Sunday, November 25, 2012

Step Eighteen: Re-Evaluate Paper Products

It seems as though everyone's talking about how we throw our money away, almost literally, by buying this or that; too much food, disposable diapers, or plastic utensils. Let's shift gears from this view to a simple question: would I rather deal with this problem myself, or pay someone else to do it for me? Lots of people hire a neighbor kid to mow their lawn, but relatively few people send their clothes to a fluff'n'fold service.

Paper products pose exactly that question. Would you rather pay a company monthly to supply you with dishes you don't have to wash, towels  you don't have to keep, and food containers you can throw away? Or would you rather spend a little more up front to buy permanent versions of these products and invest a little time into maintaining them?

Money is tight for me right now, so I know I'd rather spend the pennies to wash something rather than the dollars to pay to replace it every time I use a real one. My reusable paper towels are indispensable to me now, and when I do get a little more money in my  budget I look forward to putting that money towards travel and experiences, not stuff that will end up in the trash in less than a month.

To that end, I've compiled a list of common paper and disposable products, and their waste-free/environmentally-friendly counterparts. Try a few in your home today. I promise you'll find better quality, and more satisfaction.

Paper towels = reusable paper towels, rags, washcloths, regular towels, microfiber cloth, skoy kitchen cloths

Disposable dishes and utensils = regular dishes and utensils, or at least biodegradable picknikware packaged without plastic

Napkins = there are so many cute cloth napkins out there, paper ones just don't seem any fun

Saran wrap/tin foil = Abeego wraps, lidded glass containers, or simply a plate flipped upside-down over a bowl

Ziploc bags = lidded glass containers, to-go ware and similar metal containers, and washable snack bags

Waxed paper/parchment paper = Silicone baking mats, or sustainably produced, biodegradable parchment papers

Cupcake wrappers = Reusable,  silicone alternatives, or plastic-free, biodegradable options

Garbage bags = Leave your waste and recycling bins unlined. With a compost bin you won't have to worry about the bins getting too sticky, and a quick rinse every few months takes care of any other messes.

Paper and plastic bags = Carry your purchases home in reusable bags, and take lunches in furoshiki wraps, cute washable lunch bags, or a good old lunch box.

Disposable mops and brooms = microfiber sweepers, refillable mops, and traditional options

Two extra thoughts:

In cases where I'd rather buy the disposable version (toilet paper comes to mind for my family), look in health food stores and online to find biodegradable, plastic-free options that can go in your compost bin. This way your disposables become food for the soil, not poison.

Some people have questioned whether it's worth the water and energy to wash things, rather than to use disposable versions. Common consensus is that reusing is more earth-friendly, as it takes water and energy to make disposable products as well. Of course, on a per-use basis, reusable items take more water and energy to produce than disposable ones, but lifetime-use averages out to make reusables far less costly than impermanent products.

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

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Step Seventeen: Try Some Zero Waste Recipes

Good job! You have your pantry and fridge clean and  organized, you know where to go to buy things in bulk, and you're ready to forego packaging by bringing in your own bags and containers. So now what? You start cooking!

I always view this step with joy, as cooking allows me to work with my hands, enter a meditative state, and be creative. However, there have been many a night where I would give anything to have a pizza magically appear in front of me. Learning to cook from scratch can be challenging, but after a while you'll get the hang of it and it will be second nature.

Often I make zero waste meals that are comprised of rice and steamed vegetables. I cook the rice as usual, but add an extra half-cup of water and whatever chopped, rinsed, and possibly peeled vegetables that seem appealing to me that night. Top it off with your favorite sauce or seasoning, and you have a one-pot meal that's simple, healthy, and can be varied easily.

If you're feeling adventurous, or your family demands something else, there are a wealth of recipes in the in.gredients recipes section and on their blog, Eggton has a host of hilarious stories and delicious recipes (easily made zero waste with a little tweaking), and I run my very own zero waste kitchen blog full of recipes and tutorials, including the afore-mentioned tweaks to make standard recipes zero waste.

Often, if you don't know where else to start, a quick chat with someone at your local co-op, health food store, or bulk buy mecca will leave you with a multitude of good ideas and cooking inspiration. And a leisurely browse in your library's cook book section will yield a wealth of information and recipes. I particularly like the books What's a Cook to Do?, The Pleasures of Cooking for One, and The Joy of Cooking. Also, Cooking, a Commonsense Guide has never failed me and would be the one cookbook I'd save in a fire, but it's not widely available, so you'll likely have to hunt down a copy on the interwebs.

So now you know where to look for recipes, but it's up to you to start. The film director Robert Rodriguez said that eating is something everyone has to do everyday, so it's worth it to know how to cook and feed ourselves well. I fully agree with this and find cooking for myself and my family satisfying, physically and emotionally, even on my tiredest of days, and I wish you  the same contentment and satisfaction.

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

UPDATE: I don't know how I forgot about this, but The Whole Food Diary has recipes and tutorials that make me drool. If you only go one place for your zero waste recipes, go here.

Sunday, November 4, 2012