Zero Waste Updates

by Katy on November 6, 2013 · 47 comments

Zero Waste Katy

Zero Waste Week may have been seven months ago, but that doesn’t mean that it’s full steam ahead for wastefulness. Reducing my family’s waste is always part of our daily routine. Here are some recent examples:

  • My kids’ school lunches and the adults’ work lunches are always packed with zero waste in mind. Handmade cookies are wrapped in cloth napkins or bandanas, yogurt is scooped into a single serving container and sandwiches are put into fabric wraps or a Rubbermaid container. (The Costco-sized greek yogurts are bought in plastic. My husband did not like my experimentations with homemade yogurt.) Silverwear is got-it-for-free reusable stainless steel, which breaks no one’s heart if misplaced.
  • I do like to use spreadable butter or Earth’s Balance buttery spread for toast, but the packaging and exorbitant cost was bothering me. I found a recipe on Pinterest for spreadable butter that called for nothing more than room temperature butter, canola oil and water.  And now instead of buying $5 tubs of non-hydrogenated margarine, I now have a $1 zero waste (and healthier) solution.
  • I continue to buy my cat litter at Petco, where you can scoop-your-own for a zero waste solution.
  • I made eighteen quarts of applesauce using apples my husband brought home in a paper box. The jars are almost infinitely reusable, and the peels and cores went into the curbside compost.
  • I took my kids out for a rare restaurant meal at Jade Bistro last night. (The BEST restaurant in Portland!) I brought my own empty leftover container and wooden chopsticks from home. (The restaurant has those paper wrapped disposable chopsticks, which are responsible for the annual destruction of 3.8 million trees.) Although the kids did use paper napkins, I used a clean handkerchief from my purse. There’s only so much embarrassment I can inflict upon them.
  • My older son was complaining about how he didn’t really have a warm winter coat. We looked through a couple of Goodwills until I realized that what he wanted was a classic pea coat. And wouldn’t you know it that I had one stashed in the back on my bedroom closet. This quality Land’s End coat was handed down to me in 1987 after my mother’s friend died. I wore it for years, and even had the pockets re-sewn at one point. I have no idea how long my mother’s friend owned the coat, but it doesn’t matter, as its classic looks are as fashionable in 2013 as they were in 1980. Think abut how many trendy and poor quality coats would have been necessary to replace this single sturdy coat.
  • I continue to have the meat counter employees put my purchases in a compostable paper deli container. I wish they would let me use my own clean Pyrex container, but their health regulations prohibit this practice. I am content with this make it do solution.
  • I am replacing a broken zipper on my son’s thrifted school backpack. He’s had it for at least five years, and despite the broken zipper, it’s still going strong.
  • Today my husband refilled the supposedly non-refillable ink cartridges on our printer. He used You Tube and the printer’s own online information to figure out how to do this. He’s been doing this for years, as it’s easy and cheaper than replacing the cartridges. The supplies were from InkSupply.com.

Is my family perfect with our zero waste aspirations? Absolutely not! I have to keep a tight eye on our budget, so I do buy packaged food, often combining coupons with sales. Our family of four puts out a single paper grocery bag of garbage every other week, which is considerably less than the 4.3 pounds per person per day that the average American produces. Buying used, cooking from scratch and searching out the zero waste solutions in our community have made a huge difference in how much garbage we produce.

Are you working to find zero waste solutions for your home? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

Want to learn more about how to incorporate zero waste solutions into your home? Then make sure to check out Beá Johnson’s Zero Waste Home website!

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

Sloan November 6, 2013 at 11:40 am

The main way I am trying to reduce waste is through bringing my lunch in reusable containers. I was in a terrible habit of eating frozen meals because they are convenient and less expensive than eating out. However, I recently became pretty disgusted by the amount of trash (plastic- THE WORST) I was producing. So I am currently eating Shauna Niequist’s Lentil Soup (from her book Bread and Wine- delicious!) out of a reusable container. Way yummier and healthier than a Healthy Choice.

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K D November 7, 2013 at 10:26 am

The soup recipe looks delicious, a good basic lentil soup.

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Sloan November 8, 2013 at 1:52 pm

It is! Just carrots, onion, celery, garlic and lentils. Very filling and great for you.

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megyn November 6, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Yes! I’m really trying to get implement zero/near zero waste. There are still things we buy packaged because it’s sadly cheaper (and significantly so) than buying the same item in bulk or frankly just easier (like bread). I do save up as many plastic food bags as possible to take to the plastic bag recycling containers at grocery stores. Few people know that you can recycle more than a plastic shopping bag!

One thing that is bugging me is the amount of trash I’m finding my son’s school creates. There are quite a few schools in our area that are encouraging zero waste lunches. However, after joining my son for lunch, I noticed how bad it is at his school. Gone are the days of the cafeteria using reusable trays and giving you a scoop of food. They now have disposable styrofoam ones and you can choose your side in a disposable plastic bowl! I was quite floored when I saw how the cafeteria now makes their lives easier by using disposable items over a human to clean. I’m not it would even save them money to go this route since they have to keep buying those trays and containers. Why not save that money and hire someone to clean and portion out side dishes?!

As for kitty litter, where do you put what you scoop? We’ve found a solution to buy the 28lb bag, which will produce much less waste over the 8lb one. It’s a good compromise since doing the bulk litter is out of the question for my kitty (she HAS to use this one litter…or else).

Also–how do you replace a zipper? We have an awesome lined hoodie that I want to save for my younger son but the zipper fell off.

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Belleln November 7, 2013 at 6:57 am

Do you mean the zipper pull fell off? If so, go to a fabric store and they will have replacement pulls or make your own with a braided shoelace/yarn/string. Replacing an entire zipper is just like putting in a new one. If the teeth fell off there are repair kits for that too unless of course it is plastic.

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Katy November 7, 2013 at 7:56 am

The zipper on my son’s backpack is unfortunately plastic, and the teeth are all screwed up in a couple of places. If that spot were at one end or another I could sew a closure right before it, but it’s not.

Katy

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cathy November 8, 2013 at 6:23 pm

There are a couple of tent repair places in my city and they do other things as well. We’ve had lots of zipper repairs. You could check and see if there’s any place like that in Portland.

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Trisha November 7, 2013 at 9:19 am

I know what you mean about school lunches. I worked at a book fair set up in our elementary school cafeteria and saw the disposable trays filled with disposable containers and the plastic-wrapped plastic silverware. I was shocked–what DID happen to the reusable plastic trays and the silverware?

I take great pains to make my purchases as close to zero waste as I possibly can, and pack my daughters’ lunches in Bento-style boxes every morning. I never gave a thought to what is produced in the cafeteria because we don’t use it. It was an eye opener.

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Betsey November 8, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Schools are afraid to use real silverware because of safety concerns.

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Vanessa November 7, 2013 at 11:25 am

Our school lunches are the same. My kids rarely buy lunch but it still really bothers my 8 year old. We decided this week to make a real effort have the school make a change. Together we are going to work on displaying the amount of waste and bring it to the teachers, PTA, principal and school board. I’m very excited about her excitement in doing this. Wish us luck!

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Yankeegal November 6, 2013 at 12:45 pm

I have been using mason jars for a lot of food storage. Everything from homemade applesauce, salad dressing, all my seeds and grains, etc. Not only zero waste, but the fridge and pantry always look so much more organized.
Thanks for the link about the ink-I hate to buy new cartridges!

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Constance November 6, 2013 at 1:17 pm

In response to Megyn’s comment. Please consider nominating your son’s school for this: “Bag it Plastic Free School Project” https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dFFES1NYemUzcmhJTWZscEdBUTAwM1E6MQ#gid=0

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lexi November 6, 2013 at 1:40 pm

I don’t know if you knew but…canola oil is GMO crap

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Katy November 6, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Erghhhhh!!!!

Katy

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Diane November 6, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Couldn’t you use olive oil? The soft butter I buy has olive oil.

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Diane November 6, 2013 at 3:21 pm

I have a not very earth conscious roomie living with me who buys a lot of take out in foam containers and such. I don’t like it all but, in the sake of harmony, I let it go and just concentrate on what I can do. I don’t waste much and can always make dinner out of what’s in the fridge or freezer. I buy very few canned products anymore and just eat fresh.

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J.P. Choquette November 6, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Love these ideas and the kick in the pants. We can all get better at thinking outside the box when it comes to pre-cycling for sure.

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Trish November 6, 2013 at 1:56 pm

trying very hard to reduce waste – as usual it is tough to get my husband on board. I use canning jars for freezing food, but the other day I put some cooled chili in jars, left plenty of room to expand (in fact left cap off until frozen to be sure) and one broke – darn. Altho not zero waste, I start with dried beens (can’t find bulk in my area.), so I am not recycling lots of cans. We are doing a great job with cloth napkins. Well done Katy for your garbage reduction. Very impressed.

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Greta November 6, 2013 at 2:30 pm

What do you store the spreadable butter in?

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Mackenzie November 6, 2013 at 3:27 pm

You are doing a great job, Katy 🙂

I’m just starting on my Zero Waste journey and I was wondering; where can I get reusable bags for the fruits and vegetables so when I forgo the plastic ones at the store, what I buy doesn’t get damaged on the way home?

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Lisa November 6, 2013 at 3:58 pm

The Fred Meyer where I live sells packages of three reusable super light weight fruit and veg bags, I used mine as a template and used muslin to make more bags in various sizes for bulk bin buys too.

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Katy November 6, 2013 at 5:08 pm

I got mine at The Dollar Tree store 4/$1, they’re green and I think were in the automotive supply aisle.

Katy

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Emily Waddoups November 6, 2013 at 7:25 pm

3 ladies created a co. Called blue advocado, sells at target. Just bought my first re-usable bag, been washing/reusing my plastic ones for a year now (which I know is not safe w plastics of this low grade)

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mbw November 6, 2013 at 4:32 pm

If your son’s backpack is a Jantzen (from right there in Portland) the will replace zippers and straps for free. I bought my kids Jantzen backpacks early on knowing the have a lifetime warranty and they have lasted for years with some replacement. One time we sent it in for a new zipper and they sent it back with a note that they replaced the straps too because they were looking worn. Great value and pretty much zero waste through the years. (oh yeah, the kids are 28, 25 and 19, so those are like 15+ year old backpacks for the older two!)

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Katy November 6, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Nope, it’s an English brand.

Katy

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Dawn November 7, 2013 at 5:37 pm

You probably have already–but have you checked with the manufacturer? Sometimes they will surprise you with how they will repair an item.

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Katy November 7, 2013 at 8:18 pm

Since I thrifted this backpack, I feel like any repairs are my own.

Katy

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ilona November 6, 2013 at 5:08 pm

I cruise the second-hand stores … love some of the glassware they have to offer … recently stopped using paper napkins and went to cloth … I just put them in the same napkins holder I used for the paper napkins … could still use another dozen or so cloth napkins … if I cannot find any decent ones in the thrift shops, I have plenty of fabric from which to make some … am getting ready to experiment with homemade tooth powder and am considering giving everyone compostable tooth brushes in their holiday stockings … using more glass jars for left-overs … and as far as anything that I feel I have to purchase but it comes with WAY too much packaging; I think I am just going to remove the item I purchased and leave the wrapping in the waste can at the store … some packaging is just ridiculous … I have been cutting up cardboard boxes to use the blank inside areas for shopping lists and notes … does anyone know if the print on cardboard boxes is compostable along with the actual cardboard?

the amount of plastic waste we have to deal with on a regular basis is very overwhelming, but i’m working on it! : )

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Cynthia November 7, 2013 at 4:45 am

I wonder the same thing about the glue that holds together the layers of cardboard and have misgivings about putting it into my compost pile for use on the garden. Does anyone know if the glue is safe?

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Jen November 6, 2013 at 6:01 pm

I bought a bidet attachment for my toilet from Amazon (Astor Deluxe). No more toilet paper! I just have a container of flannel rags for drying and pop them in a covered bucket and throw them in the regular wash (not too worried about germs – the bidet does its work well.)

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Rebecca November 6, 2013 at 9:02 pm

I recently moved into a new home and was faced with piles of catalogues every week, so I’ve been contacting each company via their 800 number to opt out. (All were extremely gracious.) I then began questioning every piece of mail and have been able to switch many financial related mailings to online access. I also registered on a site that is supposed to limit junk mail.

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Katy November 7, 2013 at 8:00 am

I did that years ago, and have been benefitting ever since. Thanks for the reminder about this important tip. Keep in mind that a lot of catalogs are addressed months in advance, so it’ll be awhile until you see the full benefit.

Katy

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Nancy November 6, 2013 at 9:48 pm

Please give a review of the home made butter spread. Did your family notice or complain about the difference? We have a huge stack of those butter tubs (use them for leftovers, etc.) but it would be great if we stopped acquiring more. I’m going to give it a try with olive oil.

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Katy November 7, 2013 at 7:59 am

The reason I didn’t use olive oil, is I thought the strong flavor might not pair so well with toast.

Let me know how it turns out.

Katy

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cathy November 8, 2013 at 6:28 pm

You can get organic canola oil that’s GMO-free. Whole Foods carries one in their 365 brand. I’m sure other brands are available.

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chicknlil November 9, 2013 at 5:06 am

Have you seen a butter bell? They use them in Europe to keep the butter fresh and room temperature. It’s a ceramic crock w/ a lid. Butter goes in a well in the lid, the bottom you fill with water. The water create an air lock and keeps things tidy and fresh. I’m sure GW has one somewhere. My mom got me one and it works well.

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PoppyEcho November 11, 2013 at 6:55 am

Peanut oil has no flavour and does not trigger the allergy in people who have peanut allergy. Also, it has a high cooking(smoking) temperature and is monounsaturated. It’s less expensive than olive oil, though more than canola or sunflower. It’s great if you don’t like the taste of olive oil (great for salad dressings). I don’t know why it’s not a lot more popular.

I did buy no-name peanut oil a few times and it did smell like peanuts. I would not trust this near people with a peanut allergy. The Planters brand one is the one I usually buy.

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Susan Robinson November 7, 2013 at 4:21 am

I have an idea that you can use next year when those apples come around. My ex MIL, who lived to be 98, was the most frugal woman I have ever known. She made “apple-scrapple” jelly every year. All the peelings, cores, etc. from her applesauce went into a pan and she boiled them down for 2-3 hours. The remaining liquid was transfered into a pan, Surejell, sugar, and cinnamon red hots were added, and it makes the best cinnamon-apple jelly ever! I made 14 half pints this year out of what would have been waste. And the left overs were composted!

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Katy November 7, 2013 at 7:58 am

Cinnamon red hots? I love it!

Katy

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Belleln November 7, 2013 at 7:14 am

I’ve used glass containers for years, same for cloth napkins and even cutup t-shirts instead of paper towels. paper towels are used for messes that would not wash out like super glue and enamel paint.

Zippers can be replaced the same as in putting in a new one. There are kits for replacing metal teeth but not plastic as it’s a long coil. The pulls can easily be replaced with braided string, shoelace, strip of leather.

Softened butter mixed with equal parts of flaxseed oil or olive oil is very good. There is organic canola oil which you might prefer.

Our local grocery has large containers for recycling Styrofoam egg cartons and other foam containers that have a recycle emblem. Also one for all plastic bags with a recycle emblem and there are lots of those including those plastic pillows used in shipping.

Mesh laundry bags, the small ones, are good for purchasing fruit and veggies as you can wash the produce in the bag.

Any suggestions for the cellophane-type bag inside cardboard boxes? In particular I find it in Hodgen Mills Vital wheat gluten that I use to make baked seitan.

The local stores that sell bulk require you to use the provided bags – again it is for health compliance laws. Especially here in Florida I guess there is the distinct possibility of importing bugs into a store with your own bags – you know silverfish, palmetto bugs(flying roaches) and ants.

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Katy November 7, 2013 at 7:54 am

I use the plastic inner bags from cardboard boxes for cat litter. Nice and sturdy, so I don’t have to worry that it will leak while I carry it to the outside garbage.

Katy

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Workingmomoftwoboyz November 7, 2013 at 9:01 am

Oh, we were just cursing out our printer and its ever hungry need for cartridges. Thank you for that great tip on refilling cartridges ourselves!

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jennifer November 7, 2013 at 9:43 am

I love repurposing glass jars for other things in my pantry. I store pasta in them, I use a small jar near the stove for my flax seed and refill as needed. I love opening the pantry and seeing the glass jars!

I have always packed my son’s lunch in reusuable containers. It’s what I did when i was still in school so it was just natural for me to continue to do so. He gets aggravated with me at times (at 7!) when I remind him to bring all the containers home!

This post prompted me to check into our city’s curbside recycling program again. Looks like it has been expanded to cover our area of town! Yay!

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jessica November 7, 2013 at 11:35 pm

We LOVE Jade! They really are the best, my 9 year old begs us to go there for their beef pho 🙂 Love that you bring your own chops! I have been eyeing a neighbor’s apple tree down the street (they are falling and no one is gathering!), thinking about my very first attempt at homemade applesauce like Mom always made!

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Ann Y. November 9, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Great post…thank you for the tips. Reuse my plastic bags and try to use my lunch bags for a month, but could do better. But…did save – need to purchase a new winter coat because the 80’s called and wanted my shoulder pads from the one I have been wearing for 30 years. You cannot find a long coat for a grown woman anywhere….but I just happened on a Pendelton long wool coat in the local thrift shop – it even had tag in it from an exclusive store in our area….20 bucks. I am thrilled, and found a London Fog lined raincoat for 10 while I was there. Inspired to shop used more often and to be better about ZERO waste !

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Katy November 9, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Ooh . . . great find!

Katy

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Charli November 9, 2013 at 7:40 pm

I am a nurse and the wAste in my procedural area is phenomenal. Us girls try though. We take home buckets used for wipes to store stuff like pegs, marbles, little toys, paint. We collect clothe that wraps up sterile items and use it when packing to move house. It also worked brilliantly when cut in strips to curl my daughters hair using the old fashion rag method. There were no frayed bits that caught her hair. We take newspapers home to compost and bring old mags in for patients. I remember my nurse mum bringing home glass antibiotic jars that we painted and used as mini vases. So much to recycle and so many possibilities.

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Lauren November 16, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Love your commitment to reducing waste.
Just thought I better mention that refilling ink cartridges voids the warranty of your printer. If it’s an older printer than its probably not an issue though 🙂

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