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 :).
Despite being considered “eco-friendly,” bioplastics might be causing more problems than they solve. Below are 10 reasons to avoid bioplastics. Each one based on scientific research. But first let’s get to know these materials, shall we?
Bioplastics are plastics made from plants instead of fossil fuels. The two most common and general types of bioplastics are PLAs (which are made from sugars) and PHAs (which are made from microorganisms that are fed plant-based oils).
Bioplastics are often described by manufacturers as “compostable”. Compostable means it’ll breakdown in a compost at the same rate as other organic material (i.e., food scraps) without any special conditions. And compostable means they won’t leave any toxins behind. Sometimes bioplastics are described as “biodegradable”. Biodegradable means something will breakdown eventually in the right conditions, but not necessarily in a traditional compost system.
Compared to regular plastic, having an alternative like bioplastics that won’t biodegrade into toxins is a huge improvement. Having an alternative that’s not made from fossil fuels is also a big improvement! The potential to compost food scraps and it’s packaging in the same bin could help cut tons of waste. And the potential to make bioplastics from organic waste (rather than crops) is also an amazing promise that some companies are working on.
With all this good news, lots of businesses have jumped on the bioplastics bandwagon. Globally, the bioplastics market was worth $17 billion dollars in 2017 and produced over 2 million tons of bioplastic (see this report for details). Bioplastics are showing up in grocery store aisles, as cups, straws, forks, product packaging, doggie bags, mailers, and more!
But the potential of bioplastics to solve our trash problem isn’t happening. Right now, bioplastics are creating a slew of problems instead of solving them.
Here are 10 reasons that bioplastics are not a solution to plastic pollution.
Not always made from plants
To be called a bioplastic, it only needs to contain a minimum of 20% renewable material (i.e, plant-based). So this means that some could have as much as 80% petroleum-based materials. That means they won’t compost as promised and they create the same plastic pollution problems as regular plastic. If these bioplastics end up in composts, they have the potential to contaminate organic material.
2. Their production is more polluting
One2010 studyfound that the production of bioplastics results in more pollution than the production of traditional plastics. This increased pollution comes from the agricultural processes to grow the crops that become bioplastics. Creating bioplastics also led to more ozone depletion and required more land to create than traditional plastics.
3. Some have carcinogens
Although they don’t contain BPA (a chemical found in regular plastics that may cause health problems for humans), some bioplastics are associated with increased carcinogens. The same 2010 studyfound that bioplastics made with fossil fuels (these are called B-PET plastics) had the highest impact on “carcinogenic health hazards” across its life cycle.
4. They increase pressure on our lands
In order to produce most bioplastics, crops have to be grown. This creates more demand for farmland. In order to feed the planet without destroying it, we’ll have to take a hard look at how we use our land. Using land to create packaging instead of food probably doesn’t make a lot of sense.
5. Won’t compost at home
They won’t compost in your yard or worm bin. Home composting is a super green way to cut waste on lots of levels. You can turn those organics back into soil. You don’t need any transportation to move them from your house to a facility. It’s cheap (or even free) to do at home. But bioplastics won’t compost at home. They have to be sent away and processed like all other trash.
6. Hard to compost anywhere
Very few cities have facilities to compost bioplastics – i.e., industrial composting facilities. An industrial composting facility allows “materials to reach 140 degrees F for 10 consecutive days”, according to this report. Although the exact number of facilities that can achieve these conditions isn’t easy to know, there aren’t many.
And even among those facilities that do exist, many of them don’t want any bioplastics because they take longer to breakdown than other materials. This slows down composting and costs facilities more money. Fastcompany.com reports that less than 90 cities in the US accept compostable packaging.
7. They can contaminate recycling.
Folks get confused about what to do with their bioplastics, and so they often end up in the recycle bin. Then they get mixed in with traditional plastics at the recycling plant since they’re hard to tell apart. As a result, our cities can accidentally send loads of traditional plastic that are contaminated with bioplastics to plastic recyclers. When plastic recyclers see the contamination, they start to reject our entire plastic loads. This puts a major strain on our ability to recycle any plastic. And it’s already become a challenge to recycle traditional plastics across the US.
8. They release methane
When bioplastics end up in landfills, which is where most of them end up, they release methane. Methane is a super powerful greenhouse gas.
9. They won’t biodegrade on their own
When bioplastics like PLA end up in the ocean or forests or meadows or streams, they won’t biodegrade. Instead, they become another source of litter, just like traditional plastics.
10. Still single-use
Here’s the biggest problem of all: they promote a single-use mentality. Folks see bioplastics as an eco-friendly single-use option. The problem is that there’s no such thing as eco-friendly single-use. To create anything that will only get used once and then discarded is wasteful. Of course, in some situations single-use is the only option or the best option, like medical settings. But single-use plastics should be an exception for certain situations, rather than the norm for everything we consume and use.
We need to switch from a single-use mentality to a reusable mentality. We need to recognize that the world has finite resources. All of these resources should be conserved and protected as much as possible.
This isn’t to say that bioplastics are worthless. If we had better systems in place for capturing and composting bioplastics, and more efficient, less polluting ways of creating bioplastics, that would be awesome. Bioplastics have the potential to fill an important need in plastics with renewable resources.
But at this point in time, with our current resources, bioplastics don’t solve all our problems. And they have lots of issues that need to be addressed.
The main problem for us to solve is to reduce our dependence on single-use plastic as much as possible. Bioplastics don’t get us any closer.
Do you have thoughts on bioplastics? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
Thanks for reading and for all that you do for the planet,
P.S. Want more nitty-gritty info on bioplastics? Check out my sources:
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!
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!
Do you feel overwhelmed by going for zero waste or low waste living? Not sure how to make the switch? I’ve got a few posts for you on easy zero waste meals to help you cut your waste.
How about we start with zero waste breakfast?!
Beginning your day with a belly full of whole foods – easy to prep, easy to find in bulk, and good for you – is a win-win-win! Maybe we should call it a win cubed? To the third? You get the point here…
Going for zero waste means eating more whole foods and fewer processed foods. Lots of packaged food is also processed food. So when you cut out packaging, you cut out some less than awesome food choices too.
But packaged food is so convenient – I get it! And there are lots of healthy packaged options out there too. Your mornings are probably busy and maybe even a little hectic, without loads of time to spare. So how do you get a nutritious breakfast without reaching for something packaged?
I’m here to help! Check out these top 5 zero waste breakfasts that whip up super fast. Bonus: total kid-pleasers! Vegan options! And gluten free options! You ready? Zero waste breakfast, here you come!
1. Ugly smoothie
This is one of my favorites and I crave these some mornings! If you have kids, you have food scraps. (BTW – if you have kids and you don’t have food scraps, please call me right away and tell me how you do this). Okay, so those scraps – carrot sticks, cucumber slices, half an apple, orange slices, etc. You know the ones. At our house, they sit in the fridge. Pulled from lunch bags at the end of the day, shoved into the dark corners of the fridge. And forgotten. I beg the kids to eat them but it doesn’t always happen.
So here’s the solution: pop those forgotten fruits and veggies in the blender for an ugly smoothie! I add a spoonful of coconut butter, a little sweetener, a little water, a little ice. Blend it up and pour! So easy. And super refreshing. And vegan and gluten free! Another option – add cocoa or cacao powder for a richer flavor with added iron.
Okay, it might sound dull, but we LOVE toast in our house. LOVE IT! We usually buy bread straight from the bakery – either Gayle’s or Companion Bakeshop. They’ll put it in our own bag (check these bags out here). If we can’t make it to the bakery, we’ll get bread in paper bags – bagettes come in paper bags at most of the big grocery store chains. We recycle the paper if it isn’t stained. Otherwise, we add it to our compost. Not ideal, but better than landfill or plastic!
Lately we’ve been eating toast with Miyoko’s vegan butter – it comes in 100% compostable packaging. 0% plastic or bio-plastic. And it’s DELICOUS! But some other awesome toast ideas: peanut butter from bulk and sliced bananas on top. Avocado with tomato and cucumbers, and a little salt and pepper. Almond butter with sliced apples. Or homemade cashew cheese (check out my post on that here) with tomato slices. And homemade jam (I admit, I don’t make this, but I’m lucky enough to have a mother in law who does 🙂 ).
So fast and easy. The kids make their own toast. Actually, they make most of these recipes on their own!
3. Oatmeal with the works
This has been another go-to for me lately. I make oats with the works and all of it can be found in bulk! We get gluten free rolled oats at Staff of Life. The ratio is easy – cook 1 part oats to 2 parts water. These cook super fast – about 5 minutes for 1 to 3 servings (½ cup dry oats per serving). I add ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 to 3 tablespoons of raisins (1 T per serving) at the start of cooking. I like the way the raisins plump up and add natural sweetness to the oats. And the cinnamon gives it a nice flavor.
Once the oats are cooked, I add peanut butter, shredded coconut, chia seeds, chopped fruit, a little sweetener, and sometimes coconut milk or water (from a can of coconut milk. Although not totally zero waste, cans from the coconut milk are relatively valuable to recycle, so I don’t worry too much about the can ending up in the landfill). Or you can leave the coconut milk/water out.
These oats are super filling and full of awesome fiber.
4. Vegan pancakes
Okay, before you skip ahead, let me say that you CAN whip up pancakes from scratch and FAST. We love the pancake recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance (and can find all the ingredients in bulk). The recipe says to let the batter sit for 10 minutes before cooking (or even overnight, covered with a beeswax wrap), but skip that step if you’re in a hurry.
Here’s what you need for 6 big or 10 medium pancakes:
1 ¼ c flour
2 t baking powder
½ t salt
1 t cinnamon (optional)
2 T veg oil (we use safflower oil)
⅓ c water – or less, if you use water instead of non-dairy milk (see below)
1 to 1 ¼ c non-dairy milk OR water (we always use water because we never have milk on hand)
1 t vanilla extract
2 T maple syrup or sugar (if you use agave syrup or beet syrup, you’ll need less than 2 T – probably 1 T only).
Mix the dry ingredients together, then add the wet ingredients. DON’T OVER MIX! Mix just enough so that most of the lumps are gone.
Cook on a hot skillet until you see bubbles form on the top, then flip it over and cook a little longer.
We love these vegan pancakes with Miyoko’s butter on top and either brown sugar, fruit, jam, agave syrup, or maple syrup (which we can’t find in bulk, unfortunately, so don’t get that often).
If you eat ’em, you know that eggs cook up sooo fast. Sometimes we make omelettes with leftover veggies from the night before. Or omelettes with cashew cheese – yum! Or real cheese, if you can get that without too much waste wrapped around it. We love them soft-boiled, fried, and scrambled at our house. They seriously only take a little time to cook – fried eggs especially can be done in about 5 minutes. And you get some protein for the day! We save our egg cartons and return them to either Staff of Life in Santa Cruz or direct to egg farmers at the farmers market, and they get reused again and again. Love that!
That’s what we usually eat at our house – fast, easy, (mostly) zero waste breakfasts. And our kids love these zero waste breakfasts!
If you can spare 10 minutes in the morning, you can make any one of these (or all of them!) and avoid packaging waste.
What do you eat for breakfast? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Zero Waste Grocery Shopping
Food packaging is probably a significant source of waste for you, like it was for me too! Going zero waste does NOT happen overnight! Instead, think of this as a process that takes time. Each change you make is a small step in a positive direction.
Below I’ve outlined a step-by-step guide for getting started in zero waste grocery shopping.
Step 1: Make your usual grocery list.
In step 1, make a list of everything that you might normally purchase for the week (or however often you go). Be thorough! List everything to your heart’s desire. If you need to add another category, go for it!
Here are some common categories that can help you put together your list.
Mayonnaise, mustard, peanut butter, jam, soy sauce, maple syrup
Tea, coffee, juice, beer, wine
Toilet paper, toothpaste
Laundry soap, dish soap
Step 2: Try to distinguish between your grocery “must-haves” vs. your “wants”
Get two different colored pencils or crayons and take a look at your list. Pick one color to indicate your “must-haves” and the other color to indicate your “wants”. For example, coffee for me is a MUST HAVE. Cheese, eggs, and bread are family MUST HAVES. Either Earth Balance (vegan butter) or regular butter are MUST HAVES – one or the other. Fruits we are pretty flexible on – we can work with what’s available at the farmer’s market or what’s served loose at the store. Veggies we are also pretty flexible on. We prefer to have lettuce, carrots, cabbage, tomatoes, cauliflower, squash, and greens on a pretty regular basis, but as long as we get some variety, we are happy. We also get some veggies that work well in the kids lunches (think carrots, sweet peppers, cucumbers, or cherry tomatoes). We also have dried beans, but again we are flexible on the type of dried beans – pintos, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, etc. We love them all. Within condiments, we are actually pretty flexible! We like hot sauce, mayonnaise, mustard, and ketchup.
Step 3: Assess the bulk situation near you.
What is available to you and where? Check out the bulk finder app (Bea Johnson has one on her website here) to see what’s available near you! If nothing pops up, you might want to try stores you don’t normally go to – call ahead and ask if they have any bulk bins! Health food stores often have bulk bins. Whole Foods is a definite option. Also, don’t forget to look closely at what IS available at your favorite store. There might be more than you realize when you take a closer look!
Step 4: Check for a local farmer’s market.
The farmers market is an awesome spot to get fresh local veggies – often without stickers or packaging! There might even be fresh bread and other staples that you can purchase plastic free. Some staples you might be able to get in a glass jar that you can return to the farmer (at our market, that includes honey and hot sauce). So, try to determine if there’s a farmer’s market near you this time of year, and if you can fit a visit into your schedule. If you’ve got a family, it might be a fun weekend event for the whole crew! Some weekday markets are after work – maybe you can swing by one day after work! Check out LocalHarvest.org for markets near you.
Step 5: Compare your waste-free options with your grocery list
How many of your must-haves are available in bulk? If everything is, say hip-hip HOORAY! And then skip ahead to step 7! But, chances are there are some items you can’t find in bulk. Make a note of all of those must-haves that you can’t find in bulk. Next, make a list of all of the wants that you can’t find in bulk either.
Step 6: Make some decisions
Assuming you can’t find everything in bulk that is on your must-have or want lists, now is the time to make some decisions! Ask yourself a few questions. First, are there any must-have groceries that aren’t really must haves? If not, and you stand behind each must-have, that’s fine! But it’s always good to check what you might be willing to forgo, if even for a short time, to see how that feels. Here’s another question: is there even one must-have that you would be willing to try making on your own? I am assuming you do NOT have the time to make everything yourself. Very few people do! But is there one item that you might try? Again, just food for thought. Could you set aside a little time on the weekend to make it? At my house, that’s hummus and sometimes cashew cheese. We try to make it about once a week.
Now turn to your wants. Here you get to decide how badly you want those wants. You might consider an experiment of forgoing all of them, at least for a little while. The great thing about grocery shopping is that you get another chance to do it again soon and change your mind!
After you’ve made your decisions, revise your list so you know exactly what you are shopping for.
Step 7: Gather your supplies!
Before you shop, collect your supplies! You probably have some of these items already, and can make them yourself, find them at a thrift store, and there are veggie and bulk bags for sale here as well. I always make sure that my supplies are sparkling clean before I take them. I want the stores to feel confident that I’m not mucking up their bulk goods! This helps stores continue to support folks bringing in their own containers.
Here are the items I take with me:
Cotton bags for fruits and veggies
Cotton bags for bulk goods
Jars for any liquids
Jars for any fine, powdery, or sticky bulk goods (think raisins, flour)
Beeswax wrap for bulk cheese
A marker or wax pencil for writing on jars
A scrap of paper and pen for writing down all the codes from the bulk bins (unless you can write on your bag -that works too!) or a smartphone!
Reusable shopping bags. I.e., a bag for all your bags and jars!
Your list that you painstakingly put together!
A reusable coffee mug (hey, you deserve a treat after all of this!)
Let me take a moment to explain about TARE WEIGHT.
What is tare weight, you might ask?
The tare weight, at least in the U.S., is often the number of ounces that your container weighs divided by 16. So, if your jar weighs 8 ounces, simply divide 8 by 16 to get 0.5. That is your tare weight. It means your jar weighs about half a pound. The cashiers will deduct this weight from the total weight of the item when you pay. That way you don’t pay for the weight of the jar in addition to the weight of whatever’s inside. If the store sells bulk, they should understand this process and be able to deduct the tare weight at the register.
If you have a scale at home, you can go ahead and weigh your jars at home and mark down the tare weight! If you don’t have a scale at home, you can take your jars to the store and ask them to weigh them, or look for scales in the aisles that are for customers to use. I use my marker or wax pencil to then write the tare down on my jar.
Step 8: Shop with confidence – and just ask!
Okay, once you are at the store, now’s the time to stick to your list! Get only what is on your list, including your needs and wants. Write down the codes for each item, either on the container or on your grocery list/scrap paper. I often use my phone to track the codes, and since we get the same things over and over again, I have the codes saved already!
For any deli items, ask them if they can hand it straight to you or put it into a container for you. I’ve asked them to cut cheese for me and put it into my beeswax wrap, and they’ve been happy to do it at a couple of stores! Don’t be shy about asking for help, even if no one is working the counter when you get there.
For all those needs that you can’t find in bulk, try to find it in the lowest-impact packaging possible. Here’s how I would prioritize based on preserving our resources, avoiding landfill waste, and avoiding plastic:
First choice: packaging that you will reuse (like a jar)
Second choice: packaging made from recycled materials like recycled paper
Third choice: paper packaging
Fourth choice: metal/canned packaging – this is more valuable for recycling centers than glass
Fifth choice: glass packaging (that you wouldn’t normally want to reuse)
Sixth choice: recyclable plastic packaging – what type of plastic can you recycle in your town?
Seventh choice: non-recyclable materials. This often includes mixed materials.
When I go to pay, I line up my bags on the conveyor belt in order of my codes, just to speed up the process for the cashier. You don’t need to do that at all! But if you’re motivated, it helps move things along a little bit. Especially for items you can’t see through the bag – eliminates the guessing game.
Step 9: Take your food home and transfer it to storage containers (if needed)
I like to move my bulk goods into jars and other air-tight containers once I’m are home. I do try to take a picture first – if you want to capture the moment, do that first! I love those flat-lay grocery pics of a week in food.
But then I put stuff away. Things like chips, oats, and pasta keep better in a jar or tupperware, so I’ll take them out of the bag and put them into a different container at home. I usually keep my veggies in their bags and put them straight into the fridge. I usually take the fruit out of bags and set them on the countertop. Potatoes, onions, and garlic too – just into a bowl on the countertop. This takes about 10 minutes, but it’s a nice chance to tidy up the cupboards a little and feel stocked up for the week ahead.
Step 10: Congratulate yourself!
Phew! You did it! I hope you are feeling proud of yourself for any small changes you were able to implement towards a zero waste home. I know it isn’t always easy to try doing things differently, and your family might not be completely on board yet, but give it time and it becomes second nature.
There you have it! My 10 step beginner’s guide to zero waste grocery shopping. To recap:
Step 1: Make your usual list – be thorough!
Step 2: Distinguish between your grocery “must-haves” and grocery “wants”
Step 3: Assess the local bulk options
Step 4: Look into a local farmers market
Step 5: Compare your local waste-free options with your grocery list
Step 6: Make some decisions & revise your shopping list
Step 7: Gather your supplies!
Step 8: Shop with confidence and don’t be afraid to ask!
Step 9: Bring your food home and transfer it to storage containers.
Step 10: Last but not least, congratulate yourself!
There you have it. My ultimate beginner’s guide to zero waste grocery shopping. Was this helpful for you? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.
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
What’s October’s challenge for ecoFamilies? Halloween!
I can still picture last year’s wreckage: the massive pile of trick-or-treat candy in the cupboard that literally lasted for months. The steady stream of candy wrappers in the tiny kitchen trash can that would show up every few days, foiling my zero waste attempts for the day or week yet again. Is there anyway to enjoy the fun of halloween without leaving a trail of trash? I wanted to know how to have a zero waste Halloween.
This year, I had a different vision of halloween: a fun night of trick-or-treating with the kids and friends, followed by a teeny-tiny pile of trash and mildly sugared-up kids. Could it be done? I set out to test the waters.
And I was armed with a plan! Let me share my strategy. As to whether it worked…You’ll have to read to the end for the exciting conclusion :).
First, I knew I would have to get the kids on board WAY in advance, way before the shiny loot was in their eager hands. Second, I knew I’d have to share my vision with my hubby, make sure he was on board, and also fill in any friends that were coming trick-or-treating with us.
You might ask – why even bother with trick or treating? Candy is awful for them, why even tempt them? That is an excellent question. You, obviously, are a much stronger person than I am. I decided not even to try to go there this year. Maybe, in the future, I can convince my girls that passing out candy is more fun than eating it. But they sure are cute going door to door and asking for candy. So, here’s what I did.
Zero Waste Trick or Treaters
The very first step was to talk about it with my kiddos VERY early. The very first mention of halloween, I told them that I had an idea I wanted to share with them. In my least bossy voice, I told them I was thinking it would be nice to go trick or treating, but then to trade in their pre-wrapped candy for some bulk candy. I told them we could go to the candy shop in town and they could get the same amount, by weight, as they’d get on halloween. But this way, we wouldn’t make as much trash. So, same amount of candy, no trash. Then I asked them what they thought about it.
Here’s the thing – they were so fine with this idea that it shocked me. Now, to be honest, I did promise that they could each eat 5 pieces on halloween before handing me the rest. But I didn’t have to do any convincing.
Hip Hip HOORAY! That was awesome.
Now, the big question: Would this cooperation last? Stay tuned!
Zero Waste Halloween Treats
Okay, the next step was to plan for the trick-or-treaters coming to our house. We don’t get too many (the heavy action is one block away, for better or worse). But we usually get some, so I wanted to have treats to pass out. But of course I was hoping for something without wrappers. I know, why not just pass out fruit? No. I just couldn’t. Again, if that is your idea of a treat, you are a much better person than me. Maybe some kids like getting fruit, but I’m pretty sure most don’t. And I’m not interested in letting down happy trick-or-treaters on Halloween. No thank you!
So, zero waste treats to give away: My original goal was to get candy in bulk and some cute paper bags to put it in. I figured that the bags could be recycled and, if they don’t get recycled, they at least release fewer toxins in the landfill than plastic. So, I got some bulk bin candy at Staff of Life (actually, hubby picked it up – thanks, honey!). Then I drove around town in circles trying to find small, cute paper bags. They. Do. Not. Exist. If I’d planned in advance, I could’ve ordered some online, but then you have all the unclear shipping and packaging, probably some plastic wrapping thrown in there just to piss me off. You know. So, I never did find those cute bags in Santa Cruz or Capitola, and instead used some plain brown paper bags that I’ve had since before going for zero. The big kind for lunches. Sigh.
Anyway, back to my treats. Passing out loose, package-free candy to kids can feel a little…creepy. It shouldn’t, but we’re all a little brainwashed to be afraid of anything that isn’t shrink-wrapped and sealed. (this is part of why we have such a trash problem to begin with! I know, preaching to the choir here). So, what’s the best way to handle this? Simple: just let each trick-or-treater know that I’m doing a zero waste halloween. I told the few that came that they could take a bag and a couple scoops of candy, or just dump the candy straight into their bags/pumpkins.
The verdict? None of the trick-or-treaters who came to our door had any issues! They all opted for a bag. It probably helped that I was surrounded by my own kids and friends’ kids when I passed out the candy – they make me seem less creepy and more mom-like :).
Zero Waste Halloween Gathering
Alright, the last part of our zero waste halloween – the gathering! Our neighborhood goes a little crazy during Halloween, so we had friends come over for a quick bite before hitting the streets. A few friends offered to bring something, so I made suggestions that I knew could be zero waste (pasta salad, hummus and veggies). I made an awesome black bean and corn salad, if I do say so myself :), served with chips from bulk bins. I also let the other moms know my plan for zero waste, not to pressure them to follow suit, but so they could be supportive of my kiddos. I’ve found that parents these days are pretty good about being respectful of other families food choices, and my friends are super awesome that way :). Thanks ladies. Now, here’s a little shocker – I used paper plates! I know, I know, WHY? Here’s why – they were a gift from a friend and the kids were excited to use them (they were Halloween themed). And I knew they could be composted in our compost. So, that’s what I did. Once those were gone, we busted out the real deal plates.
Back to my kiddos….
You’re probably wondering how it went after we got home loaded with candy. Let me tell you – it was GREAT! They enjoyed a few pieces of candy, more time with friends, and were fine to put their candy away for the eventual trade in. My older daughter actually gave all of hers to a friend after she had her pieces.
There you have it: a (near) zero waste Halloween. These kids constantly blow my mind! I think they can tell that the true fun of halloween is not the candy. It is every other thing – the costumes, the friends, the wildness of the night, the decorations, the excitement. Really, with all of that, who needs candy?
If you know kids, you know they sometimes leave behind a trail of debris. Kid detritus comes in many fun forms at my house – popsicle stick sculptures, broken bracelets they made at school, 100+ drawings of the family, valentines cards from 3 years ago, Dollar Store party favors, outgrown clothes they can’t quite part with, and more. Right now our home is just about bursting at the seams with these things.
Fortunately for me (and the planet), kids are also amazing at getting inspired and enthusiastic about worthy causes. With a little effort, it’s totally possible to get kids excited about zero waste. And the more we get kids on board, the brighter our future gets.
Here are my top 10 ways to help kids reduce their waste and go for zero. Zero waste kids, here we come!
Top 10 tips for inspiring zero waste kids
Inspire them! Share success stories from zero waste heroes. Those year’s-waste-in-a-jar pictures can be really inspiring to kids. I love Bea Johnson’s zerowastehome.com.
Get them involved in your grocery shopping! Showing them how to shop in bulk and what’s available in your store helps them wrap their heads around what you’re doing at home. I let them pick a couple of snacks from bulk bins. Bonus: These snacks go into jars in the cupboards, so we can all easily see what’s available and how much. They also love helping me take pictures of our groceries – all that arranging and color sorting. Fun times for their busy brains.
Give them the tools – their own napkin, utensils, water bottle, jar, containers, lunch box, etc. If kids feel ownership and responsibility over their own tools, they’re more likely to enjoy and use them. No Trace has lots of options here.
Role model! Actions speak louder than words. When kids see you carrying your own water bottle and napkin, that’ll inspire the same from them!
Find zero waste alternatives for their favorite foods. Can you find a package-free alternative to one or two of their favorites? Homemade everything is really hard – but maybe there is one really special swap you could do for your kiddos. Homemade crackers or granola bars, maybe? Homemade chocolate chip cookies? Bonus: it’s a great way to get them helping in the kitchen – if they help you, you’ll make it!
Anticipate the challenging moments, and prepare them! Birthday parties, Halloween, air travel, dentist and doctor’s doctor’s offices, free samples at the grocery store. Are they allowed to bring anything home? Are there limits or restrictions? Talk about it so they know what to expect BEFORE you’re in the moment. We were going through a phase of being invited with friends to frozen yogurt after school every week. I finally got my act together and brought jars and spoons to avoid the waste and say YES to the invite.
No guilt, only encouragement! It is really hard to avoid waste in today’s society. They may not have any buddies whose families are going for zero. Make sure they know that what’s most important is doing their best. We’re trying to tread lightly on the planet so we can share it with others for generations to come.
Educate them! Take them to the landfill or the recycling plant (Santa Cruz recycling does a great tour – and it’s kid friendly), show them kid friendly videos on landfills and plastic pollution. There are some great things on youtube like this one on landfills and this one on plastic bottles!
Encourage them to think about how much stuff (i.e., toys and clothes) they need, and whether they could share some things with others. Sometimes helping them cut down on how much they own can help them cut down on how much they want to consume. Is there a shelter nearby where you can donate some excess? Or a thrift store with a cause you can all get behind? In Aptos has Caroline’s thrift store, which donates it proceeds to worthy non-profits in the community. If kids know where some of their things are going, it makes it easier to say goodbye to stuff.
Try to make things together, instead of buy. I know, who has the time for that? I had to make a promise to myself and my kiddos on this one – I gave them each a gift this past Christmas of a coupon for making something together. Evenings and weekends are full of dance, soccer, birthday parties, dinner, homework, and reading. There isn’t always a ton of spare time for extra projects on top of that. But, if there are a couple of special items your kiddo really wants, you can both squeeze in the time over the course of a few months. Especially if you’ve already committed yourself.
Explain that every family has different ideas, values, goals, and projects. Not every family can aim for zero waste, and that’s okay. It’s important that they know that not all their friends will be able to or interested in cutting down their waste. And that’s okay.
I remember that we still make waste as a family, and I go easy on us. We are doing a lot, but we aren’t perfect. I try to learn from what we throw away and think about new habits to help us reduce our waste on a regular basis. That feels like success in my home, and my kids are engaged and interested instead of overwhelmed.
There you have it. My top 10 ways to inspire the zero waste kids in your life. Is zero waste a family value at your house? I’d love to hear about your family practices.