The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Zero Waste Grocery Shopping

 

Food packaging is probably a significant source of waste for you, like it was for me too!  Going zero waste does NOT happen overnight! Instead, think of this as a process that takes time.  Each change you make is a small step in a positive direction.

Below I’ve outlined a step-by-step guide for getting started in zero waste grocery shopping.  

 

 

Step 1: Make your usual grocery list.

 

In step 1, make a list of everything that you might normally purchase for the week (or however often you go).  Be thorough! List everything to your heart’s desire. If you need to add another category, go for it!

 

Here are some common categories that can help you put together your list.

 

Category Your regulars (examples)
Veggies Lettuce, carrots, kale, tomatoes, cauliflower
Fruits Oranges, apples, bananas
Proteins (dairy, dried beans, meats) Cheese, pinto beans, chic peas, tofu
Carbs/Grains Bread, rice, pasta, quinoa
Snacks & Sweets Chips, cookies
Oils/Fats Olive oil, vegetable oil, balsamic vinegar, butter
Baking/Spices Flour, salt, cumin
Condiments Mayonnaise, mustard, peanut butter, jam, soy sauce, maple syrup
Beverages Tea, coffee, juice, beer, wine
Bathroom Supplies Toilet paper, toothpaste
Household Supplies Laundry soap, dish soap

 

 

Step 2: Try to distinguish between your grocery “must-haves” vs. your “wants”

 

Get two different colored pencils or crayons and take a look at your list.  Pick one color to indicate your “must-haves” and the other color to indicate your “wants”.  For example, coffee for me is a MUST HAVE. Cheese, eggs, and bread are family MUST HAVES. Either Earth Balance (vegan butter) or regular butter are MUST HAVES – one or the other.  Fruits we are pretty flexible on – we can work with what’s available at the farmer’s market or what’s served loose at the store. Veggies we are also pretty flexible on. We prefer to have lettuce, carrots, cabbage, tomatoes, cauliflower, squash, and greens on a pretty regular basis, but as long as we get some variety, we are happy.  We also get some veggies that work well in the kids lunches (think carrots, sweet peppers, cucumbers, or cherry tomatoes). We also have dried beans, but again we are flexible on the type of dried beans – pintos, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, etc. We love them all. Within condiments, we are actually pretty flexible! We like hot sauce, mayonnaise, mustard, and ketchup.  

 

Step 3:  Assess the bulk situation near you.  

 

What is available to you and where?   Check out the bulk finder app (Bea Johnson has one on her website here) to see what’s available near you!  If nothing pops up, you might want to try stores you don’t normally go to – call ahead and ask if they have any bulk bins!  Health food stores often have bulk bins. Whole Foods is a definite option. Also, don’t forget to look closely at what IS available at your favorite store.  There might be more than you realize when you take a closer look!

 

Step 4: Check for a local farmer’s market.

 

The farmers market is an awesome spot to get fresh local veggies – often without stickers or packaging!  There might even be fresh bread and other staples that you can purchase plastic free. Some staples you might be able to get in a glass jar that you can return to the farmer (at our market, that includes honey and hot sauce).  So, try to determine if there’s a farmer’s market near you this time of year, and if you can fit a visit into your schedule. If you’ve got a family, it might be a fun weekend event for the whole crew! Some weekday markets are after work – maybe you can swing by one day after work!  Check out LocalHarvest.org for markets near you.

 

Step 5: Compare your waste-free options with your grocery list

 

How many of your must-haves are available in bulk?  If everything is, say hip-hip HOORAY! And then skip ahead to step 7!  But, chances are there are some items you can’t find in bulk. Make a note of all of those must-haves that you can’t find in bulk.  Next, make a list of all of the wants that you can’t find in bulk either.

 

Step 6: Make some decisions

 

Assuming you can’t find everything in bulk that is on your must-have or want lists, now is the time to make some decisions!  Ask yourself a few questions. First, are there any must-have groceries that aren’t really must haves? If not, and you stand behind each must-have, that’s fine!  But it’s always good to check what you might be willing to forgo, if even for a short time, to see how that feels. Here’s another question: is there even one must-have that you would be willing to try making on your own?  I am assuming you do NOT have the time to make everything yourself. Very few people do! But is there one item that you might try? Again, just food for thought. Could you set aside a little time on the weekend to make it?  At my house, that’s hummus and sometimes cashew cheese. We try to make it about once a week.

 

Now turn to your wants.  Here you get to decide how badly you want those wants.  You might consider an experiment of forgoing all of them, at least for a little while.  The great thing about grocery shopping is that you get another chance to do it again soon and change your mind!

 

After you’ve made your decisions, revise your list so you know exactly what you are shopping for.

 

Step 7: Gather your supplies!

 

Before you shop, collect your supplies!  You probably have some of these items already, and can make them yourself, find them at a thrift store, and there are veggie and bulk bags for sale here as well.  I always make sure that my supplies are sparkling clean before I take them. I want the stores to feel confident that I’m not mucking up their bulk goods! This helps stores continue to support folks bringing in their own containers.

 

Here are the items I take with me:

 

  • Cotton bags for fruits and veggies
  • Cotton bags for bulk goods
  • Jars for any liquids
  • Jars for any fine, powdery, or sticky bulk goods (think raisins, flour)
  • Beeswax wrap for bulk cheese
  • A marker or wax pencil for writing on jars
  • A scrap of paper and pen for writing down all the codes from the bulk bins (unless you can write on your bag -that works too!) or a smartphone!
  • Reusable shopping bags.  I.e., a bag for all your bags and jars!
  • Your list that you painstakingly put together!
  • A reusable coffee mug (hey, you deserve a treat after all of this!)

 

Let me take a moment to explain about TARE WEIGHT.

 

What is tare weight, you might ask?

The tare weight, at least in the U.S., is often the number of ounces that your container weighs divided by 16.  So, if your jar weighs 8 ounces, simply divide 8 by 16 to get 0.5. That is your tare weight. It means your jar weighs about half a pound.  The cashiers will deduct this weight from the total weight of the item when you pay. That way you don’t pay for the weight of the jar in addition to the weight of whatever’s inside.  If the store sells bulk, they should understand this process and be able to deduct the tare weight at the register.

 

If you have a scale at home, you can go ahead and weigh your jars at home and mark down the tare weight!  If you don’t have a scale at home, you can take your jars to the store and ask them to weigh them, or look for scales in the aisles that are for customers to use.  I use my marker or wax pencil to then write the tare down on my jar.

 

Step 8: Shop with confidence – and just ask!

 

Okay, once you are at the store, now’s the time to stick to your list!  Get only what is on your list, including your needs and wants. Write down the codes for each item, either on the container or on your grocery list/scrap paper.  I often use my phone to track the codes, and since we get the same things over and over again, I have the codes saved already!

 

For any deli items, ask them if they can hand it straight to you or put it into a container for you.  I’ve asked them to cut cheese for me and put it into my beeswax wrap, and they’ve been happy to do it at a couple of stores!  Don’t be shy about asking for help, even if no one is working the counter when you get there.

 

For all those needs that you can’t find in bulk, try to find it in the lowest-impact packaging possible.  Here’s how I would prioritize based on preserving our resources, avoiding landfill waste, and avoiding plastic:

 

  1. First choice: packaging that you will reuse (like a jar)
  2. Second choice: packaging made from recycled materials like recycled paper
  3. Third choice: paper packaging
  4. Fourth choice: metal/canned packaging – this is more valuable for recycling centers than glass
  5. Fifth choice: glass packaging (that you wouldn’t normally want to reuse)
  6. Sixth choice: recyclable plastic packaging – what type of plastic can you recycle in your town?
  7. Seventh choice: non-recyclable materials.  This often includes mixed materials.

 

When I go to pay, I line up my bags on the conveyor belt in order of my codes, just to speed up the process for the cashier.  You don’t need to do that at all! But if you’re motivated, it helps move things along a little bit. Especially for items you can’t see through the bag – eliminates the guessing game.

 

Step 9: Take your food home and transfer it to storage containers (if needed)

 

I like to move my bulk goods into jars and other air-tight containers once I’m are home.  I do try to take a picture first – if you want to capture the moment, do that first! I love those flat-lay grocery pics of a week in food.  

Zero waste groceries

 

But then I put stuff away. Things like chips, oats, and pasta keep better in a jar or tupperware, so I’ll take them out of the bag and put them into a different container at home.  I usually keep my veggies in their bags and put them straight into the fridge. I usually take the fruit out of bags and set them on the countertop. Potatoes, onions, and garlic too – just into a bowl on the countertop.  This takes about 10 minutes, but it’s a nice chance to tidy up the cupboards a little and feel stocked up for the week ahead.

Bulk goods in jars

Step 10: Congratulate yourself!

 

Phew!  You did it!  I hope you are feeling proud of yourself for any small changes you were able to implement towards a zero waste home.  I know it isn’t always easy to try doing things differently, and your family might not be completely on board yet, but give it time and it becomes second nature.  

 

There you have it!  My 10 step beginner’s guide to zero waste grocery shopping.  To recap:

Step 1:  Make your usual list – be thorough!

Step 2:  Distinguish between your grocery “must-haves” and grocery “wants”

Step 3: Assess the local bulk options

Step 4:  Look into a local farmers market

Step 5:  Compare your local waste-free options with your grocery list

Step 6:  Make some decisions & revise your shopping list

Step 7:  Gather your supplies!

Step 8:  Shop with confidence and don’t be afraid to ask!

Step 9:  Bring your food home and transfer it to storage containers.

Step 10: Last but not least, congratulate yourself!

 

There you have it.   My ultimate beginner’s guide to zero waste grocery shopping. Was this helpful for you?  I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.

 

Thanks for reading!

Liz

 

Sign up for the No Trace Email List for Giveaways and Coupons!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Bike more.

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

4. Find zero waste dental options

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

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

How to Have a Zero Waste Halloween

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Zero Waste Trick or Treaters

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

 

Gulp.

 

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

 

Hip Hip HOORAY!  That was awesome.

 

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

 

Zero Waste Halloween Treats

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

 

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

Zero waste halloween candy from bulk!

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

 

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

 

Zero Waste Halloween Gathering

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

 

Back to my kiddos….

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

 

AH-MAZING!

 

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

 

Thanks for reading!

Liz

Kids & Zero Waste

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

 

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

My ecokids.

 

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

 

Top 10 tips for inspiring zero waste kids

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

     

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

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

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

 

Bonus tips!  

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

 

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

 

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

 

Thanks for reading!

Liz

Can you Go for zero waste with a busy family life?  Yes!

You’ve come to the right place!  Read further for my top 10 hacks!

Going for zero waste means trying to avoid pre-packaged food and instead cooking from scratch more often. This means not buying disposable, processed foods that are easy to grab and go for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, which can pose a challenge if you work 9 to 5, like me, and need to feed your kids and get them ready for bed in a couple of hours time. So, how can we get it all done in our crazy hectic lives? Here are some tips that have helped me in transitioning our home to zero waste.

 

My Top 10 Zero Waste Kitchen Hacks (for busy families!)

 

  1. Pressure Cooker!  Get a pressure cooker! You can cook beans from dry to delicious in 1 hour or less! You don’t even have to remember to soak them overnight! It’s a bonus if you do – they’ll cook even faster :). So, if you are like me and are home around 5:30 and wanting to eat by 6:30, this is do-able! I got one for Christmas (thanks, honey!). Oh, and did you know that if you soak your rice, it cooks faster too? My mind was a little blown when I learned that trick :).

    I LOVE my pressure cooker! We use it once at week for sure.
  2. Bulk Bin Snacks! Keep your cupboards full of bulk bin snacks like granola, cereal, and plaintain chips that you can buy in bulk. Snacks can still be fast and easy without packaging. Our favorites right now are pretzels, sesame sticks, and cacao nibs. Delicious! 
    We are digging pretzels, plaintain chips, and cacao nibs these days!

     

  3. Snack Baggies!  Buy or make reusable, washable snack baggies for lunches and snacks. Fill one with something before you head out into the world if you think you or the kids might get hungry. If you’ve got something on hand, you avoid having to buy whatever you can find, which may not be healthy or package free.

    I make sell these snack baggies. They are so cute, if I may say so myself 🙂 !
  4. Fruit! Keep your fruit baskets full! This is the ultimate zero waste snack. Right now we’ve got apples from grandma and grandpa’s trees. I know, we are spoiled!

    Fresh local apples. Mmmmm!
  5. Menu plan! Menu plan before you grocery shop. I don’t always have an exact menu in mind, but I think of what we’ll have for protein (tofu, beans, TVP, nuts, dairy or eggs) and veggies for most of our dinners, what the kids will pack for lunches, and what are our popular breakfast items. The carbs seem to take less planning – there’s usually rice, quinoa, or pasta in our cupboards. And I always make sure to stock the snack cupboard! I generally go once a week, but sometimes less if life gets too crazy. In those days we just coast on fumes until I can make it to my local shop with lots of bulk bins.
  6. Leftovers! Cook enough so you’ll have leftovers. Leftovers are the best, right? We put in our lunches and have another dinner ready to go too sometimes.
  7. Your arsenal! Carry extra cutlery, napkins, and jars when you are out and about with the kiddos. Great for getting frozen yogurt, or food from the hot bar at your favorite natural food store. I keep meaning to leave some in the car too.
  8. Soak those nuts! Always keep nuts soaking in the fridge for last minute nut milk! We’ve been doing almond milk lately, but any nut will do!
  9. Popcorn!  Have some popcorn kernels on hand for feeding kids who show up for impromptu play dates at the house. We love nutritional yeast on our popcorn. Sometimes I make them eat it outside, though ;), to cut down on the clean up process – nuty yeast flakes end up all over the place.  Popcorn tends to be a popular bulk item, so hopefully you can find it near you!
  10. Water Bottles!  Help your kids remember to always take their water bottles out with them when they are on the go! We are still working on this in our home, but usually at least one of us has a bottle to share in a pinch. We still have plenty of kiddo germs, though, so I try to avoid sharing when possible.
I love my new S’well! It’s insulated and I spill less when I sip :).

And two bonus tips!

 

11. This is cheating but, know where you can grab a quick dinner that won’t result in waste. One of our defaults is a local taqueria. Occasionally there is a piece of paper on the plate (e.g., chips in a paper-lined basket), and we’ll bring that home and compost it.

12. Last one: Don’t be too hard on yourself! Life happens. Waste happens. We are all just doing our best to make things a little better around here 🙂 .

Those are my tips! Do you have some? I’d love to hear! Share in the comments below!

Thanks for reading,
Liz

Sign up for the No Trace Email List for Giveaways and Coupons!

Kids Lunches!

It’s back to school again for my kids and I thought I’d share a little about how we send them off with package-free lunches.  Packaged items are all about convenience, and I completely understand their appeal.  On a busy morning when families are trying to get out the door on time for work and school (and maybe squeeze in a dog walk or some exercise), there isn’t a lot of spare time.  So having food that you can grab and throw in a lunch bag is really helpful.  And it’s possible to do it without any waste!  

 

Our kids (aged 6 and 9) make their own lunches with a little help from us.  We encourage them to pack a fruit, vegetable, protein, and carbohydrate in each lunch, and try to make this process easy for them.  

 

These kids know how to make some food – pizza time!


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Here’s our top TEN package-free Alternatives for Kids lunches.

 

Packaged baby carrots?  Swap them for:

  1. Easy to cut carrot rounds.  Our kids can safely cut carrot rounds, even with a butter knife.  We don’t peel the carrots usually, just rinse and slice.  
  2. Cucumber slices.  Our kids can peel these if they want, or they slice them unpeeled.
  3. Chopped sweet pepper – kids can slice them chunky and they are still delicious.  
  4. Cherry tomatoes are great too – no chopping necessary.

Granola bars?  Try switching them out for:

  1. Homemade granola bars.  I tried a recipe from Pinterest and the verdict was:  Homemade Chocolate Chip Granola Bars . Kitchen Explorers . PBS Parents | PBS
  2. No time for homemade granola bars?  Try a cute container full of loose granola from bulk bins.
  3. Try energy chunks or nibs from bulk bins.  We love cacao energy nibs – available at New Leaf and Staff of Life in Santa Cruz.  DELICIOUS!

Pre-packaged fruit snacks?  Try swapping for:

  1. Dried fruit!  My kids love dried mangoes, dried apricots, and raisins.  Plus, there’s generally no added sugar.  
  2. A small piece of whole fruit or half a fruit.  Apples, bananas, pears, berries, oranges, tangerines – these are easy to grab.  If the piece of fruit is really large, we might help them make a quick slice down the middle so they are less likely to waste the other half.  We also love all kinds of berries in our family!

 

 

Packaged nuts or chips?

  1. Check your local bulk bins for healthy, savory alternatives!  We can get pretzels, corn chips, sesame sticks, and more in bulk at New Leaf and Staff of Life.  Nuts are usually a staple as well.  

There you have it – easy zero waste options for kids lunches.  

I’d love to hear from other busy families – what’s in your kid’s lunches?

Thanks for reading!

 

Liz

ps – stay tuned for an upcoming post all about lunch containers

Kiddos out with grandma for lunch.

 


 

 

One of the bestsellers at No Trace is beeswax wraps – it’s also the one item that needs an explanation for many folks. So, I thought I’d take a minute to talk about the wonders of beeswax wraps.

Beeswax wraps are an all natural, reusable, biodegradable alternative to plastic wrap. They can be used throughout your kitchen and lunch bag in the same way that plastic wrap and plastic bags might be used. Beeswax wraps are washable and last a year or longer.  They are great for fruits, veggies, sandwiches, burritos, cheeses, and more.  

Here’s a list of the ways you might want to use a beeswax wrap:

  • wrap half of a lemon
  • wrap the cut end of a cucumber
  • cover a bowl for extra freshness
  • wrap apple slices in your kid’s lunch
  • wrap your sandwich
  • wrap your burrito
  • wrap fresh carrots from the market to keep them crisp
  • wrap your carrot sticks in your lunch
  • wrap cheese from the store
  • wrap cheese slices for your snack
  • cover a jar that’s missing a lid
  • wrap your cookie dough 
  • wrap your pizza dough
  • wrap a cut melon

The wraps keep your food fresh, just like plastic wrap, without sending plastic to the landfill.  They are functional and economical for you and green for the earth.  And they add color and cheer to your kitchen!  

How to use it

Using your wrap is simple – just wrap it around your food or bowl.  The warmth of your hands will help the wax soften slightly and mold into the corresponding shape.  The wraps aren’t sticky but can be folded into a tight seal.  Each wrap also comes with a matching tie made from fabric scraps.  You can use your tie for an extra strong seal if you are taking your food on the go or just want an extra firm closure.

How it’s made

Each beeswax wrap is handmade with organic cotton and beeswax – nothing else.  Wax is melted onto the cotton to create a breathable, moisture tight barrier for your food.  Each wrap comes with a handmade tie, made from scraps of the matching fabric.

Care information

Beeswax wraps should be handwashed in cold water with gentle soap.  You can let your wrap air dry or wipe it dry with a hand towel.  Beeswax wraps should not be used in the microwave or oven.  The wraps should be kept out of direct sunlight for prolonged periods of time.  The matching ties can be washed in washing machines.  If you care for your wrap, it should last a year or longer.  But over time the wax will wear off and your wrap will no longer be moisture tight.  Once this occurs, you can simple compost your wrap in your home compost bin – cutting into smaller pieces will help it break down more quickly.

Purchasing a wrap

No Trace currently carries two sizes, 12 X 12 and 8 X 8 inches, and two fabrics – Pears and Pink/Gold Lines. All beeswax wraps come with a matching made from fabric scraps.  Given that the ties are made from scraps, the lengths vary slightly.  

Give them a try – they are an awesome addition to any kitchen!

Groceries have traditionally been one of my family’s largest sources of landfill waste every week – all of that food packaging! Since we started incorporating more zero waste principles into our lives, we’ve been able to eliminate a huge amount of that waste. I thought I’d take a minute to share with you our shopping routines.

The main switch towards zero waste grocery shopping is that we now do the majority of our shopping out of bulk bins and the produce aisle, and at the farmer’s market. Santa Cruz, CA is really blessed with some amazing local grocery stores include Aptos Natural Foods, Staff of Life, and New Leaf, among others. We can shop for nearly everything we need in bulk at these stores. It just takes a little planning and prepping before we go out.

In a typical week, we’ll buy lots of fruits and of veggies to sustain our breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. We buy the loose, unpackaged fruits and veggies, and use our produce bags, as well as some I bought at Whole Foods and on Etsy (before I started making them myself – there are lots of great shops on Etsy!). These bags weigh very little in relation to the produce, but you could write down their empty weight and ask the cashier to subtract it if you like. Fresh fruits and veggies are probably the easiest items for you to start purchasing without packaging.

Fruits and veggies alone won’t sustain us for a week. Our proteins are generally eggs, tofu, cheese, peanut or almond butter, dried beans, and Annie’s cashew pimento spread – another local company and a delicious vegan cheese substitute! And we buy grains like bread, cereal, pasta, and oats, and we always need some snacks and sweets. And then there are usually some pantry staples on our shopping list like flour, spices, tea, oils, soy sauce, vinegar, etc. We are fortunate to find nearly all of these products in bulk in Santa Cruz – Staff of Life and Aptos Natural Food in particular have excellent bulk sections. In order to shop as close to zero waste as possible, I make a list of everything I will buy in bulk, and then make sure that I have the correct container for it. Check my instagram feed (no_trace_shop) for a picture of what I took to the store last time I went.

I had to get 3 liquidy/gooey things last time including honey, olives, and peanut butter. I brought 3 jars and wrote what I needed on the lid of each, and the tare weight. I got the tare weight at home with a little kitchen scale – it gave me ounces but just divide the number of ounces by 16 to get the tare weight. I also brought two beeswax wraps for the cheese. The deli staff will cut a chunk of cheese for you if you ask, and then I wrap it in my beeswax wrap instead of their plastic wrap. They usually give me a sticker, which I show to the cashier. I brought lots of bags for produce, fruits, grains, and other dry goods. And I bring my list and a pen so I can write down the bulk bin code for everything on my list.

There are a few speciality items that require a special trip. When I shop at the farmer’s market, I can get eggs from a farmer, and I can also return any of my empty egg cartons to this farmer. I also get eggs from my in-laws during the sunnier seasons. Otherwise I get eggs at the store and save the cartons for my next trip to the farmer’s market. Sometimes we get chips from a taqueria – at least one taqueria in Santa Cruz will let you fill your own container with chips. We got a medium bag for about $3 last time. We also just started getting our ice cream from a local ice cream shop – Marianne’s. They do hand packed pints for $5.50. It is a bit more than what you get at the store, but you can bring in your own pint jar or take out one their containers, which are paper and 100% recyclable.

Unfortunately, there are still a few things we can’t buy in bulk or from the farmer’s market. These include tofu (we recycle the packaging, though), Annie’s spread, salsa (although there might be taqueria that will let us buy this in our own container), maple syrup, Earth Balance (vegan butter), Veganaise (vegan mayo), mustard, ketchup, and yogurt. The worst of these is yogurt – we could easily go through a couple of plastic tubs a week. I’ve thought about making yogurt at home, but I am reluctant to add another task to my to-dos. We just started making homemade almond milk, though – that is really only 5 minutes! I’ll post on that in the future.

We are making some good strides, though in our efforts to unpackage our foods. I think of it as an interesting mental exercise, trying to get as much as possible without packaging. I’ve also found that our cupboards are less cluttered, look much more appealing, and have very few processed foods in them. You can sneak a peek of our cupboards on my Instagram feed (no_trace_shop). That in itself is rewarding, and also prevents us from stockpiling foods and overlooking older purchases. Have you changed the way you shop for groceries? I’d love to hear about it! Share in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!

Kids like snacks. Who am I kidding – I like snacks. Having something in your cupboards that you can grab on your way out the door, that doesn’t need to be prepped or refrigerated, is super handy. These days there are countless packaged snack options at the store for convenience for a busy family – but these generally come with wrappers, destined for the landfill. Not great if you are striving for zero waste. Of course a piece of fruit is the ideal zero waste snack (just bring home the peel or core for your compost bin). But sometimes your kiddos (and you!) just don’t want fruit, or want something with your fruit. What’s a busy family to do?

Bulk bins to the rescue! Here are some of our favorite snack foods from our local bulk shopping:

  • Yogurt covered pretzels
  • Granola (we also use this as cereal in the mornings)
  • Sesame sticks
  • Homemade popcorn from bulk kernels.  I like to make a big bowl on Monday, jar it, and it stays fresh until Thursday, if it doesn’t get eaten before then.
  • Trail mix (if there are chocolate chips in there, it’s a guaranteed hit in my house!)
  • Veggie chips (although to be honest, these didn’t go over too well with the kids)
  • Raisins
  • Dried mangos or apples
  • Pumpkin or sunflower seeds

And here are my kiddos enjoying some snacks from the bulk bins.  

What are your favorite bulk bin snacks? How do you snack on the go and still strive for zero waste?  I’d love to hear in the comments below!

I built a bench. Two, actually, so that I can cram more people around our dining table for dinners and parties. This is a very simple bench – 2 X 4s, 2 X 3s, 1 X 12s, nails, screws, nothing else. Friends and family have been asking me when I’m going to stain it – it does look kind of naked as is. But since starting No Trace, I’ve started to really think about the life cycle of my things. For example, what will happen to my couch when it reaches the end of its useful life? How about my shoes? My mattress? Many of our non-recyclable possessions will be around on this planet long after we are gone, most likely in a landfill. Manufacturers don’t usually consider the death of their products. Once it’s out of their hands, they lose interest in its fate. There are exceptions to this rule, of course. Interface is one of the first companies I learned of that creates truly sustainable products (carpet tiles). Patagonia is also a leader in sustainability, from their sources for raw materials to repairing and eventually recycling worn clothes. Both companies are truly inspiring.

So, this brings me to my new benches. If you keep wood, a renewable resource, unstained and naked, it can be returned to the earth one day. Once it is beyond reuse, you can either compost it in your yard waste bin, your home compost pile, or use it for a fire. If you paint it or stain it, though, it becomes destined for the landfill. Some paints and stains on the market are all natural and biodegradable, but you probably won’t be able to put it in your yard waste bin for curb pick up, and you probably won’t want to burn it either. So I’ve decided to keep the benches naked. The absence of a stain won’t impact how long they last. While they aren’t as easy to clean as a painted or stained bench, I can easily sand down any smudges or smears. Or just sit on the smudges and smears, which is what we currently do (hey, they are reminders of the fun meals we’ve had together). Plus, we have one less bucket of stuff in the garage that isn’t empty enough to recycle. Although these benches are only two of the many pieces of furniture in our home, they are a nice reminder to me and anyone who notices that all of our possessions have a life and a death. If we can plan for their eventual demise, we can help minimize the resources we consume and the footprint we leave behind.

Tell me – do you have any sustainable furniture in your home? Or other products you love for their sustainability? I’d love to hear about it!