Tag: zero waste home

Zero Waste, Plastic-Free Tips for Living with Cats

I get so many questions about what I feed my kitties from a vegan point of view as well as how to care for them from an ecological point of view, whether we’re talking about toys, litter, or food. 

Check out this video, as well as my podcast episodes for answers. 

As for the resources I mention, here they are below:

▸CAT ENRICHMENT & TOYS
*Make your own toys if you can
– Cat Scratcher Lounge Collapsible: https://amzn.to/2yK3MZ6
– Cat Scratcher Lounge: https://amzn.to/2KkyTiw (best thing I ever bought!)
– Plastic-free lint brush https://amzn.to/2MqsOyu

▸ CAT LITTER
-okocat https://amzn.to/2KlmKJT

▸ PLASTIC-FREE LITTER BOX
https://amzn.to/2yEl0ad

▸PLASTIC-FREE LITTER SCOOP
https://amzn.to/2KaSG4q

▸HOW TO COMPOST YOUR CAT’S LITTER
http://bit.ly/2IsnQOZ

▸ CAT FOOD
-Natural Balance Cat Food https://amzn.to/2IyzZSS
-Tiki Cat (for when the kitties just want a little extra) https://amzn.to/2KrXNJT

▸ Cornell University on flushing cat poop
http://bit.ly/2N1evRI

Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything. Do something. Anything. 

25 Meaningful Zero-Waste, Ethical Gifts

Aspiring to live “zero-waste” doesn’t mean being perfect or never buying anything ever again. It means valuing and taking responsibility for what we bring into our lives or into the lives of others.  This list first debuted on my Food for Thought Podcast, so if you’d like to hear it in the context of a larger story about living meaningfully, compassionately, and thoughtfully, check out the episode Lessons and Gifts: Making Meaningful Holidays (and Lives).

As for our list, I’ve categorized them into a few different categories and look forward to hearing your thoughts and your ideas for meaningful, zero-waste, ethical gifts. Please use the comments below to do so!

FOOD

  1. Loose Tea — find your favorite in bulk or in tins; if you order from FarLeaves.com (their tins are reusable and recyclable), enter “colleen” as the coupon code for 10% off
  2. Herbs and Spices — If you can’t find them in bulk near you, you should be able to find spices and herbs in glass jars (which can be reused again and again).  When creating your gift for others, you can make theme-based gift packets, such as “baking spices” (including cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cardamom), or “Italian herbs” (including parsley, basil, and oregano), or “favorite herbs for soup.” You get the idea. Add the spice jars to a basket and wrap in a pretty kitchen towel and raffia ribbon.
  3. Fruit and Nut Basket — Go to a local farm stand or farmers market and buy some beautiful seasonal fruits like persimmon, pomegranates, and apples and some whole walnuts (along with a nice metal nutcracker) — even a jar of local or homemade jam and create a gift basket. Add a couple hand-written recipes that feature the fruits you’ve included. 
  4. Ready-to-Bake Ingredients in a Jar — Instead of giving chocolate chip cookies, what about giving chocolate chip cookies ingredients (and promising to come over and bake with your friend)! Get a bunch of jars from a thrift store and add exactly the amount of all the ingredients in each jar, along with the recipe itself. Make it more special by adding a pie plate or cupcake tin, and pack it up in a pretty paper box. 
  5. Homemade Baked Goods — Bake a pie, crumble, or cobbler and hand-deliver your gift! Make my Caramel Popcorn (from The Joy of Vegan Baking), and present it in a pretty  tin. There are so many ways to create a pretty presentation of homemade goodies.

REUSABLES
Give these individually, as stocking stuffers, or Secret Santa gifts — or create a gift pack of some or all of these. (If you order online, just call when you’re placing your order to request using only paper and not plastic packing materials.)

  1. Reusable straws
  2. Stainless steel food containers
  3. Reusable coffee cups
  4. Reusable grocery shopping bags
  5. Reusable produce bags
  6. Reusable water bottles
  7. Reusable tea thermos (you know me and my favorite tea thermos!)
  8. Reusable shampoo and conditioner bottles
  9. Reusable travel cutlery set
  10.  

EXPERIENCES

  1. The 30-Day Vegan Challenge Online Course 
  2. Concert or Theatre Tickets  — Either find a theatre near your recipient and pick a show you think they’d like to see, or buy a gift certificate from the theatre so your recipient can choose exactly what show they want to attend. 
  3. The Gift of Time (in a Coupon Book): Something I’ve done over many years is create a little coupon book, which you can make as simple or as elaborate as you like, that you give to a loved one for them to redeem — for a massage, a home-cooked meal, a movie, a walk, a hike, a dance — whatever experiences you want to encourage you loved one to ask you for. There are companies that sell these nowadays, but I just like making my own. 
  4. Travel by Theme: My husband David and I set for ourselves the goal to sleep in every county in California. When we lived on the east coast, one theme was “Literary / Author’s Houses” (and still is, depending on where we go) as well as “Lighthouses of New England.” The National Parks of North America is another on our list, and that can be done either by driving or by train! (Travel doesn’t have to include flying, though if you want it to, then I recommend my CPG Vegan Trips!)
  5. Local Walking Tours. Many cities have walking tours led by docents who love where they live and relish sharing the history of the place with others. Lots of cities also have themed walking tours — they might be literary, history, architectural, women’s history, etc. (For those who came to my Compassion in Action a couple years ago, I led a walking tour of the animal protection history in Oakland!). Contact a city’s chamber of commerce and register you and a friend today! Many are free; some ask for donations, some you pay a minimal fee for — it’s worth it! I promise!

BOOKS 
 Obviously, as a writer and a reader, I’m a huge fan of books — even if they’re ebooks or audiobooks. I usually buy a bunch of my favorite books to give out throughout the year, and I’ve listed some below that I use as manuals for living every day. I encourage you to create your own.

  1. Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (trans. Stephen Mitchell)
  2. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (trans. Gregory Hays)
  3. The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday
  4. Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker
  5. Zooburbia by Tal Moses
  6. Commonplace Book and / or Blank Journals — I journal every day, but I also keep a common book inspired by the Stoics. (Ryan Holiday explains here.) The idea is to not only record your own thoughts (blank journaling/free-writing) but also to record quotes and thoughts of others you find meaningful and want to remember. The act of just writing down meaningful sentences and paragraphs penetrates your mind even more than just reading them. 

BONUS IDEA: MY BOOKS. I’m an author. I’m proud of my seven babies. If you’d like to buy one or more as gifts for others, you’ve made it worth the work I’ve put into each of them. Thank you. 

ENJOY!


Enjoyed this post & want to show your gratitude? Then please support me on Patreon!

 

 

How to Host a Zero-Waste Holiday Dinner

It’s no secret in our home and among our friends: I love to host — parties, dinners, dinner parties, happy hours, anything that brings our loved ones together. 

I blame (READ: credit) my mother. She was the consummate hostess, and I have very fond memories of constant parties at our house — in every season.

*In the summer, she hosted neighborhood picnics and potato sack races in our backyard!

*At Christmastime, she hosted holiday parties and even arranged visits from Santa!

*In the spring, she hosted brunch and Easter egg hunts.

*And I have oodles of photos of my mother in every Halloween costume imaginable as she this holiday very seriously.

She loved bringing people together, and I just wish I could tell her how much she inspired this quality in me — without even realizing it.   

And so this Thanksgiving, eight of us will sit down to dinner together, and in keeping with my intention to live “zero waste,” I thought I’d share with you how I’m able host dinner without buying any “stuff.” Now, for me the term “zero waste” is aspirational rather than rigid. No one is truly zero waste, but for me it means:

  • valuing what I choose to bring into (or already have in) my life/home
  • giving away or refusing what I don’t or can’t value/use
  • taking responsibility for whatever goods I do bring into my life/home
  • avoiding single-use plastic/plastic packaging as much as possible

With that as my guide, it’s very easy to look around my home and see what I already have that can be used for decorating and table-scaping.

THE TABLE

I have had the same couple sets of plates for decades — and one in particular is perfect for fall and winter.  I let the season, my mood, and the light dictate the decor, and this year…it’s  warm greens and browns. ?

[envira-gallery id=”8659″]

–>CENTERPIECE: This beautiful stag is our year-round centerpiece,  because…deer! But for the Thanksgiving dinner, I added height by propping him up on a cake stand and created a bed or rosemary for him to stand on. 

[envira-gallery id="8662"]

–>ELEMENTS FROM NATURE: On that note, I use a lot of natural materials whatever the season — going outside and gathering leaves, pinecones, flowers, branches — and in this case, cutting rosemary from the numerous rosemary plants we have.

–>NAPKINS & TABLECLOTHS: We use cloth napkins every day as a matter of course, and of the yellow, brown, and green ones we rotate, the brown seemed perfect for this table. I’ve had these leaf napkin rings for eons, and they’re perfect for fall and winter. I have a few different runners for the table, but I don’t tend to like to use placemats. I find it’s just easier to wipe the table than wash table linens. That’s just me.

[envira-gallery id=”8664″]

–>PLACE SETTINGS: I wanted to personalize the place settings, which also makes it easier for everyone to know where to sit, so I printed out everyone’s names on cardstock — using paper I already had and ribbon and string I picked from my “gift-wrap” drawer. I also pulled out these little bud vases, which you can easily find these in thrift and second-hand shops. Or, alternatively you could just tie the rosemary together and lay down on the plate.

[envira-gallery id="8666"]

–>CHAIRS: As we have only 6 chairs for our small dining room table, instead of buying additional chairs, we borrowed 2 from a neighbor.

THE FOOD

Even though we’re hosting, our friends are also contributing dishes (such as  bread stuffing, green bean casserole, mushroom gravy, salads, pumpkin pie, and apple cobbler. I, however, am in charge of the main dish and some sides:

Oh, and cranberry sauce. Here’s a confession. My husband loves the cranberry sauce from a can, which actually works out well from a zero-waste perspective. As I said, it’s not that zero waste dictates we don’t buy anything; it means we take responsibility for what we do buy.

(SIDE NOTE: Because glass and aluminum are both materials that still have a value in the marketplace and are thus recycled again and again and again (unlike plastic, which is either NOT recycled or able to be recycled only once or twice before losing quality and thus being sent to the landfill). Plus, most plastic is just packaging and just goes straight to the landfill. Listen to my podcast episodes on this topic in Food for Thought.)

–>That means if I have the choice of buying something in a glass container, aluminum can, or plastic container, I’m going to choose glass first (because I wash and keep the bottle/jar), aluminum second (it gets properly recycled), and never plastic (if I can avoid it). 

–>Because I wanted to add corn kernels to my cornbread and because David wanted cranberry sauce, I was able to find each in a can. (Corn on the cob is not in season right now.)  In the past, I used to buy corn and cranberries (to make fresh sauce) in the frozen section in a plastic bag. Being mindful of packaging now, I would rather buy in aluminum cans. Hence…

[envira-gallery id="8668"]

–>Everything I needed for my lentil loaf was already in my cupboard and had been bought in bulk (lentils, herbs, onions, etc.), but we had just bought walnuts that David cracked open as his contribution to dinner. 🙂 

[envira-gallery id="8678"]

–>The milk for my cornbread (and potatoes) came was homemade soymilk using my 2nd-hand soymilk maker and dried/soaked soybeans. 

[envira-gallery id="8669"]

–>The flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda all came from the bulk sections of my local grocery store, and Miyoko’s butter actually comes in paper packaging that I can compost.

[envira-gallery id="8670"]

–>As for my carrot soup, I’m thrilled to have found a few grocery stores in my neighborhood that sell carrots in bulk — meaning NOT in plastic bags! Yellow potatoes are also easy to find not in plastic (especially at the farmers market but also in stores, as are ginger and garlic (the other ingredients for the soup). 

–>We also serve wine and spirits, all of which are in glass and thus recyclable. 

–>Finally, all of our food scraps are added to our own compost bins OR to our city’s green bins (Oakland has a robust compost program). 40% of food brought into our homes goes straight into the garbage (and thus the landfill), causing additional problems such as the creation of greenhouse gases. (Listen to my podcast episode Food is Not Garbage for more on food waste.)

And so there you have it. It’s not about being perfect, but it is about doing the best we can. Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything. Do something. Anything. 

Happy holidays!

What are your favorite zero-waste tips for decor, tablescaping, and cooking? PLEASE ADD YOUR COMMENTS BELOW!

 

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 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)

DISCLOSURE

While I only work with brands which I genuinely believe in and am eager to share with you, Who Gives a Crap sent me a complementary box of toilet paper to try, and I’m a genuine fan because of the product they make and the difference they are making. All of these words and opinions are my own.

How Going Zero-Waste Changed my Breakfast

Breakfast is my favorite meal. I’ve perfected my decades-long ritual of making my tea (a future post, indeed!), preparing my food, and sitting down for my morning read. This all usually comes after my morning run or workout. (Yes, I wake up early and love mornings!) 

My breakfast choices (like with all my meals) tend to change with the season — I prefer fresh fruit and smoothies in the warmer months and oatmeal in the colder months, but one thing that has filled my freezer (and belly) every day for years is Trader Joe’s frozen blueberries. Versatile, inexpensive, perfect for smoothies, oatmeal, muffins, or just eaten straight from a bowl. That’s right. One of my favorite breakfasts is a huge bowl of frozen blueberries, drizzled with some agave nectar, and tossed about with some nuts and/or seeds. However, my freezer is now devoid of these once permanent bags o’ berries.

 

Changing one of my most regular pleasurable habits is indicative of how serious I am about this zero-waste, plastic-free endeavor. Yes, I could buy fresh blueberries and freeze them, but here’s the rub: blueberries aren’t in season year-round, even in produce-rich California. 

And you know what? It turns out it’s fine, because it has forced me to make choices at the farmers market and for my breakfast that are revolved around criteria other than just simply habit or routine. Criteria that include:

  • zero-waste
  • plastic-free
  • seasonal
  • locally grown (when possible)
  • and vegan, of course

I’ve talked often of the benefits and beauty of eating seasonally, but even *I* made exceptions over the years: frozen blueberries encased in plastic being Exhibit A. And so with making choices based on all of my values — not just some of them and only when they’re convenient — I’m buying fruit at the market that’s in season rather than buying a plastic bag filled with fruit grown out of season and out of my region. 

It’s February, and the farmers markets are filled strawberries (among other fruits such as citrus and apples — yum!), and that’s what I’ve been centering my breakfasts on. And it’s been lovely. In fact, I never, ever ate oatmeal with strawberries, and now that I have, I love it!  

 

(The components of my recent breakfast: rolled oats, raw almonds, strawberries, brown sugar, cinnamon, homemade soymilk, ground flax seeds — missing from photo.)

Imagine that! Being open to something new actually reaps other rewards. Get out!  

I do very much look forward to finding blueberries again at the farmers markets (anthocyanins and all that!), and I do plan on freezing some for future consumption, but in the event that I get to have blueberries or other seasonal foods only certain times of the year makes having them all the more special. And that’s just another added bonus. 

DON’T FORGET: When you’re at the farmers market, you don’t have to take home the berries in the container they’re sold in. Simply dump them into your own reusable bag or container, and hand the basket back to the farmer. They’re happy to reuse them.

What are your favorite zero-waste breakfasts?

 

No doubt about it: blueberries not trapped in plastic are a helluva lot prettier and tastier!

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.

(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.

                          ________________________________

SHOP* 

  • 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. 

GET YOUR FREE JOYFUL VEGAN GUIDE

Includes delicious plant-based recipes and a meal plan!




© 2022 ColleenPatrickGoudreau.com. All Rights Reserved.