Easy Ways to Create a Zero Waste Home

Can you believe this blog is over a year old?! I started it when I was a new mom and wanted an outlet and a way to express my crunchy lifestyle. Since then, as some of you may know, I’ve decided to become a web developer/designer and have been teaching myself to code. Between that and being a mom, army wife, living with RA and trying for a zero waste home- life can get super busy. But I still do very much care about my followers and the purpose of this blog- to hold myself accountable to being a healthier, more effective human being and also to document my progress along the way. So far in this blog I’ve covered a lot of topics surrounding gentle parenting, veganism, minimalism, saving money and how I’m striving to achieve a zero waste home.

 

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An easy step to a zero waste home: cloth napkins.These cloth dinner napkins are 3 years old but still look great!

 

Yesterday I joined the awesome facebook group Zero Waste Vegans and noticed a post from one of the members named Mailyne who is a mom, artist, owns a zero waste shop and blogs about her zero waste home at A Dream Lived Greener. I first saw her talking about her Zero Waste journey a youtube video which was so inspiring. I can’t seem to find it again, but if I do I will definitely update you with the link. Seeing her post made me remember about this blog, and my dream of one day living a Zero Waste Lifestyle. I thought it would be a great start to update you all on my progress thus far, and with what I have left to do to get closer to having a zero waste home and life. I will start with the most major changes I’ve made, followed by the changes that were smaller/easier to accomplish.

1. Buy in Bulk

 

I’m not talking big box stores: I’m talking bulk bins like you’d find at a health food store. As readers of this blog likely already know I do most of my shopping at in.gredients in Austin. Check out my blog post about why here. If you don’t know where to shop for bulk you can find other stores that are near you that carry bulk with the Bulk app. I must admit that I was nervous the first time I went to buy in bulk- I knew in theory how it was supposed to work but I wasn’t really sure how I would handle all the accessories and the process, plus juggling my daughter in the shopping cart. Check out this video for a great overview from in.gredients to see how it works.

 

 

Even though I do buy in bulk for most things, I still buy packaged things like toilet paper and soy/almond/cashew milk. I need to work on making more things from scratch and figuring out where to buy items in bulk that is not wrapped in plastic. I know that Bea Johnson from Zero Waste Home recommends buying toilet paper wrapped in paper from a hotel supply store.

Another thing I’d like to do is make laundry and dish soap, which I have done in the past but not consistently. Bea recommends using citric acid, which can be bought in bulk at a brewery supply store. Going to these specialty stores presents a challenge as I’d probably have to drive a distance, but once I buy these items in bulk I will be set for awhile. It’s definitely something that I need to make time for in the next week.

 

2. Garden

 

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Growing in pots on the porch: a menagerie of herbs including sage, mint, dill, marigold and squash that just happened to sprout from the compost that was added to the soil.

 

You certainly don’t need a garden to have a Zero Waste Home, but having a garden certainly cuts back on the cost, and can give you things you couldn’t otherwise find (depending on how robust your local source for bulk and/or farmer’s markets are). I’ve been growing my own herbs growing in containers and raised garden beds which I can harvest continually which is very convenient, easy, delicious and beautiful. Many of the herbs I’ve actually grown from non-GMO seeds that were sent to me in paper packaging which is awesome. The only thing about starting plants from seeds is that you have to have a ton of patience. If it’s wintertime you have to have the ability to tolerate the vision and lack of space that’s a result of soil sitting on your windowsill for months which is not the prettiest or most convenient thing in the world to experience.

 

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basil planted next to strawberries, aloe and summer squash. The spacing on the package is for gardens that you need to walk in, but for raised beds planting close is beneficial because it keeps weeds to a minimum.

Some of my herbs and veggies are plants bought at a nursery, which is nice because you can start harvesting right away. If buying from a nursery, try to get the thicker plastic containers and see if they will take them back for reuse. Unfortunately this doesn’t work too well with the thin plastic containers because they are so fragile and rip very easily. I have some other veggies growing in my garden including tomatoes, peppers, squash, and watermelon, but haven’t yet reaped the fruits of my labors.

 

3. Line Dry Clothes

 

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yep there’s my foldable clothes drier doing it’s job well

A major zero waste home goal is to always look to reduce waste of all kinds, not just physical trash. Drying my clothes outside is pretty simple- just put the wet clothes from the washing machine back into the laundry hamper and bring it outside to hang on a folding rack in the sun. My clothes drying rack looks just like the one in this article that details the benefits of air drying your clothes over using a drying machine as represented by the actual numbers. My drying rack is also still going strong after about 3 years, and is normally stored outside on my porch behind my grill. Another free option is a clothes line, which is simply string tied between two high points such as trees, posts, or a fence. I found using clothing pins on a line to be far more cumbersome than drying on the drying rack because the wind isn’t typically strong enough to blow clothes off of it as they push together when the clothes blow around.

My husband complains that his clothes feel to stiff after being dried outdoors, so with his clothes I just pop them in the dryer for a few minutes to tumble all the creases out (though obviously this is not the best solution for the environment or your wallet). I’ve also found that if you hang the clothes on the drying rack properly, they actually are easier to store as they are kind of pre-folded.

 

4. Replace Packaged Hygiene Products

 

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compostable bamboo toothbrush and my jar of home made tooth powder

 

This one has been surprisingly easy. I make my own toothpaste powder out of a mixture of baking soda, coconut oil, stevia and peppermint essential oil. I just mix the ingredients with a hand mixer and add the contents to a resealable glass jar. I have found that it’s best to make individual containers of the toothpaste for each individual family member as we do stick our toothbrushes in there. It is so good that my daughter will actually try to eat it if left unchecked. You can make it powdery or more like a paste, but it has the consistency and taste like the inside of a junior mint candy.

For liquid hand soap I use Dr. Bronner’s which I can buy in bulk in several different scents at in.gredients, and for the shower I buy bar soap that’s either handmade (bought as a slice from a slab) or Dr. Bronner’s which is wrapped in paper. Contact solution is something I still buy new (not sure how safe it would be to try to make your own). Glasses would be great except for the fact that I hate the way they feel on my face- like they’re too heavy and cumbersome. I also make my own lotion using this body butter recipe here:

I have yet to try to make my own makeup as I rarely wear it and am still using my stash from bareminerals. It’s amazing how simple it is and how much less chemicals there are hanging around when you replace the beauty products in the bathroom a zero waste home.

 

5. Buy Clothes Second-Hand

I haven’t actually had to buy many clothes at all in the past year as I already had so many. I still wear the same pink Sac State hoodie I bought when I was a Junior 9 years ago and it looks surprisingly vibrant, as well as the same wool blend jacket which has lost a button that I need to repair. You can find things that are either new or nearly new at the goodwill. I found a pretty dirty pair of converse which looked brand new when I took out the laces and ran them through the wash. They are still in good condition with heavy wear and I bought them six months ago.

As a side note, it’s easy to forget your reusable grocery bags when you go to thrift stores and other non-food outlets, but if you keep them in the car you can always just go back and get them when you forget! I also have a large purse that I carry all the time which I keep pretty empty so I have room to bring stuff home without a bag. Another zero waste home tip is to turn old clothes into new clothes with a sewing machine, or make reusable bags for yourself or a friend. Other creative options for resewing old clothes into fabulous useful items include: wrapping paper/gift bags, doll clothes, bean bags, line, rags, quilts and napkins.

 

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rags we use as paper towels, napkins and tissues made from fabric scraps

6. Use Reusable Containers

If you buy them from a health food store reusable containers can be super expensive. It’s definitely not the most attractive solution but using washed out pasta sauce, pickle and jam jars has been my go-to source for easy reusable containers. I just soak them in hot water and use coconut oil to rub away the extra stickiness left from the original label. I use these to store leftovers, nuts, dry beans, rice, herbs and other ingredients.

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my reusable jars storing dry ingredients like nuts, beans, seeds herbs and rice

I found out the hard way that it is much easier to use cloth bags for transporting dry goods from the store, and then depositing the contents into the glass jars once I get back home. I used a bunch of old fabric I had lying around and sewed them into different sized bags with drawstrings one afternoon. Bags of varying sizes are great for bulk because you’ll want large bags for flour and tiny bags for expensive spices. I use a big LifeFactory water bottle for myself and keep an also keep an assortment of stainless steel water bottles for when we go out of the house, and make sure to keep clean containers and cloth napkins in the car for when we go out to eat and want to bring home leftovers.

7. Compost

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the little stainless steel compost bin I keep by the back door.

 

This is a big one. It can be annoying to constantly bring scraps and ends from your produce out to the compost, but it becomes second-nature when you do it over and over again. Another option is to have a compost bin on your counter, but because it attracts flies and gnats I like to keep mine by the back door for when it is raining and I don’t want to go to the compost in the yard. I’ve had a worm bin in the past, but it got knocked over by my toddler and I just never replaced it. It was simple to set up and maintain, and really breaks down your compost fast.

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my compost bucket! It has holes drilled in the sides but it still needs a lot of shoveling to get air to circulate.

Although you can purchase devices, composting doesn’t have to be complex. It is simply allowing organic matter to rot and all it requires is time and oxygen from the air. I use a bucket, but you could also just have a pile if you have the space. Using free wood pallets is a great way to get a compost going in your yard. Did you know you can also compost things like coffee grounds, bread, eggshells and even hair? Speaking of hair, though this may not be an option if you’re living in an city, I throw my hair out of the bathroom window and it just blows away in the wind. I have learned to save things like apple cores when we go out instead of throwing them away in a public trash can so that they can be composted when I get home. In some cases you don’t actually need a compost to have a zero waste home. Some progressive cities have municipal composting systems so that you can bring your compost there! In this case, freezing your compost until your trip to the city’s compost makes it easy.

8. Shop Craigslist/Ebay

I’ve written before about how to sell on craigslist, but buying stuff on EBay works if you can’t find the item locally. When my Keurig wouldn’t take the reusable cups, I simply searched Craigslist for the older model of Keurig that would take the reusable cups, and then sold my newer model on craigslist. It cost me no money (actually saved me money if you consider I could simply fill the cup with coffee rather than using the expensive and wasteful plastic throw aways), and saved a new Keurig from having to be made for both me and the person who bought my newer Keurig. It was also completely simple and free of packaging.

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my refillable K-cup. Isn’t it beautiful? Why wouldn’t you use one?

If you can’t find something locally on Craigslist, EBay is another option. Simply filter your search for used items. There are also Facebook groups that are specifically for buying and reselling items such as Waldorf Tag Sale (for natural children’s toys and books- by the way I think my next post will be about  kids stuff in a zero waste home because there’s so much to say on that subject that I’ll save it for it’s very own blog post). There are many categories including ones for clothes, collectibles and local yard sale groups. It is secure if you use PayPal and specify that the payment is for goods/services and the groups are usually closely monitored to prevent members that try and take advantage of buyers. Almost anything you need can be found used online if you are patient, persistent and know where to look.

 

Changing Careers
to successfully find something on Craigslist or EBay, check for items regularly as items come and go quickly!

 

Where are you on your journey to a zero waste home? Share your story with us in the comments! Thanks for reading!

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How to Make Decisions (Uncomplicated)

When I describe the KonMari method to people it is so simple it seems stupid at first. “Make a pile of like-objects, hold each one in your hands and as yourself, ‘does this bring me joy?’ Discard the nos and keep the yesses.”

This is as basic as addition (subtraction?) and is a method that has proven effective for both me and millions of others around the world.

I would never attempt to say that I have an idea as amazing as the KonMari method, but I can’t help but wonder, “what if there were a similar method, not for objects, but for making decisions on how we spend our time?”

 

With that thought, I created this diagram a long time ago, when I was at the height of my Mustachian fandom. I wanted to illustrate the idea that making educated, controlled decisions, no matter how minor they may seem, add up to a more meaningful life over time. A great example of what a best choice might be is probably the most Mustachian activity imaginable: riding a bike. It saves you money by not using gas or increasing the wear and tear on your car (Increases Wealth) it gives you an opportunity to exercise (increases endorphins=Increases Happiness) (increases heart health and muscle tone= Increases Health). Some examples, such as riding a bike, are universally obvious. Others are more personal and depend greatly upon your specific situation, personal values and circumstances.How to Make DecisionsStarting a side business, for instance, could easily end up costing you money if you’re not careful. On the other hand, if your business requires little in the way of overhead and is flexible enough for you to keep your job, it would end up satisfying the goals of increasing health, wealth and happiness- making it a best choice for you. Off the top of my head the idea of walking dogs could be perfect for someone who loves dogs. You would get outside, get exercise, spend time with fluffy animals who are always happy to see you, and increase your wealth by making some extra money. Even if your side business does not satisfy all of these requirements, it is still worthwhile even if there’s only a chance it could meet all the requirements in the future.

Selling jewelry, for instance, may not increase your health and it may cost you a lot to buy supplies, meaning you’d just break even. If the happiness it brings you is worth it however, it might be something to stick with because it is quite possible in the future to have enough business to increase your wealth through it. Overall, I’d say even if your choice only includes two out of three criteria, it is worth pursuing if it’s not possible or practical to make a choice that includes all three.

If the choice meets one requirement, it’s a “good choice.” If it meets 2, it’s a “better choice,” and if it meets three, that it’s the “best choice.”

Though it may seem obvious at this point, if a prospective choice doesn’t enhance your health, wealth or happiness it should no longer be something for we should consider at all. Like the possessions you need to ‘let go’ when you’re tidying, there are choices in life that we have to decide for ourselves to walk away from. Leaving a time commitment, hobby, job or relationship can be a painful decision- especially if we have invested a great deal of time, money and energy on the endeavor. If the choice affects someone else, it can be downright scary to even consider abandoning the commitment. As a motivating thought there is a fundamental defect in staying in these scenarios that are solely for the benefit of other people.

The problem is that all the little choices we make for other people will slowly accumulate into a life that doesn’t advance us to our true destiny.

On the flip side, the more we examine each choice we make in the present moment and evaluate its potential to propel us forward, the closer we come to living to our true potential. No one else can decide for us what it means to be healthy, wealthy, and happy- although there is a great deal of research that points to what can statistically contribute to a higher quality of life for most people. If you’d like to learn more about this topic, I’d highly recommend the documentary “Happy” on Netflix instant. It is a captivating film that I am positive will be worth your time.

To give a quick recap in case I lost you:

We make choices at almost every minute of every day.

The choices we make affect our mood, our health, and our financial freedom (or bondage).

When we make choices that increase our health, wealth, and happiness we generally become better people over time.

We can think of it like a software program that mandatorily updates to the newest version every day. Do you want your newest version to work well, to be fluid and run at optimal performance or do you want your newest version to run slow, have kinks and crash all the time? Of course you want it to be better than before! This philosophy and diagram is simply an external cue for being present in every moment; having awareness of our own free will and life force.

Simply trying to feel happy in the moment actually can backfire, but as this wonderful article points out, we can make an effort to plan our time out in a way that incorporates our most rewarding activities.

I’m currently choosing to use mine to spend time with my family and close friends, to make art and music, to learn web development, garden, eat well and move closer to a more minimal, intentional and eco-friendly environment in my home.

How will you use yours?

 

 

Introducing: The Scratch Paper Saver

I’m so very excited to present to you a new look, a new name, and a new blog. I wanted to be able to share something that was easy to say and remember, that I felt described me but also appealed to a wider audience. As the gap between the upper and lower class gets smaller and smaller, the landfills become bigger and bigger. There is a huge concern among the families that I come in contact with about both saving money (or being able to live on what little money can be made) and saving the environment (or at least not exacerbating the currently growing list of ecological disasters that humans have instigated on this planet.

Of course I also share these same concerns. There are many many great solutions to these troubles, and the more individuals that make more positive decisions and proactive choices, the closer we all will come to peace, prosperity and individual freedom. Welcome new friends, and thank you so much to my followers.

I look forward to helping you all to grow, lean and thrive along with me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

(Photo credit: Blackzheep at freedigitalphotos.net)

Letter to a Former Vegan

Dear Friend,

I’m not here to pass judgement, I’m not here to lecture or go into detail about how the factory farming industries are hurting everyone and everything. I’m assuming you already know (if you don’t know, there are plenty of documentaries you can watch to enlighten you). What others do is their choice and I’m just here on my own journey with enough of its own hurdles and hardships. Recently going vegan was not a choice that I made out of compassion (although it was the first time I made the choice over a decade ago). It was not a choice I made for the environment, it was not a choice I made for humanity. It was a choice I made for my own health. Naturally when I decided to become vegan, I reached out to other people on the same path. Most vegans arrive at veganism through the avenue of choosing to face the truth about the horrors and atrocities suffered by animals in the factory farming industry, and they honestly just cannot bring themselves to eat meat without thinking about who it was, where it came from and what it experienced there. But more and more vegans are stepping up their diet choices to battle health problems that are exacerbated by the traditional American diet. This is awesome and I’m pleased this is happening more and more. But similarly to vegetarians trying to subsist on vegetables and rice, it’s not sustainable for the majority of us on this path.

Going vegan for our own health is enormously hard, because we’re only accountable to ourselves, we are only motivated by the benefits we reap. We have to say “no” to foods that would make our taste buds scream YES!, we can’t eat at certain restaurants or shop conveniently at some grocery stores. We can’t make the same meals at home as we used to. We have to get used to things tasting differently, and used to the fact that we will be the odd man out in many a social gathering, even facing stigma and occasionally ridicule. After struggling with all of it and still feeling the craving for meat, it can seem that abstinence from animal products is not worth the personal health rewards. We start to lose sight of what it was within us that made us make the switch in the first place as we feel the guilt of having these carnivorous feelings becoming too heavy to bear. But there’s a way to lighten that burden.

It becomes much easier and simpler if we remember that with every single vegan choice we make, we are saving not just ourselves, but our fellow creatures, the planet, and our fellow humans as well. We’re being the change, even when we can’t immediately see the change. Veganism needs us as much as vegans of all motivations need each other for strength of conviction in a world where we are immersed in a culture that deliberately creates vehicles designed only to get us to make choices in what we consume that support violence and destruction of our natural resources, our animal friends and even ourselves in the name of profit.

Making the decision to give up veganism to eat meat because there are just too many other problems with humanity and the world that need fixing first is merely looking too closely at just one small piece to a huge puzzle.

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Of course, we can continue to fight for what it is we believe in while being vegan. Being vegan does not mean we are willing to die to save the life of an animal- it just means we’re willing to make different choices with our diet than most- we’re willing to be just one part of the force for good in the world. It is not as complex as it seems. It actually requires no effort other than choosing food and consuming food, an activity that we’re already obligated as humans to be doing no matter what  particular cause we were fighting for. All that is required is choosing food that is vegan over food that is not. It cannot be over emphasized how amazing just this simple act of non-violence is for the planet. Even more than that, all of the problems in this world do not exist in a vacuum. They are interrelated and influenced by one another. The way we treat animals reflects the way we treat each other, the way we treat mother earth reflects the way we treat ourselves. It is all related on a spiritual level. Having compassion for IT ALL (including ourselves) is the solution.

Given that, we of course cannot devote our lives as one individual to every single cause that is deserving of our attentions- it is simply not humanly possible with time limitations of hours in a day and days on earth. But we can all make this simple decision at every meal and with every purchase. In fact, I’d argue that we should all make the best passive decisions (that is choose the more sustainable option whenever we have to do something anyway) we can. Toss it in the recycling bin instead of the trash. Buy the organic version. Buy the natural version. Buy from the mom and pop shop instead of Amazon. Go to the wildlife sanctuary instead of the theme park. Adopt a pet instead of buying from a breeder. If you do choose to eat meat, buy from a local small family farm. The power we have as individuals just passively consuming is substantial when it all adds up.

If you decide to stop being vegan, I will still be your friend. I still love my husband, my family and my country, my world even if I don’t agree with the choices that everybody makes. I’m just one person, and I do my personal best to make a difference with who I am and what I have. Consider this open letter to you, and everyone who reads it as more of an open invitation to joining (or re-joining!) the vegan movement, to joining the green movement, to joining the local movement, to joining ANY and ALL movements for good. Even just making positive actions in the world as often as you can helps- any intentional action at all helps. We mustn’t lose sight of the big picture, we mustn’t forget that we’re not alone. Let’s make a pact to follow our hearts and our passions, make steps toward our big dreams through our small decisions. Let’s shine our light in every place we can reach from our own little corners, and slowly but surely we’ll make change happen.