Zero Waste Laundry

Laundry is a reality of life for all of us, especially when you are living Zero Waste and have cloth napkins and reusable cotton rounds and paper towels that also need cleaning. I’ve recently delved into the world of zero waste laundry care and, like with many other zero waste alternatives, I’ve found that switching to a zero waste alternative does not mean you have to compromise on quality. There are also plenty of options online and at stores like Whole Foods, so there are plenty of options depending on your laundry preference.

1: Soap Nuts

Soap nuts (or soap berries) are a member of the Lychee that contains saponins, a handy chemical compound that lower surface tension (which is just what your typical laundry detergent does to get clothes clean). Soap nuts are by no means new, having been used by washing for Native Americans long before the invention of Tide.

 

Old soap nuts ready to make their way to the compost bin.

To use soap nuts, you simply place a handful of the berries into a cloth drawstring pouch and toss it into your washing machine. You can reuse the same bag for 5-7 washes and then simply compost the nuts when they’re brittle and no longer usable. I found my soap nuts at a local shop that sells them by the pouch, but you can also easily find them online. I’m glad I initially bought mine in a smaller quantity (in case I didn’t like them), but plan to buy them by the pound in the future since it is cheaper per load.

 

2: The Simply Co. Laundry Detergent 

Lauren Singer started making The Simply Co. detergent when she transitioned into the zero waste lifestyle, now selling her detergent and a number of other items in her Brooklyn shop and on her website. I haven’t used The Simply Co. detergent, but I think it would be a great option for people that want to transition away from traditionally packaged goods and don’t want to make their own detergent or don’t want to use soap nuts. My one gripe with The Simply Co., is that they use the “eek chemicals” line very heavily in their marketing. But since Lauren Singer is a member of the Zero Wast Community, you have the added bonus of knowing the packaging will be sustainable. The detergent is sold in a glass jar and on their website they say that they ship everything in recycled cardboard using paper tape.

3: DIY

I haven’t attempted a DIY detergent yet, but there are plenty of recipes, like this one,  online. The standard ingredients I’ve seen in DIY recipes are solid castille soap, washing soda, and Borax. I haven’t made the DIY plunge because I am 1) lazy and 2) don’t like to buy products for a DIY project if I will only use it for one purpose.

4: Better packaged, conventional detergents

On a recent grocery trip, I spotted a bottle of Seventh Generation detergent that is sold in a compostable bottle with a recyclable spout. I’m glad that a company that claims to be earth-friendly is offering better options when it comes to packaging since most of their products come in plastic. I haven’t used this version yet, but I think it would be appealing for people that don’t want to live a “granola” lifestyle but still care about excess plastic.

A good laundry routine is important not only because it keeps your clothes clean, it can extender their life cycle so you can shop less frequently. I hang dry a good chunk of my clothes (which is how I’ve managed to make shirts from Forever 21 last for 4+ years) but I’m not a fan of letting jeans air-dry so I still embrace clothes dryers. Until recently, I wasn’t using fabric softeners in my laundry routine, because they seemed like a waste of money for a product I wasn’t entirely sure I needed. But then, I spotted these wool fabric softener balls at my local drug store. They claim to cut down on dry time (a claim I haven’t scientifically tested) while reducing static and wrinkles (a claim I do find to be true). You simply toss the three wool balls into your dryer and let them do their thing (the only drawback is a slightly noisier load of laundry). For my dry clean only clothes, I use the Dryel system, which is relatively low-waste, effective at cleaning, and way cheaper and easier than going to a dry cleaner.

 

The two key players in my (mostly) zero waste laundry routine.

I love that I have plenty of options for zero waste laundry that keep my clothes and the planet clean and happy, I hope you will check some out too!

 

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Zero Waste Pet Peeves

I think that when you are a part of a group or movement, it is just as important to be aware of its shortcomings as it is to celebrate its greatness. Through my experience in the zero-waste community, I have noticed a few things that are mildly irritating and one thing that has been gnawing at me that I think is a bigger problem in the zero waste community. None of these comments are meant to insult any particular person, instead, I think we could all do a little bit better to make our community more scientific and more inclusive.

1: The term “Zero Waste”

I use the term zero waste because it connects me with a larger community, but the reality is that none of us can ever be zero waste. Even if I managed to produce just one jar of trash per year, there would be all sorts of waste I’ve generated that I am able to ignore, such as food waste at restaurants I eat at. The term zero waste is splashy and definitely easier to say than “living intentionally so as to generate less waste by changing personal consumption habits.” It’s easy to feel a bit of imposter syndrome in this community, every time I eat an individually wrapped candy bar at work I think “Does this mean I’m not zero waste?” The answer is yes, and no. I’ll never be zero waste, but because I am changing my personal consumption habits to produce less waste I am a part of this community.

2: Natural Vs. Chemicals

In case you didn’t know, literally everything is made up of chemicals. But watching a lot of zero waste videos, you would think that all chemicals are toxic and going to kill us. Zero wasters to go on an on about cleaning products that “don’t have chemicals in them.” I know what they mean; they are talking about synthetic chemicals that are derided by alternative cultures. But why is natural by default good and synthetic bad? Natural has become a marketing tool exploited by corporations knowing that yuppies like me will fall for the trick, but the term natural is not regulated so it means nothing. Sure, some synthetic chemicals are toxic for us and should not be used, but natural chemicals can be toxic too.

This brings me to my absolute biggest pet peeve in this category, the statement “so many chemicals I can’t pronounce.” Here’s the thing, your ignorance does not make something good or bad. I’m sure that I could not pronounce or recognize half of the chemicals in my father’s chemotherapy treatment, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t use them. In an episode of Pen & Teller: Bullshit!, well-intentioned attendees of a “World Fest” signed a petition to ban water, when an actress told them all the bad things dihyrdrogen monoxide is involved with. As a member of the zero-waste community, I end up embracing what we consider “natural” products because they are often easier to DIY or get package free. I can get vinegar for cleaning solutions from a bulk shop and go package-free, I have yet to find package-free Tide. Want to avoid toxic chemicals? Great, do some research, but don’t just assume every chemical you don’t recognize is bad for you.

3: Privilege

The online zero waste community is white, really white. And most of those people are white, middle or upper middle class people that joined the zero waste community after an ah-ha moment that their trips, things, or huge homes were not making them happier. I ran into a friend the other day and we talked about representation in the zero waste community and I could not think of a single POC zero waster that I follow online (with the exception of a few sustainable-fashion bloggers). I went home and Googled “zero waste POC” and found this great post from 2014 that speaks to the whiteness in the zero waste community.

There is a lot of privilege with the zero waste community. It may seem counterintuitive to think of living with less as being a sign of privilege, but just take a look at the tips and tricks zero wasters like to recommend. The first is almost always a reusable coffee cup for the ubiquitous trip to the coffee shop. This assumes that everyone is already buying coffee all the time, when coffee, is in reality, a luxury. It’s like those annoying budgeting videos that tell you to just stop buying a $5 latte every day and you’ll save $1,825 a year, it’s not exactly helpful for the person that can’t afford to spend $5 on coffee in the first place. I have yet to see a zero waste post about living zero waste under the poverty line, because when your main priority is just to get by living zero waste really is a luxury.

I’ve talked before about living in a food desert and the way that it can be challenging to reduce waste and eat fresh fruits and vegetables when I don’t have a car and the closest grocery store is a mile away. Lately, I have been borrowing my roommate’s car to go to Whole Foods to shop the bulk bins, but the Whole Foods is almost 4 miles and two bus routes away from me, this would not be a realistic option sans car. My neighborhood has become even trickier to live in as a vegetarian, not that the cheapest and closest options (fast food) are pretty much off the table. So many of the “tricks” that I see, and contribute too, are inaccessible to people that are poor, lack adequate transportation, or do not have the time to cook meals from scratch.

Then, of course, there is the trend of shopping second-hand. I absolutely believe that shopping second-hand is better than buying new since it extends the life-cycle of a product that is already in the waste stream. The part that makes me uneasy however is how this becomes almost a fetishization of being poor. People have been buying used clothes for years, not because it was trendy or environmentally friendly, but because they had no other option. I don’t think this means we have to stop shopping second-hand, there is so much excess clothing in the United States that it’s not like you walk into a thrift shop and they only have one pair of jeans and two sweaters. Buying a pair of jeans at Goodwill does not mean that a person with less than myself will not be able to find jeans (though if all of us changed our consumption habits this could definitely be the case). So keep shopping second-hand, but don’t act like you are the first person to do so.

I really do love being a part of the zero waste community, but we can always be better. Do you have any zero waste pet peeves? If so, I’d love to hear them!

Zero Waste Holidays

It’s November, which means that the holiday season is upon us. The holiday season usually brings with it parties, gift giving, travel, and lots of food. I am sentimental and don’t get to see my family often, so I definitely get into the holiday spirit. This year, I want to celebrate consciously so that I can enjoy my time with loved ones without doing too much damage to the earth. Here are some of the things I will be considering over the coming months.

1: Travel

I live in Washington but my family is in California, so I usually fly home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. According to this website, each of my round-trip flights produces .14 metric tons of carbon emissions. According to this post on the Sierra Club website, emissions per person need to drop to 3.2 tons per person to avoid drastic overheating (Americans generate an incredible 23 tons per capita). Fortunately, I can fly nonstop between California and Washington, but if I lived further away from home it would be worth considering consolidating trips home to one holiday per year (from both a cost and environmental perspective). Rather than purchasing a carbon offset, I plan to make a donation of $10 per trip to an environmental nonprofit (on top of my monthly contribution to the NRDC). I’ve also gotten in the habit of taking public transit to and from SeaTac airport. It’s cheaper than a shuttle and a better use of natural resources.

2: Gifts

Gift giving is a huge part of the holiday season, and in recent years it seems like I am wracking my brain before Christmas trying to think of things to give my family members or to ask for in return. I plan on putting together a gift guide as it gets closer to Christmas (and Hanukah and other gift-giving holidays). But as I consider what to request for Christmas, I will be asking for experiences (like concert tickets) or home goods (like a good quality knife set) that will either give me a memory or add to my quality of life.

 

Concert tickets are a great zero-waste present, no concert in particular you’re looking forward to, ask for an “IOU” coupon to cover a certain amount for tickets in the coming year.

I’m hoping to avoid buying any plastic wrapped or disposable presents this year, with one notable exception. I am very involved with the local YWCA and each year, they do a holiday gift center for the families they serve. I will be buying toys for kids at their shelter and don’t plan to adhere to my zero-waste goals. I have chosen this lifestyle for myself; it would be unfair to force my lifestyle on a child I don’t even know.

3: Parties

Last year, my roommate and I hosted a Christmas party that was a lot of fun, but also very wasteful. We did a white elephant gift exchange which, while fun, also means people are giving and getting things that no one wants (like a contraption to make a spiral hot dog, still sitting unopened in our cupboard). We also used plastic cups and bought snacks that came wrapped in plastic. If we host another soiree, I’ll plan ahead so that I can bake and cook desserts and snacks from scratch. For a small gathering, you could also get beer in a growler to reduce packaging (though this may not be economical for a larger gathering). I also plan to say no to plastic cutlery, non-recyclable decorations, and, of course, plastic straws.

Just some of the disposables that ended up at our last Christmas party, including a disgusting cake that we only had one slice of before throwing away.

4: Food

It will be interesting to go home as a vegetarian since I came from a family where meat is incorporated into most meals. Fortunately, I’ll only have to pass on a few items (unfortunately also some of my favorite foods like carnitas and Yorkshire pudding), but this will also influence the amount of meat my parents have to buy to prepare holiday meals since one less person will be consuming it. Food is central to the holiday season (Americans found a way to have one holiday dedicated only to eating) and it is honestly unnecessarily extravagant. From appetizers before meals, dinners with a main course, four sides, and desserts, these meals are expensive, stressful to prepare, and wasteful. I plan to talk to my parents before these holidays (or they can make a note now while they read this) to see if we can cut back on any of the foods we normally eat. I’d rather spend time with my loved ones, rather than all of us stressing about how to time the preparation of the meal just right.

5: Avoid the sales

Sales are great on one hand, they can help us save money on things we need. Unfortunately, they also trick us into buying things we would never buy full-price. I’ve shared before that I went through a period where I bought makeup when I was sad (to avoid my feelings) or celebrate when I had a big success at work. As a result, I hit VIB Rouge status at Sephora in 2016 (meaning I spent $1,000 in a year). The VIB Rouge sale is happening right now, a lure that offers VIB Rouge members 20% off purchases. While I could use this as a chance to stock up on my most-used items, the reality is it ends up being an excuse to try new things. When sales like Black Friday and Cyber Monday hit, don’t use sales as an excuse to buy things you don’t need. Instead, make a list of things you genuinely need (in my case a new raincoat), and use sales as a way to save money on something you would buy anyway.

How do you celebrate the holidays? Are you planning how to make them zero waste?

Zero Waste Update

I started my blog on August 1, which means I’ve been one my zero waste journey for about three months (though I started the baby steps well before writing here). In that time, I’ve made quite a few life changes, product recommendations, and done some serious downsizing at home. Today I wanted to take a look back at my progress so far to reflect on changes I’ve loved and what I would change if I could do it all again:

 

Spoiler Alert: These bags are a favorite!

1: Always try to refuse 

The first R of zero waste is to refuse. Since starting my blog, I have resisted the urge to buy any clothing brand new, which is a huge deal for me! I’ve gone on many trips to places like Target and Nordstrom to search for new things, but on every trip, I’ve asked myself, “Do I need this article of clothing or do I just want it.” So often, we conflate wanting something with needing something. For example, last weekend my work had our largest fundraising event of the year. Like many women, I have been conditioned to think we should not repeat outfits for formal occasions and so I spent hours at the mall looking for something to wear. The night before the event, I almost dropped $80 on a dress I only kind of liked and would only ever wear to this one event. Instead, I put it back and allowed myself to repeat an outfit, wearing a dress I like infinitely more and saving money, and no one said a thing. I have allowed myself to buy new shoes in these three months but for very specific reasons. One pair was to replace a pair of black booties that broke while I was wearing them, the other two were a pair of oxfords and sneakers that I can wear casually and to work since at some point my shoe collection consisted entirely of boots with heels.

Even if you don’t want to live zero waste, I think this is a great mentality to incorporate into your life. I have saved more money these past three months than ever before because I am not responding to instant gratification. It’s good for the planet and my wallet, which is a win-win in my book!

2: Zero Waste grocery shopping

This may be strange to say, but I actually really enjoy grocery shopping and I think I enjoy it even more now that I am trying to shop zero waste. My reusable produce bags are, without a doubt, one of my top three zero-waste purchases. While I always tried to remember reusable grocery bags, I used produce bags without much thought. Now, I can’t imagine going back to using them. Since my initial post, I’ve switched from washing my bags in the sink to throwing them in the washing machine and hanging them dry. I don’t know why I felt the need to be gentle with my bags earlier, but upkeep is definitely easier when a washing machine is involved. More than any other product I use, these bags are a conversation starter at the store. I now do most of my grocery shopping at Whole Foods because of their bulk bins and local produce. Every week when I check out, I end up having a conversation with the checker about reducing waste. I really hope that these catch on with more people because they really are great!

I’m competitive with myself to come home with as little packaging as possible.

3: T’eo 

My most popular post to date has been about T’eo Deodorant, which I find only a little bit odd. I still adore T’eo and don’t see myself ever switching back to a traditional deodorant. My original bar is pretty much done and I have already purchased a replacement, meaning I spent about $11 for 2 months of use (not a bad deal in my mind). Since my initial post, I have gotten the occasional irritation on my underarms — though I think this also has to do more with razor burn. I may switch it up and try a different LUSH version (or a DIY recipe) in the future, but I’m happy to have found that you can sacrifice packaging without sacrificing quality when it comes to deodorant.

4: Getting a library card

I practically grew up at my neighborhood library, so it’s a bit surprising that for the past few years I haven’t had a library card. I recently got into the library game again and I am so excited to have a new source of movies and books. I still haven’t jumped on the e-reader bandwagon, so I’ve ended up buying and then donating a lot of books. My plan is to buy fewer books and use the library as my main source of new reading materials. I am also planning on ending my Netflix subscription (now that I’ve finished Stranger Things) so it’s nice to know I’ll have a place to go for movies too. I love having books around, but the reality is I’ll only read the majority of my books one time, so there’s no need to waste money or resources just to have a bigger book collection.

5: My compost fail

In September, I picked up a compost pail so that I could keep my food waste out of the dump. Unfortunately, the pail is more of a middle ground to hold scraps until you can transfer them to an actual compost bin. Since I bought my pail on a whim, I did not plan where those scraps would go when that pail filled up. I’ve been researching worm composters and other options, but haven’t actually purchased a compost bin yet. The first few weeks I was great about throwing my scraps in the pail until I realized that things were starting to happen in the pail and I had nowhere to put my scraps — so I just ignored it. I finally worked up the nerve to check my pail a few weeks ago and it was a soupy, smelly mess (not the goal of compost). I ended up throwing out the contents of the pail, which is now sitting unused under my kitchen sink. Through this journey, I need to remind myself to do research and not just buy the first thing I see since it seems sustainable. I want to tackle the compost problem since food waste is probably my largest source of trash at this point, but I’m gonna be honest, I feel a bit discouraged.

These last few months have been absolutely incredible. I feel like I am living my life with more purpose, have a new passion to share with others, and have connected with other zero waste people from around the world. I am excited to see where I am 3, 6, and 9 months from now. Thank you for being a part of my journey!

Film Review: A Plastic Ocean

Last weekend, I watched the 2016 documentary A Plastic Ocean. I love nature documentaries, but perhaps surprisingly, I don’t typically seek out movies about environmentalism, climate change, or food because I cannot stand the fact that they are more about propaganda than telling a factual story (like the movie What The Health which equates eating meat to 5 cigarettes a day). However, posts about A Plastic Ocean kept on popping up on my social media accounts and so I figured I should give it a chance.

Journalist Craig Leeson was in a remote part of the ocean, looking for blue whales only to find an alarming amount of plastic particulates far away from land. As a result of this experience, he partnered with a badass free diver Tanya Streeter to explores islands and oceans around the globe, finding that plastic is unavoidable pretty much everywhere on the planet.

You’ve probably heard about the Great Pacific garbage patch, a floating patch of garbage bigger than Texas. Until watching the film, I had imagined the Garbage Patch to be a literal island of giant chunks of plastic. The reality is actually more insidious. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is actually mostly made up of broken up bits of plastic particulates that are becoming a part of the global food chain. Fish, whales, and birds eat these small bits of plastic or feed them to their young. Not only can the toxic chemicals leak from the plastic into the bloodstream of these animals (which in turn we eat), they also fill their stomachs and can result in animals starving to death with a stomach full of literal garbage. The most squirm-inducing part of the film was watching scientists cut open the stomachs of dead birds and pulling out the hundreds of pieces of trash the filled their stomachs. These kinds of imagery is an important reminder that the impact of our actions stems beyond us as individuals, and for that reason we need to take them seriously. While all of us are independent beings, none of our actions are without consequence and they often impact an environment far larger than ourselves. Not to care about this is just plain selfishness.

Leeson and his team also explore how people interact with plastic. From small island nations where people’s homes are built above garbage heaps to the ubiquity of plastic packaging on food, plastic has become an inescapable part of the human experience. While the global north is responsible for the bulk of climate change, the reality is that countries in the global south, like Tuvalu, bear the brunt of the consequences of our wasteful actions. As a citizen of the global north, I have the privilege of throwing plastic away (or recycling it), thinking that once that plastic is out of my hands I don’t have to worry about it anymore. But around the world families live above plastic, scavenge for plastic for income, or burn plastic to cook their meals. I don’t think we can or should live in a world without plastic, it is ubiquitous for a reason, but we have got to rethink our idea that we need everything to be plastic and disposable.

I would definitely recommend A Plastic Ocean to people. It has an obvious bias, but I think it does a good job of talking about plastic without over sensationalizing the issue. Have you seen A Plastic Ocean? What did you think and has it made you rethink how you use plastic in your daily life?

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
IMG_5947.JPG
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.

IMG_5981.JPG
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.

 

 

You Know You’re A Zero Waster When

1: You leave the house with more necessities than a lot of people

Your daily list probably includes a thermos, a stainless steel water bottle, reusable grocery bag, cutlery, a cloth napkin, and maybe even a Tupperware (or stainless steel) container in case you need to bring home leftovers.

2: You see plastic everywhere!

Plastic is the enemy and it will not leave you alone. From produce wrapped in unnecessary shrink-wrap and plastic straws to the pens at your work desk, you can’t help cringe a little every time you have to use plastic and are constantly searching plastic free-alternatives.

plastic 2.jpg

3: You memorize weird traits about every grocery store

You know which grocery store has the best bulk bins. The grocery store where clerks don’t give you a weird look when you have reusable produce bags. And where you can find kitchen essentials like Bees Wrap and reusable Ziploc bags.

4: You’re your own apothecary 

You have definitely looked up DIY recipes for toothpaste, deodorant, cough drops, and household cleaners. You also know that baking soda, vinegar, and castile soap are the answer to many of life’s problems.

5: You have trash envy

You are in serious awe of people who can fit a year’s worth of trash in a mason jar. As a result, you probably feel guilty every time you blow your nose or when your drink comes with a straw.

6: You’re a little afraid when you run out of conventional products

While the aesthetic of a plastic free kitchen or bathroom is hugely appealing, you dread the day when you run out of conditioner. Because while you know you probably don’t need the product you just ran out of, sometimes convenience is just so tempting.

7: Your friends talk trash to you 

Once friends and family members catch on to what you’re doing, they start to tell you about how they are cutting back on trash. It feels great to know that even though you’re just one person, your actions can have a larger ripple effect.

8: You think recycling is overrated

You’ve memorized the 5 Rs and try to use as few products as possible with a lifecycle that ends at a recycling center.

9: You make semi-odd requests at restaurants and cafes

You always ask for a drink with no straw, bring odd containers for leftovers, or old sacks for pastries, bread, etc. You also know which places are the most accommodating and it often even sparks a great conversation about sustainability.

zero-waste-green-living-vegan-podcast.jpg

10: You feel a little bit better about the world

Even though the news is bleak and things seem out of control, you know that you have immense power in your own personal life. You know every day is an opportunity to make choices that will do as little damage to the environment as possible, and maybe get to leave Earth a little bit better than it was when you got here.