Tiny Living || Reducing Waste in Our Kitchen

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Since the beginning of my #InspiringZeroWaste challenge in January, I’ve hesitated to tackle one of the biggest areas that my household (and most households, I think) creates waste.

The kitchen.

Smaller space, as I’ve learned, doesn’t mean less waste and sometimes, it can mean producing even more waste for the sake of convenience.

This post won’t portray me as a perfect zero-waster, because the reality is that, especially in the kitchen, I’m far from it. But I’m working on implementing small steps (that I can actually stick with) thanks to this monthly challenge.

Today, I’m excited to share a bit of what I’ve already done to decrease waste in my kitchen — in this post, I’m welcoming the help of Do Good Shop (although you don’t need to buy anything to lessen your waste!). I’ll also share a few goals that I have for the coming month(s) and hopefully spark a bit of inspiration on your end as well.

If you’re looking for a one-stop-shop for ethical home goods, Do Good Shop is a great resource. They’re a non-profit marketplace stocking items that support artisans, end trafficking, and encourage traditional craftsmanship. You’ll be hearing lots more about them in the coming months.

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In my “waste audit” of my tiny kitchen, I learned that packaging and food waste are the two biggest areas my family and I create waste. Although I’m not sure we will ever fully eliminate packaging from our home (packing school lunches without single-wrapped foods is HARD) and I may never find the perfect balance of buying and cooking the perfect amount of food, I’ve found a few ways to consciously reduce waste in these areas that have helped tremendously.

We still produce far too much trash than I’m comfortable with, even for a small family, and I would ideally like to recycle even less than we do (consuming less in general) but reducing waste as a family isn’t easy and I’m choosing to celebrate each small step instead of beat myself up for the long ways I have left to go.

Here are a few ways I’ve gotten started that you can try too:

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  1. DIY as much as you can

    DIY-ing, as much as my aesthetics-loving self hates to admit it, doesn’t have to be pretty. First and foremost, it should solve a problem or expense in your life, ultimately saving you time and money. I’ve fallen in love with DIY-ing my own cleaning supplies which saves my home from unnecessary plastic packaging and the unnecessary toxins found in most cleaning supplies. I also DIY things like tupperware, meaning I’ll reuse packaging certain foods come in to save other food before eventually recycling it. Things like cheese cartons, or even the twist ties found in the produce section can be used in other ways.

  2. Swap cloth for disposables

    It can be a beautifully-made swap, like my cloth napkins from Do Good Shop made by artisans in India using time-honored block printing, or it can be as simple as a cut up old t-shirt to use as cleaning rags. I have (and use) both daily. While my tee-cloths are essential for cleaning the daily messes, I wouldn’t use them to serve as dinner napkins or even something to clean up crumbs or coffee grounds. With these two “products” I’ve eliminated paper towels and other disposable cleaning wipes from my home.

  3. Shop seasonally and avoid plastic where you can

    I won’t even pretend that shopping zero-waste for groceries for a family of almost five is easy, because it isn’t. We have limited access to farmers’ markets and bulk food stores, so I’m usually left with shopping from the organic produce section and crossing my fingers that I remembered my reusable shopping bags. BUT it’s do-able to make a dent in your packaging and plastic intake and it’s worth trying, even if you can’t do it perfectly.

  4. Use your food scraps

    It’s hard to plan how long your food will last and, similarly, how much of it your three and five year old will eat once you make it, but there are ways to reduce your food waste by cooking with unused food scraps and strategically cooking/shopping to reduce extras. I learned about some great ways to use food waste from Going Zero Waste and her newly released book, but you can also do a quick Google search to find lots of inspiration. There are also lots of foods you can regrow from the stems and bottoms, so I’ve been experimenting a lot with that lately too.

  5. Meal Plan

    I’m the worst at meal planning. The absolute worst. In my almost six years of marriage and 5 years of motherhood, I haven’t consistently stuck with it until this year, when I realized how much of a money and sanity saver it really is. Meal planning, it turns out, can significantly reduce your waste in the kitchen too.

Not a super glamorous list, I know, or even what you may have expected (a list full of products you need to buy and eco-switches you need to make). Although products can be helpful for convenience and keeping you motivated, I’ve learned that reducing waste is really a mindset (and ultimately a lifestyle) shift, especially in the kitchen.

I love keeping a few "pretty things” around to keep things cheery and bright, like my Olivewood Serving Tray from Do Good Shop that serves as an in-bed tray, a plant display, a snack server and so much more, and a few pretty napkins and hand towels. But other than that, the kitchen is a place to make messes and get creative, and reducing your waste in the kitchen may not be as pretty as you’d expect either.

My #InspiringZeroWaste goal for this month is to research small space composting! I’d LOVE any resources you know of or tips that have worked well for you. I’m not opposed to an outdoor composting bin (in fact, I’d prefer it) but it needs to be bear and wildlife proof! (#mountainliving).

How hard has reducing waste in the kitchen been in your life? I’d love to hear your tips!


*This post is part of a long term collaboration with Do Good Shop. But all opinions, creative direction, and photographs are my own. Shop the links in this post to support brands that create a better world for artisans all over the world!*

Kitchens are one of the most wasteful areas of most rooms, but you might be surprised at how simple it is to start reducing your trash, even with kids in the house.

#InspiringZeroWaste || March Goal

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And just like that, we’re at the three month of this little zero waste challenge. How is it going for you all, friends? Now might be the point when you’re starting to feel your motivation waning — a year is a long time to commit to anything, especially something as big as waste reduction. I’d encourage you to use this month as a check-in. Ask yourself how achievable your monthly goals have been and, if necessary, readjust. Living a lower waste lifestyle doesn’t have to feel impossible, rigid, or boring. I hope breaking your biggest zero-waste goals into month-by-month chunks makes it feel as approachable and do-able as it actually is. If you’ve made it this far in the challenge OR you’re just joining in, comment below with how it’s going!

You can read each month’s goal and recap by going to the #InspiringZeroWaste tag on my blog, but as a quick reminder, here’s what I’ve tackled thus far in the challenge. For January, I zero-waste-ified my shower routine (I swapped my last shampoo bottle for a shampoo bar from Natural Vegan, bought a safety razor from Leaf, and have been switching out my conditioner and body wash to bars as they run out). In February, I researched textile recycling and wrote a giant post of resources for sending old clothing.

February Update:

Textile recycling seemed like a giant of a topic, and really, I only scratched the surface of the issues of clothing waste and the difficulties associated with recycling textiles in general.

What I Learned:

  • Primarily, I learned that textile recycling should be the norm. Although in an ideal world, all of our clothing would be organically grown and free from synthetic additions so that it would biodegrade naturally on its own, but of course, that’s not reality (yet, anyway). An easy solution is to send off your unwanted, well-worn clothes to textile recycling facilities or upcycle them at home.

  • More than anything, conscious consumption is key. When it comes to clothes, don’t buy more than you need, shop for ethically made pieces that are built to last, and recycle them when you no longer need them.

  • To read more of my findings, as well as a big list of places to send just about any type of clothing, click here.

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March Goal

My goals so far have all been practical and informative for my personal life and March’s goal is no different. For the next few months, my ZW goals will likely have to do with baby preparation. I’m due in two short months and am hoping to focus my (minimal) energy on making a plan to lessen waste during the postpartum months and beyond. I’ve had two kiddos of course, but low waste living wasn’t as high of a priority for me then as it is now, so I’m excited to dive in and change up my “baby phase norm” a bit.

For March, I’ll be focusing on finding (making/buying) zero waste baby essentials. This post won’t be as informative for my readers who aren’t in the baby-phase, but it’s something I need to dive into for myself and I hope my findings will be useful to some of you (both now and for future mamas!).

I’ve always said that you don’t need as much stuff to have a baby as everyone says and this time around I’m truly putting that to the test. Of course, we don’t have space for much excess, but after my two older girls turned 2 or 3, I sold or donated all of our baby stuff and am essentially starting from scratch this time around.

At the end of this month, I’ll share everything I plan to use to lessen waste once baby arrives, so stay tuned on my thoughts on cloth diapering, low waste pumping, and more. And, as always, leave me any tips or suggestions on the topic below!

A Guide to Textile Recycling: How, Why, and Where to Recycle Old Clothes

*This post is part of my #InspiringZeroWaste challenge for 2019. To read the original post click here, or click here to see my first post for February*

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As conscious consumers (or folks on the path towards conscious consumerism), living in a non-circular economy complicates things. Most of our products are designed with the short term in mind — they’re meant to be convenient, cheap to make, cheap to buy, and aren’t typically made with the life cycle of the product (or its impact on the environment) in mind.

Clothing is no exception. In fact, as far as typical fast fashion goes, clothing production has been the the unfortunate gold standard for waste, cheap production, and linear production.

In an ideal world, production would be circular — meaning: products are designed with the end of their life in mind from the beginning of it. Pieces made with natural fibers, in factories that recycle their waste and water, and reuse/recycle/compost their pieces at the end of their life are the most sustainable. But, of course, it’s not the norm (yet).

If you’re anything like the average American Joe, you’ve tossed trash bag upon trash bag of clothing into the dumpster before without giving it a second thought (upwards of 81 lbs of textile waste, per person, per year). Maybe you toss said trash bags off to your local Goodwill, or maybe you even pass them on to a friend. Either way, clothing waste is in the US is a huge issue that isn’t disappearing anytime soon (especially with the rate that people are Kon Mari-ing their closets).

Why Textile Waste Is a Problem

What’s the big deal? It’s not like you’re sending hazardous chemicals or plastic that takes years to biodegrade to landfill. Why is clothing waste an issue in the first place?

Two of the biggest reasons, as I see them, are as follows:

  1. Most clothes are made of synthetic fibers which, like plastic, take years to break down, or may never fully biodegrade. In fact, when stuck in a landfill, clothing made from synthetics like polyester or lycra release methane, a harmful greenhouse gas, and take at least 30-40 years to biodegrade. It’s not an “out of sight out of mind” matter, and even cotton clothes woven with synthetics don’t biodegrade as easily as natural fibers like organic cotton, linen, hemp, tencel, etc.

  2. We have way too many clothes to begin with. Combined with the fact that our clothes aren’t made to last, the sheer amount of product sent to landfill (both from retailers and consumers) is insane. Most of these clothes are forgotten about, or worse, incinerated.

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Steps to Combat Textile Waste

1. Consume Less:

With a “Less but better” mindset, you can shift from buying clothes you don’t really need that aren’t made to last to buying “investment pieces” that are made to last for years to come and, hopefully, won’t need to be disposed of. The brands in my List are all great jumping off points to look for ethically made, quality pieces.

2. Resell/Gift:

When a piece has plenty of wear left but may not fit your body or style anymore, you can sell it or gift it to someone else. Host a clothing swap with friends or sell them with resell platforms like Poshmark or Depop.

3. Upcycle:

For pieces that are towards the end of their life or you don’t feel could be resold, upcycle them into new-to-you products that you can use around the house. Cut up old t-shirts to use as cleaning rags, headbands, and more. Or, you can transform old clothing into completely new clothing if you have the creative skills for it. A quick Pinterest search of “upcycling clothing” should do the trick.

4. Donate

But Don’t Automatically Assume Secondhand Shops want Your Stuff

I include this point with caution because, as crucial as secondhand shops are for circular economy and sustainability, they don’t always need or want your junk. Before you drop off a load of unsorted belongings, consider these points:

  • Is this a piece someone else could actually use? (Ie. it’s not stained/ripped/hanging on by a thread/broken)

  • Does this shop need donations of this kind right now?

If the answer is no to one or both of these questions, scout out another secondhand shop or consider upcycling or recycling the piece.

5. Recycle:

Once a garment has reached the definite end of its lifespan, chances are there are ways it can be recycled into something completely new. Not only does recycling keep clothing out of landfill, but it reduces the need for new, virgin fabrics which can be costly and not-so-eco-friendly to produce.

Keep reading for a list of where and how to recycle your clothes by type. Keep in mind that you should have resources available locally (or semi-locally) for textile recycling — so it’s not really as hard as it sounds. Do a quick Google search for “your town + textile recycling” and see what pops up.

Clothing waste is a huge issue, and most people don't know where to send their clothes once they've reached the end of their lifespan. Luckily, textile recycling isn't as tricky as it sounds.

Recycling by type:

Cotton/polyester blends:

  • ReSpun: Marine Layer’s recycling program that accepts any and all (non-spandex) tees.

  • Patagonia WornWear: Patagonia will accept any of their old clothing back to recycle.

  • Terracycle: an incredible recycling program that can almost literally recycle anything. You do have to pay for the box to ship things back in (which is semi-costly), but worth it!

  • Brass Clothing’s “Closet Clean Out”: Brass sends you a pre-paid mailer that you stuff with clothes and send back. They send it to a textile recycling center in NC. I didn’t see any restriction on type of clothing accepted.

  • I:Co (Locations worldwide — I:Co is who retailers like H&M use for their recycling programs, although I’ve, not surprisingly, found that their track record isn’t the greatest when it comes to actually recycling the majority of what they bring in.)

  • USAgain: collects used clothing of any kind and condition in their drop off locations

Athletic clothes

Dress clothes

  • Dress for Success: A really cool organization giving women who don’t have access to interview appropriate clothing your gently used work-wear for free.

Undergarments

  • Knickey: This organic underwear brand has partnered with a NYC organization to recycle all unwanted underwear (any brand, condition) and will even send you a free pair in exchange.

  • The Bra Recyclers: Ensures bras don’t end up in landfill by recycling them into new product/insulation/bedding.

  • Free the Girls: An incredible non-profit that helps victims of human trafficking start their own businesses reselling gently used bras in their communities.

Denim (There are LOTS of resources for this - I’m only listing a few)

Bedsheets and towels

  • Cut them up into smaller towels/sheets to use for cleaning

  • Call your local homeless or animal shelter to see if they’re accepting donations

  • Coyuchi for Life: Coyuchi’s circular subscription program that recycles old linens and towels and send you new ones regularly.

  • USAgain: accepts used clothing and household textiles in any condition at their recycling drop of locations.

Shoes


Before I dug deeper, I knew textile recycling was a thing, but wasn’t sure where to begin sending my own clothing in. I hope this post can be a recurring resource for you (it will be for me, anyway!) for when your clothes wear out.

#InspiringZeroWaste || February Goal

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(For the first explanatory post on #InspiringZeroWaste, click here!)

Month 2 of 2019 is upon us and I’m welcoming it with open arms. January always seems to last twice as long as other months and February brings with it a sweetness and anticipation for Spring (hopefully) that I’m excited to embrace.

If you followed along last month, you’ll know that my first #InspiringZeroWaste goal was to make my shower routine as zero waste as possible. First, I’ll share an update on how that went, and then I’ll dive into my goal for month #2.

January Update

I purposefully eased myself into the challenge with this goal because I knew I was running low on most of my shower essentials and have been wanting to make the switch to zero-waste options for a while.

What I tried:

  • I started using products from Natural Vegan Club in late December. I love their flexible subscription style service that allows you change your products each month and get things only as you need them. I’ve been using their shampoo bar for a month and, although my hair has had an up and down response, I’m happy with it so far. Shampoo bars are an adjustment - I’ve found I have to take my time and make sure I’m getting every bit of my roots saturated or my hair looks greasy the same day I wash it. But I’m not giving up yet and will keep researching on the best ways to use them. (To order free samples from Natural Vegan Club, click here!)

  • I ordered a Rose Gold safety razor and blade disposer from Leaf Shave a few weeks ago. Although it still hasn’t arrived, I’m making do with the razor I have now until it gets here.

What I learned:

  • A shower routine is fairly easy to do low-waste/zero-waste. If you’re not ready to commit to shampoo bars, Plaine Products is an AMAZING brand that is just as zero waste as package free options. And if that idea is too much, just be sure you’re recycling/composting your packaging according to the labels to reduce as much waste as possible.

  • Bar soaps are SO cheap and last SO much longer.

  • Using body oil instead of packaged lotion is even better for your skin and oftentimes a more eco-friendly option since they usually come in glass bottles that can be reused in your home instead of plastic, and they’re made with plant-derived ingredients.

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February Goal:

For the second challenge of the year, I’ve decided to dive into researching textile recycling, both locally and on a bigger scale to see what’s truly sustainable and what isn’t. Although I’ve paired down my wardrobe drastically in the past few years, occasionally I discover a piece I haven’t worn enough to justify keeping or something starts to deteriorate that I’m not sure what to do with. I’m hoping that by educating myself on the best options for recycling old clothing (and what to do with the pieces that aren’t recyclable) I’ll be better equipped to make sustainable future purchases and hopefully help you do the same!

I’ll share everything I’ve learned in a big blog post at the end of the month, so feel free to send any questions or resources my way as I begin my research.

I wrote last month about how to responsibly “kon mari” your life and, when it comes to clothes in particular, most of us are prone to dumping trash bags of old college tees and torn up pants off at our local Goodwill or secondhand shop without a second thought. And although supporting thrift shops is incredibly important, the reality is that many of these clothes never find a second home and many of them just end up in a land fill anyway.

So, stay tuned for more on this topic and, if you’re up for it, join me in stock piling a little collection of unused clothes to donate responsibly and recycle at the end of this month. I’ll be going through my husband’s, my kid’s, and my own closets to make sure we’re eliminating our clothes in the most ethical and sustainable way possible.

A foreshadowing…

If you’re curious about what you can do NOW, while I’m doing my research, I’d suggest checking out Marine Layer’s new recycling program ReSpun. I had a call with a member of their team early last week to discuss a future collaboration and learn more about their recycling process and, luckily, I’m super impressed with what I learned from them.

In an effort to lessen their own textile waste and provide a solution for brands and consumers alike, ReSpun works with Recovertex, a recycling facility in Spain that has been recycling textiles since World War II. Marine Layer collects unwanted tees, of any shape, size, condition, and material (except spandex) and ships them off by the thousands to Recovertex where they’re broken down, sorted, and respun into new tees. Any non-recyclable parts like labels and tags are added to fabric that is recycled into things like bedding and home insulation. (Click here to request your own recycling kit from Marine Layer to start the process with me!)

This is a “closed loop” process which, ideally the fashion industry as a whole will move towards one day. And as an added positive, Marine Layer offsets their carbon footprint from shipping the tees overseas by donating to organizations that offset their emissions. It’s called a carbon neutral process and it’s fascinating.

Stay Tuned…

I’ll be sharing more at the end of the month, so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, feel free to join me in gathering up your old clothes that are un-sellable that you think would be a good fit for recycling (and one more time, you can get a free recycling kit here).

What’s your #InspiringZeroWaste goal for this month? I’d love to hear how it’s going thus far!

#InspiringZeroWaste || January Goal

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As promised, the first installment of my #InspiringZeroWaste goals. I’m so excited about the reaction to this challenge and can’t wait to hear how your months go and which areas you choose to work on. I sat down with my planner today to map out each of my goals (I got halfway through the year and will reevaluate what I need to focus on as the year progresses) and was surprised by how tricky it was choosing what to focus on.

I’m not new to the “Zero Waste” lifestyle — I’ve been slowly working on reducing the waste my family and I produce for three or four years now. However, despite the progress I’ve made, I still found myself getting discouraged and overwhelmed by the amount I still had left to tackle. All of the little conveniences that we don’t even pay attention to until we realize how wasteful they are, all of the road trip stops at gas stations for a quick (plastic wrapped) snack, all of the in-flight plastic cups, or waste created while on vacation. It’s overwhelming, isn’t it?

This challenge, as I mentioned in my introduction post, is meant to aid you in cultivating an overall awareness of what you’re consuming and where your lifestyle is headed while making tangible progress towards your goals. How is it going for you so far? Let’s support each other along the way and watch as our goals become habits over the year.

So, my first goal of the year is to “zero waste-ify” my shower routine. I’ve been using clean, organic and healthy beauty products for a while, but of course, each of them usually comes in (recyclable) plastic. There are a few other options I’ve found, like Plaine Products’ amazing refillable aluminum containers, or Seed Phytonutrient’s biodegradable recycled packaging. But I would ultimately prefer to skip the “packaging” step all together and use a product that was truly waste-less.

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For Shampoo: I trying my hand at shampoo bars (gasp! I know). I’ve wanted to for a while, but have either been testing other brands or waiting for my old shampoos to run out. The timing was perfect for this month, so I decided to jump right in. I’ve been using the bar shampoo from Natural Vegan Club for a week or so now (washing my hair usually twice per week) and am pleasantly surprised. I’m still using up an old conditioner, but plan to buy a conditioner bar from Unwrapped Life.

For Bodywash: Similarly, I’m waiting for a bottle to finish (that I’ll recycle) and then I’ll use bar soap for shaving and washing. I have quite a collection built up from several brands, so I don’t suspect I’ll be buying any new soap for a while.

For Shaving: This is the area I’ve struggled with the most. I use my razor a lot — daily in some way or another, so I’ve tried just about everything. Except a safety razor. So this month, I’ll be buying one (I’m debating between Leaf Shave or Oui Shave — I’d love your recommendations!) Safety razors are zero waste in that there isn’t a plastic cartridge or handle that you throw out (because, as far as I know, they can’t be recycled) every few weeks. Their blades can be saved and sent to centers that specifically recycle razor blades. I’m nervously excited to order mine (they’re a bit of an investment) and will definitely be sharing about how I like it.

My favorite part about this routine is how versatile it is. My kids can use the same products I do (except the razor, of course) and each of them travels extremely well without needing to waste travel-sized products or cram giant shampoo bottles into my carry-ons.

I’ll plan to write an update on how each month goes (maybe as a “quarterly update” if monthly updates don’t work out), but for now, I’d love to hear what your goal for January is and/or if you’ve ever tried zero waste-ing your shower routine.


Don’t forget to use the tag #InspiringZeroWaste to share your posts with me and others in the community!