Are you wondering if organic cotton is worth the cost?
Or worried about the effects of conventional cotton on you, your family, your home, and the planet?
Cotton can be a super polluting crop. But organic cotton benefits the fields, nearby streams and rivers, local ecosystems, farmers, farm workers, fabric manufacturers, you, and your family.
(BTW, recycled cotton is also a sustainable option when you have it!)
First – let’s define organic cotton.
What’s organic cotton?
Organic cotton is different from conventional cotton in 4 key ways.
1. Organic cotton is cotton that’s grown in a way that has minimal negative effects on the environment. This means:
-soils are protected and replenished.
-toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers are avoided
-crops are grown in a way that supports bio-diversity of crops
2. Organic cotton is grown without genetically engineered seeds.
3. Organic cotton is grown in a way that complies with the United Nations’ guidelines for human rights. That means from fields to manufacturing plants, no child labor, no slave labor, and no forced labor is used.
4. Organic cotton is certified by a third-party organization. That oversight means farmers have to comply with the standards set by third-party organizations.
Sounds great, right? It is!
Now that we understand what organic cotton is, here’s the top 10 reasons to buy organic cotton instead of conventional cotton.
1. Less exposure to toxins
Organic farmers and farmer workers are exposed to fewer toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Conventional cotton uses millions of pounds of pesticides per year in the U.S. alone. These include known and probable carcinogens (OTA website). Yikes.
2.Clean rivers & streams
Organic cotton doesn’t pollute local rivers and streams. Water treatment is mandatory in the process of dying and manufacturing organic cotton (GOTS standard), but not so for conventional cotton. You’ve probably seen the damage done from the fast fashion industry to local waterways. Remember pink rivers, anyone??
3. Protects human rights
Organic cotton has strict labor standards whereas conventional cotton still uses child labor and other forced labor in certain areas (EJF report).
4. Less conflict over water
Conventional cotton can lead to competition and conflict over water in different regions of the world (EJF report).
5. Preservation of water resources
Conventional cotton has led to the depletion of a sea – the Aral Sea – and the loss of local habitats and species (EJF Report). The unsustainable approach of non-organic cotton allows for this type of destruction to happen. Without standards in place, the worst is possible.
6. Protection of local eco-systems
Cheap, unsustainably produced cotton is destroying local eco-systems (EJF Report). In the case of the Aral Sea, its ecosystem was destroyed in order to grow non-organic cotton. Locals who depended on that ecosystem for their livelihood lost that as well. Organic cotton can only be grown in a way that avoids these types of consequences.
7. Fewer medical bills & lower food costs
Organic farmers save on medical bills and food costs (Soil Association Report). This allows them to save money and invest in their own futures.
More benefits have been found when looking at the life cycle impacts of organic cotton. A life cycle assessment (LCA) is a study of the environmental impact of a product across all the stages of its life: from raw material, manufacturing, distribution, use, and end of its usable life (recycling or disposal). The cycle of life. Get it?
8. Fewer greenhouse gases
According to LCAs, organic cotton reduces the global warming impact of growing cotton by 46% through fewer greenhouse gas emissions (Textile Exchange LCA).
9. Less soil erosion
According to LCAs, organic cotton reduces soil erosion by 26% (Textile Exchange LCA). Soil erosion leads to less productive fields and water pollution from the sediment run-off. That water pollution can impact water life and ecosystems. The loss of soil also leads to worse flooding. We have to protect our topsoil like the precious resource that it is.
10. Lower energy demand
According to LCAs, organic cotton reduces energy demand by 62% (Textile Exchange LCA). Fewer fossil fuels are used to grow organic vs non-organic cotton.
And here’s a big fat bonus reason that organic cotton is better than conventional cotton:
11. Income stability for farmers
Organic cotton farmers in India (where much of it is grown) have more stable income than conventional cotton farmers. It’s because they grow their crops in a more diverse environment, with other crops, in line with organic farming practices (Soil Association report).
Before you leave, let’s talk about some claims AGAINST the use of organic cotton.
Claims that organic cotton has problems too
Organic cotton crops produce less cotton
Compared to their genetically modified cousin (i.e., conventional cotton), organic cotton has been found to produce less per hectare (an area of measurement in farming). This means it requires more land and resources to grow the same amount of cotton than conventional crops.
Here’s the thing about this claim: It’s a tricky point to prove. There are SO many variables that go into a particular crop of cotton (country, soil qualities, crop rotation, amount of fertilizer, etc). Comparing the amount grown, or yield, for organic vs. conventional cotton isn’t easy. It’s varied in different published, peer-reviewed scientific studies (see Seufert & Ramankutty, 2017, for a review).
Scientists have conducted review studies on this topic to try to get a grip on this. A review study is when lots of different published studies are combined to make broad conclusions across a subject. In general, review studies have found that organic crops, like corn, wheat, soy, and cotton, have smaller yields than non-organic crops. The difference can be anywhere from a few percent less to half the non-organic amount (Seufert & Ramankutty, 2017).
There aren’t a ton of studies that look at organic vs. conventional cotton yields. The most recent review on the topic included four studies (Seufert, Ramankutty, & Foley, 2012). These scientists found that in 2 of the 4 studies, organic cotton yielded 8% and 11% MORE than conventional cotton. And two of the studies found that conventional cotton yielded 35% and 19% more than organic cotton. If you’d like a few more numbers, that averages to 91% yield of organic to conventional cotton. AKA a 9% difference in favor of conventional.
But that’s just four studies. And the average yield difference of 9% seems kinda of small when you think of all the other benefits of organically grown cotton.
Organic cotton requires more water than conventional cotton.
Here’s the thing about this claim: according to a report by the Textile Exchange, 80% of organically grown cotton in the world is rainfed. This means its grown without irrigation or diverting water from rivers etc. (Textile Exchange report). In fact, the Textile Exchange report found that organic cotton uses 91% LESS water than conventional. That’s because 1. it’s rainfed and 2. the soil is better able to hold onto water.
So actually, this is ANOTHER benefit of organic cotton. Make this a top 12 list!
If you’re not buying GOTS certified organic cotton, do you really know the impact of the cotton you’re buying?
Do you know where it’s from?
Do you know who picked it?
Buy organic cotton whenever you can.
And recycled or upcycled cotton when you can – that’s a sustainable option.
And avoid generic, conventional, new cotton whenever possible.
No Trace uses only organic cotton and, in a few select products, recycled cotton (which is sustainable and eco-friendly).
Our wraps cost a little more than the conventional cotton wraps you might find online. It’s because we use only 100% GOTS certified organic cotton. Because organic is worth it.
What are your thoughts on organic vs conventional cotton? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
Thanks for reading.
P.S. – If you’d like to look at my original sources, check them out here:
Low waste vegan dinners: what our family’s eating this week
We’re heading into week 2 of social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at our house.
No last minute shopping trips for us.
Time to dig deep in the cupboards! And eat what needs to be eaten ASAP.
So here’s our week of low waste vegan meal plans that the whole family will eat.
Very little processed or packaged foods, almost everything available in our local and Bay Area bulk bins, and no animal products :).
FYI: my approach to cooking is pretty free form so apologies if you need strict measurements. I don’t got ‘em :).
Saturday: Instant falafels, homemade hummus, homemade tahini dressing (Minimialist Baker has 2 different yummy dressings on her site – check them out!), roasted cauliflower, homemade pickled carrots, and mashed potatoes.
It was a little smorgasbord type plate but all the flavors were really yummy together.
A couple recipes for ya: Instant falafel mix from bulk bins (no recipe, just eyeballing it): -put the mix in a bowl. -add a little water, a little olive oil, and stir. -Keep adding water, a little at a time, til the mixture is pretty thick and holds together. -Roll the mix into balls – we did about 2” per ball. -Spread them on a baking sheet & press them down a little to flatten slightly. -We baked ours for about 15 minutes at 425F because we were also roasting cauliflower. You could cook them at a lower temp, maybe a little longer, until they feel as hard and crunchy as you like ‘em.
Mashed potatoes: -wash, peel, and thinly chop potatoes -cook in boiling water with salt for about 15 minutes -drain over a clean bowl so you can save some of the cooking water. -mash the cooked potatoes with salt, pepper, vegan butter, and some of the cooking water til you get the consistency you like. We use either a fork or our pastry device that cuts butter into dough :). Use whatever you have for mashing foods.
2. Sunday: spaghetti with tomato sauce, texturized vegetable protein (TVP), shredded brussel sprout salad, sauteed mushrooms & onions.
3. Monday: vegan pasta alfredo; steamed broccoli with vegan butter, lemon, and salt; chickpea salad with finely sliced red onions, shredded carrots, and a honey mustard vinaigrette. The alfredo sauce recipes comes from Vegan with a Vengeance and is a blend of pine nuts, nutritional yeast, water, cooked onions/garlic, and spices. We used half cashews, half walnuts instead of pine nuts because we’re out of pine nuts :).
4. Tuesday: tacos with home cooked black beans, rice, shredded cabbage, salsa or salsa ingredients, if we run out of stuff, chopped on the side; simple guacamole of avocados, lemon juice, and salt.
5. Wednesday: instant chili, cornbread or toast, green salad
6. Thursday: TBD (I like to leave some wiggle room for leftovers or, pre-COVID-19, going out to eat).
7. Friday: pizza dinner with sauteed veggies, olives, tomato sauce, cashew cheese from Nora Cooks Vegan, popcorn, green salad or other veggies.
There’s our week of low waste vegan dinners! All of these take about 30 minutes to 1 hour to prep, but usually we have leftovers for lunches, snacks, breakfasts, and maybe a future dinner. Plus it’s worth it to us to be eating very little processed and packaged foods. So I don’t mind the time to cook. And now that we aren’t shuttling the kids to after school activities or going anywhere ourselves, we seem to have plenty of time to cook.
Are you planning out your low waste dinners? I’d love to hear about it! Liz
Packaged goodies: bread in paper, toothpaste, rice dream, massive bag of brown rice, pasta in paper boxes, bread flour, pickles, veganaise, earth balance, popcorn kernels in plastic, cereal, soy sauce, wine, olive oil, honey, coconut milk, canned tomatoes, veg broth, & olive oil.
Plus some canned foods for our outside supply.
Here’s our meal plan for week:
Spaghetti with tomato sauce, texturized veggie protein (TVP), and either roasted or sauteed veggies. We usually use canned tomatoes with a few dried herbs, maybe some sauteed onions, as the pasta sauce. Plus TVP for some protein. When I roast veggies, I usually toss them in olive oil, salt, pepper, and spices (whatever suits my fancy) and then cook them at 425F for about 30 minutes, stirring them halfway through.
Tacos with home cooked pintos from the pressure cooker. We soak the pintos overnight, then drain and rinse them. Toss them in the pressure cooker with chopped onions, cumin, salt, and bay leaves. Cook for 30 minutes to an hour. Homemade salsa is just cilantro, onions, jalapeño, tomatoes, lemon juice and salt. Shredded cabbage tossed in lemon juice or in veganaise. Simple guacamole of avocado, salt, and lemon juice.
Vegan mac n cheese with cashew cheese (check out Nora Cooks Vegan for recipes!), brussel sprout salad (my new fav). I make a honey mustard dressing and toss shredded brussel sprouts, chopped almonds, and chopped dried fruit like raisins, cranberries, dried cherries, or dried persimmons.
Red lentil soup with toast and a green salad. We add onions, spices, and a little lemon juice to the soup. Mmmm yum!
Homemade pizza (I like Bobby Flay’s dough recipe) with cashew cheese (same Nora Cooks Vegan recipe as for mac n cheese) and sauteed veggies (I love mushrooms, onions, and sweet peppers on top) and olives; green salad.
And I’ve got a few food storage tips for you in case you’re buying in bigger quantities right now:
Store your carrots in water to keep them fresher for longer. Change the water every few days – pour it on your garden :).
Clean your greens when you bring them home. Then store them in a cloth bag in the fridge. A little dampness helps keep them fresh.
Mushrooms last way longer in a cloth or paper bag than plastic.
Clean and dry/spin your fresh herbs and store them in a cloth bag to keep them fresh and breathing.
Nuts keep best in the freezer. We put ours in jars in the freezer.
Fresh nut butters keep great in the fridge but if you go through them fast, you can also store them in your cupboards.
If you have extra room in your fridge – keep extra fruit in there instead of on the counter.
Try pickling your veggies with a quick pickle recipe. If you haven’t seen Portlandia’s “We can pickle that!”, drop what you’re doing and watch it now ;). We’ve pickled carrots, cabbage, & beets. Other crunchy veggies like cucumbers (duh) and cauliflower would be delish!
There’s our week of low waste vegan meal planning! Are you getting into meal planning? Any tips or suggestions for me?
Thanks for reading and for all that you do for the earth.
Here’s the thing – I’m not a chef. I work full-time (and sometimes more), as does my partner. And we have two kiddos with dance or piano lessons every day of the week (except Sunday).
SO, our dinners have to be FAST. Easy. Kid-friendly. Vegan. And low waste. Here’s what we’re eating this week for dinners.
Our low waste vegan meal plan for the week
Fruits & veggies for the week.
We shop for these in our cloth veggie bags that you can buy here. I take them out of their bag for the pic but we keep them in these cloth veggie bags in the fridge or in a hanging fruit basket in the kitchen.
This week we bought:
string beans (still in their bags) – see bottom picture.
And a day or so before we made our big grocery run, we got kale, bananas, lemons, mangos, oranges, apples, avocados, and bread in a paper bag.
This is a pretty typical haul for us. I have lots of green smoothies for breakfasts. We have lots of veggies at each dinner. And the kids take fruits and veggies in their lunches pretty much every day.
Pantry staples from bulk bins
We take our own clean containers like mason jars, old veganaise jars, old olive jars, and others to fill with staples that are a little messier. We weigh the jars before we fill them. Most stores have a scale you can use to get the weight of your container (aka the tare weight). Or you can ask a cashier to weigh it.
This week in jars we bought:
corn flake cereal
We put nutritional yeast on everything – pasta, salads, fancy toast, popcorn, veggies. Nutritional yeast (aka nuty yeast) gives food a little earthy-salty flavor. Plus its got vitamins and minerals.
For foods from bulk that aren’t too messy, we put them straight into the same cloth bags you can purchase here. This week in bags we bought:
We should’ve put the cornmeal in a jar – it got the bag pretty powdery and I’m still finding bits of cornmeal in our grocery bags ;). Next time….
We aren’t perfect and still get a few packaged goods most of the time. We pick foods that are yummy, will simplify meal prep, and are popular with the kids. Or essential for my coffee (COCONUT MILK!). Or when the bulk version is out of stock. This week olive oil was out of stock, so we got it packaged.
So this week’s packaged foods were:
a yummy vegan dip called Bitchin’ Sauce that my kids will put on just about any vegetable in their lunches and on their sandwiches.
Corn and flour tortillas for taco/burrito night and for lunches and snacks.
Coconut milk for my coffee.
Olive oil for everything every day.
Our low waste vegan meal plan for the week
Here’s what we’re eating this week. All low waste vegan meals:
Sushi bowls with sushi rice (I found a recipe online that was yummy and easy – rice wine vinegar and sugar) plus finely sliced carrots, cucumbers, and avocado. Plus local seaweed we get in a paper bag at the Santa Cruz farmers market. A little dab of veganaise. Soy sauce. Pickled ginger from a little glass jar that we’ll reuse. We put all of this into a bowl together. Super yum. Kids asked for this meal this week and they ate it up!
Tacos/burritos with pressure-cooked pinto beans; brown rice cooked with onions and spices; homemade salsa made with chopped tomatoes, cilantro, onion, jalapeno, lemon juice, and salt; shredded cabbage tossed in a little veganaise; super simple homemade guacamole (avocados + lemon juice + salt), and tortillas.
Ramen noodle bowls with
veggie broth (from bulk);
sauteed onions with fresh garlic and ginger;
fresh thinly sliced carrots, zucchinis, and cabbage and cilantro;
beef-style TVP (boiled, drained, and then tossed in a quick and dirty “teriyaki” sauce of soy sauce, powdered ginger, peanut oil, rice vinegar and sugar;
plus roasted cauliflower for the side or with the bowl
And a couple hot sauces in glass jars.
This dinner was super popular with the kiddos and grown-ups. It probably took about an hour from start to finish, but we had leftovers to help out with other meals so I don’t mind the time too much. Plus I love eating lots of veggies at dinner.
ramen bowl dinner
4. Homemade pizza, with quick homemade dough topped with vegan homemade cashew cheese (see Nora Cooks Vegan for her awesome vegan cashew queso!). Plus sauteed bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms. And chopped olives. Plus a green salad and probably some popcorn and probably a movie too.
So there you have it – our low waste vegan meal plan for this week. Does this give you any ideas for your upcoming dinners? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
Hey there! I’ve got an easy, step-by-step tutorial for you to make these cute snack and sandwich bags!
These sew up super fast and easy. You’ll want to make a bunch for yourself and give them to everyone on your gift list!
These are an eco-friendly alternative to plastic bags. Plastic bags are choking our environment! Use these cuties instead!
The smaller bags work great for:
Some folks use them for other purposes like:
A mini wallet
Holding your essential oil jars
Hair clips & rubberbands
Seaglass and other special treasures
Basically anything small. You get it ;).
The larger bags work great for:
Lots of popcorn
A big bunch of grapes
Or you could use the larger size in your bag to hold your zero waste kit together. I like to put a napkin, utensils, straw, and beeswax wrap inside mine and keep it in my purse. You could also use it in your luggage to hold your hankies or socks or undies together. They work for art supplies too – markers, crayons, colored pencils and a small notebook. Basically any medium-sized thing.
By now you see that you NEED some of these baggies in your life! Some in your kitchen. Some in your backpack. Some in your purse. Some in your luggage. Right??
So let me show you how to make them!
All-natural fabrics like cotton, linen, and hemp are the best. Organic fabrics are even better. Nylon or water-resistant type fabrics are more difficult to deal with at the end of their usable life. Those synthetic fibers usually end up in the landfill. Plus some aren’t food safe. All-natural fabrics can be composted at the end of their usable life, so they never need to end up in a landfill.
I use two layers of organic cotton poplin/quilters weight or one layer of poplin and one layer of canvas for my baggies.
For the snack baggies you need 2 pieces that measure 5.5” wide by 9” long.
For the sandwich baggies you need 2 pieces that measure 8” wide by 18” long.
Thread, Scissors, ruler or measuring tape, pins, pencil or chopstick, fabric chalk or marker if you have one.
Now that you have your supplies gathered…
Step 1: Cut your fabric to size.
If your fabric has a pattern with a right and wrong direction (for example, something like this)
cut it so that 9” corresponds with the length of the pattern, like this:
For the sandwich bag, make sure the pattern length is 18”.
That way when your bag is complete, you’ll see the pattern in the right direction.
Step 2: Line up your fabric
Whether you’re making the snack size or the sandwich size, these steps are the same!
Place your two pieces of fabric together with right sides facing each other (so you see the back sides of the fabric).
Get some pins and pin them together in a few spots.
Mark a 3” opening on one long side with pins or your fabric marker. This 3” opening is how you turn the bag right side out later. You WON’T be sewing over this 3” opening.
Step 3: Sew the two pieces together.
Take your two pieces to your machine and start at one side of your 3” opening (remember: you are leaving a 3” opening for later). Backstitch at the start and then stitch along the edges with a ¼” seam allowance until you get to the other side of your 3” opening. Backstitch again at the end.
Step 4: Turn your bag right sides out.
Before you turn it right sides out, cut the extra fabric to the right of your seams just at the corners. This gets rid of the extra fabric at the corners. Make sure not to cut any of your stitches.
Use the 3” opening that you didn’t sew over to push the right sides out through the hole. Use a chopstick or the eraser end of a pencil to pus. Make sure to get the corners poked out with the eraser end of a pencil or a chopstick.
Press your bag at the iron for nice crisp edges.
Step 5 (optional): Topstitch the outer flap of your bag.
If you want a more polished look, topstitch the outer flap of the bag with a ⅛” seam allowance.
The outer flap of the bag will be the bottom of your fabric if it has a directional print to it. If the print doesn’t have a right or wrong direction, just pick which edge you want to lay on top of the other flap and top stitch that one.
Step 6: Fold your bag up and pin the sides.
For the snack size, you want to fold the bottom up about 3″ (the part that doesn’t have the top stitching).
And fold the top flap (the edge with the top stitching) down about 2 inches.
This gives you a final bag size of about 4”. Pin along the sides.
For the sandwich size, you want to fold the top flap down about 3 inches and the bottom up about 7”. This gives you a final bag size of about 8”. Pin along the sides.
Make sure that the unsewn edge/opening is folded in so that it’ll get caught in your seam when you sew.
Pin the flap down to keep it in place as you sew.
Step 7: Stitch the sides closed
Take the pinned bag back to your machine and stitch up the sides, one at a time, with a ¼” seam allowance. Make sure to backstitch at the beginning and end of each side. You’re only sewing up the sides of the bag – not the top or bottom folds.
Afterward, check that you caught all of your fabric in the seams by looking inside your bag.
Step 8: Trim off the loose threads.
Cut any loose threads off the sides.
Then you’re done! Repeat and repeat as many times as you need :).
Have you made one of these cuties? Has it replaced plastic bags for you? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you :).
You care about climate change because you’re a decent human being. Climate change affects you, me, every person on earth, all living organisms, and future generations. It can be overwhelming and terrifying to think of where we’re headed over the next 50+ years. But here’s the good news. There are TONS of ways to fight climate change as an individual. And if everyone did even a few of these, it would really add up.
So here’s my list of 50 small ways to fight climate change!
Transportation is our number one source of greenhouse gas emissions. And pollution from passenger flights across the US and globe is a HUGE contributor to climate change. Flights result in massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions per passenger. It’s much worse than trains and even long distance car rides, especially if there’s more than one of you per car.
You might have family across the country, or places to see on your bucket list. I have those too. But if you cut your flights down even a little, the climate will thank you. Try to combine trips if you need to fly somewhere. Or limit air travel to one really important trip per year.
2. Drive less
Non-electric cars are another MASSIVE source of greenhouse gases. Try driving less and only when you really need to. Combine your driving trips. Go to the store a little less often and buy more when you’re there. Or try finding stores and businesses that are closer to your house to make your driving trips shorter.
3. Bike more
Yes to biking! Biking more means less time in your car, which means you aren’t polluting. And you’re getting to move your body. AND the more bikes on the road, the safer the roads become for bikes. PLUS the more bikes on the road, the more communities have to pay attention to bikes and create better solutions for bike riders. Imagine safer bike lanes, bike paths/trails, and protected bike ways. Yes, please!
And if biking doesn’t come easy to you, consider getting an electric bike. They take all the sweat out of the ride!
4. Ride the bus
I heard an interview with Alan Alda, former actor on M*A*S*H, on how he takes the bus in L.A. as part of his fight against climate change. If Alan Alda can do it, so can you! Lots of buses will let you take your bike on the bus too, if the bus doesn’t quite get you all the way there. In Santa Cruz, we also have some great bike lockers downtown. These let you bike to the bus stop and then lock up your bike in a super secure box.
The more people you get in your car, the more cars you get off the road. And the more efficient your car is in terms of gas per person per mile. If you can set up some kid carpools, it might also save you some time a couple days a week. (Bonus: maybe you can finish your morning coffee before work!). Plus, you can ride in the carpool lane if your freeways have those.
6. Take the train
Trains are a more efficient form of travel, regardless of the fuel they use. So if you can take the extra time to ride by train, DO IT! And as a bonus, you might get to see some awesome scenery along the way. On the west coast we’ve got Amtrak’s Coast Starlight train ride with AMAZING views of the coast. It’s on my bucket list to ride that train.
7. Get an electric vehicle
Have you done it yet? DO IT!!! Electric vehicles are the future of individual transportation. No more wars over fossil fuels to fuel our cars. EVs can be charged at home with renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Get one! Now! Ditch fossil fuels at the pump and never stop for gas again! Also, Tesla has now released their Model 3 which is as affordable as any other new mid-size car. With a Tesla, you can drive pretty much anywhere in the US and stop to charge about as often as you would stop to pee and get gas. DO IT!
8. Install solar panels
Installing solar panels on your house can power your home and put any extra energy into the grid. It can even earn you money! If you don’t want to purchase and pay for your own solar panels, tons of companies will come and install their own solar panels for you for very little cost. They’re basically renting out your roof space from you to put solar energy into the grid. This saves you money and puts renewable energy into the grid, although you won’t earn as much money as installing your own panels.
9. Switch to renewable energy with your energy company
In our community, our electricity company (PG&E) has an account option to use renewable energy to power your home. You can opt in to purchase your household’s energy from renewable power plants. There’s a small fee for using this in our community. But it’s worth it! Imagine if we all opt-in to renewable energy at home.
10. Switch to LEDs
LEDs, in case you’ve been under a rock for the last decade, are super efficient lightbulbs. There’s an LED for pretty much every lightbulb in your house. Recycle those old ones and get on the LED bandwagon!
11. Line dry your laundry
Dryers use a TON of energy. Even the more energy efficient ones. Lucky for us, there’s this awesome thing called sunlight and fresh air that will do the work of your dryer. For free. Without any electricity! We even line dry in the wet winters here in Santa Cruz. Just wait for a day with no rain in the forecast and get your laundry outside! There are also small racks that you can set up in a small space in your home to dry indoors. Smaller racks usually fold up to fit behind a door or under a bed. That lets you dry smaller loads even in the winter. We’ve been without a dryer for 6 years now! Two grown-ups, two kids, two dogs, and lots of house guests!
12. Conserve your heating
Be scrimpy when it comes to your heating. Put on a sweater and warm socks before you crank up the heat. When my kiddos ask us to turn on the heater on a cool fall or winter morning, and all they’re wearing is a tank top, we remind them to put on a sweater! Do easy, no energy steps before turning up the heat in the winter. An ideal temperature for conserving energy is 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
13. Conserve your air conditioning
Same goes for air conditioning. Do what you can personally to get comfortable before turning up the AC. And maybe try feeling a little warmth of the summer air, rather than keeping your space overly cooled. Aim for 72 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer (or hotter) to conserve energy.
14. Turn off the juice when not in use
You probably already know this but one of the easiest ways to conserve energy and reduce your carbon footprint is this: Turn off appliances when they aren’t being used. Put your computer to sleep. Turn off your printer. Turn out the lights when you leave a room. Some older appliances even suck energy when they’re turned off, so you might want to unplug it from the wall. We have an old microwave that sucks energy even when it’s not being used, so we have it plugged into a power strip that we turn off when we’re not using it.
15. Buy efficient appliances.
If you need a new appliance, lots of times it’s worthwhile to buy a new, energy efficient version than to search around for a used one. And when you’re picking out the new one, get one that’s energy efficient (do your research online to find the best one!). Buying new, energy efficient is especially important with refrigerators, which are major energy sucks in your home.
16. Switch to electric vs gas appliances.
If you’re ready to replace your stove or heater or water heater, consider switching to an electric version if you currently have a gas version. We add more renewable energy sources to the grid every year to power electric appliances. Over time, our electricity has the potential to be completely renewable, but natural gas doesn’t.
17. Tighten up your home.
Our homes are major energy sucks when we’re heating or cooling. Laying insulation in your attic and crawl space and sealing up openings can help cut your energy use for heating and cooling and also save you money. Upgrade to double-paned windows when you can afford it.
18. Conserve water.
You may not know this but using water at home and in the office uses up energy. Water gets moved across California and other states by giant pumps. In fact, 12% of California’s statewide electricity use is from pumping and treating water. When we have power shortages, we’re also asked to conserve water. So why not do it all year? Water itself is a precious resources and costs money.
19. Go vegetarian
Here’s the thing about the meat industry – it is a MAJOR contributor to greenhouse gases and a MAJOR consumer of energy, water, and other resources. Not only do cows and other farm raised animals emit methane (insert cow fart joke here 😉 ), a greenhouse gas, but the process of farming itself contributes greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. It also requires lots of land. That means deforestation of natural habitats so that you can eat a burger. Is it worth it? Did you know there’s even vegetarian dog food? Our pups like it just fine.
20. Eat vegetarian sometimes
I know, not everyone wants to go 100% veg. And that doesn’t always work for everyones’ health needs. So, if that describes you, consider cutting down your meat consumption. Maybe make it more of a special occasion food. Or try meatless Mondays. Or one meal a day. Get creative! Reducing your meat eating just a little benefits the climate.
21. Go vegan
The environmental problems that come from the meat industry are the same for the dairy industry. Lots of greenhouse gas emissions and lots of resources are used to make that cheese or yogurt or milk! Eating vegan is even more sustainable the vegetarian.
22. Eat vegan sometimes
Of course, eating vegan isn’t for everyone! You might have dietary restrictions that make this hard. Or maybe you don’t live somewhere that easily supports a vegan diet. Or maybe you’re just not ready to make that change. That’s okay! Try eating vegan sometimes. In my house, most of our dinners are vegan. But we might have some eggs at breakfast, or cheese at lunch. If you’re nowhere near being vegan, you might consider adding one vegan meal to your diet per week just to start. Go on, you can do it! Give it a try! One of the all time easiest vegan lunches? PB & J sandwich! Did you know Michelle Obama ate one for breakfast everyday growing up? I LOVE that!
23. Don’t waste food.
Did you know that the US wastes about 40% of our food on average? Lots of greenhouse gas emissions were released to make that food. Plus money and time and water. So don’t throw it out! Try eating most of what’s in your fridge before cooking or buying more food. Serve smaller portions and get seconds if needed, rather than serving up more than you and your family can finish. Serve your guests (especially those pint-sized guests) small portions and let them know there’s lots more of everything if they want more.
24. Compost non-edible foods.
Once and a while we discover something forgotten in the dark corners of the fridge. If you have food that’s spoiled, compost it. Compost peels/seeds/pits and other non-edible food scraps. Food scraps release methane if they end up in the landfill where they can’t breakdown properly. So compost it at home! If you don’t have a yard, consider a worm bin, which fits in small spaces. There’re also composting services in some cities – curbside pick up with your trash or other compost companies. And sometimes farmers at the farmers market will take your scraps for their compost. Ask around your community and I’ll bet you’ll find some options if you can’t do it on your own. Santa Cruz has an awesome bike-powered compost collection service called Hard Core Compost.
25. Compost other organic material.
Things like wet or food-stained paper, pizza boxes, tissues, all natural fibers like cotton and linen, paper towels, paper napkins, and anything else that’s 100% natural material can be composted. These will also release methane in the landfill if left there. Be careful about packaging that’s a mixed material. For example, a to-go box with a thin plastic lining. Chinese take-out boxes. Or a paper drinking cup with a waxy coating. Those materials are generally NOT compostable. The water-resistant material is usually plastic based or a petroleum-wax based material. So leave the mixed materials out of your compost.
Also, all those “compostable” plastics WON’T breakdown in your home compost, only in an industrial facility. Don’t add them to your compost! Chances are you have to send them to the landfill unless your city has something set up to collect those bioplastics. I hate the problems those have created, BTW. But I’ll save that rant for another day.
26. Use a reusable water bottle
Plastic comes from petroleum, a fossil fuel, and takes energy to produce. Plastic is getting harder and harder to recycle (which also takes energy). And when it ends up in the wild, it becomes a pollutant and a hazard to animals. Even in the landfill it can pollute our waterways and ecosystems. So bring your own water bottle!
27. Use a reusable coffee cup
Those paper cups and plastic lids take ENERGY and RESOURCES to produce. And those cups release greenhouse gases when they breakdown. And plastic lids – well, you know the problems with those at the end of their life!
28. Bring your cloth grocery bags to the store
Don’t forget your bags! Switch to reusables to conserve the energy and materials that go into making single use bags. And if you don’t have a large stash of cloth grocery bags yet, reuse the paper and plastic bags that you have on hand as many times as you can! But be careful of washing the plastic bags – the more friction and heat they are exposed to, the more potential for releasing microplastics into the waterways.
29. Switch to cloth bags for your fruits, veggies, and bulk goods
Those plastic bags are free at the store, but we’re paying the price once you leave. Shameless plug here – we’ve got lots of veggie bags for sale at No Trace that are made with 100% cotton and all natural materials. That means you can compost them at home in your own compost when they reach the end of their life. Check them out here.
30. Switch to cloth napkins
We’ve been using cloth napkins since we had our first child in 2008. We have some that have lasted us that long. We don’t wash them with every use, just once a week (or sooner if they are super soiled). Go for 100% cotton or linen or hemp napkins that won’t release microfibers when you wash them. Plus cotton and linen and hemp can be composted at home when they reach the end of their life.
31. Use a hankie instead of a tissue
It takes a TON of water and energy to produce a box of tissues and ship it to you. Use handkerchiefs instead! I sell cute ones here but you can also just cut up an old t-shirt!
32. Use a dish towel or rag instead of a paper towel
Sorry, this probably feels repetitive to you by now, but there are just SO MANY PLACES in your home where you can ditch single use products for reusable, sustainable products! Dish towels are a great place to start. And you probably have plenty of rag material in your home already. In our house, we turn stained clothes and household goods into rags. With 2 kids in the house and lots of playdates and sleepovers, plus 2 dogs, we go through about 1 to 2 rags per day! Plus a few dish towels a week. We toss these in with our regular laundry – no special treatment needed!
33. Use a beeswax or vegan wax wrap instead of plastic wrap.
Okay, another shameless plug for No Trace products, available here. Wax wraps are more expensive up front than plastic wrap because you’re investing in the planet, not in pollution.
Remember that cheaper isn’t always better. Wax wraps can be used again and again to wrap your food, cover a bowl or jar, or cover a plate of leftovers. Once they’re worn out, you can either compost them or add them to a fire. Even if a wax wrap escapes into nature or the ocean, it’s not going to leave behind a trail of pollution. It’ll breakdown on its own in just a few months.
34. Buy less stuff
All of our STUFF contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Furniture. Clothes. Kitchenware. Tools. Outdoor gear. It takes energy and resources to make and ship stuff to stores near us and to our homes. Consider borrowing or renting things that you don’t need that often. And loan out your own stuff too!
35. Buy used stuff instead of new stuff
If you really need something on the regular, try to find it at a second hand store. We’ve got a few different options in Santa Cruz – Grey Bears, Caroline’s, Thrift Center, Salvation Army, and Goodwill. Goodwill is my go-to for most kitchen needs or No Trace equipment like pots or table-top display bins or fabric for my veggie bags. They have a HUGE homewares section. I also buy used clothes whenever I can. There’s no shame in second-hand! It’s the green choice! Wear thrift store clothes with pride! Listen to “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis if you need more inspiration ;). Check out ThredUp.com if don’t have great thrift stores near you or prefer to shop online!
36. Write to the president
You can call, email, or write to the White House at whitehouse.gov. The chance of your letter actually making it to the president is slim, but staff do generally keep counts of opinions that come in. Make sure to be respectful, succinct, and use facts! Conservation.org has a great list of 11 facts on climate change. Maybe pick just a couple to include in your letter, and why you care about this issue, and what you hope the White House would do. The Union of Concerned Scientists also has great information on what our climate change priorities should be. Check them out here. And the simplest point to make in any communication with the White House is to remind the president of the importance of SCIENCE!
37. Contact your governor
Your state can take action without the federal government’s leadership. California is a major leader in the fight against climate change by turning towards clean energy, clean energy jobs, electric vehicles, and more. See how your state stacks up at the Union of Concerned Scientist. Look for targets to suggest to your governor, and let them know you appreciate any steps they’ve taken! To find your governor’s address, go to https://www.usa.gov/state-governor.
38. Write to your senator and congress member
Senators and congress members can introduce and support important climate change legislation. So contact them and let them know that climate change legislation matters to you! The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions monitors legislation on climate change. So check them out for up-to-date information. One of the most important pieces of legislation that the US needs is a carbon tax. But there are lots of other steps that Congress can take as well. You can find your representative’s contact info here and your senator’s info here.
39. Support candidates that care about the climate
When election time comes around, support those candidates who care about the climate with DONATIONS and SPREADING THE WORD! Nothing shows support like actual money. But if you can’t spare any, share that candidate’s info with your community and encourage others to VOTE.
40. Support your local climate action organization
41. Tell your friends and family to support climate legislation
Are your friends taking action? Tell them what you’re doing and make it easy for them to do the same! Give them one simple step and show them how you did it!
42. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper
The message you’re sharing with your friends and family, and the concerns you’re raising with your representatives and governor, and the president – share these with the media! Write a letter to your local paper and spread the word. Climate action now!
43. Support climate science
Science itself is under attack these days. One way to fight climate change is to support the science that’s happening behind it. That means staying educated and getting your science news from reputable news sources.
44. March for the climate
Santa Cruz marched September 27, 2019, but marches will keep happening all over the US. When there’s a march, show up! Show your support! You don’t even need a sign. Just go and be a part of the movement.
45. Join organizations that lobby for the environment.
Take the time to organize events with friends and family to rally them around climate action. It could be as simple as hosting a vegetarian potluck and getting folks excited to eat more plants. Or maybe you want to invite folks into your home and share how you work towards energy efficiency at your house. Or give a talk at your church or at your kid’s school on climate change. Get creative!
47. Organize a school-wide bike-to-school day.
Santa Cruz has awesome bike-to-work and school events. But anyone can organize this! Just invite other families to bike with you to school some days. If the school can sponsor the event, even better!
48. Participate in Bike-to-Work Day
If you’re not part of a school community, participate in bike-to-work day. Even if you can’t do the actual biking part, volunteer your time or donate to the event! Volunteers run the event so get in there! In Santa Cruz, these days are organized by Ecology Action.
49. Write to big businesses
Companies like Tesla changed in our options for the better as consumers. Tesla made electric vehicles cool. Reach out to other companies and let them know that you care about the environment. Write letters and also show your support with your dollars for companies that are addressing climate change and working for the environment.
50. Plant a tree (and other plants)
Plants help absorb greenhouse gases, so add some green to your life! Keep in mind that planting trees is not the best way to fight climate change, though. There was a paper published recently that used its findings to conclude that planting trees is the best way to fight climate change. The authors have since back-pedaled on the conclusions, describing them as the “theoretical potential” for reforestation, rather than suggestions for action. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the MOST important way to fight climate change, rather than planting trees to absorb those emissions. But plant trees too! The world could use a little more green.
There you have it. 50 small ways to fight climate change. Which ones are you already doing? Which one will you try next? What would you add to this list of 50? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
Thanks for reading and for all that you do for the
I’ve been asked what are the best zero waste gifts for kids, so figured it was time to put together a post on our 8 favorite zero waste gifts! I’ve got easy, thoughtful gift ideas for you that don’t create trash or plastic. The holidays are coming up, after all! Check these out and let me know what you think :).
1. The first zero waste gift for kids is also my favorite: EXPERIENCES!
Instead of a thing, give the young one in your life a special experience. This could be something as elaborate as a trip to an amusement park (like Universal Studios – thanks, Aunt Olivia!) or something as simple as having your friend over for a special playdate to bake cookies or a cake or a fort or a mud pit (don’t ask me why, but my girls love making mud pits and then smearing the mud from head to toe!). The gift of your time is really the most special, isn’t it?
Here are a few experience gifts, from cheap to pricey:
-playdates to bake, build, or craft something together
-a playdate at a local extra fun park or beach
-a special lunch at your little one’s favorite restaurant
-a trip to a kids bounce house or other fun kids space
-a visit to a local kids museum (Children’s Museum of Discovery in Capitola is super fun for younger kids and the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History is awesome for all ages!)
-going to a sporting event together (Santa Cruz Warriors, anyone??)
-Amusement parks! Can’t go wrong with a trip to an awesome amusement park, right?? This is definitely on the pricier end though.
2. A membership to somewhere fun.
Similar to a shared experience, but something the little one in your life could use over and over again. These can be pricier than a one-time outing, but also give memorable experiences all year long! In the Santa Cruz area, we’ve got the Museum of Art and History that has kid friendly events all year. Nearby is the amazing Monterey Bay Aquarium. So much to see that we never get to it all in one day! We’ve also got the boardwalk that has season passes. And the Children’s Museum of Discovery offers memberships.
3. Something homemade.
Even if you aren’t super crafty, there’re probably awesome things you know how to make. Maybe you like to bake? Or sew? Or paint? Or do a little woodworking? The gift doesn’t have to require tons of your time. I love to make things that will fill a certain need or be consumed, rather than just something to be admired. E.g., an apron for a budding baker. A veggie bag for a budding zero waster. A homemade mix of powdered hot cocoa. A batch of cookies. A little water bottle holder. A box to hold their toys.
4. An awesome book.
This is definitely a thing, but I love turning my kids onto some of my favorite books from childhood – especially books they’ll read again and again. Calvin and Hobbes, for example. Anything by Shel Silverstein. The Farside comics for the older ones in your life. Have they ready Harry Potter yet? Lots of kids (and kids at heart – like me!) will read this series more than once. You can probably find some of your favorite books at a second hand bookstore. And when your little one is ready to pass it along, it can go back to a second hand bookstore or onto a friend.
5. Paper notebook and colored pencils and other plastic-free art supplies.
For the budding artists in your life, there are never enough paper notebooks to capture their art. I wouldn’t get this just to give “something”, but if you know your little friend loves to draw, why not get them a nice pad of paper that can be recycled or composted? You could also make them a small book from recycled paper. I like this tutorial by Dana of Made Everyday. And nice new colored pencils are great too. I tend to steer away from markers, but maybe you can recycle plastic markers in your community. We have Terracycle at the Art Factory to take old markers and recycle them. Check your area for available Terracycle boxes here.
6. Lessons or other experiences they’ll enjoy on their own.
Piano lessons, horseback riding lessons, surf lessons, cooking lessons, sewing lessons – you get the picture. These can be pricey (unless you can teach yourself) but can be amazing memories for the kiddos and give them skills that they’ll use again and again. This zero waste gift for kids is one they won’t forget.
7. A small plant they can take care of.
Another thing, I know. But for some kids, it’s a learning experience to have and care for a plant of their own. My kiddos love getting little potted succulents. And they’re super easy to care for. Some plants help clean the air in their bedrooms, too, to help their little lungs stay healthy at night. Plants like the rubber plant, peace lily, Boston fern, golden pothos and more help clean the air. Get them something in a nice reusable, plastic free pot to keep the zero waste gift truly zero waste.
8. Zero waste supplies of their very own.
Of course, these are more “things”. But one way to a brighter future is to get kids caring about the planet from a young age. Things like reusable straws. Their own small utensil kit. A stainless steel lunch container. An organic cotton lunch bag. Organic cotton napkins and sandwich and snack bags. These can be fun gifts to receive and also get kids thinking about trash and packaging. These zero waste tools might spark conversations among kids and their buddies about sustainable alternatives. And of course at No Trace, we’ve got lots of sweet and cheerful options for kids and kids at heart right here.
Those are my 8 favorite easy zero waste gift ideas for kids.
No plastic. No trash. Just special experiences and gifts that kids will remember long after their birthday.
What’re some of your favorite gifts for kids? I’d love to hear so share in the comments below!
It’s summer time in Santa Cruz and that means SO MANY PICNICS! We’ve got evening concerts at the beach. Potluck parties at friends’ homes. Lots of lunches and snacks at the beach. And dinners in the park.
In this post I’ll walk you through a low waste, easy picnic dinner that you and your kids will LOVE. And you can pull it together in an hour or less!
Last Friday was a picnic dinner in the park for an awards ceremony for my daughters’ junior lifeguards summer camp. Lots of families on picnic blankets with their dinners. And LOTS and LOTS of trash. Plastic forks. Plastic cups. Plastic takeout containers. You get the picture.
But a picnic doesn’t have to equal trash! I fed 9 of us – my family plus another that was visiting – with a super low waste and balanced dinner. And I spent no more than an hour prepping this simple meal for 9.
So read on and get yer easy low waste picnic started!
Here’s what we ate on our easy low waste picnic dinner:
-Local fresh BAGELS. Lots of bagel shops will fill your own bag with bagels. Our local one doesn’t but they do use paper bags instead of plastic. We reuse or recycle or compost it afterwards (if the bag gets soiled).
-Local fresh bread. Also came in paper bags, but lots of bakeries will let you put a loaf into your own bag!
We loaded up the bagels and bread with:
-homemade hummus. (See my super simple recipe below)
-cream cheese in paper and tinfoil – we don’t normally have this in the fridge, but got it for some special something or other.
-butter in compostable paper.
-homemade salsa in a jar.
Also, we brought:
-homemade popcorn with butter and nutritional yeast.
-homemade kale salad (recipe below).
-strawberries with brown sugar for dessert.
-beer in cans for the grownups 🙂 with cozies.
-plus we had some chips in a bag. You could avoid that trash if you ask for some in your own container from a taqueria!
Here’re the supplies we brought for our easy low waste picnic dinner:
-cloth napkins for everyone
-camping/small forks and spoons and butter knives
-small camping bowls
-small lightweight cutting board
-water bottles filled with water
We cut the bread and bagels while we were at the park on our cutting board. We also sliced up the tomatoes and avocados at the park. And we ate the bagels and bread without plates – just in our hands. Same for the popcorn. The bowls were perfect for the kale salad and strawberries. I sliced the strawberries and made the kale salad and dressing at home. When I slice up strawberries for the kiddos, there’s a lot less wasted fruit.
A dozen bagels and half a loaf of bread plus the popcorn, salad, and strawberries were plenty of food for the 9 of us.
We carried everything in backpacks on a 20 minute walk to the park. The food was pretty well secured in jars and covered bowls. I’d recommend keeping liquidy foods in a jar to minimize spills. The kale salad was in a bowl with a beeswax wrap on top, and I put the dressing on once we got to the park. The strawberries were in a jar, and the brown sugar in another small jar. The kids sprinkled the brown sugar on themselves after they finished their dinner. Popcorn was in a bowl that came with it’s own lid (plastic, but pretty handy!).
And here are the easy peasy recipes we used on our picnic:
Easy homemade hummus:
-2 cups chickpeas (we cook them in our pressure cooker for 30 minutes to an hour, depending on if we soaked them overnight or not).
-⅓ cup veg or olive oil.
-⅓ cup water (or less, if your blender is super powerful).
-¼ cup lemon juice.
-¼ cup tahini.
-1 tsp or less of salt.
-optional: garlic, cumin.
Blend everything except the water in a blender. Add the water slowly until you get the consistency you like.
Easy, scrumptious kale salad that EVERYONE likes
-raw kale torn into bite sized pieces (curly or lacinato are our favorite types of kale).
-finely sliced red onion.
-optional: shredded carrots, slivered almonds.
-dressing is about equal parts veg oil, soy sauce, and lemon juice
-mix dressing, pour it over salad ingredients, and toss.
This salad keeps GREAT for a few days in the fridge with the dressing on.
So that’s our easy low waste picnic dinner from the other night. Are you working on a low waste home? What are you picnicking on these days? Let me know and thanks for reading!
What our family eats in a week (working parents – you can do it!).
Yes, I have a job outside being a mom. And yes – we still eat mostly home cooked, zero waste dinners. My hubbie and I both work full time (and then some) and aren’t amazingly organized. But we still get it done. And you can too!
Now, I’ll admit that I work from home most days and don’t have a long commute on the days I go into the office. BUT – and this is important to keep in mind! – I RARELY start on dinner before 5:30pm. We put our kids to bed around 7:30 (they read, wind down, and pass out around 8) so we try to eat dinner around 6:30.
BTW, this is part 2 of my series on easy zero waste meal planning for families! In case you missed part one on zero waste breakfasts, check it out here!
Okay, back to easy zero waste, vegetarian dinners. We aren’t big planners but we know the kinds of foods that we all like to eat. So we shop for a lot of the same foods each week.
Big disclaimer: These aren’t gourmet dinners. If you’re looking for fancy, you’re on the wrong site! BUT – these are healthy, well-balanced, low waste dinners. And our kids LOVE them!
5 easy zero waste vegetarian dinners
Monday night’s zero waste vegetarian dinner
Pasta dinner with TVP and a big green salad
We’re lucky enough to have bulk pasta at two shops in Santa Cruz – New Leaf in Capitola and Staff of Life in Santa Cruz. We usually fill a big bulk bag once a month at Staff and it lasts us a few weeks (depending on how many dinner guests we have!).
Sometimes we’ll get a glass jar of tomato sauce (and reuse the jar) or canned tomatoes (and recycle the can – cans are generally valuable to recycle in our town). Other times we’ll toss the pasta in olive oil, nutritional yeast, salt, pepper and sauteed veggies. Think mushrooms, sweet peppers, onions, broccoli, zucchini. Or whatever veggies we have lying around in the fridge.
For protein, we’ll rehydrate some dried TVP (texturized vegetable protein). We can get this in bulk bins at Staff of Life and New Leaf. All we do is soak it in hot water for maybe 10 minutes, until it’s tender enough to eat. You could saute it with some seasoning, but we often just toss it with the pasta. The TVP in bulk at Staff of Life comes in 2 sizes – large chunks and small pieces – like ground-round sizes. The small pieces you can toss right into pasta sauce without rehydrating for added protein.
We make a super simple salad dressing from olive oil, balsamic vinegar, nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper – all available in bulk at Staff of Life. Or, we swap out the vinegar for fresh squeezed lemon juice (and leave out the pepper) for another super simple and delicious homemade dressing. If we have enough lemons (usually from our tree!), I’ll make extra dressing and put it in a jar to use for other dinners that week, or for lunches.
Salad includes whatever veggies and greens we have – usually lettuce, shredded carrots, sweet peppers, and cucumbers. Toss it with dressing just before you sit down to eat.
That, my friend, is our pretty well balanced, easy, zero waste dinner number one! Moving on…
Tuesday night’s low waste veggie dinner
Tuesday night is taco night, amiright???
Here’s what we usually do for taco night:
–Homemade pinto beans. We soak these overnight and then pressure cook them with bay leaves, chopped onions, salt, and cumin in about 30 minutes. SOOO delicious!
–Homemade rice. Just rice. Sometimes we cook it with chopped tomatoes or onions or canned tomatoes. Usually we skip the extras and make it plain.
–Shredded cabbage with a little lemon juice and olive oil or a little mayo
–Avocado, chopped tomatoes, and cilantro
Note: sometimes we have homemade salsa too if hubbie has time to chop tomatoes, cilantro, onions, jalapenos, and lemon juice. With a little salt. So yummy. Or we pick up salsa in our own container from a nearby taqueria!
–Corn tortillas. As of this writing, we can still recycle the plastic bags that we get our store bought tortillas in, so this is honestly what we usually do. BUT, there are zero waste options out there. We have a tortilla press and make homemade tortillas too when we have time. It takes us about 20 minutes to make everyone in the family a few tortillas. You might also be able to find a taqueria that’ll sell you homemade tortillas. Another option is to ditch the tortillas all together and use lettuce as your shell! We don’t do that but I’m sure it’s delicious.
–Cheese – we do a few things for cheese. The fastest homemade vegan cheese I’ve made so far is based on Minimalist Baker’s recipe for Mexican nacho cheese sauce. We use ingredients from bulk for this – everything straight into the blender and then warm and serve. Super yum.
Another easy homemade vegan cheese calls for nutritional yeast plus flour (chick pea or wheat or whatever flour you have). This is ready in about 10 minutes. All the ingredients are available in bulk. Check Bob’s Red Mill recipe here. Other times we buy dairy cheese at the store and ask them to cut us a piece off a big block. We also buy it in plastic wrap that, as of this writing, we can recycle. As fewer and fewer recycling centers take plastic wrap, we’ll probably be opting for store-cut and homemade cheese only in the near future.
Wednesday night’s zero waste vegetarian dinner
Okay, I don’t know what your Wednesday’s are like, but I’m usually feeling the mid-week hump by this day! So I love a super easy meal we call
Yes, it’s toast for dinner. But we make it extra specially with some homemade hummus. We might make hummus on the weekend or that night. It’s super fast and easy if we remember to soak chick peas the night before. Then 20 minutes in the pressure cooker. Then blend with tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, a little water, and garlic. I put out cheese slices, olives (Staff of Life has delicious bulk olives), sliced tomatoes, and sliced avocado. For veggies, we have roasted cauliflower or a big green salad.
The bread we get from local bakeries (Gayle’s and Companion) in our own bags usually. Sometimes we get bagettes in paper bags if we can’t get to the bakeries.
Super easy and tasty!
Thursday night’s zero waste vegetarian dinner
If we have extra chick pes aafter making hummus, we’ll often saute them with canned tomatoes, onions, and seasoning (garam masala, tumeric, ginger, a little lemon juice) to make Chana Masala. Served with with rice and sauteed broccoli or some other fast cooking veggie. We usually have a jar of mango pickle in the fridge for a little tang and heat. The jar gets reused or recycled. We put a little salt or soy sauce (from bulk) on the rice. Super yummy.
Friday night’s easy low waste vegetarian dinner
I usually don’t cook on Friday nights so we usually either have leftovers, go out to eat, or order a pizza. I know, pizza delivery isn’t the most sustainable option. But sometimes, especially if hubbie is out of town, it’s what I have the energy for. We ask for it without the little plastic do-hicky and we compost the box at home in our compost. If you want to invent a reusable, plastic-free pizza take-out box, PLEASE DO IT!!! I will totally buy one from you. The world needs a reusable option!
So that’s a pretty typical week of zero waste vegetarian dinners for our family. Is that helpful for you? What are your favorite low waste weeknight meals? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
Are you thinking of reducing waste in your family but not sure you can do it? Are you overwhelmed with the idea of reducing your family’s trash to almost nothing?
I’m here to give you an honest look at what it’s like to go for zero waste with your family.
This post is for you if YOU:
-got interested in zero waste AFTER you had kids already
-aren’t a minimalist family with very few possessions
-hang out with other families who aren’t super into zero waste
-go to kids birthday parties
-go to potlucks
-send your kids to school
-let your kids go on field trips
-go to school fairs and gatherings
-take road trips and family vacations
-go to festivals and special events
-let your kids do art camps and piano lessons and other after school activities
Does any of that sound like you? If so, keep reading for the inside scoop on going for zero waste with kids.
I’m breaking everything down into two categories. First, I’ll cover the super challenging stuff. THEN, don’t despair, I’ll get into the super do-able stuff. So hang in there – it’s not all tough!
First, the super challenging part of zero waste with kids.
Bad news first, right?
Let me start by saying –THEIR TRASH IS NOT THEIR FAULT! We live in a linear economy. AKA – almost everything we come into contact with is designed to end up in the landfill. Your kids are part of a system they can’t control. Always remember that – kids are reacting to a system that’s designed to make trash.
So, the hard truth of it is this: If you’re kids are gonna be in the world without you by their side, they’re gonna make some trash. That’s the plain and simple of it. No way around it until they are old enough to really care about this themselves.
You can help them prepare to be out there. Practice being assertive. Practice saying “no thank you”. Practice polite refusal of those freebies and treats and giveaways and STUFF.
But when your kids are young, there are going to be times when they say “YES, PLEASE!” with excitement. Times when the goodie is really inviting and they can’t easily resist. They don’t have an inner voice yet reminding them of the bigger picture.
A few examples:
-A spontaneous stop at Starbucks after a school field trip for treats (courtesy of a chaperone) leads to a plastic frappucino cup, lid, and straw.
-A visit to the craft fair at an eco-minded event and we suddenly have a plastic craft creation that won’t last long.
-Playdate with a friend can lead to trash from a candy bar or hot cocoa cup or popsicle wrapper or some other treat.
-Classroom arts and crafts activity could mean dozens of plastic beaded bracelets. Or dozens of plastic bead art designs. Or duct tape crafts. All coming home to our house.
-A pinata at a birthday party full of wrapped candy.
-A friend at soccer practice hands them a granola bar.
-A speaker at school passes out free trinkets after a fun talk.
-A relative sends a birthday gift that’ll eventually break and end up as trash
You get the idea. Other grown ups and events and activities in their lives will lead to trash. And it’ll probably come into your house. I’m not always going to be there to intervene. Until they have the commitment and maturity to say no thank you to all freebies, they’re gonna bring home some trash. My preference is to let my kids be in the world even when I can’t be by their side because I value these experiences and relationships for them (not so much the trash). But I know I can’t make the other people around them aim for zero waste too.
That’s the tough part. That’s the low down dirty truth of going for zero waste with kids. While your kids are young, you might never get all your family’s trash into a mason jar. Sorry to bear the bad news.
Okay, are you ready for the good news now?
There’s SO much you CAN do to help your kids go for zero waste.
With some thought and energy, you CAN avoid tons of trash with your kids. Here are my three major strategies for zero waste with kids:
My number one tip is PLAN AHEAD!
If you think temptation will come up (e.g. cake at a birthday party handed out with plastic forks, a stop at the yogurt shop during an after school playdate, lemonade in plastic cups at a potluck) get prepped! Talk about it in advance with your kiddo and bring that cup/fork/straw/bowl/plate or snack or bulk bin treat or whatever might get between your little one being a part of the activity and sticking to your family goals to cut waste.
Try to find the activity that doesn’t involve plastic at the craft table and encourage your kids to do the same. Let your kids’ teachers know that you are trying to limit how much plastic comes home with them. Better yet, if you’ve got the time, help your kids teachers with ideas and suggestions for activities that don’t lead to trash or involve plastic (an eco-friendly alternative to plastic bead art? YES PLEASE!). If you are really organized and don’t feel it would be too imposing, reach out to party or event organizers in advance and let them know your family goals and if you can help with party favors or supplies.
And, of course, remind your kiddos of the family goals and what challenges might lay ahead. Which leads me to my next tip!
My number two tip is to inspire them!
Remind your kids why it’s important to care for the earth and that there are so many ways to do that. Remind them why you’re avoiding plastic and cutting trash. Show them pictures of the great ocean garbage patches. Tell them heartwarming stories of human actions leading to environmental changes.
For example, did you hear the story of Ryan, a 7 year old in southern California, who started his own recycling company to help the earth and save for college? One child has recycled thousands of dollars worth of cans and bottles from his neighbors. Or did you hear that a camera trap in Gabon’s Bateke Plateau national park captured a photo of a spotted hyena? They thought the animal was extinct in that area! But the work of rangers and other partners to protect animals in this park has led to big game surviving and thriving. And there’s the story of a classmate of one of my daughters who organized a beach clean up at a local beach. So cool! Stories like this are everywhere, and show kids (and grown ups!) that our actions can make a positive impact. Share them with your kids and help them stay motivated toward zero waste! And I have another post just on inspiring zero waste kids – you can read it here.
And my third tip is to keep a positive attitude when you talk with folks outside the family about your goals.
My personal approach is to use our zero waste supplies without any hub bub. We don’t wave around that we brought our own forks to a picnic. We don’t try to make anyone else feel bad about their trash. In our two plus years of doing this, people sometimes notice and comment positively, or don’t notice at all, but I’ve yet to encounter anyone freaked out or upset by the goals we’re reaching for. So don’t worry too much about how others might react. If they notice and want to talk about it, that’s great! It’s your chance to share what you care about without making someone else feel bad. Your kids will catch on to your attitude, so keep it positive!
To sum up the truth about going zero waste with kids:
If you want your young kids to move through the world and make their own decisions, there’ll be some trash. And that’s not their fault.
A little planning and prepping can cut out LOTS of your kid’s waste.
Inspiring your kidscan help them stay motivated.
Bring a positive attitudeto the non-zero wasters in your life.
So there’s my truth about zero waste with kids. We participate in the world around us and still make some trash. But with some energy and planning, we’ve cut back our waste DRAMATICALLY (aka – putting out our small 20 gallon trash can once a month or less) and you can too.
What’s been your experience in aiming for zero waste with kids? Any tips to share? I’d love to hear in the comments below!