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!
Right now it’s summer time, which in my house means family trips! Traveling opens doors to new experiences and perspectives and I really value our family trips. It also changes up our routines and takes us from the comforts of home, which creates a few challenges for our zero waste goals.
So, to help us all cut down travel waste, I’ve put together my top 4 tips for zero waste travel. These steps are simple enough for even the busiest families and individuals, so check them out and give them a try!
Here are my top four tips for zero waste travel.
1. Prep a simple travel kit.
If you’re traveling with your family or friends, it’s a great idea to have at least some of these things for each person. Here’s what we pack in our zero waste travel kits.
Water bottle – and fill it up after security if you’re traveling by plane!
Napkin, handkerchief, or both – say ‘no thanks’ to paper napkins and tissues. You can even wash this in a small sink during your travels if you can’t easily run a load of laundry. Check out my napkin & hankie offerings here or find some at your local thrift store!
Small fork, knife, and/or spoon (or, my personal fav – a spork)! Note that you don’t want to bring knives if you’re traveling by plane! Airport security doesn’t like that :). I got us each a little set at a local camping/outdoor gear store in Santa Cruz.
Mason jar – perfect for leftovers, a smoothie, juice, you get the idea :). We usually bring one with us when we go out to eat to avoid the doggie bag/box, which can be made of plastic.
Sandwich bag or beeswax wrap – great for bringing along a sandwich or picking up a pastry or cookie when your out and about. You can buy a sandwich bag made by me here and a beeswax wrap here.
Travel coffee mug – if you need some caffeine in the morning like me, this is a great way to get it to go and avoid disposable coffee cups and lids. Your kids may not need to bring one along, but hey, maybe they’d like some hot cocoa in the morning!
Market bag – again, maybe kids don’t need this, but I would recommend bringing along at least one bag for shopping. Our market bag often doubles as our kit bag. I’ll ask the kids to carry their own water bottles, and usually I’ll toss a few napkins, utensils, mason jar, etc., into the market bag. I try to bring this along for our outings in general, and especially if we are going to be out and about for the day or going to eat somewhere. And of course, I make a market tote that you can see here.
2. Bring extra snacks.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to buy some last minute packaged treat because we didn’t have enough snacks! For example, ever have a morning bike ride that was supposed to end before lunch? And suddenly it’s 1pm and everyone is losing it? Been there. Or that flight that was delayed now that you’re in the airport surrounded by shiny packaged treats? Been there too. So, I try to bring snacks that travel well (i.e., the opposite of a peach). Think nuts, granola, carrots, apples, and banana chips. What’s available in your local bulk bins or farmer’s market that will hold up well on a journey? Or, can you squeeze in an hour to make a tin of cookies or granola bars?
One more thought about snacks – I try to bring snacks that are a little extra special – good enough to compete with roadside and airport junk food. I’m sure that’s different for every family, but try to find some options that everyone will get excited about.
3. Check out nearby bulk foods, farmers markets, and natural food stores.
Look into bulk shopping options wherever you’re headed! There might be some fun and unique offerings, and I’m pretty confident that you can find bulk options almost EVERYWHERE. Bea Johnson of zerowastehome.com has a cool bulk finder app to help you find something wherever you’re headed. Check it out here.
If you’ll be visiting somewhere long enough to shop for food, you might want to bring along some reusable bags and jars to avoid waste. I’ve got some made by me with love for sale here, but you can even use an old pillow case or make your own!
4. Consider your compost options.
Anywhere you travel, you have some compost options. Some cities have curbside compost pick up, making it super easy (yay, San Francisco!). Other cities have composting services you can check out. Santa Cruz, for example, has a local business that will come pick up your compost for you – by bike! How cool is that? Check them out here. The local farmers market might collect compost as well. If you’re staying with friends or family, maybe they have a little compost pile you can add to, or maybe you can inspire them to start something simple. You can purchase some compost bins for under $50. Some folks also recommend burying your non-meat, non-dairy food scraps (think eggshells, fruit and veg peels) in the dirt, at least 10 inches deep. My cautions, though: 1. You need to be aware of possible pest issues – you don’t want to burden your host with an onslaught of new critters in their yard. 2. You need to be careful of nearby plant roots and landscaping.
Another option, which we do whenever we camp or road trip, is to collect your scraps in a bin or bag and bring them home to compost. We’ve done this for up to a week of waste scraps with no issues – no smell, no pests. We’ve used a big cooler as our bin before, or a big plastic tupperware, or even a big plastic bag when we forgot our bin in the past. Back at home, we just add it to our compost bins and voila! Soil! (months later 🙂 )
So there you have it – my top 4 tips for zero waste travel. I hope you found these helpful! Do you have any to add? Have you tried any zero waste travel tips? I’d love to hear, so share 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.
AKA: How to keep fabric scraps out of the landfill and upcycle fabric scraps.
I love to sew stuff for me, my family, my friends, and my customers! That’s probably obvious. The only bummer of this is that there are almost ALWAYS little scraps and bits leftover from pretty much everything I make. I try my best to design pieces that minimize this, but some of it is inevitable. So I’ve been doing some poking around on the interwebs and testing out different ideas to keep these scraps out of the waste stream. Here is my list of my 10 favorite ways to upcycle fabric scraps.
This is just the cutest little pin cushion you ever did see. A square pin cushion is perfect for using up small squares of fabric (or corners if you do any boxed corners on bags like I do). I’ve stuffed it with tiny fabric and thread scraps! No poly-fill necessary!
We use cloth napkins in our house, so it’s lovely to have each one marked whose-is-whose. Each napkin ring is in a different fabric, so we never get them mixed up! Confession: we use our napkins a few times until they need a wash.
I was getting so tired of constantly having to untangle my headphones. Ugh. I finally took a minute (no, make that 3) to sew up this cord keeper with a snap closure. Be gone, tangles!
This stuff just looks so pretty. I used it to wrap Christmas presents this year. Twine is a great way to use up long, thin strips of fabric, like selvage edges. The pieces don’t need to be the same thickness or length, and you can keep adding in more pieces as you go!
This is a great craft for a little one. I made this little guy on my daughter’s loom, and now she’s made one too. If you don’t have a loom, they are SUPER easy to make – you can do it out of cardboard! I weaved my long skinny pieces (like a selvage edge or other strips) and just overlapped them a couple of inches, rather than sewing them together. You could also knot them together. Lots of options. If you want to go bigger, make a placemat!
Also perfect for long thin strips. I made a bunch of these for my kiddos and also gave them out to kids at the farmer’s market. Super easy – another great craft for little ones.
Patches for clothes
I turned an old stained skirt into hearts for my daughter’s leggings. Super fun. Super cute.
This is great for rectangles of fabric. I modeled them after my snack bags, only much tinier and not always lined. So fun.
I love quilts, but let’s be honest – I ain’t got time to make a whole dang quilt. That’s where quilted napkins come in! These are perfect for any shaped scrap. I’ve used squares to make a simple 4-square napkin design. But it works great for rectangles or triangles or strips! The world is your oyster with this one!
Yes, the world needs more pom poms. Especially upcycled, handmade, biodegradable ones. I made these tiny ones by wrapping long thing strips around a fork. You could use super thin scraps for these. Aren’t they adorable??
Those are my favorite 10 things to do with scraps right now. Do you work with fabric scraps? Do tell! Would you like to learn more about how to make any of these? I’d love to hear that too!
It’s a new year, and time for some zero waste new year’s resolutions!
This year for the first time ever I actually set some goals and WROTE THEM DOWN! Woohoo! I set goals across the important areas of my life, including health, family, friends, money, work, and business. And I ALMOST forgot to set myself some waste-related goals. Whoa. Luckily I caught myself and added some zero waste resolutions for the year. So here they are.
Zero Waste New year’s Resolution #1: Have at least one 100% freebie-free week with the kids.
Freebies and gifts are one of the major sources of trash in our life still. It’s gotten easier for me to say no to freebies out in the world, but my kids, on the other hand, are still working on this, understandably – it’s freaking hard! Our culture embraces and encourages the act of giving gifts and things, and it can come across as ungrateful or rude to refuse a gift. Unfortunately so many of these freebies are wrapped in plastic or made of plastic or in some other way destined for the landfill. My kids are offered and accept little bits and trinkets pretty much every week from friends, family, school, and outings. Just last week there was a butterfly making project at the library. The butterflies were made of paper (yay!) and wooden laundry clips (yay!) and little pipe cleaners (hmmm…). Not sure what to do with the pipe cleaners – they’re made of metal and synthetic fiber. They can be used over and over again, in theory, but once they break they are landfill foder. A few days before that, my daughter was on an outing with her class and a parent took her and her classmates to Starbucks where everyone got a beverage in a plastic cup with a straw. She’s 9, so it’s hard for her to remember to say no to a straw (heck, I forget to say this still!), and she doesn’t carry around a coffee mug for impromptu visits to Starbucks like me (guilty!). They also got bags of chips at Starbucks, so there’s another source of garbage.
I can’t control my kids every move and I wouldn’t want to. I want them to be able to be in the world making their own decisions. That said, one of my goals for this year is to have a very deliberate week-long period where each of us works to say no freebies, especially freebies with plastic/synthetic/non-recyclable or non-biodegradable pieces.
We’ve already started the conversation, too! In order to try out a full week, we’re going to pick a date, go over our family goals and strategies for polite refusal, and then get started!
2. Have a 100% plastic free week with the kids.
This might sound the same as freebie-free, but there are still some sources of plastic in our life that we buy deliberately on a regular basis. Earth balance (vegan butter), day-old bread from our local bakery, cheese, and tofu. We recycle this packaging, but another goal of mine is avoid all of these for at least one week. My daughters actually brought this idea up! We’ll be picking a week soon (not the same week as the freebie-free week) and going for it! I’ll let you know how it goes.
3. Bike more.
I used to bike ALL THE TIME. I’m not sure what happened, but I’m re-committing myself to biking more! My goal is to use the bike every weekend to take care of a trip or errand. So far in 2018, I’ve managed to use the bike every weekend for something. I took a delivery of No Trace goods downtown just recently. It’s a great way to get a little exercise and reduce my carbon footprint. Over time I’m hoping to do more and more by bike, but I’m starting with weekend rides for now. It feels achievable and would still make a big improvement in my waste reduction.
4. Find zero waste dental options
We go through a lot of floss and toothpaste in our house and we’re a little cavity prone so making our own toothpaste isn’t an option. My goal for this year is to find an affordable biodegradable floss and zero waste toothpaste with flouride online. I haven’t been able to find it in town, so it’s time to take the plunge and look online. I’ve been looking around and I’ll share what I find! Let me know if you have any leads.
So there you have it. My 4 zero waste goals for the year. Do you have any eco-goals for the new year? I’d love to hear about them! Share in the comments below. Thanks for reading! Liz
I recently did a three day bike tour in Big Sur with my partner and a couple of dear friends. At the writing of this post, about 30 miles of Highway 1, which winds along stunning mountain cliffs above the ocean, is very difficult to access due to a mudslide on the south end and a broken bridge on the north end. This makes it an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bike with very few cars on the road. So we did! And I am so grateful to have done it. Special shout out to my in-laws and my friends’ parents for watching our kids during this time and letting us experience this beautiful ride.
One of my goals, other than enjoying the amazing views, good food, and cold beers, was to tour without creating waste. I was pretty close, but had a couple of “I’m starving!” moments and some of my planning was off, which led to some waste.
Here Are my zero waste successes
and failures from this awesome trip.
We started in Carmel, CA, and biked about 30 miles to Fernwood Resort in northern Big Sur (before the first road closure). Here are our stops along the way:
DIY Bike Tour Stop #1:
We started with lunch in Carmel at a taqueria. They served us on real plates with real serving ware and my partner and I used our own reusable napkins. Zero waste success! The tacos were awesome, of course. And we were full and ready to bike!
Stop 2: We biked several miles down the coast, stopped briefly in Point Lobos State Reserve, and for a photo here and there. Our main second stop was the Rocky Point Restaurant. We had to get a cocktail it was – the only stop for the rest of our day along this beautiful coastline, and it has gorgeous views and famous bloody mary’s 🙂 . We decided to get a round of bloody mary’s to help power us up the hills 🙂 and I forgot to say “no straw, please”! Ack! I don’t get drinks out too often, but you’d think I’d remember this by now! So, here’s my reminder when I place my order (say it with me): No straw, please. No straw, please. No straw, please.
Stop 3: We biked several more miles (who’s counting??), up to the top of Hurricane Point and then back down again. Although far from a hurricane, Hurricane Point is quite a little micro-climate of fog and strong winds. We felt a little like we might get blown off the hillside. We stopped for a quick photo and snacks from New Leaf bulk bins (cacao energy nibs, fancy nut mix, and sesame sticks). Nothing to buy, nothing to throw away!
Stop 4: After another several miles we were nearing our destination! But we had to stop and check out one of our favorite state parks – Andrew Molera – before calling it a day. We visited Andrew Molera Beach by walking and riding our bikes over a wooden bridge and about a mile along a dirt path. We shared some the same snacks from bulk. We also had a beer that we recycled AND we picked up some garbage on the beach. Leaving things a little cleaner feels great.
Stop 5: At the end of the day we made it to Fernwood Resort and checked into our room. We were all starving and a little desperate for showers, so we got a bag of chips to hold us over while we all showered and let our little ones/grandparents know we had made it safely the first day. Why do potato chips have to be so delicious??? In hindsight, it would have been smart to plan a special treat for the end of each day so we could have resisted the delicious potato chips calling our name at the resort mini-market. After chips and showers, we ate dinner at the Fernwood Resort restaurant, which uses real plates, cutlery, and napkins. Yes.
Day 2 of our DIY, Low Waste, Big Sur Bike Tour
The second day we biked from Fernwood just a few miles to the northern road closure on Highway 1, which is the result of a broken bridge. We carried our bikes and gear about a ½ mile and 150 steps UP to the other side of Hwy 1. Phew. Then we biked about 30 miles along the most gorgeous, jaw-dropping part of Hwy 1 to a cabin. Here are the stops we made on day 2:
Stop 1: I thought we’d be able to eat breakfast at the Fernwood, which was a silly thought because Fernwood doesn’t serve breakfast. So we checked out Fernwood’s mini-market again. They had breakfast muffins, which came in a paper wrapper and coffee, which only came in a disposable cup. Doh! Reusable coffee mugs are zero waste 101! I can’t believe I failed on that one. But I did. If I’d done a little more research I could have figured this out. We didn’t bring coffee mugs since we were trying to travel light. But maybe I could have squeezed one on board just in case. Heck, it’d keep beer cold too! This also made me wish we had some sort of traveling composter…some way to transport and start the breakdown process when you travel. That’s a project for another day. Back to our journey…
Stop 2: So, we had to get a real breakfast. A quarter of a store-bought muffin was never going to get us over those mountains. We headed to the closest spot, the Lodge at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. I have to share, and I do hate to complain much about service since I was a waitress once and I know it’s a tough job, but this was literally the worst service I’ve ever had. EVER. In my LIFE. The four of us never received silverware or a napkin. We shared one fork, one knife, and one napkin between the four of us. Seriously. I am not joking. We got creative and used toast as a utensil, but it was pretty pathetic. And I can’t blame the crowd since there were probably 4 other tables seated at the time. I would not recommend the lodge for dining to anyone. But, on the plus side, we had one napkin and it was fabric, and fewer utensils to wash – so I guess it was a super eco way to eat :).
Stop 3: After our leisurely breakfast we carried our bikes up about 150 steps and some very steep hillside to the other side of the downed bridge. It. was. hard. Luckily, we helped each other out and made it happen.
At the top of the hill was a pub with fresh made sandwiches and cold beer on tap. Of course we had to stop for both. The one bummer about this stop was that the pub used plastic cups instead of glass. What the heck? Who wants to drink cold, fancy, $6-a-pint beer on tap out of a plastic cup? Well, we did, apparently. We left the cups there to get “recycled”. I’m not sure what the fate of those cups was, truthfully. This and coffee-gate, above, are making a strong case for bringing a travel mug on all future bike tours. I think they come in pint sizes too. Drat! Next time…
Stop 4: We made it about 1 mile to our next stop. Note that we stopped 4 times in the first 5 miles or so. We weren’t making any speed records, here, people. But don’t worry, we made it to our ultimate destination before dark (that was my main concern) and were having a lot of fun. Back to stop 4. There was a cute, random, road side taco stand 1 mile down the road from the pub. We HAD to stop and check it out and get some tacos. These came on paper plates. Ugh. This gets me thinking about folding, lightweight, travel plates. Another project for another day…
Stop 5: There was basically nowhere left to spend any money after the taco stand. Just miles of open, beautiful road. We stopped at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and ate the sandwiches we bought at the pub while we overlooked the most magical beach and waterfall. It was stunning. The sandwiches were awesome. We had another beer, of course.
Stop 6: There was a look-out spot further down Hwy 1 where we stopped briefly to enjoy the view, but at this point we were also hoping that the cabin was close and the ladies in the group were getting a little antsy to press on, so we did.
Stop 7: The cabin! It was super beautiful, with a small creek and beach, amazing views, and a full kitchen.
We came prepared to make our own dinner – pasta (from bulk) and pasta sauce in a jar (which we recycled) and nutritional yeast (from bulk) and texturized vegetable protein (also from bulk). The pasta was delicious. We slept hard that night.
Zero waste dinner success!
Day 3 of our DIY Bike Tour
On our last day of biking, we went from the cabin back north toward Carmel through Pfeiffer Big Sur State park again, where friends left our car (funny/not funny story about that in a bit). We woke up in the cabin and made breakfast. I’d brought fixings for fancy oatmeal: oats, raisins, chia seeds, chopped walnuts, coconut cream and apples (all of it from bulk except the can of coconut cream). I also brought coffee and the cabin had compost! Zero waste breakfast success. We had some leftover coconut cream, which we put in our coffee; and leftover oats, which we carried with us. We still had a good number of snacks for our last day: cacoa energy nibs (our FAVS), sesame sticks (second favs), fancy nuts (third favs), and plaintain chips (least favs. Sorry plaintain chips). So we set off on our journey. Our goal for the morning was to make it to Post Ranch Inn by 1pm for a fancy lunch reservation, an anniversary treat to all four of us who were married within about 10 days of each other, 11 years ago. It is a spendy kind of lunch, so it’s got to be a special celebration. And it meant we didn’t need to pack a lunch – just continue working on our tasty snacks. So, here are the stops on day 3.
Stop 1: We were a little nervous about making it to our reservation on time, so we hustled quite a ways before making a mandatory snack stop, somewhere near Esalen Institute (an amazing place, everyone should go!). We ate some of the leftover oats on the side of road and then pushed on through. Another zero waste pit-stop success!
Stop 2: We were making some pretty good time, eager and a little desperate to make our lunch reservation. We stopped again after another hour or so of biking. No businesses in site, so we just enjoyed our snacks on the side of the road again, enjoying the amazing views. We probably shared a beer too. 🙂
Stop 3: That super cute taco stand called to us again! Despite the fact that it is only a mile from our destination/lunch reservation, we had to stop and check it out. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on whose side you were on), it was still closed since it wasn’t quite noon. We took a couple photos and pushed on up the hill toward Post Ranch. We realized we were still pretty early, so we went to a spot a little further up with a great view of the coast and sat on the side of road again (so many amazing views on this trip, it was absurd).
After a bit, we decided we had time to also go to Nepenthe, which was just above us, and have a drink before our fancy lunch. It seemed like a great idea at the time :). It was though, really. We had a lovely cocktail on their beautiful outdoor patio. They used paper napkins and no straws in our drinks. No waste! Then it was time to go.
Stop 4: Only about 15 minutes late, we rolled in to the Post Ranch Inn – Sierra Mar restaurant – for our lunch reservation. This place is awesome. The ranch land itself is just gorgeous and makes you want to spend a week (and your retirement savings) there at the ranch. Then you get to the restaurant, which is ridiculous – beautiful views of the ocean and coast, and the building itself is build into the cliff, which makes you feel like you are standing above the ocean. Just incredible. You feel like you are up in the clouds when you eat there. The water below is just stunning – black rocks edged in white sea foam jutting out of the turquoise Pacific, with patches of cinnamon-colored kelp swaying just under the surface. Seriously, deliciousness for your eyes. So wonderful. Actually, that is the water all along the Big Sur coast. If you’ve never been, you need to go. Anyway, this little restaurant has been cut off from its regular suppliers due to the road damage, but they are doing a great job of maintaining awesome offerings and a wonderful atmosphere. We had wonderful meals and fancy cocktails and just an all around lovely, leisurely, well-earned lunch 🙂 . And, this place is way too classy for any sort of disposables. Another zero waste success!!! Way to go team!!!
Stop 5: Okay, here is where the end of trip got a little discombobulated (remember I talked about the car being in the parking lot?). So, for some BIZARRE reason, I got it stuck in my head that the car would be at the Andrew Molera State Park parking lot, which is about 5 miles north of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. So, we biked through the park, and another 5 miles to the wrong place. Ugh, Liz, read your dang emails!! Luckily, there was a shuttle back to the park AND the dudes had the energy to bike back down and didn’t even want to take the shuttle. So, that’s what they did. And they finally found the car. And we finally got it in it. Phew. Sorry, guys.
Stop 6: I’m not sure if this counts as a stop or not but we slept our last night together at our friend’s cousin’s house. She is a professional chef and let’s just say it was an AMAZING dinner. It was like eating at home, if you were married to a professional chef. And way to classy for disposables. Is that classist? Well, you know what I mean. Another zero waste meal, with wonderful company.
So that’s it. Such a wonderful experience. I am so glad we took advantage of this rare time in Big Sur history to have the road to ourselves. It was just jaw-dropping view after jaw-dropping view. So much beauty. And the time with friends and hubby was so rejuvenating. To all you parents of young ones out there: if you can make it happen to slip away for a night or two, go for it! And to my last goal – I did a pretty good job of minimal waste on the trip. Other than a couple of oversights, I kept my carbon footprint to a minimum. Did I mention we drove 4 people and 4 bikes in a Toyota Prius? It’s do-able.
Can you Go for zero waste with a busy family life? Yes!
You’ve come to the right place! Read further for my top 10 hacks!
Going for zero waste means trying to avoid pre-packaged food and instead cooking from scratch more often. This means not buying disposable, processed foods that are easy to grab and go for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, which can pose a challenge if you work 9 to 5, like me, and need to feed your kids and get them ready for bed in a couple of hours time. So, how can we get it all done in our crazy hectic lives? Here are some tips that have helped me in transitioning our home to zero waste.
My Top 10 Zero Waste Kitchen Hacks (for busy families!)
Pressure Cooker! Get a pressure cooker! You can cook beans from dry to delicious in 1 hour or less! You don’t even have to remember to soak them overnight! It’s a bonus if you do – they’ll cook even faster :). So, if you are like me and are home around 5:30 and wanting to eat by 6:30, this is do-able! I got one for Christmas (thanks, honey!). Oh, and did you know that if you soak your rice, it cooks faster too? My mind was a little blown when I learned that trick :).
Bulk Bin Snacks! Keep your cupboards full of bulk bin snacks like granola, cereal, and plaintain chips that you can buy in bulk. Snacks can still be fast and easy without packaging. Our favorites right now are pretzels, sesame sticks, and cacao nibs. Delicious!
Snack Baggies! Buy or make reusable, washable snack baggies for lunches and snacks. Fill one with something before you head out into the world if you think you or the kids might get hungry. If you’ve got something on hand, you avoid having to buy whatever you can find, which may not be healthy or package free.
Fruit! Keep your fruit baskets full! This is the ultimate zero waste snack. Right now we’ve got apples from grandma and grandpa’s trees. I know, we are spoiled!
Menu plan! Menu plan before you grocery shop. I don’t always have an exact menu in mind, but I think of what we’ll have for protein (tofu, beans, TVP, nuts, dairy or eggs) and veggies for most of our dinners, what the kids will pack for lunches, and what are our popular breakfast items. The carbs seem to take less planning – there’s usually rice, quinoa, or pasta in our cupboards. And I always make sure to stock the snack cupboard! I generally go once a week, but sometimes less if life gets too crazy. In those days we just coast on fumes until I can make it to my local shop with lots of bulk bins.
Leftovers! Cook enough so you’ll have leftovers. Leftovers are the best, right? We put in our lunches and have another dinner ready to go too sometimes.
Your arsenal! Carry extra cutlery, napkins, and jars when you are out and about with the kiddos. Great for getting frozen yogurt, or food from the hot bar at your favorite natural food store. I keep meaning to leave some in the car too.
Soak those nuts! Always keep nuts soaking in the fridge for last minute nut milk! We’ve been doing almond milk lately, but any nut will do!
Popcorn! Have some popcorn kernels on hand for feeding kids who show up for impromptu play dates at the house. We love nutritional yeast on our popcorn. Sometimes I make them eat it outside, though ;), to cut down on the clean up process – nuty yeast flakes end up all over the place. Popcorn tends to be a popular bulk item, so hopefully you can find it near you!
Water Bottles! Help your kids remember to always take their water bottles out with them when they are on the go! We are still working on this in our home, but usually at least one of us has a bottle to share in a pinch. We still have plenty of kiddo germs, though, so I try to avoid sharing when possible.
And two bonus tips!
11. This is cheating but, know where you can grab a quick dinner that won’t result in waste. One of our defaults is a local taqueria. Occasionally there is a piece of paper on the plate (e.g., chips in a paper-lined basket), and we’ll bring that home and compost it.
12. Last one: Don’t be too hard on yourself! Life happens. Waste happens. We are all just doing our best to make things a little better around here 🙂 .
Those are my tips! Do you have some? I’d love to hear! Share in the comments below!
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.
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.
Don’t let the title of this post fool you – I confess that we did not have a zero waste Christmas. There was wrapping paper, toy packaging, tape, ribbon, candy wrappers, and more strewn about the house for a few days. My kids each asked Santa for one gift, and those items both came with packaging. They also received gifts from friends and family, which also came with packaging and wrapping. Everything was recycled or packed away for reuse except for a few curling ribbons that were too trashed or small to reuse. We used recycled paper, paper tape, fabric ribbons, and reusable bags to wrap our gifts to one another. But there was still a lot of material that ended up in the recycling bin. Looking at the debris-covered living room, I took away some lessons for next year’s holidays to help us reach a goal of zero waste, while still experiencing the joy and magic of the holidays.
First, next year we are going to leave some reusable bags and fabric out for Santa to use to wrap his gifts. I don’t think he normally does this, but I imagine he will if we ask him too. We can even ask the kids to pick out the packaging they want him to use. Second, we’ll get candy from the bulk bins and give it away in reusable containers, like jars or metal tins, instead of wrapped candy and chocolate bars. Chocolate bars have always been one of my go-to gifts for loved ones, but I have found some pretty delicious chocolate candies in the bulk bins at local food stores In a cute tin or jar, I imagine these will go over just as well as chocolate bars. Third, I will graciously ask friends and family to wrap gifts in fabric or reusable bags. I hate to presume that the kids will get gifts from folks, but it tends to happen. Part of being successful on a zero waste journey is to share your goals with others. Next year, we’ll be better about conveying this.
On a positive note, I did give loved ones some of our No Trace beeswax wraps to help them reduce their waste and use of plastics. They were a hit! In giving the wraps, it also gave me an opportunity to share more about zero waste living and the opportunities that exist for anyone who wants to take a small step toward reducing their footprint.
How were your holidays? Do you have zero waste tips you’d like to share? Post them in the comments below!