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

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

My 5 super easy actions for Earth Day!

1. Eat vegan for the day!

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

2. Pick up trash on your street.

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

 

3. Stay out of your car for the day.

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

4.  Go for a hike nearby.

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

5. Plant a vegetable

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

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

All the best,
Liz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Bamboo toothbrush

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

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

2. Travel coffee mug

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

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

3. Reusable veggie bags

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

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

4. Reusable straw

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

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

5. Reusable napkin

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

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

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

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

6. Reusable utensils

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

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

7. Reusable snack bags

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

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

Reusable Snack Bag! With chocolate chips!

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

8. Good old water bottle.

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

Swell water bottle. Love it!

9. Beeswax wrap

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

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

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

10.  Reusable dish towels

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.
Liz

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How to Have a Zero Waste Halloween

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Zero Waste Trick or Treaters

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

 

Gulp.

 

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

 

Hip Hip HOORAY!  That was awesome.

 

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

 

Zero Waste Halloween Treats

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

 

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

Zero waste halloween candy from bulk!

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

 

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

 

Zero Waste Halloween Gathering

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

 

Back to my kiddos….

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

 

AH-MAZING!

 

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

 

Thanks for reading!

Liz

Kids & Zero Waste

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

 

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

My ecokids.

 

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

 

Top 10 tips for inspiring zero waste kids

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

     

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

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

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

 

Bonus tips!  

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

 

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

 

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

 

Thanks for reading!

Liz

Don’t let the title of this post fool you – I confess that we did not have a zero waste Christmas. There was wrapping paper, toy packaging, tape, ribbon, candy wrappers, and more strewn about the house for a few days. My kids each asked Santa for one gift, and those items both came with packaging. They also received gifts from friends and family, which also came with packaging and wrapping. Everything was recycled or packed away for reuse except for a few curling ribbons that were too trashed or small to reuse. We used recycled paper, paper tape, fabric ribbons, and reusable bags to wrap our gifts to one another. But there was still a lot of material that ended up in the recycling bin. Looking at the debris-covered living room, I took away some lessons for next year’s holidays to help us reach a goal of zero waste, while still experiencing the joy and magic of the holidays.

First, next year we are going to leave some reusable bags and fabric out for Santa to use to wrap his gifts. I don’t think he normally does this, but I imagine he will if we ask him too. We can even ask the kids to pick out the packaging they want him to use. Second, we’ll get candy from the bulk bins and give it away in reusable containers, like jars or metal tins, instead of wrapped candy and chocolate bars. Chocolate bars have always been one of my go-to gifts for loved ones, but I have found some pretty delicious chocolate candies in the bulk bins at local food stores In a cute tin or jar, I imagine these will go over just as well as chocolate bars. Third, I will graciously ask friends and family to wrap gifts in fabric or reusable bags. I hate to presume that the kids will get gifts from folks, but it tends to happen. Part of being successful on a zero waste journey is to share your goals with others. Next year, we’ll be better about conveying this.

On a positive note, I did give loved ones some of our No Trace beeswax wraps to help them reduce their waste and use of plastics. They were a hit! In giving the wraps, it also gave me an opportunity to share more about zero waste living and the opportunities that exist for anyone who wants to take a small step toward reducing their footprint.

How were your holidays? Do you have zero waste tips you’d like to share? Post them in the comments below!