Where Have I been?

It feels weird that my last post was my Buy-Nothing Wrap Up, which was posted over two weeks ago. Some really positive Zero Waste things have happened —

  1. I went to a ZW meet-up in Seattle and got to meet some incredible zero wasters that live near me. The group was lively, funny, and passionate about waste.
  2. On my day trip to Seattle, I got to go to the Central Co-op and stock up on some badly needed essentials (bulk conditioner is so elusive) and found a new zero waste toothpaste that is way better than any of the other products I’ve tried.
  3. One of the organizers of the Seattle Zero Waste group put me in contact with some Zero Wasters in Tacoma and now it looks like we’ll be meeting up soon (if you live in the South Sound and want to be a part of a Zero Waste community let me know!)

There was a bit of a shake-up in the Zero Waste community earlier this month when The Package Free Shop posted a quote from founder Lauren Singer on Instagram. It essentially said that anybody can make changes to reduce their impact, regardless of income. While I think the sentiment is nice in theory, it simply isn’t true. While in many ways being Zero Waste has saved me money, that’s also because I have the luxury of seeking out Zero Waste options, paying more money upfront for a product that is more sustainable in the long-run, and only have to buy zero waste products for one person. To be frank, the zero waste movement is full of a lot of white women with privilege. That doesn’t make the movement bad or the women in the movement evil, but we have to acknowledge our privilege and the role it plays in the movement. People shared their concerns about the post on Instagram, and the shop responded by deleting comments and blocking users rather than engaging in a dialogue. The whole thing signaled that the shop is focused more on its green-washed image rather than being a place where we can discuss power and privilege. Unfortunately, a lot of people lost respect for one of the women at the center of the zero waste movement.

I think a recent trip to LUSH highlights the potential to overlook accessibility in favor of sustainability in the zero waste movement. I was looking a new conditioner. None of their solid conditioners have work for me so I was willing to accept that I might need to buy a packaged conditioner. But, they only had one conditioner sold in the black plastic tubs they reuse, and the product was $30. I spent a while debating whether or not to buy it, and eventually decided against it. While I technically can afford to spend that much on conditioner, I can’t in good conscience buy a product to review that is so expensive.

I took a little break after the Package Free Shop debacle to try to focus on my privilege and place in the zero waste community, but I’ve also been feeling a lot of doubt about how long this blog can sustain itself. I created this blog to keep myself motivated to living a zero waste lifestyle and to serve as an alternative to the lifestyle blogs and YouTube channels that push us to buy more and more stuff. At this point, I am committed to the zero waste lifestyle and don’t see myself going back even when I stop posting here or on Instagram. I’m realizing though how hard it is to generate regular content when the whole point of zero waste is to reduce what you buy. When I first started, there were a lot of new things I needed to try in order to find replacements for my plastic-packaged products, but honestly how many times can I write about bar soap. My goal is to generate quality content and between work, leadership on two nonprofit boards, and a new relationship this blog isn’t always a priority. So here’s my promise to myself and to you. I may not post twice a week (though I will still try), but the posts I publish will be thoughtfully written and reflective of my honest experience in the zero waste community.

 

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Buy Nothing January Wrap-Up

It’s January 31, which means my month of buying “nothing” is over in less than 24 hours. Last year, I did dry January, which ended up being rather unremarkable, but I did like challenging myself to forego something at the start of the year. This year, I decided that I would start things off by really embracing the “Refuse” part of zero waste and attempt to buy only food/drinks, experiences, or replacements for personal care items for the entire month.

So how did Buy Nothing January go? Well, technically I failed because I did end up buying things. But, they were things I needed or made sense to buy in January rather than waiting until February. Here are the things I bought:

  1. Burt’s Bees Cuticle Cream
  2. 2 bars of Dove Soap
  3. A Passion Planner
  4. A cocktail strainer
  5. A muddler set
  6. A pair of headphones

I’m still really impressed that I was able to keep my list below 10 items. The cuticle cream was technically a new addition to my personal care collection, but the packaging is all recyclable so I’m happy with that. The bar soap was a replacement so doesn’t even go against my rules. The cocktail strainer and muddler set were part of my contributions to an auction package for the YWCA so I’m not counting that since they a) weren’t for me and b) were for a charity fundraiser. The headphones were to replace a pair that broke and I am not about to commute to work via bus without headphones.

By my count, the only unnecessary purchase was my Passion Planner, but I have a hard time considering that an indulgence. Trying to balance work, this blog, being on multiple nonprofit boards/committees, and a social life is tricky and I have already dropped the ball on things as a result of poor planning. I’d heard about the Passion Planner from a friend and it seemed like a good way to try to organize my life. It seemed silly to wait until February to purchase a 2018 planner and so I allowed myself to buy it during the month of January.

This stuff has been saving my cuticles from the terrible Tacoma winter!

Despite “failing” at my goal, this month has been far more illuminating than my dry January was. I’ve been noticing things I genuinely need to replace (phone case, conditioner), holes in my closet (sweaters and good layers for wearing indoors), and times when I felt the itch to shop just because I was bored. I was on Elate Cosmetic’s website the other day looking for a bronzer in sustainable packaging to replace the Benefit bronzer I just finished. I found myself adding more products to my cart in order to get to the free shipping at $75 and realized that the search for one item had almost led me to buy 4. Luckily, I closed out of the browser and have realized I don’t feel that strong of a need for bronzer at the moment. I also realized that mindless shopping is still very much a part of my routine, as there were many times I wanted to pop into the record store on my street just to chat with the folks that work there and see what was available.

One thing that I ended up doing in an attempt to focus on foregoing things was focusing on experiences instead. Experiences, like getting dinners with friends, going to see a band some friends of mine are in, or going out to a movie have been way more enjoyable than catching up with a friend by going to the mall. I went to the YWCA auction this month and found a way to support the event in a zero waste way. While there were a lot of cool items for sale in the silent auction, I ended up buying a spot in Probiotics Class offered by their incredible CEO. I’ll get to learn how to make sauerkraut and other healthy food and the money I spent is supporting an amazing agency.

I am definitely going to be doing some shopping in February, but I want to make a mindful effort to track what I buy. I’m thinking of starting a “What I Bought” series each month to track what things I end up buying throughout the year. Making mindful purchases is a great way to live my zero waste values while also saving money (something I was horrible at in my pre-zero waste life). I’ve also decided to keep going forward with challenges for the month. So for February, my goal is not to buy any packaged filler foods (chips, candy, etc.). I still frequently succumb to my hankering for packaged foods, so hopefully this will be a way to kick that habit.

Zero Waste Menstruation

Menstruation is one of those things that society is really uncomfortable talking about even though it happens to roughly 50% of the population and is a necessary part of our ability to continue as a species. Periods are at best a minor inconvenience and at their worst, they prevent young girls from accessing education or isolating them from a society because they are seen as “impure.” Periods can also wreak havoc on the planet because of the products we use to manage them. The average person will menstruate for 40 years and use approximately 20 tampons per cycle, a total of 9,600 tampons in a lifetime. Not only is that a lot of waste, it’s also a lot of money. Fortunately, there are a myriad of products on the market that will make your cycle easier on the planet and your wallet.

The closest I get to a tampon these days is this rad pin gifted to me by a friend.

1: Menstrual Cup

The Diva Cup has been my product of choice for over 4 years now and I don’t think I could ever turn back. At this point I’ve converted at least 4 friends to the Dive Cup life and chances are if you know someone that uses a menstrual cups you have heard how amazing they are. There are a number of menstrual products on the market, but they all function in the same basic way. You fold the cup and insert it and then can leave it in for up to 12 hours. Menstrual cups are made of medical grade silicone that is non-toxic and doesn’t come with the risk of toxic shock syndrome associated with tampons. A lot of people are put off by menstrual cups at first due to the lack of applicator and the removal process, but once you get the swing of things it’s not only a mess-free process it’s also a great way to become more comfortable with a reality of your body. To clean the cup between changes just wash it with warm water and an unscented soap like Dr. Bronner’s (you can just wipe it with toilet paper if you need to change it in a public restroom) and then boil it between cycles.Because you only need one cup, they particularly convenient for traveling and you don’t have to worry about running out of them during the day. Menstrual cups run for about $30 but can last up to 10 years if cared for properly, meaning they are a great zero waste swap. Want to learn more about the menstrual, there are tons of Safe-for-Work review videos on YouTube.

2: Reusable Pads

For people that aren’t fans of internal period products, reusable pads could make a great swap. Reusable pads are shaped like a traditional pad with wings but are typically made from some combination of cotton, fleece, and/or bamboo with a snap closure to keep them secure. I found quite a few people that sell reusable pads on Etsy, so they’re a great option if you want to support a small business (or you could make your own if you’re crafty). The care instructions varied across vendors, some indicated that they should be soaked in salty water until wash day and others said you could just wash them like any normal clothing item, so pay attention to the specific instructions from the vendor you choose. These are also supposed to last a year, but one drawback is that you would have to have quite a few on hand to get through a cycle and so they will end up generating waste when they need to be replaced.

3: Period Underwear

The brand Thinx comes to mind anytime I think about zero waste period products. Thinx are underwear that remove the need for an additional period product by combining them into the underwear. They make underwear in a variety of styles for different levels of flow as well as activewear gear. I couldn’t find information online about how long Thinx are supposed to last and they run from $24-$39 per pair so they could be an expensive option to use for your entire cycle, but they could be a good backup for the heaviest day.

Having a period doesn’t have to wreck havoc on the planet. It’s also not something we should be embarrassed to deal with or talk about. While it may seem like an icky zero waste swap at first, I’ve found that it is one of the best swaps I have made in my zero waste journey. Gone are the days when I have to rush to the store because I wasn’t prepared with disposable tampons on hand. Now, instead of dreading my period it’s just another fact of my zero waste life that is pretty unremarkable.

Product Review: Schmidt’s Natural Deodorant

My most popular post to date is my review of T’eo Deodorant from LUSH, but I’ve got to admit that my opinions have changed since my original post. I bought a second bar of T’eo after my first one ran out, and ran into some problems. The bar was not as easy to apply, it was drier than my first bar and didn’t apply smoothly to my skin. I recently picked up a jar of the Schmidt’s Natural Deodorant in Bergamot and Lime and I have been really happy with it.

 

Schmidt’s is a Portland, Oregon based company that makes a variety of personal care items, including deodorant. Their wide range of natural deodorants come in conventionally packaged sticks (in case you’re just looking for something with no aluminum) or glass jars if you’re looking for sustainable packaging (though the lid is plastic). I love that the glass jar makes it a lot easier to travel with my deodorant and it’s also easier to store in my medicine cabinet.

To apply the deodorant, I just scrape a bit of the product out of the jar (with a tiny spatula that comes with the jar), rub it in my hands, and then apply to my underarms. The consistency in the jar is solid, but the little shavings turn into a cream when they get warm making it easy to apply to skin. I haven’t noticed any problem with getting white marks on my clothes and the application process is quick and easy.

Schmidt’s products come in scented and unscented options. While I know some people are not fans of scented deodorant, I think it’s helpful to get something with a scent when it comes to natural deodorants. The product is definitely effective all day, but the added scent ensures that I’m not musky by the end of the day. I particularly like the Bergamot and Lime smell because it smells fresh but doesn’t overpower the perfume I wear on a daily basis.

This much product is more than enough for both arms!

One of my favorite parts about Schmidt’s is that they offer a recycling program for their glass jar products. Return 5 glass jars and they’ll send you a free deodorant as a reward. They then sanitize and reuse the jar, which I think is really neat. Consumers have a lot of power when it comes to going zero waste, but ultimately, companies need to take more responsibility for producing products in smarter packaging and finding a way to manage waste more efficiently.

According to the Schmidt’s site, my jar should last me 3-5 months, making the $8.99 purchase price a bargain. If you’ve been on the hunt for a sustainably packaged, natural deodorant, I would highly recommend Schmidt’s. I picked up my jar at Whole Foods, but Schmidt’s products are also sold online and at conventional retailers like Target and Fred Meyer.

 

Imperfect Produce

In the age of internet and food delivery, there are no shortage of ways to get food delivered to your home. Some of these services, like meal kits, are (in my ever so humble opinion) wasteful and only good for reinforcing general attitudes of excess, busyness, and laziness, but others are based on the principle of getting fresh food into the hands of consumers. Over the summer, I got the occasional CSA box from Terra Organics. I loved that the service was local, but it didn’t deliver directly to my home and the box was only offered for a short season. Then, I learned about Imperfect Produce. Imperfect Produce is a food delivery business that sources produce that doesn’t meet grocery standards and sells it to consumers at a discount. American consumers have been trained to have ridiculous standards when it comes to produce, meaning farmers have little incentive to harvest produce that is the wrong size or shape according to grocery stores. As a result, resources are poured into growing food that is destined to rot in the field.

A box full of beautiful, imperfect produce.

Imperfect Produce is set up to be a simple delivery subscription service. You select the box that is the right size for your household and can choose between organic or conventional produce. One of my favorite features is that you can customize your box to based on your dietary preferences or what you already have in stock. I get a medium box every week and spend about $15-$20 (which includes a delivery fee of $4.99). I try to eat as local as possible, so typically remove items from my box that were grown in Mexico. In this week’s box, I get to look forward to: 2 apples, 3 avocados, 1 pound of beets, 2 bell peppers, 2 pounds of pears, 1 pound of potatoes, and 1 pound of tomatoes, all for $17.02. Produce arrives in a recyclable cardboard box with handy info cards about the food. Things are occasionally packaged in plastic, but far less than I was getting in my CSA box.

Imperfect produce is particularly great for me since there are no grocery stores in my neighborhood and I do not have a car. So not only can I help reduce food waste at a discount, I also get improved access to produce (so I’ll hopefully eat out less).

The founders of Imperfect Produce have an impressive history in the world of food recovery and access. Ben Simon founded the Food Recovery Network, a student movement dedicated to addressing food waste on college campuses, and Ron Clark worked with the California Association of Food Banks. Their backgrounds assure me that the company is truly committed to the issues of food waste and access. This commitment seems to run through all aspects of their company, including a dashboard in your Imperfect Produce account that tracks that pounds you’ve diverted from going to waste, water saved, and CO2 kept out of the air. They also keep things transparent with a thorough FAQ section.

I had one major reservation when it came to Imperfect Produce, and that was the issue of food banks. Working in the emergency food world, I know first hand that food pantries benefit from consumer expectations for perfect looking food. I didn’t want my search for a deal on produce to inadvertently divert produce from a food pantry to my kitchen when I can afford to buy my own produce from grocery stores. I reached out to Imperfect Produce noting my concerns and very quickly received a response from the company. They assured me that they source directly from farmers, rather than grocers or gleaning agencies (typical sources of produce for food banks). There is also so much produce going to waste that there is enough to go to consumers at food pantries and at Imperfect Produce. The company also donates to food banks and they gave me a list of the nonprofits they currently partner with in Washington. (Thank you Marlana for thoughtfully answering my questions!)

Who would reject these cute oranges? Not me!

Imperfect Produce currently delivers throughout the West Coast of the U.S. and the Chicago area. I would definitely reccommend that you check them out if you want to help reduce food waste and save a little money. You can also use my link to get a $10 credit towards your first box that’ll give me $10 towards my next purchase (p.s. they offer a link to anyone on their site, no special treatment for a little blogger like me).

Product Review: Safety Razor

One of my last swaps in moving towards a zero waste bathroom has been changing over from a plastic razor with disposable razor cartridges to a safety razor. I’ve been shaving my legs for a decade, meaning I’ve gone through hundreds of razor blades that have all ended up in the trash. Not only that, but women’s razor blades are ridiculously overpriced, with a 4-pack of my old razor blades running $16. Obviously, the most zero waste approach to shaving would be to forego shaving entirely, but that just isn’t my thing. So in an effort to shave money and reduce my waste, I ordered safety razor from Wowe. I ordered a razor with a bamboo handle that is both aesthetically pleasing and sustainable. I was particularly impressed with Wowe when my package arrived because everything was packaged in cardboard, proving their commitment to sustainability.

The thought of switching to a safety razor was a bit intimidating at first. I was used to a razor cartridge with multiple blades surrounded by moisture strips, not a single blade held in place by stainless steel. My experience, though, has been overwhelmingly positive! I would say the two biggest things to keep in mind with a safety razor is to go a littler slower and to 100% use a good shaving cream. I picked the D’Fluff shaving soap from LUSH and while I like it, I don’t think I’ll pick it up again since it’s $13.

Razor and D’Fluff ready to go!

In reading up about using a safety razor, I read a lot of comments about going with the weight of the razor. The description is a bit vague, but it totally makes sense when you have the razor in your hand and can feel the difference in weight from the razors we’re used to using today. The handle is definitely heavier and because of that weight, you don’t need to press as heavily on your skin when shaving. The single blade of a safety razor provides a much closer shave than the crappy razors sold by brands like Venus. This is supposed to be particularly great for people that suffer from ingrown hairs.

Taking apart your safety razor and letting it dry outside of the shower is key to good maintenance.

Safety razors require a little bit more upkeep than a regular razor to keep them in good condition. I store my razor out of my shower and disassemble the head after each use so that I can rinse off any hair and let it air dry. This helps maintain the life of each blade, saving money and reducing trash. I’ve been using the same blade for about a month and plan to replace it within the next few weeks. Individual razors run for about $0.20 a piece, much cheaper than a standard razor cartridge. I plan to keep old razors in a jar until I can dispose of them properly in a sharps container.

Overall, I’d highly recommend a safety razor! It’ll save you money, it’s great for the environment, and it just looks cool.

 

Zero Waste 101

Today’s post come as requested by my best friend and her little sister. To be honest, I still consider myself a beginner in the zero waste world. I am by no means perfect (by which I don’t mean I accidentally use a straw every now and then, frankly, I sometimes just decide that the temporary pleasure of soda from a fast food chain or prime rib for Christmas dinner is worth a lapse in my morals). Despite my lapses, I’m still pretty proud of the changes I’ve made in my life over the past few months, so if going zero waste (or at least reducing your waste) is one of your goals for the new year, here are my recommendations for how to start.

1: Find your motivation

Going zero waste in a culture as materialistic as the United States isn’t always easy when social media, advertisements, and people around us are constantly trying to convince us of the new things we need. I’ve found that for any big lifestyle change to stick, I need an ah-ha moment. For me, it was the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Faced with a President-elect that called climate change a hoax, I knew I needed to do something to shake up my everyday life and undermine him, even it was just by a little bit. I also live with the goal to leave the planet a better place than it was when I got here. It’s something I try to do in my personal and professional life and realized that living sustainably was a missing part of the equation. Maybe for you, it’s saving money, or avoiding potentially toxic synthetic chemicals, or transitioning to products that don’t use animal testing. Find your motivation and hold onto it, it’s going to be what makes it easier to give up the crap we’re used to having around us.

2: Find a community

Living a liberal-minded community, it hasn’t been hard to find people that support my new lifestyle, but I still think it’s important to find support from people that are on the same path. There are tons of people sharing their zero waste lifestyle on blogs, YouTube, and Instagram. Some of my favorite people online include Kate Arnell’s YouTube channel, EcoBoost, Marguerite at Waste Not Want Not, and April at Zero Waste Dork on Instagram (who also lives in the PNW). Not only is it encouraging to know that you aren’t alone on a zero waste journey, I’ve been able to find plenty of advice from the various people I engage with online.

3: Things to buy

Take some time to think about the things you buy regularly. What do you need, what is a convenience, and what changes can you make? This list will be different for everyone based on your lifestyle and your level of responsibility for maintaining your home. I would say the best place to make changes is to your bathroom/personal care regime as these products are less likely to be shared across multiple members of a household (unlike kitchen goods) and are used frequently.

I’ve become a bit of a nut about bar soap, solid shampoo, and natural deodorant. It has been incredibly rewarding to go through my bathroom and start to get rid of all the plastic that I’ve accumulated over time. Solid soaps and other personal care items are easy to find at co-ops, natural food stores, and of course LUSH, but I’m also starting to see them pop up at places like Target and drug stores. Just be sure to look for minimal, plastic-free packaging.

I also recommend reusable water bags, coffee mugs, grocery bags, and produce bags. My cutlery set and reusable napkins have been a great addition, but you don’t need to buy these new like I did. Look for cloth napkins around your home or at a thrift shop. And take pieces of silverware from your kitchen you’ll need for lunch or snacks throughout the day and bring them home in the evening.

4: Shop second-hand

We all know that fast fashion is bad. It’s made with cheap ingredients, by underpaid factory workers, and fast fashion chains are notorious for stealing designs from small artists and using those designs to make money. Unfortunately, ethical fashion can be very expensive. I love the idea of buying clothes made in the US that use sustainable fabrics, but I’m not at a place where I can afford a $200 sweatshirt from Reformation. I’m now shopping almost exclusively second-hand (with the exception of undergarments and a sturdy rain jacket I purchased that will last me for years). Shopping second-hand is a great way to find gently used pieces for a reasonable price and reduces the likelihood that you will wear the exact same clothes as everyone else that shops at Forever 21. The most important thing to remember when shopping second-hand is to plan accordingly if you have a big event on the horizon. Go to the shops around you more regularly and ask the shop owners if you are looking for something in particular. A friend of mine runs a wonderful thrift shop in Tacoma and I’ll turn to her when I’m looking for some extra mason jars or cutlery. If she doesn’t have them in the shop, she messages me if something comes her way so I can pick up what I need. Building relationships with local businesses is a great way to support your community and get what you need to live a zero waste life.

5: Go car or meat-free at least one day a week

Living zero waste is about making changes to your lifestyle, not just your purchasing habits. Changing your driving and eating habits are great ways to reduce your personal carbon emissions. I haven’t had a car for the 7 years that I’ve lived in Tacoma, a city that does not have the best public transit. While I do want to get a car this year, I am grateful for the fact that living without a car taught me how to navigate my city by bus and foot. You don’t have to give up driving completely to be zero waste, but try to drive less frequently. Challenge yourself to not drive one day a week or to stop driving to places that are within reasonable walking distance, then, get familiar with public transit in your city.

I’ve already written about the greenhouse gas emissions associated with eating meat. Eating meat is a touchy subject in the zero waste movement (some zero wasters are strict vegans while others purchase grass-fed, package-free meat from a butcher in order to reduce their waste) but, as with most things, I chose to land somewhere in the middle. Giving up meat, even for one day a week, is a truly easy way to be kinder to the planet. As the zero waste lifestyle becomes easier, you can decide how much you want to transition meat out of your diet. If your income allows it, I’d also recommend prioritizing locally grown, seasonal produce.

There is no one way to live zero waste, but all of us have the capacity to reduce waste in our daily life. I believe we all have the personal responsibility to care for the planet since we are just one of many billions of people, plants, and animals that need Earth to be a hospitable place. But remember, none of us is perfect and be forgiving of yourself when you stumble, each small step along the way will add up.