Thursday, December 22, 2011

How to Pay for Zero Waste

Going zero waste will eventually reduce your household expenses (by a lot), but getting there requires an initial investment that can be intimidating. I live far below the poverty line, so collecting the change to pay for cloth towels, diva cups, food storage containers, and other reusables was daunting at first, but soon snowballed into an easy process as I saved money by not buying all those disposables in the first place. You can go about acquiring the things you need for zero waste any way you like, but this is the simple system I like to recommend.

Stop buying the things listed in order. Either use the standard, reusable version, or go without it. Put the money you would have spent on that product in a piggy bank, where you can save up for the more expensive zero waste replacements.Good luck, and remember to contribute to your pig regularly.

  1. Garbage bags. Just carry the can out to the dumpster and empty it. You won't have to worry about sticky, stinky things as long as you're composting, and you can always give your garbage can a quick rinse if it needs it. $1 a week.
  2. Paper plates and plastic utensils. Washing dishes isn't that hard, and has much less impact on the earth. $2 a week.
  3. Paper towels and napkins. Use rags, dish towels, cloth napkins, and Bird-e towels instead (see replacement resource list) $2 a week.
  4. Soda, smoothies, and coffee. Replace with water (free), or buy them if you must, but use a reusable cup or water bottle. Most places will give you at least a nickel off the price if you supply the container. $0.10--$20 a week. 
  5. Ziploc bags, saran wrap, and paper lunch bags. Use cloth sandwich wraps, Tupperware, and other food storage options. $1--$5 a week.
  6. Bathroom sundries, like Q-tips, cotton balls, nail files, cotton rounds, and paper cups. $2--$10 a week.
  7. Tampons and menstrual pads. $5--$10 a month.
  8. Toilet paper. I know this sounds gross, but cloth wipes clean better, feel nicer, and are lighter on the planet. A lot of people use them for #1 only, which is a great way to lessen your toilet paper use without worrying about the grossness factor. $1--$5 a week.
  9. Packaged and processed food. Oreos are crazy expensive compared  to homemade cookies. (if you don't have bulk bins in your area, try to buy the largest size package you can, and focus on dry goods rather than canned) $5--$50 a week.
  10. Batteries. These are expensive and wasteful, especially if you go through them quickly. $5--$10 a month.
Once your savings pig is good and fat, start buying reusable versions of disposable things, in order of importance/highest cost to you. Things I like:

There are lots of other disposable things that can be replaced, but these are the ones I was buying most often before going zero waste, and which I saved the most money from replacing. If you're lucky enough to be able to buy these in one trip, go for it, but if not, I hope the idea of snowballing your savings helps you in acquiring the little things that make a zero waste life easier.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Step Six: Find Your Style

I love wearing the colors black, khaki, and green; I like all my kitchen implements to be glass or stainless steel; I only like using Moleskine notebooks; I'll vacuum every day, but I'm lucky if I mop once a month; I don't consider movies and television a waste of time; I like dark wooden furniture; I'd rather read a book on my Kindle than any other way; I have little use for liquid lotions, but I love perfume; I don't eat things if I couldn't make myself, except for Oreos. These are just a few things about me and my style, but they've helped immensely in my zero waste life.

When you know what works for you, what you like, and what you will never use, you can cut through the clutter of unloved gifts, household duplicates, and dreaded calendar appointments. By eliminating these things, and letting people know that they aren't important to you, you can cut waste from your lifestyle. I don't buy clothes I won't wear and love, don't accept hand-me-downs that don't match my style or standards of usefulness (old buckets I will always take, a brand-new KitchenAid mixer? no thanks),  and put gifts I won't use directly in my donation box (after writing a nice thank-you note, of course).

But how to find your style? As pictures of me in high school will prove, I struggled for years to find out what clothes worked for me, and learn what would be a bust. A few more years in college were spent figuring out how I wanted to live, cook, and interact with the world. I still have to work at figuring out what I want from life, and more specifically what I want from my possessions in terms of appearance, function, and amount. This is an ongoing process, but for someone looking to jump-start their discovery of style, I'd recommend the following steps:

  1. List off the things you love. Clothes, cooking utensils, collections, activities, everything. Then look at your list and try to notice some common factors, like colors, clothing styles, people you like to spend time with, and functionality. Keep this list of attributes in mind when you're deciding whether to throw something away, RSVP to an event, or acquire something.
  2. Discover, and start to follow, some methods on cutting the crap from your life. I would be lost without Dave Ramsey for money management, David Allen for time management, and Erin Doland for uncluttering methods. Some people know how to cook, but are at a loss when it comes to dressing themselves, or know how to look good but have no idea how to maintain a car. Whatever your weakness is, do a Google search and start to find out how to manage, maintain, and feel good about that aspect of your lifestyle.
  3. Go through one area of your life and get rid of the things that aren't your style. The easiest area  in my opinion? Office supplies. Gather all the tape, scissors, paper clips, markers, rulers, and other office ephemera from around your house, and take a good look at it all. If something doesn't work, is a duplicate, isn't something you like, or is something you rarely use, donate it to a thrift store, shelter, or school. Your scissors don't need to be in your favorite color (though some people like it when they are, and that's okay), but they do need to be in good working condition and in a place you can easily access and put them away.
You don't need to figure out your perfect everything, or declutter your entire house just yet; we'll go through everything as part of the hundred steps to zero waste, but it is helpful to know what works for you, and what might work better as a member of someone else's home.

First time reading about a hundred steps to zero waste? Go here for the introduction and index.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Best Zero Waste Christmas Gift

There are a bunch of great ideas for zero waste Christmas gift; things like Lunchbots, furoshiki wraps, and experiences are all great options for presents. However, to be frank, money is the best gift of all, especially for us zero wasters. With money, you can buy whatever you want/need, and you don't have to worry about getting/giving something that doesn't look like your brand of pretty, work with your lifestyle, or simply won't be used.

I know giving cash can be a major faux pas, but I'm still going to advocate it, as long as it's given in a certain form. My very favorite version of the money present is for a surprise payment on debt. This takes work (you have to go to the recipients bank and ask about making a payment on their line of credit, auto loan, or mortgage), but I think it gives a huge payoff, as you are relieving an incredible amount of stress on that person's life. I particularly like it, because I'm too irresponsible to dedicate all of my gift money to debt repayment. I put most of it towards that goal, but I always end up making an Ikea trip or stop at the stationary store along the way.

By making a payment on someone's debt, you are lessening their load, furthering their financial goals, and helping them to focus on what really matters to them. If you are worried that your financial gift might go towards furthering a spendy lifestyle, I'd recommend giving them a good book on money management, along with a few loving words of why you care about them and want them to have peace of mind.

My parents were kind enough to offer to pay off my entire credit card balance a while back, but had the stipulation that I  disclose all my financial details to them and then close the account. I was young and stubbornly independent (or so I thought), and so refused the deal. It's taken me a long time to get rid of that debt, but doing things the hard way has made the lesson sink permanently in (something which I don't think would have  happened otherwise. I may not be as independent as I thought I was, but I really am quite pigheadedly stubborn). Now that I've struggled with my budget and made significantly better choices with money, having someone offer to pay off all my debt would mean the world to me, and would allow me to fully employ all the things I've learned about money since initially using it so badly.

If your gift recipient has been wise or lucky enough to remain debt-free, consider making a contribution to their retirement fund, emergency savings, or giving them a stock or bond. Ensuring a financial future feels priceless, even if it actually has a set dollar amount.

Of course, it's also perfectly fine to just give a body some money, and let them decide what to do with it. Giving a gift, especially of money, means releasing it into the recipient's care; if they spend it on groceries or drugs, that's their choice. They are the ones who have to deal with the consequences, and you are under no obligation to give them more if they blow it.

While there are dozens of zero waste gifts to give and get, I think that getting someone out of debt, padding their future, or just helping them save up for what they want in the now, is a great choice. Yes, zero waste is primarily about treading lightly on the planet; but paying interest rates, extra fees, or penalties for poor foresight can be incredibly wasteful, and drains a person of their focus, energy, and joy, things we could all use more of in our zero waste lives.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Step Five: Find Your Local Recycling Programs

Some people, like me, consider recycling okay within the zero waste parameters, while other people consider it a kind of cheating. I think recycling is okay, as long as the materials are truly recycled, not just downcycled. Glass and metal can be recycled indefinitely, so long as the batch remains uncontaminated. Paper and cardboard can be recycled about five to eight times before the fibers become too short to be reused. I'm okay with paper recycling though, because once paper and cardboard products are completely spent they can be composted.

I try to avoid plastic, as the recycling process is still too complicated to be practical, though I don't beat myself up when I make the occasional plastic contribution to my recycling bin. I do write a lot of adamant letters about how cans shouldn't be lined in plastic, how we should disassemble things with multiple types of material, rather than crush them into smaller cubes, and how less packaging is better than recyclable packaging. The recycling system might not be perfect, but I think it's better to work towards making an imperfect system better than it is to shun the system entirely, so I've decided that recycling fits withing my zero waste parameters.

No matter what you decide, when you're first making the push for zero waste you'll uncover a lot of stuff that you might not need anymore. A lot of stuff can be given away, donated to a thrift store, or sold, but even more of it probably won't be useful to anyone and needs to just be gotten rid of. Sometimes there will be nothing else to do with a thing but throw it away, however, a lot of stuff can easily be recycled, so long as you know where. This is why today we're going to work on finding the recycling centers and programs closest to you.

If you have a municipal recycling program, great for you. If you're not sure, check your city website in the waste management section, or call the number on your waste management utility bill. It's often not required for you to sign up for the service to participate in it. Most cities simply require proof of residency for you to make a drop-off. This can be handy for readers who've decided that recycling isn't part of their zero waste plan, but if you think recycling is okay, now is a great time to sign up for your city's recycling plan.

I realize that not everyone is lucky enough to have a municipal recycling program, and while I strongly recommend that you start a campaign to get one (letter-writing, petitions, and attending city council meetings are all great things to do), in the meantime you'll need to find other places to recycle all your cast-offs.

The first place to go to find recycling centers is This handy website lists recycling centers across the U.S. for everything imaginable. They even allow for readers to submit information about recycling centers that Earth 911 hasn't discovered yet. This makes them a great resource not only to find recycling information, but to share it as well. They also have handy little articles, though I find most of the content to be fairly basic.

If you're having a hard time finding a way to recycle certain materials, try going to a store that deals with similar things. Target stores recycle glass, plastic, and small electronics. Many grocery stores, including Walmart, now take back plastic shopping bags, and most eye centers will take your old glasses back to donate to third world residents in need of corrective eye-wear. A plethora of electronics stores take back batteries for recycling, many thrift stores will take bags of completely worn-out clothes so long as those bags are labeled "rags", and Habitat for Humanity ReStores all across the country will take most kinds of home improvement materials, new and used.

As you go through the steps necessary to create a zero waste household, you'll find that being able to recycle old soda bottles, junk mail, and broken household items allows you to get rid of the stuff and feel good while doing it. The recycling system may not be perfect, but it's often better to try and give something new life than bury it forever in a landfill.

First time reading about a hundred steps to zero waste? Go here for the introduction and index.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Step Four: Kitchen Cleaning

Going zero waste involves making a lot of things at home. At the very least you'll be cooking a lot, but if you have committed to going as zero waste as possible you'll also be making beauty and cleaning products. Personally, I love the calming, meditative aspect of making things myself. Even when I'm running short on time I can make myself tea, oatmeal, salad, or a snack pack in less than five minutes. However, I've realized that for the best cooking/homemade experience, it's best to start with at least a clean sink and one cleared off, clean counter. This gives me space to work, a sink I can work with, and confidence that the space I'm working in is sanitary enough for food preparation.

Over the next few weeks we'll be working a lot to clean and declutter our homes, but the only thing I find to be imperative to zero waste is a clean sink and one clean counter. Everything else can be covered in junk, but with a clear counter and sink you'll be able to mix up all the potions, concoctions, and delicious food that will fuel and aid in your zero waste journey.

If you'd like you can just plunge in right now and go for it, or you can follow my super easy steps to zero waste cleaning.

Put all the dirty dishes from the counter in the sink. If the sink is full, you'll need to do dishes. Now isn't the time to wait for the dishes to dry in a dish-rack, so find a clean towel, dry them yourself, and put them away. If you have a dishwasher, lucky you. Rinse and load your dishes to get them out of the way.

Go through all the papers, knick-knacks, and snack items you have on your counter. Decide what really needs to live on your counter and what doesn't. I like to keep my water kettle out, since I use it two or three times a day, and my fruit basket, as it's easier to grab a snack off of the counter, but that's it. If you decide to keep things on your counter, make sure it's stuff you use at least once a day. If not, then it'd probably be better if it had it's own place in a cupboard or on a shelf.

For papers, sort through them quickly, and recycle anything that is expired, not relevant, or not useful. Sort bills, school papers, notes, lists, and reading materials into separate stacks, and then put them away in the area where you'll most use them. I like my reading material in a folder by my bed, my bills in a file by my desk, my school papers on the fridge if they have calendar information and in my school binder if they're class material, my lists in my planner, and my notes tucked away in a filing system for easy retrieval. If you don't have your paper filing system perfectly set up yet, that's fine, for now just separate all the stacks of paper in file folders, with paper clips, or with sticky notes, and put everything in one place where you can easily get to it again.

Now that the counter is clear, wipe it down with some sort of cleaner. This could be a rag and soapy water, cleaning materials that you have around the house (we'll zero waste this stuff later), or a mix of 4 cups water and 3 teaspoons white vinegar, with a teaspoon and a half of castile soap mixed in for scent, if you like. Soak and scrub any grimy bits off, and don't forget the back-splash.

Once your counter is clear and clean, replace anything you've decided should live there. I think things like dish-racks, fruit baskets, bread boxes, water kettles, toasters, electric grills, and a single decorative item are all acceptable, but I try to only choose two or three of these things to keep the counter from getting too cluttered again. Make sure the items are clean and in good condition before you put them on the counter. Anything that is broken or unusable will need some attention before it gets put back in place.

Finally, turn your attention to the sink. Do any dishes left in it (now it's okay to put them on the dish rack to dry), and go through all the sponges, rags, and scrub brushes you have. Each of these should have a specific purpose. If you have more than one item, but you use them for the same thing, keep the nicer version and get rid of the other one. For example, my mom likes to keep two scrub brushes, one for dishes and one for vegetables. My mother in-law had two sponges in her sink, but both were used for dishes, so I cleaned and dried one of them and stored it under the sink to replace the one I left in the sink when it wears out.

Once the sink is empty, you'll want to clean it thoroughly. I found some great instructions here for how to clean a sink out with baking soda and a sal suds spray (a Dr. Bronner's cleaning product). Basically, you'll just want to spray the sink down and wipe it out using the same cleaner you used on your counter, then sprinkle baking soda over the whole sink and scrub it around to provide a good shine. Rinse the sink out with hot water, then enjoy the sparkling, sanitary cleanliness that is your new sink and counter.

Now your kitchen is ready to work in to mix, prepare, and cook all the wonderful food, beauty balms, and cleaning products you'll need for a zero waste home. With a little effort, you can keep the counter and sink clear and usable by cleaning up after yourself as you cook, doing the dishes every night, and wiping down the sink and counter with your cleaner of choice at least once a week. Resist the urge to put anything on the counter unless you're working with it at the time, and you'll never have any clutter to clear off before you can work in your kitchen

First time reading about a hundred steps to zero waste? Go here for the introduction and index.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Zero Waste for the Larger Dog and Other Pets

Like many of you, I am a huge fan of Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste blog, and have even used it as an inspiration to make my household zero waste. However, her advice on pets leaves something to be wanted for those of us with larger dogs, cats, and other pets. Through some experimentation and common sense, I’ve come up with an easy way to keep all the pets we love in a zero waste manner.

The first step to a zero waste pet is to acquire it in a responsible manner., the humane society, animal shelters, craigslist, freecycle, and the local classifieds all are great sources for cheap or free pets that people may love but just aren’t able to care for any more. If you’re looking for farmyard type animals (chickens, rabbits, bees), look for local enthusiasts through farmer’s markets, county and state fairs, 4-H clubs, and other similar societies. If you don’t want to or are unable to get the pet you want through secondhand means, make sure that the breeder you go through is responsible. Look for healthy living conditions, happy animals, and a breeder who truly cares about the creatures they raise and care for.

Once you have your pet home (or maybe before that), start looking for used animal supplies. Bowls, collars, leashes, toys, and grooming supplies can usually be made or found in classifieds and thrift stores. Cages and tanks are especially common in thrift stores, while hutches for farmyard animals can usually be bought secondhand from the breeder where you got your animal. There are also a myriad of do-it-yourself fencing and caging options online which only use common, easily borrowed tools and which can usually be built in only a few hours. If you do need to buy new, check Etsy first, as handmade items are usually more earth friendly and waste free (they even have Amish-built kitty litter boxes listed for sale). If you do find yourself in a pet store, try to buy quality, long-lasting items that are repairable, have minimal plastic parts, and try to make that pet store a local establishment, as they’ll keep your dollars in the local economy better than the big box stores.

Now that you have a pet and their gear, think about feeding them a home-made diet, as this is the easiest way to make them waste-free. If you have a bulk source of pet food near you, hooray, but check to make sure the ingredients are something you’re comfortable with feeding your pet. I keep some bulk food on hand for nights I’m too tired to cook, but I normally like to feed my dogs a meal of half meat, diced and pan fried, a quarter cooked whole grains, and a quarter lightly steamed vegetables. There are plenty of homemade recipes online for dogs, cats, and all kinds of other animals. When I had fish I liked to chop up fruits and vegetables to supplement the flaked food I gave them (pre-zero waste days), and my hermit crabs are now much happier on mixed vegetables, calcium tablets, and the tiniest bit of cooked chicken.

There’s a lot more information on how to properly feed your pet a homemade meal (pet nutrition is different than human nutrition), so I would suggest that you perform a thorough Google search, make sure you’re getting your recipes from a reliable source, and possibly check with your vet or another expert to make sure that all your animal’s nutritional needs are being met.

Possibly the biggest source of pet waste aside from food packaging is actual pet waste. Everything poops (and pees), and all that matter has to go somewhere. Personally, I think the best thing to do with the mess is compost it, as this turns waste into a rich resource for your garden and yard. Composting poopy isn’t that much harder than regular composting, but a few extra precautions need to be taken to prevent the spread of pathogens.

The easiest thing to do is find an old trash can. Cut the bottom out, drill a lot of holes in the side, and dig a hole in the ground big enough to bury the can in with only two inches sticking up over the top. If you have heavy, clay-based soil, you can dig the hole a few feet deeper and then fill it up with gravel to promote drainage, but I haven’t found this necessary in any other type of soil (to tell if you have clay-type soil, get a bit of it wet, roll it into a snake, and bend it into a ‘U’ shape; if it can do that without breaking it, you have clay soil). You can also line the hole with chicken wire or nothing at all, if you’re not worried about the pit collapsing in on itself. I like the trash can because it has a lid built in, but a board or piece of old carpet would work just as well.

Once the poop composter is built, just add poop whenever you normally clean up after your pet, and then layer some leaves, sawdust, grass clippings, or shredded newspaper on top to keep the smell down and add carbon-rich material to balance out the nitrogen-rich animal leavings. I think it’s best to build two poop composters, as it takes six months to kill all bacteria and viruses, and a year and a half to two years to kill all parasitic worm eggs. This means that once the bin is full and you stop adding material it’s important to let the compost sit, undisturbed, for a year and a half to two years. With two compost bins this means that while one bin is being filled up, the other bin is composting and aging enough to kill off all pathogens.

Once the material has aged enough, the resulting humus can be used safely even for food crops, but if you continue to be worried about pathogen infestation use it for only horticultural purposes. If this all sounds like a long process, you can make thermophilic compost and eliminate all the nasties (bacteria, viruses, and worm eggs) in less than six months, but this is a topic for another post. If you’re just aching to know more, you’re welcome to go to my composting blog at, where everything is laid out in clear steps.

Composting poop is easy when compared to collecting it. If you have a cat, rabbit, chicken, or other pet that poops in one designated area, just make sure that the bedding is compostable too. Clay, sand, and crystalline-based cat litters are no good, as they leach chemicals and mess up the soil structure. Kitty litter, and other animal beddings, that are made of sawdust, wheat husks, newspaper, corn cobs, rice hulls, or similar materials are all good candidates for zero waste pet bedding. I pick up my dogs’ poop on walks with biobags, which I’ve had no trouble composting, but which may need to be processed in a thermophilic pile to break down completely. I’ve also considered using a wet bag on walks, but this seemed like too much work, so instead I just try to pack as much poop in each biobag as a can on a walk, and then make my biggest dog carry it in his back pack. All other pet bits, like feathers, fish tank water, fur, nail trimmings, and bedding can be composted easily, but may also be added to the poop composter if you’re worried about pathogen contamination.

So as you can see, though keeping a zero waste pet sometimes involves a bit of a long article, it really isn’t that much more difficult than keeping a zero waste home. And even if you only implement a few of these methods (my vote goes to the poop composting; composting will save the world!), you’ll be doing a whole lot to help your family, furry and otherwise, and the planet.

Making Your Own Pet Food

I have too many links in my bookmarks bar, so in an effort to clear them out, I'm going to share with you links to research I've done on how to make your own pet food. Homemade pet food may seem like a hassle, but it's really not much trouble to make a little something for your beloved companion while you're making a healthy, delicious meal for yourself. Zero waste aside, the health benefits for your animal are amazing, and to my experience they'll love you all the more for the yummy food they're getting.

Also, expect this link list to change from time to time as I discover more tutorials, instructions, and research on how to feed your pets a healthy, zero waste diet at home.

Cat Food:

My Plastic Free Life has a blog post about how she makes food for her cats here. There is plastic packaging from a supplement involved, but it makes much less waste than buying bagged and canned food would.

Dog Food:

Recipes 4 Gourmet Dogs (I hate it when people write the number instead of the word it sounds like, but this is the name of the site, and journalistic integrity demands that I report it to you accurately, even if I got frustrated just typing it) has all kinds of great recipes that my dogs have loved, but I particularly enjoy them for their feeding chart for dogs by weight, found here. Feeding your pet at home is great, but not all of us have the time or resources to schedule sit-down time with our vet to quiz them on dietary requirements specific to our pet. This chart helps take a little guesswork out of the process.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Step Three: Get a Reusable Water Bottle

Water. It makes up 70% of our body, we'll die in three days without it, it's the most important resource for life. I have a lot of rants about how we waste water maintaining lawns we don't use, defecate in our drinking water, and return used water back to the water table in worse condition than when we got it, but no matter how we treat it, we still have to drink it, so why not drink your water out of an earth-friendly container?

It may seem like tap water is just tap water, and a container is just a container, but that isn't always the case. For the United States, tap water is an incredibly cheap source of potable water. Water varies in mineral content and taste from area to area, so your tap water could be sweet and wonderful, or it could have a weird taste that drives you to buy bottled water, no matter what though, it is drinkable. So even if your water tastes icky, I encourage you to drink that rather than bottled water for the savings alone. I used to drink exclusively bottled water because I despised what came out of my faucet, but I had to stop once my work hours were cut back and money became tighter.

The first week of drinking tap water was hell. It tasted awful, so I didn't drink as much, so I became dehydrated and cranky. After about ten days though, I realized I didn't mind the taste of my water, and after about a month it started to taste good. Now, after four years of drinking exclusively tap water, I've started to notice the difference in water taste between cities, but unless the water truly does taste foul it just seems like the minor variation in fruit from separate orchards, and so I can drink tap water everywhere I go.

If you can stand the ten days of transition, I highly recommend it (I took the opportunity to show tap water that I wasn't its bitch), but if you don't want to, that's fine, there are other options. The first is to get a water filter. There are kinds that attach directly to the sink and others that come in the form of a refillable pitcher, but whatever you get try to make sure that the replaceable parts are recyclable. If you're less worried about the gunk in your water and more about the taste, you can also try flavoring it with tea leaves, honey, or a little juice. And if, like me, you've recently become aware of water chlorination and the nasty things it can do to your body, then keep a pitcher of water out overnight to let the chlorine evaporate and use the water the next morning. It's not a perfect solution, but it works.

Despite the possible drawbacks, I still think I'm incredibly lucky to live in a place that commonly has indoor plumbing with drinkable water. I could drink bottled water, soda, or "healthy" drinks, but why have any of those except as a treat when I can have more water than I can drink for pennies? People also ask why I bother to carry around a water bottle when I can get free water cups anywhere. Well, that's the other thing about zero waste; I don't just carry a water bottle because I'm okay with tap water, I carry a water bottle because I don't want to go through hundreds of single use cups and bottles in a year.

When I carry a water bottle I never need to get a drink at food stands or fast food stops, I'm never left thirsty with nothing to drink, and and I never have to stop at a vending machine or quickie mart for something to drink before work. With a water bottle, I always have a drink I like nearby and never have to accept a disposable bottle or cup for any reason. A lot of the time when people hold out a drink cup to me all I have to do is hold up my water bottle and smile and they immediately understand. No explaining, no arguing, no derision. My water bottle is a universally understood symbol of zero waste sustainability. Needless to say I love it and never go anywhere without it.

As much as I love what my water bottle does for me, as soon as this one wears out I have my eye on the new Klean Kanteen Reflect, which uses no paint or plastic in its design and is constructed from reusable and recyclable materials. My current water bottle works just fine, though I've been waiting for an accident to happen so that I can get one that isn't leaking chemicals into my water. However in my desire to not create more matter to be downcycled or landfilled, I've decided to put off getting my dream water bottle until the last possible second. If you are just starting out with a water bottle though, or can find a way to recycle the one you already have (mine has no numbers on it, that probably means it's extra-toxic. sigh), I totally recommend that you get a stainless steel water bottle with no liner. No liner means nothing on the inside to dent, scratch, or stain, and food-grade stainless steel won't leach toxins or chemicals into your water. You can even put non-water drinks into an unlined stainless steel container and not worry about corroding or degrading the container, or the container leaching stuff into the juice (or what-have-you) on account of the acids, sugar, or other stuff in your drink. Stainless steel isn't the only way to go, but from all the research I've done I think it's the best.

So now that you've heard more than you ever wanted to on the wonders of tap water and unlined stainless steel bottles, go out and get a reusable water bottle--whatever kind you want--and refuse to accept another disposable cup or bottle ever again.

First time reading about a hundred steps to zero waste? Go here for the introduction and index.

Zero Waste Blog Round-Up

While I would love it if I were the go-to source of information for how to live a zero-waste, clutter-free, fulfilling life, I have come late to the game and so instead am offering you a list of great blogs and websites that will help you fulfill all your goals. Enjoy.

This blog was my original inspiration for going zero waste myself. Bea Arthur writes and maintains the blog about her family's journey to zero waste. She provides a multitude of ideas, recipes, and tips, as well as gives voice to the frustrations many people run into while becoming zero waste.

I started following this site after reading Erin Doland's book Unclutter Your Life in One Week. I found the book to be a comprehensive solution to my long-time pack-rat tendencies, and I enjoy reading the blog to keep myself motivated and inspired. If you're struggling with clutter at all, this is the place to go. I include it on the list of zero waste resources because it's so much easier to work towards what you want when you don't have a million little distractions nagging at you, which is essentially what clutter is.

After researching the harmful effects of plastic, Beth Terry decided to make her life plastic free. On this site she tallies her plastic waste, looks at plastic alternatives, and offers solutions to plastic problems. While she doesn't seem to be zero-waste, she has addressed a very important part of the zero waste lifestyle, which is eliminating plastic usage by employing reusable items or alternative strategies. A lot of our waste comes from single-use items like take-out cups, breakable items like plastic water bottles, and unrecyclable items like PVC plastic; which is why I find Beth's plastic free life motivating and inspiring.

I go here for any makeup, toiletry, or personal care item I need but can find in a waste-free option or just want to make myself. Leslie Martin runs the site to compile and test beauty recipes for her readers. She makes experimenting fun and comes up with all sorts of novel ideas that would never occur to me (powdering my face with eggshells? this oily girl loves it!). Best of all, when you make a product yourself, you know exactly what you are washing your face with, spreading under your armpits, and running through your hair.

So you've read Cruchy Betty and now need to know where to buy kaolin clay and Shea butter in a responsible zero waste manner. Don't have a health food store around you? Have a health food store but everything is covered in plastic, outlandishly priced, and comes in ant turd-sized portions? Go here to order everything a zero waster could want in home beauty production, bulk herbs and spices, essential oils, and "herbal sundries"

Formally titled "Composting Will Save the World", this excellent blog is run by moi, and goes over every possible way to compost anything that can be composted, including humanure, oil spills, and menstrual blood. If you want to go zero waste, you almost have to compost, just because city composting systems won't yet take everything that can be composted, and so many areas don't even have composting systems to begin with. You didn't thing I'd list a bunch of zero waste resources and not toot my own horn, did you?

We all need to laugh, this blog helps us do it. When eco-anxiety (or any anxiety) overwhelms, go here for a quick laugh.

See the description for The Bloggess.

It would be great if we all had time to sew, craft, and create our way into a unique, zero waste home, but that's not possible for every problem and every person. So to make up the gap, there's Etsy, the site that brings homemade goods to the larger market of the internet. Go here for produce bags, hand-sewn clothing, secondhand goods, wooden kitty litter boxes (yes, really), and homemade soaps when you don't have the time or inclination to make your own. Ordering from Etsy promotes reusability, local economies, and individuality. I find that this is also a good place to go when trying to find the perfect gift for someone who isn't quite as crunchy green as you are. There's all kinds of jewelry and art on Etsy as well, and it isn't too hard to find stuff made with re-purposed or recycled materials. That way everybody wins.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cradle to Cradle: Waste Equals Food

Hello Dear Readers, today I wanted to introduce the concept of biological nutrients versus technological nutrients, but I've already written about this in a post on my composting blog, so I thought I'd just reprint that article here. Enjoy.

Not to burden you with too many book reviews in a row, but I just read Cradle to Cradle, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, and found one concept in their book particularly interesting. The book primarily addresses how products, buildings, and systems can be designed to be beneficial for the earth, the population, and the economy, rather than harmful or just "less bad". It doesn't deal much with composting, but their concept of technical vs. biological nutrients is incredibly relevant.

Ideally, in the human world we would treat our resources like the natural world, where everything cycles through different systems; the waste of one system is food for another. This isn't the case, even when one considers the growing recycling industry, but we could easily make it so by viewing all materials as either technical or biological nutrients. Biological nutrients are things that are compostable and can be fed back into the natural world as a nutritious, safe resource for plants and animals. Technical nutrients are things that can be fed back into the industrial system endlessly to be reused to make new products.

Currently our recycling system is flawed, as much of what we recycle is actually "down-cycled" into products of lesser quality. I definitely need to do more research on this subject, but basically the adding of dyes, paints, or solvents to a material contaminates it when it comes to future use. So if you have a green soda bottle, that plastic is still recyclable, but only as a different, usually lower-quality product.

There are exceptions to this, but system-wide we don't have a good method for recycling materials into products of equal quality and value. Even materials which should be easy to recycle, like metal, are often contaminated because of current recycling methods. For example, aluminum soda cans are often lined in plastic, and cars are crushed into a large block of material, rather than being disassembled to retrieve their copper, steel, and other resources.

I have a whole rant building on how we need to recycle better, design products and packaging with their reuse and recycling in mind, and how the plastics industry is particularly troublesome, but that's an article that needs a lot more thought, research, and calmer state of mind. So what I want to talk about is biological nutrients, and how important it is to separate them out from (what should be) technical nutrients.

As it stands now, unless you participate in some sort of recycling program, technical nutrients and biological nutrients are mixed together in your trash, then buried in the ground at a landfill where they are sealed off from soil and air. What this means is that even the biodegradable waste like banana peels and newspapers won't break down because the right aerobic (or air-loving) bacteria won't grow in this environment, and so there's nothing to facilitate the rotting, or composting, process. I wish every city had a composting program and was vigilant about separating out its waste, but this just isn't the case.

If the city won't do it, it's up to the citizens to make it happen. By all means write letters to your mayor, attend city council meetings, and make phone calls to your city's waste management department, but in the mean time, take matters into your own hands and start composting. Put everything you can into your home compost bin. If you know of neighbors or apartment dwellers who are unable to compost, offer your bin to them as well, it will only enrich your compost and make for a more beautiful world.

I think the idea of technical and biological nutrients is brilliant, and I intend to explore it further. But in the mean time, I know exactly what to do with all my biological nutrients to make sure they are returned safely and responsibly to the earth.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Step Two to Zero Waste

2.Set up a Compost Bin

As I’ve firmly stated many times before, I truly believe that composting will save the world. If everybody composted, either in their backyard or through a municipal program, we could cut our waste by at least a third, and possibly by one half. Composting is the ultimate form of recycling, as it takes your waste and turns it into rich food for the earth through an all-natural process that has no harmful effects or toxic by-products. I understand that composting can seem time-consuming and difficult at first, but as long as you have a diverse, well-aerated pile, you’ll have no trouble at all. I run a whole separate blog about composting, so I recommend that interested readers go there to explore the world of composting, but if you want the nutshell version, here it is:

To compost you just need a pile of organic material, but it’s easiest to put this in some sort of bin or container. Examples of compost bins are in the resources section at the end of the article. Once you have a bin set up, either indoors or outdoors, contribute all biological material to it. This includes kitchen scraps, hair and nail trimmings, yard waste like grass clippings and leaves, the contents of your vacuum cleaner, pizza boxes, and any wool or cotton cloth that’s been worn out.

Never layer more than six inches of one kind of material into the bin, otherwise the bacteria that break everything down won’t have a diverse enough food source and the pile will start to stink. Properly done, compost never smells of anything more than the forest floor. Shovel the pile around once a month so that the stuff on the top is now on the bottom and vice versa. This ensures that the bacteria have plenty of air. Without it, aerobic (air-loving) bacteria move out and anaerobic (non-air-loving) bacteria move in. This is bad, because anaerobic bacteria are the ones that stink.

After six to eight months, you should be seeing a rich, dark material that looks like the mulch or compost you see in all those Better Homes and Gardens pictures. This is finished compost, and is the best thing your garden or yard could ever get. Spread it around in your vegetable beds, flower gardens, and even in a thin layer over your lawn. You can fork it in if you like, but the worms in the soil will go mad for it and dig it in for you if you’re willing to wait a week or so.

Compost returns important nutrients to the soil, helps keep moisture locked in, and encourages all sorts of good bacteria, fungi, worms, and insects to move into your soil and start working for your benefit. After composting for years, I can’t imagine doing anything else with my biological waste, and wouldn’t want to.

Indoor Composting (more information on this at Composting World)
Kitchen Compost Collection Pail (if you don't want to just use an old bucket or bowl)
Composting Guide (just one article, but goes over composting more in-depth)

First time reading about a hundred steps to zero waste? Go here for the introduction and index.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Step One to Zero Waste

1. Get reusable shopping bags.

Learn to refuse things you don’t want in your life and fill that extra space with things you love and use. I don’t want or need plastic shopping bags, but I get a kick out of using my fun totes and produce bags. I don’t think anyone needs plastic shopping bags, and they are one of the easiest things to realize that you don’t want in your life as soon as you find out they are just a waste. Trash can liners, pet poop bags, even mess containment can be performed by other, more aesthetically pleasing and environmentally responsible alternatives.

I always carry a compact bag with me for the “just in case” reason, but when I know I’m going shopping I have a kit with reusable containers, several shopping totes, and a number of produce bags. I recommend starting out with around three shopping totes and five produce bags of various sizes. This covers my once a week shopping trip for my family of four, but you may need to adjust accordingly.

There are other shopping things you’ll need eventually to become zero waste, but for now just help cut down on the 380 billion plastic bags the US uses every year by never again accepting a plastic bag under any circumstances. You may have to return to your car or home a couple of times when you realize that you’ve done your grocery shopping without your bags, but after a few botched trips, you’ll never forget them again. Alternately, use your shopping totes instead of a shopping cart to collect your purchases, and you’ll realize you’ve forgotten them when you grab your first item, rather than after you’ve paid for everything (like I once did).

First time reading about a hundred steps to zero waste? Go here for the introduction and index.

One Hundred Steps to Zero Waste

You can get to zero waste any which way you like as far as I’m concerned, but for those of us tight on time and looking to make big changes as easily as possible it’s nice to have a clear plan with an end in mind. And so I present One Hundred Baby Steps to Zero Waste. I’ve included the full list here, but click the links (which are coming soon, I promise) for more instructions, ideas, and discussions on each step.

One hundred steps may seem like a lot, but I’ve staggered them out so work intensive days are mixed in with simple tasks and reading days, and nothing says you have to complete a task a day. Even just doing one step every other day will get your household to zero waste in less than a year.

Remember, zero waste is meant not only to help the planet, but to you create a meaningful, enjoyable, and minimal-stress life. If any of these steps don’t work for your lifestyle, find something that works for you, and share it with us in the comments.
28. Start Eating Out in Zero Waste Style
29. Evaluate Your Everyday Carry
30. Get Your Finances in Order
31. Take a Look at Your Personal Care Products, Including Makeup
32. Take a Walk Around Your Neighborhood
33. Clean Out Your Car, and Re-Evaluate Your Transportation
34. Volunteer
35. Start Collecting Zero Waste Recipes for Food and Body
36. Clean Out Your Bathroom
37. Evaluate Your Hobbies
38. Clean Out Your Craft Cupboard
39. Zero Waste Your Laundry
40. Find Zero Waste Games and Activities for You and Your Family
41. Watch a Documentary
42. Learn to Fix Things
43. Get a Houseplant
44. Audit Your Shopping List
45. (Re)Discover Freecycle
46. Find Some Local Shops You Like
47. Explore "Hippy" Solutions
48. Make a List of Ten Waste Free Gifts
49. Clean Out Your Kitchen Gadgets
50. Try Gardening
51. Optimize Your Storage for "Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do, Or Do Without"
52. Get Your Storage and Decor In Order
53. Pick Something Fun to Hold Your Remaining Garbage In
54. Share Your Journey
55. Make Some Zero Waste Gift Wrap
56. Decide What You Want Your Legacy To Be
57. Pick Your Favorite Heirlooms and Knick-Knacks
58. Get a Memory Box or Book
59. Make Your Bedroom into an Oasis
60. Designate a Landing Zone
61. Organize Your Photos
62.Become an Organ Donor
63. Digitally Back-Up Everything
64. Play With Essential Oils
65. Petition for More Water Bottle Refill Stations and Hand Dryers
66. Write Another Letter
67. Start a Tool Kit
68. Start a Sewing Kit
69. PEEP (a Place for Everything and Everything in its Place)
70. Give Cubbies a Try
71. Familiarize Yourself with Zero Waste Research
72. Write a Letter to Your City
73. Become Re-Inspired
74. Try Canning Tomatoes, or Other Favorite Food
75. Share Your Zero Waste Resources
76. Volunteer at a Local School
77. Make a Will and Testament
78. Donate Blood
79. Evaluate Your Routines and Schedules
80. Zero Waste Your Pest Control
81. Clean Your Carpets (With Hydrogen Peroxide)
82. Install Some Kind of Grey Water System
83. Expand Your Garden
84. Start Saving for Solar Power
85. Write a Letter to Your Utility Company
86. Find Zero Waste High-Wear Clothing (to replace your grunderwear)
87. Zero Waste Your Vacation
88. Ensure Your Retirement
89. Vote and Participate in Politics
90. Learn the Ins and Outs of Etsy, E-bay, etc.
91. Replace Broken Electronics Zero Waste Style
92. Write Yet Another Letter
93. Declutter Your Basement, Attic, and/or Garage
94. Evaluate Your Media Collections
95. Donate to Your Local Food Bank
96. Keep a Zero Waste Pet
97. Have Your Home Audited
98. Photograph Your Waste
99. Keep Calm and Carry On
100. Do Something Creative Every Day

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Look What I Found!

Dear Nonexistent Readers,

Whenever I'm browsing the web I'm thinking of you and what I can bring to your attention to improve your zero waste lives. So with that in mind, here is a website I came across while looking through the plastic free life blog that has everything you need to make a zero waste shopping trip.

If you don't buy anything here (I didn't), you can at least get ideas and inspiration to make your own shopping kit. Happy browsing!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Baby Steps to Zero Waste

I can't help it; whenever I have to do something I don't want to, or something hard, I always hear Bill Murray from What About Bob intoning "Baby steps, baby steps". It may be silly, but it's helped me do a lot of things, and it's about to help me out again. After being inspired by Bea Johnson's zero waste blog to make my beautiful little apartment zero waste, I was unexpectedly evicted.

A big mess of tears, unready downsizing, and storage shed nightmares later, I am now living at my soon-to-be-in-laws house, and while they are wonderful, kind people, they do not compost, recycle, or use reusables. At all. I love my fiance's parents, but this could not stand, so I started my zero waste journey all over again, except this time with three unwilling human participants and a few extra cats and dogs in tow.

I think I learned a lot last time, but it was comparatively easy in a single-person home with full authority in the yard. This situation is rare, so now I'm chronicling my second journey in a blog designed to help get every one to zero waste (or as close as possible) in the easiest, most painless way possible.

Like what I'm doing here? Don't forget to check out the Zero Waste Baby Steps' sister blog Zero Waste Kitchen for great zero waste, homemade recipes for food and body.