Earth Day!

1. Eat vegan for the day!

This is by far the easiest way to make a BIG impact on the planet. I call this one a win, win, win, win! Because eating vegan does all of this: minimizes greenhouse gas emissions, reduces water pollution, reduces water use, and conserves resources. All of this happens when you eat vegan because you are eliminating animal products and all of the waste and pollution associated with animal-based products and big animal farms. If you are blanking on vegan eating ideas, check out minimalist baker for LOADS of good ideas. I love her stuff. Right now my favorite recipe of hers is Mexican cashew cheese. Yum. My kiddos love it too!

2. Pick up trash on your street.

This is a small step, but can help protect your local waterways and wildlife. Litter gets washed down or blown into small streams, which lead to rivers, which eventually lead to the ocean. Litter also gets accidentally ingested by small critters and birds. Pick it up and dispose of it in the right place instead! You might even get to know some new neighbors in the process, and even inspire others!

 

3. Stay out of your car for the day.

This is another biggie. In the US, transportation is the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions. Try to avoid driving for one day. Can those errands wait a day or two? Probably. If it really can’t wait, try taking your bike or the bus instead of driving. You get a little extra movement for the day, and spare the air!

4.  Go for a hike nearby.

Keeping in mind the whole don’t-drive suggestion, is there a hike or walk you can get to without your car? You can also try taking the bus, biking, or just going for a long walk in your neighborhood. I like to call that an urban hike. Getting outside into nature (or nature-ish) is awesome for clearing your head, tuning in to your surroundings, and remembering why this planet is so amazing and deserves our protection!

5. Plant a vegetable

Plant a veggie or an herb in your garden or, if you don’t have a garden – put it in a pot in front of a sunny window.  Not only does this literally make the world and your home a little greener, eating homegrown means eating super fresh, avoiding pesticides, and might even save you from a trip to the store now and then! At my house we have lots of greens like kale and chard growing in our garden. Even when we don’t have veggies in the fridge for lunch or dinner, we have veggies from the yard to eat! So they save us a last minute trip to the store pretty much EVERY WEEK! After you plant it, it can remind you of Earth Day each time you see it and water it, and hopefully bring a smile to your face.

That’s it – 5 super simple things to do on Earth Day. Do you have any to add? Or have you tried any of these? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

All the best,
Liz

Hey friends, Want some Eco-Friendly Products to green your life?

Luckily, there are SO many ways that you can help make the planet a cleaner, greener place.

Today I wanted to share my current Favorite Top 10 eco-friendly products.

super easy to use, easy to find online or in your town, sometimes used!, and all under $25!

And that all help reduce plastic and other pollution. Win, win, win, win!

These eco-friendly products are super easy swaps for polluting plastic and paper waste! Just imagine, If we all used these, there would be so much less plastic pollution in the world. We could save TONS of plastic and paper from landfills, beaches, rivers, and oceans! I don’t know if this happens to you, too, but EVERYTIME I see a sea creature that’s been harmed or killed by plastic pollution, I feel just awful. AND it helps me re-energize and recommit to avoiding plastic wherever I can! Did you know that even paper products create greenhouse gases if they aren’t disposed of properly? Even though they are biodegradable, they won’t biodegrade well in a landfill.

So, here are my top 10 super affordable and eco-friendly products to make the world a greener place.

Plus, some of my tips on incorporating these into your life!

1. Bamboo toothbrush

These are awesome. You can find some that are 100% compostable, and that will easily breakdown in your own home compost (or city compost, if you are one of the lucky few to have this option!). I love them.

My toothbrush tip for you – if you (and any kids of yours) visit the dentist regularly, they’ll probably try to give you a plastic toothbrush. Be prepared! Let them know that you don’t need the freebie plastic toothbrush that they have for you, and tell them you use a bamboo toothbrush. You might even encourage them to start handing out bamboo brushes too! Eco-friendly dentist? Yes, please!

2. Travel coffee mug

I actually have a few of these right now and they are AWESOME. I use mine EVERY. SINGLE. DAY and haven’t used a disposable coffee cup for probably a couple years now. And there are SO many awesome options out there. I love them all. You can probably even find some at your local thrift store!

My kids and I use a travel mug for hot chocolate from the coffee shop too – they are ready for their own! Luckily I have enough to share with them for now. In a pinch, we just bring a regular mug from home. Lots of coffee shops will give you a discount, too, for bringing your own mug! Yay for discounts!

3. Reusable veggie bags

Single use plastic bags are the worst. They aren’t always recyclable, they can be super polluting, and they may even leech toxins into food. Yuck. Introducing: reusable veggie bags! Now, I’m not ashamed to promote my own here – made with upcycled cotton, even! BUT there are lots of options on the market, and these are the types of things you can even sew on your own with very few sewing skills! So, get the ones that work for you, but get some! I use mine to shop with AND I even store my greens and other veggies in them.

Side note tip for you: there are some great ideas for storing veggies without plastic on pinterest – check out some of my favorite boards for tips here for how to keep you goods crisp and fresh, without using plastic.

4. Reusable straw

This feels a little luxurious, but is still so super affordable! If you have kiddos and you like to go out to eat once and a while, it’s fun to whip out your reusable straw and let them feel a little extra fancy with their beverage. They are also great for enjoying a smoothie on the go.

My tip on using a reusable straw and straws in general – you often have to act super fast to avoid getting a plastic straw at a restaurant, cafe, or bar. You might think about setting yours out on the table as soon as you sit down as a visual reminder to yourself and the waitstaff that you don’t need a plastic straw. Always let them know directly too – politely, of course. And be kind if they forget – it happens. One of these days, I think restaurants will start coming around on this issue and will cut down on their own straws, at least plastic straws. But for now, if we can do our part and let them know our values, the earth and all its creatures will benefit. You can find these in glass here and stainless steel here.

5. Reusable napkin

This is a great way to cut down on disposable napkins in your life! I carry one of these in my purse all the time. Bonus – it doubles as a hankie in a pinch. Just remember to wash it (remove all ickies after use). I have a few of these so I can toss one in the wash after we use it, and then grab another clean one from our kitchen drawer.

My tip on napkins – at some restaurants and cafes, let the staff know that you don’t need any napkins, because they may try to give you some with your food. And chances are they aren’t expecting you to have a napkin in your pocket or purse. But – surprise – now you do!

You can see the ones I make with organic cotton here. But you can also just cut up an old shirt – knit cotton won’t fray too much (e.g., t-shirt fabric) – and keep that handy if you want to do the super easy DIY route!

My handstamped napkins and tea towels. On display at the farmers market.

6. Reusable utensils

I keep some of these in my purse at all times! There’s nothing worse than bringing home yet another set of plastic utensils that we don’t need because we forgot to bring our own. I’ve even shared with friends in the past – I keep extras in my purse for my kiddos, but I’m happy to let anyone use them! And I wash them after each use. I love small camping sized utensils for my purse, since my current purse is more of an oversized wristlet, and space is limited. I got mine at the local camping store, but you could also find some online or at a health food store. Or, super cheap way to do it – get some used utensils at the thrift store! The Goodwill in my town sells used utensils for about 50 cents each. Deal! If you dig around enough, you may even luck out on some small ones, or even a spork! Sporks are awesome, FYI – spoon + fork = spork!

And don’t forget to let the restaurant/cafe know that you have them! Sometimes they won’t want to reuse a plastic utensil that has just barely touched your plate. I know, it seems wasteful, but they are bound by different health codes. So let them know before they are done putting together your food to avoid this altogether.

7. Reusable snack bags

A super easy alternative to a ziplock or plastic baggie is a cotton snack bag. At my house, we use these for EVERYTHING: sandwiches, crackers, plaintain chips, popcorn, granola, chocolate chips (don’t judge!), pretzels, and more. I also use these to keep a hardboiled egg from getting too crushed in my lunch bag, and I’ll put a little tea strainer with tea leaves in there for making tea when I’m out and about. I’ll even put half an apple in there in a pinch – doesn’t keep it as fresh as a beeswax wrap (see below for more on that!) but it’ll keep the apple from picking up too much random stuff and also from getting everything it touches just a little bit damp and sticky.

Tips for you on these little guys: We have about 10 of these in a couple sizes at my house, and often we use one over and over again a few times before we wash it. I’ll turn it inside out, shake out any crumbs, and let it air out a little overnight, and then put it in my bag again. With things that don’t leave any crumbs (ahem, chocolate chips), I’ll just leave it in my lunch bag for the week or even longer and keep refilling it.

Reusable Snack Bag! With chocolate chips!

You can see a range of fabrics in my Etsy shop here.

8. Good old water bottle.

This is probably the easiest. And you can also probably find some at your thrift store! I like stainless steel or glass for mine – minimizes any potential leaching of toxins from plastic or questionable metals. And I LOVE my Swell which I bought from one of my favorite local stores – Jones and Bones in Capitola. It’s great to get a good product and also shop local at the same time, if you are on the market for a certain brand.

Swell water bottle. Love it!

9. Beeswax wrap

Beeswax wraps are a great alternative to plastic wrap, tin foil, and wax paper. Super eco-friendly. You can use them to wrap up your bowls, plates, or a sandwich or burrito. I also use them to wrap up half an apple or cucumber or avocado. They are super versatile, reusable, and fully biodegradable. You can read all about them in one of my blog posts here and you can buy them here.

Okay, that’s another shameless plug for my loving handmade pieces. I can’t help myself! But if you aren’t into beeswax, there are also vegan ones out there! My favorites are made by a woman in Australia and can be found here. See, it’s not all about me!

And you can also find some great tutorials online if you want to DIY it! Tip on DIY, though: unless you plan to make a whole bunch and maybe give some away as gifts, it may not be worth the time, money, and effort to make these. They are a little messy and some of the ingredients can be pricey and hard to find – and may only be available in packaging, which kind-of defeats the point! BUT don’t let that deter you! I actually enjoy making them, and you might too!

10.  Reusable dish towels

My last eco-product plug: say goodbye to paper towels with dish towels! If you can integrate a dish towel or tea towel into your kitchen, you can eliminate SO MUCH paper waste! This also eliminates the water and energy required to make the paper products. We keep ours on the handle of our oven door, but there are lots of cute clips out there to hang it from a cupboard drawer as well. We use it until it’s grubby and needs to be washed. When we just dry clean dishes with it, it might stay clean for well over a week.

I make mine in upcycled cotton whenever possible for maximum eco-friendly-ness. I also use organic cotton. You can check out my offerings here. You can probably find some at the thrift store too, if you’re not too particular about what’s on it :).

Tip: If you use paper towels for cleaning up spills, let me suggest using rags instead! Turn those old clothes, too old to give away, into rags by cutting them up. We keep a stack in our closet and grab them anytime there’s a spill in the house. Cotton knits are less likely to fray.

Okay, there you have it. My  top 10 eco-friendly products towards a greener, zero waste life. Did I leave out your favorite? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading.
Liz

Sign up for the No Trace Email List for Giveaways and Coupons!

The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Zero Waste Grocery Shopping

 

Food packaging is probably a significant source of waste for you, like it was for me too!  Going zero waste does NOT happen overnight! Instead, think of this as a process that takes time.  Each change you make is a small step in a positive direction.

Below I’ve outlined a step-by-step guide for getting started in zero waste grocery shopping.  

 

 

Step 1: Make your usual grocery list.

 

In step 1, make a list of everything that you might normally purchase for the week (or however often you go).  Be thorough! List everything to your heart’s desire. If you need to add another category, go for it!

 

Here are some common categories that can help you put together your list.

 

Category Your regulars (examples)
Veggies Lettuce, carrots, kale, tomatoes, cauliflower
Fruits Oranges, apples, bananas
Proteins (dairy, dried beans, meats) Cheese, pinto beans, chic peas, tofu
Carbs/Grains Bread, rice, pasta, quinoa
Snacks & Sweets Chips, cookies
Oils/Fats Olive oil, vegetable oil, balsamic vinegar, butter
Baking/Spices Flour, salt, cumin
Condiments Mayonnaise, mustard, peanut butter, jam, soy sauce, maple syrup
Beverages Tea, coffee, juice, beer, wine
Bathroom Supplies Toilet paper, toothpaste
Household Supplies Laundry soap, dish soap

 

 

Step 2: Try to distinguish between your grocery “must-haves” vs. your “wants”

 

Get two different colored pencils or crayons and take a look at your list.  Pick one color to indicate your “must-haves” and the other color to indicate your “wants”.  For example, coffee for me is a MUST HAVE. Cheese, eggs, and bread are family MUST HAVES. Either Earth Balance (vegan butter) or regular butter are MUST HAVES – one or the other.  Fruits we are pretty flexible on – we can work with what’s available at the farmer’s market or what’s served loose at the store. Veggies we are also pretty flexible on. We prefer to have lettuce, carrots, cabbage, tomatoes, cauliflower, squash, and greens on a pretty regular basis, but as long as we get some variety, we are happy.  We also get some veggies that work well in the kids lunches (think carrots, sweet peppers, cucumbers, or cherry tomatoes). We also have dried beans, but again we are flexible on the type of dried beans – pintos, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, etc. We love them all. Within condiments, we are actually pretty flexible! We like hot sauce, mayonnaise, mustard, and ketchup.  

 

Step 3:  Assess the bulk situation near you.  

 

What is available to you and where?   Check out the bulk finder app (Bea Johnson has one on her website here) to see what’s available near you!  If nothing pops up, you might want to try stores you don’t normally go to – call ahead and ask if they have any bulk bins!  Health food stores often have bulk bins. Whole Foods is a definite option. Also, don’t forget to look closely at what IS available at your favorite store.  There might be more than you realize when you take a closer look!

 

Step 4: Check for a local farmer’s market.

 

The farmers market is an awesome spot to get fresh local veggies – often without stickers or packaging!  There might even be fresh bread and other staples that you can purchase plastic free. Some staples you might be able to get in a glass jar that you can return to the farmer (at our market, that includes honey and hot sauce).  So, try to determine if there’s a farmer’s market near you this time of year, and if you can fit a visit into your schedule. If you’ve got a family, it might be a fun weekend event for the whole crew! Some weekday markets are after work – maybe you can swing by one day after work!  Check out LocalHarvest.org for markets near you.

 

Step 5: Compare your waste-free options with your grocery list

 

How many of your must-haves are available in bulk?  If everything is, say hip-hip HOORAY! And then skip ahead to step 7!  But, chances are there are some items you can’t find in bulk. Make a note of all of those must-haves that you can’t find in bulk.  Next, make a list of all of the wants that you can’t find in bulk either.

 

Step 6: Make some decisions

 

Assuming you can’t find everything in bulk that is on your must-have or want lists, now is the time to make some decisions!  Ask yourself a few questions. First, are there any must-have groceries that aren’t really must haves? If not, and you stand behind each must-have, that’s fine!  But it’s always good to check what you might be willing to forgo, if even for a short time, to see how that feels. Here’s another question: is there even one must-have that you would be willing to try making on your own?  I am assuming you do NOT have the time to make everything yourself. Very few people do! But is there one item that you might try? Again, just food for thought. Could you set aside a little time on the weekend to make it?  At my house, that’s hummus and sometimes cashew cheese. We try to make it about once a week.

 

Now turn to your wants.  Here you get to decide how badly you want those wants.  You might consider an experiment of forgoing all of them, at least for a little while.  The great thing about grocery shopping is that you get another chance to do it again soon and change your mind!

 

After you’ve made your decisions, revise your list so you know exactly what you are shopping for.

 

Step 7: Gather your supplies!

 

Before you shop, collect your supplies!  You probably have some of these items already, and can make them yourself, find them at a thrift store, and there are veggie and bulk bags for sale here as well.  I always make sure that my supplies are sparkling clean before I take them. I want the stores to feel confident that I’m not mucking up their bulk goods! This helps stores continue to support folks bringing in their own containers.

 

Here are the items I take with me:

 

  • Cotton bags for fruits and veggies
  • Cotton bags for bulk goods
  • Jars for any liquids
  • Jars for any fine, powdery, or sticky bulk goods (think raisins, flour)
  • Beeswax wrap for bulk cheese
  • A marker or wax pencil for writing on jars
  • A scrap of paper and pen for writing down all the codes from the bulk bins (unless you can write on your bag -that works too!) or a smartphone!
  • Reusable shopping bags.  I.e., a bag for all your bags and jars!
  • Your list that you painstakingly put together!
  • A reusable coffee mug (hey, you deserve a treat after all of this!)

 

Let me take a moment to explain about TARE WEIGHT.

 

What is tare weight, you might ask?

The tare weight, at least in the U.S., is often the number of ounces that your container weighs divided by 16.  So, if your jar weighs 8 ounces, simply divide 8 by 16 to get 0.5. That is your tare weight. It means your jar weighs about half a pound.  The cashiers will deduct this weight from the total weight of the item when you pay. That way you don’t pay for the weight of the jar in addition to the weight of whatever’s inside.  If the store sells bulk, they should understand this process and be able to deduct the tare weight at the register.

 

If you have a scale at home, you can go ahead and weigh your jars at home and mark down the tare weight!  If you don’t have a scale at home, you can take your jars to the store and ask them to weigh them, or look for scales in the aisles that are for customers to use.  I use my marker or wax pencil to then write the tare down on my jar.

 

Step 8: Shop with confidence – and just ask!

 

Okay, once you are at the store, now’s the time to stick to your list!  Get only what is on your list, including your needs and wants. Write down the codes for each item, either on the container or on your grocery list/scrap paper.  I often use my phone to track the codes, and since we get the same things over and over again, I have the codes saved already!

 

For any deli items, ask them if they can hand it straight to you or put it into a container for you.  I’ve asked them to cut cheese for me and put it into my beeswax wrap, and they’ve been happy to do it at a couple of stores!  Don’t be shy about asking for help, even if no one is working the counter when you get there.

 

For all those needs that you can’t find in bulk, try to find it in the lowest-impact packaging possible.  Here’s how I would prioritize based on preserving our resources, avoiding landfill waste, and avoiding plastic:

 

  1. First choice: packaging that you will reuse (like a jar)
  2. Second choice: packaging made from recycled materials like recycled paper
  3. Third choice: paper packaging
  4. Fourth choice: metal/canned packaging – this is more valuable for recycling centers than glass
  5. Fifth choice: glass packaging (that you wouldn’t normally want to reuse)
  6. Sixth choice: recyclable plastic packaging – what type of plastic can you recycle in your town?
  7. Seventh choice: non-recyclable materials.  This often includes mixed materials.

 

When I go to pay, I line up my bags on the conveyor belt in order of my codes, just to speed up the process for the cashier.  You don’t need to do that at all! But if you’re motivated, it helps move things along a little bit. Especially for items you can’t see through the bag – eliminates the guessing game.

 

Step 9: Take your food home and transfer it to storage containers (if needed)

 

I like to move my bulk goods into jars and other air-tight containers once I’m are home.  I do try to take a picture first – if you want to capture the moment, do that first! I love those flat-lay grocery pics of a week in food.  

Zero waste groceries

 

But then I put stuff away. Things like chips, oats, and pasta keep better in a jar or tupperware, so I’ll take them out of the bag and put them into a different container at home.  I usually keep my veggies in their bags and put them straight into the fridge. I usually take the fruit out of bags and set them on the countertop. Potatoes, onions, and garlic too – just into a bowl on the countertop.  This takes about 10 minutes, but it’s a nice chance to tidy up the cupboards a little and feel stocked up for the week ahead.

Bulk goods in jars

Step 10: Congratulate yourself!

 

Phew!  You did it!  I hope you are feeling proud of yourself for any small changes you were able to implement towards a zero waste home.  I know it isn’t always easy to try doing things differently, and your family might not be completely on board yet, but give it time and it becomes second nature.  

 

There you have it!  My 10 step beginner’s guide to zero waste grocery shopping.  To recap:

Step 1:  Make your usual list – be thorough!

Step 2:  Distinguish between your grocery “must-haves” and grocery “wants”

Step 3: Assess the local bulk options

Step 4:  Look into a local farmers market

Step 5:  Compare your local waste-free options with your grocery list

Step 6:  Make some decisions & revise your shopping list

Step 7:  Gather your supplies!

Step 8:  Shop with confidence and don’t be afraid to ask!

Step 9:  Bring your food home and transfer it to storage containers.

Step 10: Last but not least, congratulate yourself!

 

There you have it.   My ultimate beginner’s guide to zero waste grocery shopping. Was this helpful for you?  I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.

 

Thanks for reading!

Liz

 

Sign up for the No Trace Email List for Giveaways and Coupons!

Top 10 Things to Make with Fabric Scraps

AKA: How to keep fabric scraps out of the landfill and upcycle fabric scraps.

 

I love to sew stuff for me, my family, my friends, and my customers!  That’s probably obvious.  The only bummer of this is that there are almost ALWAYS little scraps and bits leftover from pretty much everything I make.  I try my best to design pieces that minimize this, but some of it is inevitable.  So I’ve been doing some poking around on the interwebs and testing out different ideas to keep these scraps out of the waste stream.  Here is my list of my 10 favorite ways to upcycle fabric scraps.  

 

  1. Pin Cushion
    1. This is just the cutest little pin cushion you ever did see.  A square pin cushion is perfect for using up small squares of fabric (or corners if you do any boxed corners on bags like I do).  I’ve stuffed it with tiny fabric and thread scraps!  No poly-fill necessary!

      Tiny pin cushion. The cutest!
  2. Napkin Rings
    1. We use cloth napkins in our house, so it’s lovely to have each one marked whose-is-whose.  Each napkin ring is in a different fabric, so we never get them mixed up!  Confession: we use our napkins a few times until they need a wash.

      Napkin ring made from fabric scraps!
  3. Cord keeper 
    1. I was getting so tired of constantly having to untangle my headphones.  Ugh.  I finally took a minute (no, make that 3) to sew up this cord keeper with a snap closure.  Be gone, tangles!
      Cord keeper from fabric scraps!

       

  4. Fabric twine.
    1. This stuff just looks so pretty.  I used it to wrap Christmas presents this year.  Twine is a great way to use up long, thin strips of fabric, like selvage edges.  The pieces don’t need to be the same thickness or length, and you can keep adding in more pieces as you go!

      Fabric twine from fabric scraps!
  5. Woven Potholder
    1. This is a great craft for a little one.  I made this little guy on my daughter’s loom, and now she’s made one too.  If you don’t have a loom, they are SUPER easy to make – you can do it out of cardboard!  I weaved my long skinny pieces (like a selvage edge or other strips) and just overlapped them a couple of inches, rather than sewing them together.  You could also knot them together.  Lots of options.  If you want to go bigger, make a placemat!
      Handwoven pot holder. We use it in the kitchen!

      Handwoven placemat. So pretty!
  6. Braided bracelet
    1. Also perfect for long thin strips.  I made a bunch of these for my kiddos and also gave them out to kids at the farmer’s market.  Super easy – another great craft for little ones.  
  7. Patches for clothes
    1. I turned an old stained skirt into hearts for my daughter’s leggings.  Super fun.  Super cute.  

      Patches for leggings from fabric scraps!
  8. Coin purse
    1. This is great for rectangles of fabric.  I modeled them after my snack bags, only much tinier and not always lined.  So fun.
  9. Quilted napkins
    1. I love quilts, but let’s be honest – I ain’t got time to make a whole dang quilt.  That’s where quilted napkins come in!  These are perfect for any shaped scrap.  I’ve used squares to make a simple 4-square napkin design.  But it works great for rectangles or triangles or strips!  The world is your oyster with this one!
  10. Pom poms!
    1. Yes, the world needs more pom poms.  Especially upcycled, handmade, biodegradable ones.  I made these tiny ones by wrapping long thing strips around a fork.  You could use super thin scraps for these.  Aren’t they adorable??  

 

Those are my favorite 10 things to do with scraps right now.  Do you work with fabric scraps?  Do tell!  Would you like to learn more about how to make any of these?  I’d love to hear that too!

 

Thanks for reading,

Liz

Sign up for the No Trace Email List for Giveaways and Coupons!