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!

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DIY Toothpaste: A Zero Waste Fail

A few weeks ago I ran out of my regular toothpaste and so I decided it was time to give DIY toothpaste a go. As I am still early on in my zero-waste journey, there are still plenty of leftovers from my old lifestyle that I am working my way through, like Q-Tips, conditioner, and floss. These everyday items are convenient, necessary, and have fewer zero-waste alternatives. The first of my “scary swaps” was toothpaste, and unfortunately, my first go at it was a bit of a fail.

There are a number of DIY toothpaste recipes floating around the internet, most of which involve baking soda, coconut oil, and essential oils. Some recipes also call for stevia powder to act as a sweetener, but since I don’t keep this on hand it seemed to be counterproductive to buy it just to make toothpaste.

I ended up using the following recipe for my toothpaste:

  • ~1/2 Cup of coconut oil
  • ~2 Tablespoons of baking soda
  • ~10 drops of cinnamon essential oil
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The base of what I had hoped would be a great DIY toothpaste.

The texture is a thick paste that is a bit grainy. I have mine stored in a glass jar and scoop it onto my bamboo toothbrush with my finger. Unfortunately, the toothpaste has not worked for me. I am not a huge fan of coconut so mixing that with baking soda is rather unpleasant. Coconut oil also turns liquid when warm (rather than lathering like a traditional toothpaste), so it can be a messy brushing experience. I wouldn’t say brushing my teeth was ever a fun activity for me, but when I was using this toothpaste it was something I actively dreaded. Not something you want as part of tour oral hygiene experience.

Fortunately, there are a number of purchasable options for low-waste toothpaste. I ended up back at Lush (which has quickly become my go-to store for package-free or low-waste products) and picked up the Tooth Fairy Tooth Powder, which comes in a recycled plastic container that can be returned to the store when I run out. I may also repurpose the container if I can find a DIY tooth powder recipe to make at home. To use the tooth powder, I just wet my brush, take some of the powder in my hands, and press it into the bristles. The powder also froths like a conventional toothpaste. I’m sure this is just a placebo effect, but it does make it feel like I’m actually cleaning my teeth.

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In the tooth powder vs. DIY paste competition, the powder is a clear winner.

This experience has taught me a couple of things.

  1. Not every swap will be easy or right the first time, but
  2. There are way more alternatives to conventionally packaged products than we might think.

I may give the DIY toothpaste another go, but for now, I’m happy to have a happy medium between conventional plastic and DIY.