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Tag: plastic-free

I’m An Animal Advocate. And I Have Hope.

Yes, I have hope. No, I’m not a mythical creature.

I wrote and recorded this radio editorial for KQED Radio, called Why I Am Hopeful. Listen on KQED’s website, or just click play on the audio player below.

In any case, please share. I think animal advocates and vegans need to hear this message more than ever. 

I have been an animal advocate for more than 25 years, and I see enough cruelty every day to have a pretty bleak view of the world.

And yet, I have hope.

No, I’m not a mythical creature. No, I’m not delusional, and yes, I’m paying attention — so much so that I’m quite aware, for instance, that in the U.S. every year, over 9 billion animals are brought into this world only to be killed for human consumption.

Elephants are killed in their homes for their tusks.

And wild animals face the consequences of global warming.

And yet, I have hope.

I have hope because I focus on what I can solve rather than what I can’t.

I have hope because there’s much to be hopeful about. History gives you great perspective if you just step back.

I have hope because outrage doesn’t change the world. Vision and vigilance do — along with the political, technological, economic, and moral forces that drive progress forward. I’m hopeful, because:

I live in a Democratic country, I can criticize elected officials, I can vote them out, and I can exercise my power and privilege to help those who have neither.

Scientific advances and technological breakthroughs, such as cellular agriculture, have the potential to save billions of animals from misery and death.

I live in an economic system that empowers visionaries to test their innovations in the marketplace and that gives me the choice to support companies and products that reflect my taste and ethics — and reject those that don’t.

My hope is not delusional; it’s rooted in facts, science, reason, and statistics.

My hope is not complacent; it’s provisional. It’s the difference between wanting things to change and taking action to facilitate that change.

My hope is rooted in joy. We don’t have to be angry all the time to demonstrate we care. We don’t have to be outraged to show that we’re conscious. We can be acutely aware, actively engaged, politically minded, and still have hope.

And so I’m hopeful, and I hope you are, too.

With a Perspective, this is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Why I Am Hopeful

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Vegan Travel: Vietnam

Rich in history, sophisticated cuisine, stunning scenery, pulsating cities,  fascinating culture, Vietnam is consistently rated one of the top best countries to visit, and today I take you on a journey to this beautiful place. Today’s focus is food (plant-based, of course), animal protection, nature, and culture. I let you know what animal and conservation organizations to visit and support, what to avoid in terms of animal cruelty and exploitation, and how to make the most of your trip ? whether you go on your own or as part of a CPG Vegan Trip.

Zero Waste Shampoo and Conditioner

When I first made the decision to eliminate plastic containers and bags from my life and “go zero waste,” some switches were easy peasy. Some had me in a panic. Like finding zero waste hair care in general and shampoo and conditioner in particular. 

My attachment to my favorite vegan hair care products (sold in plastic bottles) had me wondering if I would just have to make an exception when it came to styling my locks. But with a little time, a lot of research, and an irrational determination to see things through to the end, I made some new discoveries.

I have not yet found a zero waste solution for all of my hair care needs such as styling products (future post coming!). But in the meantime, I thought I’d share with you what I’ve learned and what I love so you can get started, too.

It took me decades to figure out what my fickle hair needed — in terms of the right style, the right stylist, the right shampoo and conditioner, and the right styling products. 

zero waste hair

Of course for all of these decades the main criteria for choosing hair products have been first and foremost: vegan and cruelty-free. (That is, free of animal products and free of animal-testing). I’ve tried a gazillion products over the years, and the brand that ticks all of my ethical, vegan, and beauty boxes is Aveda. Having used and loved this brand for over a decade, the thought of switching brands was not something I relished. 

Because Aveda primarily sells their products to Aveda-approved salons, for a time I thought that my solution would be to ask my hair stylist if I could just fill up my existing Aveda containers with shampoo and conditioner from the large bottles she would already have open for washing clients’ hair. 

While this would slightly reduce the existence of additional plastic shampoo and conditioner bottles in the world and while I think it’s a brilliant stop-gap (you can steal this idea!), I was open to exploring other solutions that would bring me closer to the zero-waste goals I was trying to achieve. 

And a solution I found!

Let me cut to the chase and tell you about the zero waste hair care products I love so much that they successfully helped wean me off of Aveda. Then I’ll provide some other ideas so you have a bunch to choose from. (Keep reading for your 15% off coupon code!)

Plaine Products

When I heard about a sister-owned company that made cruelty-free, plastic-free, chemical-free, zero waste, biodegradable, vegan shampoo and conditioner, I had to give them a try! (Plus, they have body lotion and body wash!) They were kind enough to send me some products to test, and I was hooked immediately. 

Even so, I wanted to give my hair some time to experience the products before I shared my enthusiasm. Now that time has passed, I’m here to share why my enthusiasm has only increased. I’m hooked.

Plaine Products come in aluminum containers that they refill for customers again and again and again. Here’s how it works:

  1. For your first order, you order the products you want with a pump for each aluminum bottle. 
  2. When you run out of (or are running low on) your products, you order a refill! Then, you say “no” to the pump option (since you already ordered them in your first shipment). Finally, you opt for a return label to be sent with your order.
  3. When your new order arrives, you just switch the pump over to the new bottles! Next, send the old bottles back using the same box and the label (that you don’t pay additionally for). They sanitize the bottles, refill them, and send them to their new home for other customers.

As you learned from the podcast episode called Zero Waste: It Ain’t About Recycling, very little of the plastic we buy gets recycled. And because it lasts for so long, every bit of plastic ever created still exists on this planet. Experts predict that at our current rate of plastic use and disposal, soon there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean. That is a depressing thought.

What you also learned is that when it comes to materials, glass is indeed 100% recyclable (though we should re-use it rather than recycle it when it’s perfectly functional). So is aluminum. And in the case of Plaine Products, the aluminum bottles are sterilized and used a number of times before they even get recycled. AND, the recycling process for aluminum requires even less energy than was needed to make the bottles in the first place!

What’s more: the boxes they use to ship (which you can use to send your bottles back) are custom-made to fit their bottles. That eliminates the need for peanuts or packaging! AND they’re made from a mix of 95% post-consumer waste and 5% post-industrial waste. Absolutely NO new materials are used in the manufacturing of their green shipping cartons. They even use plastic-free tape. 

AND…everything comes in two natural scents: Mint + Rosemary or Citrus + Lavender. Both are divine!

Buy Your Plaine Products for 15% Off!

If I haven’t convinced you to give them a try yet, then experience their awesomeness yourself. Use this link anytime you make a purchase, and enter “compassion” as the coupon code to receive 15% off your order! The shipping is a flat $5, which is pretty amazing. 

The Aveda conditioner I was using before cost $44. You might think that’s crazy, but for a fantastic, cruelty-free, toxin-free, vegan, natural conditioner that I loved, I was willing to pay it — especially because I had tried so many others that just didn’t work for my hair. 

The fact that I’m paying 1/3 less now for a zero-waste, sustainable, plastic-free, vegan, toxic-free, biodegradable conditioner (and shampoo, etc.) is the icing on the cake! By the time you factor in your 15% off coupon code using this link, I think you’ll be happy with that, too! 

Other Zero Waste Options

Shampoo Bars – I’ve never tried them, but I’ve heard mixed opinions about shampoo bars. Give them a try yourself, and let me know what you think. 

Refilling from Bulk Section – Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco is the closest store to me that has bulk shampoos and conditioners with which you can fill your own bottles. HOWEVER, the brands they have aren’t vegan or cruelty-free. But look to stores near you with good bulk sections!

DIY – Make your own. Good luck. 🙂

SHOP Summary

REMEMBER TO USE ANY OF THE LINKS BELOW AND USE “compassion” TO RECEIVE 15% OFF YOUR ORDERS 

Zero Waste Food Scraps

I’ve had so many eye-opening moments since starting this Zero Waste journey — one of them having to do with food waste. It’s why I’ve devoted three podcast episodes to this topic, when I thought I’d just be doing a simple episode on how to compost.

Certainly it’s been revelatory to learn about the rampant (and preventable) food loss and food waste that takes place in the harvesting, production, processing, and transportation arms of the food sector — the animal livestock industry being the number one culprit. But it’s been the food waste that takes place in the consumer sector — in our own homes — that has left a deep impression on me. 

As I explain in Food Waste Part 2: Food is Not Garbage,  Americans throw away up to 40% of perfectly safe, perfectly edible food — all of which winds up in a landfill, sitting in a dump, creating methane and other greenhouse gases. 

The lightbulb that went off for me is simply this: food doesn’t belong in the garbage. I know that may sound ridiculously obvious, but I think because it’s so ridiculous obviously that it doesn’t even penetrate our skulls. We can’t see the forest for the trees.

When I started on this journey and began making changes in my life and in our home, one of the dilemmas I was faced with was what kind of garbage bags would I be able to find that fit our existing cans (below) and that are biodegradable. I started researching and googling and stressing until I realized…we don’t need ANY garbage bags at all — because there’s nothing stinking up our garbage!

[envira-gallery id="6908"]

The only reason we line our garbage bins with plastic bags is because of all the wet food we throw away that becomes stinky and smelly. Once we put those stinky garbage bags into our outdoor garbage cans, hungry, opportunistic critters (or “pests” as many people consider them) find these food-filled cans and create the human / animal conflicts that lead to their demise. The raccoons, skunks, opossums, crows, foxes, even bears who topple our garbage cans and make a mess are simply being resourceful enough to want to eat the food we considered waste and discarded. 

Animals are the ultimate zero-wasters!

But, no food breaking down in our garbage…no smell. No smell…no “pests.” No “pests”…no conflicts or fear of disease-transmission. No conflicts…harmony. (And if you’re worried that urban and suburban wildlife would starve if we stopped throwing food away, my recommendation would be to focus on creating a wildlife-friendly habitat.)

[envira-gallery id="6923"]

Same goes for dumps.

The only reason dumps smell putrid is because of all the food we throw away that becomes stinky and smelly. If organic matter weren’t putrefying (especially because it can’t properly break down without the oxygen and soil and microbes it needs to do so), dumps wouldn’t smell. They also wouldn’t create greenhouse gases or attract “pests” that also create conflicts and a certain bad reputation and sometimes death for them. (Listen to the podcast for more about the negative effects of food in dumps.)

So instead of buying biodegradable garbage bags (which, by the way, can’t biodegrade without the right conditions, and there are no right conditions in a dump), we simply put our garbage and recycling into their respective receptacles — sans plastic bags. 

Despite the goal being zero waste, we do still create waste in our home, mostly from products we still had and are using up before starting this journey and packaging from online orders (for the garbage) and aluminum cans from the cats’ food and the beer bottles David occasionally buys (for the recycling). All of the garbage items are dry, so there’s no issue there, and as for the recyclable items, we simply rinse out the cat cans and beer bottles before putting them in the garbage bin. The rest is any mail I can’t compost (yes, I’ll be discussing the challenge of reducing unwanted mail!) No need for a liner. 

On garbage days, we bring take the receptacles directly to the city cans in our garage, dump in the contents, and rinse out our cans before returning them to the kitchen. Easy. Peasy.

As for what we do with food scraps, you’ll want to listen to the Food Waste Part 2 podcast episode for the gazillion ideas I provide for reducing food waste in the first place — and composting is the final (not first) suggestion. That’s right…the other massive revelation that guides my actions every day: ZERO WASTE ISN’T ABOUT WASTE DIVERSION. IT’S ABOUT WASTE PREVENTION

[envira-gallery id=”6915″]

Yes, I compost all the food scraps that remain (more to come on that topic), but I’m now focused more on eliminating food scraps in the first place, including when I eat out or at other people’s homes. (And for years we used compostable bags to line our compost pail on our countertop to make it “more convenient” for us to bring it down to the city’s green bin in our garage, but we stopped buying those, too, because it’s only a little less convenient to bring the actual pail down to the green bin, dump it, and bring it back to the kitchen. Big. Friggin. Deal.) 

I’m reluctant to even recommend biodegradable garbage bags, because of all the reasons I gave above, but I realize there are municipalities around the world who don’t offer green bins for homeowners or apartment dwellers and many people don’t have compost bins (or know what to do with them if they did), however, please do me a favor and first:

  1. Listen to Food Waste: Part One and Food Waste: Part Two to get a broader understanding of the issue.
  2. Implement the suggestions in Part Two to start reducing food waste in the first place. 
  3. Purchase biodegradable garbage bags instead of plastic while you’re eliminating food waste as much as you can.
  4. Share what you’re doing below to inspire others!

Thanks for reading! Lots more to come!

For the animals, 

Zero-Waste Toilet Paper

Over the holidays while visiting friends, David confessed something to me. He said that while he supports us buying toilet paper made from recycled materials, he covets toilet paper at other people’s homes because it’s so much softer. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating. Maybe he didn’t say covet, but he made the point that our toilet paper is a little — rough. (And we’ve been using it for decades!) 

I had no plans of changing our toilet paper; I would never buy toilet paper from virgin materials; however, my zero waste journey — by accident — has led to a solution that speaks to David’s desire for soft loo roll and my desire to buy sustainable products.

As I reduce / eliminate the number of things I purchase that cannot be re-purposed and re-used, I realized the recycled toilet paper I was buying comes packaged in plastic! Yes, I know…duh. How did I not see that before? Well, I just didn’t.

So I started researching toilet paper made from renewable resources not packaged in plastic, and I found it in Who Gives A CrapAND IT’S SOFTER!

(Click here to get $10 off!)

HOW IS IT SUSTAINABLE?

As I opened the box, I was thrilled to find the rolls individually wrapped in pretty paper that can be — wait for it — first enjoyed as reading material (lots of fun facts on every roll!), then reused as gift wrapping paper, then either composted (or recycled). 

Why is it softer? Well, Who Gives a Crap offers two options for their toilet paper: that made from 100% recycled paper and that made from 100% bamboo. I can speak only for the bamboo, and I can say without a doubt that it is oodles softer than any sustainable toilet paper I’ve ever used! 

And…drumroll…David agrees! 

It’s thick, it’s soft, it’s made from a fast-growing grass (bamboo), and it’s less expensive than the brand I was using. But it gets even better!

(Before composting it, this adorable paper could be repurposed to make confetti, envelopes, book covers, bookmarks, or kids’ crafts.)

Who Gives a Crap donates 50% of their profits to providing sanitation and toilets in developing countries where diseases associated with lack of hygiene is a critical problem. To date, they’ve donated over $950,000. As I’ve said, the paper on their loo rolls includes interesting facts (great conversation starter if you use it for gift-wrapping!), as does their website and newsletter, such as 

Did you know?
More people in the world have mobile phones than toilets. Think about that next time you’re texting on the loo!

So, until I get a bidet and don’t have a need for toilet tissue, they have a new fan in me! Click here to get $10 off your first subscription to Who Gives A Crap! You should see the $10 off graphic in the bottom left-hand corner.

(Michiko doesn’t give a crap as much as I do because her toilet habits are already zero waste)

Food Waste (Part 1): How Animal Products Hinder Zero Waste Goals

We can’t talk about Zero Waste living without talking about the big picture: the amount of food that gets wasted at the front end of the food chain: during production, harvest, and processing. And we can’t talk about Zero Waste living unless we face the fact that the highest food losses are associated with livestock production. Listen to Part One to find out how there is nothing Zero Waste about garbage. (The original meaning of the word garbage had to do with “the bowels and body parts of a butchered animal considered inedible by humans — the offal.”) Enjoy!

In Part Two, we’ll talk about the food WASTE that occurs toward the back end of the food chain — at the retail and consumer levels — and what we can do about it.

Tissues vs. Handkerchiefs (Zero-Waste Journey)

I blow my nose a lot. I mean a lot. 

I don’t have allergies; I just have a runny nose in the morning. Every morning. My nose runs when I run (solidarity and all that). My nose runs when I hike. When I work out. When I watch Little House on the Prairie. (Seriously, instant waterworks within 5 minutes of an episode.)

Our bathroom wastebaskets are (were!) perpetually full of dirty tissues — one blow, one toss. Use once (maybe twice), forever in a landfill. 

Why? Because used tissues cannot be recycled, and apparently there are mixed opinions as to whether they can be composted (germs that may remain and all that). I imagine the mixed opinions have to do mostly with home compost systems (which we have) versus municipal compost systems (which we have), and I just found out that used tissues can indeed be tossed into our “green bin” — the same bin we can use for food scraps, yard scraps, and even most paper products. It took me all of 5 minutes to talk to a lovely gentleman at Waste Management in Oakland (CA) to confirm this, so I recommend calling your own city if they have a compost service you pay for. 

However, not only did I not realize that all these years I could have been composting my used tissues (self-flogging scheduled), I’ve already made a decision to stop using single-use paper tissues, and I’m sticking to it. I’m going to be using something I NEVER in a million years thought I’d use: reusable, washable handkerchiefs. Yup, the very thing I made fun of my father for using my entire life. 

After all, the problem with single-use products is not just what happens at the end of their use. The problem is how they are created in the first place. 

 

Before They Were Tissues, They Were Trees

Americans use upwards of 255,360,000,000 disposable facial tissues a year (yes, that is 255.3 billion).1 That doesn’t even include North Americans. Or South Americans. Just people who live in the United States. 

Trees: Whether the facial tissue is made from virgin or recycled paper pulp it’s still made from trees, which can take years or decades to grow. Logging practices can degrade forests thus contributing to global warming, cause loss of habitat for plants and animals, and pollute waterways. And even recycled paper can be re-recycled only a limited number of times. Plus, have you ever wiped your nose with a recycled tissue? Makes me cry just thinking about it! 

Production: Paper plants use huge amounts of water and electricity. They also pollute the air and water.  Add to that the bleaching that takes place for most tissues and the packaging that contains plastic (that never biodegrades).

Transportation: Of course, the raw materials as well as the finished tissues are transported to and from factories via CO2 emitting vehicles.

And so…as always, there is a better way, and — as is often the case — it’s a bit retro. Enter the hanky

It is by far the most Earth- and animal-friendly choice for your runny nose (or for removing makeup or wiping your hands). I know this idea might be unappealing to some, but for me, what is most unappealing is the unnecessary waste we’re creating. But look at it this way: as with most things from the past, there’s a certain quaintness attached to using a bit of fabric to dry our snouts, and there are other benefits as well. 

Costs in dollars

You might be asking, “isn’t it more expensive to buy handkerchiefs vs. single-use facial tissues?” The short answer is no. The long answer is … your own calculations will depend on how many handkerchiefs you will need to buy to replace the paper tissues you normally keep. (Historically, I’ve had a box of tissues in every room of my house. No exaggeration.) But as with so many lifestyle changes, this will most likely be a one-time investment. More than that, you can buy affordable vintage hankies from a thrift store — wash them in hot water when you get them home —or you make your own hankies from old sheets and pillowcases. And that’s free! (See below!)

But let’s do some math. (Well,  ZeroWasteBackPacker already did the math, so check it out if you’re interested.) In short, using washable, reusable hankies are far less expensive than buying single-use tissues.

Costs in non-renewable resources

You might be asking: doesn’t it take more resources to wash handkerchiefs? Again, someone else did the work for me so I didn’t have to, so if you’re interested, a thorough analysis and comparison of the problem was conducted by Greenlifestylemag and they concluded that when it comes to the water use, energy use, and waste, the humble hanky was hands down the more sustainable option.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: When you are buying brand-new hankies (not vintage ones), unbleached, organic cotton will be the best choice environmentally speaking. Better yet, just cut up old sheets you have lying around or head to the thrift store for old cotton sheets or vintage hankies.

Isn’t it …  gross to use handkerchiefs?

Last time I checked: tissues are pretty gross. Basically, if — like with tissues — you blow everything out of your schnoz into a hanky then shove it into your pocket and repeat several times (and then forget it’s in there), yeah, that’s gross. But if you’re just wiping your nose, it’s really not that different than wiping your nose on a tissue and putting it back into your pocket or purse. But for serious blows, just use a clean hanky!

How do you carry them around? How do you not forget them when you leave the house?

The same way that in the past I remembered to bring paper tissues with me. It’s just one of the things I make sure is in my pocket or purse. In fact, while I use the cut-up sheets as hankies for inside the house, I bought some pretty hankies for me to keep in my purse — like the ladies of yore did — and I use a beautiful little bag my friend bought me for Christmas to keep the used ones in. (I suppose this isn’t how all ladies of yore did it. I remember my paternal grandmother usually kept hers shoved in her bra strap. Whatever works.)  When I get home, I toss the used hankies in the hamper. 

But what about for house guests and visitors? What if they want a tissue?

I had a couple sets of sheets and pillowcases sitting in my linen closet that were clearly never going to get used. Recently, I spent a few minutes cutting them up into tissue-size hankies, and I refilled all of my cute little tissue holders with them. I put a note on the inside lid of each to let people know they are washable / re-usable.

But here’s the BEST PART: the cute little wastebaskets I have in our bathrooms…have now become cute little hampers!  

I. can’t. tell. you. how. happy. that. makes. me. My husband knows, because I gave him a giddy tour of our new system! So, guests…they’ll deal

How do you wash handkerchiefs?

You can just add them to a regular load, but I would use warm water for their cycle. If you’ve had a cold or flu, use hot water. You can also use mesh laundry bags. And no, it doesn’t take more resources to wash hankies. Remember the water use from our paper products? Way. More. Water.

Permission to pasturbate (in this case)

Like most everyone, I pasturbate. (That’s my term for over-romanticizing the past.) Sometimes pasturbating is good (like how much I love Little House on the Prairie), sometimes not (like when we romanticize how we used to eat animals, tested toxins on them, and made them ride bicycles to entertain us. Oh, wait, that’s not in the past — yet).

My point is: when it comes to hankies, pasturbating is a good thing. 

There was a time when people recognized that it doesn’t make sense to use something once, then throw it away. There was also a time when things were made to last…hence, my using a vintage handkerchief made 30 years ago or more. (There was also a time when dropping a handkerchief was a flirtatious act! I want to see you bring that back!)

Handkerchiefs had sentimental value, as well, and we can bring that back. When I got married, in the traditional manner of things, my mother gave me “something old,” and guess what it was? A handkerchief. I still have it today and think of her every time I use it. Prior to my zero-waste journey, I used it more as a doily; today, I use it the way it was meant to be used, and I think she would be proud. ? 

Where should I buy handkerchiefs?

  1. Ask your grandparents, parents, or an older friend if they still have some hankies at home. You might be surprised!
  2. Purchase new hankies (organic recommended) online or at a department store (usually stocked in the men’s section). Some folks like to get children’s hankies, which are usually 8×8; women’s hankies are usually 10×10 or 12×12; men’s hankies tend to be larger.   
  3. Purchase vintage hankies on eBay or Etsy or in local thrift or vintage stores. 
  4. Make your own. If you enjoy sewing or DIY, make them yourself out of an old sheet, t-shirt, or favorite fabric you have lying around. I have no patience for such things, which is why my homemade ones won’t be as pretty as yours, but they do the job! 

Resources

  1. Calculated based on 2012 facial tissue tonnage (399) from RISI – US Tissue Monthly Data, January 2013 multiplied by 20 (approximate number of facial tissues in one ounce).
  2. https://www.statista.com/statistics/284960/amount-of-facial-tissues-used-within-30-days-in-the-us-trend 

How Zero-Waste Has Changed My Grocery Shopping and Kitchen

 

Before I started this zero-waste journey, I shopped in the bulk section of local grocery stores. I brought my own (plastic) bags to fill up with dried beans, grains, and nutritional yeast, but when I didn’t have my own plastic bags to re-use, I tore one of the gazillion plastic bags off the roll in the bulk section, filled it up, and wrote the bin code on the twisty tie. And repeat.

Before I started this zero-waste journey, I shopped at Trader Joe’s (among other stores) and — as I placed the plastic-wrapped fennel bulbs and the plastic-packaged lettuce into my basket — lamented about how much plastic packaging there was in the produce section. Trader Joe’s isn’t the only store that sells plastic-wrapped produce; in fact, you’ll often find that organic produce is wrapped in plastic where non-organic is not. (More on that in a subsequent post.)

NOTE: When it came to buying flour, I used to buy Trader Joe’s brand flour wrapped in paper. But once I bought Bob’s Red Mill and assumed that surely a company as socially aware as Bob’s Red Mill would use sustainable packaging. NOT SO. They recently changed their packaging for such things as flour to be completely UNsustainable: plastic, non-renewable, non-recyclable. Not. Okay. Just thought you’d like to know.

I can walk to Trader Joe’s from my home, so it’s been a convenient place to shop, especially when in need of frozen blueberries, tofu, or … fennel bulbs, which is often. (I kind of eat fennel every day.) I also didn’t think twice about buying a head of organic cauliflower wrapped in plastic from Whole Foods. 

But all that has changed. Now, instead of complaining about all the plastic wrap on veggies and fruits while I’m in the middle of purchasing them, I just don’t purchase them. (Brilliant, I know.) I simply forego buying a vegetable wrapped in plastic and buy a non-plastic-wrapped vegetable instead or I wait until I’m at the farmer’s market or see a non-plastic version at another grocery store — and it turns out I’ve survived. It’s no different than the choices I make as a 20-year vegan. It’s not that I can’t buy / eat something that’s wrapped in plastic / that’s not vegan. It’s that I don’t want to.

Many habits have remained the same: I shop at our local farmer’s market every week, I stop in the bulk section of grocery stores, and I walk to Trader Joe’s. Then, I turn right — to a little locally owned produce store that has what I need when I’m in a pinch. And guess what? They have fennel bulbs NOT wrapped in plastic!  

The main difference is that I don’t just take my canvas bags with me for the groceries I buy; I take with me my mesh bags for fruits and veggies and my cotton sacks for the finer-sized bulk items like flour. And I love it.

I was a late bloomer when it came to what I used to call the Trader Joe’s cult anyway. When I taught my vegan cooking classes years ago and would recommend where people could buy products, students would invariably ask me if they’re available at Trader Joe’s. “I have no idea. I’ve never been to Trader Joe’s,” I would reply — to the shock of my audience. I would explain that I shopped at (what was at the time) my local (and locally owned) neighborhood grocery stores such as Farmer Joe’s and The Food Mill — both of which are on Macarthur Blvd. in Oakland. (Farmer Joe’s also opened a second larger location on Fruitvale Ave.) 

So, since I started this endeavor, I haven’t really shopped at Trader Joe’s. I get how convenient they are. I get how cheap their products are. I get how many vegan products they have. But I also really get how much plastic is harming wild places and animals — only a small portion of which is getting recycled or even can be recycled at all. (See my post on why recycling is not the answer.)

Just because it’s convenient for me doesn’t mean someone else isn’t inconvenienced. And when it comes to the waste we humans create, we’re inconveniencing millions of non-human individuals. 

As for cost, it’s astronomically more affordable to purchase bulk items. So, just as there’s a myth that eating vegan is more expensive, there’s also a myth that zero-waste is more expensive. 

Because I live in a city, I’m lucky to have a number of grocery stores with bulk sections near(ish) me, including Whole Foods and Berkeley Bowl, but as Whole Foods is expensive and Berkeley Bowl is just too far for me (I hate driving), I started thinking about where else I could shop in bulk. So, I started making a list in my head.

  • There are a number of small produce / convenience stores that have bulk bins, but I treat them as such: places of convenience; they’re just too expensive for regular groceries.
  • Sprouts opened on Broadway not too long ago, and their bulk bins are vast, so they’ve become a regular store for me.
  • Farmer Joe’s also has bulk bins and a good variety at that.

But I also started wondering where I would find smaller bulk items, such as unsweetened cocoa powder, baking powder, active yeast for baking bread,  maple syrup, olive oil. 

And then it hit me. I had completely forgotten about a staple in Oakland known for its bulk bins: The Food Mill, which I used to shop at all the time when I lived in that neighborhood. Not only are they even closer to me than any of the stores mentioned above and not only do they have the most affordable bulk items (including organic), but they also have the items I didn’t think I’d be able to get in bulk, namely unsweetened cocoa powder, yeast, baking powder, olive oil, and…maple syrup! (They also carry a huge variety of spices and dried herbs, but I also love my Oaktown Spice Shop for those.)

My husband makes fun of me all the time, because I do get pretty excited about this stuff, but I was giddy with delight filling up my jar with maple syrup and cocoa powder. (I realize other stores have these items in bulk, so this might not be news to some of you, but it just feels good to returning to support a neighborhood store in my beloved city of Oakland.)

 

     

Still, the point is: I have options — and more than I realized or remembered. I understand that I live in a city, so my choices tend to be a little greater than someone who lives in a more suburban or rural area, but even I had forgotten about some stores that are right in my backyard. Perhaps you have, too.

Have you explored stores near you that have bulk bins? What are some near you? What are your favorite bulk finds? 

 

SHOP SUMMARY* 

  • Organic Cotton Mesh Produce Bags (variety of sizes)
  • Organic Cotton Muslin Bags (great for flour and fine bulk items — in a variety of sizes)
  • Cotton Flour Sack Towels (great for wrapping and storing veggies / bread)

*if you buy from Amazon, you can send them an email telling them that you would like a note added to your account that when you place orders, you would like to avoid plastic packaging and avoid extra packaging when possible.

Plastic-Free Tea Thermos / / Zero Waste and Vegan

As I mentioned in my last post about Zero-Free On-The-Go / Travel, I was looking for a plastic-free tea thermos that has a strainer for tea, and I’m thrilled to have found two:

this tea thermos by NiftyCore (14 oz)

this tea thermos by Leaf Life (17 oz)

They both work beautifully, keep my tea hot, and of course both can be used for coffee, hot cocoa, or cold beverages as well. With 500 billion disposable coffee cups being produced and discarded each year, it’s the least we can do, don’t ya think?

Of the two versions, I like the larger size and warmer color of the Leaf Life thermos, but Nifty Core’s 14 ounces is also great when a smaller size is needed.

Charlie and Michiko approve, too! (Actually, they don’t really care, but they’re cute enough to justify their participation in this post!)

Get Your Own Tea Thermos (and Tea)!