What is Zero Waste?

Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. – Ancient Proverb

If you’re anything like me, you know that you care for the environment and you’ve known this for a long time. In that time, you may have come across tidbit advice here and there: take shorter showers, drive less, eat local and so on. After awhile, you’ve collected so many little “to do’s” that you’ve simply lost track of them all. Their relative importance with one another can escape you. Worst of all, if someone were to quiz you on why you do those little eco-tasks, the question can leave you staring blankly. This is the sad state of environmentalist affairs.

This is why I’ve been so enamored by the zero waste movement. I see it as the answer to these problems.

I’m not saying the movement is perfect, it does have its own problems. The main one, in my opinion, is that it focuses on only three parts of the supply chain – acquisition, use and disposal. This leaves production, shipping, labor and animal issues somewhat neglected.

Zero Waste is a personal sustainability project that one can take on to drastically reduce their environmental footprint and to comprehensively change one’s lifestyle. Béa Johnson, author of The Zero Waste Home, and one of the vocal founders of the movement, created a system called the 5 R’s, which, if addressed in order, places eco-tasks in a hierarchy and involves the full process of consumption.

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The Five R’s Are:

  1. Refuse what you do not need. This is refusing a plastic straw, a business card, a swimming pool, junk mail, a second home, etc. The list can go on and on and will vary from person to person. What is my “don’t need” could be another’s “must have”. The point is, that evaluating what we take into our lives and being vigilant gatekeepers is a crucial first step. Simply don’t bring into your life those things that you do not agree with or that do not support your lifestyle. This will actually affect some areas of the supply chain. When we consume something, we tell the industry and our community that something is acceptable. Likewise, if we choose to abstain, we can send the message that certain things are unnecessary or unethical.
  2. Reduce what you do need. Living on this Earth requires the consumption of resources. However, we can choose how big or small our consumptive impact will be. We can eat less, lower on the food chain, we can collect fewer clothes, fewer trinkets, we can use less energy, less water, extend the life our stuff, and so on.

  3. Reuse what you do consume. Reuse means finding ways to keep manufactured goods going. This means buying used and secondhand, it means bringing cloth bags shopping, bringing a water bottle, using rags instead of paper towels, repairing goods and so on. It means ditching the disposable in favor of the re-usable.

  4. Recycle. Recycling is a process that transforms a material into a new good and it requires additional inputs such as water and energy. Some materials are more easily recycled and can be recycled over and over again. For the most part, this is metal, glass, and paper/cardboard. Plastic has a very limited number of times that it can go through this process and still create something useful. This is why many zero-wasters avoid purchasing as much plastic as they can.

  5. Rot/Compost the rest. Composting is nature’s way of recycling. This can be more than table scraps too. You can compost hair, fingernail clippings, the contents of a vacuum cleaner or your dust pan.

Consider the plastic grocery bag. Technically, they are recyclable, but whether or not they can be or will be depends upon what the local recycling center accepts and what the consumer is willing to do to get it recycled. However, by using the 5 R’s, a zero waster has already refused the single use plastic bag in favor of a reusable cloth one by following the first and third R’s. Therefore, figuring out what to do with an imperfect system is no longer a problem.

Here, the order of the 5 R’s allows you to efficiently overcome the more difficult waste problems by avoiding consumption first, reducing the amount consumed overall, reusing whenever possible, and only then looking to dispose of the much reduced waste within the context of recycling or rotting.

Zero Waste Isn’t About Recycling More

As Béa Johnson is known for saying, zero waste isn’t about recycling more. I think it’s about a comprehensive lifestyle redesign. This sounds ominous, but the layout is all right in front of you in the 5 R’s. That’s the beauty of it. And it starts with embracing simplicity.

My “To-Go” Kit (Revisited)

Last year, I was quite excited over creating a zero waste “to-go” kit. I’ll include pictures here:

It seemed quite classy, in my opinion, and I was impressed with myself. However, reality has sunk in. I’m not in college anymore (a personal kit may be useful when I return). When I go out to eat, which is never a spontaneous event, I am usually out with my kids, husband, or all of the above.

Therefore, a family outing kit would be more useful. Such a thing would probably include cutlery, napkins, straws, and some largish containers to bring left-overs home in. The kit could fit in a large lunch box.

For my day-to-day zero waste “to go” kit, I would say that these things make more sense and can be stored in my purse:

 

How about you? Does a personal kit make sense? Do you have personal and family kits? How have you solved the prepping conundrum without burdening yourself? Let us know in the comments below!

Until next time, keep that talk walking!

Zero Waste Period Gear & Postnatal Recovery

WARNING: Content below may be unsuitable for certain audiences. Reader discretion is advised.

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I won’t be having a period any time soon. It’s one of the perks of being pregnant. Last year, I discussed my period solutions in some detail. I mentioned how I prefer to use a Diva Cup (a menstrual cup) and “mama cloth” (cloth menstrual pads) in combination for maximum protection. I still love this solution.

However, I did just buy 8 brand new Bububibi mama cloth in anticipation for post-natal recovery. This is because during birthing recovery, menstrual cups and tampons are not advisable. Post-delivery, your body tries to catch up on all those periods you thought you dodged.

I didn’t have enough cloth pads to conquer this problem in a more zero waste way for my previous pregnancies. I tended to buy a large pack or two of disposables during this time.

(Bonus: my midwife showed me a little trick that might be useful for any mamas-to-be out there. If you put witch hazel, found in many grocery and drug stores, on the pads and put them in the freezer to chill, this can be tremendously comforting during recovery.)

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So, in conclusion, I’m very happy with this zero waste behavior and am planning to expand my practice into a new realm come October, after delivery.

How about you? Been pregnant? Given birth? How did you handle your recovery? Did zero waste factor it? Let us know in the comments below!

Until next time, keep that talk walking!

Clothing Kids Zero Waste Style (Revisited)

A year ago, I figured I could buy all my kids clothes and shoes (minus socks and underwear) from a local used kids’ clothing store called the Lilly Bean.

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I’ve been doing pretty well. This store is still my first stop. I even shopped here for some maternity digs. But while the selection is pretty good, it can have gaps if you’re looking for specific items. This is something I’m doing more of. I’ve begun adopting a minimalist wardrobe for my boys which has also narrowed down what I’m looking for in their clothes. You also have to get there first. When the snow comes, you have to already have bought the used snow gear, for example.

This has led to filling the gaps with Walmart. Now, I don’t like Walmart for loads of reasons, but my Zero Waste complaint is that most the clothing there is new and cheaply made, while you can occasionally find a gem that will hold up over time, typically the cloth will pill, the seems will fall apart in the wash and the clothing will look old after a week or two.

What’s a zero waste mama (or papa) to do? The next nearest used clothing store (Salvation Army) is an hour a way, one way. Conveniently, it is also the city where I can buy bulk. So, the obvious resolution is to make this my next stop if the item needed can wait for the next bulk trip.

There is also the newish possibility of shopping online for used clothing, but I feel this tends to be a more expensive and shipping can be wasteful in terms of packaging and transport. Bea Johnson, author of Zero Waste Home, does mention shopping through ebay and clicking the pre-owned/used selection when searching. A preliminary search seems to indicate a range in price, you can still save money here.

To test this possibility out, I’m buying some necessary clothes for the baby-to-be. We’ve narrowed it down to needing 7-10 onesies and 7-10 play suits, and a warm winter suit at the minimum. (We’re skipping out on newborn clothes and going straight to 0-3 months size.) Even though we don’t know the gender, I tend to go with gender neutral to boyish clothes as I find these more universal and appealing.

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We call these onesies. If we get white, we might do some tie dying this summer. 
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These are what we refer to as play suits, also great for sleep wear and cover well for winter babies or those with eczema issues. 

I’m sure we might be gifted with some hand-me-downs to play with, and we’ve already been given a couple hats, mittens, and socks.

Going Forward

My first stop will be the Lilly Bean, local used clothing store. My second preference will be the Salvation Army during bulk trips. Then, I will make use of ebay. My last resort will be purchasing new.

How about you? How do you keep your kids clothed in a simple and zero waste fashion?

Until next time, keep that talk walking!

 

Composting (Revisited)

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It’s almost been a year since we set up a composting system (three bin) in our new backyard. We haven’t turned the piles yet, as the snow keeps coming, but I’m sure the process was halted with winter.

We keep a veganic, raised-bed garden and we’ll be adding soil from the compost to the beds.

Composting expanded over the year. I used to think that composting was limited to plant-based food scraps, but now I keep a compost bucket in my bathroom too! We’ll compost hair, nails, konjac sponges, and some tissues. I’ll empty my vacuum canister over the pile (which helps to keep the allergens from being re-released into the home). I’ve dumped my dustpan into the compost, too.

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This all wasn’t without any issues, though. One concern we had included tea bags. Many of them are coated in plastic (typically polypropylene) and thus don’t break down. Good luck knowing which ones, though. Now, one of my favorite tea companies, Bigelow, does have compostable tea bags (remove staple first), but each bag comes in a sleeve. So. Celestial Seasonings has less waste production in my opinion. The cardboard is recyclable, the bags are compostable, and there are no staples, strings, tags. I haven’t found anything on the wax paper used to line the box, however. Some wax papers may be coated in inorganic and uncompostable synthetics, some in beeswax, which aren’t vegan, and some contain soybean or vegetable oil. Gardening websites tend to recommend not adding wax paper to the pile.

The nearest bulk location is an hour away (and that’s one way), but loose leaf tea is the obvious solution. What we are still working on, is a monthly drive to our bulk location. This will require some planning, because we need to know how much we use in a month’s time, how to budget for a larger shopping trip once a month, seasonal concerns (winter can get really hard here in terms of traveling and time) etc. etc.

The second concern that we had to address was tissues. While technically compostable, I really didn’t like the idea of tossing so many trees. We’ve since tried to adopt a hybrid system. Personal daily handkerchiefs for those old enough to manage (The kids haven’t mastered blowing their noses yet). When we’re sick, we tend to take a roll of toilet paper from the bathroom to use and compost the mess. When we’re healthy or for guests, there’s the blow and throw system (blow your nose in the bathroom using toilet paper and flush).

Going Forward

(1) Remind myself and my husband to grab a handkerchief

(2) Buy tea in bulk, preferably, and Celestial Seasonings, secondarily

Until next time, keep that talk walking!

My Vegan and Zero Waste Toiletries (Day 6)

For those of you just tuning in, every April I like to re-evaluate my business-as-usual with an eye to going greener. This year, I’m shaking it up with a 30-Day Vegan Challenge. I don’t just want to be vegan for 30 days, though. I’m laying the groundwork so that when my 30 days are up, I can’t fail to continue.

Now, veganism has been on the back of my mind for years. I’ve made several attempts before. The result is that my toiletries are already pretty vegan. There are just two products that I bought without veganism in mind: my red eyebrow pencil (it is F*ing hard to find any red eyebrow pencils!) and a doTERRA facial moisturizer. I use both about once-a-week.

The moisturizer doesn’t really need to replaced. I was testing a product that I was selling when I bought these two containers. When I run out, I just won’t purchase more, problem solved.

However, I have really light eyebrows and like to darken them to match my hair when I wear makeup. I’m not a makeup guru. I tend to stick to Eco Tools or all metal tools and stick with e.l.f. for makeup. But, as far as I’m aware, they don’t make a product for redheads. This leaves a gap I don’t know how to fill. I’m going to try using a makeup brush to fill in my eyebrows with blush. Anyone out there in the same position?

Products I buy:

For the shower: 

Nature’s Gate Shampoo

Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Castile Soap

For my teeth:

ECO-Dent’s Dental Floss

ECO-Dent’s Tooth Powder

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Top (from left to right): Castile soap, Nature’s Gate Shampoo, DIY Mouth Rinse, ECO-Dent Dental floss and tooth powder. Bottom: Skin brush and tooth brush (with a replaceable head). Note: I only use castile soap sparingly, as it can disrupt a delicate pH balance.

For my skin:

Coconut Oil, ingredient

Cocoa Butter, ingredient

Baking Soda, ingredient

Liquid Vitamin E, ingredient

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Top (from left to right): Deodorant in home and travel containers. Coconut oil and dispenser. Bottom: Lip and Scar Balm for stretch marks, nail clippers, toenail clippers, scissors, tweezers, and skin brush.

For my face:

Witch Hazel (in roller bottle)

DoTERRA Essential Oils

Jojaba Oil, ingredient

Merry Hempster’s vegan lip balm (I will probably just use my own recipe when this runs out to cut down on my plastic)

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Moisturizer (will use up), witch hazel in a roller bottle, DIY Face Blend, Merry Hempster’s Lip Balm, Lip & Scar Balm (which I may use to replace the plastic container), and that white thing is a dried konjac sponge, which I use to exfoliate/clean my face

Makeup: 

e.l.f. (I generally just find a blush, lip stain, concealer, and foundation I like)

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Essential Oil Perfume, Eco Tool Make-Up Brushes, e.l.f. foundation, lip gloss, blush palette, concealer. Sharpening tool. Gabriel eye-liner (vegan), Maybeline eyebrow pencil (non-vegan)

Hair:

Rainbow Henna (I use this to keep my hair shiny, bright, and to bring out the red tones which are more subtle)

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I use an old t-shirt, a shower cap and reusable gloves to cut down on waste. The shower gloves are wearing out. The Henna container is 100% recyclable. I mix up my color with kitchen tools and clean up with rags.
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My hair is very short right now and I don’t need many supplies. I mostly use these to keep my hair away from face during grooming sessions.

Tools:

Skin Brush

ECO-Dent’s Replaceable Heads

Konjac Sponges

Eco Tool makeup brushes

Roller Bottles

Tweezers, Scissors, Nail Clippers, Toenail Clippers, all metal

Personal Hygiene Recipes:

Mouth Rinse

Deodorant

Scar and Lip Balm

Face Blend

Going Forward

As you’re now aware, my hygiene routine shouldn’t hamper me from having a fully vegan lifestyle, with some minor adjustments. This is the end product of a lot of work. I appreciate that those beginning on a vegan path might find this useful, which is my main reason for including this topic.

Since this challenge is mostly about challenging me now, I will attempt to solve my eyebrow conundrum with the makeup products I already have at home.

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I didn’t really talk about this, but these are my vegan, zero waste monthly gear. I have a Diva Cup and Wash (both vegan) and reusable pads by Bububibi.

Until next time, keep that talk walking!

Drinks to Go (Revisited)

How did my beverage ambitions hold up over the course of a year?

Last year, as part of the April Eco-Challenge 2016, I attempted to get as zero waste as I could in one month’s time. I was ignorant enough to believe that I could do it, too. 🙂

We already were outfitted with stainless steel water bottles, a re-usable coffee mug, and mason jar/glasses and lids. We were already using them regularly, so to step up the challenge level, I also committed to getting rid of plastic beverage containers. Seltzers, sodas, juices, that sort of thing.

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I did just buy two large plastic soda bottles. I did so for the caffeine, but also to put the empties, filled with water, in our two toilet tanks to displace the need for some of the water. We’ve done this in previous homes and my husband is pretty sure that the plastic is gentler on the hardware than other materials.

Truth be told, though, we have back slid as a family and I had largely forgotten this resolution. Certainly we were buying less, but the blanket ban didn’t hold. We also switched to buying our plant milk in a recyclable plastic container because we hated having to toss the cartons which are not taken in our area.

We don’t really use our plant milk as a beverage, though. It tends to be an ingredient or poured over cereal only.

Container Tips

Anyone in the market for a new water bottle should consider the brushed steel over the painted look, especially if they make use of a dishwasher. The brushed steel looks better far longer and will prevent re-purchase for cosmetic reasons. My first water bottle, one that had been painted green and had had trees on it once upon a time, looks quite sad. I sometimes consider buying a new one, but remind myself of how wasteful that would be.

We really like the Kid Kanteen (a product of Klean Kanteen). These sippy cups work so well, we now use them exclusively. The kids love them too. I’m buying a sports top for my eldest as he will be entering kindergarten soon. It will fit the same bottle so the transition isn’t so wasteful.

The smallish, regular mouthed mason jars work wonderfully as kid’s glasses (and they’re pretty replaceable if you’ve ever been worried over keeping a full set of matching glasses). We have sometimes used Cuppow lids and rings to make them into sippy cups, but they are aging out of this. (Also, they’re made from plastic so many zero wasters would probably not like these.)

Going Forward

I’m still committed to transitioning to a zero waste lifestyle and we’ve already seen tremendous gains in our progress (especially since returning to cloth diapers).

Going forward, I see us buying our plant milk in recyclable plastic, but keeping the rest of our beverages in aluminum or glass. We tend to buy these infrequently and take them to our local bottle return. We tend to take wine bottles to the recycling center.

I really like Bea Johnson’s idea (Zero Waste Home) about bottling events, but I’ll have to wait at least 6 more months (and my baby being born) to feel motivated enough to see if there’s anything like that locally.

So how about you? How has your beveraging system evolved over time? Did learning about zero waste lead you to make the switch or were you persuaded before by general eco-awareness? Let me know in the comments below!

Until next time, keep that talk walking!