Zero Waste Week — A Change in Mindset

by Katy on April 14, 2013 · 26 comments

Zero Waste Home

Tomorrow starts The Non-Consumer Advocate’s Zero Waste Week, but I wanted to switch my mind over a few days in advance. So I spent the last few days practicing Zero Waste and figuring how to get through the week without going insane and eating nothing but bulk purchased oatmeal and lettuce. I want to see how much of what my family normally buys can be switched over to their Zero Waste counterparts.

Keep in mind that Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home  puts “refuse” before the normal three R’s of “reduce, reuse, recycle.” So even though a fair amount of the packaging we normally bring into our home is either recyclable or compostable, I will attempt to refuse waste of any kind for the week.

My family of four already produces less garbage than the average American, (29 pounds per week) and we’re able to get by with every other week pickup of our 32-gallon can which we share with the three-person family next door.

I spent the weekend sourcing Zero Waste options for a few of the things that my family buys on a regular basis, and here’s what I found. (I am lucky to live in a urban neighborhood that provides multiple shopping options, which I know is not the case for everyone.)

  • Meat/Fish — It would easy to go vegetarian for the week, but that is simply not how my family eats. I have asked before about using my own containers at the New Season’s Market meat counter, but the answer is always that health regulations forbids it. And so I bring home my sausages in plastic-coated paper that immediately goes into my garbage. However, I spoke to a manager and came up with a acceptable alternative, which is to use their wheat-based compostable containers from the deli for my meat purchases. They are required to add a “how to safely prepare meat” sticker to every purchase, so I saved one and will see about reusing it. The manager did suggest that I could buy my meat from a smaller company, who might be less stringent about their rules, although I like that New Season’s is walking distance from my house, which greatly simplifies my life.
  • Shaving soap — My husband and older son shave on a daily basis and use an old timey shaving soap and a bristle brush. However, the packaging for the soap we normally buy includes both a paper box and a hard plastic shell for the bar of soap. I’ve been meaning to find an alternate option for awhile, and was happy to find that we were almost out of soap at the beginning of this challenge. I walked down to Escential Lotions and Oils in my neighborhood and found a zero packaging option of Apiana Alpine Milk Soap. Priced at $5.50, I would never buy it to use as regular soap, (The paper wrapped Pure & Natural soap we normally buy is 3/$1) but for shaving soap, the quality and extra cost is easily rationalized. And the best part? The hexagonal soap fit perfectly into the Goodwill mug we use for shaving soap!
  • Ice CreamBen and Jerry’s is just across the street from the soap shop, so I stopped in and asked two different employees if they would allow me to bring my own container in for a pint of ice cream. The answer was “Sure, I don’t see why not,” so I returned after dinner with my garbage picked glass container and a sweet tooth. Unfortunately, the employees I had spoken to earlier were off shift, and the current shift was wary about my request. Luckily, they came over to my side after I explained my request, (I was trying for Zero Waste, rather than to scam extra ice cream.) And for the $6 price normally charged for a “hand packed pint,” I was able to buy enough ice cream for dessert.
  • Beer — Portland’s pubs all have the option to buy “Growlers” of beer, which are refillable glass jugs for beer. Unfortunately, they cost $8 apiece, but I put out a call on Facebook, and my friends Heather and Dave came through with some loaners for the project. (I rarely drink myself, but my husband enjoys a couple beers per week. And since I knew this Zero Waste Week was going to complicate his week, I thought it would be nice to reward him with a few Zero Waste treats!) My husband happily walked his growler to the pub and had it filled with 64 ounces of a something-or-other IPA ale for $15. (Mind you, it should last over the course of a few days.)
  • Maple Syrup — In the same vein of bribe my family with treats, I filled my vintage syrup container with bulk maple syrup at New Season’s Market. (I will make waffles after today’s multiple soccer games.) The cost was $9.99 per pound, and I was able to buy exactly the amount I wanted. This is a nice benefit when buying bulk, whether buying a small amount of a seldomly used spice or ready to eat snacks from the bulk bins.
  • Milk — I normally buy the humane/blah-blah-blah gallons of milk from New Season’s, but they come in a plastic jug. (Taken by curbside recycling.) I bit the bullet and paid the $1.50 deposit for glass-bottled milk. Priced at $4.50 for a half gallon, this was yet another example of how buying Zero Waste does cost more money. However, I’m hoping to include enough Zero Waste less-money options to balance it out. Unfortunately, we already practice most of the Zero-Waste-will-save-you-money options, so this may prove to be a pricey week.

There are many Zero Waste bulk-purchases that my family doesn’t choose, usually because it costs significantly more than buying from Costco, with coupons or on sale. (Olive oil, sugar, honey, flour and cereal come to mind.) I will continue to cook from our pantry for the week, but only if those items have a Zero Waste replacement. This may sound like a copout, but I just can’t get over the hypocrisy of buying something that we already own.

I may appear that I’m simply investigating food packaging, but I will also be exploring waste from non-food perspective as well. Whether it’s junk mail, paper products, individual use products or overly packaged household goods. I will also explore how having a less cluttered home contributes to less waste.

I am looking forward to the week, to learning a thing or two and learning how Zero Waste Week is going for you readers. And I imagine that many of this week’s Zero Waste experiments will work their way into our permanent routines.

Wastelessly yours,

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

L.D. April 14, 2013 at 9:57 am

On the subject of shaving, I’ve been using an electric shaver for decades. I shave daily and they last me on an average of 6 years and you can usually find them on sale from time to time for around 25 bucks. I takes a couple of weeks for your face to adapt to this style of shaving, and if I’m looking for a particularly close shave those beard preps work pretty good. In the long run you save a bundle on shaving soap and water and they use very little electricity. “Watch the nickels and dimes and the dollars will take care of themselves.”


Linda in Indiana April 14, 2013 at 10:03 am

I, too, have been thinking ahead to the following week. My goal here is to really, really take a conscious survey of what we waste, where I can change and how to make that change happen. While I have been watching, it is very apparent to me that living in a very rural area it is very difficult to find options to avoid waste. The summer is much easier as we raise almost all our own fruits and vegetables then. …but we do also preserve the same, too. But being aware of it for a week will help…a starting point to do more. I already recycle, feed scraps to our chickens, etc. But sourcing no packaging around here will be a total change. Just not aware of many options….but am looking. Earlier in the week I headed into McDonald’s for a cup of coffee with my travel mug. I hardly ever buy drinks out but decided to get a cup of coffee as I was rushed and didn’t get any made before leaving home. They wouldn’t put it directly into my cup “because of board of health regulations”. So, they poured it from one of their thowaway cups into mine. I told them I sure hoped they reused their throwaway cup as they defeated my purpose of avoiding a cup. We sure have a ways to go. I don’t plan to fail…but know it will be a learning week for me.


dusty April 15, 2013 at 12:11 pm

I used to do this all the time especially when traveling by car, I would bring a thermos into Mcdonalds and they would fill it up for around $1-$1.50, well they won’t do that anymore and I’m not sure why, maybe something to do with bacteria or something, not sure so I stopped going there.


Zanda April 14, 2013 at 10:32 am

I’m so excited for you trying this out! And I am looking forward to read how did you manage this week!
I was hoping to participate, but since starting tomorrow I have a business trip for 3 days, I did not think it was the best time to start the zero-waste-home-week. First, because many options for me during these three days will not be decided by me but somebody else, however, I will refuse anything in excessive packaging and for sure the things I don’t need/want. Second, because I’m not gonna be at home to really do any shopping or not-shopping of zero-waste products.
However, this idea of trying out a zero-waste-home-week is really exciting and I hope to try it out maybe next week!
My fingers crossed for you!


Katy April 14, 2013 at 1:39 pm


Maybe you could make it a game to see how much wasteful things you can refuse for your three day business trip.

Bring handkerchiefs, refuse straws, bring your own toiletries for the hotel, refuse branded *stuff*.



JaneUlness April 14, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Is not exactly no waste, but we save the small shampoos etc for the women’s shelter.


Jackie April 14, 2013 at 10:35 am

This is going to be a learning week for me too. While I don’t expect to be 100% successful, I will be doing the same as Linda – being very watchful what gets thrown, and trying to change old habits. I already starte today at church….I went to a different church than I normally go to, and when leaving, they were handing out their bulletins fo the week. Since I don’t normally go there, I didn’t take the bulletin as it would only be thrown in the recycle bin at home. Can anyone tell me what other types of things I could do? I already use my own cup, try not to buy plastic when I can avoid it, use my own cloth grocery bags and other stuff like that. I know there must be stuff that I could do easily be doing that I don’t know about (or think about). As I said yesterday, paper towel use will also be discontinued – at least by me.


Blanche April 14, 2013 at 10:47 am

I’ve been thinking about this as well and even though I’m really excited about this, it’s kind of overwhelming too! I decided that even though we might not be able to go totally in on this challenge it will definitely be a huge learning experience for us! If we are able to change the way we do a few things in our home that would be an awesome start and it will encourage me to push forward and do even more!!


Megyn April 14, 2013 at 10:48 am

My only real criticism of what Bea does is when she leaves the packaging at the store. Having worked various retail jobs, I know for a fact that it will just be chucked in the trash. I personally the smarter choice is to take the packaging and dispose of it properly. I think it actually cuts down on waste when you have to buy new.


Leah April 14, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Wow. I’m just beginning to perfect our recycling routine and start composting. Zero waste seems so far away right now. But, I’ve realized that reading your blog, Katy, and all the great ideas your readers share, puts me closer to where I want to be than if I just kept at it on my own. So thanks for the inspiration!


JaneUlness April 14, 2013 at 2:20 pm

I can ditto Leah. I am working on getting the family to get everything in the recycle and bringing wate o work instead of buying bottles. Although our granddaughters favorite thing is to Cush them! We did get a soda stream so we don’t use any aluminum cans for soda. We are starting, but a long ways from zero.


Mr. Everyday Dollar April 14, 2013 at 4:30 pm

The biggest reason why I like the bulk aisle at the local food co-op is because it is usually cheaper than it’s packaged counterpart (you gotta do the math though, the packaged almonds are way cheaper).

The second reason why I like the bulk aisle is because I’ve been re-using the same containers for years to fill up on staples. Every trip to the co-op involves at least one of mason jars, recycled pickle jars, recycled plastic shampoo bottles, even my olive oil bottle.

Some of the things I buy from the bulk aisle, with zero waste, is flour, beans and lentils, steel cut oats and quinoa, sugar cane, spices such as salt, black peppercorns and cinnamon, brown rice, peanut butter (to die for!), loose leaf tea, coffee, olive oil, maple syrup, white clover honey, shampoo and liquid soap, and even laundry detergent.

Good luck, looking forward to your report out!


Ashleigh Swerdfeger April 14, 2013 at 9:59 pm

I love this! I am going to link this my web post about green activities for Earth Day. I am trying to consume less, make coffee at home, recycle, re-use and turn off the lights.


Kirsten April 14, 2013 at 11:50 pm

I started my “No Waste Week” today since I was grocery shopping for the week and will hopefully not go again until next weekend. There were already some successes and failures. I live in a two person household and do most of my dry-goods grocery shopping at the beginning of the month. And then pick up fruits, veggies, and snack-items, and anything else we need on a weekly basis. It is normally not too much, this week was especially true because the snack items (like tortilla chips and salsa) were still well stocked. I did purchase hazelnuts and quinoa in bulk with mason jars, loose tangerines and apples in my own bag, and finally several bunches of greens. While I stored the greens in my own bag, they all come with TWO twist-ties… and I’m not sure how to avoid that. You can buy spinach and salad greens loose, but not kale/collards. Even at the farmers market they generally have twist ties. My one success was that I almost bought some vegan cheese that was on sale (and I only buy it if its discounted) but it is all in plastic, so I put it back (yay!). Okay sorry for the novel, can’t wait to see how I continue to avoid waste this week and what everyone else does.


Hannah April 15, 2013 at 4:26 am

Does this mean that you’re going to REFUSE the REFUSE???

Sorry, couldn’t help myself…GOOD LUCK!



Robyn J. April 15, 2013 at 5:28 am

Hi Katie,

Thanks so much for posting this. I found out about Zero Waste because I read your very inspiring blog. I’ve had a strong urge during the past three months to “downsize” and shift gears. I was mainly focused on the amount of clutter in my house, so the timing was PERFECT when I saw your recent post about Zero Waste/simplicity. I have been “watching” this and practicing where I can. My challenge is that I live so far from any health food store or bulk distributor (60 miles to the nearest town and my options there are not a lot). It will certainly take strategic planning to pull this off. Not that there isn’t a way, it’s just not going to be convenient. We raise our own beef which helps. We also grow a garden, can and preserve food. The challenge, as I see it is convenience. We have three kids, hs, jr high and elementary. I work as a librarian full time and I’m in grad school, my husband also works ft. I do cook from scratch but there are times I am not prepared and we reach for something fast (and unhealthy) because we have an hour before we have to be out the door for a ball game, school or community event. I’m NOT into excuses and I believe that there’s always a way. I want to THANK YOU for sharing, encouraging and especially for being honest. It may cost more…..initially it may not be convenient but we will all learn and that is what is important. I’ll be sharing about my de-cluttering process, the freedom and challenges in my my blog. I am quite sure most of the folk ‘roun here already think I’m nuts so this will likely not surprise them! Again, great area to looking to! Robyn


Amber April 15, 2013 at 5:41 am

No one mentioned toilet paper. Toilet paper? Or do you have a bidet? I just moved to a place where fewer things are accepted as recyclable and realized we aren’t doing as well as we could be. We really don’t produce very much waste since stopping processed food. Maybe before I can do waste free, I’ll try for plastic free.


Gloria Shirley April 15, 2013 at 5:42 am

Thanks for doing this, Katy. It’s really making me take a harder look at what I buy.

My first challenge is toothpaste. I need the kind for sensitive teeth so baking soda, etc. won’t do. Anyone have suggestions?


Amanda S April 15, 2013 at 6:22 am

Unfortunately Zero Waste and Frugality do not always meet in the center of the Venn Diagram. However, like Bea Johnson says, shopping is voting. If enough people purchase zero waste alternatives, a more competitive market will spring up to meet the demand. But until that happens, you have to sometimes choose between saving a dollar (or four) and picking something that comes in packaging that will ultimately end up in a landfill. Living on the east coast where there are very few bulk options, this is my dilemma every time I shop.


Kailey April 15, 2013 at 8:10 am

It’s Monday and I’ve already run into a snag. I took sausages out of the freezer that were wrapped in brown coated parchment paper. On the upside the butcher I go to is within walking distance AND this challenge has got me thinking that because it’s small and independant he would probably let me use my own container so all is not lost!


Deb from Iowa April 15, 2013 at 8:21 am

My head is swirling. The only “bulk food” shop I know of close by repackages bulk items for the consumer. I don’t know of any butcher shops. As I go through my cupboards, I am really challenged as to how to go about this. I know that I would feel much better if I could waste less, but I’m not even sure where to start. I am thinking of starting with refusing any more plastic and buying…no making some cloth bags for produce. Now I have to try to find someone with a sewing machine because I never sew. I do have some old sheets that I was thinking of throwing away that I could use. Does it have to be “food grade cloth”?


Katy April 15, 2013 at 9:10 am

As long as the fabric doesn’t have PVC, (rubber-y) any fabric should be fine.



Coco April 15, 2013 at 9:04 am

What about plain soap? Everyone I know shaves with plain soap without any problems.

Also, you need to pay attention to what they do when you bring your own container. Many places use their container for measuring purpose so they will still use it for you but toss it afterwards.


Krystal April 15, 2013 at 9:22 am

Yay! My Sundays generally consist of getting prepped for the week ahead, and most of that requires grocery shopping. My prep day yesterday:
-refilled 2 growlers of beer for 2 nights this week we’re having friends over
-jar of ahi for dinner on Monday (my awesome, idie fish market don’t care about restrictive/archaic “codes” and they support my effort)
-exchanged old fixtures from our slow home improvement for matching, used fixtures at the salvage yard (Earthwise)
-coffee from my favorite place (goes straight into jars)
-new skirt for upcoming work event in a few weeks at Goodwill

A few fails:
-My husband, after about 6 months without, decides he needs Q-tips. I’m waiting for this one to work out itself. However, our “organic” market only sells organic cotton with plastic sticks (irony?), so we had to seek out plastic-free, compostable Q-tips
-Mozzarella for cheese pizza. We make our own pizza dough, but cheese was purchased (due to health codes) in a non-recyclable container, rather than a recyclable
-Deodorant. We need to seek out/make other options.


Kirsten April 15, 2013 at 9:53 am

If any of your husbands beer in the growler is left over (goes flat), use that to make some mustard! It will be delicious!


JaneUlness April 15, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Beer works to tenderize meat too. Braise it with beer and stock.


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