Once a year or so I like to check in on my progress in minimizing my environmental footprint and reducing my use of plastic. The term “zero waste” has become very popular amongst Millenials, which I am very happy to see, but my environmentally-conscious practices date back quite a bit further than that to when I was in my early twenties. As always when I do these check-ins, I focus on areas of the home.
I did a major declutter of my kitchen last summer; I do this twice a year in all my house, but this past summer was a particularly rigorous exercise. I had accumulated a lot of smaller appliances and gadgets that I rarely used. With most of my possessions, I use the simple criterion of “have I used this item in the past year?” If the answer is no, out it goes (donated or recycled responsibly). This applied as well to a number of pots and pans. I have only what I need. I use glass jars to store dried legumes, sugar, coffee, and so forth. I use glass jars as well to freeze food, vegetable broths, and so forth. I have no plastic storage containers anymore. I rely mostly on reusing jam jars, pickle jars, and so forth. I have bought some larger jars to take with me to the Bulk Barn which, I am delighted to report, now allows me to bring my own reusable jars and bags.
I have been using Credo produce bags for several years to buy fruits and vegetables. I have sewn my own cloth bags to use in the Bulk Barn. I am using this wooden dish brush that comes with refillable brushes, and this bamboo and metal dish rack. I stopped making my own dish soap, as I found I was generating more waste in buying the products and, further, that I had to use a lot of it to clean items properly. I have chosen the more efficient option of this multi-purpose concentrated cleaner to wash dishes, as well as the kitchen and bathroom counters and surfaces. The cleaner comes in a plastic bottle, but it lasts a very long time and generates less waste in the long run. I wash dishes in this tub (British style), as I find this saves a lot of water. I use old rags and flour sack towels to clean surfaces; I haven’t used paper kitchen towels in over 20 years. I have tried a zero-waste charcoal filter for my tap water, but I wasn’t pleased with the results, so I have purchased this Brita Filter pitcher; the company takes back the filters and recycles them. It’s not an ideal solution, but it’s better than plastic bottles. Our drinking water in Halifax is very good, but I do prefer the taste when I filter it. The new filters last a very long time.
Much as I would like to buy my coffee beans in bulk, I am very, very particular about my coffee. Coffee beans in bulk bins are often too stale for my liking. This is not an area in which I intend to compromise, so I do buy beans in sealed bags that contain some plastic. I use a burr grinder for the beans, a French Press (which generates no waste), and compost the grounds. I do like the occasional cup of herbal tea, which I buy in loose form from a local store that allows me to bring my own container.
I use only cloth napkins and tablecloths. I travel with a travel pouch that contains a cloth napkin, this foldable set of utensils, a metal straw, and this small Keep Cup. Although there are glass Keep Cups, I find them too heavy for my handbag and, besides, I’m rather too accident prone to be safe around them. I carry a stainless steel water bottle, as well. I don’t carry a metal lunchbox with me, as this would take too much space, but at least I can use reduce my waste consumption with the items in my travel bag.
I buy my fruits and vegetables seasonally from a local farmers’ market. I wish it were possible to avoid all foods in plastic, but some things are unavoidable. I cannot possibly eat bread without vegan margarine, which comes in a plastic tub. I buy my bread from a local baker (The Petite Baker), and exchange cloth bags with her every week. Staples such as tofu and vegan cheese come in plastic, but I do make sure to choose the ones with the least plastic. I prepare most of my meals from scratch, so this helps cut down on the purchase of a lot of prepared food products, and I cook all my legumes from their dried state. I purchase the following items from the bulk store in my own containers: Legumes, sugar, grains, pasta, coconut oil, cornstarch, flour, arrowroot, baking soda, soap nuts, bar soap, nuts, nutritional yeast, spices, and herbs. Naturally, all shopping is done with my own bags.
I would welcome any ideas for other things that I could do to reduce waste and the use of plastic.