Posts in shopping
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!

where to zero-waste shop in denver

Changing your consumption habits is often massively complicated by the large corporations that dominate the retail landscape. Big “box stores” and major chains seems to sell everything in plastic or other non-recyclable packaging. To decrease your waste, seek out the smaller, local retailer. The one who cares about not only their bottom line, but also the earth. Although, they do, probably care about their bottom line, they just know there’s a great market out there for people who want high-quality produce that aren’t super bad for the environment!

Anyway! Here are some great spots to get zero-waste supplies in Denver:

Joyfill // 3842 Tennyson Street / Berkeley
Lots of beauty products. Soaps. Kitchen and bathroom supplies. Fantastic owner.

The Zero Market (inside Stanley Marketplace) // 2501 Dallas Street, Aurora, CO 80010
All the things, minus food. Essential oils. Soaps. Bath + beauty. Teas. Kombucha. Containers. They make many of their own products, too, like deodorant and toothpaste.

Homefill (inside Modern Nomad) // 2936 Larimer Street / River North
Beauty, cleaning, and household products. And pet treats! This RiNo spot is convenient for urbanites to fill-up, since many other stores are outside the city center.

Eco Mountain Modern Living // 4350 Alcott Street / Sunnyside
Not strictly refill; they stock a range of “eco-friendly, toxic-free and sustainable products.”

Capital Tea // 1450 S Broadway / Capital Hill
Tea! Get your own tea ball or pot and enjoy loose tea without plastic. Did you know almost all tea bags (even those that don’t look like it) contain plastic?

Sprouts Farmers Markets // various locations
My favorite bulk section for food. They’re increasing products all the time are are very receptive to customers bringing their own bags or jars. Some products are only available in organic or non-organic. Great spices too and some teas.

Lucky’s Market // 3545 Wadsworth Boulevard / Wheat Ridge
Ok, if this was closer to my house it would definitely beat out Sprouts. Fantastic bulk section! Most containers are pull down ones, which makes filling up cloth bags or jars very easy. They carry some foods you can’t find elsewhere like specialty flours, orzo, dates, soybeans, and candy.

Whole Foods // various locations
WF is ok for bulk. It varies a lot by location. Union Station is great for bread and meat, but their grains etc. is limited. Check your local store.

Mouthfuls Pet Store // 4224 Tennyson Street / Berkeley
Pet treats!