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

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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

 

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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

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It’s a new year, and time for some zero waste new year’s resolutions!

This year for the first time ever I actually set some goals and WROTE THEM DOWN! Woohoo! I set goals across the important areas of my life, including health, family, friends, money, work, and business. And I ALMOST forgot to set myself some waste-related goals. Whoa. Luckily I caught myself and added some zero waste resolutions for the year. So here they are.

Zero Waste New year’s Resolution #1:
Have at least one 100% freebie-free week with the kids.

Freebies and gifts are one of the major sources of trash in our life still. It’s gotten easier for me to say no to freebies out in the world, but my kids, on the other hand, are still working on this, understandably – it’s freaking hard! Our culture embraces and encourages the act of giving gifts and things, and it can come across as ungrateful or rude to refuse a gift. Unfortunately so many of these freebies are wrapped in plastic or made of plastic or in some other way destined for the landfill. My kids are offered and accept little bits and trinkets pretty much every week from friends, family, school, and outings. Just last week there was a butterfly making project at the library. The butterflies were made of paper (yay!) and wooden laundry clips (yay!) and little pipe cleaners (hmmm…). Not sure what to do with the pipe cleaners – they’re made of metal and synthetic fiber. They can be used over and over again, in theory, but once they break they are landfill foder. A few days before that, my daughter was on an outing with her class and a parent took her and her classmates to Starbucks where everyone got a beverage in a plastic cup with a straw. She’s 9, so it’s hard for her to remember to say no to a straw (heck, I forget to say this still!), and she doesn’t carry around a coffee mug for impromptu visits to Starbucks like me (guilty!). They also got bags of chips at Starbucks, so there’s another source of garbage.

I can’t control my kids every move and I wouldn’t want to. I want them to be able to be in the world making their own decisions. That said, one of my goals for this year is to have a very deliberate week-long period where each of us works to say no freebies, especially freebies with plastic/synthetic/non-recyclable or non-biodegradable pieces.

We’ve already started the conversation, too! In order to try out a full week, we’re going to pick a date, go over our family goals and strategies for polite refusal, and then get started!

2. Have a 100% plastic free week with the kids.

This might sound the same as freebie-free, but there are still some sources of plastic in our life that we buy deliberately on a regular basis. Earth balance (vegan butter), day-old bread from our local bakery, cheese, and tofu. We recycle this packaging, but another goal of mine is avoid all of these for at least one week. My daughters actually brought this idea up! We’ll be picking a week soon (not the same week as the freebie-free week) and going for it! I’ll let you know how it goes.

3. Bike more.

I used to bike ALL THE TIME. I’m not sure what happened, but I’m re-committing myself to biking more! My goal is to use the bike every weekend to take care of a trip or errand. So far in 2018, I’ve managed to use the bike every weekend for something. I took a delivery of No Trace goods downtown just recently. It’s a great way to get a little exercise and reduce my carbon footprint. Over time I’m hoping to do more and more by bike, but I’m starting with weekend rides for now. It feels achievable and would still make a big improvement in my waste reduction.

4. Find zero waste dental options

We go through a lot of floss and toothpaste in our house and we’re a little cavity prone so making our own toothpaste isn’t an option. My goal for this year is to find an affordable biodegradable floss and zero waste toothpaste with flouride online. I haven’t been able to find it in town, so it’s time to take the plunge and look online. I’ve been looking around and I’ll share what I find! Let me know if you have any leads.

So there you have it. My 4 zero waste goals for the year. Do you have any eco-goals for the new year? I’d love to hear about them! Share in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!
Liz

How to Have a Zero Waste Halloween

What’s October’s challenge for ecoFamilies? Halloween!  

I can still picture last year’s wreckage: the massive pile of trick-or-treat candy in the cupboard that literally lasted for months.  The steady stream of candy wrappers in the tiny kitchen trash can that would show up every few days, foiling my zero waste attempts for the day or week yet again.  Is there anyway to enjoy the fun of halloween without leaving a trail of trash?   I wanted to know how to have a zero waste Halloween.

 

This year, I had a different vision of halloween:  a fun night of trick-or-treating with the kids and friends, followed by a teeny-tiny pile of trash and mildly sugared-up kids.  Could it be done?  I set out to test the waters.  

 

And I was armed with a plan!  Let me share my strategy.  As to whether it worked…You’ll have to read to the end for the exciting conclusion :).  

 

First, I knew I would have to get the kids on board WAY in advance, way before the shiny loot was in their eager hands.  Second, I knew I’d have to share my vision with my hubby, make sure he was on board, and also fill in any friends that were coming trick-or-treating with us.

 

You might ask – why even bother with trick or treating?  Candy is awful for them, why even tempt them?  That is an excellent question.  You, obviously, are a much stronger person than I am.  I decided not even to try to go there this year.  Maybe, in the future, I can convince my girls that passing out candy is more fun than eating it.  But they sure are cute going door to door and asking for candy.  So, here’s what I did.

 

 

Zero Waste Trick or Treaters

The very first step was to talk about it with my kiddos VERY early.  The very first mention of halloween, I told them that I had an idea I wanted to share with them.  In my least bossy voice, I told them I was thinking it would be nice to go trick or treating, but then to trade in their pre-wrapped candy for some bulk candy.  I told them we could go to the candy shop in town and they could get the same amount, by weight, as they’d get on halloween.  But this way, we wouldn’t make as much trash.  So, same amount of candy, no trash.  Then I asked them what they thought about it.

 

Gulp.

 

Here’s the thing – they were so fine with this idea that it shocked me.  Now, to be honest, I did promise that they could each eat 5 pieces on halloween before handing me the rest.  But I didn’t have to do any convincing.  

 

Hip Hip HOORAY!  That was awesome.

 

Now, the big question: Would this cooperation last?  Stay tuned!

 

Zero Waste Halloween Treats

Okay, the next step was to plan for the trick-or-treaters coming to our house.  We don’t get too many (the heavy action is one block away, for better or worse).  But we usually get some, so I wanted to have treats to pass out.  But of course I was hoping for something without wrappers.  I know, why not just pass out fruit?  No.  I just couldn’t.  Again, if that is your idea of a treat, you are a much better person than me.  Maybe some kids like getting fruit, but I’m pretty sure most don’t.  And I’m not interested in letting down happy trick-or-treaters on Halloween. No thank you!

 

So, zero waste treats to give away:  My original goal was to get candy in bulk and some cute paper bags to put it in.  I figured that the bags could be recycled and, if they don’t get recycled, they at least release fewer toxins in the landfill than plastic.  So, I got some bulk bin candy at Staff of Life (actually, hubby picked it up – thanks, honey!).  Then I drove around town in circles trying to find small, cute paper bags.  They. Do. Not. Exist.  If I’d planned in advance, I could’ve ordered some online, but then you have all the unclear shipping and packaging, probably some plastic wrapping thrown in there just to piss me off.  You know.  So, I never did find those cute bags in Santa Cruz or Capitola, and instead used some plain brown paper bags that I’ve had since before going for zero.  The big kind for lunches.  Sigh.  

Zero waste halloween candy from bulk!

Anyway, back to my treats.  Passing out loose, package-free candy to kids can feel a little…creepy.  It shouldn’t, but we’re all a little brainwashed to be afraid of anything that isn’t shrink-wrapped and sealed.  (this is part of why we have such a trash problem to begin with!  I know, preaching to the choir here).  So, what’s the best way to handle this?  Simple:  just let each trick-or-treater know that I’m doing a zero waste halloween.  I told the few that came that they could take a bag and a couple scoops of candy, or just dump the candy straight into their bags/pumpkins.  

 

The verdict?  None of the trick-or-treaters who came to our door had any issues!  They all opted for a bag.  It probably helped that I was surrounded by my own kids and friends’ kids when I passed out the candy – they make me seem less creepy and more mom-like :).     

 

Zero Waste Halloween Gathering

Alright, the last part of our zero waste halloween – the gathering!  Our neighborhood goes a little crazy during Halloween, so we had friends come over for a quick bite before hitting the streets.  A few friends offered to bring something, so I made suggestions that I knew could be zero waste (pasta salad, hummus and veggies).  I made an awesome black bean and corn salad, if I do say so myself :), served with chips from bulk bins.  I also let the other moms know my plan for zero waste, not to pressure them to follow suit, but so they could be supportive of my kiddos.  I’ve found that parents these days are pretty good about being respectful of other families food choices, and my friends are super awesome that way :).  Thanks ladies.  Now, here’s a little shocker – I used paper plates!  I know, I know, WHY?  Here’s why – they were a gift from a friend and the kids were excited to use them (they were Halloween themed).  And I knew they could be composted in our compost.  So, that’s what I did.  Once those were gone, we busted out the real deal plates.

 

Back to my kiddos….

You’re probably wondering how it went after we got home loaded with candy.  Let me tell you – it was GREAT!  They enjoyed a few pieces of candy, more time with friends, and were fine to put their candy away for the eventual trade in.  My older daughter actually gave all of hers to a friend after she had her pieces.

 

AH-MAZING!

 

There you have it: a (near) zero waste Halloween.  These kids constantly blow my mind!  I think they can tell that the true fun of halloween is not the candy.  It is every other thing – the costumes, the friends, the wildness of the night, the decorations, the excitement.  Really, with all of that, who needs candy?

 

Thanks for reading!

Liz

Kids & Zero Waste

If you know kids, you know they sometimes leave behind a trail of debris.  Kid detritus comes in many fun forms at my house – popsicle stick sculptures, broken bracelets they made at school, 100+ drawings of the family, valentines cards from 3 years ago, Dollar Store party favors, outgrown clothes they can’t quite part with, and more.  Right now our home is just about bursting at the seams with these things.  

 

Fortunately for me (and the planet), kids are also amazing at getting inspired and enthusiastic about worthy causes.  With a little effort, it’s totally possible to get kids excited about zero waste.  And the more we get kids on board, the brighter our future gets.

My ecokids.

 

Here are my top 10 ways to help kids reduce their waste and go for zero.  Zero waste kids, here we come!

 

Top 10 tips for inspiring zero waste kids

  1. Inspire them!  Share success stories from zero waste heroes.  Those year’s-waste-in-a-jar pictures can be really inspiring to kids.  I love Bea Johnson’s zerowastehome.com.
  2. Get them involved in your grocery shopping!  Showing them how to shop in bulk and what’s available in your store helps them wrap their heads around what you’re doing at home.  I let them pick a couple of snacks from bulk bins. Bonus: These snacks go into jars in the cupboards, so we can all easily see what’s available and how much.  They also love helping me take pictures of our groceries – all that arranging and color sorting.  Fun times for their busy brains.
    One week’s groceries, in rainbow order :).

     

  3. Give them the tools – their own napkin, utensils, water bottle, jar, containers, lunch box, etc.  If kids feel ownership and responsibility over their own tools, they’re more likely to enjoy and use them.  No Trace has lots of options here.

    Their own stainless steel mugs, and beeswax wraps
  4. Role model!  Actions speak louder than words.  When kids see you carrying your own water bottle and napkin, that’ll inspire the same from them!
  5. Find zero waste alternatives for their favorite foods.  Can you find a package-free alternative to one or two of their favorites?  Homemade everything is really hard – but maybe there is one really special swap you could do for your kiddos.  Homemade crackers or granola bars, maybe?  Homemade chocolate chip cookies?  Bonus: it’s a great way to get them helping in the kitchen – if they help you, you’ll make it!
  6. Anticipate the challenging moments, and prepare them!  Birthday parties, Halloween, air travel, dentist and doctor’s doctor’s offices, free samples at the grocery store.  Are they allowed to bring anything home?  Are there limits or restrictions?  Talk about it so they know what to expect BEFORE you’re in the moment.  We were going through a phase of being invited with friends to frozen yogurt after school every week.  I finally got my act together and brought jars and spoons to avoid the waste and say YES to the invite.

    Happy about some frozen yogurt and fresh fruit!
  7. No guilt, only encouragement!  It is really hard to avoid waste in today’s society.  They may not have any buddies whose families are going for zero.  Make sure they know that what’s most important is doing their best.  We’re trying to tread lightly on the planet so we can share it with others for generations to come.  
  8. Educate them!  Take them to the landfill or the recycling plant (Santa Cruz recycling does a great tour – and it’s kid friendly), show them kid friendly videos on landfills and plastic pollution.   There are some great things on youtube like this one on landfills and this one on plastic bottles!
  9. Encourage them to think about how much stuff (i.e., toys and clothes) they need, and whether they could share some things with others.  Sometimes helping them cut down on how much they own can help them cut down on how much they want to consume.  Is there a shelter nearby where you can donate some excess?  Or a thrift store with a cause you can all get behind?  In Aptos has Caroline’s thrift store, which donates it proceeds to worthy non-profits in the community.  If kids know where some of their things are going, it makes it easier to say goodbye to stuff.  
  10. Try to make things together, instead of buy.  I know, who has the time for that?  I had to make a promise to myself and my kiddos on this one – I gave them each a gift this past Christmas of a coupon for making something together.  Evenings and weekends are full of dance, soccer, birthday parties, dinner, homework, and reading.  There isn’t always a ton of spare time for extra projects on top of that.  But, if there are a couple of special items your kiddo really wants, you can both squeeze in the time over the course of a few months.  Especially if you’ve already committed yourself.

 

Bonus tips!  

  1.  Explain that every family has different ideas, values, goals, and projects.  Not every family can aim for zero waste, and that’s okay.  It’s important that they know that not all their friends will be able to or interested in cutting down their waste.  And that’s okay.   

 

  1.  I remember that we still make waste as a family, and I go easy on us.  We are doing a lot, but we aren’t perfect.  I try to learn from what we throw away and think about new habits to help us reduce our waste on a regular basis.  That feels like success in my home, and my kids are engaged and interested instead of overwhelmed.

 

There you have it.  My top 10 ways to inspire the zero waste kids in your life.  Is zero waste a family value at your house?  I’d love to hear about your family practices.

 

Thanks for reading!

Liz

What is zero waste?

 

In simple terms, zero waste is a goal of maximizing our planet’s resources by keeping resources in the life cycle and out of the landfill.  The ideas behind the zero waste movement center around redesigning our lives and environments so that our resources remain in a cycle of creation, use, and recycling.

 

What is a zero waste business?

 

A zero waste business embraces this philosophy of maximizing and reusing resources throughout every stage of design, production, distribution, use, and recycling or reuse.  In addition to considering the life cycle of all materials used in a business, zero waste philosophy means working with sustainable resources, such as recycled or all natural, biodegradable materials.

 

No Trace is a zero waste business.

 

At No Trace, I think about what it means to be a zero waste business everyday, and about where my raw materials are coming from, and where they will end up.  I also think about how my pieces are made and the overall impact of their creation.  I ask myself: what good will this product have on the planet and for the people who use it?  Here are the steps I take towards zero waste.  Note that I don’t claim to be perfect or to have all the anwers, but I am doing my best to be sustainable.  If you have ideas or suggestions for me, please share!  I am always open to improvement.

  1. Use of raw materials that are sustainable  
    • I use only 100% natural, biodegradable materials in all of my production.  This includes 100% cotton thread, 100% natural fiber fabric, and 100% natural and biodegradable fabric paint (which I make).

      My homemade paint in jars.
    • I use only use organic cotton or recycled cotton fabric.  The production of organic cotton does not pollute our soil or water with toxic chemicals as does conventional cotton.  Whenever possible, I source fabrics from second-hand sources (i.e., thrift stores) and repurpose them into functional pieces for the zero waste home.   
    • My racks are made by me with untreated wood.  This keeps them free of toxins and means that they can easily be composted or used in the occasional bonfire :). 

      One of my DIY racks. No finish required.
    • I’ve started using old corks and transforming them into buttons.
      Action shot! Making buttons. Don’t worry, I am very careful with the knife.

      .

  • Raw materials are obtained with minimal packaging.
    • This means avoiding plastic bags or any unnecessary packaging.  I buy my beeswax from local bee farmers free of packaging whenever possible.  I buy with recyclable packaging when I can’t get things package-free.  I always consider the type of packaging before purchasing, and make purchasing decisions based on the packaging.  
  • Tools and equipment are obtained second-hand whenever possible.
    • Most of the equipment used in making my beeswax wraps, for example, is from second hand stores.  Used tools and equipment are my first choice for all required No Trace equipment.
    • Equipment used in markets and fairs is mostly second hand or borrowed.  In fact, I may have overstayed my borrowing welcome with some friends on a few pieces 🙂 …

      Another DIY rack.
  • No waste is made in the creation of No Trace pieces.
    • Every scrap bit of thread and fabric is saved and repurposed into something else.  For example, I’ve made paper from thread bits and cell phone cases from fabric bits.  I’ve made twine and drawstring ties from long thin pieces of fabric scraps, including the selvage edge.

      Twine and pom poms
    • Every bit of paper is saved and turned into handmade paper.  I incorporate bits and strands of thread into this paper.

      Handmade paper from Farm Day at Terra Prana farm.
    • Patterns are designed with a minimizing of scraps in mind.
    • Right now, after about a year of production, I have less than one jar of waste from No Trace.  It is almost all stickers.  I’ve considered trying to turn them into a collage…I’m not sure how appealing this collage would be, though.  For now they are snug in my jar under my.    

      Weaving scraps into a potholder.
  • No Trace packaging is eco-friendly.
    • I use recycled paper and paper twine to package my pieces.  Both of these can be composted or recycled.  I recently learned that it’s better to compost small pieces of paper that otherwise get lost in the recycling process.  My recommendation is to compost the twine and paper unless your recycling plant has a specific paper pick up that minimizes loss.
    • I use recycled mailing materials whenever possible, and print directly onto my envelopes when possible.  I have had to print mailing labels on a few occasions, which results in these small squares of waxed paper.  These have several uses, apparentely, so I’m saving them for a TBD project or to pass on to another artist.  Contact me if you have any interest.
  • No Trace pieces are designed to stay out of the landfill.
    • Don’t throw it out!  No Trace pieces are designed to last a very long time.  When the fabric starts to wear out after a number of years, it can be repurposed into a cleaning rag and eventually composted, or, in the case of beeswax wraps, re-waxed after a year or more.  
    • I am always here and available for any end-of-life needs around your No Trace products – just ask!  Think of me as hospice for your pieces 🙂 .  Depending on the supply of aged No Trace products, I’d love to incorporate these scraps into new designs where possible.

      A larger weaving from scraps.
  • No Trace is solar powered!  
    • No Trace is still based out of my home, but my home is solar powered!   Well, to be technical, my family pays extra to the electric company so that we can subsidize solar and other green sources of energy to the grid, in an amount that offsets the electricity that we use each month.  Does that make sense?  I didn’t think so.  It doesn’t to me, either.  But there you have it.  No Trace uses green energy.
  • No Trace is bicycle powered!
    • Okay, this is a stretch for me, but whenever possible I DO make local deliveries by bike, especially to the shops in the Capitola area that carry my goods.
  • No Trace is Prius powered!
    • That’s more like it.  I roll-up to the farmer’s market in the Prius.  Yes, it all fits.  I can even squeeze two kids and a grown up in the car with me.  BOOM.

 

There is always room for improvement in growing a zero waste business.  I’m hoping to find more sources of package free raw materials.  I’d love to extend my bicycle deliveries around town.  And I know there are steps towards sustainability that aren’t even on my radar.  But the efforts I’m making so far feel like a strong start.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

Liz @ No Trace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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