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Tag: zerowasteoakland

Home Composting for Zero Waste Living (in a House or Apartment)

Remarkably, we throw away up to 40% of the perfectly edible food we bring into our homes! According to the Environmental Protection Agency “wasted food is the single biggest occupant in American landfills.” Globally, food waste is responsible for an estimated 3.3 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions.

And vegans aren’t off the hook either! Certainly, animal agriculture is the main contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, but even when we waste vegan food, we’re contributing to methane created in landfills. So, even though we may not be contributing to greenhouse gas emissions by the food we eat, we ARE contributing to it by the food we waste

That’s were composting comes in! Wherever you live — whether in a house or an apartment, whether you have outdoor access or not, whether you garden or not…you can do it!

Here are some top tips for starting to compost at home. (But for LOTS more, listen to the related Food for Thought podcast episode below.)

  1. Decide what type of compost bin is right for you. I’ve been using the Envirocycle Tumbler Composting Bin for 15 years and recommend it! It’s fully enclosed so it can put in a garden, on a patio, deck or a balcony; it comes in mini (17 gallons) or regular (35 gallons); and it’s super easy to use!
  2. Decide where to place your compost bin. Keep it near the kitchen for easy access (or in the kitchen in the case of an indoor worm bin.)
  3. Remember the basic principles of composting: food, oxygen, and moisture. The microorganisms (bacteria, fungi) and macroorganisms (worms) that break down organic matter need all of these to thrive and do their job. “Food” means nitrogen (green materials such as fruit and veggie scraps) and carbon (brown materials such as dry leaves, cardboard boxes, paper bags). “Oxygen” comes from stirring the pile or rotating your tumbler. “Moisture” comes from water or wet green materials.
  4. Create a system for your veggie scraps. Whenever I’m prepping a meal and invariably have scraps, I throw all of those that can be made into a stock directly into a soup pot, and I throw the rest into my compost pail.
  5. Learn what green and brown materials you can add to your compost bin.  Green: fruit and veggie scraps, lawn and grass clippings, flower cuttings, nut shells, fruit pits, grains (including rice, pastas and breads), coffee grounds, and tea leaves. Brown: cardboard, brown paper bags, paper towels, newspapers, toilet paper rolls, bedding from hamster/gerbil/rabbit cages. (Supporters receive a beautiful graphic detailing everything that can go into a compost bin. Become a supporter today for perks like these!)
  6. Chop green and brown materials into smaller pieces. The smaller the scraps, the faster composting takes place. It just means chopping the veggies smaller before putting them in your compost pail and using something like a microshredder to shred brown materials.
  7. Keep a good balance of green to brown materials.  As a rule, add 1/3 green to 2/3 brown materials.
  8. Learn what NOT to add to your compost bin. Animal products, tea bags (many have plastic), glossy papers, bioplastic “biodegradable” cups/bags are just a few of the things you don’t want to add.
  9. Donate your compost! If you don’t have a garden but are creating beautiful compost (as per all my suggestions in the podcast episode), donate it to community gardens, local garden centers, friends, or to the local park!
  10.  Give away your veggie scraps! If you just aren’t ready to compost on your own but still want to reduce your food waste, here is a handy guide to finding out how you can arrange to have your veggie scraps picked up and hauled away! Some cities offer green waste pick-up, and some innovative companies are picking up people’s veggie scraps for them!

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Zero Waste Shampoo and Conditioner

Plastic-Free Personal Care Products

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.

Of course, 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). But sustainability matters to me, too, so I was thrilled when I found the most incredible zero-waste company in Plaine Products!

(Keep reading for your 15% off coupon code!)

Plaine Products

When I heard about this 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 and now hair styling products!!) I was hooked immediately. 

Plaine Products come in aluminium 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. 

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! (There’s also unscented)

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” (without the quotes) as the coupon code to receive 15% off your order!

NOTE: You can use that link and code AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN!

And don’t forget to use “compassion” for 15% off!

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.