Plastic Free July 2019: My Commitments

Plastic Free July 2019: My Commitments

Plastic Free July is here and [of course] I’m participating! I’ve already been avoiding single-use plastics for a year and have made my stainless steel water bottle, cotton produce bags, and reusable shopping bags a normal habit…but I still have struggled with avoiding the plastic that comes with take out, fast-food, and even dine-in meals.

So these are my three commitments to reduce my single-use plastic waste this month [and hopefully forever]:

Refuse plastic straws and disposable beverage cups. Even though I really hate plastic straws, I do occasionally end up with them in my [or my kids’] drinks. So this month, I am committed to not buying beverages out at all. We will just bring our reusable water bottles and drink water when we go to restaurants. [It is healthier anyway!]

Bring my own reusable container for restaurant leftovers. I have yet to bring my own container to a restaurant for the leftovers – and with four little kids, we ALWAYS have leftovers. So, this month, I will keep a reusable container [or two] in my car for this purpose.

Buy ONLY plastic-free groceries. I’m pretty good about this, but not perfect. I never use the plastic produce bags and I always choose the loose produce over the bagged options – but not all foods can be found package free at my grocery store. My kids love grapes and they always come in a plastic bag. I love berries, but I can’t find them without plastic packaging either. I often end up compromising on some of these items. So, this month, I am committed to doing without any food that I can’t find plastic-free. But it won’t be much of a hardship because I LOVE pineapples and apples and watermelons.

I hope you are joining the cause this month!

What are your commitments?

Let’s save the oceans together!

🌊 🌊 🌊

Karis

Happy [Belated] Birthday to my Blog 🥳

Happy [Belated] Birthday to my Blog 🥳

On May 28th, this blog turned 1 – on the same day that I turned 32. This past year has been the most transformative that I have experienced in my adult life. This blog has been a place for me to share how my family and I have changed our views, values, and lifestyle in favor of simplicity and authenticity.

Maya Angelou once said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

This has become my life’s motto. And this past year has been all about learning more so I know better, so I can do better.

So, in honor of the blog’s first birthday, I wanted to recap all the changes [to our lifestyle and also our perspective] that my family and I have been working on over the past year.

Minimalism

The changes we have made started with an interest in minimalism. I had grown tired of chasing the “American dream” of wealth and success, which seemed to equate to bigger homes and fancier cars and more stuff, while meaningful relationships, time with family, concern for the less fortunate and other social/environmental causes are ignored. I was anxious for a simpler, more intentional life. I was wanting our life to be about a greater purpose than satisfying our own desires for more.

So, minimalism taught us to purge what we own down to things that are essential or truly appreciated AND to refuse all the excess that society is constantly telling us we “need.” We played the 30-day minimalism game and between Brett and I, removed 930 items from our home.

Mindful Consumerism

My interest in minimalism lead me to Cait Flanders’ book, The Year of Less, which was so impactful that after reading it, I started this blog to document all the ways I intended to end my own mindless consumption.

I began asking myself whether I really needed something before buying it. I continued to purge our stuff without replacing any of it. I committed to first do without, then use what I have, then buy used – and only when all else failed, to buy new.

Slow Fashion

Around this time, I watched the documentary, The True Cost, which describes the fast fashion industry and how the American demand for cheaper and faster clothing is wreaking havoc around the world. I couldn’t believe that I had never considered the wastefulness of my own clothing habits before or how harmful my “take and toss” mentality truly was to the environment and to people around the world.

As a working middle class American, I had always prioritized buying cheap clothing as a way to “manage my money wisely” and thought of myself as some sort of martyr for never buying expensive brands and always shopping the clearance rack in the service of frugality.

Wow, I was so wrong. I am happy to say that I have finally learned to appreciate my belongings enough to spend what they are worth – and I now care enough about my fellow humans, no matter how far away they live, to pay whatever it costs to protect their rights.

Zero Waste

From there, I stumbled upon the zero waste movement, which I had never heard of previously. On a whim I picked up the book, Zero Waste, by Shia Su from the library. I had no idea how significantly this book would change my life.

This book gave me confidence to reduce my waste [it really is so easy!] and opened my eyes to yet another sad side affect of our constant consumption: waste.

Seriously, the waste problem in America is huge. I don’t know why more people aren’t concerned.

So I started trying to reduce my family’s waste. We began recycling, composting, and bulk shopping. This became a passion [bordering on obsession] for me that led to so many other important changes for my family like eliminating processed foods, making most of our food from scratch, and purchasing our first CSA share. It has been a process, and we still are not storing our trash in a mason jar [that is not a realistic goal for us anyway], but we have made HUGE improvements. We only take out one 4 gallon trash bag per week and we have even reduced the amount that we recycle significantly, needing trash and recycling pick up only monthly [or even possibly quarterly] now.

Ethical Shopping

Next, I committed to ethical shopping by supporting brands that are concerned about sustainability and fair, ethical treatment of all members within the supply chain [animals included].

This one is tougher because it is hard to know whether a company is ethical or not and requires research which requires time, but it’s not so bad because we don’t buy very many things, so purchases can be thoughtfully and intentionally made with our values in mind.

Yes, I am boycotting Wendy’s. Yes, I pay more for Fair Trade coffee and chocolate and bananas. Yes, I adore Patagonia.

Simple Living

Then I began to focus on eliminating some of the distractions that caused me to always feel like I never had enough time. We moved our only television into the lower level. I started using the “screen time” feature on my iPhone to limit my time on certain apps. I turned off all notifications on my phone. ALL of them. If you call me and I don’t physically have my phone in my hand, I won’t know it until I actually open my phone app…which I do every couple days. I’m harder to reach, but by responding to texts and calls and emails on my own time, I am no longer a slave to my phone.

The kids and I began spending more time outside after I read the inspiring book, There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather, by Linda Åkeson McGurk.

We started having a Monday movie night with the kids as their only screen time for the week. I simplified my cleaning routine to improve efficiency so I don’t have to spend a lot of time cleaning. We purged A TON of toys [with the kids’ help], which cut back on the chaos of living with three toddlers.

I also read Slow by Brooke McAlary which was full of inspiration for living a more intentional and less frantic life.

Giving Back to the World

Last, but most importantly, we rearranged our finances to prioritize giving to charities that we believe are doing good around the world. I wish I could be the one doing the good myself, but at this stage in my life, I am chasing toddlers all day and working part-time, so I am prioritizing what I can do, which is give money to those who will use it to help people. I look forward to volunteering regularly and giving back in other ways in the future, as I believe that this is one of our most important purposes on this earth – not to merely look out for our own interests and our family’s well-being, but to care for the less fortunate and fight for a better world.

But, more on that another day.

I am looking forward to improving in all of these areas and more over the next year.

Karis

8 Zero Waste Swaps that Won’t Break the Bank

8 Zero Waste Swaps that Won’t Break the Bank

If you’ve mastered the 6 free zero waste swaps [which I talked about in 6 Zero Waste Swaps You Can Make Right Now without Spending a Penny], then its time to move on to the advanced course.

But I warn you, these next swaps will start to make you look like a real deal zero waster, and chances are, you will start to enjoy your new zero waste supplies so much, you might actually consider attempting to store your trash in a mason jar…

[Please know that it is not necessary to run out and buy a bunch of fancy stuff in order to be “zero waste.” In fact, it’s best to make do with what you have and see if you actually need to buy an alternative. I waited on many of these swaps til I had used up my current supplies or until I found it absolutely necessary.]

This list is not exhaustive. It is just my personal favorites because they are easy to swap and [relatively] inexpensive. So, here we go.

1. Beeswax wraps instead of plastic wrap.

I ADORE my beeswax wraps. I actually still have a partial roll of plastic wrap in my cupboard that I have absolutely no use for now. I use the beeswax wraps for wrapping everything from half a cantaloupe to my kids’ snacks to bowls and plates. [I wrote more about the beeswax wraps in this post: Zero Waste: Beeswax Wraps.]

2. Cloth napkins instead of paper napkins.

Technically you don’t need to buy cloth napkins if you are handy with a sewing machine – which I am not. There are plenty of tutorials online that tell you how to make your own. I chose to buy a set. This was one of the very first swaps I made, and while I would probably do things differently now, I love my napkins.

3. Handkerchiefs instead of tissues. I remember my grandpa using a “hankie” when I was little. My father used to play a game with us kids called “hide the hankie” – which is pretty gross now that I think about it… but handkerchiefs in general don’t have to be disgusting. Just because we are used to the convenience of paper tissues doesn’t mean that we can’t go back to the handkerchief. I haven’t actually made this swap yet, but I have asked a sewing-savvy girlfriend if I could pay her to make me some. And usually, when my kids get colds, I use our cloth baby wipes instead of tissues because they are softer on their noses. But I’m anxious to have a set of hankies for the family.

4. Bar Soap, Shampoo, & Conditioner instead of liquids.

I wrote about our switch to bar shampoo and conditioner recently [Zero Waste: Shampoo Bars], which is maybe slightly more expensive than buying traditional shampoo and conditioner in the plastic bottles. But while you’re at it, you might as well ditch all the plastic bottles and buy all bar soap. We’ve switched to bar soap for all of our washing needs. I even make my own dishwashing soap using grated bar soap. It is easy to find bar soap without packaging nowadays at nearly any grocery store. Bar soaps are often cheaper than the little plastic pump bottles and last much longer. As always, go for the palm-oil free variety, such as Kirk’s Castile Soap Bars.

5. Wool dryer balls instead of dryer sheets and fabric softener.

I was lucky to receive these as a gift early on in my zero waste journey. I gave up fabric softener and dryer sheets years ago when I first had kids, and dryer balls are the perfect alternative that I never knew existed. In addition, there are plenty of zero waste ways to make your clothes smell good too – I use essential oils on a damp wash cloth and throw it into the dryer.

6. Reusable straws instead of disposable straws.

By now, we’ve all heard how terrible plastic straws are for the environment – BUT we need to remember that the straws are very important for those with disabilities. As I see it, if you don’t need to use one, find an alternative. Some people actually have a real need for flexible straws and so the rest of us should cut back on our convenience habit so that millions of them don’t wind up in the ecosystem. So, get reusable straws [or simply do without]. I have a set of stainless steel straws that I use for the kids when we are out – but I try to always have their reusable water bottles with us.

7. Bamboo toothbrushes instead of plastic.

The hardest thing about this swap, for me, is turning down the free toothbrushes that the dentist always gives you after your visit. This one costs money because before I paid nothing for toothbrushes. However, considering every plastic toothbrush I have ever used in my life is still out there somewhere – I think a biodegradable alternative is worth the money.

BONUS for the ladies:

8. Menstrual cup instead of tampons.

I made this swap last year, shortly before I became pregnant again and since I’ve been pregnant for the last eight months now, it hasn’t gotten much use – BUT a menstrual cup was just a no-brained for me. They don’t need to be changed as frequently, they are comfortable, and they last for years. That being said, they aren’t exactly cheap. So, do your research, get the right size, and be patient [they take some practice]. In the long run, though, they will be a savings – for you and the planet.

I know there are a lot more inexpensive swaps, but these have been most helpful for me.

What are your favorite zero waste swaps?

🙌🏻

Karis

Homemade [Low Sugar, No Pectin] Strawberry Jam

Homemade [Low Sugar, No Pectin] Strawberry Jam

Two years ago, I read a small sidebar – maybe three or four sentences – in Martha Stewart Living Magazine about how she makes a pectin-free strawberry jam. It sounded so simple that I immediately bought some strawberries and gave it a try. I’ve been happily making my own jam ever since.

[Thanks, Martha!]

Since then, I’ve experimented with reducing the sugar and adjusting the steps to suit my time constraints and personal preferences until I can now say that I have created an even simpler and healthier way of making strawberry jam!

[Sorry, Martha, it’s true.]

So, here’s all you need to do.

1. Hull and rinse strawberries. [I usually quarter them, but that is not necessary.]

2. Put berries in a big bowl and mix with half a cup of sugar per one pound of strawberries [Martha’s recipe called for double the sugar] and juice of one lemon.

Side note: I’ve tried even less sugar and even no sugar recipes but the jam always tastes really tart and doesn’t thicken the way this version does.

3. Cover and refrigerate overnight. [Martha never specified how many hours to refrigerate them so I just make the jam sometime the next day.]

4. Heat on the stove in a big stock pot until sugar is dissolved. This doesn’t take long – maybe 10 minutes.

5. Remove the berries and boil the remaining juice until it reaches 221°. This takes longer – maybe 40 minutes to one hour, depending on how much jam you are making.

6. Blend [or mash] berries and add back to the juice. [You could also leave the strawberries whole.] Boil for five more minutes.

7. Pour into sterilized jars. Let cool on the counter then refrigerate or freeze.

The jam thickens as it cools and even more once it’s in the fridge, but it never gets as thick as a jam made with pectin. Still, it works perfectly for PBJ or as a sauce for dessert [like cheesecake or angel food cake or vanilla ice cream] or a topping for toast.

To keep the cost down, I only make jam when strawberries are on sale. Today, I used seven pounds of strawberries and three cups of sugar and made roughly two quarts of jam – for about $7.

I’m not sure if that’s a savings, but it is zero waste AND zero high fructose corn syrup!

So, that’s a win in my book.

🍓 🍓 🍓

Karis

[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

    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