Zero Waste Cleaning

Maintaining a clean, zero waste home is a pretty easy thing to do. If you are shopping for cleaning supplies, it seems like there is a different product for every surface and room imaginable, resulting in a cluttered mess of plastic bottles. I’m still making my way through some of my Swifter cleaning products, but in the meantime, I have streamlined the products I need to use to clean my apartment. You’ll notice that I don’t use any specific measurements for these recipes, but there are plenty of YouTube videos and recipes on the web if you want a little more guidance.

As much as I hate fear mongering, I think that the household cleaners stashed under our sinks need to be scrutinized. My apartment isn’t particularly well ventilated, and I’ve definitely gotten headaches from cleaning before, which is a good sign that these cleaning agents are neither good for me nor the environment. My friend recently shared this great guide highlighting some of the concerns linked to conventional cleaners and why we should be wary of what we bring into our homes. DIY cleaners will keep these products out of your home and minimize waste.

The stars of my zero waste cleaning kit: baking soda, vinegar, and a spray bottle I had on hand.
1: Multipurpose Cleaner

My multipurpose cleaner of choice is now a simple mixture of distilled white vinegar, water, and some sort of agent to make it smell nice. You can add some drops of your favorite essential oils (I like tea tree oil because if its purported anti-bacterial properties), or you can soak citrus fruit in a jar of vinegar and use the solution for the base of your multipurpose cleaner. I just mix up the cleaner as needed and use it on my sinks, countertops, toilet, and shower. At first I did about half-and-half water and vinegar because of the smell, but now I use primarily vinegar in the solution.

If you are looking for something a little bit stronger, you can also make a bleach-water solution. Bleach is a bit of a sticky point in the zero waste community (since people don’t like those “harsh chemicals”) but since you probably already have it in your home already, you might as well be using it. And because bleach is so strong, you’re going to get a lot more uses out of a bottle of bleach than store-bought cleaners.

2: Baking Soda

While I love my homemade multipurpose cleaner, it doesn’t pack quite the same kick as conventional products for more serious stains on the countertop (like curry powder). To deal with these spots, I spray down the area with my multipurpose cleaner and wipe away the excess. Then, I sprinkle on a little (or a lot) of baking soda and apply vinegar on top. I scrub the surface as the fizzy, elementary school science project works its magic on the counter. Finally, I’ll wipe down the area once more with my multipurpose cleaner to make sure no baking soda residue is left behind. I’ve also used this method in my shower to get at some pretty nasty soap scum that even my conventional shower cleaner wasn’t tackling properly.

3: Fighting Clogged Sinks

I have a lot of hair and it sheds pretty much everywhere I go. One of the best additions to my zero waste life was the purchase of a reusable drain snake so that I can stop throwing out single-use snakes whenever there’s a clog (saving me money and trips to the drug store). The snake I bought is a little tricky to clean (and you’re going to have to be ok with pulling off the hair that was clogging your drain), but I think by snaking my sink more regularly the overall process will be less gross because there won’t be month’s worth of hair on the snake after it’s used. The final step is to pour some baking soda down the drain, followed by vinegar and then flush the product down with warm water.

4: Tools

My main go-to tool is a spray bottle I had on hand before going zero waste (if I were to purchase today I’d look for a metal bottle). I’ve also abandoned single-use paper towels and now opt for reusable cloths and rags. My personal favorite is the Swedish Dish Cloth. They’re machine washable and great at wiping up messes. I simply run it under warm water and add either dish soap or multipurpose cleaner when I need to wipe down my counters. I keep mine behind my kitchen sink, draping them over the faucet to dry after I’ve used them, which keeps them handy for any messes that may arise. They also come in really cute designs so you can personalize them to your home in a way that isn’t possible with paper towels. I also bought microfiber towels, but now I keep reading how tiny particles from the towels end up in our water ways and in the bellies of fish (which I’d like to prevent if possible). You can also cut up old t-shirts to use as rags since there is an abundance of t-shirts in the second-hand world. I just keep separate rags for the bathroom and kitchen to avoid any cross contamination and wash my rags fairly regularly to keep everything clean. I sometimes miss the convenience of single-use Clorox wipes, but I do not miss buying them nor will they be missed in the landfill. 

This single dish cloth will keep hundreds of sheets of paper towels out of the landfill! 
Since I still have conventional glass, carpet, and floor cleaners on hand I haven’t made the zero waste switch for those yet. But when I do I’ll be sure to share what works (and what doesn’t). I think the main trick when it comes to zero waste cleaning is to clean more frequently so as to avoid and really tough to clean stains. If I learned anything from years of watching Alton Brown as a kid, it’s that uni-taskers have no place in the home. Streamlining your cleaning supplies will save you time, space, and money and get you to a less wasteful (and less toxic) home.

 

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Zero Waste at Conventional Stores (pt. 2)

A lot of posts about Zero Waste goods (including mine) will direct you to places like Whole Foods, co-ops, and thrift stores. These are great options because their products may use minimal packaging, the store is likely to be locally owned (aside from Whole Foods), and focus on extending the life-cycle of a product instead of buying new. But whether it’s due to affordability or access, these kinds of shops may not always be an option.

My first couple of months going Zero Waste I avoided big box stores like Target because I knew they would be a source of temptation. But now that I have gotten frivolous shopping out of my system, I can avoid the vortex of Target and get in and out with just a few Zero Waste essentials. Zero waste can be found anywhere if you just take a little time to look. I wrote about some more broad advice for this earlier this year, but here is a list of some surprisingly good places to go (and places to avoid).

Target: Target has a very limited package-free produce selection, but you can still find things like cucumbers, bananas, and potatoes with no packaging. The place to check out though is the home goods section. I found my kitchen compost pail at Target, and on recent trips, I have seen bamboo cooking utensils and even packs of reusable produce bags. Target has also been making some additions to their skincare aisles recently too, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find products packaged at least mostly in glass.

Bed, Bath, and Beyond: A magical land of all things for the bed, bath….and beyond (please don’t hate me). Back in September I ventured into BB&B and found a veggie sack (to keep produce from going bad in the fridge), a dish brush made from bamboo and recycled plastic (but now I’m seeing fully compostable brushes in stores), and 100% cotton napkins in a color other than white (which were surprisingly difficult for me to find). BB&B is also notorious for sending out coupon around the time universities start up so look for those if you’re trying to make zero waste swaps on a limited budget.

Marshall’s/Home Goods/TJ Maxx: These have got to be my favorite unexpected places to find zero waste goods. Because these stores have a rotating stock of goods, you never know quite what you’ll find. I’ve been able to find things like honey in a glass jar, bar soap, and bath salts in a giant mason jar with absolutely no plastic in the packaging (I know baths are not zero waste, but sometimes a girl just has to indulge). Maybe the most exciting thing I’ve found is Nellie’s All-Natural Laundry Soda, a powdered laundry detergent sold in metal packaging. I still love my soap nuts, but this option is way cheaper per load. The container does have a plastic liner in it, but I’m still happy to have it as a middle-ground between DIY laundry soap and conventionally packaged liquid detergents.

(Mostly) Zero Waste detergent from a conventional store!

Safeway/Fred Meyer etc.: When doing your grocery shopping at a conventional store, my best tips are to pay attention to packaging (glass and aluminum are better than plastic) and country of origin (local produce=less transportation). And as with any grocery trip, buy only what you need. I tend to get over-excited in the produce aisle and end up buying too many veggies I won’t be able to use.

And one to avoid:

Trader Joe’s: Like any millennial, I used to love Trader Joe’s. But ever since my zero waste transition I think I’ve been there once. Trader Joe’s loves to package EVERYTHING, even two bell peppers. They also specialize in yummy easy meals packaged in plastic. I loved to go there for the convenience, but now I just can’t justify that. You can do better TJ’s!

Through this process, I want to find a happy balance between investing in zero waste products that will really cut back on my waste without taking a huge hit to my wallet. Living sustainably is not something that is exclusive to people that can afford to drive hybrid cars and buy only local, organic products. Even box stores have options if you know where to look, just don’t forget to bring your own bag!

Zero Waste Tricks (that have nothing to do with coffee)

A lot of zero waste swaps are pretty straightforward and focused on food and coffee (travel thermos, no straws, etc. etc.) but there are plenty of other ways to ditch waste, with varying degrees of planning required. These changes aren’t the end all be all of going zero waste, but they are easy to do and over time the small impact will add up.

1: Ditch paper tickets

As a teenager, I would hold onto tickets to movies I saw with my friends (like the ticket from when I saw Twilight and could drive my friends for the very first time). These tickets and boarding passes were nostalgic for me at first, but eventually, they were just clutter. While a portion of my boarding pass for my flight to Indonesia is safely secured in the journal I kept from the trip, now when I fly I take advantage of the ease of electronic boarding passes. It’s one less thing I have to print, pack, and toss. Anything from coupons, transit passes, and concert tickets can be used electronically so think before you print.

2: Meatless Monday

Ok, so this one is about food but it’s pretty important. Since adopting my zero waste lifestyle, I’ve adopted a mostly vegetarian diet (though I have slipped and eaten meat a few times and I still eat fish). Short of hunting and gathering your own food, the “best” diet for the planet would be a local, seasonal, vegan diet, but I recognize that this is not attractive to everyone. It is clear, however, that the current meat industry is a major source of CO2 emissions. You don’t have to forgo meat completely to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Consider Meatless Mondays, or only eating meat on the weekends, or giving up beef, whatever you think will be sustainable for your income, culture, and food preferences in the long-run.

3: Bar Soap

I don’t know why, but people seem to be really grossed out by bar soap (CBS even blamed millennials for its demise in a 2016 news report). Unless you live in a really zero-waste friendly city, you’re not likely to find liquid body wash in bulk, so you’re going to end up with a plastic bottle (and most likely a loofah that you should be throwing out every 2 months). While I did buy a bar of soap from LUSH a few months back, at this point I just buy my soap from Walgreens or Bartell. I buy bars individually, to avoid plastic packaging, and try to discretely open the box to make sure that there isn’t plastic packaging around the soap inside of the cardboard box. Bar soap doesn’t last quite as long as a liquid body wash, but it’s worth it to not have more plastic bottles cluttering my bathroom.

Bar soap I picked up at a drug store with zero plastic!

4: Join “Free or For Sale” or “Buy Nothing” groups on your community

For me, a natural part of going zero waste has been downsizing in my home. I recently went through my makeup and nail polish collections to weed out anything I could no longer see myself using. The products were in good shape and I didn’t want to toss them, so I offered them up on the “Buy Nothing” group on Facebook for my neighborhood. These pages are becoming increasingly popular, with the dual purpose of connecting neighbors and providing an alternative to buying things from stores. I’ve seen people offer everything from Tupperware, clothes, home décor, and extra food on these pages. I’ve only ever used these pages to get rid of things I no longer want but that would not make a good donation to a thrift store (like used nail polish or opened craft supplies), but it is a great way to find a new home for a product that you may otherwise just have to toss. You can also keep a running list of household goods you need and check these pages in addition to checking your local second-hand shop.

5: Put an end to junk mail

Junk mail and credit card offers are one of the more annoying realities of adult life that clutter your mailbox and usually go straight to the recycling bin. Obviously, we do not choose to receive these mailings, but there is a way to reduce them. Shortly before my trip to Sacramento, I signed up for the Do Not Mail list on DirectMail.com. Signing up for the registry takes your name off of marketing lists that companies buy in order to send out advertisements for their goods. I learned about this trick from Bea Johnson and while I wasn’t sure how well it would work, I have noticed a significant drop in the amount of junk that finds its way to my mailbox each day.

I also just used a service that will opt me out of prescreened credit card offers for the next five years (those particularly annoying envelopes that come with a fake credit card as if you didn’t know what those looked like already). This won’t impact my credit, and I’ll still be able to sign up for a new credit card in the next five years if I need to do so, but it will be on my own terms rather than responding to an offer in the mail. I just signed up yesterday, so I can’t speak to its effectiveness yet, but if it’s anything like the Do Not Mail list I am excited to see my junk mail dwindle even further.

direct mail.png
Signing up for the “Do Not Mail” and “PreScreen OptOut” takes less than 5 minutes and will dramatically reduce the amount of paper you get in the mail.

This tip is my favorite because A) it is free to anyone so finances are not an issue B) It is easy and you only have to do it one time but the change is semi-permanent and C) It sends a message to direct mail marketers and credit card companies. If more and more people opt out of these lists and offers, it may no longer worthwhile for companies to send out offers in this way, which could put an end to these wastes of paper.

I’d love to hear if you use any of these tricks, and if you have any tricks to add please share them here!

Product Review: Uncle Harry’s Brushing Soap

At this point, I’ve tried a few different toothpaste products in the effort to maintain good oral hygiene without throwing plastic tubes of conventional toothpaste. I made my own (which was no good) and also tried the Tooth Fairy tooth powder from LUSH. I didn’t love Tooth Fairy because it was a bit messy to use and didn’t last long enough to be worth the $9.95 price tag. So, on a recent trip to Whole Foods, I picked up the Uncle Harry’s Brushing Soap.

The bottle declares, “wash your mouth out with soap – literally!” True to the product description, the first ingredient in this brushing soap is Castile soap. Because of the Castile soap, the product does suds up quite well (which makes it feel like it works better than my DIY toothpaste, even though I’m sure it’s just the placebo effect).

 

I don’t know who Uncle Harry is, but he makes a good toothpaste.

The Brushing Soap comes in a glass jar (yay!) with a small plastic lid (a bit of a bummer but at better than a tube at least). I’ve repurposed a small plastic cosmetics spatula to scoop the soap onto my bamboo toothbrush, but the bottle says the antiseptic properties of the essential oils make it hygienic to dip your brush directly into the bottle.

 

I think my jar will last quite a long time, so at $6 a jar, I feel pretty good about my purchase. I might try adding some cinnamon essential oil to cut the soap taste, but other than that I’m really enjoying the product. UPDATE: I put a few drops of cinnamon oil on my toothbrush and basically burned my mouth. Probably best if dropped directly into jar then stirred to combine.

Pros: Made in Washington (so local to me), pretty sustainable packaging, feels effective, only need a little at a time, and leaves my mouth feeling clean.
Cons: Tastes like soap.

P.S. Uncle Harry’s has a 30% discount code on their website right now so if you want to try Tooth Soap, or any one of their other products, now is a great time to buy.

Zero Waste in Sacramento

This week, I returned to my hometown of Sacramento, California for the Thanksgiving holiday and a much-needed break from work. I’ve been enjoying the opportunity to walk outside without a jacket (I forgot places could be sunny and warm in November) and catch up with friends and family members. I also saw Lady Bird, an incredible film made by a Sacramentan, filmed in Sacramento, about growing up in Sacramento that I would highly recommend.

This was my first trip since starting to live zero waste. In addition to the typical clothes and electronics, I packed some zero waste essentials (cloth napkin, cutlery, water bottle, thermos, and Baggu) so that I could minimize my waste on the trip. All of these supplies have been extremely helpful at keeping my waste down, particularly the coffee mug since my mom and I like to go on walks in the morning that usually involve swinging by a coffee shop.

As much as I love Tacoma, my time in Sacramento has made me realize how much easier it would be to live zero waste in California. My drink of choice is a gin and tonic, and every single time I have ordered a drink from a bar in Sacramento it has come sans straw. I don’t know if the bartenders in California are more used to people requesting drinks without a straw or if I just got lucky, but hopefully, more bars will be as good about going strawless in the future.

One of the highlights of my zero waste trip was visiting the new Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. I stopped by to see what their zero waste offerings are and (if you watched my Instagram stories) you already know that I found everything a zero waster would need, from the usuals (bulk grains, glass straws, and Bee’s Wrap) to some of the harder to find goods like bulk shampoo and conditioner, olive oil, laundry detergent, and dish soap. I didn’t have any jars on hand, but luckily they had plenty for sale so I jumped at the opportunity to buy bulk conditioner. The Tacoma Co-op shut down last year, but I already submitted a suggestion urging them to stock a similar selection of bulk goods when they re-open in 2018.

I never thought I would be so excited about conditioner, but finding zero waste conditioner has been surprisingly difficult!

I did a bit of second-hand shopping in town. First I went to Article Consignment Boutique and picked up some practically new J. Crew shirts that will be great for work (and successfully avoided purchasing another Dooney & Bourke bag). I also visited the Thrift Town featured in Lady Bird and purchased a sweater for $1.07 (including tax). I liked the Thrift Town, but it also made me excited to get back to Tacoma so I can visit some of my favorite places on 6th Ave.

One of my main topic of conversations with many of my friends and family members was zero waste living. I’ve received mostly positive support, though one family member did accuse me of being a Scrooge when I told everyone that I would prefer any Christmas presents be wrapped in reusable bags, paper grocery bags, or newspaper instead of Christmas wrapping paper. I don’t think that any of my friends or family members are considering embracing a zero waste life, but it has been encouraging to hear that people are making small changes in their life because of what I write about here. It’s why I think the Zero Waste movement is so powerful, not only are we reducing our trash by embracing a more extreme lifestyle, but every time we influence people to forgo a straw or bring their own bag, we are helping to make the world a more sustainable place.

New personal care products to test out so I can stock up on them when I’m back in December if I end up liking them.

It has been great being back in Sacramento. Much like Lady Bird, in my adulthood, I am realizing what a special place Sacramento is and that it really is a great town to grow up in. I have a couple of trips I would like to make in 2018, and I look forward to seeing what the world of zero waste looks like outside of the Pacific Northwest.

 

Zero Waste Gift Guide Pt. 2

Black Friday is in two days, which means the season of wasteful giving is upon us. I’m in my hometown of Sacramento right now and have already used the trip as an opportunity to talk with my parents about celebrating the holidays in a way that allows me to stay true to my new lifestyle. We’ll still be exchanging presents, but I am hoping to do so more thoughtfully. I already shared my first five tips, but here are 5 more in case you’re still looking for some gift ideas.

1: Etsy 

Etsy is a great place to find jewelry, clothing, makeup and more made by people around the world. One of my favorite things about Etsy is that you can narrow your search to shops that are in your area, meaning you can support small businesses in your own community while reducing shipping. By visiting an Etsy shop, like the one run by my coworker, you can be assured that the gift you are giving is unique and supports the creative passions of others.

2: Netflix/Spotify/Hulu/Amazon Prime

Approximately three times a year I tell myself I’m going to cancel my digital subscription services so that I can save money and waste less time watching TV, but then they make shows like Stranger Things and The Handmaid’s Tale, which convince me to pay for the service for another month. Having so many TV shows and movies at my disposal has also allowed me to buy fewer DVDs because I can generally find what I want to watch online. It may not be the biggest package under the tree, but who doesn’t want to save money while watching Parks and Recreation for three solid hours?

3: Anything from BuyMeOnce

In my Zero Waste research, I’ve learned about the website BuyMeOnce, a site that features Zero Waste tips and shopping guides. Going Zero Waste doesn’t mean you can stop buying things completely, but buying things that are well-made and will last a lifetime(or that come with an offer for aftercare from the manufacturer) can reduce the number of things that we send to the landfill. These might not be the best options for a shopper on a budget, but you can also use it as a guide for something to save up for that will be a quality investment.

4: A Zero Waste starter kit

So this may be something you want to bring up with the giftee before you do your shopping, but for the right person, this is the perfect gift to bring them into the Zero Waste fold. Put together a few of your favorite zero waste things (I won’t list mine here so as not to spoil the surprise for one of my favorite readers) and tell them how you like to use the item. Not only do you get to share something that matters to you, you’ll also probably end up saving them a lot of money.

 

Guilt your loved ones into going Zero Waste with their very own copy of Zero Waste Home


5: Buy gifts for someone else

 

One of my favorite holiday centered childhood memories is participating in something called ToyBox with my family’s church. Each year, we would buy toys and set up a one-day toyshop in an underserved community. Now, I participate in my local YWCA’s holiday gift center and buy presents for families living in their shelter. Now that I am in a position where I can meet my own basic needs, it feels good to be able to make the holidays a little bit better for others. It also gives me an excuse to buy things from big box stores without a sense of guilt. If your family is in a position where your needs are met and you can’t think of anything you actually want to ask for, why not use that as an opportunity to buy gifts for others (or make a donation to your favorite nonprofit)?

Once all your gifts are purchased, don’t forget to wrap them sustainably (brown paper, reusable gift bags, etc.). This year, I’ve also told my parents to pass on the stocking since that’s usually full of plastic-wrapped candies and other filler items I don’t really need. Now that I’ve been able to talk about the holidays with my parents, I feel confident that I’ll be able to celebrate the holidays without all the waste. What’s on your Zero Waste wish-list this holiday season?

Zero Waste Gift Guide Pt. 1

While our holiday traditions may differ between religions, cultures, and countries, one common factor for most of us, is gift giving. Giving gifts can be stressful, expensive, and extremely wasteful. But it is also a way to show people we care about them, especially for people who’s love language is gift giving. The holidays are a great time to talk about zero waste with your loved ones, tell them you’d rather not receive wasteful items or plastic and instead give them ideas of things that you would be grateful to receive without guilt. I’ve come up with 10 things (or categories of things) that you can give your loved ones without straying too far from your zero waste values.

1: Shop at nonprofit holiday events 

Many nonprofit organizations rely on the holiday season for the majority of their annual fundraising, which means a lot of them hold events to sell goods and raise funds. Look at events hosted by nonprofits in your area and stock up on presents that benefit a great cause. Empty Bowls is a charitable event hosted by nonprofits around the world (including the one I work at). While each event is different, the general structure involves purchasing a bowl and receiving a bowl of soup. You could also look for Holiday Markets, like the one hosted by my local YWCA, where you buy directly from local artists but a portion of the proceeds benefit the nonprofit.

2: Quality time

Now that I live far away from home, I particularly appreciate the time I get to spend with my parents and childhood friends. These gifts could range from buying plane tickets for someone, cooking them a nice dinner, concert tickets, or a class. If you’re having trouble coming up with an idea, check sites like Groupon to see if there are any classes you could take together (or to get a good deal on tickets for venues in your town). You could even do a throwback to DIY gifts from childhood and make a coupon book of things to do together, like a dinner out, a movie of their choice or other activities they enjoy. As a kid, I equated the quality of my Christmas presents with the number of boxes under the tree. But now, I would rather get to do something meaningful with someone.

3: Gently used items for their favorite activities 

Ok, so buying a used item for someone could definitely offend some people, but in so many cases gently used items are just as good as the stuff you can get brand new. Ever since I got my record player, my dad has been sending me used records to add to my collection. It is meaningful to me because I know that he is putting time into considering his favorite records and sharing them with me. Now, when I see those records I think of my dad and the conversations we’ve had about music over the years. If there is a chef or baker in your life, check your local thrift or consignment shop for vintage Pyrex mixing bowls or Fiestaware. Because vintage products were built to last (unlike most of the things you’d find at Target today), you can find a present that the recipient can use for years and that will be a unique addition to their home.

 

Some of the used records my dad has gifted me. They’re not only great because I get to enjoy the music and bond with my dad over music we both love.

 

4: Practical items they would not buy themselves 

Now that I’ve moved out and moved in and out of a few apartments, I appreciate all of the cooking gadgets and home goods that my parents have available in their home. Like many of us, moving into my current apartment meant a trip to IKEA where I bought the cheapest mixing bowls, knives, and measuring cups that they had available. All of these things still function, but it is pretty obvious that I am using a $7 knife set. Giving someone a quality knife set, bag for work, or nice coat is a great way to treat them to something they may not treat themselves to but will use more than a DVD.

5: Consumables

Treat someone to things like a nice bottle of wine or their favorite liquor, or coffee beans from your favorite roaster. This type of gift would be particularly appropriate for any minimalists in your life as it doesn’t leave them with an item they may not want to add to their home. Pinterest is full of recipes for soup and baked goods in a jar, just layer the dry ingredients in a mason jar (packaging zero wasters will love to receive). Or give them the mixings for their favorite cocktail with some thrifted bar cart accessories (a cool cocktail shaker, strainer, and bar spoon that they can use for a special occasion.