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Tag: plastic-free

Zero Waste and Vegan / / Beverages On the Go

Single-use cups and straws are wreaking environmental havoc, most of which are going into landfills or polluting the ocean and harming wildlife. About 30.9 billion disposable cups are thrown away along with 58 billion paper cups (not recycled) annually. 500 million straws are used in the U.S. every day. Having just returned from a trip I thought it would be a good time to share with you how I travel zero-waste, plastic-free, and vegan. I would never deny you your coffee, tea, or water while on the go, but we can make a huge difference by using reusables the moment we leave our house.


I stopped buying single-use plastic bottles years ago — even before I officially started on my zero-waste / plastic-free venture. (The only time I’ve had to make an exception is while traveling is when the local water supply isn’t safe to drink.) So, whenever I leave my house, my reusable water bottle comes with me. I have a couple stainless steel Kleen Kanteen bottles I still use, but as they have plastic lids when and if the time comes to purchase a new one, I’d opt for the Kleen Kanteen bottle with a bamboo lid or Simple Modern bottles. The latter comes in many sizes for both hot and cold beverages and contain no plastic.


Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a tea junkie who carries my favorite tea thermos everywhere I go. I was about to link to it since it’s one of the top questions I’m asked (“What is the tea thermos/infuser you use??” But in keeping with my plastic-free goal, I couldn’t in good conscious point you to it. HOWEVER, I’m THRILLED to share with you plastic-free tea thermos by NiftyCore. Now remember, there are plenty of plastic-free thermos options, but for infusing TEA, which is my priority here, the key is finding one with an infuser. (NOTE: This thermos can be used for coffee, too.)


500 billion disposable coffee cups are produced every year.

I’m not a coffee drinker so I can’t personally recommend a favorite plastic-free coffee thermos or to-go cup; however, there are plenty out there including the thermos I recommended above, which can be used for coffee as well as tea (or a hot toddy)!

All Beverages  

Living plastic-free / zero-waste isn’t about buying new plastic-free items. It’s about using what is already available to us, being innovative, and checking out secondhand / gently used items at thrift stores. (Asking friends and neighbors is another great idea.) One way to enjoy beverages on the road is to just use Mason or Ball jars along with an EcoJarz lid that replaces the flats on jars with those that are secured with a rubber ring (if you need a lid). Glass jars won’t necessarily insulate hot or cold beverages, but if temperature isn’t an issue, they’re perfect — and tried and true. 

Beverages on Airplanes 

First, when traveling with your beverage container, be sure it’s empty before reaching the security line. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than seeing all of the un-drunk water bottles being tossed into the garbage. (There’s also nothing more heartbreaking than having to dump out your favorite tea because you forgot about security!) Once you’re through security, you can fill up your water at a filling station or water fountain. 

Second (for tea drinkers), head to the nearest cafe and ask them to fill up your thermos with hot water (FREE!). Add your own tea leaves. I usually have that part done before leaving my house, but I also carry my own tea with me. Second (for coffee drinkers), head to the nearest cafe and request your thermos or whatever your beverage container be filled with your favorite coffee (NOT FREE)! 

I drink a fair amount of tea, so whether or not I’ve gotten hot water for my tea thermos at the airport, I usually want more tea once I’m on the plane. During the beverage service, I simply ask the airline attendant to fill my tea thermos with hot water. HOWEVER, I have two things to say about this:

  1. Even though I have my tea thermos, in the past, I’ve also requested an empty hot cup to pour my tea into once it’s steeped because it’s just too hot to drink straight out of the thermos. (Plus, I don’t want the tea to oversteep). To avoid this in future, I’ll start traveling with a mason jar or small ceramic mug so I don’t need to request a disposable cup.
  2. This seems to vary according to the whims of the attendant, but occasionally I’ve been told that they’re “not permitted” to handle customers’ own cups in order to refill them. Most of the time, they refill them, but sometimes, they still grab a (most-likely-plastic-coated) hot cup to put my hot water into and then hand the cup to me to pour into my thermos. Grrrrr! I’ve noticed the easiest way to avoid this is to not ask for my hot water while seated during the beverage service but to go to the galley where the attendants are always happy to refill my thermos straight from the hot water tap. HOWEVER: Sometimes they still grab a disposable cup because it’s shorter than my thermos and easier to stick under the tap, but this is when my trusty jar/mug will come in! 

Zero-Waste Snacks, Drinks, and Comfort


Making an effort to be zero-waste / plastic-free means being mindful in ways you never thought possible. But just as I advise people who are looking to eat vegan/more healthfully, it’s just a matter of planning ahead, and truth be told: when we’re traveling, that’s what we’re doing already. It’s just a matter of adding a few extra things to your packing list. 

  • Bring your own snacks in their own containers rather than buy food on the plane. My favorite waste-free snacks are those that come in their own compostable packaging: fruits and veggies.
  • Apply what we’ve learned about being responsible campers/hikers: “pack it out.” Whether I’ve accumulated recyclable or compostable waste, I take it with me and dispose of it properly once I’m off the plane or at my destination. Yes, that means I always have a couple biodegradable compostable bags on me. 
  • Bring your own utensils. Truth be told, I’m not a fan of the bamboo utensils sold on many sustainable websites. Just get some stainless steel flatware from a thrift store or garage sale, wrap them in a cloth napkin, and keep them in your bag. 
  • Bring your own cloth napkins. 
  • Bring your own pillow/neck rest and blanket. Rather than open up the plastic-packaged blanket offered on some flights, I just bring my own blanket that folds down compactly in my bag. As for the pillow, apparently many are just thrown out after the flight, so just clip a travel pillow onto your backpack, and you’ll have a comfortable flight wherever you’re traveling!
  • Carry your own stainless steel straw! It’s rare that I ever feel compelled to drink through a straw, but we do have some at home for summer cocktails, and I’ve started carrying one around with me. Ya never know.

Straw-Free in Restaurants and Bars 

More and more restaurants are becoming aware of people requesting straw-free water (!), but it’s still too common and servers and bartenders are often too busy to stop and ask if you want a straw or they do it out of habit (or restaurant policy), so to preemptively avoid straws, it’s probably best just to say to the host who is seating you: “if water will be brought to us automatically, can you please ask them to not bring us straws? Thank you.” 

At bars and restaurants, now when I ask for water, I just add “no straw” at the same time: “Hi there. May I have a water — and please no straw. Thank you.” It’s rare, but I’ve also noticed that in some bars, cafes, restaurants — even though they have pint glasses all over the place, they still serve water in plastic cups, so just being even more conscious of this than ever before, when I ask for water, I also explicitly ask for it to be served in a glass. This is not an unreasonable expectation. (Yes, it means they have another dish to wash, but adding another glass to their dishwasher is far less destructive than putting another plastic cup — often made of petroleum-based virgin plastic — in a landfill. Period.)

YOU CAN DO THIS! Although it might feel uncomfortable at first, you’ll quickly get used to asking for something in a reusable container.(Plus, it always sparks a wonderful conversation!) Kudos to you for doing more than just declaring yourself a friend of the animals but for actually manifesting your values in your  behavior. After all, what’s the point of having values if you don’t stand up for them? 

Shop Summary

Making the Zero Waste Transition (Recycling)

When I started this Zero Waste endeavor, I didn’t start with a blank slate, as I suspect is the case with many others on this journey. In other words, as I move ahead and venture to avoid creating new waste, I still have plenty of things in my home that are definitely plastic, definitely waste, definitely things destined for the landfill, and I’m neither going to let them sit in my closets without use nor am I going to just throw them away. That would — obviously — defeat the point! But:

  1.  there is such a thing as a lesser evil, especially those things that are truly recyclable and that I cannot yet replace. (See below.)
  2. each day I find new resources to mitigate what I thought would be the inevitable waste of many existing plastic items in my home.  
  3. recycling is more than just our cities’ recycling programs.

The topic of recycling is complex, and I won’t get into it here; let’s just say I’ve made a near zero-tolerance rule for myself about recycling plastic; i.e. I’m avoiding plastic (as much as I can) in the first place so I don’t have to stress about whether it’s actually or properly getting recycled. 

In terms of items that are 100% recyclable, such as aluminum cans and aluminum foil, I quite rely on the former for my cats’ canned food and on the latter for the homemade vegan sausages I make (for instance), and I’m comfortable keeping them as part of my Zero-Waste plan (for now). Because aluminum is indeed recyclable in my city, I at least buy foil made from recycled aluminum, and I thoroughly clean the cans and sheets before adding to the bin.


Terracycle is an innovative recycling company that creates solutions for hard-to-recycle items. You can sign up for free with them, check out their many partnerships to send products directly to Terracycle, and even earn “points” for doing so that can be redeemed as donations to the nonprofit of your choice. 

For instance, Tom’s of Maine teamed up with Terracycle to provide a second life for empty and used toothpaste tubes, toothbrushes, floss containers, mouthwash bottles, soap packaging and antiperspirant and deodorant containers (I use most of these!). So, until I phase these out in my own home, I can at least send these items to Terracycle. 

Some of the Terracycle free programs are full, but while you wait for a slot to open, you can put aside products for collection or even pay for a box / label to send to Terracycle. To make it more economical, you can create a program at your school or place of business (or even consider organizing a collection with neighbors). 


I used to only recycle my toilet paper tubes, but now I add them to my compost bins. Creating the ideal compost is all about finding a balance between wet and dry ingredients, so these cardboard loo rolls are perfect for soaking up excess water while helping to aerate dense compost heaps.


Made from cardboard Amazon boxes are recyclable or re-useable, and torn apart, I even add the bits to my compost bins. (Read here for more about composting cardboard.) What’s more: the tape Amazon uses is made from paper, so it, too, can be recycled. However, another way to re-use Amazon’s delivery boxes is to take advantage of the Give Back Box program:

  • Unpack your merchandise from your Amazon shipping box. (Give your cat some time to sit in it.)
  • Pack Your Box: Fill the box with usable clothing, accessories and household goods you no longer need and print your free shipping label from
  • Send Your Box: Let UPS or the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) deliver your box of donations to charity for you. (Be sure to remove your cat from the box first!)

But of course the best way to avoid having to deal with cardboard is shopping locally. My husband and I became a little to reliant on Amazon for a lot of items we can buy at a local store we can walk to, so that is definitely one area where my Zero Waste venture is forcing me to change my habits — for the better. 


Of course, I’ve bought recycled printer paper for the last twenty years, but I didn’t even make the connection that I was buying recycled paper reams PACKAGED IN PLASTIC! Now I make sure I buy recycled paper packaged in …recycled paper! I also make sure I re-use and re-print all office paper as many times as possible before finally adding it to the proper recycle bin. 

Coming soon!

So, while there are still ways to recycle, and it’s a legitimate service that more municipalities should provide, the bottom line is refusing and reducing is the best line of defense against waste. 

(Near) Zero Waste at the Farmer’s Market

Today was our first trip to the farmers market since starting my zero waste endeavor. As someone who for years has already been bringing a bevy of canvas and cotton bags to the market to avoid getting plastic bags for my produce, I would have thought I wouldn’t have to make any changes in this particular scenario. 

I was wrong. 

In the past, it’s true we would never take a new plastic bag for any of the fruits and veggies we bought, but some lettuce mixes that David preferred already came in plastic bags, my favorite Medjool dates were sold in plastic containers or plastic bags, and I never even thought about the twisty ties and rubber bands that bound many veggie bunches together. Also, this time I brought glass jars with me in case I bought more delicate items (like mushrooms or berries). 

So, in scenario one, David decided to forego getting the braised greens in the plastic bag (he was going out of town anyway so wasn’t going to have time to eat them), and in scenario two: after paying for our edible wares, I politely asked the vendors if I could give them back whatever was holding our bunches together — rubber bands or twisty ties — and they enthusiastically agreed saying they would re-use them. However, I forgot to do so at one stand, so three bunches of kale came home with twisty ties, which I’m thinking I’ll bring back to the same farmer next week. 

And then came scenario three: the true test of how serious I am. David asked if I wanted to get my dates, which I get every week from the same (and only date) vendor that happens to have the plumpest, juiciest Medjool dates. I walked over knowing that they didn’t have open bins for their dates and that the only option they offer are pre-(plastic)packaged bags/containers. 

In my mind, I had already decided that I would forego buying my favorite dates but decided to ask about package-free options anyway just as another couple was approaching the table. Those who know me to be an unabashed, outspoken vegan might not know that I’m actually someone who doesn’t like to call attention to myself, so when I asked if she had any dates not packaged in plastic and she enthusiastically responded with “oh, are you zero waste??” for fear of sounding arrogant or seeming trendy, I quietly said, “well, yeah, just doing the best I can to not buy plastic.” 

She went on to say that she hates how much plastic they use (and said “they use a lot”) and that she’s trying to get the company to use less or even go zero waste and that even though they don’t normally do this, if I wanted to, I could pick out individual dates from their sample box and put them in my own container. I. Was. Thrilled. I whipped out one of my glass jars. 

At the same time, I was self-conscious about the other couple who had just arrived and overheard my conversation. The gentleman was quietly telling the woman he was with that I was asking for dates not wrapped in plastic (I thought he was annoyed I was taking up so much time), and so I looked directly at him in indicate to him that I could hear him, and so began a lovely conversation about how prevalent plastic is in our world, how challenging it is to try and live plastic-free, how there’s evidence that even more plastic is bring produced despite the zero-waste movement — but how it was worth it to try and do our best. 

As he walked away, he said, “We can all certainly do more to reduce,” as if contemplating this endeavor for himself, patted me on the shoulder and said, “keep up the good work.” 

The entire encounter was validating and heartening and left me hopeful about how people are inclined to do the right thing. It just takes us stepping up and asking for what may seem like a small, insignificant thing but what may make all the difference in the world. Our asking for what we need to reflect our values in our behavior — whether it’s vegan versions or plastic-free options — actually has the power to inspire others as well.

I’ve already reached out to the date farmer to tell them what a good experience we had, how much we love their dates, and to encourage them to consider selling their dates in an open bin rather than in pre-packaged bags. I imagine it might change the type of sales permit they have, but I also imagine it will at least prod them in the right direction. 

That’s the best we can all hope for: moving in the right direction and doing the best we can to do our best.



  • Organic Cotton Muslin Produce Bags (variety of sizes)
  • Cotton Flour Sack Towels (great for wrapping and storing veggies / bread)
  • 16-ounce Ball Jars (pack of 12)

*send an email to Amazon 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.

If it’s Broken, Fix it.

As the daughter of parents who grew up during the Great Depression and the granddaughter of nannies and poppies who had to toil and scrape for everything they got, I subconsciously absorbed an aversion to wasteful and frivolous purchases and a healthy amount of guilt for not valuing the things I did obtain.

That’s certainly not to say I didn’t (and don’t) indulge in materialism, especially as a teenager, or devalue the items my parents worked so hard to give me, but let’s just say I’ve never been comfortable with it. I don’t make purchases lightly, I’d rather have experiences than things, and I cringe at the idea of disposing of something that’s in relatively good condition when it could be repaired.

Especially electronics. 

David and I waited ages to get smart phones when they first came on the scene. My flip phone worked perfectly fine, so why would I replace it with something new and shiny? 

It took us ages to finally get one of those fancy schmancy flat-screen TVs that everyone had, and when we finally did, it was a modest 36″ version. Despite being devout film junkies (and very much appreciating good cinematography and art direction that only a high-quality screen can highlight), it was only very recently that we decided to upgrade that 13-year-old flat screen and indulge in a 65″ display that will enable us to really appreciate our favorite movies. Seven Samurai deserves better. 

Just to give you context, generally speaking, I have to be at the point of pulling my hair out with frustration over obsolete technologies before I allow David to persuade me to upgrade to a faster laptop or a better network drive. (As much as David shares my aversion to unnecessary indulgences, he’s also much better at knowing when to stop suffering for naught.)

Which brings me to our phones — the phones we love, the phones we depend on, the phones we hate, the phones that bind us, the phones that rule us all. Our iPhones. 

As is common knowledge, practically every year, Apple comes out with a new version of their iPhone, and every year David and I have the conversation about what this means for us. And every year, I revolt and protest and hem and haw at the built-in obsolescence of these devices. And every year I’m reminded that the bulk of my work is done on this amazing blasted thing — and that comfort and ease is not a bad thing. 

And so I compromise. David gets a new version (his work is also technology-based), and I take his old phone. I donate my old phone, and I celebrate how much easier my life is to use a device that actually works.

And then it happened. The iPhone 10 came out, and my iPhone 6 (David’s old one) got slower and slower and slower, driving me madder and madder and madder. Oh, the pain of trying to photo-capture a beautiful moment when two of the deer outside our home are playing or head-butting or grooming — only to miss the shot because it takes literally 90 seconds for the camera app to open. Oh, the pain of the phone spontaneously shutting down in the middle of writing an important email. 

Not to mention the fact that while foraging for greens to make a natural holiday wreathe, I inadvertently dropped my pruning shears on my phone and have thus been enduring a cracked screen for a good part of a month.

And so, we had the conversation — again. And again and again. What to do about the iPhone 10. What to do about my awful phone. I bristled at the idea of getting a new one, but as David was tired of seeing me have an aneurism every time I tried to do a simple task, we decided that once again…he would get the new version and I would get his nascent one-year-old iPhone 7.

But while being deliberate about making a new purchase, as we’re wont to do, we embarked upon (or rather, I embarked us both upon) this quest to be more mindful about how we live and what we purchase. Zero waste and all that.

Our delay came with many boons and benefits. 

During our contemplation, it came to pass that Apple was getting so much flack for the short lives of their batteries that they decided to substantially discount the cost of replacing them. We also did our annual budget, and we realized that we had been paying for insurance with our cell phone service provider such that getting a cracked screen fixed would be a fraction of what it would normally cost.

And so here we are. 

  • David got his iPhone assessed, and his battery is just fine. No need to replace. So, he’s holding onto his iPhone 7 — in tact and in perfect working order.
  • Today, I got my screen replaced for $29, and I didn’t even have to leave the house! iCracked is a mobile mobile phone repair company that comes to your house (they also have repair kits so you can do it yourself!) 
  • David made an appointment with Apple to take my phone in early next week to get the battery replaced for (also) only $29! And it’s possible — just possible — that in a few days I will no longer be deterred from capturing all of those fleeting cute kitty moments (and all the other important things I do with my phone). Victory awaits!



And this brings me back to what had been instilled in me long before there was a thing called Zero-Waste: that when things are broken, you fix them. That there is value in the things you work for. That seamstresses and cobblers and TV repairmen and tinkers are the original Zero Waste Heroes. Zeroes? (Hmm…I’ll work on that.) 

I was taught this when I was young. I aspire to it as an adult. 

And I’m grateful Apple has figured it out.

Before there was a thing called “zero-waste living,” there was the idea that when things break, you fix them. That there’s value in the things you work for. That seamstresses and cobblers and TV repairmen and tinkers are the original Zero Waste Heroes. 

Our Plastic-Free / Zero-Waste Goals!

I’ve been vegan for almost 20 years, and my husband just a little less than that. 

We compost every bit of food waste in both our own compost bins as well as in the city’s bin (though we tend to use that for yard waste).

We compost all of our yard trimmings.

We greywatered our plumbing and so we irrigate one of our gardens with our used bathroom shower and sink water. 

We have tanks that hold 1,000 gallons of rain water to irrigate another garden.

I work from home (thus I don’t commute), and my husband walks to the car pool to get into work and walks home from the bus stop on the way back. 

When we do drive, it’s a 14-year-old Prius that still gets 40 miles to the gallon. 

We shop for produce at our local farmer’s market each week, often walking there instead of driving. 

In fact, I walk everywhere — to the local stores for groceries, to my bank, to my post office, to restaurants, even to hiking trails. 

I make all my own legumes, lentils, and grains from scratch (no cans or packaging).

We use canvas bags for all our groceries. 

We tell restaurants not to give us straws.

We wash and reuse the few plastic bags that do wind up in our house. 

And yet…I can do better. And I’m aspiring to. 

I announced to David that one of my intentions for this year was to live as close to zero-waste / plastic-free (they kind of go hand in hand) as possible, and the journey has thus far been enlightening and exciting. The best feeling after the first week was not having to put our garbage can out on garbage day (even my friend across the street noticed). We put out the compost and recycling bins — but not garbage. 

Now, that’s not to say I won’t be contributing to landfills at all. We have plenty of packaging in the house that — until we use it all up and never replace it — will be thrown out, but the idea is to:

  • reduce consumption of non-renewables as much as possible
  • replace the prevalence of plastic in our lives
  • recycle what we’re forced to (without becoming over-reliant on things that appear to be recyclable)
  •  repair what we already have without buying something new
  • rely on foods that can be made from scratch, like my homemade bread and homemade peanut butter for breakfast today!

In the first week, I’ve already made a number of changes, first and foremost letting good friends know this is our goal so we can avoid the awkward moment when they buy or bring me something made from plastic. 

I’ve also put items back on the shelf I was about to purchase but realized were made from plastic. Not that I couldn’t find good crusty bread at the farmer’s market (in paper) or peanut butter in glass jars (or something I can press myself into my own glass jars), but this week I’ve been having a lot of fun making my own peanut butter (with roasted salted peanuts), baking my own bread (from a sourdough starter given to me by a friend), making my own almond milk, and of course continuing to use my beloved pressure cooker to make beans and grains. 


Discoveries and Disappointments

*During the week (before I was able to get to the farmer’s market), when we went to a couple different local stores for produce, we had to forego romaine lettuce and cauliflower because the only available versions were wrapped in plastic, so now I know which local stores sell them without plastic. 

*I noticed that the Bob’s Red Mill all-purpose flour I have in the pantry is packaged in a plastic, non-recyclable bag. Very disappointing. Not a big deal because I can bring containers to the bulk section of stores to buy flour but disappointing for a company that strives to do so many things right. 

*I decided to finally invest in a Le Creuset dutch oven, but I didn’t want to buy a new one, so I found a fantastic deal for a gently used one on eBay! (Blog post about that coming.)

*Gotta figure out the cat litter thing (blog post pending about this, too!) 

*My iPhone 6 has a cracked screen and a ridiculously slow battery. Can’t wait to tell you what I decided to do! I’ll leave that for the next post! 🙂 

This is a journey, and like I always say related to being vegan: Don’t do nothing because you’re can’t do everything. Do something. Anything. So, we’re trying. And there’s a lot we can do!