Zero Waste During a Pandemic

We find ourselves in a strange and unique time.  For many, the current pandemic presents truly horrific and painful realities – illness, death, job and income loss, the cancellation of important life events. Birthing without our support people, funerals without a comforting hug, separation from those we love, deferment of celebrations and trips, loneliness and anxiety are realities many face. 

In these times we find comfort in regularity, in routine, in the things we can control. But big or small, many things have been taken out of our control in this time. For those of us trying to live a zero-waste lifestyle, many of our routine zero waste practices in our shopping and dining habits have been disrupted. Your favorite coffee shop no longer allows you to use your own tumbler, and have also done away with their “for here” cups. Curbside pick up means your items are packaged in single-use containers, single-use bags, some of which aren’t recyclable. Bulk sections of many stores are closed, as are buffet, salad and hot bars. Even self-serve coffee and beverage stations are closed to limit any potential spread of germs.

Of course, all of this is understandable. If taking these precautions prevents the spread of this disease, absolutely we should be doing all that we can. It can be disheartening, however, whether you are at the beginning of your zero-waste journey or have been zero-waste for a long time, to accept a plastic bag in lieu of your fabric bags. It can even feel quite icky. I understand. And while we could choose not to get food or beverages from our local shops during the restriction period, those that are still open for business truly need our support during this fragile time. And so, choices have to be made. Choices that don’t always feel like a win at all. And so I say to you – give yourself grace. Recognize that life before Covid-19 looked very different, felt very different, and allowed for different decisions than life during Covid-19 does. Give yourself grace. This will be over, someday in the near future, and life will go back to what it was before, maybe a little better in some ways. But for now, we do what we can, and keep ourselves and our community safe in whatever way we can. Let’s talk about the zero-waste choices we can make during this time.

  1. Notice and rejoice in all the ways zero waste has made this time a little less difficult. Whether it’s cloth diapers and wipes instead of disposable, homemade toothpaste and household cleaner, rags and handkerchiefs instead of paper towels and tissues, or family cloth instead of toilet paper – zero waste certainly gives us a leg up on the shopping frenzy that has taken hold across the country. I’m grateful in this time that I’ve already learned to live without many of these products that have become scarce in recent weeks.
  2. Use your own reusable water bottle and tumbler for drinks from home. Go on hikes by yourself or with your family, and bring your own reusable water bottle, coffee cup, snack bags and containers. Have a picnic in a wide open space – no waste required!

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    Lunch break on our recent hike
  3. Make your own – whether it’s a meal, a loaf of bread, coffee or a smoothie. The things you typically purchase from a store, see if you can make these prepared goods at home. You’ve never tried before? Now is a great time to learn! It sure beats going from store to store seeking out an acceptable loaf of bread.
  4. Support local farmers. Many farmer’s markets and roadside produce stands are still open, observing social distancing guidelines while providing fresh and package-free food. Our local producers need our support right now, and nothing beats fresh, local, in season produce. It’s spring and the bounty of food is starting to arrive. I know I’m excited that our CSA (Hilltop Farms) is about to start up – I can’t wait to get all the fresh veggies I’ve been craving and unable to find!
  5. Recycle what you can. Grocery bags are certainly recyclable, and just like at any other time, try to give preference to products that come in a recyclable or reusable container. Maybe you can’t buy from bulk at this time, and in some places even loose produce is not currently available. When given a choice, choose the most recyclable option. Now might be a great time to research Terracycle if you haven’t before! We are definitely getting more use out of our Terracycle box than usual.
  6. Be green in every other way. Some of the positive news that has come out of this pandemic is that our reduced emissions (from working from home, schools and businesses closed, sporting and entertainment events cancelled) has already shown it’s effects in reduced smog and improved air quality, water quality, and space for wildlife. Do your part by staying off the roads as much as possible, use less water and less electricity as you’re able to. Plant a vegetable garden, some flowers, a tree. Do a trash pick up on your hike. Use this time to reduce and rethink your shopping and consuming habits. There are so many other ways to be green.
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The littlest planting strawberries this week

This is a difficult time for all of us in so many different ways. It’s okay if your journey looks different right now. Give yourself grace, make the best decisions when you have a choice at all, and recognize that the path looks different for everyone in the best of times, it will look different for each of us in this trying time as well. Like all things, this shall pass, and we will find a new norm on the other side – hopefully with all the good bits and less of the bad. Take care of yourselves and each other. Stay safe, friends. 

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Family Hike at a Local State Park

 

                                                                                  

 

Our 2018 Jar of Trash

Here it is, our 2018 Jar of Trash! I realize I may not have posted my 2017 jar, so find that picture below. The jars are pretty similar.

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2018 Jar

So, what’s in the jar? The main things we have had trouble recycling, and avoiding, are (drum roll)…………. foil lids! Those little plastic/paper/foil combos that seal vitamins, medicine, orange juice are the final item we’re having the most trouble recycling. There are also a few razor heads in each of these jars, but fear not! We have now switched to safety razors, which contain no plastic. We haven’t had to recycle any of those blades yet, but they are all metal and I understand are easily recyclable inside of a can. We will cross that bridge when we get to it.

We have a Terracycle plastic packaging recycle box, where all our plastics go that can’t be recycled locally. We are still working diligently towards reducing our recycling, with the ultimate goal being not needing the Terracycle bin at all, and not needing to take our recycling so often. I’ve been carefully watching the developments of China turning away the world’s plastic refuse, and while I am concerned in the short term for the fate of these plastics, I am hopeful that the silver lining will be a reduction in single use plastics, and a surge in package-free and compostable packaging. Changes are already underway in the EU and Canada. Come on US, get on board!

I will write more soon, I promise! I have some ZW wins to share, and some thoughts on some regressive behaviors we’ve seen in stores lately. Stay tuned!

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2017 Jar 

 

Guest Post – Go Green,Get Clean! By contributor Beth Browne

A talented writer and friend, Beth Browne, has contributed the following post to our blog. She mentions yours truly in it, which I appreciate, in her review of the newest addition to her bathroom. After reading her review, I decided to give the product a try myself, and am happy with the results! And so, I am proud to share her review with all of you.

GO GREEN, GET CLEAN!
by Beth Browne
I thought I was green. For decades, I’ve been a devoted recycler, composter and solar clothes dryer (ie: clothesline) aficionado. But all that went out the window when I saw Josie’s Facebook post shortly after the New Year. Her annual trash collection was the amount I produced twice a week. It was humbling, to say the least.
As I began to attack some of the various items around the house, (No more fast food cups! No compostable paper in the trash! Ix-nay to produce bags!) my gaze fell upon the ever-present pack of baby wipes on the back on the toilet. My eyes narrowed. Not compostable. Synthetic. No more!
At that instant, happily, the path to getting our collective butts clean came to me. Some years before, we had visited my sweetie’s father and his wife in Florida. She is from Brazil and was accustomed to having a bidet in the bathroom. Since they bought a house already built and there was no room to add another fixture, they found an alternative.
https://www.biobidet.com” BioBidet, in addition to making actual bidets you can install in your bathroom if you have the space, makes a dandy unit that attaches to your existing toilet in a jiffy. They even have a somewhat hilarious “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDl0weQYwwg&feature=youtu.be” video. (Go ahead, watch it. I dare you not to laugh.) I found “https://www.walmart.com/ip/BIO-BIDET-Simplet-Bidet-Attachment/46275974” one at Walmart.com that was on sale for just twenty bucks.
My sweetie hooked it up in about fifteen minutes. We added a set of hooks so everyone could have a dedicated butt towel and voila! No more baby wipes! My teenagers were skeptical at first (gross understatement, pun intended) but they’re coming around. They don’t know I’m planning to phase out toilet paper altogether. -insert evil laugh-
I love it. Not even a baby wipe gets my butt this clean and it pleases me not to need toilet paper. I’m nowhere near my waste-reduction goal, but I feel good about taking this step. I wrote the BioBidet folks a well-deserved review and got a $5 Amazon gift card as a thank-you. (taking the price of our BioBidet down to fifteen bucks, the cost of just one case of baby wipes at Costco) Thank you, Josie, for getting me started on this vitally important path. Now, about those yogurt containers…

Terracycle’s April Deal

In honor of Earth Day, Terracycle is offering 20% off two of their most popular boxes, Plastic packaging and Break room box. Just enter code APRILBOX20 at check out. Here is the plastic packaging box I have:  

I want to again mention that Terracycle doesn’t pay me to advertise,  but I’m so happy to recycle with them items that are perfectly recyclable, as many things are, that are not being recycled in our local waste management program. Anything to divert waste from the landfills! They have some other programs and specials going on for Earth Day, like partnering with Target to recycle expired carseats, Garnier to recycle beauty and personal care products containers and more! So do check out their site for more information, terracycle.com

Food Packaging Waste

We might as well tackle the biggest category of trash, food packaging. Some figures estimate that nearly 90% of our waste in the US is food packaging! Small changes in your personal shopping and recycling habits can make a huge difference in your trash output.

Like with all categories, I like to run it through the 5 Rs (we’ve discussed these in a previous post, and others may give a different set of Rs, but these are the ones I use).

Refuse and reduce:

A lot of packaging is not refuseable. I’m thinking of those items that come in a sealed bag, in a sealed box, sealed with more plastic. Why? When possible, seek out the product with less packaging. If one tea comes in a nice reuseable tin, maybe choose it over the one in individual foil bags inside a cardboard box with shrink wrap on it. Or better yet, buy the tea in bulk and use a reusable tea ball or bag! For fruit, this means choosing loose fruit, not pre-bagged or shrink wrapped on top of a Styrofoam pad. Choose fruits and veggies from a farmers market to avoid stickers and packaging, or seek out the stickerless pieces in a store. Remember to bring your own produce bags to avoid those single use plastic ones. Tare them at the register first so you are charged correctly.

Buying in bulk is the biggie here. Find what’s available close to you, and BYOC (bring your own containers). My favorites are peanut butter (I bring a mason jar), coffee, tea, all my dry goods, granola and dried fruits, agave (glass bottle) and loose produce. Choose package free whenever you can. Shop around and become familiar with what is available near you.

Reuse:

I mentioned the tea tin in the previous section. Some other packaging can be reused creatively – my favorite example is the glass jars my preferred brand of applesauce comes in. We use it to store beans, homemade yogurt and salsa, vinegar for cleaning and all manner of things. I use toilet paper rolls to collect lint for fire starters  (if you choose not to go TP free – an article for another day) Other people are more creative than I and come up with some cool reuses for the packaging they can’t avoid. If there’s something you regularly buy that comes with a package, consider researching (ie. Googling) reuses for that item before you toss it.

Recycle:

I’m fond of saying more things are recycleable than you think. I constantly hear “I didn’t know that was recycleable!”. So educate yourself on what is recycleable in your local community. And if there’s something they don’t accept, research who does. For instance, some municipalities don’t take plastic #5 (think yogurt and butter tubs) so Whole Foods has a “gimme 5” program to accept those plastics. You may be surprised how many items you are throwing away that your local facility accepts for recycling.

Rot:

Food obviously falls in this category, but a lot of packaging does too. Shredded cardboard is great for the compost, and it’s my preferred disposal of any items that might have food residue on it, as the recycling facilities prefer to receive clean items so as not to contaminate the batch.

This is a category of great mass, and so there is great opportunity to reduce your impact here. What hurdles are you finding in the food packaging category of waste, or what big wins? Share in the comments below!

Zero Waste- personal care

Some of my favorite changes that we’ve made are in the bathroom with our personal care products. These bamboo toothbrushes are compostable, and the bristles are largely plant-based, and can be recycled inside of a plastic bottle. There are entirely natural toothbrushes on the market too, made with boar bristles, but obviously not vegan. We have been very happy with these toothbrushes, and the company is impressively eco-minded. Pictured here is an adult toothbrush and a child one (mine and eldest’s), along with my homemade toothpaste! Brushwithbamboo.com

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I’ve been making my own toothpaste for over a year now. I’ve gotten kudos from my dentist for it, and we love the texture and the taste, and the clean feel after brushing!

My shower routine is simple and easy, and I love the minimalist aspect of it as well- my shower is empty and clean! I’ve been using a shampoo bar for 5 years and love how my hair feels. A bar for body and that’s it. I buy these locally sans packaging.

I do shave as well, though seldom as I’ve discovered how much slower my hair grows when I stretch out the time between shaving. I still use my plastic razor with changeable heads, and have found that with appropriate drying the head can last a year or more (I haven’t changed mine in at least 18 months and it’s still quite sharp). If I ever have to replace it I will probably elect for a metal safety razor, but as the one I have is still in good working order, continuing to use it is the least wasteful thing to do. For lather I use a shave bar, bought locally from a vegan company in a cardboard package.

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What About….?

So many questions I receive start with these words, and the next word differs from person to person, each time. Which items have been on your mind? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll be sure to address them! This week I’ll blog about some of my favorite replacements, do-it-yourself items, and tricks to reduce waste. I’ll include pictures of my items, and when possible links to the ones I bought, or keywords to search when applicable.

None of these companies pay me to recommend their products (they don’t even know I exist!), I just like to support the products and companies I like. Stay tuned!

2017 Goals and Hurdles

We finished 2016 with one grocery bag of trash (see pic below of our family, and our trash, on New Years Eve!), and I posted that picture in a few zero-waste groups I’m in. The response was amazing! It was those responses that encouraged me to finally start a blog. There are those further along the journey than I, from whom I have learned so much, and many who are on their own path towards waste reduction. I have always felt like this was a journey without a destination, a journey towards zero, without ever reaching zero. As long as we always arch towards improvement, we will be on the right path!

For 2017 I set the goal of a mason jar of trash. I wasn’t sure where to go from grocery bag – smaller grocery bag? It seemed like mason jar was the next logical step, but I’ve already realized my first hurdle, and know that a mason jar alone likely won’t be attainable for us this year. The culprit? Daiya ‘cheese’ containers. They made up a large portion of our trash bag in 2016, and have become a favorite product of eldest, who is nearing 6 y.0. and a very picky eater these days. These packages of shredded “cheese” and sliced “cheese” won’t fit in a mason jar. What to do?

We have not bought any “chreese” yet this year, and I am seeking recipes for a good sliceable, shreddable “cheese”, and have found at least one that looks promising. Perhaps I can make my own and don’t have to worry about packaging at all – that would be ideal! In the meantime…

I accept that this journey is not mine alone. It is our whole family’s, and I don’t feel like I can rightfully deny my son one of his favorite foods. So a compromise may be necessary. Perhaps a mason jar for all waste, aside from the stack of Daiya containers? In case you’re wondering, I have checked with Daiya, and they have this to say about the non-recyclability of their packages:

“IS DAIYA PACKAGING RECYCLABLE?

In choosing the packaging for our products we needed to consider many elements.  We heard from our consumers that keeping our products free of preservatives was very important to them.

Respecting this preference, we chose to ensure product freshness and safety through packaging that prevents oxygen from entering into the package. This allows us to maintain the freshness of the product without adding preservatives.  The packaging is the lowest gauge of plastic possible for this type of food product.

Though our plastic packaging is not currently recyclable, we partnered with a supplier who is focusing on reducing their environmental impact in all areas of business, including maximizing energy efficiency and waste recycling. We purchase our bags from within Canada to reduce the carbon footprint from transportation.

Having recyclable packaging is our ultimate and we are working hard to get there. We do small packaging runs and are always looking at all available options to ensure we are making the best choices for the environment and our customers.

Our Dressing bottles, Pizza, Cheezy Mac, and Cheezecake boxes are recyclable at this time.” (source: http://daiyafoods.com/faq)

 

So, they’re working on it. In the meantime, I’ll do the best I can. I hope you take from this story that – no one is perfect, doing your true best is good enough, and allowing ourselves grace will save our sanity.

Here it is, 2016’s bag of trash! More on what I threw away in 2016 to come!

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How it All Began (Zero Waste)

I started this journey about 5 years ago. In 2011 I heard a story on NPR that piqued my interest in zero waste, a concept I had not previously heard of, but which instantly clicked with me. My little family of 3 – myself, my husband, and our eldest son, 1 yo at the time – already made a fairly small amount of waste. We did not subscribe to trash pick-up service, because we were only making about a kitchen trash bag a month, or less. But when I heard this story of a couple who went a month making zero waste, I thought ‘we can totally do this!’.  I’m a ‘challenge-accepted’ kinda gal, and knew immediately that zero waste was our ultimate goal. We started right away.

I like doing things incrementally, so we decided to start by ‘halving’ our trash, to 6 trash every 2 months. I placed a pad of paper on the counter above our trash can, and tasked us with writing down each item that we threw away (adding a tick mark next to the item if it was already listed). After a few weeks we had a good idea of what our trash consisted of, and started going through line by line asking ourselves what we could do to remove that item from our garbage. Could we compost or recycle it instead? Could we buy an alternative that is recyclable or compostable? Did we need that item in the first place? It got us thinking, and making changes.

2013 we would reduce to quarterly bags, then  2014 2 bags for the year. 2015 would end with the birth of my youngest son, (youngling), and 1 trash bag, really only half of one. (Pictured below) By this time we were getting pretty good at reducing our waste, and I had been giving talks on waste reduction (“Trash Talk”) for a couple of years.

In 2016, we made 1 grocery bag of waste, photo to be seen in the next blog post. And we are well on our way to making less for 2017! More discussion of our goals in a post to come!

In the meantime, what questions do you have for me? What would you like me to blog about? I’m here to make this journey with you, let’s make it about what roadblocks you have encountered, what concerns you have. Let’s move forward with our goals together!

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Allow Me to Introduce Myself…

Hi, I’m new here! New to blogging, new to talking to an audience of people I may not know IRL. I hope you give me grace, I hope you’ll be patient with me as I figure out how to use this tool to share what I’ve learned, and to embark on this journey towards zero waste living with you all along for the ride.

I’m not new to zero waste or vegan living though – I’ve been doing zero waste for 5 years (see next blog post for my journey to now) and have been vegetarian since I was 8 (25 years) – vegan since I was 18 (15 years). My husband has been vegan for 12 years, and our children since conception. I’m also in the process of moving towards a more minimalist life – konmari method style! I may have a post about that here and there as well. I look forward to learning with you, answering your questions and learning from you as well. I hope we accomplish great things together!DSC_6671.jpg