There was a time [not too long ago] when I wouldn’t have thought twice about throwing away the ends of the bread loaf or the bag of wilted spinach, and I have most definitely been guilty of tossing leftovers that I willfully ignored until they were no longer edible. But now, every time I throw away food – even into the compost bin – it is a reminder of my life of excess which provides me with so much food that I’m letting it go bad and throwing it away, and even more importantly, it is a reprimand for not being a responsible consumer of one of life’s most essential resources. Needless to say, I don’t throw food away without feeling badly about it anymore.
As a family, we began actively trying to reduce our waste [in general] at the start of 2018. To be honest, food waste wasn’t a primary focus until a few months ago when I read statistics about food waste in America being as high as 40% [read it for yourself here].
I am APPALLED at that number – especially when I think of the 49 million Americans who struggle to put food on the table , not to mention the millions around the world who will go to bed hungry tonight. And here I am, throwing out grapes because they are a little squishy…
Part of the solution to this problem is recognizing that I am a contributor to the food waste problem in the world and accepting that it is my responsibility to reduce my waste as much as I am capable.
So, in our home, we’ve been taking extra measures to reduce our food waste. I’m going to share them below, but before I do, here are the statistics that I hope you will find as shocking as I did and will motivate you to join the cause.
Food Waste Statistics
The waste is HUGE.
An estimated 40% of food in America is wasted. (Source: NRDC.org, read it here.)
On average, 197 pounds of perfectly good food goes to landfills EVERY DAY. (Source: FeedingAmerica.org)
The problem is serious, and seriously EXPENSIVE.
Approximately $161 billion worth of food is wasted each year in the US. (Source: USDA, read it here.)
Food waste is costly to our environment as well – using 21% of fresh water, 18% of crop land, and taking up 21% of our landfills. (Source: ReFED)
We are paying $218 billion annually to produce and ship and dispose of food.
“American consumers, businesses, and farms spends $218 billion a year, or 1.3% of GDP, growing, processing, transporting, and disposing food that is never eaten.That’s 52 million tons of food sent to landfill annually, plus another 10 million tons that is discarded or left unharvested on farms. Meanwhile, one in seven Americans is food insecure.”– ReFED.com
The biggest problem is in American homes – not grocery stores and restaurants.
43% of wasted food is happening at the consumer level.
The chart above, from FeedingAmerica.org, shows the breakdown of where the food waste is happening.
What you can do about it
1. Buy only what you need. Only buy enough fresh food to last you a week or two, depending on the item’s shelf life. Then EAT IT.Don’t stock up on foods with expiration dates unless you are certain you will eat them.
2. Eat leftovers – including leftovers from restaurants. Store them in clear containers so you know what you have available in your fridge. Set up a “first in, first out” rule, eating oldest leftovers first.
3. Store food properly. Prolong the life of your fresh foods by storing them properly.
4. Freeze or preserve excess. When foods are nearing their expiration, eat or freeze or preserve them. Don’t just let them rot and then toss them in the trash.
5. Take inventory regularly. Make it a habit to frequently take inventory of the contents in your fridge and freezer and pantry – noting expiration dates – so that you know what you have, what needs to be eaten soon, and what you need to purchase.
6. Compost your food scraps. Composting is not as intimidating as it sounds and while it is easier to do if you own land, there are a growing number of urban composting resources to help you compost in your apartment or townhome or penthouse with a view. [Read this article by The Washington Post about how to get started.]
7. Donate to organizations that are rescuing food like Feeding America and ReFED. Look for organizations in your area and donate or volunteer.
8. Spread the word. We all have a sphere of influence and are capable of multiplying our impact by encouraging our social circles to join us in ending food waste.
Food is one of life’s most vital resources. Let’s not waste it.
My son, Theo, turned three a few days ago. In keeping with our new sustainability and zero waste principles, we made a big deal of our time together [at Chuck E Cheese for the afternoon] and downplayed the gift portion of the celebration. We actually never even mentioned a gift and he never asked for one.
But, of course, we did give him a gift – a set of used Paw Patrol characters and their vehicles [one of which I used to decorate his “Paw Patrol” birthday cake that all the kids helped decorate.]
A few weeks ago we began looking for someone selling a used set of these Paw Patrol trucks because we knew how much Theo would love them. Living in the Chicagoland area meant that they were easy to find. We ended up buying a set of six vehicles and eight characters for $15. At Target, these Paw Patrol vehicle/character sets sells for $15 each.
But the point here is that it’s actually not about the money at all. Yes, there was a savings, but it’s not like we couldn’t afford to buy it all brand-new.
Why buy used?
The motivation for buying used is to give a second [or third or fourth] life to something bound for the garbage bin. Rather feeding the machine that is constantly making new toys [especially plastic toys] we should be intentionally prolonging the life of the current toy population. I basically rescued these trucks from a landfill. I am essentially a super hero. And they are perfectly fine toys. In fact, my son ADORES them and couldn’t care less whether they were purchased new.
Why not buy used?
So it got me thinking about why I would still never show up at another kid’s birthday party with a gift purchased second-hand. It’s one thing to buy a used gift for my own kid, but a completely different story if I’m going to give a gift to someone else.
There is some unwritten social code that says it’s unacceptable to give gifts that are second-hand.
We even frown [although slightly less so] on “re-gifting” and most people would agree that the appropriate way to re-gift an item is if the recipient doesn’t know it’s re-gifted.
Isn’t that strange? Why should it matter?
Gift giving today is about the represented dollar value, not how much it will be appreciated.
I think that what has happened to our society is that gift giving has become more about the ritual [i.e. gifts are required at certain holidays and events] and the dollar value [i.e. gifts need to be within a certain price range] than it is about the recipient’s enjoyment of the gift.
At my first baby shower, a cousin of mine gave me a gift for the baby – purchased new, obviously. After I opened it, she handed me a pair of baby girl Sperrys that she had found used and thought were so cute she had to get them for my baby, but she gave them to me separately because she wanted to explain that they were second-hand.
I LOVE those pink cheetah-print baby Sperrys! It didn’t matter if they were new or not. Both of my baby girls have worn them – and I’m sure this third baby girl will as well.
I find it perplexing and rather sad that we don’t feel free to give gifts just for the sake of their enjoyment value.
Similarly, when I started dating my husband, he and his siblings had a Christmas tradition of trading names for a gift exchange. They had set a value of $75 and then provided a detailed list of things they wanted. I went shopping with Brett that year and watched him cross items off the list and tally up the total dollar amount for his sister-in-law.
I couldn’t even believe it. Is this what gift-giving has become? I felt, even back then, that this was the total antithesis of what giving a gift should be.
Have you been out shopping for a gift and had some sort of mental idea of how much you needed to spend? Somewhere between being “too cheap” and being “too flashy”? And have you been invited to a party or shower or event and known without any overt statement that a gift is a requirement – or at least you would be viewed as a party crasher if you showed-up empty-handed? Have you tried to make sure that each of your kids gets the same general value of gifts or the same number of packages on Christmas morning?
Can we go back?
Can we go back to giving a gift purely because we want to, rather than because it’s required? Can we go back to giving a gift just because we know someone will love it and not care about how much it cost or where it came from?
I’m hoping that by continuing to exchange used gifts [whenever possible] in my immediate family that I will teach my children that gifts are for the purpose of making people feel loved and appreciated by giving something that they will love – not out of obligation or to follow social customs or to show that we have the means to buy new, expensive things.
Buying used isn’t being cheap, it’s being responsible.
Theo was so excited about those Paw Patrol toys that he didn’t even want to eat cake. Everyone else ate cake while Theo played with the trucks. All the other kids came to the table for cake eventually, but Theo only wanted to play.
These toys were the perfect gift – because they were used and because no one cared that they were used. They represented our commitment to sustainability and our belief that the value of a gift doesn’t come from how much is spent or where it is purchased, but from whether it is given out of love.
Theo’s Birthday Video
As is my new tradition for the kids, here is a short video highlighting Theo’s third year.
Since I first moved out on my own, I have been trying to figure out this whole grocery shopping thing – how to eat well without overspending money or time.
I have tried everything – from couponing to rebate apps to stockpiling boxes of granola bars[not healthy, by the way]. I shopped exclusively at Aldi for a time. I followed popular shopping bloggers and ran to the store every time they said there was a good deal.
None of these things worked for me. They were all time-consuming and exhausting and didn’t actually seem to save me much money and on top of all that, we weren’t eating healthy foods.
So I’ve been trying to figure out how to spend less on groceries without sacrificing quality or healthfulness.
After ten years, I have FINALLY reached a place where grocery shopping is no longer expensive, time-consuming, or unhealthy. I spend less time meal planning, less time at the grocery store, and less time stressing over the grocery budget than I ever have.
To give you an idea of how much you can save, here are USDA’s recommended grocery budgets.
They vary based on the number and ages of you family members and based on whether you are living lean [“Thrifty plan”] or high on the hog [“Liberal plan”].
So according to this chart, for my family of five, a thrifty plan would be $561.50 per month, if I don’t count my youngest who is only 18 months old, or $655.60 if I do count her.
Doesn’t really matter because our budget is $400/month. This doesn’t include our eating out budget which is $60/month and allows us to eat out about twice per month. Also, every other month we cut our budget in half [a lengthy explanation of which I may write and post someday]. So, technically, we feed our family for $300/month, if we average it out.
That may sound like a lot or a little to you depending on your situation, but for us, it is less than half of what Brett and I were spending back when it was just the two of us – and we weren’t eating nearly as healthy as we do now.
[I’m harping on the healthy thing because anyone can eat ramen noodles every day and save tons of money, but I have found that I can eat super healthy – I’m talking fresh produce and high quality foods – and still save money. So if you are one of the many people today who believe that eating healthy is more expensive, please read on.]
So how do we feed our family healthy foods with so little money? Well, for starters we buy very few processed foods [for our health] and we do our best to avoid packaged foods [for the health of our planet]. Those two things contribute a little bit to our savings – but I know that they are not the reality for the average American [though I wish they were].
The bulk of the money and time is saved by following these five simple rules:
1. Buy what is on sale.
Rather than creating a meal plan and then buying the ingredients regardless of the price, I let the weekly ads determine what we eat each week. In my area, each Wednesday, grocery stores roll out new ads with new deals. I compare the ads from four different local grocers and then choose the one [or maybe two] with the best sales and that’s where I’ll be shopping that week.
Besides simplifying meal planning, another benefit of this rule is that it saves a lot of time at the grocery store. I know exactly what I’m going in to get. I don’t need to price compare a bunch of different options, or stroll down aisles looking at different food choices, or fall prey to the clever marketing tricks like flashy signs and end-caps. I go in, get what’s on sale, get out.
Bottom line, if it’s not on sale, I don’t buy it.
[As with all rules, there are exceptions. In the case of rule #1, I don’t buy my bulk dry goods on sale because most stores don’t offer regular sales on bulk goods. In this case, I am prioritizing my obligation to the health of the planet over money – ALWAYS a good choice, by the way. But I still save plenty of money.]
2. Set price limits.
Over the past two years I’ve learned what a good sale price is for most items and I have set rules for how cheap they need to be. Simply being “on sale” is not necessarily good enough. Not all sale prices are created equal. For example, it is extremely rare that I will buy produce at Aldi because their sale prices are never as good as my other local grocers. If you [as most people do] assume that Aldi is cheaper for everything simply because it’s Aldi, then you are overpaying.
In order to figure out what a good sale price is, you have to pay attention to sales in your area over a period of months. My price limits are still changing as time goes on. For example, I used to only buy boneless chicken if it was under $2/lb, but after a while I learned that I could find it at least once a month for $1.49/lb. So that became my new price limit.
Here are some examples of my price limits [understand that prices will vary greatly depending on your location]:
I won’t buy produce for more than $1/lb. Sometimes I do buy blackberries at $.88/6oz package and I will buy avocados if they are $.79/each or less, but I don’t make a habit of buying these items because they are so expensive compared to normal produce.
I won’t buy cheese for more than $1.50/8oz package. If cheese is not on sale for this price or less, we just do without cheese. It’s not even really a hardship. In fact, I think it has improved my children’s appreciation for the taste of real foods not covered in cheese.
I won’t buy eggs for more than $1/dozen. Though, I admit, I am going to buy eggs from our farm CSA this summer at $5/carton, but in this case, I am prioritizing supporting local agriculture and health over saving money. I will also be limiting our eggs to one carton per week.
Your rules will depend on what eat, but everything should have a price limit required for purchase. There will always be off cases when you simply must have something – like butter to make buttercream for your son’s birthday cake – and it’s not on sale. Okay. Sometimes we have to bend the rules.
3. Eat less meat…and live longer and healthier lives.
I’m a fitness professional, not a registered dietician or nutritionist, so you don’t have to agree with me on the healthful side of this rule. Eat meat if you want, but know this, meat is WAY MORE expensive than plant-based foods. We used to make two or three chicken breasts for our family of five for dinner. Now, we all share one chicken breast [oftentimes less] and fill the majority of our plates with vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes.
This is the USDA’s newest recommendation for healthy eating which has replaced the typical food pyramid we all learned in grade school.
Notice that three quarters of the plate are filled with plant-based foods. Now think about how your dinner plate typically looks. Most Americans eat a meat heavy diet, with the protein being the main course and the vegetables and fruits being “sides.”
If you need further evidence, watch the documentary, In Defense of Food, or read the book with the same title by Michael Pollan.
Time to rethink the way we eat…and hopefully soon because the health epidemic in our country is quite literally frightening. But the good news is, eating more plant-based foods is CHEAPER!
Also, according to the chart below by health.gov, over 85% of the population is not eating the recommended amount of vegetables…
C’mon, people. Let’s eat some more veggies!
[Someday I’ll go into greater detail about how to eat healthy on a budget. It is not hard, folks. I promise you!]
4. Buy less food.
This might sound obvious, but apparently it needs to be stated anyway because we have a bit of an overeating problem in America.
According to the CDC, 39.8% of adults in the US are obese [read about it here.] And, shockingly, according to this article by NPR, 75% of Americans believe themselves to be eating healthy…so why are obesity rates so high?
There are lots of factors that contribute to the obesity issue, but no matter where you look, portion size and overeating are partially to blame.
Nutrition scholarMarion Nestleat New York University says portion size — just eating too much — is an issue. “I’d vote for that as a major cause of obesity,” Nestle told us by email.
“Some of the problem is that individuals pay more attention to getting good things in their diet than they do to limiting overall intake,” addsDavid Just, a behavioral economist who studies food psychology at Cornell University.– npr.org
The accessibility of food in our society has made overeating too easy. Yes, restaurants serve us too much food, but we also serve ourselves too much food at home. We also stock too much food in our kitchen, making it too easy to eat whatever we want whenever we feel like it.
Let’s all do ourselves a favor and buy less food. There is no reason to stockpile canned goods as if we are fearing an imminent apocalypse…unless you are fearing an imminent apocalypse…in which case, there is no need to save your money because it will be useless when the zombies take over.
Some basic ways to buy less food is:
Go grocery shopping once a week and only buy what you need for that week.
Buy fresh produce so you CAN’T stockpile it. Fresh food is healthier, more likely to be local, and tastes WAY BETTER!
Don’t buy [or buy very little] unhealthy snacks and treats. Don’t spend your hard-earned money on food that is going to make you sick and unhappy in the long run.
Avoid processed and packaged foods – for the sake of your wallet, your health, and the planet.
5. Eat all the food you buy.
Again, this seems obvious…but apparently it’s not because 40% of food in America is thrown away.
In 2012, NRDC published a groundbreaking report that revealed that up to 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten. That is on average 400 pounds of food per person every year. Not only is that irresponsible—it’s expensive [emphasis mine]. Growing, processing, transporting, and disposing that uneaten food has an annual estimated cost of $218 billion, costing a household of four an average of $1,800 annually. – NRDC report by Dana Gunders, source
And before you go blaming it all on grocery stores, this infographic created by the NRDC says that households and restaurants are the biggest generators of food waste [at least in Denver, Nashville and New York].
Of course, on the other hand, we have lots of families in our country who struggle to put food on the table.
So besides the cost of wasted food, I feel just plain terrible knowing that I am throwing food awaywhen some people are not eating today. And I feel like a terrible hypocrite if I talk about our grocery budget being “tight” while I’m throwing food in the trash – or even in the compost bin.
In my home, we do everything we possibly can to avoid wasting food. Some of the ways to reduce our food waste are:
Eat all the leftovers. I set designated days at least once but often twice per week to eat whatever we have that is close to expiring.
Only buy what you need for a week. You may not know what you need for a week, but if you find yourself throwing food out, then you know for next time that you need less. Obviously some things with longer shelf lives, like dairy products and dry goods, don’t need to be purchased weekly. That leads me to the next tip:
Don’t buy more if you still have food to eat. I don’t know why we do this but it seems that it’s totally normal to go buy a full cart of groceries when we still have enough food in our home to feed our family for the next six months. I’m not joking. When we got ready to sell our last home, I started using up all the food that we had in our cabinets and pantry and – oh my gosh – our second freezer. Lo and behold, we had enough food to feed us for months. I decided then and there that stocking so much food in our house was wasteful and expensive and I stopped doing it.
A word on frozen and non-perishable foods: Some people prefer to buy non-perishables because they feel like they throw out more food when they buy fresh – which they really might. The problem is not the fresh food – it’s that there is a disparity between the amount they are buying and the amount they are eating. As I said previously, fresh food is healthier, more likely to be local, and tastes WAY BETTER! Buy fresh food – just not so much – and then EAT IT!
So, this has been a book. If you’ve stuck with me, I hope you’ve found some useful information and, hopefully, some motivation to improve your spending and eating habits.
These are all things I wish someone had told me a lot earlier, but everything I found about saving money on groceries revolved around making a list, not shopping hungry, and clipping coupons. I wanted something that saved me time AND money AND made me a healthier consumer.
For me, this is it.
If you’ve found a method that works for you, share it in the comments! We all have room for improvement!
Fresh Thyme Farmers Market finally opened a new location close to my home!
Yes, I was there on opening morning waiting in line with some one hundred other people.
No, I am not ashamed.
Though…I did accept the bag of free groceries that was FULL of packaging.
I am slightly ashamed of that…
Still, I was glad to show my support for a grocery store that encourages customers to reduce their waste by putting bulk bins front and center and by making it easy to bring your own containers.
I’ve been a few times since they opened, but most recently I made my first bulk liquid purchase.
I brought my own jars [and a dry erase marker] and weighed them with the cashier before filling them with maple syrup, local honey, and freshly ground peanut butter [it literally ground the peanuts right into my jar – doesn’t get any fresher than that].
Fresh Thyme also sells bulk oils, vinegars, nut butters, and even kombucha – which I fully intend to purchase in the future.
I frickin LOVE this store.
And on top of that, the prices are reasonable. I paid less for the maple syrup than I do for a jar of pure maple syrup from Aldi.
They also don’t give me side eye for checking out with cloth bags and my own jars. My cashier even said it was “so cute.”
Just doin’ what I do. Being cute AND saving the planet.
The only waste from the purchase was [once again] produce stickers and the receipt.
Why is it that taking care of the planet, protecting wildlife, and preserving our natural resources appears to only concern liberals and environmentalists? These are issues that affect all of us, so why aren’t we all on board?
If you watch the news, the “green” initiatives seem to be constantly touted by liberals while the conservatives are always on the other side of the screen shaking their heads, insisting “it’s no big deal.”
Since this is the impression I have always had of the two sides of the debate, I was pleasantly surprised to find in Jen Hatmaker’s book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, that there are conservative Christians [even Republicans!] with the same concerns for our shared environment. Of course, Jen is the only one I have ever heard of – and she only cared for a month – but still. This is progress.
She writes with compelling sarcasm that a belief in God as creator of planet earth is a great reason to start taking care of said planet.
I wish I could quote her entire chapter on reducing waste here, but you should really just go get a copy of the book. In the meantime, though, here’s a snippet:
“I’m a Christian author, so my deal is to write Bible stuff, and the hippies can worry with creation.
Wait a minute.
Does ‘creation’ have anything to do with God whom I call ‘Creator’? Oh, pish posh. Surely God isn’t worried about how we handle His creation that He created. His main concern is making His followers happy and prosperous, yes? And if we need to consume the rest of His creation to make us happy, then I’m sure God doesn’t mind. I bet ‘creation’ mainly refers to us humans, and the soil and rivers and animals and forests and oceans and wildflowers and air and vegetation and resources and lakes and mountains and streams are purely secondary, if not inconsequential.
If I’m taking my cues from many mainstream evangelicals, then only Democrats and loosely-goose liberals care about the earth. It’s a giant conspiracy to distract us from the abortion and gay issues, which evidently are the only subjects worth worrying about. Ecology is for alarmists who want to ruin our lives and obsess about acid rain.
I’m beginning to wonder if the unprecedented consumption of the earth’s resources and the cavalier destruction of its natural assets is a spiritual issue as much as environmental…
This month the Hatmakers are doing their part, setting aside apathy and respecting the earth God made and loves.”
Thank you, Jen! I wish more Christians were drinking your kool-aid.
Truthfully, I don’t really care what your reasoning is for choosing to take better care of our beautiful planet – I just want you to do it. I want everyone to do it.
The American Waste Problem
America has a definite waste problem. It’s not like we are without resources to do something about it, and we can no longer claim to be ignorant about it. So, why aren’t we doing more? We know it’s possible. We’ve seen the impact of a country committed to sustainability. Sweden not only sends a mere 1% of household waste to landfills, but they are actually making money off of other countries’ waste by using it to fuel their incinerators [source article].
Then there is America…
According to the EPA, we send 52.8% of our waste to landfills each year [source article]. Don’t even get me started on all the reasons this is terrible [but you can read about it for yourself in this article].
If both sides of the debate [virtually ALL OF AMERICA] could join hands and work together towards the goal of a greener future, then we could really get shit done.
And there is hope. If everyone identifying themselves as Christians would “go green” for the good of their religious beliefs, then a whopping 75% of Americans would be changing their wasteful ways. [2017 Gallup poll of religions in the US can be found here.]
Can we even hope for such a transformation? I don’t know, but I did get a little glimmer of hope from Jen’s book.
Ok, I’m almost done…
No matter your religion or political preference, everyone should be behind a more sustainable future for our world. I’m singling out Christians here because they make up the majority of people in this country with the greatest power to change the current consumer mentality that is doomed to fail in the long run.
Written by a Christian pastor’s wife, 7 is a great book that confronts our American culture through the lens of the Bible. For that reason, if you believe in the Bible, I highly recommend it. And I hope that reading it produces a wave of authentic Christianity like our country has never seen – one that encourages, rather than criticizes, recycling, composting, AND tree-hugging.
Last year, I began swapping disposable products for reusable alternatives and was impressed by how easy and affordable it was to make my home less wasteful. Many times, I already had eco-friendly alternatives lying around anyway. Now, I just had to make the switch to using them. Once I did, I no longer had to spend money on constantly restocking disposables and that alone actually saved me loads of money over the past year.
Contrary to what some might think, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to make a difference. You also don’t need to be perfectly, 100% without any waste. A little effort goes a long way, and when choosing zero waste alternatives saves you some cash, everyone wins.
Some of these suggestions are going to sound like no-brainers to anyone who is already living a zero waste life, but these are also some of the biggest offenders in the unnecessary waste department, so we’ve got to be better about even these small simple products that collect in landfills [or our oceans and ecosystems] in alarming amounts.
Here are some of the easiest swaps we made:
1. Cloth shopping bags instead of disposable bags. Most people have bags lying around that can be used as shopping bags. If you’ve ever shopped at Aldi then you probably already have a stash for those trips. So why not use them for all your shopping? Turns out you don’t need a special material or a specific size, and it doesn’t have to have some cutesy environmentally friendly slogan written on it. Just grab a bag – any bag – before you head out for your next shopping trip and pass on the store’s bags. If you literally don’t have a bag, grab a t-shirt you don’t wear and make one – tutorial here.
2. Reusable plates instead of paper plates. This one is guaranteed to save you money since the only thing required is to stop buying paper plates altogether. I assume everyone has a set of real plates (even plastic will do – so long as they are reusable). I know it’s convenient – especially for big gatherings and for packing lunches – but it’s not the only way. Create a system for the party so dishes get rinsed and washed. Eat out of your container at work/school so you don’t need a dish at all. Paper plates cannot be recycled because the paper becomes contaminated by food. And with the global paper plate industry at around 3.6 BILLION USD – that equals a whole lot of paper plates in landfills.
3. Silverware instead of plastic cutlery. Same as above, this will only save you money. Pack a real spoon and wash it. Is it as convenient? Maybe not. Is it free to do? Definitely. Is it important. Yessiree.
4. Reusable water bottle instead of plastic water bottles. I am admittedly a total water snob. I hate tap water – especially my own because we have very hard well water which, even after an elaborate softener system treats it, still tastes terrible. [I am working on becoming less entitled in this regard – but it may take a LONG time.] We used to buy tons of water bottles because they are so convenient, despite being a colossal waste of plastic and money. So, our alternative has been a Primo water dispenser.
This guy conveniently hides a refillable five-gallon water jug.
So, we are still technically paying for water [though we don’t pay for our well water], but it costs less than $2 for five gallons and we reuse the jugs so that we are not creating any waste.
Another good solution for water snobs like myself would be to use water from a filtered dispenser in the refrigerator. We don’t have one of those. Even putting a filter on the sink would be good.
Then use a reusable beverage holder of some kind.
Most people probably have a reusable water bottle lying around their house. You don’t need a fancy stainless steel one [though they are nice to have]. You don’t even need a water bottle, truthfully. You could just use a glass…or a mug…or heck, a sippy cup if you have to. Anything that will hold liquid should work.
5. Kitchen rags instead of paper towels. The attachment to paper towels is very strong and is probably the hardest disposable to stop using. In fact, I occasionally wish for paper towels when I want to clean the bathroom mirrors or have a place to set freshly fried bacon…BUT I don’t use them. We haven’t bought any in a year and we are surviving just fine. I didn’t purchase anything to replace paper towels, I just used my current stash of kitchen towels, wash cloths, and rags. You don’t actually need something that comes on a roll that allows you to rip off individual pieces [though there are Pinterest tutorials aplenty, if you want to make your cloth towels into a roll]. You can just reach into a drawer or cupboard and get a new towel or rag when you need one. This system has been serving us very well AND saving us a lot of money.
6. Reusable containers instead of zip-lock bags. Plastic baggies are definitely very convenient, but they are nothing that a reusable container [tupperware or glass] cannot be – besides made of plastic and very wasteful. I have kept my plastic Tupperware sets to use for food storage and travel and anything else I might need a plastic baggie for, so I didn’t have to buy anything. All I had to do was stop buying zip-lock bags. The only challenge I encountered was freezing certain foods – and for this purpose, I did purchase reusable silicone bags, but now I just cook the meat before freezing [with the exception of chicken which I freeze raw in small portions in the silicone bags].
Try the 30-day challenge
If any of these swaps seem like a challenge, just try doing without for a while – say a month or so – to see if you really do need these things in your life. Yes, there is a minor loss of convenience, but a big benefit for our shared environment AND your wallet. So, it’s a win-win.
I’m sure there are other zero waste swaps that can be made on the cheap. If you have ideas to add to this list, please share below!
Does anyone recycle their used candle jars? I’m not judging – I’m just seriously wondering because I don’t think I’ve ever actually burned through an entire candle until just recently [thanks to my recent hygge kick, you may recall]. I feel like candles are things that every person has a million of and most of them are never [or rarely] used.
Maybe that’s just me.
I don’t remember ever finishing a candle, but I am certain that if I ever did, the jar ended up in the trash because, well, everything I disposed of ended up in the trash in those days. [I’m new to this recycling thing, don’t forget.]
So, now that I have several candles that have been fully burned, I had to figure out what to do with the remaining jars.
First I had to clean them out, which I accomplished by filling with hot water and scraping out the remaining wax with a spoon. Only one candle cooperated.
Folks, this is apparently not the best way to clean your candle jars. I was just trying to use my brain when I should have been asking Google. Apparently, all you need to do is stick the candle in the freezer and the wax will magically separate from the container. [Whaaa?] I cannot verify this, of course, but it sounds much easier than my scraping method.
So now, what?
I have seen a million ways to repurpose candle jars on Pinterest. They can hold cotton swabs, makeup brushes, plants, tea lights, herbs, buttons, candy, rubber bands, and on and on. Basically they can hold anything that will fit [duh]. The problem is, I don’t need another glass jar lying around holding more of the little stuff I don’t want in my house anyway!
So I figured I would just recycle the glass jars. Off to the recycling bin and that is that. After all, we burn a lot of candles these days and if I kept every jar, we would eventually be overrun with empty jars.
That’s when it hit me. The best way to reuse the old jars is to refill with wax and make new candles. After all, WE BURN A LOT OF CANDLES! [This should not have been such a revelation. I am admittedly slow sometimes.] Pinterest was actually a little low on recommendations for refilling candle jars with [wait for it…] new candles! But maybe that is just too obvious for anyone else to even burden the interwebs with.
All I will need is the wax [some of which I can reuse from the bottom of old jars] and I won’t need to buy candles any longer. This provides me with the opportunity to switch over to 100% beeswax candles AND reduce waste AND cut down the cost of our candle habit.
I immediately rescued the empty jars from the recycling bin outside and refilled the little one that I like the best with leftover wax melts we have had in our basement for ages. [Now I finally understand why providence never let me get rid of those…]
Voila! New candle cooling down as we speak. [Yeah, I used a beeswax candle to hold the wick – it’s what I had handy.]
I should also mention that I found conflicting info regarding whether candle jars can be recycled curbside due to some of the containers being made to withstand high heat and therefore not your basic run o’ the mill glass. If you are certain that are glass, then go for it, but if they might be made of borosilicate [I have not the foggiest idea how one is supposed to tell the difference…], it can’t be recycled curbside and you’ll have to scour the Internet for a local recycling center.
This is a fabulous argument for just reusing. If you have a need for a cutesy q-tip holder – then go for it. Otherwise, refill with some beeswax [don’t forget a wick], and you’re all set for clear-conscience candle consumption!
[Well, unless we start talking about indoor air pollution…oy vey!]