zero waste – march recap

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:

Kitchen/Grocery:

  1. Bought a refurbished Vitamix and have made tons of ZW smoothies and pantry/fridge staples.
  2. Bought a stainless steel tiffin box for hauling home leftovers (haven’t used it yet because we haven’t really gone out to eat).IMG_4722
  3. Replaced plastic colander for a stainless one (donated the plastic one).
  4. Cut down on soda drastically and replaced with sun-brewed tea and fruit-infused water.
  5. 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!

Bathroom/Grooming:

  1. Dyed my hair its “original” color (as closely as possible); so I can stop coloring my hair altogether!
  2. 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!)

Continue reading “zero waste – march recap”

zero waste – february recap

February is the “loviest” month, with Hannah’s birthday, my niece Darcie’s birthday, and Valentine’s Day. Lots to celebrate, and this year I felt like we showed the planet a lot more love, too, by keeping the celebrations pretty eco.

IMG_4336
Hannah’s Birthday Gift

For Hannah’s birthday, we made our own yummy baked donuts instead of a cake (knowing we were going to have cakes with each of our families in celebration later), and I took her to the library. She got one gift – a tricycle that she should be able to use until she’s 5 or so (with a helmet – I guess that’s kind of two gifts). No wrapping necessary (at this age it’s silly anyway, I suppose). We just gave it to her assembled. She loves it. A fun and low-key day.

Valentine’s Day has never been a holiday that is super important to me. I don’t want diamonds, I don’t care about chocolates, and if you get me flowers, get me the kind I can plant in the ground, please. 🙂 So this year we didn’t even exchange cards (except the one Hannah and I made for her dad with scrap paper). I shopped the house for red and pink stuff to decorate the mantle and kitchen shelf. That was the extent of it, and while it felt slightly weird to not really celebrate in any (consumer) way, the day after was so nice because it was over with no guilt.

IMG_4462
Hannah’s Birthday Gift

The majority of our household waste before I began this journey, was food and food packaging. Changing the way I grocery shop has made a massive dent in this, to where any garbage generated is very minimal (almost all the kitchen trash generated is from using up pre-zero waste purchases in the pantry and freezer.) Most new garbage is essentially just produce stickers and milk caps (the bottles are returnable but the caps can’t be recycled). As we use up everything bought before zero waste, we have less and less trash each week. Using it all up is a great exercise in patience. I want a zero waste household NOW! But it’s nice to see how far we’ve come in a short time.

Here’s a list of my zero waste actions and victories in February:

Kitchen/Grocery:

  1. Made my own tortillas (since they are impossible to find without plastic packaging).
  2. Made homemade baked donuts for Hannah’s birthday treat.
  3. Made my own sour cream and yogurt (again, these are only sold in plastic, so making my own was an amazing victory!)
  4. Made vanilla extract (when did they stop packaging extracts in glass? :()
  5. Made sauerkraut.
  6. Bought a reusable mug for fountain sodas (a vice, but this way is less guilt-inducing..)
  7. Made cloth napkins.
  8. Got a second-hand bread box for plastic-free bread storage.
  9. Bought bagels in my own cloth bag.
  10. Bought bamboo utensils to carry when we are out of the house.

Continue reading “zero waste – february recap”

zero waste – january recap

January came and went, but my zero waste efforts are paying off more and more each day. It’s like I had trash-blinders on before, and now I can’t miss it. Every day has been a mission to simplify my life and detox from wasteful habits. Not that we’ve done perfectly. But we have done so, so much better. And because we didn’t just light a match to our possessions, we will be dealing with them in various ways as we phase them out: using them up, donating them, or repurposing them.

Early in the month I did a massive cleanout of disposable items. Ziplock bags, plastic wraps, plastic containers, straws, napkins, plastic plates/cups/utensils leftover from parties.. I either gave it away to people who’d buy it anyway, and in the case of the random items, donated them to Food Services at the Salvation Army. I also began to aggressively use up pantry and freezer items (we’ve had some weird meals, admittedly) and buying in bulk with reusable bags, or at least in non-plastic/ 100% recyclable packaging. With only a couple of exceptions (like cheese and a starter yogurt to make my own) I’ve been able to avoid plastic. Most plastic getting thrown out (recycled if possible of course) has been from items purchased before January. Every item going out the door is a cause for celebration (with a little guilt of course for buying it in the first place).

For about a week, I felt like a crazy person, examining my trash to part with each item in the best way. I repurposed grapefruit peels by making my own grapefruit-infused vinegar for cleaning. I diligently separated things into the compost bucket, chicken scrap bucket, or recycle bin. Shortly into this, it became second nature. Granted, we already did these things, but not to the level of attention I now put in (the goal being that none of it ends up in the trash or down the garbage disposal).

Our fridge looks a little emptier (this was taken today – the day after grocery shopping!) because I only buy what we absolutely need that week. We have our milk delivered in returnable plastic bottles. I store leftovers in mason jars (along with my DIY coffee creamer). Zero waste produce storage is fun. Fresh herbs and carrots look like little bouquets. 🙂 We generally have a container of scraps for the chickens in there as well, but it’s being emptied today. The box up top is a Bota box of Moscato. Since we don’t have a local winery where I can get refills, a 100% recyclable Bota box is the best alternative. In the produce drawers, loose produce is wrapped in damp towels, or in jars or glass containers if needed.

IMG_4263

What you can’t see is the fridge door, full of plastic bottles of condiments from our pre-zero waste life. 😉 Those will eventually get phased out.

Here was a fun victory. Hubby gave our Master bathroom a makeover. He replaced the light fixtures, sinks, towel and toilet paper roll holder, and faucets; plus removed the shower door and replaced it with a curtain. All the items we removed will be donated to Habitat for Humanity. He cut down the mirrors and made frames for them with wood scraps leftover from our mantle.

IMG_4143

The only trash generated from this project was the old laminate counter top, the painter’s tape, and a bit of packaging (most could be recycled). It looks so beautiful now! (I just noticed we have a re-purposed Jägermeister bottle hand soap pump next to a repurposed Sangria jug vase. Ha!;))

IMG_4146

I have been writing down in my planner, every little zero waste victory or step I’ve taken this month and wanted to share them here. Some are swaps for the long term, and some are just little ways I met a particular challenge that I wanted to keep track of just to see how much those little things add up. January was meant to focus on the kitchen/food packaging so there’s definitely been more progress there then elsewhere, but I’ve been chipping away a bit everywhere. So, here we are (in no particular order:

January Zero Waste Victories

Kitchen/Grocery:

  1. Menu planning each Sunday and shopping exclusively from list.
  2. Took bulk bags to local bulk shop (multiple times); store bulk items in jars.
  3. Got rid of plastic containers, bags, etc. to family and donation center.
  4. Used jars and glass containers for freezing and refrigerating leftovers, and for storing loose produce (to replace plastic containers, plastic bags, and plastic food packaging).
  5. Upgraded to cloth napkins.
  6. Packed sandwich for the office, wrapped in a cloth napkin.
  7. Made (zero waste) almond milk; used remaining almond pulp to turn to flour, then to bake into Snickerdoodles!
  8. Made reusable food wrap (to replace plastic wrap).
  9. Found local glass recycling and used it.
  10. Replaced nonstick pans with two cast iron skillets (Costco has a great price); replaced plastic spatulas with bamboo. I haven’t done anything with the nonstick skillets yet; I am considering keeping them in the camping trailer.
  11. Replaced Hannah’s sippies and bowls with this brand. (Still plastic, but a better alternative. We already had the plates and loved them!).
  12. Looked for glass-packaged alternatives to items normally in plastic. Success with juice, BBQ sauce, white vinegar, and ketchup.
  13. Making my own yogurt and coffee creamer to avoid purchasing in plastic.
  14. Emailing local dairy re. switching to glass. Not a win for me, but they did tell me their returnable milk bottles are the safest grade of plastic.
  15. Air dried dishwasher loads instead of running the heated dry. Refilled the rinse aid compartment with vinegar.
  16. Learned and implemented loose produce storage tips from the Internet (herbs and carrots upright in jars of water (bouquet style in the fridge), mushrooms in glass containers draped with a wet towel, broccoli wrapped in a damp towel, etc. This article is the best I’ve found.
  17. Haven’t kicked the soda habit, but I’ve been washing and refilling the same plastic cup all month (I get a fountain soda a couple times a week) and using a stainless steel straw.
  18. Composting scraps, lint, egg shells, coffee grounds.
  19. Saving other scraps, bits of food leftover from Hannah’s plate, etc, for the chickens.
  20. Upgraded to stainless steel water bottles (from plastic reusables).
  21. Upgraded to stainless steel drinking straws.
  22. Only a couple of meals out/take-out. It’s nearly impossible to control the waste created by going out to eat! This is definitely something I need to work on – better planning when we go out.

Continue reading “zero waste – january recap”

zero waste eye makeup removal

I am gradually replacing disposable items in my life with reusable ones to minimize waste and cost. I used to use those little pre-soaked eye makeup remover pads, the cost of which is pretty outrageous! When I ran out, I would use coconut oil until I made it to the store to get more disposable makeup remover pads. ..How dumb is that?? Coconut oil is so dirt cheap and not full of chemical ingredients, you’d think given my DIY and thrifty ways I would have had that DUH moment long ago. Alas, even I am a product of marketing sometimes, thinking I had to buy a specific-use product at a stupid-high price, and that the eco alternative was only to use in a pinch. ANYWAY.

When I made the conscious effort to think through every product and purchase, I ditched the disposable eye makeup remover pads for coconut oil permanently. And because I didn’t want to have to use cotton balls, I made my own little cotton pads from scrap fabric I already had. (What did you do with your New Years Eve? Go out and party? Ha!)

IMG_3913

I grabbed a small piece of cotton fabric I had leftover from another project. I hoped to use up the rest since I think it’s so colorful and pretty! For the back I used an old piece of a flannel burp cloth (which had a previous life as a receiving blanket a friend handed down to me… quite the purposeful piece of fabric, eh?)

I cut little squares (about 2×2) of each (one of the cotton and 2 of the flannel for each finished square to make them a little thicker). I made 9 because that’s exactly how many I could get from the cotton scrap. Then I sewed around the edge with a zigzag stitch. No time-consuming turning right-side out and stitching closed – just enough to keep them from fraying too badly. This little project cost nothing and took maybe 20-25 minutes at the most.

IMG_3916

They aren’t perfectly square because I didn’t measure or use a ruler, but they are still cuter than a cotton ball!

I just apply a bit of coconut oil to the pad and wipe off my eye makeup, then rinse them out a bit and toss in the towel hamper. Could not be simpler!

green grocery-getting

green grocery getting

I’ve blogged about my grocery-getting routine before and not a whole lot will change since heading for zero waste (other than being more diligent and committed!), but I thought it was worth updating on.

I still use my favorite muslin bags and Envirosax (the pattern I have is no longer available). I’ve added to my zero waste kit these big canvas bags with jar sleeves and mesh produce bags. The canvas bags are so sturdy, and they will also be great for picnics since they hold up jars/wine bottles perfectly!

At the store, rather than use provided plastic bags for produce and bulk items, I use the mesh and muslin bags (I previously only had a couple of each so I’ve added to my stash to completely prevent having to use plastic). At home, I decant the items into glass mason jars or Glasslock containers. I use a bit of Washi tape and a Sharpie to label them. A lot of produce can stay loose in the fridge or fruit basket on the counter. No more ugly bags!

I’ve yet to need bakery, dairy and deli items since beginning zero waste (I am trying to use up things in the pantry and freezer before shopping), but those items will definitely be more challenging. I already have a good practice for some things, or a plan in place to at least minimize the waste:

  • Milk – We already have this delivered weekly in returnable/refillable bottles.
  • Almond milk/creamer – I make my own.
  • Yogurt – I now make my own with milk.
  • Eggs – We have chickens, so we just collect the eggs in recycled cartons again and again.
  • Cheese/meats – Hoping I can ask deli counter/butcher block to fill my glass jars with no funny looks or refusal!
  • Bakery – I’ll ask to have my bread order put into a bag/pillowcase I will bring with me (or just make my own bread). Again, a bit nervous about asking!
  • Toiletry items – Look for a bulk source (possibly will have to make a biyearly drive to the nearest to stock up?) and make my own as much as I can. This will be a fun challenge to me because I’m odd like that.
  • Anything I can’t find in bulk – buy in glass or paper packaging. No more plastic!

I’ll do another post with actual photos of my haul next time I do a grocery trip, but so far I have been working on using up what we already had accumulated so I haven’t done a grocery trip since December 28 (and even then for only for 4 items!).

I’m not even close to perfect, but with a bit of pre-planning I’ve already prevented a LOT of plastic waste from heading to the landfill. It adds up so quickly. I’m still beginning and if I can find items I need loose, or in glass/paper packaging I feel like I’m doing pretty well. However, the bar gets higher for myself each day, which is a great thing!

diy reusable food wrap

In my attempts to go zero waste, I gave away the remainder of the Ziplock bags and plastic wrap I had in the kitchen. I know I could have used it up, but at the rate I wash and reuse them, it’d be a long time before I could upgrade to something reusable, and I wanted instant gratification. 🙂

I made up some quick beeswax covered cloth food wraps (for sandwiches, cheese, etc), and bowl covers (to replace cling wrap) yesterday, in less than an hour. I followed some instructions found here. I didn’t stray much from the directions I’ve linked to, so refer there first. I’ll just note my take on the method in case it’s helpful but I can’t take credit for the how-to.

  1. Heat your oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cut your fabric (I used various fat quarters my mom had gifted me from her stash) to the size you need. I traced a pizza pan and large bowls to make the bowl covers in a variety of sizes, and just cut large squares for the wraps. Nothing technical here. 🙂
  3. Place one of your cut pieces onto a baking sheet and sprinkle with beeswax pellets.
  4. Put in the oven for about one minute (long enough to melt the beeswax completely into the cloth)
  5. Remove from the oven and carefully peel the waxy cloth from the pan.
  6. Holding the piece of cloth carefully on an edge, fan the cloth up and down to cool quickly. Once you’ve done that a few times the wax will be hardened enough to lay it down on your kitchen counter to completely cool.
  7. Repeat with remaining fabric pieces.
  8. Once they’ve all cooler, you can stack them and roll them for storage (so the beeswax doesn’t crack).
  9. Use like saran wrap! The wax makes the fabric pliable and mold to your contents with the heat from your hands.

I’ve not had to wash any of these yet, but the tips on the website I linked to say you can just clean them with water or a damp soapy rag as needed.

zero waste toothpaste.

toothpaste

I used up the last of my Tom’s toothpaste and replaced it with my own, via this recipe from Trash is for Tossers. Coconut oil, baking soda, and peppermint essential oil. I mixed it into an upcycled jar. This, coupled with my new eco toothbrush, means a couple less items in the landfill every few months. SO EASY!

The taste of the toothpaste is a bit weird at first, especially if you are used to the typical commercial brands. Baking soda tastes really salty, so that’s the biggest adjustment, but it doesn’t burn or make me super thirsty, so for me it’s an upgrade. Plus, pennies!