Living in Texas, I’m used to brutal summers. However, summer came early this year! We’ve already had our 100+ degree days and the humidity is downright oppressive right now. The heat has me thinking about all the little things we can do this summer to cut down on waste.
Ice cream: Get the cone instead of the cup! No wasteful plastic spoon or cup required. And for at home ice cream, I DIY my own 4-ingredient ice cream with our secondhand ice cream maker (it’s so easy)! Also — you can take a pint or quart container to a local ice cream shop and ask if they will fill it up for you. Popsicles: Avoid the plastic wrappers and make your own popsicles. Compost the wooden sticks afterwards. Berries: This is THE time of the year to find your local berry farm (or head to the farmer’s market) to procure package free berries. We’ve picked strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries this way — bonus, it’s an inexpensive way to have delicious berries year round since these guys freeze really well. I still have blueberries in the freezer from last summer!
Water: I carry my trusty Que bottle with me everywhere and refill it as needed. Remember to take your reusable bottle with you on your summer travels, the beach, the park, etc.! Straws: We seem to use straws way more in the summer time, what with all the delicious icy beverages available. Make sure to carry your stainless steel straw with you at all times — you never know when you’ll need it!
Sunscreen: First off, ALWAYS wear sunscreen — no matter the packaging. Health first. However. There are plenty of options these days for recyclable packaging. My go-to is spray sunscreen in the steel or aluminum cans. Once COMPLETELY empty, pop off the plastic lid and recycle the spray can with the rest of your steel and aluminum. Body scrubs: The sun and sand usually wreak havoc on my skin. Instead of buying body scrubs (usually in plastic containers), I just make my own using whatever oils I have (coconut or olive oil), a pinch of salt, and coffee grounds. (Bonus: apparently the caffeine in coffee is great for cellulite!)
Oh yeah. We’re gonna talk about it. Like most women who get their periods, I used to use tampons… but ~20 tampons (or pads) a cycle? That’s a lot of waste. And a lot of money. So I started exploring the world of reusable feminine hygiene products. And color me impressed. While initially kind of scary, once I got the hang of all the products (and learned about the different options) — I can confidently say that my periods don’t feel quite so arduous. So let’s go from easiest to hardest with three different reusable period products. 1. Cloth pads 2. Period panties 3. Menstrual cup
1. Cloth Pads
Exactly as it sounds. Cloth versions of old faithful — pads. When you’re ready to change out the pad, rinse in cold water, and wash/dry as usual. I think cloth pads are good as a backup to menstrual cups (more on that below) or on light days. I recommend getting a patterned or dark solid colored pad so that any stains don’t show (if that grosses you out!).
Pros: reusable, easy to use, machine washable
Cons: may not work great on super heavy days, will still “feel” period
2. Period Panties
Period panties are what got me in to the whole zero waste period world. They’re so easy to use and provide great protection. Like cloth pads, you rinse these out in cold water and wash as normal — however, these need to air dry and shouldn’t be thrown in to your dryer’s high heat. I personally use these on my end of period/light days when a cup feels like overkill.
Pros: reusable, easy to use, machine washable, can work for different levels of flow
Cons: will still “feel” period, can be pretty expensive at around $30 a pair (and if you’re only using period panties, you’ll probably need at least 5 pairs even with a mid-week wash)
3. Menstrual Cup
Ah, the menstrual cup. The tiny little cup that strikes fear in to the hearts of many women. But don’t be afraid! It might take some trial and error, a good amount of leaks your first few cycles, and moments of “HOW DO I GET THIS OUT?!” BUT. It works out. And hey — this might not be for everyone, and that’s okay too. But if you haven’t tried it, at least give it a shot. The cup is what truly reduced my period week waste to ZERO. And I was awed by how well it worked. Okay, so insertion isn’t a cake walk. But. Once it’s in properly — I can go 8 hours on my heaviest days and 12 hours on every other day without having to empty out the cup. Also, the best part — if it’s in correctly, I really can’t feel it, which makes the week just a bit better. Alright — so you want to try it out? Here are some tips.
There are a LOT of different cups out there, with different sizing, materials, handles, etc. It might take some time to figure out what works best for you. But this quiz is a good start. Based on the quiz, I ended up getting the MeLuna and it’s been great so far.
Watch a ton of Youtube videos to learn about the different folds to get your cup in. I watched this video a million times. The punchdown technique is what worked best for me initially but then I ended up switching to the C-fold (which, for me, allowed the cup to pop open easier). But you’ll need to find what works best for your body.
Once you get your cup, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for sanitizing it before use. I boil my cup for a few minutes before the start of every cycle. During my cycle, I mostly just rinse out the cup and re-insert.
Practice, practice, practice! If your cup isn’t inserted properly, you’ll pretty quickly feel a leak (hence why having a backup pad or period panty the first few times is crucial). If this happens, remove the cup and re-insert. If the cup is in properly, you shouldn’t be able to pull it out super easily. The cup needs to “pop open” in the vaginal canal from whatever fold you’ve created to insert it.
I have found that inserting and removing my cup in the shower both cuts down on mess AND actually helps me insert and remove the cup better.
Pros: reusable, works for different levels of flow, don’t “feel” period, easy to sanitize, gain tons of knowledge about your body (trust me, you’ll get REALLY familiar with all your lady parts)
Cons: will leak if not inserted properly, learning curve for insertion and removal, can be messy to remove/re-insert especially if out in public or traveling
Took some quick pictures of our weekly grocery run. We went to the Central Market in Dallas, which has a great selection of bulk items (and loose salad greens!). As you can see — this isn’t 100% zero waste but I’m happy with where we are at.
From top left to bottom right:
Canned La Croix: 100% recyclable. I use this to make homemade soda.
Beef burger patties: Wrapped in butcher paper (I’ve heard mixed things about whether this can be composted or not). When I open this up, I’ll see if the paper has a “plastic-y” coating on the inside or not. If it does — trash. If not, compost.
Milk: 100% recyclable.
Bottled chai concentrate: I usually buy a 4 lb. bag of this from Amazon to create my own concentrate but was in desperate need of chai ASAP… so I got this 100% recyclable plastic bottle. Ideal? Nope. But hey, I gotta live a little.
Strawberries: They had these in little baskets — so I just dumped out the strawberries in to my own bag.
1890 Olive Oil: This was not from Central Market, but from this shop in the Deep Ellum neighborhood. They told me that I could keep bringing the bottle back to the shop and get it refilled. Score. And they had an AMAZING selection of oils and vinegars.
Gnocchi made in store: The exterior plastic wrapper is trash. Interior cardboard box is compost.
Butter lettuce grown in store: The exterior plastic is trash. Interior cardboard box is compost. This one was an interesting find. Either I could get the bulk lettuce without packaging but grown thousands of miles away OR I could get this slightly packaged lettuce grown INSIDE THE STORE. I picked the latter.
Bulk salad greens
Cereal: 100% recyclable. The box goes in the recycling bin and the plastic cereal bag goes with the bag recycling. Unfortunately, haven’t been able to find bulk cereal yet.
Bulk cherry tomatoes on the vine
Bulk Mike and Ikes: Yep, the Central Market in Dallas has a crazy bulk candy section. I got this for my husband to he has some thing to nosh on at the movies.
Frozen broccoli: Yeah, still haven’t found a great alternative for frozen vegetables (besides, freezing my own).
Burger buns made in store: 100% recyclable. Central Market has most of their bread available without wrapping. Exception: these burger buns. Will recycle the bag with the plastic bag recycling.
So there you have it. An imperfect zero waste grocery haul. Or, rather. A minimal waste grocery haul. What items do you have a hard time finding in bulk in your city?
As someone who travels a fair amount, I really do try to be mindful of the trash I produce while exploring the world. But. Reducing waste while traveling is HARD. Between all the trash created during long haul flights, hotel toiletries, quick meals out in a new city… it’s easy to create a significant mound of trash during a week-long trip. So… what do we do? Nope — we don’t need to be perfect. My primary reason for traveling is to explore. And if exploring leads to a bit of waste… it’s okay. However, I am mindful to not create too much unnecessary waste. Here are my tips for reducing even a tiny bit of “travel trash”.
Bring a travel water bottle. I use a Que bottle that compresses down to a fairly small size and doesn’t have a risk of shattering. Flight attendants have had no problem filling my bottle for me on flights and I continue to refill the bottle at airports, hotels, restaurants, etc. to completely avoid having to buy water bottles or getting the plastic cups of water on the plane.
Avoid plane snacks (i.e. the peanuts, pretzels etc.) on short flights and bring your own. For long-haul flights, I haven’t gone as far as contacting the airline to not have a meal for me on the flight but this may be an option if you are really looking to cut down. (My understanding is that if you just refuse a meal on the flight, the meal just goes to waste. Anyone know anything more about this? Any other ideas?)
Save your recycling. I find it odd that most hotel rooms don’t have a recycling bin. Anyways, I tend to save whatever can be recycled throughout my trip and then find a recycle bin on the street to empty everything in to.
Eat at restaurants (instead of getting take out) as much as possible. Even if I’m super tired, I try to eat at the restaurant as much as possible while traveling instead of getting something “to go” to avoid creating the inevitable waste that comes along with pre-packaged or take out food.
Ignore the hotel toiletries. Unless the hotel has toiletries in large refillable bottles, I avoid using the travel sized toiletries. I bring my own soap (bar), shampoo (bar), lotion (de-potted), etc. (It’s probably better for your skin anyways to use consistent products!).
Save your transit cards. I’ve had the same Oyster card to use in London for the past 10 years and I have no plans to toss it any time soon! Saving this card has helped me avoid getting a new card at least 8 times now.
Pack a reusable grocery bag. This takes up almost zero space (I fold mine in my purse) and helps avoid gathering shopping bags while out shopping in a new city. And on that note…
Avoid purchasing knick-knacks. Listen. I love picking up unusual things on my travels. However, let’s be mindful to not get things that’ll ultimately end up at Goodwill. Some favorite (and useful) purchases on my travels include skincare and personal care finds from local pharmacies (preferably in recyclable glass bottles or, at the very least, #1 or #2 plastic), biscuits and loose leaf teas in cardboard or aluminum tins, and thoughtful coffee table books from a local bookstore.
Meet our dogs, Scout and Sydney. Sydney is our 14 year old golden and Scout is our 1 year old golden.
Aren’t they cute?
Now. Dogs sure do produce a lot of waste. They eat a lot. Poop a lot. Destroy things a lot. BUT it is possible to reduce the amount of dog related things that go to the landfill. Here’s what we do for the most commonly used/needed items.
Food: Unfortunately, it is very difficult to find bulk dog food — especially for the brand you might want. We do a combination of canned food (which we recycle) and Holistic Select dog food. Holistic Select is part of the Wellness Pet Food brand that has a TerraCycle program to recycle the bags. For treats, we have found bulk treats at local dog bakeries. In addition, our dogs love frozen yogurt treats (just stick yogurt in silicone molds and freeze) and frozen bananas (compost the peels).
Poop: When at home, we flush the poop straight down the toilet, as recommended by the EPA (I swear it is not as disgusting as it sounds). On the off chance our dogs poop while out, we bag the poop and throw it away (dog owners — never leave poop outside on the sidewalk or even in the grass as it can pollute waterways!). While I do buy those biodegradable/made from recycled material bags, I don’t think they are truly effective since once those bags are in the landfill, they don’t get the light or oxygen necessary to break down.
Beds and Crates: First off — buy quality. We’ve had our 2 beds for over 10 years. When one’s filling has worn out, I’ve stuffed it with old towels or sheets and it’s ready to go again. We have one crate and one pen that we also plan on using indefinitely — so far no issues with either. Also — it’s incredibly easy to find crates and pens on Craigslist so look there first!
Collars and Leashes: Again, buy for quality. Hopefully your collars and leashes will last you the life of your dog (and maybe even future dogs!). Our leashes are all made from upcycled rock climbing ropes so I feel good about utilizing some thing that would otherwise end up in the landfill. They’ve also been incredibly durable.