Zero Waste Week — Day One

by Katy on April 15, 2013 · 84 comments

Zero Waste Home

It’s Day One of Zero Waste Week, and I’ve already messed up. How? Well . . . I planned out the kids’ school lunches to be baguettes with bulk purchased gourmet cheese, (Maybe Brie?) homemade cookies and cut up oranges. My first thought was to buy the baguettes and cheese at Pastaworks, but then I decided to bake the baguettes myself in the name of savings. (Making French bread is insanely easy and cheap!) “No worries,” thought I, “I’ll just bring my own container to New Season’s, (closer to the house) and have them cut off some cheese for me!”

But reality is a hard hearted mistress, an overly packaged mistress.

Because my New Season’s may look like they have a cheese counter, where you can choose the amount you want, but it’s actually all pre-packaged! And by the time I realized this, it was already Sunday evening, and Pastaworks was closed, closed, closed.

Crap.

So the kids’ school lunches ended up containing deli meat from Costco, pre-sliced havarti cheese also from Costco, mustard and lettuce. Yes, the lettuce was Zero Waste with the exception of the twist tie thingy, and the mustard was in a reusable glass jar, (I want to explore making my own mustard) but there’s no escaping the plastic packaging from the meat and cheese.

Crap.

But that’s okay though, as the point of this Zero Waste Week is to challenge myself, and to explore solutions to everyday waste-ful practices. And no lessons can be learned without figuring out where the difficulties lie.

The kids lunches were packed in reusable soft side lunch boxes, (one of which I pulled from a garage sale free box at least ten years ago!) The homemade cookies were in fabric pouches, the oranges were in thick Ziploc bags, which I endlessly rewash, as were the sandwiches. Their napkins are always bandanas, which came to us by way of an unlabeled soccer bag from some long forgotten coach. (My husband was the equipment manager for a non-profit soccer league.)

On a positive note, I changed up the normal morning ritual of tea brewed from Red Rose tea bags and milk from a plastic jug. This morning instead featured loose leaf tea with milk from a returnable glass jug. And since I had received the loose tea as a gift awhile back, this Zero Waste change was a welcome respite from the everything-is-costing-more theme to the week. (Except the milk, which set me back almost $9 per gallon!)

I did have a epiphany last night, which is that this week should be renamed the Delicious Gourmet Challenge, as all the cooking from scratch and high end food purchases are far from any kind of sacrifice.

Dinner tonight will be burritos using bulk purchased pinto beans, as well as homemade tortillas. A salad will accompany the meal, and I’ll use up the last of some Trader Joe’s gorgonzola cheese. I’ll replace the cheese at Pastaworks, and I’ll pick up some damned brie while I’m at it! Needless to say, we’ll use our cloth napkins, real dishes and silver wear.

Tomorrow I’ll explore the non-food related waste in our home, most of which I’ve winnowed down through the years.

And because it keeps coming up in the comments, I’m going to address the toilet paper issue. My family has used, currently uses and will always use toilet paper. However, we do choose 100% recycled content toilet paper from Trader Joe’s, (because a commitment to recycling is to both send it out, and then later buy it back.) Sadly, it comes packed in plastic, so it’s not a perfect solution. I know that Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home buys paper wrapped toilet paper for her family, so I’ll ask her if it’s recycled.

How are you doing? Did you take a critical eye to your Monday? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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{ 83 comments… read them below or add one }

Chantill April 15, 2013 at 9:10 am

You can buy Seventh Generation toilet paper wrapped in paper. I bulk purchase it from Amazon using their Subscribe and Save feature, which has free shipping if you sign up for recurring shipments. You can set the intervals between shipments, up to a max of 6 months.

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Susan April 15, 2013 at 9:12 am

I would love to do this challenge BUT everything seems to be packaged in plastic with regards to food….I would so fail this miserably so I didn’t begin to think about doing it. Maybe its a problem with the UK?

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bella April 15, 2013 at 10:07 am

I am from the UK but live in Texas at the moment. I would have thought this challenge would have been easier in the UK. I know my local towns Ely and Cambridge both have big Markets where you can get all of your groceries from. Plus I know both have butchers and bakeries. Plus you can still get your milk/dairy products delivered. So I would have thought it would be 100% easier. Just my thought.

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bella April 15, 2013 at 10:11 am

Sorry thinking more about this. I know that in the UK a lot of farms have there own shops, one close to my parents has bulk and even bulk frozen section. Check around and don’t go to Tesco’s etc etc and you might be presently surprised.

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Trish April 15, 2013 at 3:09 pm

that is so very cool Bella. Katy mentioned making mustard – can’t you buy powdered mustard and mix your own? do you mix it with vinegar? Books I’ve read set in Britain (the Miss Read series) mentioned someone mixing their mustard in preparation for dinner.

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Lynda April 16, 2013 at 1:42 am

English mustard powder: I’m sure the instructions say water…

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Sharon April 15, 2013 at 9:18 am

The kombucha scoby I got from a friend requires non-chlorinated water so as to avoid having the bleach kill it off. Thus the new plastic jug of spring water.

The coffee I had this morning is from a really big bag from Costco, and I grind it myself, but I use paper filters to avoid raising my LDL cholesterol levels. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/coffee/

I just spent a nice hour shoveling composted dirt from the bottom of my outdoor composter. And what I find is that this particular bin in my current situation does not work very well. The paper filters from the coffee do decompose, but not the eggshells, twigs, or even the clumps of grass clippings. Sigh. It worked great at our previous home, where we added a lot more yard waste. I shoveled out the partially decomposed dry stuff, the stinky anaerobic slime, and spread it out over the erstwhile garden plot.

I am somewhat discouraged.

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Katy April 15, 2013 at 9:19 am

Are you stirring your compost?

Katy

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Rebecca April 15, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Just leave tap water out on the counter over night and the chlorine will evaporate! No more bottled water!

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kelly April 16, 2013 at 2:36 am

I use regular tap water for my kombucha. I’m sure it’s chlorinated, but my scoby is doing just fine after a year plus of continuous brewing. Also, I second the leave the water out and the chlorine will evaporate. We used to do this for our fishtank!

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Mary April 15, 2013 at 9:26 am

We use Marcal Small Steps toilet paper. Bought in bulk from Amazon when they have it cheap. It’s 100% recycled and each roll is wrapped in paper that we recycle. We buy the 2-ply because I hate flimsy tp.

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Jennifer May 11, 2013 at 10:57 am

I was going to suggest this brand as well. Usually it’s inexpensive.

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Kristin April 15, 2013 at 9:41 am

I’m reading this post as I shamefully print ten copies of bylaws for a meeting tonight. At least I printed them double-sided and decreased the margins to save paper.

I’m reading the book and will try as many of the ideas as I can. It is very difficult to find an actual butcher shop or grocery store with a meat counter near my house. Most grocery stores have everything prewrapped. If there is a meat counter, it is for specialty things, like marinated chicken and beef pinwheels. I will have to do some more investigating.

Does anyone know if Whole Foods has been receptive to bringing your own containers to the meat counter?

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Rebecca April 15, 2013 at 2:58 pm

It really depends on the store. Ours here in Madison, WI will absolutely not take any reusable containers, except for produce bags for apples, etc. No reusable jars for bulk dry goods, spices, meat, cheese etc. According to them its Federal Law.

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Kris April 15, 2013 at 5:45 pm

I think wrapping any meat (or other things, but meat is a highly regulated example) in packaging that comes from home is a violation of FDA regulations as pertains to sanitary packaging. For example, if you had them put meat in a container that you did not clean out, and you got sick from that, what’s to stop you from suing them and claiming they contaminated the meat? It’s safer for them to wrap it in their sanitary packaging.

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Katy April 15, 2013 at 6:38 pm

My relative sanity. That’s what’s stopping me from suing them. 🙂

And the cheese was placed on tissue paper on the scale, which they then handed over to me. Once it was in my possession, I put it into my Pyrex container. The tissue paper can go into the city compost, as it’s “food soiled.”

Katy

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Renee April 15, 2013 at 9:58 am

I seem to recall Bea saying that after they got their solar panels installed they were going to get a fancy electric toilet seat/bidet with the blow dry feature so they could stop buying toilet paper.

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AnnDenee April 15, 2013 at 10:02 am

With the move from USA to Aus looming and all the work I have to prepare for that, I admit I am just along for the ride during Zero Waste Week. And I am looking forward to reading about everyone’s successes and failures.

I think the most important thing to gain from this is awareness.

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Susan April 15, 2013 at 11:05 am

I second that emotion. I don’t think it is prudent to try to go zero waste all of a sudden. Just starting to think about what you use, where it comes from, etc is a good start.

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bella April 15, 2013 at 10:14 am

I failed today! My kids insisted on Peanut butter for lunch, so I used the store brought one and it was emptied.. I did recycle it but still it’s waste.

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patti April 15, 2013 at 10:14 am

I am glad to see that “Zero Waste” is a misnomer as I wonder how in the world anyone could get it down to no waste at all. I have not read the book to weigh in about it, but I know there are certain things that I will never be able to change… dental floss, for example. But I like the idea of challenging myself to change what I can and to be AWARE. I am going to enjoy hearing what you have to say.

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Dorie April 15, 2013 at 10:34 am

Our family of four has been working on zero waste for a few months now, inspired by my appointment to my university’s zero-waste committee–they sent me to the SF dump to see what happens to waste and as they’d hoped, I totally got it. It’s pretty easy now–e.g. I called around to cheese shops to find the ones that sell cheese in bulk and the local grocery stores have gotten used to us and know to subtract the tare from our cloth bags. The bakery and the farmers market know us as well.

I’m not sure that I could have been successful in just a week. It would have been overwhelming. We did the cheap and easy stuff first (ate down the pantry and freezer’s packaged foods) and added in zero waste habits as we needed to replace things gradually. And it has actually saved us a lot of money, even though I’m now buying expensive milk and yogurt in glass deposit bottles and pastured eggs at the farmers market. Plus our weekly landfill load now fits in a quart-sized Ziploc bag (we ended up with a ton of used ones when we transitioned and that’s how we’re getting rid of them), and would be less if I didn’t keep finding odds and ends of stuff that we wouldn’t buy anymore around the house. And if there weren’t so many foam stickers and plastic toys coming home from preschool and elementary school.

The bathroom is my nemesis, though. Dental floss alone makes up a big share of our weekly trash. And that’s our waste so far on Monday: dental floss.

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Katy April 15, 2013 at 10:58 am

Keep in mind that my family has already made many, many zero waste changes before this week. We use rags for paper towels, cheap silver wear for lunches, cloth napkins, I use a menstrual cup, I carry handkerchiefs for restaurant napkins, reusable produce bags, reusable grocery bags, etc. We mend and repair instead of replace. Not to mention that I stopped buying new in 2006, which makes a HUGE difference.

Bea from Zero Waste home uses silk thread (from the fabric store) as dental floss.

However, she pointed out that Q-tips are compostable if they paper with 100% cotton. That was news to me!\

Katy

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Dorie April 15, 2013 at 11:47 am

We’d actually made a lot of those changes years before as well. We did start bringing our own straws, napkins and chopsticks to restaurants this year. (However we’ll still buy things new.) This whole endeavor would have been far more challenging if we hadn’t already moved away from disposable paper products.

And until this year I hadn’t realized that dryer lint, hair, floor sweepings, etc. can also be composted.

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Laura's Last Ditch--Vintage Kitchenwares April 15, 2013 at 11:22 am

I hear you on the foam stickers. I finally told my son’s teacher that it distresses me to have those things come home, and explained why. I haven’t seen one since. Whether or not they still use them, I don’t know, but at least I planted the seed about possibly canning them. I also am at least partially responsible for getting my son’s school to can the “free,” unsolicited school t-shirts that came home every fall. It’s being discontinued for next year! Don’t be afraid to speak up at school.

As for the dental floss, I reuse Glide dental floss, which lasts and lasts. I can find it in garage sale free boxes faster than I can use it up. If we can wash and reuse our toothbrushes, why not our dental floss?

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Dorie April 15, 2013 at 11:36 am

Thanks. You’ve been more successful than we have been. We requested that the foam stickers stop and they said they wouldn’t order new ones, but evidently there is a huge stockpile that they’re still working through 2 months after I brought it up.

For dental floss, when we get through the existing supply, we’re going to try the Radius silk floss, which is compostable. And we can recycle the containers here. (I prefer not to use Glide because of the teflon coating.)

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betsyohs April 15, 2013 at 11:38 am

So happy to hear someone else reuses their floss! And Glide is the best.

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Deb from Iowa April 15, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Used dental floss has bacteria on it. How do you sanitize it to use again?

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AnnW April 15, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Good point Deb! Dental floss is small in the whole picture. What about Depends? Two years ago I had two parents in diapers. There was NO Way we could have used cloth diapers, if there are such things.

Mary Ann April 16, 2013 at 5:04 am

I could never re-use dental floss. It’s shredded by the time I’m done with it. (My teeth are very close together.)

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alexandra April 17, 2013 at 5:07 pm

AMEN sistah! I have been reusing for ages now. WHY do we use it once and throw away. Imagine throwing away your toothbrush everyday!!!!! Glide is the bomb.

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Jennifer B. April 15, 2013 at 10:44 am

Since I started going to Sprouts, I’ve been able to drastically reduce my food packaging. They have a ton of bulk bins, including spices, coffee, and loose-leaf tea. Also I’m able to buy Natural Value toilet paper there which is recycled (80% post-consumer) and cheaper than the 7th Generation brand. If I buy meat, though, I go to a co-op which is extremely open to bringing my own containers. And I’m off to my local Raley’s to exchange my empty glass milk jugs for full ones. But dairy products… *sigh*…. impossible to find sour cream in anything zero waste, and I haven’t yet mastered yogurt-making.

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Sanna April 15, 2013 at 10:48 am

I messed up completely. The first warm and bright day of the year and spontaneous friends had me enjoy a spontaneous picnic (like: hop in the supermarket and straight to the park, no preparing or anything), so although I did get unpackaged apples and bread and a drink in a (recyclable) glass bottle, I have put a plastic wrap in the trash today.

I also found that it comes down to a lot of refusing.
And here it’s impossible to get things like washing detergent etc. sans packaging.
I’m actually quite frustrated as I can’t see myself continuing this. I mean, I do bring my own bags and prefer the less-packaged options, but to really go zero-waste (or close to it), is really really hard. Harder than I thought.

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A. Marie April 15, 2013 at 11:28 am

Since I have already pretty well bombed out of this challenge (as I realized by noon EDT) for a lot of the same reasons as other people, I’m scaling it back to just making myself more aware of plastic packaging, etc. Like Sanna, I thought the DH and I were pretty green, but this takes it to a whole new level.

However, I have gotten two good chuckles out of the comments thus far: (1) the idea that cotton/paper Q-Tips may be compostable (I’m gonna try it!), and (2) the concept of the blow-dry bidet (this just made DH’s day!).

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cathy April 15, 2013 at 12:09 pm

I’m approaching the week as a combination of trying to purchase things without packaging as well as using up what we have. Successes included remembering to use my mesh produce bags at the store, using a reusable shopping bag at drug store (I remember for groceries, but always seem to forget at other stores), using my own cup for take-out coffee, packed the kids’ lunches in reusable lunch boxes w/ napkins, stainless water bottles, reusable utensils and food storage containers–reused a Ziploc for sandwich, but sent single-serve yogurt.

I forgot to take jars for bulk purchases (cumin, almonds). The biggest fail was at the drug store. OTC medications are going to come super packaged no matter what. I’m not going to make my kids forego allergy relief or pain relief in the name of zero waste. The best I can do is to hope it’s a short allergy season this year!

Does anyone have a suggestion for a good container to use when buying chicken? [For the most part, we buy chicken when it goes on super sale and then freeze it and we buy meat in bulk from someone who raises it locally. Both involve packaging, but that’s a trade-off I just might have to make for the dollar value. For those in-between times when we’re low, but it’s not on sale, I’ll buy a small amount from the meat counter.]

Katy, did you ever announce the winners of Bea’s book?

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Jean April 15, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Today is a holiday in Massachusetts so my achievement was to make a nice lunch for my DH, SIL and granddaughter. Yes, it did involve opening and emptying packages but the packages were recycled. I did use up items from my refrigerator–the remainder of the sour cream, some leftover pieces of cheese, and the last of the ground beef. Parts of my salad did come in bags. But it was a homemade meal.
Coffee at the coffee shop was in my refillable cup.

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Patches April 15, 2013 at 2:40 pm

I’m not participating in the challenge this week, but I’ll be following along to learn from everyone. Zero Waste seems so far away right now, but the more I read about the changes people are making in that direction the more accessible it seems.

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tna April 15, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Well, so far I had a banana and threw the peel into a ditch on the way to a thrift store. I think it will only get harder.

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Martha April 15, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Natural Value TP 2 ply, 100% recycled (80% post consumer waste) wrapped in paper…

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Deb from Iowa April 15, 2013 at 3:14 pm

My family is in transition. My husband is working at a new job in a distant city and we are at home using up our freezer and pantry food while waiting for our house to sell. Not many new purchases here, but my husband is eating out every night…fast food. So with this new challenge, I made homemade soup and food which I put in glass containers with lids and added stainless cutlery and glass bowls to use to microwave. Also, a kitchen towel for a napkin. Now, THIS will save us money, be healthier, and is zero waste! I like it.

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Katy April 15, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Sounds delicious!

Katy

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Trish April 15, 2013 at 3:17 pm

I compost my tea bags – or at least I dump them in the garden. So impressed with this group of people.

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Katy April 15, 2013 at 4:17 pm

I also compost my tea bags, but they come packages in a paper box, which is wrapped in plastic.

Katy

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Trish April 16, 2013 at 2:40 pm

you’re right -gah! I didnt even think about. there I was being all sanctimonious. I did get a package of PG tips, a popular tea in britain, for christmas- no wrapper for individual tea bags.

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AFS April 15, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Do you make flour or corn tortillas?
I prefer flour tortills. I have found recipes for home made corn tortillas but never the flour kind. If you make flour tortills please share the recipe.

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Elizabeth April 15, 2013 at 3:34 pm

I’m curious to see what Katy uses, but this recipe was easy and quite tasty:
http://tastykitchen.com/blog/2012/03/homemade-tortillas/

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Katy April 15, 2013 at 4:15 pm

I ended up buying freshly made flour tortillas from a local business. (“Palapa” on Hawthorne.) The woman made exactly as many tortillas as I wanted to buy, (8) and they also filled a large jar with tortilla chips and a small jar with fresh pico de gallo salsa. (I brought the jars from home.)

And because I wanted to eat the tortillas while they were still warm, we ate dinner really early. Yum!

Katy

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Jackie April 15, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Well, I think I was maybe 50% zero waste today. I volunteer 2x a week at a local hospital in the gift shop. Because I handle a lot of boxes from China, I wash my hands alot. I didn’ t think about that before I left home, so I had to use paper towel to dry my hands. I also need to get some hankies. I don’t blow my nose alot, but wouldn’t you know today I had to and wasn’t prepared. On the plus side, I did take my own thermal sip glass to drink my water, and I haven’t used a paper towel at home. It really does make you think twice about what you reach for. As far as food, I am using up what I have, but I’ve composted and recycled for years, so I don’t have too much waste. It’s like they say about diets…it’s a lifestyle change, so it will take longer than a week for me, but I’m willing to make the journey no matter how long it takes….

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Kate April 15, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Katy-
I JUUUSt started using a lunette and I feel SO STUPID for not trying it sooner!!! It’s working out fantastically!!

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Katy April 15, 2013 at 6:35 pm

I only started using a menstrual cup five years ago at age 40, and I’m kicking myself for all the years I bought disposable products.

Katy

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Kate April 15, 2013 at 7:51 pm

Hey it’s something!!! I’m 28 and I first heard about them about 4-5 years ago… I should of started then. Oh well… I’ve got 20+ years to use it and I figure this is my way of making up for 3 years of disposable diapers I ended up using with my son!!! I tried so hard to use cloth diapers and we just COULD NOT do it!! My husband is a SAHM so… I can always blame him I guess.

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Kate April 15, 2013 at 7:51 pm

Of course I meant SAHD <– DAD!! 🙂

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Darla April 15, 2013 at 5:17 pm

Katy – I don’t know if you have CVS in Portland, but they also sell single rolls of tp wrapped in paper. I buy it when they (often) send me 20% off my shopping coupons. Sadly, it isn’t as nice as Trader Joe’s. My husband calls the CVS recycled tp the “prison” paper.

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Katy April 15, 2013 at 6:33 pm

“Prison Paper?” Holy crap! 😉

Katy

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PoppyEcho April 15, 2013 at 5:24 pm

i’m totally failign already, even under my own rules I made for myself allowing myself a big handicap.

one thing reminded me of another- I bought dried fruit and nuts which came in ziplock type bags. in theory our recycling takes plastic bags but there are I think 7 centers for recycling for my city, and each can only recycles certain things. You can’t find out which one your truck is going to- it might change all the time. I don’t take plastic shopping or produce bags and I try to refuse to buy packaged foods but at this time I can’t shop totally without getting a lot of plastic packaging, which I’ve started to notice really adds up.

SO- here’s the thing that this reminded me of. I once saw a feature in Natural home magazine with a tutorial on how to make stuff (in that case, a reusable lunch bag) from your own plastic bags. you need an iron, an ironing board and waxed paper (is waxed paper compostable? recyclable?)

-You cut your plastic bags flat.
-Then you put down waxed paper on the ironing board. then you put down 2 or 3 flat bags, cut into the shape you want, and cover with another piece of waxed paper. then you iron it- it melts them together. -let it dry and then the waxed paper just peels off. you can add several more layers to make it strong and bits of coloured tissue paper or leaves etc on the outside layer. or try to get the colourful bits of bag on the outside layer to make a design.

Obviously you’d need to make the lunch box flat then also iron the sides together to make it into a bag, but people can more easily figure out how to do this for themselves than I

I have done it and it worked well. of course, I’ve totally lost the lunch bag I made now, since this was from a few years ago.

I plant to do this again, to make something bigger, like a water proof ground sheet for picnics.

in the next issue of the magazine, a good letter to the magazine pointed out that there must be off-gassing from melting plastic. A good point- but I have terrible allergic reactions to chemical smells (I can’t be in a house that is cleaned with windex and similar for about 36 hours afterwards) and asthma- and this project didn’t induce any reaction in me- however keep your babies out of the room, just in case.

It was pretty fun to do, as well as being totally easy.

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Krystal April 15, 2013 at 6:11 pm

Total fail here.

I went to Whole Foods without my own containers to get lunch, and didn’t think of to dispose of my container properly–left it at my friends–I hope it get recycled? Also, bought a sugary parfait in a plastic cup and a can of coconut water.

I realize I’m good at not bringing packaged crap into my house, but I’m not good about preparing myself for zero-waste elsewhere, while traveling, at friend’s house, while out, etc. This should really be my new focus!

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Katy April 15, 2013 at 6:36 pm

But you’re thinking about the garbage you’re leaving about, and will likely be better prepared for next time.

Katy

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Aimee April 15, 2013 at 7:45 pm

It felt disingenuous to sign up to participate this week when I know I will be actively looking for free pens and pencils (and probably other things) for my spouse’s classroom at the Earth Day celebration this coming weekend, but I am still enjoying following along and reading everyone’s comments. I didn’t know you could compost dryer lint, either! I am actively thinking about ways to replace packaging-intense items in my home as I finish using them. For example, the health food store near my workplace has gallon jugs of Dr. Bronner’s soap, and they sent me a 20 percent off coupon for joining their email list! Next: shampoo and conditioner.

Question: I don’t think squeezable bottles link this (http://bit.ly/16ZlOhS) can be recycled, but does anyone have ideas for reusing them? I just realized I have 5 of them in my bathroom!

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Corrie Navis April 15, 2013 at 8:05 pm

I love the idea of bandanas for napkins!

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greenstrivings April 15, 2013 at 9:24 pm

Not great. I defrosted a duck for dinner and it ended up being wrapped in two layers of plastic. At least everyone ate it so there wasn’t much food waste, just the bones. I also had to pick up some prescriptions, and medicine bottles here aren’t refillable. I did drink from my refillable water bottle and stainless steel travel mug at work , packed a lunch in reusable containers for offspring, and we used cloth napkins at dinner — those are daily activities. I need to up my game!

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greenstrivings April 15, 2013 at 9:26 pm

I mean when I defrosted the duck and unwrapped it, I discovered it was wrapped in 2 layers of plastic. I didn’t roast it with the plastic on!

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dusty April 16, 2013 at 3:28 am

My mother-in-law just gave me some lovely vintage handerchiefs so now I’m using those but I still have to carry kleenex with me cause people always seem to need it. Where I live those individually wrapped toilet paper rolls are fairly expensive and I don’t think I have the time to order my TP from Amazon. I’ll continue to shop around on that one. I am however drawing the line at reusing dental floss, I don’t think you can get all the bacteria off of it before reusing. I do love reading all the tips however.

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Tonya April 16, 2013 at 5:08 am

Katy,
You are lucky that you work part-time and have the luxury of researching and procuring all these waste-free options. Is it a lot of work? It seems like it would be. LIke you said earlier on the comments, you guys have done awesome at eliminating so much packaging already, so maybe it’s just the next, natural step. Your family’s changes are inspiring to so many, but itt seems like this particular challenge is really only accessible to a certain socio-economic class of folks.

Have you read the new Barbara Kingsolver novel, Flight Behavior? She has a section toward the end where the environmentalists are talking about ways to reduce your carbon footprint, and it’s just totally lost on the main character, who is a salt of the earth, never traveled farther than the next town over, minimum wage earner gal from Appalachia. It made me really think about how some of the things we talk about here (while they do work for us and our families) are just so over the top for a regular, working class, making not a very-good-wage type of person who collapses at the end of their long work week and just wants to drive through McDonalds for dinner or run into Walmart to do a quick, one-stop grocery shopping trip for the week.

Do you worry about alienating a certain demographic of readers here on your blog? I have always enjoyed your blog, and have read you for years, because you are practical and down to earth, and I never come away feeling bad about myself. But this week’s challenge seems pretentious…..

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Joyce April 16, 2013 at 8:56 am

This was an invitation…not a direct order. It is to make you conscious of the waste you bring home and generate. Lighten up. Everyone can’t do everything. Just read the posts and think about how someday perhaps you will reduce your waste.
as for my waste? I ate a piece of chocolate at work with the wrapper before I even thought about it. Phooey.

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Joyce April 16, 2013 at 8:59 am

I didn’t actually eat the wrapper. lol. See below.

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Joyce April 16, 2013 at 8:57 am

This was an invitation…not a direct order. It is to make you conscious of the waste you bring home and generate. Lighten up. Everyone can’t do everything. Just read the posts and think about how someday perhaps you will reduce your waste.
as for my waste? I ate a piece of chocolate at work that had a wrapper before I even thought about it. Phooey.

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CindiH April 17, 2013 at 7:26 am

I live in Southern Ohio, and would consider myself “salt of the earth.” One could get offended by your comments if one had a tendency to do so. Socioeconomics may have some to do with all this, but it is certainly NOT a total stumbling block. Shopping at thrift stores? Yup! Cutting down on packaging? Absolutely, even if you are stuck shopping at Wal-mart, you can purchase items with less packaging. Buy at a farm market with no packaging instead of the grocery with all its foam and plastic? Sure. The only problem I have with Appalachia is the lack of options for recycling…and I work with what I have.

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alexandra April 17, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Thanks for this perspective. I have read much of her writing and will read this one.
We forget that being middle class is VERY different from minimum wage workers. I am one now, by choice. I was working as a corporate employee and could not stand the hypocrisy. I don’t make much but don’t regret my work at the end of the day (as I did before). Now I’m a cook in a cooperative food market.
I don’t mean to say that middle class employees should regret their work. I do mean that minimum wage workers work VERY hard for their money and should be considered in these excellent discussions.
I love this blog!

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JD April 16, 2013 at 6:19 am

Good and bad on Monday. I brought re-usable everything for lunch, but had to buy plastic wrapped meat at the store for later this week. There is no place in this town to get meat that isn’t pre-wrapped. Even if I ask for custom cuts, they will insist on traying it on foam and wrapping it in plastic.
I think some folks might be missing a point. Buying something in a recyclable container isn’t waste, if the container is actually recycled.
I try to re-use what I can’t recycle, even those meat trays (after washing well and spraying with a natural disinfectant).
I have to disagree that this is for wealthier people only (my husband has been unemployed for months), nor do I picture Katy as living in the lap of luxury. Poorer people can reduce waste as well. A friend of mine showed me lovely crocheted items that her aunt had made — using the pull strings off the large bags of dog food. The whole point of this exercise is to become aware of waste and get creative on ways to reduce it. I thought I was doing pretty well up until I started reading about zero waste. This week is to make me get in the trenches and do it.

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Katy April 16, 2013 at 7:37 am

I am FAR from living in the lap of luxury. We waited to do our taxes until yesterday as we needed to pay rather than receive a refund. (The money I make from blogging and cleaning houses doesn’t have taxes deducted, so it kills us come tax time.) We are now broke for awhile.

I choose to live a less than ideal financial life, as it allows me to take care of my family. Getting kids up and off to school with a packed lunch, dealing with ferrying them to their various commitments and maintaining the house and household is a lot of work. (I know, this is far from news to anyone!) Our life would be chaos if I worked full time.

The Zero Waste Week is a lot of extra work, but it’s partially due to the fact that I am in the midst of inventing the wheel. Some things we’ll keep as part of our shopping routine, while others will be put aside. We do not have the money to go fully Zero Waste, although we can afford to entertain it for a week. (The $9-per-gallon glass jug of milk? Sorry, bub.)

I do not worry about alienating blog readers, as I think I’m pretty transparent about how I do things. There’s not a lot of “Yes, this cheese is $30/pound, but the PhD candidates who make it need a living wage.” I’d like to think that I find the middle ground of crazy cheap on some things in order to spend a bit extra on others.

I’m figuring out life’s frugal/simple/Zero Waste journey along with everyone else.

Katy

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Linda in Indiana April 16, 2013 at 6:46 am

I had probably ten fails for every success yesterday. Doing better today but no total success. I am so much more aware of each item I am touching and when I head for the trash can as there is no recycling option. Ate out with a friend yesterday and let her pick the place. Fast food was a total bust for no waste. But I am scratching my head, trying to think of an ecomonical place near us that wouldn’t have at least some waste. But there has to be better options than yesterday. Also, some of my “errors” fall into the category of just plain habits on my part. I don’t think Katy means to pick and choose between any economic group. She is just trying to set a good example, educate us, and let us participate if we choose. I, personally, am very glad to be exposed to this. This old dog is still trying to learn a few new environmental tricks. I am also reflecting on what my grandmother did with everything….how she didn’t waste. But in that vein, not a lot of stuff came into her home that they didn’t produce themselves. I am enjoying learning together. But, good at this….got a loooong ways to go. ( And as I am learning about myself….some areas I am spoiled in and not sure I want to be good:) Onward and upward!

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PoppyEcho April 16, 2013 at 7:29 am

to JD-

If you want to be strict about it, buying something in a recyclable container can still be considered more wasteful than other practices. The “reduce, reuse, recycle” is in order of importance. If you stopped buying milk, (reduce), that would reduce the need for a cow taking up resources (as opposed to farming the land for food for people instead).
If you continued to drink milk but used glass bottles that were washed and refilled with milk, this would take more resources and energy. if you continued to drink milk but use plastic milk jugs that you recycle, the milk jugs have to be melted down, polluting the atmosphere and using a lot more energy than what is used for just the washing of glass bottles.
I’m certainly no vegan or even vegetarian, I don’t advocate refusing to consume milk, that’s just one example. I’m just saying, recycling is the most wasteful, reusing is less wasteful and refusing is the best.

A more practical example for people who are saying “but I don’t want to give up everything good and normal?” -I refuse shaving foam in those metal canisters, even though I really like it. they didn’t use to be recyclable, that’s why I stopped. Now they are though, but I still don’t buy them, because its clearly unnecessary. I can use soap. Its not that big a sacrifice. There are a lot more things like that that I could do.

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PoppyEcho April 16, 2013 at 7:34 am

And as for “poor people can’t afford to do this” well, I can sympathise with the not having the mental energy to think about this kind of thing, but I’m a ‘low wage earner’. doing things like buying bar soap saves me plenty of money over metal canisters. now, buying soap from the “green ecological” store that has no packaging does cost more than a 12 pack of ivory individually wrapped in plastic then shrinkwrapped in plastic. But that soap makes me itch anyway.

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Barb April 16, 2013 at 7:29 am

I deliberately did not join the challenge-both because I am styaing with family while househunting and because I am really need to concentrate on frugality-increasing costs is not an option at this point. I already use cloth napkins and rags and reusable lunch and travel items as well as cloth pads-basically elminating paper except for toilet paper and paper towels for dog gak (sorry, reusable just will not work, lol). I also cook from scratch and carry my own coffee cup and water cup in my car. At this point thats all I can do, although I enjoy reading about other alternatives.

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Taylor-Made Ranch April 16, 2013 at 8:05 am

Awareness and personal challenge is half the battle! I like where someone posted that you vote with your dollars at the store – I try to do that as well whenever I can (although it’s all about balance) I oftentimes pass over the highly-packaged beautiful produce to purchase the more expensive less packaged (or non packaged) produce as I feel I’m voting with my dollars. Every bit helps! It’s funny that the longer you work at reducing your household waste, the easier it becomes. Thanks for bringing this awareness to the forefront.

~Taylor-Made Ranch~
Wolfe City, Texas

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cathy April 16, 2013 at 8:10 am

No matter what their socioeconomic status, people can make strides toward using fewer resources. It’s a matter of priorities. It doesn’t cost anything to eliminate junk mail or sign up to get bills and other notices online. (Yes, one does have to have access to a computer and the internet, but most libraries offer it for free.) Does anyone NEED paper napkins or paper plates? Cloth napkins and real dishes are definitely cheaper. On the other hand, it is a priority for our family to eat as much organic food as possible, and grown or produced as close to us as possible. THAT drives up the cost, but that’s our choice. If organic weren’t a personal priority, we could get great produce and bulk flour, grains, and other items very inexpensively at other stores. The flip side for me is that I can’t afford to pay the market price every week for things like meat and poultry. I buy 30-40 lbs. when it goes on mega sale, and freeze it. When I figure out affordable, reusable, freezer-safe containers for that much raw meat, I’ll gladly stop having it wrapped in paper.

If it seems too overwhelming to go for “zero waste,” maybe people should start first with “less waste.”

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Katy April 16, 2013 at 9:41 am

Even Bea Johnson goes for less waste. When she was literal about “Zero Waste,” she drove herself crazy making her own paper from the paper her kids and the mail brought to her house.

Katy

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Sara Tetreault April 16, 2013 at 8:33 am

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this post and all of the comments, Katy! So glad your site is back from being hacked…any idea how it happened?
If you’re ever around a WinCo foods grocery store, they sell Stash Tea in their bulk bins food section. If you bring your own bag and compost after you’ve enjoyed your tea, you’ll be at a no waste morning indulgence!
Come on over and I’ll make you a mug full – but call first – still in my PJs!! 🙂

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Katy April 16, 2013 at 9:39 am

Sounds like a great invite! I;m still in my jammies as well. But I’ll soon change into “yoga pants” which are much, much different from jambes. 😉

And I have no idea how or why my site got hacked, but I now have Securi.com on my side to keep it from happening again.

Katy

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emmer April 16, 2013 at 12:36 pm

the small steps tp is way better than prison paper. we can get it in portland area at fred meyer, which is part of the kroger chain. here, tho, the 12-pack is wrapped in plastic. i use that for whatever really smelly garbage thing i need to keep til trash day. katy lives in the part of portland metro that has food waste pick up. we have no such luck. so things that shouldn’t be home composted get saved til trash day.
i have tried the plastic ironing trick as well. i haven’t got it quite right yet, but “early trials are encouraging”. mainstream waxed paper uses a petroleum wax–unless you buy one of the “green” brands. “if you care” is one brand that uses unbleached paper and a soy wax. you can also try using parchment paper or a silicon sheet for ironing your plastic into sheets.

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SarahN May 22, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Oh I’m so glad to have found this site! I’m struggling with zero waste too, though I’m in Australia, so the stores are totally different. I reuse the plastic wrapped TP bag for my weekly ‘trash’ – sure zero waste is my aim but not yet my reality!

Currently I’m grappling with a good floss alternative. I’m not convinced the brass stimulator would get in where i need to get stuff out. The next best suggestion is wooden picks. There are compostable floss containers, just not sure the floss is… I’ll need to look into silk thread – I’ll admit my mind is stumbling with that idea.

I also like pre grated cheese – so I’ll need to get over that, and start buying blocks at the deli and using my food processor.

Zip locks get many uses, but I know there’d be converts who never use them – that’s a ‘one day’ goal for me!

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Katy May 22, 2013 at 6:56 pm

I’m pretty sure that Bea Johnson of ZeroWaste.com uses silk thread for flossing.

Katy

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SarahN May 22, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Thanks Katy, further research today got me to that point – must get to the sewing shop soon!

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