Posts in products
5 ways to make less waste when buying school supplies

Just like that, summer is almost over and “back to school” time is upon us. Well, in Colorado, at least. With heading back to school comes supply shopping. I have to be honest, I LOVED shopping for my school supplies as a kid. Picking out the perfect new notebook and a fun new set of pencils. Getting it all organized. But, still being honest, school supplies that are made of natural materials that do not end up in the landfill are infinitely more beautiful and exciting, in my opinion.

Stop for just a second and think about how many schoolchildren there are across the country. Across the world. And how many of them are buying a pack of Crayola plastic markers for school. And plastic glue sticks. And plastic folders. And plastic binders. And plastic plastic plastic. Where’s it all going to go when they’re done with it or it break? Ok, enough thinking about that, it’s depressing.

In an effort to “green up” your school supplies, here are my tips:

one // Use what you have. Scour your house for leftover paper from last year. Tear pages out of a half-used notebook and send it to school with your kid (no teacher is going to count the number of pages!). Collect some slightly used crayons to make a full set. Take the free folder you got from a work event and put a sticker on it. Don’t buy supplies unless you truly don’t have them.

two // Look for supplies at secondhand stores. I often find paper, pens, pencils, tape, binders, markers and more at Goodwill and other thrift stores. I’m not sure why they’re there or why they didn’t get used, but someone needs to use them up! It’s always better to buy used than to buy “eco-friendly.”

three // Ask around. I posted on a FB group that I was looking for 1” white binders with clear inserts on the front. Turns out someone works in a courthouse where lawyers leave tons of binders lying around after hearings. So I’m going to go “save” two binders and my daughter will be all set for 2nd grade! You never know unless you try.

four // Work together with classmates and friends! Maybe arrange a school supply swap? Or buy things in bulk quantities and split them up amongst the class. Often things are sold in sets that might be more than you need.

five // When all else fails, buy responsibly. The sustainable goods market is taking off, and it’s not as hard as it used to be to find non-plastic materials that are okay for the earth.

Check out these sites:

  • Wisdom Supply Co. - They have almost everything! markers, crayons, notebooks, folders, pencils, dry erase markers…be sure to read their descriptions of products if you have questions. Very helpful. They also have a fantastic document that shows how to swap their products for the more “traditional” ones you might see on your kid’s supply list.

  • Package Free Shop - Binders, notebooks, pencils, and crayons. Good place to shop if you also need some household items.

  • The Ultimate Green Store - Good selection of pencils, markers, and paper products. Other products too, such as backpacks and household items.

  • Onyx and Green - (Available on Amazon) Made mostly of recycled and natural material. Good middle-ground products.

What do you think? Will you give any of these products a go? Or just buy the traditional ones? Does Crayola pay schools/teachers a dividend or something?

Happy back to school, everyone! Now, if someone could just tell me what to do about the two plastic containers of Clorox wipes I’m supposed to buy…

10 easy steps to low-waste groceries

Yesterday, at Sprouts grocery store, I saw more people than ever shopping the bulk section with cloth bags! Fantastic! I was delighted, and give huge props to Sprouts: they’ve started selling their own cloth bags and are using marketing to encourage their use.

However, people seemed confused about how to mark the PLU number on their bulk items. A few were using twist ties (wasteful!) while others were writing the numbers on their grocery lists. I offered up my washable marker once or twice, and the recipients seemed slightly perplexed at why I cared about their grocery shopping experience, but also grateful.

My point here is, even whey you’re trying to reduce your waste, there can be a lot of logistical roadblocks. So to keep things as simple as possible, here’s my 10-step guide to buying low waste groceries:

  • one // Make a list. Divide it into sections:

    • bulk items

    • produce

    • deli

    • “middle of the store” items

  • two // At home, gather your materials:

    • cloth bags for produce and bulk

    • a washable marker

    • large reusable grocery bags

    • empty glass milk containers (if applicable)

    • a couple sturdy containers for the deli counter (if desired)

  • three // Go to the store. Walk or bike if you can!

  • four // Stop in the bulk section for any products that were on your list. You want to make sure you have enough bags for the things you really need. Use your washable marker to write the PLU code in large numbers on the outside of the bag, and then fill with the desired amount.

  • five // Shop produce. When you’re putting your produce in the cart, place it away from your bulk items so any moisture from the produce doesn’t touch the washable marker on your bulk bags. Put things in reusable produce bags if they fall into one of these four categories:

    • You’re buying several of one item (eg. apples or oranges); this will help the cashier weigh them.

    • You’re going to eat the outside of the item and don’t want to wash it (I put many items directly in my cart: cucumbers, cabbage, apples, peppers… but I wash them before eating).

    • You’re buying different types of a similar food. For example, I like to try many kinds of tangerines and oranges. It can get confusing for the cashier if they have to sort by type. (And sometimes you might be charged more if they lump them all together under the code for the most expensive type!)

    • The item is delicate. Such as lettuce and other greens, broccoli, stone fruits, pears, mushrooms, etc.

  • six // Shop the middle of the store for low-waste items such as:

    • Pasta in cardboard boxes.

    • Legumes and other items in aluminum cans.

    • Sauces, salsas, and juice in glass containers.

    • Beverages in cans.

  • seven // Return to the bulk section to use up your remaining bags (as desired). Look for items you commonly eat that are on sale or other new treats you might want to try. The beauty of bulk is you don’t have to buy very much. I often get just a handful of something new to see how we like it.

  • eight // Go to the deli counter and politely request they put your meat or cheese in your own container(s). I’ve never had anyone say “no” to me here in Denver, but I’ve heard it can be difficult in other cities depending on their health codes and ordinances. I do, however, stay close by and watch carefully to refuse any plastic they might slip in. Often the deli worker feels weird about putting the sticker directly on my container so they try to put it on a plastic bag and hand that to me. Obviously, this defeats the purpose, so just enthusiastically tell them they can stick it right to your container!

  • nine // Hit up the dairy section for milk, eggs, butter, etc. I buy local dairy milk in reusable glass bottles. I always check the back of the fridge for ones with later expiration dates. I also buy two cartons 18 eggs every time I go to the store. Eggs keep for a long time. Butter is unfortunately hard to buy without packaging. I buy the biggest package available; sometimes you can get a pound of butter in one wrapper instead of 4 individually-wrapped sticks.

  • ten // Check out. Watch carefully so the cashier doesn’t put a rubber band on your eggs or put something in a plastic bag. Sometimes they have questions or comments about my reusable bags, but usually they just figure it out. I assume they experience all kinds of quirky behavior with patrons!

no more bottled water

PLEASE NOTE: This post was written for a different blog in 2014. This is an issue I still care deeply about and the problem has only gotten worse in the past 5 years. I did, indeed, change our bottled water consumption when traveling. We now use a SteriPen to sterilize water when unsure of it’s safety.

^^costa rica sunset, february 2014^^

I'm a rule follower. When someone of authority tells me to do something, I do it. And when I break rules or recommendations, I do so only with intense anxiousness. Before we left for Costa Rica, I called my doctor's travel clinic to talk about our trip. We had all the necessary vaccinations, but the lady I spoke with emphasized that we should not drink the tap water there. I asked a few follow up questions, because what I'd read had made me think the tap water was safe in Costa Rica, but this woman insisted there were serious health risks.

I hate buying water. I hate creating unnecessary waste. Both of these principles are hard to stick to when you're traveling in a place without potable water. I've spent a good deal of time in China, and it's actually not hard there, because boiled water is readily available. When I studied abroad in Harbin in 2003, I'd fill my Nalgene with boiled water and stick it out on the windowsill to cool off. Sure, bottled water was cheap. But think of all the people in China. If they're all drinking water from bottles, imagine how many plastic bottles that is. Where do they all go?

^^woman sweeping up trash at the forbidden city in beijing. taken by my mom when visiting me in december 2003.^^

But back to Costa Rica. While there, we bought bottled water. 6L jugs of it usually, so only 4 or 5 were needed to get us through the 10 days. But still, those bottles made my heart hurt. Especially when an expat in line at the supermarket lectured me about how Costa Rica's drinking water was totally safe. I know, lady, you're preaching to the choir. But I didn't want to risk it with Willa, and getting sick was not in our vacation plans. I didn't want to go against what my doctor had advised.

^^selvatura park. monteverde, costa rica. february 2014.^^

But during our trip, I vowed I'd do something different the next time. Once home, I went through my bookmarks and favorited tweets, and found two fantastic organizations I'd previously heard about: Ban the Bottle, and Travelers Against Plastic. I've been following Ban the Bottle for a few years since I support their mission of: "eliminating plastic bottles in schools, offices and public areas...[so] we can eliminate unneeded waste in landfills." Travelers Against Plastic has a different, but potentially even more important slant. Their mission is to "educate global travelers about the harmful impacts of plastic water bottles usage and encourage travelers to be prepared to clean their own drinking water."

^^GUILTY! penang, malaysia. july 2011.^^

On their resources page, they recommend a few methods: a SteriPEN, which is likely familiar to those who go camping, as well as old fashioned iodine tablets. We used to use those when I went to summer camp, and the water always had an odd taste. But apparently they're more advanced now and you can get neutralizing tablets which eliminate it.

As someone who cares a lot about these types of issues, I am mad at myself for not thinking more about this before our trip. It would have been so easy to buy a $50 SteriPEN or pack a few iodine tablets which are even cheaper! But even I didn't think of it. The only way to make change is to educate people. I'm glad I've been thinking about it lately. I hope you, too, will think twice before buying a bottle of water?

products, travelMelissa Colonno
foods i {sometimes} buy in packaging

Below a picture from a trip I made to Safeway about 2 years ago. This was, clearly, earlier in my zero-waste “journey.” I used to buy some of these items regularly. Now, they are things I only buy a few times a year if I’m really in a food jam or it’s a special treat.

Nevertheless, these items show some of the challenges of shopping without packaging. There are many items you just can’t get. There was a time when I’d buy things anyway…I’d say to myself “well, raspberries only come in plastic, so that’s my only option.” But now, I just won’t buy raspberries. There are so many other fruits available without packaging. It’s hardly a sacrifice!

There are probably less than 1,000 people in the whole world who are actually going to sort of achieve a zero-waste lifestyle. For the rest of us, we have to use our consumer power to “vote.” If we won’t buy things in plastic packaging, we’re sending a message that we want different options. This is our power. Ask the manager at the store. Email the company. There are a lot of ways to make your opinion known. Don’t be shy; express it! And, if you really truly want the raspberries, get them!


1. Pasta. For some reason, pasta is rarely available in the bulk section. Occasionally I've found whole wheat macaroni at Whole Foods and tri-color rotini at Sprouts. But you can't count on it. So, I usually buy pasta in as much paper or cardboard packaging as possible (instead of in plastic bags). It's hard to find a box that's 100% recyclable, but most stores have pasta in cardboard boxes with just a tiny bit of plastic.

2. Alternative milk. I buy cow's milk in reusable glass bottles. I sometimes make nut milks at home. I buy coconut milk in cans. But as a family of 5, we go through a good amount of milk in coffee, cereal, etc. Tetra-pak (shown above, what many milks come in) is not at all a good choice. It's terribly difficult to recycle because it's a combination of plastic, aluminum and paper. Denver now has facilities to recycle it (as do most major U.S. cities), but it's questionable how many cartons are actually being captured and whether or not the material salvaged can really be used in any meaningful way. I buy in moderation and try to buy in a plastic jug if possible. because simply plastic is actually more recyclable.

3. Bread. Thanks to my mom, I have an awesome recipe for homemade bread. I make it regularly. If I don't have it in me to bake, I try to buy a loaf of bread without packaging from a local bakery. But let’s face it: life happens and the kids still need school lunches. Occasionally I buy bread at the grocery. I like this Dave's bread because it's one of few on the market that doesn't have added sugar. Plus it has a good amount of protein per slice. I reuse the bags and then take them back to the store recycling bins for plastic film.

4. Tuna + Beans. Aluminum is one of the most sustainable forms of packaging. Cans contain more recycled content than plastic or glass containers. They are easily melted and reformed into more packaging. They're light to ship. If a type of product is available in aluminum I will chose that over glass or plastic 100% of the time. When I occasionally buy my kids juice, I buy pineapple juice that comes in cans.

5. Yogurt. This is the worst thing I buy! Even though I've started making yogurt at home, and my kids enjoy it, when given the option to pick a "special treat" at the store, they often choose a fancy yogurt. They love the novelty of it, I guess? I hate it. I’ve gotten better at saying “no” or opting for the ones in glass instead, but occasionally I cave. I’m human. I like making my kids happy, and yogurt is a lot better than many things they could pick. I recycle the plastic...but that doesn't really make it much better.

6. Produce stickers and tags. Not much we can do about these unless the industry standards change. Even farmers' markets often have produce with stickers. I try to take the stickers off as soon as I get home so we don't accidentally compost them (on banana peels, avocado skin, etc.).

7. Tortillas. We eat a lot of tortillas. I really want to get a tortilla press and learn how to make my own, but in the meantime I reuse the resealable bags for storing food and produce.

8. Frozen peas. I buy almost all of our produce without packaging. But peas are the vegetable my kids will consume the most of, and so I like to have a “back up” bag in freezer for those times when there aren't any other vegetables in the house or I'm super tired or lazy. I wish fresh peas were more available. Maybe this summer I can find a bunch and shell them an freeze. #goals

::

Other things I occasionally buy with problematic packaging:

  • Cheese

  • Fish/seafood

  • Tofu

  • Dates

  • Potato chips

  • Frozen foods at the Asian grocery - dumplings, baozi, etc.

Foods we love but I try not to buy because of their packaging:

  • Clementines

  • Grapes

  • Cherry tomatoes

  • Baby carrots

  • Rice cakes

  • Crackers

What about you? Do you think about the packaging on the foods you buy? What tips do you have to share? 

baby items you {i} actually need for the first year

Not long after I had my first baby, I discovered we actually didn't need anywhere near as much stuff as I'd thought we would. I was shocked to realize how little we used a stroller. People always talk about how expensive kids are, but for the first several months of her life, I felt like she didn't cost us anything! Fast forward to two more kids later and I’m regularly saying “we have too much stuff!” But a lot of it we actually need. You need more for three kids than for one baby, that’s for sure.

^^ look how light we were traveling with just a 6 month old! ^^

^^ look how light we were traveling with just a 6 month old! ^^

From the very beginning, I tried to take a "less is more" approach. I felt like I didn’t put too many things on my baby registry… but we still somehow ended up with way too much stuff. We've since gotten rid of some of those things, but we've held on to most and continue to use them since we already have them. And I've of course bought new things. But. If I could go back in time and only buy or ask for the stuff that's absolutely a necessity, here's what I'd recommend to my former self:

Convertible car seat. Unless you are lucky enough to live in New York City, you probably drive sometimes. And if you're going to drive with your baby, your baby needs a car seat. Your baby does not, however, need an infant seat. The car seat companies just want you to think that they do. That way, you'll eventually buy another car seat when your baby outgrows the infant seat. I didn't realize this before Willa was born, but there are lots of "all-in-one" car seats on the market. Meaning, one car seat that you use from birth until they no longer need a seat or booster of any kind. We're a fan of the Diono Radian because it's one of the narrowest on the market and also because it folds flat for travel. (It is not, however, the lightest!) Now, I know what you may be thinking: “but how will I take my baby out of the car if I don’t have a bucket seat I can carry into the store?” You use a baby carrier my friends. Car seats are meant for cars. No where else. I know it’s convenient. But it’s not that great for your baby. Or your back.

^^baby carrying around NYC^^

^^baby carrying around NYC^^

Prefold cloth diapers. Babies need diapers. (Well, actually, you could go the Elimination Communication route, but that is a whole other topic that we don't need to get into here.) I'm a fan of cloth diapers for so many reasons. Economic. Environmental. Logistical. It just seems weird to me to throw away a product several times a day when you could get a reusable one and wash it over and over again. I’m hoping we can make cloth diapers the norm again!

There are so many choices for cloth diapers you can buy. The first time around I went with All-in-One cloth diapers because they seemed easiest, but experience has made me realize that prefolds and covers are a better bet. If one or the other gets worn out, you can replace them for relatively cheap, and most adjust small enough that you can use them from day one. I highly recommend econobum, but if you have a bit more of a budget, the Flip "diaper system" is awesome. And be sure to get some diaper cream too, as well as biodegradable bamboo liners so you don't ruin your cloth diapers with the cream (these are also good if you're squeamish about poop and want it to be thrown into the toilet easily). Bamboo liners can be composted if they’re only peed on!

Cloth wipes. I use cheap baby wash cloths for everything. Someone gave me a pack of 20 when Willa was born and they’re still going strong 6 years later. I use them for diaper changes. Runny noses. Spit up. Ice cream hands. I also cut up old clothes and take them with me on the go. Once used, I sometimes save them in a small wet bag, but sometimes I toss them in a trash can. They were destined for a landfill anyway, so at least they got a few more uses!

Baby carrier. I read somewhere recently that baby carriers aren't just for attachment parents, they're for parents who like to get sh*t done. You can either hold your baby and get nothing done, or you can wear your baby and get stuff done. Especially when you have a toddler doing the most dangerous thing feasible at the playground on your first outing with the new baby. You need a carrier. Also, babies are tiny. They like to be held close. (Ok, maybe I am a bit attachment-y.) I have two favorites: the Solly wrap and an Ergo. Get both. (The Beco is a close 2nd to the Ergo, but if you only get one the Ergo is a better choice because it's good for toddler carrying too.)

Bloom Alma Mini Urban CribThe American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies sleep in their parents' room for the first 6 months. With both kids, we've had them in a Pack-n-Play in our room and then we've moved them into a crib in their own room. However, during those first months I always stress about where they should be napping and if I'm providing continuity (or does it even matter?). If I had to do it all over again, I'd buy one of these so I could keep it in our room at night and wheel it down the hall or wherever for naps etc. Folded up it's approximately the same size as a playard anyway, and much prettier. Not to mention it looks much more comfortable.

Bottle(s). Nothing drives me more crazy on a wedding or baby registry than "sets." Knife sets. Sets of pots and pans. It's a racket! No one needs both a 6" and a 8" chef's knife. But anyway. Bottles. Here's the thing about bottles: your baby can't drink out of more than one at a time, right? And, once emptied, they shouldn't be left sitting for long or the milk residue will grow bacteria (see useful breastmilk storage/use guidelines here). So. You might need a few bottles. But you don't need 10. And if you're not going back to work full-time, you probably only need one. Ok fine, maybe two.

Blankets etc. Similar to bottles, you do need blankets, but probably not 15. I have 8 of these aden + anais ones and it's way more than enough. I could get by with just 4. Make sure you read the material content of what you get though, because aden + anais blankets are now sold at Target and other stores and they're not all created equal. Get the real deal ones. I also recommend sleep sacks. You don't want to skimp in the sleep department.You can swaddle with blankets, but at 2am when you're sleep-deprived the velcro version is pretty fantastic. When you baby gets a bit older, this one is awesome because it can be used as a swaddle or not, depending on what they like.

Clothing. Your baby needs clothes. But they grow super fast in the first year and you don't need the added stress of making sure he wears all his cute 3 month sized outfits in one week. You'll likely get plenty of clothes as gifts, but if you need more, Goodwill is the bomb. And I love thredUp too. Also of note: sets of white onesies seem to be ubiquitous, but I have no clue why. A pooping baby and a white wardrobe? Stock up on dark-colored basics, like these.

Highchair. I believe it's super important to include babies with you at the table for meals, and to do this you definitely need a highchair. (Ok, you can have them sit in your lap, and if your baby will sit with you and let you eat your food, I am insanely jealous. Mine won't. They need straps.) I like chairs that don't have trays, so you can put your baby at the table with everyone else. Which exact chair you get depends on your table/eating situation, but it's hard to go wrong with the Stokke Tripp Trapp. It resells on Craigslist for almost retail because it's that awesome. I also love Phil&Ted's chairs. We have this one, which was discontinued, but their newer model looks fantastic, and Inglesina makes a good one too. Great for counters, travel, restaurants, etc. I also like the totseat for travel.

Eating accessories. 
In my limited experience, babies do need a few items in addition to their highchair to help facilitate meals. I do, however, try to limit how much plastic we bring into our lives and baby eating items involve a lot of plastic. Whenever I buy new things I try to stop and really think about if it has to be made of plastic. A place mat? Yes. A place mat is a good idea, especially if you have a table that could be damaged by excess crumbs and food scraps. I'm a big fan of this one because it is silicone and it sticks to any surface (several of them have suction cups which don't work on wood or any porous counter/table).

We don't, however, have much by way of plastic dishes or utensils. My kids use the espresso spoons that came with our flatware, and I also have some wooden spoons that we use a lot. For plates, bowls and cups, we use stainless steel ones that I’ve found at consignment shops or bought from Asian grocery stores (Korean stores always have a good selection!). I also have some small glasses the kids use for practice being careful.

We love the Pura Kiki bottles because they have interchangeable tops that go from bottle up to regular cap. No need to replace bottles (unless you lose them, which you will!). Tip: get the ones without the silicone sleeve! Silicone is a great replacement for plastic but there’s no reason your bottle needs a sleeve and it just makes them harder to wash!

You also need a few bibs. I like these because they're plain and the velcro doesn't wear out after several washings (I hate, however, that they're labeled "boys." They're primary colors!)

Thermometer. Self explanatory. But don't waste money on a fancy pants one. Rectal is the most accurate.

Skip Hop Treetop Friends Activity Mat. Part of me wants to say that a baby doesn't really need any toys. And that's somewhat true. But, your life will be easier if you feel like you have a designated place to put your baby down. And this activity mat comes with 5 awesome toys, which makes it a good deal. Also, I recently discovered that almost every single one of my closest mom friends has this exact item. So that is pretty significant.

ten first steps to reducing household waste

one. // Use what you ALREADY own.
Being “eco-friendly” is trendy. There are stores that will sell you many things to help you go forth on your “zero-waste” journey. Some of these things are very useful (metal straws). Some of these things are beautiful but not necessary (Wreck jars). Use up the things you already own. Using items that are already in your life is always better than supporting the manufacturing of new materials. Even if those companies are sustainable and ethical. Just a few examples of many:

  • There are some health reasons to avoid using plastic for food, but you can still find other uses for the plastic containers lying around your house. Use them to organize toys, or screws and other hardware.

  • If you’re having a party, don’t buy new decorations; decorate with what you have!

  • Shop your closet before buying new clothes. You probably have forgotten about some of the things you own.

  • Break out your grandma’s china. It should be used more than once a year!

  • Have you kids make art projects with “trash” instead of buying new art supplies.

DSC04529.JPG


two. // Buy LESS and buy USED.
The cold, hard truth is that the world is against us in this crusade. It might change in the future, but for now we live in a disposable economy and it’s incredible hard to avoid having trash come into your life. The best way to create less waste is to just consume less. When you need or want something, first shop your house. Maybe you have something like it that you’ve forgotten about. If not, ask around. Maybe you can borrow it or get it for cheap from someone you know. If that fails, buy it used. There are lots of online or local consignment options.

Food is obviously a semi-exception to this point because you have to buy some amount of food. It’s still a good area to think about buying less (statistics about wasted food are crazy!) but when talking about shopping for food, this is an area it’s more important to consider the packaging…


three. // If you have to buy, CONSIDER the PACKAGING and the MATERIAL.
Best choice = buy without packaging.
Better choice = buy with compostable packaging.
Good choice = buy in paper, glass, or aluminum packaging.
Less than ideal choice = buy in recyclable plastic packaging.
Worst choice = buy in non-recyclable packaging.

Packaging is pretty easy to “rate” but the material of the product can be harder. But the key question to ask yourself is “what is going to happen to this when I can’t use it anymore?” For this reason, I try to buy mostly clothing of organic fibers and toys made of wood or paper. And you always want to think about the quality of the item. If it’s really high-quality plastic that won’t likely ever break or is something you’ll use for years and years to come, then you should buy it!

four. // COMPOST and seek out COMPOSTABLE items.
Food scraps, brown paper bags, pizza boxes, wine corks, tissues, tissue paper, paper towels, paper napkins, toothpicks, bamboo = all compostable. Many cities, including Denver, have city-wide compost collection. It’s pretty ridiculous that in Denver we have to pay for it yet trash is free. However, the bin is large, so you can certainly share with several neighbors to defray the cost. Backyard compost is always an option too; look for free 101 classes at your local library or through the city.

If you need a single-use option, try to find one that’s compostable. It’s easy to order food “for here” at a coffee shop or restaurant and then pick it up off the plate with a compostable napkin. Much better than getting a plastic container! However, you should always try to use reusables before turning to compostable paper products. Paper towels, plates, tissues, etc. all take a lot of resources to manufacture and ship. This makes them less ideal for the environment.

five. // Develop a “rag system.”
In our house, we use different-sized towels or cloths for all kinds of tasks:

  • Towels are for kitchen clean up.

  • Large rags are for one-time messes like Zoë’s food on the floor.

  • Small cloths are used as baby wipes, tissues, or as toilet paper.

  • We use tablecloths and cloth napkins.

  • Cloth produce bags are for grocery shopping and taking food on the go.

After use, baby wipes (and cloth diapers) go in a wet bag and all the other soiled cloths are thrown in a big laundry basket in our unused downstairs shower. Everything gets washed on the “Sanitize” cycle in the washing machine and is used again. Our towels are an assortment of dish towels, and all the smaller cloths are cut-up old clothes. When I am out of the house I will sometimes throw away a “baby wipe” cloth. I figure the old clothing was destined for the landfill anyway, so at least it got a few more uses.

This is our system, but there are lots of ways you could do it depending on your family’s needs and your house/washing set-up. Also, everyone has a different tolerance for and understanding of germs…do what you’re comfortable with but I’m sure you can come up with a system that works for you!

six. // Use CLOTH BAGS and a WASHABLE MARKER at the grocery store.
Stock pile a whole bunch of cloth bags to use at the grocery for produce and bulk items. These can be bags you have bought (I, personally, avoid bags made of synthetic fiber, but that’s a personal choice), bags you already have (I have several cloth bags that purses or other items came in like TOMS shoes), or you can make your own if you’re a sewer (make me some too, please!).

The washable marker is to write the PLU number on your cloth bags for bulk items. The cashier can then see it clearly and it’ll wash right out in the laundry. If your grocery requires you to print out stickers for bulk items, your hands are probably tied, but you can always ask!

(A more “advanced” option is to take your own jars to places like Whole Foods that will tare them for you, but I don’t recommend tackling this if you’re just starting out.)

seven. // RECYCLE but only minimally. REFUSE, REDUCE, REUSE, REPAIR and ROT are all better choices!
Recycling is not the answer, particularly when it comes to plastic. Plastic gets downgraded each time it’s recycled and there’s not much of a market for thin/cheap plastic. I often hear people complain that their recycling bin is overflowing every week and they wish it got picked up by the city more often than their trash is collected. I agree with this to a certain extent, but if your recycling bin is super full, then you should still take a closer look at your materials consumption. Recyclables often end up in the landfill.

eight. // ANALYZE your waste.
Everyone is different and we all consume different types of products. Check out your own trash and recycling bins to see what you are throwing away on a regular basis. Ask yourself if you could procure those items in a different or better way.

Examples from my house:

  • Yogurt containers. Even though I was buying the big tubs of yogurt, we’d still have one in our recycle bin each week. As a first response, I started buying yogurt in a glass jar. That helped from the waste perspective, but it was expensive. I then started making my own yogurt which has worked really well for us. And it’s really not that hard!

  • Bread. We eat a lot of bread, and it was our main source of plastic bags. I used to occasionally bake bread, but now I’ve found a recipe that I can make weekly to keep us stocked. If I don’t get my act together to bake, I try to get to a local bakery and buy a package-free loaf.

nine. // Don’t be too SELF-CONSCIOUS.
Eighty years ago, people would have thought the idea of using something one time and then throwing it out was absolutely bonkers. But, today, it’s the norm. When you challenge the norm, people sometimes get a bit confused. When I first started asking for drinks without straws people looked at me like I had three heads. But now, they often reply, “oh of course, we don’t use straws anymore!”

The grocery worker often thinks I’m a bit weird when I ask them to put deli meat or salmon in my Tupperware, but then, sometimes, they have an “ah-ha” moment when they’ll respond “oh wow, that’s a good idea!” My family has rolled their eyes at me more than a few times, but I have observed subtle changes in their own behavior over the years. If refusing single-use packaging is important to you, just be friendly and polite, and usually you’ll get a decent response. Sometimes you’ll get a dirty look or a “no,” but just keep on trying!

ten. // Remember THIS:
All the plastic ever created still exists. It won’t go away in a period of time that we can conceptualize. That one fact keeps me up at night, but has helped me dramatically change my behaviors of consumption!

Now, go forth and reduce your waste. Fist bump, friends!