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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 :).
I’ve started using old corks and transforming them into buttons.
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 🙂 …
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.
Every bit of paper is saved and turned into handmade paper. I incorporate bits and strands of thread into this paper.
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.
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.
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.
I recently did a three day bike tour in Big Sur with my partner and a couple of dear friends. At the writing of this post, about 30 miles of Highway 1, which winds along stunning mountain cliffs above the ocean, is very difficult to access due to a mudslide on the south end and a broken bridge on the north end. This makes it an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bike with very few cars on the road. So we did! And I am so grateful to have done it. Special shout out to my in-laws and my friends’ parents for watching our kids during this time and letting us experience this beautiful ride.
One of my goals, other than enjoying the amazing views, good food, and cold beers, was to tour without creating waste. I was pretty close, but had a couple of “I’m starving!” moments and some of my planning was off, which led to some waste.
Here Are my zero waste successes
and failures from this awesome trip.
We started in Carmel, CA, and biked about 30 miles to Fernwood Resort in northern Big Sur (before the first road closure). Here are our stops along the way:
DIY Bike Tour Stop #1:
We started with lunch in Carmel at a taqueria. They served us on real plates with real serving ware and my partner and I used our own reusable napkins. Zero waste success! The tacos were awesome, of course. And we were full and ready to bike!
Stop 2: We biked several miles down the coast, stopped briefly in Point Lobos State Reserve, and for a photo here and there. Our main second stop was the Rocky Point Restaurant. We had to get a cocktail it was – the only stop for the rest of our day along this beautiful coastline, and it has gorgeous views and famous bloody mary’s 🙂 . We decided to get a round of bloody mary’s to help power us up the hills 🙂 and I forgot to say “no straw, please”! Ack! I don’t get drinks out too often, but you’d think I’d remember this by now! So, here’s my reminder when I place my order (say it with me): No straw, please. No straw, please. No straw, please.
Stop 3: We biked several more miles (who’s counting??), up to the top of Hurricane Point and then back down again. Although far from a hurricane, Hurricane Point is quite a little micro-climate of fog and strong winds. We felt a little like we might get blown off the hillside. We stopped for a quick photo and snacks from New Leaf bulk bins (cacao energy nibs, fancy nut mix, and sesame sticks). Nothing to buy, nothing to throw away!
Stop 4: After another several miles we were nearing our destination! But we had to stop and check out one of our favorite state parks – Andrew Molera – before calling it a day. We visited Andrew Molera Beach by walking and riding our bikes over a wooden bridge and about a mile along a dirt path. We shared some the same snacks from bulk. We also had a beer that we recycled AND we picked up some garbage on the beach. Leaving things a little cleaner feels great.
Stop 5: At the end of the day we made it to Fernwood Resort and checked into our room. We were all starving and a little desperate for showers, so we got a bag of chips to hold us over while we all showered and let our little ones/grandparents know we had made it safely the first day. Why do potato chips have to be so delicious??? In hindsight, it would have been smart to plan a special treat for the end of each day so we could have resisted the delicious potato chips calling our name at the resort mini-market. After chips and showers, we ate dinner at the Fernwood Resort restaurant, which uses real plates, cutlery, and napkins. Yes.
Day 2 of our DIY, Low Waste, Big Sur Bike Tour
The second day we biked from Fernwood just a few miles to the northern road closure on Highway 1, which is the result of a broken bridge. We carried our bikes and gear about a ½ mile and 150 steps UP to the other side of Hwy 1. Phew. Then we biked about 30 miles along the most gorgeous, jaw-dropping part of Hwy 1 to a cabin. Here are the stops we made on day 2:
Stop 1: I thought we’d be able to eat breakfast at the Fernwood, which was a silly thought because Fernwood doesn’t serve breakfast. So we checked out Fernwood’s mini-market again. They had breakfast muffins, which came in a paper wrapper and coffee, which only came in a disposable cup. Doh! Reusable coffee mugs are zero waste 101! I can’t believe I failed on that one. But I did. If I’d done a little more research I could have figured this out. We didn’t bring coffee mugs since we were trying to travel light. But maybe I could have squeezed one on board just in case. Heck, it’d keep beer cold too! This also made me wish we had some sort of traveling composter…some way to transport and start the breakdown process when you travel. That’s a project for another day. Back to our journey…
Stop 2: So, we had to get a real breakfast. A quarter of a store-bought muffin was never going to get us over those mountains. We headed to the closest spot, the Lodge at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. I have to share, and I do hate to complain much about service since I was a waitress once and I know it’s a tough job, but this was literally the worst service I’ve ever had. EVER. In my LIFE. The four of us never received silverware or a napkin. We shared one fork, one knife, and one napkin between the four of us. Seriously. I am not joking. We got creative and used toast as a utensil, but it was pretty pathetic. And I can’t blame the crowd since there were probably 4 other tables seated at the time. I would not recommend the lodge for dining to anyone. But, on the plus side, we had one napkin and it was fabric, and fewer utensils to wash – so I guess it was a super eco way to eat :).
Stop 3: After our leisurely breakfast we carried our bikes up about 150 steps and some very steep hillside to the other side of the downed bridge. It. was. hard. Luckily, we helped each other out and made it happen.
At the top of the hill was a pub with fresh made sandwiches and cold beer on tap. Of course we had to stop for both. The one bummer about this stop was that the pub used plastic cups instead of glass. What the heck? Who wants to drink cold, fancy, $6-a-pint beer on tap out of a plastic cup? Well, we did, apparently. We left the cups there to get “recycled”. I’m not sure what the fate of those cups was, truthfully. This and coffee-gate, above, are making a strong case for bringing a travel mug on all future bike tours. I think they come in pint sizes too. Drat! Next time…
Stop 4: We made it about 1 mile to our next stop. Note that we stopped 4 times in the first 5 miles or so. We weren’t making any speed records, here, people. But don’t worry, we made it to our ultimate destination before dark (that was my main concern) and were having a lot of fun. Back to stop 4. There was a cute, random, road side taco stand 1 mile down the road from the pub. We HAD to stop and check it out and get some tacos. These came on paper plates. Ugh. This gets me thinking about folding, lightweight, travel plates. Another project for another day…
Stop 5: There was basically nowhere left to spend any money after the taco stand. Just miles of open, beautiful road. We stopped at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and ate the sandwiches we bought at the pub while we overlooked the most magical beach and waterfall. It was stunning. The sandwiches were awesome. We had another beer, of course.
Stop 6: There was a look-out spot further down Hwy 1 where we stopped briefly to enjoy the view, but at this point we were also hoping that the cabin was close and the ladies in the group were getting a little antsy to press on, so we did.
Stop 7: The cabin! It was super beautiful, with a small creek and beach, amazing views, and a full kitchen.
We came prepared to make our own dinner – pasta (from bulk) and pasta sauce in a jar (which we recycled) and nutritional yeast (from bulk) and texturized vegetable protein (also from bulk). The pasta was delicious. We slept hard that night.
Zero waste dinner success!
Day 3 of our DIY Bike Tour
On our last day of biking, we went from the cabin back north toward Carmel through Pfeiffer Big Sur State park again, where friends left our car (funny/not funny story about that in a bit). We woke up in the cabin and made breakfast. I’d brought fixings for fancy oatmeal: oats, raisins, chia seeds, chopped walnuts, coconut cream and apples (all of it from bulk except the can of coconut cream). I also brought coffee and the cabin had compost! Zero waste breakfast success. We had some leftover coconut cream, which we put in our coffee; and leftover oats, which we carried with us. We still had a good number of snacks for our last day: cacoa energy nibs (our FAVS), sesame sticks (second favs), fancy nuts (third favs), and plaintain chips (least favs. Sorry plaintain chips). So we set off on our journey. Our goal for the morning was to make it to Post Ranch Inn by 1pm for a fancy lunch reservation, an anniversary treat to all four of us who were married within about 10 days of each other, 11 years ago. It is a spendy kind of lunch, so it’s got to be a special celebration. And it meant we didn’t need to pack a lunch – just continue working on our tasty snacks. So, here are the stops on day 3.
Stop 1: We were a little nervous about making it to our reservation on time, so we hustled quite a ways before making a mandatory snack stop, somewhere near Esalen Institute (an amazing place, everyone should go!). We ate some of the leftover oats on the side of road and then pushed on through. Another zero waste pit-stop success!
Stop 2: We were making some pretty good time, eager and a little desperate to make our lunch reservation. We stopped again after another hour or so of biking. No businesses in site, so we just enjoyed our snacks on the side of the road again, enjoying the amazing views. We probably shared a beer too. 🙂
Stop 3: That super cute taco stand called to us again! Despite the fact that it is only a mile from our destination/lunch reservation, we had to stop and check it out. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on whose side you were on), it was still closed since it wasn’t quite noon. We took a couple photos and pushed on up the hill toward Post Ranch. We realized we were still pretty early, so we went to a spot a little further up with a great view of the coast and sat on the side of road again (so many amazing views on this trip, it was absurd).
After a bit, we decided we had time to also go to Nepenthe, which was just above us, and have a drink before our fancy lunch. It seemed like a great idea at the time :). It was though, really. We had a lovely cocktail on their beautiful outdoor patio. They used paper napkins and no straws in our drinks. No waste! Then it was time to go.
Stop 4: Only about 15 minutes late, we rolled in to the Post Ranch Inn – Sierra Mar restaurant – for our lunch reservation. This place is awesome. The ranch land itself is just gorgeous and makes you want to spend a week (and your retirement savings) there at the ranch. Then you get to the restaurant, which is ridiculous – beautiful views of the ocean and coast, and the building itself is build into the cliff, which makes you feel like you are standing above the ocean. Just incredible. You feel like you are up in the clouds when you eat there. The water below is just stunning – black rocks edged in white sea foam jutting out of the turquoise Pacific, with patches of cinnamon-colored kelp swaying just under the surface. Seriously, deliciousness for your eyes. So wonderful. Actually, that is the water all along the Big Sur coast. If you’ve never been, you need to go. Anyway, this little restaurant has been cut off from its regular suppliers due to the road damage, but they are doing a great job of maintaining awesome offerings and a wonderful atmosphere. We had wonderful meals and fancy cocktails and just an all around lovely, leisurely, well-earned lunch 🙂 . And, this place is way too classy for any sort of disposables. Another zero waste success!!! Way to go team!!!
Stop 5: Okay, here is where the end of trip got a little discombobulated (remember I talked about the car being in the parking lot?). So, for some BIZARRE reason, I got it stuck in my head that the car would be at the Andrew Molera State Park parking lot, which is about 5 miles north of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. So, we biked through the park, and another 5 miles to the wrong place. Ugh, Liz, read your dang emails!! Luckily, there was a shuttle back to the park AND the dudes had the energy to bike back down and didn’t even want to take the shuttle. So, that’s what they did. And they finally found the car. And we finally got it in it. Phew. Sorry, guys.
Stop 6: I’m not sure if this counts as a stop or not but we slept our last night together at our friend’s cousin’s house. She is a professional chef and let’s just say it was an AMAZING dinner. It was like eating at home, if you were married to a professional chef. And way to classy for disposables. Is that classist? Well, you know what I mean. Another zero waste meal, with wonderful company.
So that’s it. Such a wonderful experience. I am so glad we took advantage of this rare time in Big Sur history to have the road to ourselves. It was just jaw-dropping view after jaw-dropping view. So much beauty. And the time with friends and hubby was so rejuvenating. To all you parents of young ones out there: if you can make it happen to slip away for a night or two, go for it! And to my last goal – I did a pretty good job of minimal waste on the trip. Other than a couple of oversights, I kept my carbon footprint to a minimum. Did I mention we drove 4 people and 4 bikes in a Toyota Prius? It’s do-able.
Can you Go for zero waste with a busy family life? Yes!
You’ve come to the right place! Read further for my top 10 hacks!
Going for zero waste means trying to avoid pre-packaged food and instead cooking from scratch more often. This means not buying disposable, processed foods that are easy to grab and go for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, which can pose a challenge if you work 9 to 5, like me, and need to feed your kids and get them ready for bed in a couple of hours time. So, how can we get it all done in our crazy hectic lives? Here are some tips that have helped me in transitioning our home to zero waste.
My Top 10 Zero Waste Kitchen Hacks (for busy families!)
Pressure Cooker! Get a pressure cooker! You can cook beans from dry to delicious in 1 hour or less! You don’t even have to remember to soak them overnight! It’s a bonus if you do – they’ll cook even faster :). So, if you are like me and are home around 5:30 and wanting to eat by 6:30, this is do-able! I got one for Christmas (thanks, honey!). Oh, and did you know that if you soak your rice, it cooks faster too? My mind was a little blown when I learned that trick :).
Bulk Bin Snacks! Keep your cupboards full of bulk bin snacks like granola, cereal, and plaintain chips that you can buy in bulk. Snacks can still be fast and easy without packaging. Our favorites right now are pretzels, sesame sticks, and cacao nibs. Delicious!
Snack Baggies! Buy or make reusable, washable snack baggies for lunches and snacks. Fill one with something before you head out into the world if you think you or the kids might get hungry. If you’ve got something on hand, you avoid having to buy whatever you can find, which may not be healthy or package free.
Fruit! Keep your fruit baskets full! This is the ultimate zero waste snack. Right now we’ve got apples from grandma and grandpa’s trees. I know, we are spoiled!
Menu plan! Menu plan before you grocery shop. I don’t always have an exact menu in mind, but I think of what we’ll have for protein (tofu, beans, TVP, nuts, dairy or eggs) and veggies for most of our dinners, what the kids will pack for lunches, and what are our popular breakfast items. The carbs seem to take less planning – there’s usually rice, quinoa, or pasta in our cupboards. And I always make sure to stock the snack cupboard! I generally go once a week, but sometimes less if life gets too crazy. In those days we just coast on fumes until I can make it to my local shop with lots of bulk bins.
Leftovers! Cook enough so you’ll have leftovers. Leftovers are the best, right? We put in our lunches and have another dinner ready to go too sometimes.
Your arsenal! Carry extra cutlery, napkins, and jars when you are out and about with the kiddos. Great for getting frozen yogurt, or food from the hot bar at your favorite natural food store. I keep meaning to leave some in the car too.
Soak those nuts! Always keep nuts soaking in the fridge for last minute nut milk! We’ve been doing almond milk lately, but any nut will do!
Popcorn! Have some popcorn kernels on hand for feeding kids who show up for impromptu play dates at the house. We love nutritional yeast on our popcorn. Sometimes I make them eat it outside, though ;), to cut down on the clean up process – nuty yeast flakes end up all over the place. Popcorn tends to be a popular bulk item, so hopefully you can find it near you!
Water Bottles! Help your kids remember to always take their water bottles out with them when they are on the go! We are still working on this in our home, but usually at least one of us has a bottle to share in a pinch. We still have plenty of kiddo germs, though, so I try to avoid sharing when possible.
And two bonus tips!
11. This is cheating but, know where you can grab a quick dinner that won’t result in waste. One of our defaults is a local taqueria. Occasionally there is a piece of paper on the plate (e.g., chips in a paper-lined basket), and we’ll bring that home and compost it.
12. Last one: Don’t be too hard on yourself! Life happens. Waste happens. We are all just doing our best to make things a little better around here 🙂 .
Those are my tips! Do you have some? I’d love to hear! Share in the comments below!
It’s back to school again for my kids and I thought I’d share a little about how we send them off with package-free lunches. Packaged items are all about convenience, and I completely understand their appeal. On a busy morning when families are trying to get out the door on time for work and school (and maybe squeeze in a dog walk or some exercise), there isn’t a lot of spare time. So having food that you can grab and throw in a lunch bag is really helpful. And it’s possible to do it without any waste!
Our kids (aged 6 and 9) make their own lunches with a little help from us. We encourage them to pack a fruit, vegetable, protein, and carbohydrate in each lunch, and try to make this process easy for them.
Here’s our top TEN package-free Alternatives for Kids lunches.
Packaged baby carrots? Swap them for:
Easy to cut carrot rounds. Our kids can safely cut carrot rounds, even with a butter knife. We don’t peel the carrots usually, just rinse and slice.
Cucumber slices. Our kids can peel these if they want, or they slice them unpeeled.
Chopped sweet pepper – kids can slice them chunky and they are still delicious.
Cherry tomatoes are great too – no chopping necessary.
Granola bars? Try switching them out for:
Homemade granola bars. I tried a recipe from Pinterest and the verdict was:
No time for homemade granola bars? Try a cute container full of loose granola from bulk bins.
Try energy chunks or nibs from bulk bins. We love cacao energy nibs – available at New Leaf and Staff of Life in Santa Cruz. DELICIOUS!
Pre-packaged fruit snacks? Try swapping for:
Dried fruit! My kids love dried mangoes, dried apricots, and raisins. Plus, there’s generally no added sugar.
A small piece of whole fruit or half a fruit. Apples, bananas, pears, berries, oranges, tangerines – these are easy to grab. If the piece of fruit is really large, we might help them make a quick slice down the middle so they are less likely to waste the other half. We also love all kinds of berries in our family!
Packaged nuts or chips?
Check your local bulk bins for healthy, savory alternatives! We can get pretzels, corn chips, sesame sticks, and more in bulk at New Leaf and Staff of Life. Nuts are usually a staple as well.
There you have it – easy zero waste options for kids lunches.
I’d love to hear from other busy families – what’s in your kid’s lunches?
Thanks for reading!
ps – stay tuned for an upcoming post all about lunch containers
We just finished our first family backpacking trip and it was amazing! I’m proud to announce that my kiddos hiked 14 miles over 2.5 days with their packs, thanks to all the training hikes my partner did with them. And my accomplishment is that we had awesome (near) zero waste food and snacks all the way! We even carried out our compost (not much) and picked up other people’s trash during our trip. Here’s my proud kids near the end of the hike.
I noticed that lots of campers bring freeze-dried, single packaged items for their meals, and individually packaged bars for their snacks. I’m here to tell you that it’s possible to backpack without all of that packaging. 🙂
Just as an overview to our trip – we went to Big Basin State Park in California. On the first day, we left for the trip after work to park and camp near the trail head. We brought dinner with us, pre-made, so didn’t have to cook that night. On the second day, we hiked 6 strenuous miles along the Sunset Trail and camped at a back country campground called Sunset Camp that night. On the third day, we hiked 6 miles along Berry Creek Trail and Skyline to the Sea Trail and camped at a second back country site called Twin Redwoods Camp. On our last day, we hiked out 2 miles along the Skyline to the Sea Trail and ended at Waddell Beach, where we got picked up by Grandpa. The trails were beautiful and Berry Creek Trail has three stunning waterfalls along it. Well worth the effort. In the picture you can see how large the falls are in relation to us.
So, to the food! Backpacking food doesn’t have the best reputation for being delicious. It is one of the trickier parts of the experience – you want to have enough to eat after serious hiking, but you have to pack light. In planning for this trip, we searched the bulk bins at our local health food stores to see what we could find that would be tasty, filling, and easy to carry and cook. We put everything into plastic bags that we re-use, since plastic is light and water resistant.
Here’s the food we took:
3 Breakfasts (everything from Staff of Life bulk bins):
Quick cooking oats
Raisins, dried cherries, and chopped dried apricots
Two pears (from our tree ☺️)
Dried hot cocoa mix
Dried soy vanilla protein powder – we mixed these last two for a type of “hot cocoa”. We need to work on our ratios because the first day it was very watery, and the second day it was like a pudding :).
This is a pic of our cooking and camping set up.
Lunches: (almost everything from Staff of Life bulk bins)
Dried hummus (delicious!)
olive oil in an old plastic water bottle
Cucumber (from our garden ☺️)
Dinner 1: (some bulk, some packaged items)
Burritos from home with flour tortillas*, home cooked beans and rice, avocados, cheese*, and cabbage tossed in Veganaise.
Don’t the burritos look cute snuggled together?
Dinner 2: (almost everything from Staff bulk!)
Instant refried pinto beans
Instant vegetarian chili (we mixed these two together)
The combo of chili and pinto beans was sooo delicious! I’m seriously going to keep those ingredients on hand at home for instant beans.
Dinner 3: (all from Staff bulk!)
Texturized veggie protein (TVP) chunks (i.e., veggie “chicken” that you rehydrate)
Instant veggie soup rehydrated and strained on top of the pasta as a sauce
Olive oil and salt
Here’s a pic of our dinner set-up for night 3.
Snacks: (all from New Leaf bulk bins)
Cacao energy nibs – like energy bar squares and soooo delicious – seriously, as tasty as dessert!
Fancy mixed nuts
We also brought plaintain chips from Staff bulk but didn’t need these at all for snacking. I also tried making coffee with my compostable filters and fresh grounds, but this was a challenge and I need to do more research for next time. Complete fail.
A note about energy bars – my kids prefer the energy nibs to just about every packaged energy bar out there. And they come in bulk! I am so stoked we discovered these. Our hiking friends brought packaged bars and my girls preferred our snacks to theirs, despite the enticing, shiny wrappers.
Not everything was from bulk – the items marked with a * came in plastic bags that we can recycle. There used to be bulk sun-dried tomatoes in town and I won’t give up my search for more sun-dried tomatoes. Or maybe this is the year I make some ☺️. I’ll also keep thinking about other items we could use in the future to substitute for the pita and tortillas (or make some tortillas for the trip if I’m organized enough!)
There you have it. Do you have fun recipes for zero waste backpacking or backpacking in general? Do share! And thanks for reading.