[Nearly] Zero Waste at Aldi

[Nearly] Zero Waste at Aldi

A few months ago, I stopped shopping at Aldi – partly because every other grocery store in my area has better sales each week and partly because [nearly] all of Aldi’s produce is wrapped in plastic.

BUT, today was one of those days when a killer avocado sale happened to coincide with my desperate need to restock toilet paper and the promise of being in and out in ten minutes sealed the deal.

[I also appreciate that I can seat both of my toddlers next to each other in the front of the cart. AND I don’t get a bunch of weird looks when I bring my own bags.]

For being the first big grocery chain I have ever heard of to not offer bags, I’m surprised that they aren’t a little more eco friendly in the produce aisle…but I don’t know a thing about the grocery business. I’m sure there is a reason that a 2lb plastic bag of honeycrisp apples costs $2 and two pounds of loose honeycrisp apples costs $4.

Anyway, I did what I could and here is what I got:

Gallon of milk – plastic carton will be recycled. I am still unable to convince my husband to trade milk for a non-dairy variety. And I still haven’t convinced myself to buy milk in glass containers – but that day is coming. I would really like to find a refillable situation from a local farm, but haven’t found one yet. Does that even exist anymore?

Cartons of eggs – cardboard containers will be recycled or composted. I plan to buy my eggs as part of my farm share this summer and just refill my carton each week, but in the meantime, we buy only cardboard cartons.

Box of pasta – I didn’t have to buy this, but I wanted it to make lemon butter shrimp pasta later this week with shrimp we were given…and the box will be recycled. I don’t have the tools necessary to make any pasta noodles besides lasagna at this point.

Toilet paper – plastic wrapping will be recycled via store drop off and the tubes will be recycled or composted. I am still working on bringing my husband around to the bidet idea…

Loose produce – bananas, pineapples, avocados, cucumber – all loose and at decent prices. In general, I have found Aldi’s produce prices [even on sale] to be pretty terrible compared to local produce sale prices. Every part of these foods that aren’t eaten will be composted. The stickers are the only waste.

Romaine lettuce – I couldn’t find a single type of lettuce that wasn’t packaged in plastic, so I got this bag of romaine which seemed to have the greatest lettuce to plastic ratio. The plastic bag will be recycled via store drop off – but it still makes me kind of sad.

Sauce, pesto, syrup – all in glass bottles. Aldi offers cheaper pasta sauce and syrup in plastic bottles, which I passed on. Glass is a great material than can be continually reused and recycled.

As I was shopping, I passed all the usual stuff that I used to buy every week – pretzels, applesauce, salad dressing, yogurt, cottage cheese, bread, buns – but I make all that stuff myself now.

The stuff I can’t make, I buy. The stuff I buy, I try to find without packaging. The stuff that I can’t find package-free, I try to find in sustainable packaging like glass or cardboard.

That’s my [nearly] zero waste game plan. It has some weaknesses and I’m not perfect [still super far from storing my annual waste in a jar] but these small attempts at mindfulness when I’m shopping go a long way over the course of time.

Happy shopping!

🛒 🛒 🛒

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Planner System for 2019

[Nearly] Zero Waste Planner System for 2019

Two years ago, I was gifted my first Happy Planner.

I was in heaven. Doesn’t this look like so much fun?! [Or is it just me?] I could lose myself for hours just in decorating my planner pages. Which, come to think of it, was not the greatest use of my time…

However, after our transition this past year to zero waste and simple living, I realized that I needed to find a simpler, smaller, less wasteful way of organizing myself.

I thought about buying an eco-friendly planner made from recycled paper [but would rather find a reusable option]. Or making a white erase board out of an old picture frame, like I’ve seen in Pinterest tutorials [but I have no place to put one]. Or maybe use an app on my phone [but I don’t want to be tied to my phone again after I just broke the habit]. Or maybe try to do without a planner at all [but I know this would end in total chaos].

I know that the most zero waste option would be a digital planner of some kind but I haven’t found one that satisfies my need to physically cross things off a list – or that I would see often during the day since I don’t use my phone or computer very frequently anymore.

In the end, I decided to use what I already have available: a white board monthly calendar and a chalkboard.

These aren’t perfectly zero waste, but they are reusable and I already had them, so I didn’t have to buy anything new. The monthly calendar has my schedule and special dates. The chalkboard has my habits list and a meal plan and a shopping list. I will likely add a place for a daily to-do list eventually, but for now I am using up the pad of paper on the board.

I’m not certain how this will work out in the long run, but I am going to try it for now.

I’m curious what system other people use? If you have a suggestion for a better zero waste option to try, let me know!

Happy planning!

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Christmas Gifts: how we gave mindful and meaningful gifts this year

[Nearly] Zero Waste Christmas Gifts: how we gave mindful and meaningful gifts this year

This entire year, I have been on a journey to become a more mindful consumer, a more generous giver, and a less wasteful person in general. [Besides that, I have also worked very hard to eliminate all of our extra “stuff.”]

So, when Christmas time came around this year, I knew that some things had to change about the way we do gifts for our kids and loved ones.

But – how?

How do we still show everyone how much we love them without giving them a bunch of “stuff”? And how do we make more conscientious purchasing decisions while still giving people things that they will appreciate? And how do I provide my kids with the fun of unwrapping gifts on Christmas morning without a lot of toys that will just end up cluttering our space?

I still don’t have perfect answers, and we didn’t do a perfect job [I should have asked these questions before Christmas to get some help from the blogging world], but we made an effort, which is the most important thing.

Here’s what we did:

Experience gifts for extended family. We gave all of our siblings and their families experience memberships [like to the local zoo for those with little kids] or gift cards to spend on an experience [like jump zone for those with older kids] or amazon/restaurant gift cards for family members without kids.

The nice thing about this type of gift is that it doesn’t even require anything to be physically exchanged [I actually texted the amazon gift cards to my siblings – thank you, 21st century!]. Can’t get much more zero waste than that. And [for the most part], the gift can be enjoyed many times throughout the year.

BUT, the downside is that there is no physical gift to open.

Used toys for our kids. If we are going to have toys to open on Christmas, I felt like we should get them used [as much as we are able]. My kids are young enough to not care at all if a gift is new or not. [Hopefully, they will never care, but that is probably wishful thinking.] We bought an AMAZING wooden train set complete with a table and rails and trains and cars [probably 100+ pieces] for $35 from a family that no longer used it. And we got an art easel from friends who were getting rid of theirs and graciously gave it to us for free. These are types of things that last for years and can be loved by many children – and are plastic-free!

That being said, we did purchase new consumables for the art easel like markers and paint and notepads and things like that. Some things cannot be purchased used. I probably didn’t put enough thought into getting these things from responsible sources [or making my own]. I know I can improve in that area in the future.

Consumable gifts from the family. Anyone who asked what to get our kids, I suggested consumables like art and craft supplies, coloring books, temporary tattoos, bandaids, or gift cards for ice cream. This really helped cut down on the toys they received and this way everything will be used. We received ornaments from two families which the kids loved. Some were homemade which were adorable and meaningful and some were supporting international orphans – also very meaningful to us.

Homemade, meaningful, or consumable gifts for others. We made chocolate pretzels for our neighbors. We gave chocolates and amazon gift cards to Evangeline’s preschool teachers. We made ornaments for our aunts/cousins.

Our Auntie Paula, who does so much for our family, got a special homemade ornament: three hearts [one for each of my kids] hanging from a moon that said “Love you to the moon” – the special saying she shares with my kids. It might have been small and not cost us anything, but sometimes something special and made with love is the best gift.

Any other ideas/suggestions? I know there are other ways to give mindfully and meaningfully. If anyone has ideas to share, let me know so I can continue to improve in this area.

We love giving to our friends and family – but now I feel the pressure to purchase from responsible sources and not burden the recipients with stuff they don’t need. It is a strange balancing act that I am new [and not very good] at.

Overall, we stayed within budget and [hopefully] made everyone feel loved and appreciated this holiday season.

🎁 🎁 🎁

Karis

October Clothing Donation

October Clothing Donation

October marks the halfway point in my clothing ban. In the past six months, I haven’t purchased a single item of clothing [though I did acquire two new shirts for the marathon which were included with my entry – one from the race and one from the charity I ran with] and I have donated 156 items from my wardrobe to local charities.

We’ve also been through round one of decluttering our home. I’ve been through the entire house now and gotten rid of the surface level clutter – the easy stuff. But I know there are many rounds ahead. I’ve already been through three rounds on my book collection and two rounds on the toys and six rounds on my tank top collection – and I know there is still a lot more to free myself from in the future.

This month, since it is now fall and definitely, without a doubt, past tank top weather, I am donating every tank top that I did not wear all summer long. I probably mentioned before that tank tops are apparently my favorite piece of clothing because I used to own 57 pieces [!!!] – the biggest line item in my clothing inventory last May. I’ve weaned it down now to twenty, but really, I don’t need more than seven [for crying out loud].

So, it may be a few more rounds for the tank tops.

I also began setting aside everything I thought about wearing, but chose not to for whatever reason. Throughout the month there were several times when I put something on and stood in front of the mirror and had to ask myself if I actually wanted to wear it – or worse, asked my husband whether it was ok to wear. Each time, I immediately put it in the donate pile. If I’m wasting time wondering if I like it or if it fits or if it’s flattering … then, no. Buh-bye.

I am also getting rid of some socks and tights and underwear that I know I will never wear.

This process of weaning down my wardrobe has been very effective. Each month I have to make slightly tougher choices…but only slightly. I’m still working through a lot of excess.

So, don’t worry if you feel like you could never cut down your wardrobe. Just start with one thing. Just put one thing in the donate pile. Do it in waves. First get rid of all the easy stuff. Then come back and re-examine. Then get rid of the emotional stuff. Then come back again … and again until you’ve got only stuff you love and feel good about and actually need.

I’ve read in several books that a clean sweep is the best way to declutter. Collect everything of like type in your entire home and then after examining each individual thing, narrow it down to your favorite, say, 10% and get rid of the rest. But, for me, I have found that doing it in waves is more practical and much easier.

It’s hard to slash your belongings by 90% overnight. I don’t doubt that it’s possible, but I don’t think I could do it that way. I prefer to gradually free myself from belongings and then examine myself and realize that the more I let go, the less I need the stuff that remains, and then I cycle through again. In this way, I’m changing myself and not just the amount of stuff I own.

I am continually learning how little I need in this life to be happy and fulfilled – especially when it comes to clothing.

Karis

Zero Waste Toothbrushes / DIY Bathroom Remodel

Zero Waste Toothbrushes / DIY Bathroom Remodel

About a month ago, Brett and I [but mostly Brett] finished remodeling our upstairs bathroom.

Before reno:

After demo:

All done [hallelujah!]:

Since then, I’ve been anxious to replace the final eyesore – our toothbrushes.

I’ve been slowly replacing other bathroom items with zero waste, sustainable alternatives. I swapped our plastic shower curtain liner for a cloth one that can be washed and reused. [Since plastic shower curtain liners can’t be recycled, we are “upcycling” it as a tarp over our firewood. Other great ideas for old plastic liners can be found here.]

I’ve also traded the typical containers for cotton balls and q-tips for glass jars that I already had around the house.

I still have some plastic stuff waiting to be used up or worn out before being replaced – brush, comb, lotion and detangler bottles…

But the toothbrushes really bothered me. I finally got to replace them with compostable bamboo brushes. The bristles are nylon and though the biodegradability of some types of nylon are being debated, these bristles can be pulled and recycled.

I chose this company because it is based in the US and [from everything I can tell] committed to ethical and sustainable practices. Also they come in 100% cardboard packaging [double boxed]. It is hard to find toothbrushes that don’t have ANY PLASTIC in the packaging.

And it doesn’t hurt that making the bathroom more eco-friendly also makes it look better.

There are lots of great sustainable toothbrush options available now. Just search for bamboo toothbrushes. Also Preserve is a company that partners with Whole Foods to gather and recycle plastics into new toothbrushes which is the best choice if you want stick with plastic. They make it super easy to recycle the brushes when your done by selling you the brush in a prepaid return pouch!

As for your old plastic toothbrushes, read more about recycling them in this article by Recycle Nation [spoiler alert: it ain’t easy].

And more about sustainable toothbrush options in this post by My Plastic Free Life.

AND order your own sustainable toothbrushes from The Green Root here.

Happy Brushing!

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste at the Chicago Marathon

[Nearly] Zero Waste at the Chicago Marathon

If you’ve ever participated in a race, you probably already know that these events are [typically] very wasteful. Aid stations hand out water and Gatorade in paper or [egad!] plastic cups which get used for all of five seconds before being thrown onto the ground to be trampled by the rest of the runners. Then there are all the energy packets [gels, chews, beans, honey sticks, etc] all in individual wrappers which are also thrown on the ground mid-run. And don’t get me started on all the post-race foods like bananas, apples, protein bars, and water bottles that all create some sort of waste. All of this stuff ends up piled high in tons of trash cans throughout the race course and at the finish line.

I have been participating in running and multi-sport events of all different sizes – from small town 5Ks to the Chicago Marathon this past weekend – for the past seven years and, honestly, I never even considered the waste until this summer. So, I was very excited to find that the Chicago Marathon had so many awesome green initiatives.

“The 2018 Bank of America Chicago Marathon has been named an Evergreen Inspire event by the Council for Responsible Sport…”

-Participant Guide

Some of my favorite sustainability initiatives were:

1. The race shirt was made of 100% recycled polyester which has fewer environmental impacts.

2. Most aid stations collected organic waste [paper cups and banana peels] to be composted and the soil donated to the Chicago Park District.

3. Recycled Heatsheets will be made into benches which will be donated to the Chicago Park District.

4. Designated Green team volunteers helped to direct waste into separate containers for compost, recycle or landfill at several Zero Waste Stations.

5. The race participant guide encouraged runners to bring their own reusable water bottles and provided refilling stations.

And everyone already knows how much I love the #SheddtheStraw initiative by Shedd Aquarium. I love seeing Chicago work together to become a more sustainable city.

Of course, a lot of these initiatives are only effective if the runners and spectators actually utilize them and changing [or re-training] an entire race culture will not happen overnight.

BUT, I can make a difference. I made sure to sort my waste appropriately at the designated Zero Waste Stations. I recycled my Heatsheet. I stayed on the designated paths to preserve the foliage in Grant Park. I recycled my gear check bag appropriately when I got home [store drop-off].

I realized that I can do more, though – starting with requesting green initiatives at all my races and encouraging fellow runners to support a more sustainable racing environment.

One of the things I love most about running is how simple it is. It doesn’t require any fancy equipment or gym or dress code or anything other than a pair of legs and a stretch of earth. Running also connects us to nature by getting us outside to enjoy fresh air and appreciate the beauty around us. We don’t want to ruin that, right?

So if and when you happen to participate in a racing event – it never hurts to encourage race directors to provide sustainable options…and at the very least, look for the recycle bin. 👍🏻

Happy [Zero Waste] Running!

Karis

Josephine’s [Nearly] Zero Waste 1st Birthday Party

Josephine’s [Nearly] Zero Waste 1st Birthday Party

My sweet baby girl turned one this month so yesterday we threw a small [nearly] zero waste dinner party to celebrate.

For my older two kids, I threw big themed parties for their first birthdays. For Evangeline’s ice cream themed party, I made a ton of paper decorations including huge ice cream cones that hung from the ceiling and a “Sweet Shoppe” banner. I also catered the food from a grocery store. For Theo’s Cubs baseball party, I hung a huge stadium backdrop and ordered a photo booth prop package. For both of those parties I served everything in disposable dishes with disposable cutlery and disposable napkins.

Still, I wanted Josephine to have a party that was just as special – but without all the waste. I tried to marry our new “simple living” philosophy with our goal to reduce our waste and what we ended up with was a beautiful party that was inexpensive and elegant.

Here’s how it went:

The Food

I made three roasted vegetable lasagnas, Brett baked two batches of rosemary focaccia [his specialty], and we also served a yellow watermelon we got from the farm share [or CSA, if you’re just now joining us].

Since I made the lasagnas myself, including the noodles, tomato sauce, and ricotta cheese, there was very little waste. The only waste was the plastic bags from the mozzarella and parmesan, which we will recycle. Brett made the focaccia from scratch using the yeast and flour I bought at Walmart a while back [more about that zero waste trip here] and the rosemary from our herb garden on our deck.

Waste: cheese bags [recycled]

The Cakes

I also made all the cakes and frosting from scratch – a total of four different kinds of cake with three different types of buttercream. [Before you go thinking I’m absolutely insane, I had to make a special vegan cake for the birthday girl and my cousin who is on a special diet for health reasons. Then I wanted to make two small special cakes for two other family members who also have birthdays in the same week. And then a big cake for everyone else.]

The butter wrappers cannot be recycled so they ended up in the trash before I found this amazing article about all the brilliant ways to use the butter wrappers [spoiler alert, they still end up in the trash] BUT I probably need to just make my own going forward. The most waste was actually from the piping bags, which were not necessary but made the cakes so pretty. Next time I am going to invest in a reusable option since I am out of disposable piping bags now anyway.

Waste: butter wrappers and piping bags [trash], butter carton and whipping cream carton [recycled]

The Tableware

We used all of our regular tableware. With a guest count of twelve adults and eight kids, we had enough dinner plates to feed everyone, but we didn’t have enough dessert plates for the cake so some people ate their cake out of bowls. But, really, cake is cake no matter what it’s served on, right?

We served the drinks [cucumber lemon water and sweet tea lemonade] from big glass beverage dispensers [one of which we borrowed] and everyone used cloth napkins [well, I don’t know how many people actually used them…why are people so afraid of cloth napkins???].

After dinner, my sweet auntie rinsed the dishes and loaded the dishwasher and we gathered all the dirty napkins and put them in the laundry room.

We even fed the scraps to the dog who was in heaven – but there were very few scraps. Oh, and the watermelon seeds and rinds were composted.

Waste: None!

The Decorations

I decorated with a pallet from my backyard [don’t judge me from having pallets randomly lying around my back yard] and signs from Josephine’s nursery [the flowery “J” and the painted sign with her name that I made for her before she was born and the floral bunting that hangs in her room].

I printed the photos for the typical monthly timeline, but I needed these photos for her baby book anyway, so they will not be wasted. I up-cycled old wine bottles and used mason jars as vases for flowers. I even used some of the small buds that had fallen off the flowers and carnations as “confetti” on the table.

The biggest waste [which I had not even thought about] was the plastic wrapping from the flowers [along with the rubber bands and the flower food packets]. I’m not sure how to get flowers without the plastic besides cutting them from your own garden. At least the film can be recycled by dropping it off at the store, so not a total waste.

Everything else I used to decorate [like the paper and burlap runners] are compostable or recycleable or reusable AND everything was already in my home and therefore technically already wasted.

Waste: plastic sleeves for flowers and paper decorations [recycled]

The Gifts

I asked for no gifts, but I knew that the chances of not receiving any gifts was slim. And I was right. But it was SIGNIFICANTLY reduced compared to what it would ordinarily be. [Also, I have noticed that when I request no gifts, which I always do, people tend to give us practical, useful gifts]. Josephine got two baby board books, a helium birthday balloon, and an elephant bath towel and homemade soap.

Waste: gift bag and tissue paper [which I will reuse] and balloon [which will end up in the trash but will entertain my kids for the next week, so I’m not upset about it at all].

All in all, it was a good party – not because of the small amount of waste, but because we spent time with family celebrating our sweet baby girl being so grown up!

Of course, the lack of waste makes me happy. We didn’t even have to empty our little trash can under the sink. Come to think of it, I don’t think a single thing was thrown away the entire party. [It helps to hide the trash can – and the paper towels.]

That’s a success in my book!

Karis