[Nearly] Zero Waste Preschool Birthday Favors

[Nearly] Zero Waste Preschool Birthday Favors

Preschool has been tough for my zero-wasting heart. Besides countless papers and craft projects, my daughter has brought home bags of Valentine’s Day gifts, Halloween candy, plastic Easter eggs, and, of course, the birthday favors from her 17 classmates. This is all very sweet and well intended, but it produces a lot of waste.

Still, I can only do what I can do, so we have tried to reduce the waste that we send into the classroom as much as possible. I pack Evangeline’s snack [always fruit or vegetables] in a beeswax wrap, and I send her with a reusable silicone bag to collect the compostable items from her class [a task that she LOVES].

We made homemade cards and zero-waste Christmas gifts for her teachers and wrapped them in simple brown paper bags.

And we gave cuties as Valentine’s Day gifts, tied with compostable string and tag.

I was thinking that since my daughter’s birthday was in the summer I could just avoid the whole “birthday treat” tradition altogether. But I received a letter that they would be celebrating the summer birthdays after all. They encouraged a non-edible gift of some sort – which eliminated my idea of sending home baked cookies wrapped in paper. Instead, I decided to send sidewalk chalk.

I figured that these could be purchased in cardboard boxes and tied with string. And what child doesn’t love sidewalk chalk?

Well, imagine my horror when I opened the box of chalk to find the sticks wrapped in plastic!!

🤦‍♀️

You win some, you lose some, I suppose. They made a cute gifts anyway.

Of course, now I’ve found tutorials showing how to make chalk from household items like cornstarch or EGG SHELLS! What?!?

Zero waste school tips are always welcome!!! 😁

Karis

My 34 Ways to Go Zero Waste

My 34 Ways to Go Zero Waste

It’s been exactly one year since I read my first zero waste book, Zero Waste: Simple Life Hacks to Drastically Reduce Your Trash by Shia Su, which was my first introduction to the world of bulk bins and muslin bags and stainless steel straws and bamboo cutlery. And my life has been forever changed.

Thanks, Shia! [I LOVE HER!]

This book made me believe that reducing my waste is totally achievable – not extreme or inconvenient, as it is commonly perceived – and gave BRILLIANT tips and hacks and photos to convince me that, YES, I can do it!

Since then, I’ve made a lot of changes to reduce my household’s waste.

Then, a few days ago, I picked up this new book: 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste by Kathryn Kellogg, which is another super practical guide for reducing your waste.

This book is so fabulous that I read the entire thing in two days – which basically means a few hours.

As someone who is outspokenly “low waste,” this book was part slap on the back [“yeah, look at you go! No more paper towels in your home!”] and part slap on the wrist [“don’t call yourself zero waste when you still accept disposable straws at the drive-thru!”].

I’ve clearly got some more work to do.

Out of the 101 ways in the book, 20 are not applicable to me [I don’t use hairspray] or are impractical [I can’t walk, bike, or take public transportation because of where I live and the fact that I always have three toddlers in tow]. Out of the 81 that are left, I’ve already been doing 47! [Go me!] But that still leaves 34 ways to go zero waste that I have not gotten a handle on yet.

Yes, one of them is the straw issue…

So, since my clothing ban officially ends next month, I’m going to use the next twelve months to focus on these remaining 34 areas.

Here they are:

  1. Say “No” to straws
  2. Go to the farmers market
  3. Go to the butcher
  4. Specialty stores and restaurants
  5. Compostable dish scrubs*
  6. Swapping out toxic items
  7. Toothpaste*
  8. Toothbrush
  9. Toilet paper
  10. Tissues
  11. Razor*
  12. Lotion*
  13. Deodorant*
  14. All-Purpose cleaner*
  15. Deodorizing spray*
  16. Room deodorizer*
  17. Carpet deodorizer*
  18. Tub and toilet cleaner*
  19. Floor cleaners*
  20. Dishwasher detergent
  21. Air drying
  22. Shipping packaging
  23. Fountain pen*
  24. Recycled and double sided paper*
  25. Office-wide initiatives
  26. Take out
  27. Out to eat
  28. Zero waste travel kit
  29. Buying carbon offsets
  30. Zero waste vacations
  31. Zero waste pets
  32. Find community
  33. Work locally
  34. Get involved with local government
  • [*I haven’t been buying these for the past year and I am still trying to use up what I have so that I can switch to a sustainable or DIY alternative.]
  • Geez, that is a long list. Luckily, many of these things can be combined. Also, many of these won’t be accomplished in a year because I’m still working through using up my bajillion bottles of lotion and my fifteen packages of disposable razors [don’t ask].
  • And now, I will leave you with my favorite quote from the book:

    “In today’s world, one of the most radical things you can do is find contentment.” – Kathryn Kellogg, 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste

    Doesn’t sound related to zero waste, but that is at the heart of the zero waste movement – to stop the constant consumption and need for more that drives our linear economy. Finding contentment with what we have is the first step to counteracting our wastefulness.

    Karis

    Homemade croutons

    Homemade croutons

    When I’m reaching the end of my homemade bread loaves, I usually have some dried ends hanging around because of the shape of my loaf pans. Rather than let these go to waste, I use them to make croutons.

    I originally got the idea from back in the day when I worked for Panera. Did you know that they make their own croutons out of their freshly baked bread? Well, at least that’s how they did it ten years ago…

    Anyway, nowadays I do the same thing when I’m looking for ways to use the bread before it goes bad.

    It’s SO simple and a great zero waste option if you love croutons as much as I do.

    How to make your own croutons:

    1. Cube the bread.
    2. Add enough oil and seasonings to coat lightly. [I use the same seasoning mix I use for my homemade salad dressing here, or you could use regular Italian seasoning.]
    3. Spread on a baking sheet and bake at 450° for roughly 8 minutes, shaking the tray once to stir. [Time will depend on how dry the bread is to begin with, so watch closely.]
    4. Enjoy in soups or salads or, as my kids like to have them, as a crunchy snack.

    For dinner tonight I had day old bread that needed to be used up, so I made grilled cheese sandwiches and used the ends of the loaf to make these croutons to top squash soup which my Auntie Paula had given us.

    Mmm-mmm. Delicious.

    Karis

    Resolutions Update Q1

    Resolutions Update Q1

    We are officially a fourth of the way through 2019! So, I thought I’d share how my resolutions are holding up.

    I posted about my original goals for the year here.

    Health-wise, I want to practice yoga. I have been faithfully practicing prenatal yoga at least once a week – the only exceptions being when we have been on vacation. I have even bumped up my practice from 15 minutes [yeah, I really don’t like yoga] to 45 minutes! It’s almost growing on me! It’s actually a nice break from my typical workouts which are getting harder and harder as I get further along in this pregnancy.

    Oh, and floss daily. I have been flossing [nearly] every day using my water flosser, which I love. This is also a nice zero waste option – though unsightly and taking up a lot of space on my bathroom counter.

    New skill this year is knitting. In January, I knitted three blankets as gifts for family and friends, but I cheated and did “finger knitting” using Loop-It yarn.

    BUT the experience did help me to understand knitting better. Since then I haven’t done ANY knitting because I haven’t made it a priority to go buy some yarn and pick out a pattern. But I intend to make this a focus of Q2 so I can make that baby blanket for my baby girl arriving in TWO MONTHS! Ahhh!

    At home, I want to start making my own cleaning products. I still haven’t run out of any cleaning products. We had quite a collection and a huge selection. But I am ready with my vinegar and essential oils for when the time is right.

    I hope to reduce our trash [and recycling] even more. We are improving in the trash and recycling area. I now empty the three trash cans in our home once every other week. We didn’t put the cans out on the curb at all for the entire month of March because they were never full. Truthfully, they weren’t full when we finally did put them out last week, but we might as well let the truck stop at our place.

    Some weeks we have more trash, some weeks less. But overall, we are definitely continuing to reduce the waste.

    Personally, I would like to read two books a month: one fiction and one non-fiction. I have been reading WAY more than two books a month. In Q1, I read a total of twelve books and I’ve already finished two for this month. I have a lot more time to read a) because Brett has been working a lot of late nights lately and b) I barely spend any time on my phone or watching tv anymore. I’ve read some fiction classics that I hadn’t gotten around to yet, plus some religious books, some feminist books [I’m currently working on Emma Watson’s book club list], a biography, a book on posture alignment, and three books on poverty and how to put an end to it. So I’ve been busy…

    For my family, I want to spend more time outside. We didn’t do great during the cold months, but now that it’s warmer we’ve been spending lots of time outdoors. In order to make it a priority, I’ve added “outside” time to my daily habits list on my chalkboard planner. On rainy days, it’s my first inclination to keep them indoors, but I have been reminding myself that it’s not harmful and sending them out with raincoats and boots. It’s a muddy mess, but they are still getting time outside.

    And for this pregnancy, I want eat well and enjoy it as much as I can, because it will [hopefully] be my last. Well, I’ve definitely been enjoying it – if by “enjoy it” I was referring to lots of ice cream and bacon cheese fries at midnight. Hey, I’m only human…

    How are your 2019 goals doing?

    Karis

    Zero Waste: Shampoo Bars

    Zero Waste: Shampoo Bars

    Last November, I ordered our first shampoo and conditioner bars.

    These Ethique bars come in biodegradable boxes and are cruelty free, sustainably sourced, fair trade, palm-oil free and plant- based.

    Are they cost effective?

    I was curious to see how long the bars would last because I paid a whopping $33.20 for them. With my husband and I both using them exclusively, the shampoo bar ran out in the beginning of March – so basically four months. The conditioner bar is still going strong five months later.

    Note: I also purchased the shower container [pictured above] to store them in because they logically need to be kept out of the water in order to last longer. The container is also biodegradable. 👍🏻

    I’m honestly not quite sure whether these bars save money because I’ve never kept track of how many bottles of shampoo I was buying or how long they were lasting or how many washes I was getting out of them.

    Then why switch?

    Well, let me tell you…

    Whether shampoo bars save money is not really the issue. I don’t use them because they save me money. I use them because they save a TON of plastic.

    80 billion plastic bottles are thrown out around the world each year from shampoo and conditioners alone.

    Plastic bottles take 400 years to breakdown – and will NEVER decompose.

    8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year.

    So, the answer to “why” is simply that we have a responsibility to this planet that we enjoy so much. And plastic is literally destroying it.

    Bars are also less wasteful in general. With bottles, there is no measuring device that keeps you from wasting the product. In fact, I’m pretty confident [now that I’m using bars] that I’ve been using way too much shampoo for years. With a bar, you run it over your hair [or in your hands, as my husband prefers] and then lather and rinse. You’re not pouring an unspecified amount into your hands.

    When our shampoo bar ran out, we got a bar from Lush – another great ethical company that produces cruelty-free, sustainable bath products.

    Not very exciting to look at, but I actually like this bar a little better, though it is more expensive per ounce than the Ethique bar. It lathers like a dream and works great. Lush also has brick and mortar stores in the US so you don’t have to have them shipped to you. My husband conveniently works in a mall with a Lush location which makes these super sustainable and convenient.

    Have you tried shampoo bars? Any recommended brands?

    Happy hair washing!

    🧼 🧼 🧼

    Karis

    A week’s worth of groceries for $30

    A week’s worth of groceries for $30

    A while back, I wrote about how I buy healthy groceries on a budget. So, here is a real-life example.

    Thirty dollars. Two stores. One week’s worth of food for my family of five.

    [The thirty dollars also covered a bag of red potatoes, two apples, and a banana which are not pictured here.]

    Everything pictured was on sale and at or below my price limit of $1/lb for produce and $2/lb for meat.

    This doesn’t include the dry goods that we already have on hand – nuts, oats, rice, beans, coffee, sugar, and flour – which we only buy about once a month and don’t need to restock at this time.

    No more snacks

    The biggest change to my grocery shopping habit, besides buying only what’s on sale, is that I don’t buy traditional snacks. No more pretzels or crackers or applesauce or fruit cups or yogurt cups or string cheese or fruit snacks or boxes of raisins, etc. I used to buy all of those things regularly, but then I realized that I didn’t need to buy any of that in order to give my kids snacks, or even to enjoy a snack myself. Now, when my kids want a snack, they have apple slices with peanut butter, bananas, oranges, grapes, red pepper slices, cucumbers, or nuts. And when I want a snack, I have the same thing.

    If I’m feeling really ambitious, I’ll bake banana bread muffins or make my own applesauce in the crock pot or even bake my own granola bars, crackers, or pretzels – but I don’t typically have time for that. So bananas and apples are the perfect snack to have on hand that require no prep work at all – and they are also great on the go.

    [Side note: I also don’t buy frozen foods anymore – except the occasional ice cream carton 😬 – because plastic packaging for frozen foods is made differently apparently and, as a result, is not recyclable. I used to buy a large amount of frozen vegetables, but I have transitioned to 100% fresh veggies.]

    No more, no less

    It might not look like a lot of food, but it is plenty for our family of five for a week. The meat and milk and eggs will actually last longer than a week because we don’t eat meat every night or eggs every morning. I have enough vegetables for sides for all of our meals and enough fruit for breakfast, lunch, and snacks.

    The goal is to buy just the right amount so everything gets eaten and nothing gets lost in the back of the fridge and goes bad. [This way I make sure to avoid food waste – which is a big problem in America.]

    The meal plan

    So now that I’ve got the food, I decide what we are going to eat for the week. Breakfast is always oatmeal or eggs with fruit. Lunch is always PBJ with fruit and veggies for the kids and a salad for me.

    Dinners will look something like this:

    • Tuesday [tonight] – Vegan Burrito Bowls
    • Wednesday – Veggie Omelets and Roasted Potatoes
    • Thursday – Chicken, Grilled Romaine and Asparagus
    • Friday – Pork Chops, Brown Rice and Green Beans
    • Saturday – Leftovers
    • Sunday – Mexican Rice and Bean Skillet
    • Monday – Southwest salad

    The schedule may change. I don’t like to set my meal plan in stone because my work schedule often changes suddenly and sometimes I have to just throw something together. But at least I have food and ideas.

    New grocery deals come out tomorrow, so I will likely make another grocery run in the next week to take advantage of new sales – but for now we’re stocked and I’m feeling good about our healthy [and fresh] food.

    👍🏻

    Karis

    March Clothing Donation

    March Clothing Donation

    It has been ten months since I committed to one year without buying any clothes and to donating 26 clothing items per month – my self-imposed clothing ban.

    Since then, I have not bought any clothing for myself or my kids [though my husband did buy me a sweater a few months ago] and I have donated 297 items of clothing from my wardrobe.

    And I still don’t need any new clothes.

    In fact, I feel like I still have an excessive amount of clothes – but, after I have this baby, I will be able to give away all of my maternity clothes and, after I get back to my regular size, I will be able to give away all my postpartum stuff as well. That will probably cut my wardrobe in half – again.

    Last year, I heard about fast fashion for the first time when I watched the documentary The True Cost, which highlights many of the ways that fast fashion hurts not only our planet but people all over the world.

    “It’s no secret that fast fashion has been responsible for a catastrophic level of environmental pollution. The trifecta of overt use of raw materials, water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are only a part of the story. Not only is this circular buy, wear and toss behavior impacting landfills and becoming a major carbon contributor, but that may not be the worst of it. Fast fashion has played a very dark role in contributing to black-market trafficking of forced labor, as evidenced in the New York Times documentary, Invisible Hands, by journalist Shraysi Tandon.” – Forbes (read the article here)

    I honestly had never considered how my “buy, wear, and toss” consumer mentality towards clothes [and all products] was affecting the world around me.

    And it IS affecting the world. The only question was, did I care enough to change my spending habits? Hence the clothing ban.

    This clothing ban has left me permanently changed. It may be over in May, but I will never be able to go back to my old ways of spending money.

    Once again, if you haven’t watched The True Cost, DO IT!

    Karis