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?!?
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:
Say “No” to straws
Go to the farmers market
Go to the butcher
Specialty stores and restaurants
Compostable dish scrubs*
Swapping out toxic items
Tub and toilet cleaner*
Recycled and double sided paper*
Out to eat
Zero waste travel kit
Buying carbon offsets
Zero waste vacations
Zero waste pets
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.
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?
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.
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.