I’ve been working toward zero waste for three months, and while I’ve come so far in many ways, I still have a long ways to go. I love this lifestyle, though, because it gives me the power of choice all day, every day. Sometimes the responsibility of that can feel daunting, but I think it’s such a better alternative to feeling powerless and disconnected.
One (huge) advantage to zero waste is that we have more room in our grocery budget. We rarely throw out food now; I separate any leftovers on our plates (TBH usually it’s just Hannah’s plate – toddlers..) to part out to the dogs, the chickens, or the compost bin. If there’s a reasonable amount left, I will simply save the plate until the next time she is hungry and offer that before something else. This actually works more often than you’d think! I also cook less. My meal plans are simpler and allow for more leftover nights. If for some reason we run short, we can always make waffles. It’s actually helped our meal plan stay more on track, being realistic about how much we eat.
Also, bulk foods are less expensive. We make our treats from scratch as well as much of our bread, tortillas, energy bars, plant-based milks, coffee creamer, mayonnaise, salsa, sauerkraut.. and it takes less time that you’d think. I generally only make one or two of those items per week, and work them into our weekly menu to use them up by the end of the week (without preservatives, the shelf life of these items is shorter).
All those changes to our food budget means I can afford to buy more organic produce, and we definitely eat more fruits and vegetables now. I am feeling super lucky and spoiled to have purchased a refurbished Vitamix this month! So now all those fruits and veggies nearly past their prime get used up tidily, and Hannah is LOVING green smoothies. Even my veggie-skeptic husband is impressed. I can’t wait for harvesting garden produce for my green smoothies! This thing is amazing for zero waste. I have already made countless smoothies, plus daiquiris, almond milk, mayonnaise, and peanut butter. There’s a ton of satisfaction in giving your kid homemade bread smeared with home canned jam and homemade peanut butter, with a green smoothie on the side! It’ll be years before I break even on the cost of the Vitamix in terms of savings in making pantry staples, but it’s another way to cut out wasteful packaging and a list of sketchy ingredients in each of those items. Yay for homemade!
I’m getting so antsy to finally use up and swap out so many old products bought in massive Costco quantities before beginning zero waste. It’ll be a while before the huge jugs of shampoo and conditioner, razor cartridges, coffee filters, plastic-wrapped toilet paper, dishwasher tabs, etc are all used up. But eventually they will be, and I’m encouraged to know that in several months my cabinets will have that beautiful look of glass jars of bulk goods. 🙂 I’m about 80% there in the kitchen and 60% there in the bathroom.
One thing I really struggle with is my husband’s lunches. He takes a sandwich every day packed in a glass container, then inside an insulated lunchbox; a MUCH better alternative to fast food. But I don’t know how to avoid packaging in deli meat and cheese; not locally. I’ve asked my local grocery stores if they will allow the use of my own containers and they told me no. They allow it for produce and bulk bins, but not at the deli counter. It’s a health code thing. I actually appreciate it to some degree; I know my containers are clean, but what about the guy before me? Still slightly frustrating. My solution has been to buy these things at Costco where I can at least cut down on the packaging-to-product ratio and freeze portions of it to reduce waste. This means I’m only recycling one plastic tray per month rather than various plastic packaging once a week. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a better solution. I guess? Any suggestions? As imperfect as this may be, a couple years ago he was eating fast food daily!
Despite some of the challenges, and despite the fact that I am still phasing out a lot of things from my past life, I managed a nice little list of zero waste accomplishments in March:
- Bought a refurbished Vitamix and have made tons of ZW smoothies and pantry/fridge staples.
- Bought a stainless steel tiffin box for hauling home leftovers (haven’t used it yet because we haven’t really gone out to eat).
- Replaced plastic colander for a stainless one (donated the plastic one).
- Cut down on soda drastically and replaced with sun-brewed tea and fruit-infused water.
- Found US-manufactured bulk dog treats I could bring home in my own bag (I avoid buying dog treats made in China – which is where most come from – as their standards are sketchy. There are well-documented cases of poisoning/toxicity in Chinese manufactured dog treats!) I know I can make my own, but these bulk treats are a great alternative!
- Dyed my hair its “original” color (as closely as possible); so I can stop coloring my hair altogether!
- More frequently embracing the natural curl in my hair; using less product and energy to dry/style. (This has admittedly been the hardest of all the ZW changes!)
- Made my own Castile dish soap.
- Cleaned stainless steel appliances with vinegar, then shined with olive oil (in lieu of commercial cleaners) – worked like a charm!
- Bought a bamboo toilet brush to replace the plastic one that was past its prime and not that functional.
- Have been selling off more unused items on a local Facebook page; will donate the unsold items (this is the first year I’ve gotten rid of more items than I’ve accumulated).
- Started seeds indoors (flowers and herbs) using upcycled items (newspaper pots and egg cartons).
- Made plant markers with bits of grapevine I pruned in the garden.
- Brought rainbow fruit skewers for a St. Patrick’s Day potluck/play date (instead of packaged treats or candy).
- Had an almost zero waste Easter; Hannah’s basket was comprised of a few needed items (an outfit, a second hand book, and some metal and wooden garden tools to play in the garden with me. No candy or trinkets). We did buy plastic eggs for a Mom’s Club event (we were told to bring some); so we re-used them on Easter (just to hide and have her find them – we didn’t fill them with candy) and I’ll be either saving them to use again next year, or upcycling them into a learning activity game. I wish I’d found some second hand, but I didn’t have the time to go searching for them. 😦
- My Easter dinner contributions were zero waste (deviled eggs and roasted carrots).
- Hosted an anniversary dinner for my mother and father in-laws. We used *mostly* zero waste groceries, and used REAL dishes, silverware, and cloth napkins! We had JUST enough of all those things (there were 16 people).
- Toddler fun – renting Disney movies (and books of course) from the local library, and going there just to let her play with new-to-her toys (our library ROCKS!); local parks (scouting them all out for the best ones); letting her help in the kitchen (she’s a very good herb-masher); coloring and painting on recycle bin items; digging in the dirt while I work in the garden (her fave).
I didn’t do this the last recaps, but I am going to start listing a few goals for the month ahead. Here are my goals for April 2016:
- Have a no-spend month. The past couple of months, I made purchases I can consider investments to zero waste – the Vitamix, glass storage containers, canvas bags, stainless straws, bamboo utensils, stainless tiffin, cast iron skillets.. I can reuse them all indefinitely, so I have no guilt over these purchases. Keeping our other expenses down allowed me to work them into our budget without much impact, but now I want to practice contentedness and creativity by not making any purchases for 30 days. More to come on this.
- Bring back out the reusable diapers. Ironically I stopped cloth diapering in November, so I’ve been using (eco brand) disposables while cutting out all the other disposable products in my life! I’ve felt immensely guilty about this, but I had good reasons – the cloth simply wasn’t working anymore. They weren’t absorbing as much as they needed to, and it was generating a lot of laundry and cleanups. I told myself it would be ok to use disposables, as she was probably going to be ready to potty train soon. Unfortunately she isn’t ready yet, and the disposable diapers are adding up quickly. So in April I am going to give cloth a go one more time at least during the daytime. I really did love them for the 20-21 months we used them!
- Focus on experiences. I’ve been so focused on goals, simplifying my home and being productive. It’s worked! Unless I’m forgetting about something incredibly crucial, my streamlining, simplifying, and decluttering has truly left me with periods of time I don’t know what to do with myself (well, I find things. I actually read again, and take on more work projects.) In April I want to fill my new-found time doing fun things with Hannah, catching up with friends, doing nice things for people, and doing yoga.
Thanks for reading another long recap post!