Treading Lightly
Treading Lightly

Zero Waste Bathroom Paper Towel Substitute

I long ago cut out paper towels at home, but I have been plagued by paper towels in public restrooms and offices for years. It’s easy to forget just how many paper towels we use in a day. In the U.S. we use an estimated 13 billion pounds of paper towels per year according to the Paperless Project. That’s a whopping 45 pounds per person. To add insult to the landfill-busting number, paper towels use more energy and create more waste than other drying methods.

Since April I have been working in an office a couple days a week. I bring my own lunch and all of the things I need to eat zero waste all day like a cloth napkin and my own fork, but each trip to the bathroom or kitchen would end with me guiltily drying my hands on the only available option – paper towels.

Paper towel conundrums are not new to me. In college I helped launch an initiative to reduce the amount of paper towels used on campus by encouraging people to use the bare minimum instead of cranking out towels longer than toddlers.

But using a single towel or one crank still felt unnecessary and like a lot of trash. As soon as I started working in the office, my daily/weekly trash at least doubled from paper towels alone. I wash my hands a minimum of 10 times a day (between bathroom trips, snacking, and general cleanliness), which means over the course of the month I was using a minimum of 120 paper towels.

While this is still less than the average (according to an reusable towel manufacturer), I wanted to do better. I needed a zero waste paper towel substitute.

Zero Waste Bathroom Towel Substitute: Small Handkerchief or Reusable Baby Wipe

On the Go Paper Towel Substitutes

1. A Small Hand Towel

For a while I had small hand towels that could be clipped to a bag or a drawer to dry. After more than a year working from home, I let them go. They are a great size, and feel more like a regular towel than some of the other options (and I miss them a little bit).

You can also cut a sad looking towel into smaller pieces to take with you. This would work best if the towel is thin, or it will be bulky to carry and dry slowly.

2. Old T-Shirt

Much like an old towel, an old t-shirt can be cut into little hand towels.

3. Camp Towel

A small, quick-drying towel is also a great option. I decided not to go this route because I didn’t want to buy something new, but you might score a good one used. A larger microfiber or quick-dry towel could also be cut into smaller sizes.

Zero Waste Paper Towel Substitute for Hand Drying: Small Handkerchief or Reusable Baby Wipe

4. Reusable Baby Wipes / Handkerchiefs

This is the option I ended up going with. Each day I grab two handkerchiefs off the stack. Half of our handkerchiefs are reusable baby wipes that I bought online, and the other half is handmade tissue-sized handkerchiefs. I honestly can’t tell the difference. Both are absorbent, the same size and thickness, and they work great for nose-blowing or hand drying.

5. Air Dry or Use a Dryer

If it’s available and you don’t have a reusable option, a hand drier is a great alternative to paper towels. Just be mindful of how long you spend with the dryer turned on, and try to use jet air dryers over the old-school hot air dryers to save energy and avoid extra bacteria growth.

How I Avoid Paper Towels

I’m still not in a place where I’m proud of my zero waste solutions. I don’t like drawing extra attention to myself, so my handkerchief solution works great as an incognito alternative. I tuck it into my back pocket, waist band, or a strap before leaving my desk.

So far I’ve dried my hands in front of people, and clearly haven’t taken a paper towel first, but no one has said anything. It definitely helps that my handkerchiefs are close in color to a bleached paper towel. I’m starting to get more bold with it. I used to try to time my drying to when other people weren’t paying attention, but these days I just whip it out and move on with my life.

When I get back to my desk I drape my handkerchief over a handle. If I’m out I keep it in a outside mesh pocket in my backpack so it can dry. No backpack? I typically just choose to air dry with a few good shakes over the sink first instead of shoving a wet towel into my bag to fester.

But Isn’t This Unsanitary?

While I certainly wouldn’t recommend this method for a surgeon before they clock in, using a reusable cloth or a jet air dryer is perfectly hygienic. It’s important to let your towel dry and use a new small towel daily. If you’re really worried about it, you could also bring a small stack of the reusable baby wipes or handkerchiefs and use them a few times before moving on to next.

When I’m really worried about the cleanliness of my towel (like before I want a quick snack at the end of the day), I don’t beat myself up over using a single paper towel or shaking my hands off until they’re dry.

Every little bit saved counts. It’s not about perfection, but about consistently making choices that reduce waste, save resources (and money), and feel empowering. Each paper towel I refuse to use is one less that paper companies can use to justify cutting down old growth forests and dumping bleach into our waterways. Every small rebellion and bit of resistance matters.

Q2 Ins and Outs

The past three months have had a lot more things going in and out than the first quarter of the year. We’re both facing aging clothes that we’ve had since college… or before in some cases. Quite a few things also unexpectedly broke or disappeared from our lives without warning.

Out:

Donated:

Dress (too small and haven’t reached for it in well over a year)
Plastic spatula
Knit blazer (didn’t love it, haven’t worn it in over a year)
Old plastic Brita filter pitcher (I’ve been using a plain charcoal stick instead)
Broken colander that came with our place
Fleece sweatshirt
Matt’s replacement shoe laces that didn’t match
Matt’s old running shorts
Yoga mat towel (Gifted years ago. I used it twice as a travel towel, but I’m ready to upgrade to a real travel towel that will work for the beach and showering instead of just being something to sit on and awkwardly dry with it.)

Recycled

2 broken computer chargers (mine and his)
1 broken electronic toothbrush
1 broken sleep tracker that was sent to me for a story… and then refused to take back

Stolen

My beloved bike
Helmet
Lock
Pump
Patch kit
Reversible pedals
Water bottle cage

In:

Used Trek Lexa 2

Me

1 pair of underwear
A gifted computer charger that saved the day month
Fleece sweatshirt
A used bike (more on that soon)

Matt

2 pairs of underwear
1 pair of running shorts
Free pair of socks (the sock hater loves them)
A Nintendo Switch (very kindly shared)

Both

Ins and Outs: Dyson V8

Stainless steel spatula (mine from college, had been stored at my parent’s house)
A new stainless steel colander that doesn’t slice open your fingers every time you reach into it.
Vacuum: Our beloved first joint purchase.

 

Overall we made quite a few more purchases in the last quarter than normal, but they were all things we had been thinking about for a while. Okay, the bike and the new computer charger definitely weren’t on my list, but we had been talking about buying a small vacuum since we moved in together… last year.

But everything is heavily used, and we definitely made room before taking them home.

Sustainable, Ethical Travel in Iceland

Traveling to Iceland is an unforgettable experience, but you want the land to forget you were there. It’s difficult to leave no trace when traveling in a country where everything is shipped in and most goods are heavily packaged. Add to that a unprecedented influx of travelers and you have a recipe for serious environmental damage.

There is a lot of discussion right now about the growing popularity of traveling to Iceland and whether or not it’s ethical to visit. Visitors have a lot of responsibility to leave the island as pristine as possible while supporting a sustainable travel business for the locals.

There are plenty of ways to make your stay more ethical and sustainable.

Sustainable, Ethical Travel in Iceland: Waterfall

How to Travel Sustainably and Ethically in Iceland

Sustainable, Ethical Travel in Iceland: Reusable Containers

1. Pack Reusables

I packed:

  • Bamboo cutlery set
  • Cloth napkin
  • 5 handkerchiefs
  • Foldable grocery/tote bag
  • Metal water bottle
  • Insulated metal water bottle
  • 3 metal food containers

These items made it easy for me to pick up food from a restaurant to eat on the go or take home leftovers without creating waste. I also filled my containers with food for my flights and skipped the expensive airplane/airport food. At one point we filled one of our stainless steel containers with handmade gelato!

You definitely don’t have to be shy about using your own containers here. People in Iceland were honestly thrilled to see our reusable containers and they would go out of their way to fill them (usually with more food than we would have had in one of their own containers). When we got gelato from Joylato in Reykjavik the kind woman who made our treats asked to take a picture of us holding our container just because it ‘made her heart happy.’

 

2. Pack Food for Your Flight

The trash created by food in the airports or on the airplane is staggering. Airline passengers created 5.7 million tons of waste in 2016 alone. That’s the same as throwing away 300 empty container ships each year. All trash created on international flights is promptly incinerated when you land which means that all of the chemicals in the plastic and other materials are released into the air. The rest from the airports or when you land is also a huge problem.

On both of our flights I was able to avoid throwing anything away by packing snacks/meals in reusable containers, bringing (almost) enough water for a long-haul flight, and not bringing anything with me that would need to be thrown away (wrappers, receipts, etc.).

 

3. Refuse Plastic Water Bottles

Every flight tried to get us to take a small plastic water bottle on the way in. We simply said ‘no thank you’ and drank out of our bottles that we filled in the airport. We used our bottles throughout our entire trip exclusively. The tap water in Iceland is the best I’ve ever tasted.

 

4. Choose Sustainable Housing

Not everywhere you stay is going to be perfectly zero waste or sustainable, but picking places that highlight what they are doing or put effort into reducing the impact of your stay is doable. Our first hostel, Vík Hostel, had composting, chickens that ate scraps and provided food for breakfast, signs about saving water, recycling, and cleaned only with safe, non-toxic cleaners.

 

Sustainable, Ethical Travel in Iceland: Whale Watching

5. Support Local-Owned Business

Travel has been a major boost for Iceland’s economy. Help keep your money in Iceland by seeking out lodging, restaurants, tours, and stores that are locally owned. Most websites of smaller locations will tell you about the owners, and you can always ask. You’ll likely have a better experience too by choosing someone who really knows the area and genuinely cares about your stay.

 

6. Choose Unpackaged When You Can

Most food is shipped in from other countries. It’s a cold island mostly composed of volcanic rock – you can’t grow a whole lot here. We did our best to eat local foods when we could, but it certainly wasn’t easy or widespread.

Grocery stores are mostly shelves upon shelves of packaged foods. Even the ‘fresh’ fruits and vegetables come in plastic packaging. Do your best to find unpackaged foods when you can, and opt for recyclable glass containers when they’re available. There are bakeries in Reykjavik where you can get fresh bread and pastries, but overall bulk foods are hard to find.

Sustainable, Ethical Travel in Iceland: Moss Covered Rocks

7. Request No Receipt

We mostly paid with cash (except our whale watching tour and our lodging). For the most part you have to sign a receipt when you pay with a card. When we used cash most places didn’t print a receipt if we didn’t want one.

Sustainable, Ethical Travel in Iceland: Save Water - Glaciers

8. Save Water

Many parts of the island use geothermal energy to heat the water which saves a lot of electricity/natural gas. Even though water is abundant and quite likely less energy-intensive than your water at home, do your best to conserve water. The water you are letting run down the drain came from a pristine glacier or snow melt. It may have taken hundreds of years to melt off and end up in the pipes. Be a good steward and use as little as you can.

 

9. Bring Your Own Toiletries

I’m not sure if anywhere we stayed provided small toiletries or not. Regardless, we brought our own from home to save on plastic bottles. My boyfriend brought his favorite shampoo bar and I packed all of my stuff as is. My shampoo and conditioner were the only things I had to put into something smaller.

 

10. Rent the Smallest, Most Efficient Car You Can

Since we were traveling in the late spring we chose a small compact car that got pretty good gas mileage. This is a bit more challenging in the winter, but there are still plenty of 4-wheel drive options that aren’t massive gas-guzzlers. The efficiency of your car is especially important if you plan on doing a great deal of driving like we did.

Sustainable, Ethical Travel in Iceland: Sustainable Tours

11. Book Sustainable Tours

Book tours that are sustainable or upfront about how they are working to protect the environment. Not only do you reduce your impact, but you also support a green, sustainable economy. Help the locals protect their environment and still get the full sight-seeing or exploring experience by choosing sustainable tours.

Our whale watching tour was the only tour we booked. We originally booked North Sailing’s carbon neutral whale watching tour (sailboat), but it was unfortunately out of commission the day of our tour and we ended up on their diesel ship.

 

12. Skip Paper Towels

Most public restrooms had hand dryers instead of paper towels. When both were available I chose the dryer to save on the paper and the energy required to ship them all the way to Iceland. [Iceland also has one of the best renewable energy programs in the world.] In hostels/guesthouses I used the provided towels or my own. You can easily slip a small towel or a handkerchief into your pocket for a reusable drying option while you are out as well.

 

13. Eat Local Foods

Iceland is known around the world for its success with sustainable fishing. This site breaks down which fish are sustainably fished so you can order without worry. Many restaurants also serve locally raised lamb.

 

14. But Not All of Them

While local, whale and puffin are mostly eaten by tourists. Both species are struggling, and they are especially challenged by the environmental and physical changes of having such a large influx of tourists. Do not eat whale or puffin.

 

15. Stay On The Trails

Stay on marked trails at all times. While it seems like a great idea to wander for that epic photo, your steps can dislodge moss and other vegetation that have spent years just trying to root. Iceland, despite it’s wild nature and robust land, is in fact a fragile environment. Treat it as such. Also, don’t tag lesser-known areas on your social media posts. It seems cruel to not share the exact details of your impressive find, but many places are not advertised or widely-shared for a reason. Help limit the amount of people who are going into fragile areas.

 

More Resources:

Want to travel zero waste? This guide from Zero Waste Guy for Iceland is great!

More general zero waste travel tips (and gorgeous pictures).

 

More about our trip:

You can see everything I packed and check out everywhere we went on our trip around the Ring Road.

What to Pack for Iceland in Spring

There’s a (good) reason things have been quiet around here. I spent the last few weeks working like crazy so I could take a full eight days off in stunning Iceland. While I have plenty more to say about our trip (and enough pictures to break the internet), I’m excited to share what I packed.

Why?

Because this was my best packing job yet! All of my stuff fit in my 45L backpack, including my bulky hiking boots and my plane snacks. My big down jacket? Oh yeah, that was in there too. Nailed it!

What to Pack for Iceland in Spring

I put weeks of thought into what I would bring to Iceland, mostly because the weather was constantly changing leading up to the trip. That didn’t change once we were there either – Iceland’s weather is unpredictable and extremely variable. I highly recommend being prepared for cooler or wetter weather than weeklong forecasts predict for a spring trip.

What to Pack for Iceland in Spring

I wore every item I brought, except for emergency underwear, a couple pairs of thin socks, a sports bra, and a short-sleeve athletic shirt that would have been used had we hiked another day or two.

Staying for more than eight days? Simply wash every 5-7 days. Most of the guest houses, hostels, and Airbnbs we looked at or stayed in had washers. No need to pack more.

Clothes

Tops

  • 2 long sleeve cotton t-shirts
  • 2 long sleeve technical t-shirts (if you aren’t planning on hiking, sub for any warm base layers)
  • 1 short sleeve shirt
  • 1 technical short sleeve shirt
  • Fleece sweatshirt
  • Swim suit
  • 1 bra
  • 2 sports bras
  • 1 knit sweater
  • Pajamas
  • Rain coat/ wind breaker
  • Down coat

Bottoms

  • Corduroy pants
  • 2 pairs of hiking socks
  • 5 pairs of regular socks (I wore 1 pair…)
  • 8 pairs of underwear
  • Fleece sweats (for hiking and lounging)
  • Thick leggings/tights (winter running tights, long underwear, or ski tights)

Shoes/ Accessories

  • Hiking boots
  • Athletic shoes/ warm, comfortable walking shoes
  • Flip flops (especially if you are staying in a hostel or visiting hot springs)
  • Scarf
  • Gloves
  • Beanie/thermal headband
  • Small backpack for hiking or a crossbody bag

My boyfriend and I shared his small backpack while hiking and my crossbody bag everywhere else. I used my medium-sized crossbody bag on the plane for reading material, my journal, passport, snacks, and my water bottle.

What to Pack for Iceland in Spring

On the Plane

I broke every single rule and packed my hiking boots. I HATE wearing shoes on a plane, and there was no way in hell I was going to spend 20 some odd hours shoved into my hiking boots. Or take them off and put them back on through security. No thanks.

  • Comfortable athletic shoes
  • Cords
  • Fleece
  • Short sleeve shirt
  • Compression socks (for my ankle)
  • Bra

What my daily wear looked like:

long sleeve base layer + fleece + thick socks + warm pants + down jacket (+/- rain coat) = warm, dry, happy traveler

Daily temperatures were anywhere between 14C (around 60 F) and 3-4C (mid to upper 30s) as we traveled along the Ring Road. Reykjavík was quite a bit warmer than the mountains in the north, but wind chill could still drop the temperature quite steeply in the city. Layers made it easy for me to stay comfortable throughout the 30 degree swing.

What to Pack for Iceland in Spring

lived in my cords and fleece sweatshirt, but we rarely stayed in one place for more than a day and no one could see my sweatshirt under all of my jackets anyway. You could easily bring another pair of pants if wearing the same pair frequently bothers you. I personally didn’t mind, especially since I was mixing it up on the days that we were outside exploring. I hiked in my thick tights (technically winter running tights) with my fleece sweats on top. Wind-resistant hiking pants would also work great.

Yes, I wore two pairs of hiking socks for our entire 8-day trip. It was too cold for my feet to get nasty, so I wore each pair twice before washing and hanging them over the radiator. It worked great.

Zero Waste Gear/ On the Go Eating

It was important to me to make as little waste as possible on our trip, especially because Iceland is a fragile environment that is suddenly experiencing a massive surge in tourism. All of these things also made bringing my own food on the plane a breeze. These were by far our most used items, and I am really glad I brought them.

  • Bamboo cutlery set
  • Cloth napkin
  • 5 handkerchiefs
  • Foldable grocery/tote bag
  • Metal water bottle
  • Insulated metal water bottle
  • 3 metal food containers (packed with food in both directions : ) )

I filled both of my bottles for our flights, and still had to ask for a bit of water on the plane (which they gladly poured straight into my water bottle). The extra bag was perfect for buying groceries, wrangling stuff for a short trip, and hitting the hot springs.

What to Pack for Iceland in Spring

Toiletries

  • Sleep mask (hello constant daylight)
  • Ear plugs
  • Bar soap
  • Mini hair brush
  • Floss
  • Deodorant
  • Small container of laundry soap
  • Medications as needed
  • Tooth brush
  • Hand towel
  • Nail clippers/file
  • Hair clip and hair tie
  • (Optional: full-sized towel)

Liquids

I ended up deciding to not bring a full-sized towel to use at hot springs or where we were staying. Most of our guest houses/ hostels had towels already included in the price, and the rest were relatively inexpensive. We went to one hot spring that didn’t have towel rentals (or an attendant), and we just brought one of our towels from that night’s guest house with us. It would have been difficult for us to get our towels to dry while we were driving the Ring Road, and I really didn’t want to have to worry about them. We paid a bit extra overall, but we always had a warm towel and it really wasn’t that expensive in comparison to Iceland’s prices in general. My small hand towel (below) was used for drying our hands and dishes as needed.

What to Pack for Iceland in Spring

[This is what happens when you have been up for 24 hours and you realize you haven’t taken a picture of your pack – you take a blurry photo in the airport at midnight on your way home.]

Bottom Line

Iceland’s weather changes rapidly year-round. It’s especially important to pack lots of layers in spring. If you plan on hiking or doing the Ring Road, definitely bring clothes that would keep you warm in snow just in case. You may not need them, but they will be priceless if you do (speaking of price, EVERYTHING in Iceland is expensive. This is not the place you want to be buying an emergency jacket). We also particularly enjoyed our extra-warm clothes on our whale watching tour.

Packing cubes are clutch, and highly consider bringing a backpacking backpack if you plan to go outside of Reykjavík. We carried our packs up muddy hillsides, down long gravel roads, and up many flights of stairs to get to our bed for the night.

Ins and Outs

There’s something satisfying about watching things go. Even if it’s not my stuff, a donation pile is soothing and full of promise. I love checking in on #minsgame and reading blog posts about what people choose to keep or get rid of.

I never really thought to track my own ins and outs until I saw this post from 600 Square Feet and a Baby. Her pile was so inspiring that I thought I would share my own. This is a list of everything we’ve donated, trashed, sold, or bought in the last three months.

Ins and Outs

Outs

Donated:

1 pair of snowboard boots
Plastic cutting board (was saving for camping, but it’s not in good shape)
Pair of socks (too big)
Sample mouthwash (new dentist, didn’t know to refuse)
8-year-old water filter jug

Sold:

Sweatshirt
Fancy bookmark
Leggings

Recycled:

Pair of black pants (replaced in December)
Broken raincoat
4 shirts
Old swim trunks

Trash:

An 80% full bottle of hair spray from 2009…maybe earlier. It hadn’t been used in at least four years.

In:

Matt:

1 pair of swim shorts, replaced dingy, two small trunks
1 t-shirt, replaced one of the ones that was recycled
1 raincoat, a much better fit than my old, broken one that he was squeezing in to.

Me:

Nothing.

Although to be fair I did try my best to find a new fleece jacket. So far no luck, but I’m still looking. Once I find one my two, sad fleeces will be donated and recycled respectively.

Small Space Clothing Storage

I’m obsessed with organizing. I love looking at how people fit things in tiny places. But that’s no secret around here. I thought since I spend so much time staring inside other people’s closets and drawers online (in a totally not creepy way, swear), I should share our small space clothing storage solutions and give a little peek at what things look like around here.

Our storage space is limited – we use the space under our bed as our garage, complete with golf clubs and snowboard. But after six months of splitting a single dresser and a tiny closet I’ve come to realize that it’s really working for us. Our tiny space is plenty of room for two.

Here’s how we do it.

small space clothing storage dresser organization

Stand It Up

It took me a long time to finally succumb to the organization goddess’ folding method. But once I went KonMari I’ll never go back to stacking my clothes. I first tried this when I had the luxury of an entire dresser to myself. It worked so well that I had a fully empty drawer. Standing folded clothes up vertically makes it super easy to see what’s in the drawer and grab what you need. It also means we fit significantly more per drawer.

small-space-clothing-storage-dresser-drawer-organization-KonMari-folding

Line It Up

My boyfriend laughs at me for this, but I store my clothes in a particular order. I don’t have separate drawers for each item, instead I have rows. Take my exercise clothing drawer (yes, this is 50 percent of my wardrobe and you better believe it’s my most loved and most used). My tank tops, t-shirts, and long sleeve shirts are all down the left side. Next to them are my shorts, cropped leggings, and the last of my long sleeves in the back. The third row is sweatshirts and long leggings (which are typically used for lounging or layering, less so working out). On the far right side I have my sports bras and miscellaneous socks, arm warmers, etc. in the far back.

This setup means I can reach my arm over while still in bed and pull out exactly what I need for the day. A cold girl’s dream.

small space clothing storage organization under the bed storage canvas bag out of season clothes off-season clothes

Store Out of Season Clothes Elsewhere

Yes, we each have two drawers in an average-sized dresser and half of a hall closet, but it’s unfair to say that we keep all of our clothes between the two. Out of season storage makes our small space work.

I’ve been trying hard to streamline my wardrobe, but even with the harshest knife I can’t fit everything in my allotted space. Thankfully Northern California really only has two “seasons” – cold or warm. In the fall I put away my light sweaters and pulled out my heavy sweater dresses, long sleeve shirts, and thick cords. In a couple of weeks I’ll make the swap again and pull out my dresses and other warm weather gear.

About 85 percent of my clothes stay in my drawers or the closet, but by swapping out season-specific pieces I can save a lot of space. It’s also really nice to not stare at thick sweaters in the middle of the summer. I hate being reminded that winter will come around again. It also means that everything in front of me is something I could wear right now instead of cluttering my daily choices with out of season items.

I keep my off-season clothes as well as anything I don’t frequently wear (rash guard, bike shorts, fancy pea coat) in a canvas bag under my bed. The bag breathes, which is really important for storing clothes or fabric long-term, and the zipper keeps dirt and unmentionables (ie. spiders) out.

small space clothing storage closet organization

Limit Hangers

We only hang up the clothes that absolutely must hang. There just isn’t room to put all of our clothes into the closet. Instead it’s a place for things that wrinkle easily or are too bulky to fold. Dresses, jackets, skirts, and dress shirt are the only things we hang. Okay, that and my boyfriend’s motorcycle gear.

Say Goodbye

We don’t have any magical storage solutions or ‘life-changing’ products. We didn’t take any trips to organizing stores or have our closet professionally designed to fit all of our stuff. Our clothes fit in this small space because we made sure we only had as much as we could store.

My boyfriend and I both like simple, hardworking clothes. We wear the majority of our clothes frequently, with exceptions for fancy occasion clothes. Before we moved in together we both had to downsize two full drawers and half a closet (way more than half in my case). We got rid of a lot of the things we never wore, and we keep getting rid of things as the seasons change or our style shifts. New clothes are also welcome, but if one comes in another must go.

Zero Waste Swaps: Bathroom and Kitchen

Going zero waste or living a low-waste lifestyle takes time. We are actively working towards reducing our waste, one swap at a time. We’re a long way from being able to fit our yearly trash in a jar, but that really isn’t our goal anyways. Here’s the progress we’ve made since January.

Zero waste swaps: Kitchen

The majority of our household waste historically comes from food packaging. While we haven’t eliminated it completely, we have definitely made progress.

Zero Waste Swaps Kitchen

Dried beans

As a vegetarian, I eat a fair bit of beans. We have beans at least twice a week, and all of those cans really started to stack up. I was tired of the cans cluttering our cabinet, counter, and eventually recycling bin. The BPA can lining worried me greatly, and the fact that BPA-free linings may not actually be any safer meant there wasn’t an easy canned choice.

The swap for bulk dried beans meant I no longer had to worry about plastic chemicals leaching into our beans and it eliminated at least 50 percent of our can consumption.

 

Pasta

We’ve struggled to find pasta in bulk that both my boyfriend and I can eat. I can’t eat wheat, and he can’t eat quinoa. For some reason the only wheat-free pasta we can find in bulk is made with quinoa.

Instead of freaking out about it or cutting it out entirely (a sin as an Italian), we’ve been buying pasta from a company that uses 100 percent recycled cardboard, non-toxic inks, and compostable cellophane in its packaging. It’s not the perfect solution, especially since the product is imported from Italy, but it’s progress.

 

Lunch Meat

As someone who hasn’t eaten lunch meat in more than 10 years, I was surprised by how it easy it is to buy lower-waste options. We bring a reusable container to the grocery store and ask the people at the deli counter to put the lunch meat straight into it. This saves us at least one plastic bag and often a couple of plastic sheets each time we shop. Unfortunately they still use a plastic sheet to catch the slices when they cut it, but hopefully with enough pestering emails and requests they will swap it for something compostable.

Zero Waste Chocolate Swaps Substitute

Chocolate

Oh man did I get excited when I saw the bulk chocolate selection at Rainbow Grocery. I eat at least a square of chocolate a day, so this discovery made my day. Bulk chocolate cuts out at least two chocolate bar wrappers a week. Hopefully our three jars will last us the month until we go back to Rainbow.

 

Soy Sauce

Technically, it’s tamari, but the store sold soy sauce in bulk too. We filled up a jar and then came home and topped off our nearly empty glass container of tamari. I felt like I’d somehow outsmarted all of the companies who make it too easy to make trash.

 

Sandwich Bread

The lucky among us now eat a freshly-baked whole wheat sandwich bread that comes in a compostable paper bag. In the future he may also pick up bread in one of our reusable bulk bags from the farmer’s market, but most of those are currently pre-bagged as well.

 

Zero waste swaps: Bathroom

Our bathroom is far from zero waste, but I’m slowly chipping away at it.

 

Handkerchiefs

As much as I don’t love the handkerchiefs I purchased, I’ve been doing my best to use them instead of tissues. I’m slowly getting used to them – although I do hope to find some made out of thinner material in the future.

 

Compost Bin

This was such an easy swap, it’s silly. I finally turned our trash can into a compost collector and added a small paper ‘trash’ bag for things like floss that we still haven’t swapped out for compostable or zero-waste alternatives. We are lucky enough to have city-wide compost collection, so composting is just as simple as taking out the trash.

What can you compost from the bathroom? Nail clippings, hair, used tissues, latex condoms, and anything made from cotton fibers or cardboard.

 

Related:

Zero Waste Pantry

Zero Waste Grocery Shopping Inspiration

The Truth About Plastic

Toxins Hiding in Your House

Zero Waste Tea

Can I Recycle This?

Tales of a Paper Towel

Zero Waste Pantry Staples

Our zero waste pantry staples are the items that we buy unpackaged in bulk and keep on hand at all times. We have about half of a single under-counter cabinet for food storage, so we don’t keep much more than the basics. Our weekly shopping fills in the gaps.

 Zero Waste Pantry Staples Loose Leaf Tea –zero-waste-pantry-staples-loose-leaf-tea

Our Zero Waste Pantry Staples

1. Grains: brown rice, wild rice, and quinoa

2. Oats: thick-rolled and steel-cut

3. Beans: black, garbanzo/chickpeas, kidney

4. Nuts: cashews, almonds, sometimes peanuts (we tend not to store these since I can’t eat any of them. Instead, my boyfriend makes his own trail mix and takes the whole container to work with him.)

5. Flours: oat (easy to make at home as well), brown rice, white rice, tapioca starch, potato starch, xanthan gum.

6. Dried fruit: typically cherries

7. Coconut: Unsweetened chips and shredded

8. Chocolate chips

9. Seeds: chia, flax, pumpkin, sunflower, hemp

10. Baking: baking soda, sugar, brown sugar

11. Spices: We refill all of our empty spice containers with bulk spices including salt and pepper.

12. Honey: Okay, I haven’t done this yet. But when our current jar runs out we are planning to refill it at the grocery store. It’s also significantly cheeper.

13. Coffee and tea

What We Make With Our Zero Waste Pantry Staples

In a given week we make granola bars, trail mix, and no-bake “cookies” for snacks from our cache. I use the flours to make my own gluten-free blend for baking (and pancakes… all of the pancakes).

Our meals typically build off of the rice or the beans. We use rice at least 1-2 times a week. A quart jar tends to last us 3-4 weeks depending on how often we eat it. (You can see some of our favorite fall/winter meals here.)

More:

Zero Waste Trail Mix
Zero Waste Grocery Shopping Inspiration
Digging Through the Trash
Loose Leaf Tea