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.



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.

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).

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.

Zero Waste Goals for 2018

Like most people, as the year draws to a close I am reflecting on 2017 and thinking of the things I’d like to change and accomplish in the coming year. Some of my goals for 2018 are personal, others are professional, but most of them are geared specifically towards my zero waste lifestyle. I want to delve even deeper into the zero waste lifestyle next year, here’s how I plan to do so:

1: No Buy January

I started 2017 off with dry January, not because I was concerned about my drinking, I just wanted to see what it was like. (It wasn’t that remarkable and was actually pretty easy). In 2018, I’m going to kick off the year by putting all unnecessary shopping on hold for a month. I plan to only buy groceries, replacements for any personal care items (like toothpaste) I may use up, and experiences (like drinks out with friends). While I’ve greatly reduced my consumerist tendencies since starting this blog, I can definitely do better. I hope that by giving up shopping for a month it will be easier to give it up more regularly throughout the year.

2: Get My Act Together and Compost

At this point, food waste is probably my largest source of trash. I feel particularly guilty when I throw out food because in addition to the waste of money and resources to buy food I throw out, I also work for a nonprofit related to food security. I’ve been hesitant to dive into composting because I’m still not certain I’ve found the best method for apartment composting. I’m not great at DIY projects so making my own worm bin is not a great idea, but I hate the idea of paying for a worm bin if it isn’t going to work for me. Tacoma offers curbside food/yard waste pick-up, but I’m not certain that this is even available to me since I live in an apartment. In the new year, I plan to call my apartment manager to see if this is something that can be made available to everyone in my building.

3: Cook More

The neighborhood I live in has great restaurants but no grocery store, so I end up eating out way more often than I should. This is a habit that is bad for my health, my wallet, and the environment. In the new year, I want to go grocery shopping more regularly, use the food I buy before it goes bad, and compost the scraps. Since I eat a (mostly) vegetarian diet, composting and cooking more are easy ways to reduce my waste. I got a nice knife set for Christmas, so I’m hoping that this will be the catalyst I need to cook meals for myself like a responsible adult.

I think the reason people like Lauren Singer and Bea Johnson have made such waves in the zero waste community and beyond is that they have visual representations of how little trash they produce. Going down to a mason jar of trash isn’t necessarily a goal of mine, but I think doing a trash inventory is a great way for me to see just how wasteful I am (and where I can make changes). Because I throw things away at work, home, and out and about in my daily life, it is easy to lose track of just how much I am throwing away. Once I get my compost situation figured out I want to do some trash inventories where I hold onto everything I need to throw away over the course of a week and see where I can make improvements.

5: Zero Waste Meet-Ups

One of my favorite things about going zero waste has been connecting with the zero waste community online. I haven’t met any current zero waste people in Tacoma, but there is a group up in Seattle that I would very much like to meet up with. I am fortunate to have very supportive friends and family that don’t question my zero waste lifestyle, but I would love to connect with other people that are as committed (if not more committed) than I am to the zero waste lifestyle.

Of course, as I work on all of these goals I will be sure to write about how they go. 2018 will be my first full calendar year in the zero waste community. I am excited to take my zero waste lifestyle further and to continue to document my experience here. Do you have any goals for reducing your waste in 2018? If so, please comment below.

Reflections on going zero waste

I had originally planned to post a review about my new safety razor today, but being home for the holidays has gotten me into the sentimental spirit and so instead I thought I’d reflect a bit on the last few months.

When I started living a zero waste life and writing this blog, I expected that my life would be more difficult. I expected things to take more work, that I would be giving up things that I loved, and that going zero waste would feel like a chore (albeit a worthwhile chore). I didn’t expect that living a zero waste life would bring me so much joy and radically change my views of consumerism and make it easy for me to give up things I once held dear. I certainly didn’t expect to connect with a community of thoughtful and passionate people online nor did I think my own community would be as supportive of my new lifestyle. The fact that friends go out of their way to tell me that they read my blog or have made changes in their own life means more to me than I think any of them realize. Growing up, I wanted to be an author – to change people’s lives the way writers changed mine by telling fantastical stories that would leave people in awe. Now, my dreams of writing the next big novel have gone away, but I am thankful to have found an outlet that allows me to use my voice in a meaningful way.

It’s Christmas Eve today, the day my family exchanges presents. Looking at the presents under the tree, I am grateful to my parents who are encouraging my zero waste life by wrapping my presents in reusable tote bags and boxes so that I don’t have to generate waste. My family has always indulged my interests (from the time I started a Fair Trade club in high school to when I briefly considered becoming a midwife), but it is particularly exciting to have a passion that they can be included in and can embrace as well.

I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I started my zero waste lifestyle. But looking back on these few short months, I am amazed by how much it has changed me. I no longer feel a rush when I step into Target or the mall to look for material goods that will bring me happiness. Every day is an opportunity to live with intention and think of how my actions can impact the world around me. And by being a little (or a lot) self-indulgent by writing about my experiences, I get to share this journey with friends and people I’ve never met. I hope that all of you have something that gives you these same feelings and that you are able to share that same passion and joy with the people around you. Thank you for being on this journey with me, it’s pretty much the best Christmas present ever.