So you want to shop more sustainably, good for you! I’m going to make this brief because contrary to popular belief- shopping in bulk is simple and exceptionally easy to integrate into your lifestyle.
Check it out:
1. Write your shopping list down. Identify items that can be purchased in the bulk food aisle of your store. If you aren’t sure, call them and check.
2. Locate tupperware, reusable containers, cloth bags for produce/nuts/rice, etc. Make sure you have the proper number of containers for the number of bulk items on your list. Also ensure that all the lids fit and the tupperware is clean!!! One of the biggest complaints or roadblocks for most people when it comes to bulk shopping is sanitation, so please help us show how clean bulk shopping can be!
Tip: Opt for plastic reusable containers- they aren’t as heavy as glass and are less likely to break in transit. You can always transfer items to more attractive containers when you get back home.
3. Bring your containers to customer service, ask them if they can weigh them for you or if there is another place in the store that can help you. Even weigh your cloth bags- these things can add up!
4. Once your containers are weighed, you can head to the bulk food aisle and start filling them up. I typically do my dry items first and my liquid items second because they are more difficult.
5. Most places will have you write the item# on a small sticker that you put on your container, in which case you will bring your items to the checkout line when you’re done shopping and they will weigh your bulk items. Other stores may be farther along and allow you to weigh your item right there in the aisle.
6. Transfer items from their plastic containers to their shelf storage container. Doing this frees up your plastic container to be used again to shop in bulk if needed.
7. Clean your plastic bulk containers and get them ready for the next shopping trip!
Tip: You can use a permanent marker or a permanent label to keep the weight on your container for future use!
Our impact on the environment boils down to one thing: human behavior.
I try my best to buy from socially and environmentally responsible vendors. I go out of my way to support companies that empower women and minorities. I even continue to support companies whose business model aligns with my moral code, even if I’m not crazy about the actual product they’re producing.
So when I find a product I love, or think I will love, I can’t help but hear a pleading voice in my head saying “no need to double check their website or get in touch with a rep from the company, I’m sure they’re sustainable, the packaging is brown… there’s an ambiguous leaf on the label!” I want to believe that voice so badly, but somehow “the packaging is brown” just isn’t that convincing of an argument. So I check. I google. I read reviews. I even cross-check environmental watchdog websites if I’m feeling desperate. And 9 times out of 10, I’m forced to reconcile defeat. This happens so often actually, that I find myself accepting that these brands, companies, or items will never find their way into my home.
This happened to me the other day with a company called Prose. They provide custom hair care products based off of your lifestyle, hair type, geographic location, etc. I was in love. My hair can get CRAY so when I stumbled across this company, that little pleading voice in my head started yelling (rude)- “IT’S 2019, THIS IS A NEW COMPANY! OF COURSE THEIR PRODUCTS ARE SOURCED SUSTAINABLY AND THEY ARE TAKING NECESSARY PRECAUTIONS WHEN IT COMES TO PACKAGING! IT’S. 2019.”
So I listened to the voice and I took the online quiz- oh how detailed and inquisitive the questions were! The end result was a beautiful mixture of apple cider vinegar, maca root, and jujube bark. That’s “luscious locks” for those of you who don’t speak hippie.
Then to the next page, where I was forced to face my fears head first. Plastic. I’ve spent enough time shopping online for products, that I know the difference between glass and plastic packaging based on how the light reflects off of the container (just kidding, that would be a super lame power to have). I was unwilling to accept defeat so I left my quiz results up in the browser and pulled up the contact information for a customer representative. This is what ensued:
I’d like to say I went back to work after I sent this but in reality… I took the quiz again. I decided this time, I would opt for the silicone-free option. By the time my results were calculated, Anna- the rep from Prose- wrote me back:
Anna was right, so right. Glass bottles don’t belong in the shower and they are hella expensive to ship- this made me wish I had included the idea of aluminum packaging, but alas. I was happy to learn that the plastic bottles they use are made from 100% recyclable materials and BPA-free. However, I don’t think Anna understood the kind of subscription service I was talking about but the information was appreciated nonetheless.
After this exchange I resigned myself to baking soda and apple cider vinegar for the time being. My hair seems pretty pleased since I jumped off the shampoo train and gave it a much needed break from harsh detergents. You’re welcome, hair.
But in that second to last paragraph of Anna’s email, I had hope. I held onto those words like the freaking Holy Grail: “…and I’ve shared your idea with my team.” 8 simple words. Do I know if she actually shared my idea with her team? No, I have no idea. But those 8 simple words have changed the way I engage with the world around me.
I wrote this post because I want people to recognize the power and influence that comes with active and respectful communication. I did not berate Anna or Prose for not providing a service that I desperately wanted. I shared an idea, a way of being and thinking with her and subsequently her team. I reached out and shared a passion of mine while recognizing that not every company can afford to make these changes in distribution.
I also wrote this post for me- as a reminder of the role I play in consumerism. Even if I can’t jump in and physically change the way a company operates, I can always and should always express myself. Far too often we use our voices to try to convince others of our validity. We use our social media as platforms to shame others into our perceived “correct way of being”. This is a reminder that you are enough. How you feel and what you think is enough. This is a reminder to use your social media and your voice as it was intended: to share yourself with the world.
Not the kind you’re thinking about…
It has been 4 months since I started going zero waste. I have accumulated a lot of stuff in that time; unwilling to throw anything away. I have paper bags, tissue paper, calendars, magazines, newspapers, junk mail, crinkly maps and much much more. At one point I tricked myself into thinking I would shred the junk mail and make my own paper out of it. The naive part of me holds onto that hope. But the sifter thingy I would have used to make the paper is now hanging on my wall as a shelf… It looks great. I’ll have to think of something else to do with all of that paper.
Now that Halloween is behind us, I can finally start talking about Christmas and the gift giving season! This Christmas will be my first since my attempt at zero waste and I’m excited to see how creative I can get. The first thing I have decided to eliminate from my present-presenting routine is wrapping paper! $5 for some penguins wearing scarves that will ultimately get ripped to death and tossed in the bin? No thanks, too morbid for my holiday taste. But gift wrapping in my family is essentially an extreme sport. My mother could turn a noodle into the most gorgeous display of buoyant curls. My sister wraps presents the same way a 5-star General folds sheets. And I covet trash in the corners of my room like a crazed raccoon. We all play to our strengths. And this year, I vow to turn my garbage wrapping paper into the most rustic, on message, and Pottery Barn- worthy display of giving my family has ever seen. So naturally, I turned to Pinterest.
And you know what Pinterest told me? People love dried fruit and dead plants on their gifts. Extra points if the gift looks like you just pulled it out of this Fall’s harvest.
So with that in mind, I set out to gather my materials. First, I must choose the canvass on which my decorations will rest. Considering I haven’t decided what gifts I will be giving, I’ll narrow my options down to a few.
Then, the question of ribbon to hold the whole thing together.
And of course, the thing any good display gift has: adornments! This year I’m thinking…
What are some things to avoid?
You have about 6 weeks to continue gathering supplies for your holiday gift wrapping! I will continue to post updates on my packages, as I know you guys are just aching for visual models. I got you. For now, Hold onto that newspaper and resist the urge to buy new wrapping paper. If you desperately need to impress some in-laws, I suggest buying wrapping paper at a thrift store. If you’re local or live close to DC, then check out UpCycle Creative Reuse Center in Alexandria, VA!
Now go get creative with your presents!
These are general cleaning alternatives to single use items or items in plastic containers that ultimately end up in our landfills. I haven’t made all of these swaps yet but I’m working towards it! Every bit helps! When in doubt, make as many of your cleaning supplies as possible. Just because you buy something in glass or cardboard doesn’t mean you aren’t producing waste. Those things end up in our recycling system and produce waste in the process. DIY is always the best option if time allows, otherwise, check out these nifty cleaning swaps!
This guy loves making brooms out of natural materials
Wash Rags– no seriously, just use a rag…
Wash Rags– no seriously, just use a rag…
Last night, I got to meet one of my all-time heroes. Paul Hawken is the author of the New York Times Best Seller, DRAWDOWN: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming. In this book, he and his colleagues outline solutions being implemented around the world to reverse the effects of global warming. Actions like solar energy and the education of women are high on the list to positively impact environmental change. This is not your average book on climate change, this book provides solutions and answers that are backed by research- just look at the numbers! I can go on and on about the book and how it can be a blueprint for our future as a society, but you should read it. Instead, I’d like to talk about Paul.
Mr. Hawken got his start as an English major. Not an environmental scientist or climate enthusiast. Paul was more interested in the irregularity that nature provided and chose to explore it in his early childhood. Like most of my favorite authors, the environment spoke to Paul, it provided him a safe place while still remaining unpredictable. His curiosity was piqued. And luckily for all of us, it was this background that provided him the necessary framework to engage the world in a climate discussion.
I arrived about 10 minutes late to his lecture in Harris Theater on George Mason’s campus. The room was packed but I quickly found my seat with my parents, I was beaming ear to ear. I saw our neighbors, who were hosting the event, sitting in the front row. As I listened to Mr. Hawken speak, my heart filled with gratitude for our family friends. I am 26, a millennial, and it was one of the first times since canvassing for environmental policy reform that I felt connected to the generations ahead of me. We are not alone in our quest to bring greenhouse gasses back to Earth.
Just a quick reminder to, if you haven’t already, READ THIS BOOK. It will become your guide for the future. If you like $$$, you will want to invest in these technologies. You like people? Then you will want to help these humanitarian groups. You’re a female rights activist? Fight climate change by educating young girls, empower them to have control over their own lives. There is something in this book for everyone, because nature is our common language.
Which brings me to my favorite part of Paul Hawken’s talk last night. Paul points out that the Earth has been through much worse than what we’re doing to it right now. The planet will bounce back, it will be fine. The point here is that if we continue on this track, civilization as we know it will cease to exist. This isn’t about saving the environment, it’s about saving our society. When we make this change in our patterns of speech, we remove the divider. We are all human and it is in our best interest to protect humanity.
Scholars and scientists around the world rallied around the idea of having a comprehensive plan to reverse global warming. This book is the culmination of efforts being taken all across the globe. Never underestimate the value of your small actions. Bring your bag. Use your own tupperware for left overs. Compost. Ride your bike. And most importantly, have the conversation, talk to your neighbor, change your behavior and be a part of the solution.
The book breaks down as follows:
Women and Girls
The feel-good book of the year. Thank you, Paul Hawken, for reminding us that how we speak about solutions matters.
Have you seen the news? You can read it here, here, here or the actual report: here. The Earth is getting hotter, much hotter. I think what stands out rather glaringly when I read these articles is that we need institutional, technological and political change, and we need it 30 years ago.
But you’re not here to lament. We’re all here to fight for answers and solutions. I will sing my usual battle cry: “bring your reusable bags today!!!” But I can’t help but feel that my song could be louder and more pointed. So today, I want to talk about policy reform.
The United States has fallen behind in the fight against climate change, exponentially so since Donald Trump found himself in the Oval Office. And as an American, we cannot rely on the White House to change policy, nor can we ride on the shoulders of other countries working to protect the environment. We must turn our sights to our local governments. We must head to the polls this November with Mother Nature in our hearts and determination in our eyes.
Millennials make up 29% of the adult population in the United States and have the potential to sway 10 House elections this November.
To find your state’s voter registration deadline, visit www.vote.org
How do your representatives align when it comes to the fight against climate change?
In my home state of Virginia, I will be supporting Tim Kaine, Don Beyer, Jennifer Wexton, and Gerry Connolly.
Tim Kaine on Climate Change:
I personally do not feel like Tim Kaine has been a champion for environmental advocates. He has supported oil drilling and the consumption of natural gasses. I will be curious to see what public statements he makes after reviewing the report from the IPCC. However, overall he has backed legislation that aligns with my environmental agenda.
Kaine has a 95% rating from the League of Conservation Voters and has voted in favor of environmental protections consistently since 2016.
Don Beyer on Climate Change:
One time I met Don Beyer’s brother-in-law when I was canvassing to get fracking banned in Maryland, we won the battle and his BIL seems to think he’s a stand up guy. Don Beyer presented legislation to the House earlier in 2018 that recognizes the threat climate change presents and would put a tax on carbon emissions. Not my favorite solution but a step in the right direction. Again, I would be curious to read or hear his public statement once he has had a chance to review the IPCC report.
Beyer has a 100% rating from the League of Conservation Voters and has voted in favor of environmental protections consistently since 2015.
Jennifer Wexton on Climate Change:
Jennifer Wexton is running against incumbent Barbara Comstock (who has received a score of 9% from the League of Conservation Voters) for a seat in Congress. Wexton has received multiple awards from the Sierra Club and has secured an endorsement from the League of Conservation Voters. In my opinion, Comstock has been a woefully disappointing advocate in regards to many things, but primarily in regards to her stance on climate change. We need her voice OUT of Congress.
Gerry Connolly on Climate Change:
I went to high school with Gerry Connolly’s daughter and live in their neighborhood, and I can say that they are both awesome people who just happen to view environmental policy in the same light that I do.
We use dryer sheets once and then we toss them in the trash. It’s not the most sustainable method but it’s the one we’re used to. We don’t have to settle. I’ve switched to wool dryer balls and add in essential oils when I wash my sheets! It’s been one of my best zero waste swaps! Here are some dryer sheet alternatives!
Most laundry detergent comes in plastic packaging that more often than not ends up in our landfills. There are so many other options out there, even if you don’t have access to bulk suppliers! Here are a few examples and suggestions!
The single-most monumental change you can make in your laundry routine is cutting your dryer loads in half and use a drying rack when possible! I think you guys can figure this out but I’ve linked some that I’ve either tried or have wanted to try!
Aluminum foil is awesome. Unfortunately, we can’t reuse it because of the ways we typically use it (ie. food prep, fire…). I guess you can recycle it if you’re wearing it as a hat. Luckily for us, it’s 2018 and we can create almost anything we want to with technology. yay! Here are some helpful alternatives to aluminum foil!
Parchment Paper: Do not recycle if you are using for food purposes! Parchment paper can be reused several times and then ultimately composted in an industrial composter (not the one in your backyard unless you’re really good) Be mindful of what you purchase and check with your compost collection group to see if they will accept it.
Even the guy who invented those single-use Kcups regrets ever making them. They are wreaking havoc on our environment. But have no fear, you don’t have to sacrifice your morning routine for a less wasteful lifestyle. Here are a few zero waste coffee alternatives!
Composting is the best thing you can do to limit your waste!! If you do not have a residential compost program in your community, then these alternatives are for you!
I have wasted so much Cling Wrap over the years just because I couldn’t figure out how to use the little saw-thing attached to the box. This stuff cannot, I repeat, CANNOT be recycled. Let’s ditch it for something better, we deserve better.
Or, use a shower cap to cover left over foods… or stick a plate on top of it. Wild.
Most kitchen sponges are made of polyurethane, a petroleum-based product and other oil-based plastics. No matter how clean we keep them, sponges will ultimately end up in our landfills. Let’s keep that plastic out of our environment and opt for some more sustainable alternatives!
I can’t remember the last time I used one of these… I have a friend who washes them out and then dries them. But our goal is to change our individual behavior so companies change their production behaviors. Let’s vote with our dollar and support these innovative alternatives to plastic baggies!
Etsy is an E-Commerce Company focused on handmade or vintage items. The site connects people to artisans all over the world. In fact, many of my zero waste contacts are shop owners on Etsy!
Etsy’s headquarters in Brooklyn, NY has been free of individual use trash cans since 2013. Of course initially, employees felt inconvenienced but the decision proved to be one of their best ones yet.
By creating communal trash stations with recycling, landfill and compost sections, “Etsy’s waste dropped 18%, while its compost rate jumped 300% and its recycling rate went up 20%” According to an article by Business Insider.
Etsy has long dedicated itself to lowering their environmental impact. Every night, Etsy weighs its landfill waste, recycling, and compost using custom built dumpster scales so it can measure its improvement over time. And guess what? They don’t have a commercial compost removal service. Their own employees hop on bikes to deliver their compost to Red Hook Community Farm.
That’s not all folks. Etsy eliminated disposable utensils, cups, and batteries, started using double-sided default printing, regulates office energy consumption, buys food and office supplies locally, and moved toward buying only bulk-packaged foods. Long sentence, lasting impact.
These aren’t just moves for our environment, these are moves for our community. Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson says the communal waste stations are like “Etsy’s water-coolers” and that more spontaneous interactions with employees happen there than anywhere else.
So if you ever find yourself asking, “how can I make a difference?” know that any one of these innovations would have set off a chain reaction for change. You can be the catalyst.
Like my Eco-friendly friend has said, “think globally, act locally”