[Nearly] Zero Waste Groceries In a Pandemic

[Nearly] Zero Waste Groceries In a Pandemic

In the past, I’ve written about my experiences with [nearly] zero waste grocery shopping at Aldi, Walmart, and Fresh Thyme — now here is how my family is shopping [nearly] zero waste during a pandemic.

Don’t judge me by the ramen noodle purchase–that was my husband’s choice… 😆

My husband [who has done all our shopping since the shelter-at-home order began] went to Jewel-Osco [our local grocery chain here in Chicagoland] on Wednesday for groceries. As you can see from the photo above, he brought home a lot of plastic. And that’s totally ok. This is one of the side-effects of the pandemic, but it does not in any way change my obligation to reduce my waste.

Before COVID-19, I always bought the following foods from bulk bins:

  • Oats
  • Raisins
  • Flour
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Beans/Lentils/Split Peas
  • Nuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Maple Syrup
  • Vinegar
  • Honey
  • Candy/Chocolates

Now, we buy all of these items in packaging.

But all is not lost! This doesn’t mean we have to throw in the towel on reducing our waste. Here is how we are continuing to reduce our waste in the grocery department:

1. Buy the biggest package available. When this all started, Brett bought the biggest bag of rice at the store. It will probably last us the rest of the year – but that is better than buying a bunch of plastic bags. [And, trust me, we have very little storage space, but we made room the big bag in our laundry room storage area.] Whenever applicable – and for shelf-stable items only – buying a bigger package cuts down on the waste.

2. Buy only what we need. This may sound contrary to my previous point, but I’m not talking about buying big packages of shelf-stable foods that you will definitely use. I’m talking about buying the store out of everything that you may possibly, potentially have an urge for in the next century. If you don’t eat it, don’t buy it. This is common sense. And especially don’t stock up on fresh foods. Despite good intentions, this always leads to food waste. We buy enough fresh produce for the week and that’s it. We never buy frozen food [apart from the occasional carton of ice cream] because the packaging isn’t recycle able, but we have bought some canned items because you can easily recycle the cans.

[P.S.A. This is partly to reduce food waste, but also to just be a kind and considerate person during this time of panic. If everyone only bought what they actually needed we wouldn’t be running out of stuff like toilet paper and disinfectants and BREAD FLOUR!!! The problem becomes more compounded when people want something and can’t find it. The next time they see the product they buy more than they need out of fear it won’t be available again. I BEG OF YOU: RESIST THIS URGE. Just buy what you need.]

3. Choose glass over plastic. If you have to buy food in packaging, it is best to always choose the most easily recycled type of packaging. Glass is best as it can be continually recycled without losing quality or purity. So we choose to buy our milk in glass bottles instead of milk. We buy pasta sauce in glass over plastic jars. We buy jams and syrup and honey in glass even though cheaper alternatives are available in plastic [the price difference is really minor.] When glass isn’t available, we choose the next best thing. For instance, we buy our pasta in cardboard instead of plastic bags. We buy our vegetables in aluminum cans over frozen plastic bags [when fresh isn’t available] because plastic bags in the freezer section can’t be recycled.

4. Choose loose over bagged. When it comes to produce, we choose loose over wrapped in plastic. This may seem unsanitary at a time like this, but we wash our produce before eating and sometimes loose produce is actually more sanitary because produce that is wrapped in plastic often leads people to believe that it doesn’t need to be washed before consuming – but it does. Some types of produce can only be found in plastic at the grocery store [such as berries, green beans, grapes, and cauliflower]. In those cases, we buy them less frequently and always recycle the plastic containers and bags [through store drop-off recycling programs].

5. Recycle everything possible. So, yes, we are bringing home more packaging because it is unavoidable. We are even bringing our food home in plastic grocery bags [oh the horror!], but that doesn’t mean we give up. It just means we are more diligent about what we can do, which is recycle. It’s true that recycling is just a bandaid, but it’s still important to do our best to keep stuff out of the landfills. We rinse every jug and jar and carton and container and put it out for recycling. It may be a hassle, but it is important.

6. Reuse or recycle plastic bags. We previously shopped with reusable bags, but now that we are bringing plastic bags home we use them as doggy poop bags [since Daisy is getting lots of walks these days] and trash bags. We haven’t bought trash bags in over a year and since we only produce less than one grocery bag of trash per week, this actually is pretty convenient. While I wish we didn’t produce any trash at all, it isn’t realistic for our family of meat eaters and little kids, BUT we have been actively pursuing [nearly] zero waste so that we reduce our negative impact on the environment as much as we can. These bags are recyclable through store drop-off programs though, so if you don’t have a way to use them, recycle them!

Our lovely collection of plastic grocery bags from one grocery trip.

Since the pandemic began, I’ve been saying [so frequently that your probably sick of it] that this doesn’t change our obligation to take care of our planet. The way we go about it has changed and will continue to change, I am sure. But what is the point of surviving this pandemic just to get back to a world of pollution and waste?

[And as a side note, I know a lot of people “don’t believe in global warming” and whatever. But environmentalism isn’t just about doomsday, it’s about simple stewardship. It’s about sustainability. It’s about being responsible and kind to the planet so that all of god’s creatures can survive and thrive here – us humans included.]

I hope these ideas encourage people to make small changes that can have a big impact if we all start adopting them.

So happy grocery shopping! [Don’t forget your face mask and social distancing!]

🛒🛒🛒

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Valentine’s Day Coloring Bookmarks

[Nearly] Zero Waste Valentine’s Day Coloring Bookmarks

Last year was my first time dealing with a school Valentine’s Day exchange in probably twenty years. And let me tell you, A LOT has changed since I used to tear apart those cheap perforated cards with looney toons characters and obsess over which cute boys got the most romantic messages. Fast forward to today and the expectations for this holiday seems to have skyrocketed. [Well done, Hallmark]

As you might expect, cutting down on the wastefulness of the event is my main priority. Last year, Evangeline took these cuties to her class to give out.

This year, we went with a non-edible option: color your own bookmark.

I printed these bookmarks [free from Inspiration Made Simple – thank you!] and attached them to colored card stock then taped a crayon to the back.

This option was perfect for Evangeline because she LOVES reading and she actually uses bookmarks because she is already reading chapter books [WHAT?!?]. She also LOVES coloring. Of course, she wanted to color them in, so I let her color one for her teacher and attached it to a jar of chocolate we got from the bulk bins.

Besides avoiding waste, I also like to use what I have on hand. Since we already had an unused box of crayons and plenty of paper, this project didn’t require going out to buy anything.

Though a lot has changed, kids still apparently decorate boxes for their valentines. I may have had a little too much fun helping Evangeline with hers.

It turned out cute – and distinctly Evangeline.

[I found more great ideas for zero waste Valentine’s gifts for the obligatory classroom exchange on Zeroish.org – read the list here!]

I hope everyone has a lovely [nearly] zero waste Valentine’s Day!

❤️ ❤️ ❤️

Karis

Zero Waste: Stain Stick

Zero Waste: Stain Stick

Confession #1: I am super lazy about laundry.

Laundry used to consume WAY too much of my time, so last year I established a designated laundry day once a week. It works great [so long as my partner doesn’t sneak loads into the washer – which he does FREQUENTLY] except that a week between washes means that I have to be more proactive about stains.

And I’ve already admitted that I’m super lazy about laundry. Historically, if one of the kids have played with their pasta sauce or rolled around in the mud outside or poured hit chocolate down their front – well, I would set the clothing aside until I threw it in the laundry. And quite honestly, if it didn’t come out in the wash…well, who cares? These little kids clothes are like $5 for a pack of three.

Well, times have changed. Or rather, I have changed. It is no longer okay for me to trash stuff that I am just too lazy to clean properly. I am so embarrassed that this used to be my attitude toward clothing, as if it is disposable just because it is inexpensive.

[I could go off on a huge tangent here, but I will spare you in this post.]

Part of zero waste, minimalist, and simple living is about taking care of your stuff. Dare I say, it is a HUGE part. So, it’s time for me to put my big girl pants on and handle my home like I actually value everything in it.

Confession #2: I used to “Shout it out.”

You are all familiar with the Shout stain-remover, right? Miracle worker, really.

There have definitely been occasions when I spilled something on my favorite t-shirt or – god forbid – a shirt I borrowed from a friend and had to do an emergency Shout session. [Shout sessions consist of soaking and spraying and scrubbing and praying – on the knees if necessary – and then repeating until the stain is gone.] I mean, for real, that stuff works!

BUT, Shout comes in a plastic bottle that I would rather not buy again. So when I stumbled upon the stain stick, I was super excited to give it a try.

Remember that aforementioned hot chocolate incident? Well, here you can see the aftermath. The other shirt has a banana stain that has already been washed and dried [oops].

I followed the instructions on the stick: “Wet stick and stained area. Run into fabric and lather. Wash as usual.” Very simple.

And voila!

Good as new!

The banana stain, however, didn’t fare as well, so I have learned a valuable lesson: pre-treat IMMEDIATELY.

I’ve been using the stain stick to pre-treat all our messy clothes with excellent results. And we have A LOT of messy clothes. I have four children under the age of six, folks. Things get really messy around here.

Confession #3: I’m not perfect and that’s okay.

Sometimes, despite my best intentions, things sit dirty and stain and it’s a bummer. But I am only human. I’m trying to do my best. And I think the stain stick over the plastic bottle is a step in the right direction.

🧺 🧺 🧺

Karis

January Shopping Audit [and the Minimalism Game]

January Shopping Audit [and the Minimalism Game]

One of my 2020 goals is to focus on minimalism. In the past two years we have made great progress toward living a [nearly] zero waste lifestyle, but now I want to circle back and focus on cutting out unnecessary spending and eliminate all the clutter from our home and our life.

My new motto:

So, as a part of that goal, I am tracking all of our spending for the entire year and will share it with you monthly. I am not promising to stop spend money altogether but I am tracking it so that we can see where we need to improve.

Just as it is helpful to do a “trash audit” at the start of a zero waste journey, a “shopping audit” is helpful if I am trying to stop bringing junk into my home.

January Shopping Audit

Some clarifications before I begin: My audit only includes physical items [not doctor co-pays, museum entry fees, and school activity costs] and does NOT include consumables, which include food, pet food, toilet paper, and salt blocks for our water softener.

[Toiletries and laundry supplies are consumables, but I am going to share those purchases because I am trying to reduce our waste – and spending – in these areas.]

What We Bought:

So here is everything we bought this month:

Bracelet for Brett for $35 – For Christmas, I gave my partner a leather bracelet with our kids’ names engraved on little beads but the bracelet didn’t fit [oh the joys of shopping on Amazon]. So he used his Christmas money to buy a new bracelet for the beads.

Seven used puzzles for $7 – my partner and I have started doing puzzles together instead of spending all of our alone time watching Netflix.

Medications for the kids for $20 – We ran out of children’s Tylenol [and this is a necessity when you have four kids under six] and my daughter got an infection and needed an expensive OTC cream.

Used ballet slippers for $2 – My daughter outgrew her ballet slippers for ballet class to the point where she couldn’t even put them on without being in pain, so we needed to get her a bigger pair. [We donated the old pair to her dance class instructor].

Toiletries for $20 – Brett bought another shampoo bar from Lush for $9 and also needed more deodorant and hair cream.

Total spent: $84

Over budget: $0

What We Are Going to Do With It:

The most important reason to stop bringing stuff into the home is that eventually I will [most likely] have to get rid of it. I mean, nothing lasts forever. So, I don’t want to bring anything into my home that I won’t be able to responsibly dispose of when I am done with it.

I’d like to think that Brett will keep the bracelet forever, but that is unrealistic. When he no longer wants to wear it, we will have to throw away the beads and donate the bracelet. Looking back on it, this was not the wisest gift choice on my part. In the future I will give him experience gifts like a brewery tour or something like that.

The ballet slippers and puzzles we will donate or give away to anyone who would like them. We actually only do a puzzle once, so we will be getting rid of them as we finish them. Maybe we can find a friend to swap with so that we all get new puzzles.

The medicine and toiletries will be consumed and then the bottles will be recycled. I haven’t found a way to eliminate the plastic medicine bottles from our lives – sometimes we just need medicine and I am okay with this exception to our zero waste rule until there is a better way.

The Minimalism Game

This month, I played the 30-Day Minimalism Game [which you can read about here].

If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’ve probably already seen all the stuff that I got rid of – over 500 items!

Day 1-9

Day 10-18

Day 19-27

Day 28-31 [combined into two photos]

Through this process I learned so much about being responsible for where something goes when I am done with it. I tried SO HARD to not have anything go into the trash. I listed stuff for free on OfferUp. I researched how to recycle unusual things. I even went back and forth with Contigo to try to figure out how to responsibly get rid of the kids’ chewed up water bottles [hint: there is no good way so I will never buy bottles like this again].

In a perfect world every manufacturer would be responsible for the product it is creating – either taking it back to be recycled into new products, or at the very least providing helpful information about how to best recycle a product. In a perfect world, companies wouldn’t be allowed to mass produce plastic crap that will still be on this earth when my great great great grandkids are here without at the very least having a plan for the end of its life. But, I can only do my best to avoid products like these. If I cannot responsibly rehome an item, if it cannot be recycled or repurposed or reused, then I simply should not be buying it.

Thankfully, nowadays, there are so many wonderful, easy [even FREE] alternatives for the typical plastic crap.

This month, only a handful of items [the lids to those plastic water bottles, a bag of plastic junk, and some expired vitamins] went into the trash. Everything else was donated or given to friends or recycled or repurposed.

What’s Next

For the rest of the year, I will be getting rid of 30 items from the house each month and continuing to report our shopping habits monthly.

👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻

Karis

Recent [Nearly] Zero Waste Swaps

Recent [Nearly] Zero Waste Swaps

When I first started reducing my waste, I was definitely tempted to toss every piece of plastic in the trash and buy all new wooden toys for my kids, bamboo scrub brushes for my dishes, and cast iron pots and pans for my kitchen…but I knew that was the exact opposite of the zero waste lifestyle I was trying to live. So, instead, I kept using my plastic Tupperware, my kids still play with their cheap plastic toys, and I’ve been scrubbing the toilet with the same plastic toilet brush that we bought nine years ago after we moved in together.

Toilet Brush

But all that changed a few weeks ago when I walked into the bathroom and saw, to my great excitement, that the toilet brush had somehow snapped in half! [Now that I think about it, one of the kids probably broke it, but I don’t even want to know how that happened…]

I’ve never been so happy to see something broken. And since I am unwilling to actually plunge my hand into the toilet to clean it, it was time for a new toilet brush!

This new beechwood brush is a beauty. In this case, eco-friendly is also the most attractive option.

Pull-Ups

I finally conceded that my son needs pull-ups to help with night potty training and my first thought was that we would have to buy disposables. [I know, old habits die hard.] But then I realized there may be a reusable alternative – and of course there is! So I bought a reusable pull-up that works just like our cloth diapers except that my son can pull it up and down to go to the bathroom if he needs to.

This GroVia pull-up works GREAT, but it is very pricey so I only bought one. I should get more so I don’t have to wash it every day. [I also got a set of “pull-ups” that are basically just padded underwear and don’t really prevent leaks AT ALL.]

Reusable 2-Gallon Bags

So, I have a confession. I’ve been using plastic gallon bags for storing and freezing my bread each week.

😱

I know…🥺

I wasn’t buying bags [which is good]. I was reusing them [which is a little iffy]. And let me tell you, they are definitely not made to be reused. But I didn’t have anything else that would keep the bread from drying out or going stale.

I’ve already replaced sandwich bags with wraps and silicone bags, so I decided to see if they have reusable bags in bigger sizes – and of course they do!

I bought these biodegradable two-gallon reusable bags for storing my loaves of bread in the fridge or freezer. I’m very pleased with them!

Handkerchiefs

I haven’t bought tissues in my adult life – other than picking up a box before my dad comes to visit and buying a box this fall for my daughter to take to kindergarten. It is probably unusual, but we use toilet paper for nose blowing. I fully blame my partner for this alternative. We currently compost the make-shift tissues, so I guess it’s not a total waste, but I’ve been dying for handkerchiefs. They are reusable, they are soft, and they kinda have this old-fashioned classy feel to them.

My girlfriend, Megan, made these for me and I could not be happier! I go to her for all of my sewing needs and she never disappoints! Someday I hope to have her teach me how to sew so I can make reusable produce bags from scrap material to hand out for free at my local farmers market like The Zero Waste Chef does.

Ah, well, we all have dreams!

Laundry Detergent Strips

I have spent WAY TOO MUCH TIME trying to find an eco-friendly laundry detergent. I know lots of people DIY this household essential, but I’ve just read too many reasons to trust the experts AND I use cloth diapers so I can’t be messing around with detergent or I’ll end up with unhappy babies.

So, I was SO EXCITED when my amazing cousin, Stacey, told me about these laundry strips by Well Earth Goods!

Half of a square is detergent for one load of laundry. I just put the strip in the drum and run my washer as usual. I think they are great! I was worried that they wouldn’t be strong enough for the diapers, but out of necessity we tried it, and I think it worked fine.

I love that this detergent option has no plastic jug to dispose of and even ships free without any plastic packaging.

This company is great and the store is full of low waste products. While I was there buying the laundry strips, I also picked up toothpaste tablets:

And a laundry stain stick:

I haven’t tried these two things yet. They will each probably warrant their own post with all the details, so stay tuned!


So, basically, what I’m trying to say is, before you go out and buy something that has a single use and will be tossed in the trash and that you have to continue to buy and throw away over and over and over again for the rest of your life….look around for a reusable alternative. There most likely is one. And it will save you loads of cash and Mother Earth loads of trash in the long run.

Reduce. REUSE. And if all else fails, Recycle.

♻️ ♻️ ♻️

Karis

Plastic Free July 2019: My Failures [and Successes]

Plastic Free July 2019: My Failures [and Successes]

No one is perfect, right? 🤷‍♀️

Seriously, though, I’m glad this plastic free business is not about perfection. Our take-and-toss society makes living without any plastic nearly impossible [especially if you have kids] and single-use plastics are EVERYWHERE.

Image from UN Environment

And old habits die hard, folks. But I am slowly making new, more sustainable habits.

Overall, I’ve been doing great with my zero waste goals. I went so far as to not buy anything at all on my entire 12 hour drive to New York…WITH FOUR KIDS! If you have ever taken a road trip with children, you know how tempting those drive through nuggets are so you can toss them into the back seat to keep the kids quiet. But I just couldn’t face the waste.

My three-week-old baby on her first road trip. ❤️

As far as Plastic Free July went, I did pretty well for the month – but, to my embarrassment, I made some rookie mistakes.

These were my commitments for the month:

Refuse plastic straws and disposable beverage cups. For the aforementioned “New York or Bust” road trip, we didn’t buy any drinks. Our one stop for dinner on the way home was at Panera where we brought in everyone’s water bottles and refilled them. We ate out of real dishes with real utensils [one of several reasons that I am a Panera fan]. We also took our own water bottles when we went to Chuck E. Cheese for Evangeline’s 5th birthday.

[Failure #1] BUT when Brett and I went out for a date night and ended up at a local ice cream chain, Brett’s sundae came in a big glass bowl with a real spoon and my low-calorie smoothie came in a plastic cup with [egad!] a plastic straw. I was literally half way through the smoothie before Brett pointed out that I was drinking out of a plastic. I was so concerned about the healthfulness of my choice, I totally forgot to think about the plastic.

🤦‍♀️

Bring my own reusable container for restaurant leftovers. The only restaurants we ate at all month were Panera and Chuck E. Cheese, as I mentioned above. For Panera, we had no leftovers, but at Chuck E. Cheese we had about a whole pizza leftover [Failure #2] and, of course, I forgot to bring a container. We ended up carrying the pizza home in styrofoam.

🤦‍♀️

Since then, however, I did remember to bring a few reusable containers when we went to Red Robin…but of course we had no leftovers. There must be a Murphy’s Law about this…

Buy only plastic-free groceries. Oh man, this was tough – especially when blackberries went on sale for $.88! But I stuck to my commitment and didn’t buy a single thing in plastic packaging all month. [My husband might have – but let’s not discuss it.] I even stopped an employee at the grocery store who was putting handfuls of loose green beans into plastic bags and asked if he could just put them straight into my reusable bag. He looked at me like I was crazy, but he did it! Which made me very happy because I LOVE green beans and my grocer always sells them in plastic bags.

Well, everyone already knows how much I care about this stuff [and I still end up using plastic sometimes] but for all you “no-big-deal” folks out there, here’s why single-use plastics are a big deal.

So that’s how my month went. Anyone else have confessions to make???

Karis

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