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 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:
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:
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!
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.
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)
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.
Nut butter energy 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!
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
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.
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:
Chickpeas (however many you want to make)
Any other spices you want to add
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
Insulated food jar/thermos
Stainless steel lunch box
Sandwich bag or beeswax wrap
Natural fiber lunch bag
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.
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.
Water bottle – and fill it up after security if you’re traveling by plane!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 🙂 )
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mayonnaise, mustard, peanut butter, jam, soy sauce, maple syrup
Tea, coffee, juice, beer, wine
Toilet paper, toothpaste
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:
First choice: packaging that you will reuse (like a jar)
Second choice: packaging made from recycled materials like recycled paper
Third choice: paper packaging
Fourth choice: metal/canned packaging – this is more valuable for recycling centers than glass
Fifth choice: glass packaging (that you wouldn’t normally want to reuse)
Sixth choice: recyclable plastic packaging – what type of plastic can you recycle in your town?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
Patches for clothes
I turned an old stained skirt into hearts for my daughter’s leggings. Super fun. Super cute.
This is great for rectangles of fabric. I modeled them after my snack bags, only much tinier and not always lined. So fun.
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!
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!
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