Saturday, August 31, 2013

Aaron and I Win


Aaron and I won this past week.  This was Aaron's first win.  Since I was under the weather last weekend and could not make it to the grocery store, my husband went and bought a box of cereal (plastic bag above). He also bought chocolate chips for our granola bars but did not want to deal with bulk, so he bought Nestle in plastic. I am feeling better now so these incidents should be few and far between. Besides those two pieces of waste, we had another easy week. When recapping our waste from this week, Noah was honest and admitted that he ate not one but two bags of Doritos from the school vending machine and Trey had a lollipop that he received from his teacher. We talked about better choices, however I understand that they can not resist temptation all the time.

Weekly Round Up:

Maggie: 1 (woohoo)
Aaron: 1 (woohoo)
Noah: 2
Trey: 2

Community: 2

Aaron and I decided to go on a hike and picnic up to Monticello for our fun activity. For our environmental activity, as requested from my 16 year old niece (I am overjoyed that she is sending me environmental activities), a letter to the mechanical pencil company and ask them to bring back erasers instead of a plastic cap.  She explained that the pencils now have plastic caps, which causes a lot of waste and has no purpose.  I think it is important to include a variety of environmental activities that are significant for all ages.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Is Zero Waste Time Consuming and Expensive? No and No!

Over the past couple of months, I have had several friends say to me, “I love what you are doing, good for you, but I'm too busy”. 


Do you feel that you don't have time? Or do you not know where to start?  Or you can't really be bothered? 

I work full time, am a mom of three active preteen and teenage boys. My evenings and weekends consist of being a taxi driver to music/chorus practices, competitions and concerts, as well as football/baseball practices and games, and school functions. I also drive to and from sleepovers (average friend in our rural area is 45 min away). If this lifestyle took extra time, I couldn't do it. 

I will explain why becoming zero waste not only won't take more time out of your hectic schedule, but on the contrary, allows you your freedom, time, and energy back into your life. Also, I will share the first steps I took to simplifying my life and turning to zero waste. If you are not ready for bulk shopping yet or getting rid of processed foods because you need those simplicities in your life, then start slowly. 


First action we took to simplify our life:

 Before going Zero Waste my room and the boys' rooms were a disaster. We spent most of a Saturday morning cleaning. Since decluttering our bedrooms, i.e. donating clothes, toys, books, movies, board games to Goodwill, and only keeping the bare necessities, we spend less time cleaning our rooms. Please do not think my children are deprived. On the contrary. They love exchanging a movie or board game at Goodwill for a 'new' one. They enjoy reading books from the library. They love folding less clothes and not having clothing lying all around their room. Not to mention, without all of the books and knick knacks their room is easy to dust and has improved Aaron’s asthma and allergies.  We felt selfish for hoarding so many items that could be used by those that care about the environment. When we donate so that others may reuse our belongings and will not need to purchase new, we are creating a ripple effect. If people purchase reused or borrowed items, this in turn causes less strain on our resources. All in all, we have what we need and have our Saturday mornings back to play outside instead of cleaning our rooms. 


First Simple steps we took that you can easily adapt without extra time out of your schedule:

1) Exchanged a plastic water bottle for a reusable water thermos. 

This saves money, as water out of your faucet is free (why would you want to buy something that is free?) and saves time because you will not need to drive to a store to buy a new disposable water bottle. 


2) Exchanged paper napkins for cloth napkins.
This saves money plus a time saver as no need to drive to the store to buy new napkins. We have enough on hand to last a weeks’ worth of lunches and dinners. This way I only do one small load a week of cloth napkins, sometimes it takes 2 weeks for the need to do a load. 


3) Exchanged paper towels for cloth rags.
Another large money saver in our house, as we were going through about 4-5 rolls a week and time saver as no need to drive to store to buy new rolls. Now we use cloth rags to dry our hands, wash dishes, clean counters, table, stove etc. We keep enough on hand so that we only need to do one load a week (which we throw in with cloth napkins). 


4) Becoming organized and prepared with a weekly menu and shopping list.
This is also a time saver because I am not making multiple trips to the grocery store during the week. I only shop once a week, as our only bulk store is 30 min away. We have quick snacks on hand that I make on Saturday or Sunday. We keep them stored in sealed glass jars to last the week for sports days, rushed afternoons or lazy days that we don't want to prepare a snack. No need for processed snacks in plastic bags anymore. 


 5) Other small steps that make a difference (and no extra time); using reusable grocery bags at stores, using reusable produce bags, saying no to plastic straws, composting and using a reusable coffee thermos (Starbucks deducts 10 cents each time). 


As you can see from these few first easy steps we adapted into our home, we have gained time back into our routine, feel great about helping the environment and I feel wonderful about what I am feeding the family by serving them unprocessed foods. On a side note, one added bonus is I have lost 18 lbs since starting this journey. I am not dieting or working out, but simply from eating unprocessed healthier foods , less stress and having the TIME back in my life for things I used to enjoy, such as my evening family walks and reconnecting with my children has helped restart my metabolism.


I hope this may help those that are interested in becoming zero waste but are unclear of where or how to start. Please feel free to comment or ask questions! 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Noah Wins!


With summer vacation completed and getting back to our normal routine, this week seemed pretty easy and we produced minimal waste.

Weekly Round Up (community waste is added into all of our totals):

Maggie: 5
Aaron: 4
Noah: 3 
Trey: 4

Community Waste: 1) Trey needed a PE lock for school. We could only find one that was in a plastic container. 2) When someone in our house has a birthday, I enjoy baking a zero waste cake. Since it was my birthday and my husband doesn't bake, he went out and bought one. Unfortunately it caused plastic waste. 3) milk tab 

For Noah's weekly reward, he has chosen to see the movie, The Sea of Monsters. For his environmental activity, we will go apple picking at a local orchard. I know this isn't really an environmental activity, however my little negotiators convinced me that we are helping the planet by picking apples off of a tree instead of buying them from a grocery store.  Their arguments for the orchard included the following; eating local cuts down on fuel since the apples are not being shipped and we are 'voting' with our money to help our local farmers. Also, we save energy because we know the apples are not stored in a warehouse where they can sit up to a year before being delivered to a grocery store. Lastly, the orchard apples are organic which is healthier for us.  Since we try to only eat seasonal fruit, we are excited to crunch into our first apples of the season.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Idea Starting to Spread in Public Bathrooms

My mom sent this picture to me from the Chicago Botanical Gardens. I have noticed more and more places are eliminating paper towel options out of their bathrooms.  I personally just shake my hands to dry them. My boys like to 'check' if my hands are damp to ensure I am not sneaking paper towels when I am in public bathroom and forgetting to mention it to add it to my total waste count.  As I mentioned before, we are a competitive family and that is why they are doing so well at becoming zero waste teenagers.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Zero Waste Granola Bars


Before turning our house into a zero waste home, one staple the boys enjoyed daily were granola bars. It seemed as though we went through at least 5 boxes a week. Not only was this very costly but it wasn't the healthiest snack I could have fed my kids. My excuse to justify this was that we were busy, on the road most of the time, and how much harm could come out of eating a granola bar. Boy was I wrong. Since going zero waste, and researching not only plastic and trash issues but also the health risks of processed foods, my entire perspective has changed.

We have been flirting with the idea for quite some time to make our own granola bars. I am not sure why we have waited so long to make them.  Early this week, Noah came home from school hungry. He started to complain that he missed the convenience of ripping open a package of granola bars and having something to eat immediately. He was not in the mood to make a snack. He asked if we could look up a granola bar recipe, make a weeks worth at a time, and then he wouldn't have to prepare a snack every day after school.

I opened the laptop and started to search for a recipe. There are hundreds of different recipes for granola bars and we knew we wanted a simple one that had the least amount of ingredients possible. We were pleased to find one that required all of the ingredients we already had at home. All of the ingredients were zero waste.  The oats, flour, chocolate chips and brown sugar were bought in bulk. The honey we got from our neighbors bee farm and will reuse the container. We will burn the butter wrapper and baking soda box when finished. We instantly went to work.

Trey stirring all of the ingredients together.

The after picture. Not bad for a first attempt.

The recipe took about 10 minutes to prepare and 20 minutes in the oven.  Since we made the bars ourselves, there are no hidden ingredients or white sugar.  So easy and delicious.  This will be a staple in our house each week. They store well up to 7 days, if they last that long, and will satisfy the hunger pains of three boys after a long day of school (served with a piece of fruit or veggie of course).


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Different Perspective



During the first week of school, Aaron, Noah and Trey were shocked and horrified at how much waste was generated. We are all ashamed to admit that before we started writing this blog, we did not notice all the waste thrown away daily around us.  Since starting our waste war, we feel like blinders have been lifted off our eyes and we notice trash and plastic indulgence every where we go.

Each day this past week, they have each shared some type of plastic story.

Noah shared that his school serves breakfast on Styrofoam trays with donuts wrapped in plastic (nutrition is not on the priority list either).  For lunch, they offer daily, as he calls it, the plastic option. It contains a cheese stick wrapped in plastic, pb&j wrapped in plastic, apple sauce in a small plastic tub, a bag of pretzels wrapped in a plastic bag and a plastic fork and spoon wrapped in plastic. Then they place all of these items in a large plastic container.  He also noticed that the packers have the majority of their food wrapped in separate plastic bags and a juice box with a plastic straw, wrapped in plastic.  All of this is mindlessly thrown away. 

Aaron noticed that the hot option is served on Styrofoam trays. This bothers him since we have learned when Styrofoam is heated it becomes toxic and the food on it will become dangerous to eat.

Trey had similar stories as well. He thought it was "cool" that when his principal announced that it is time to throw away their waste, he didn't have any trash to throw away.

The boys and I wish the zero waste concept would begin to spread as their schools have several large trash cans filled daily to be disposed of in the landfill.  They do not offer a recycling option. We will bring awareness to their schools and show the need of recycling. 

Has anyone started a recycling program in your child's school? If so, please share the steps you took.


Saturday, August 17, 2013



Finally I won! Yes, I am a tad bit competitive and it was hard to lose every week. I was determined to win this week.

Weekly Round Up:

Maggie: 3 (missing: small plastic honey mustard container)
Aaron: 5 (2 cups missing)
Noah: 4 (I was not with him at Game Stop to remind him that he does not need a bag to hold one game)
Trey: 4

For my weekly reward I have chosen to see the movie Elysium.  I normally would have chosen a different activity than a movie, however, I want to see this movie and I knew the boys would not pick it as their activity. For my weekly environmental activity, I chose to discuss recycling with Noah and Trey's middle school, as they currently do not have any recycling program.

Below is our waste from the past 4 weeks. We are proud to say that our trash from 4 people for 4 weeks, weighed less than one average person throws away in a day. 



Tuesday, August 13, 2013

First Day of School


Tomorrow is the first day of school. There is a lot of excitment in the air. The picture above is Trey's lunch. He packed a sandwich wrapped in a cloth napkin, LunchBot with trailmix and dessert, fruit and a water bottle. Simple, filling and zero waste.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Noah and Trey Win

Maggie: 4 items (missing acupuncture needle)

Noah: 3 items

Trey: 3 items (missing yogurt foil)

1 Community Item: Plastic packaging from Dr. Bronner's Soap

This week was pretty simple since we were home from our vacation and back into our normal routine. I had a weak moment and bought Dove soap and the boys had a weak moment and had a package of Smarties during their school's Open House. 

Noah and Trey chose to go to a water park for their fun activity and will write a letter to National Geographic Kids for their environmental activity. We are making another update to our rules. We will be allowed 2 recyclables each week that are not counted as waste instead of one daily.  

Friday, August 9, 2013

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

  It's back to school time! We love back to school time in our house with the exception of  the dreaded school supply list. This year was especially overwhelming since I wasn't sure how I was going to tackle purchasing plastic free supplies. Luckily, I stumbled upon a fabulous website called Plastic Antidote (for link, click here). They offer a number of different school supplies that are all from recycled products. For example, their binders are made from 100% recycled chipboard instead of plastic. They also offer a wide range of categories from house products, lunch supplies, on the go items to toys.  I have already marked a few items on my birthday wish list that will help with our zero waste quest. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Frustrations of Living in a Plastic World

  With the new school year starting next week, my work felt we could use some acupuncture to help us relax and meditate (picture above).  This was a new experience for me and I felt a little nervous.  It was not as painful as I had imagined and once the needles were in my ear, I couldn't feel them. We listen to relaxation exercises and then we were done.  Being that I was so close to my local grocery store and relaxed, I felt confident that I could give shopping there another try. All I needed was deli meat, how difficult could that be, right? 

   I walked, very sure of myself, to the deli counter and asked for a pound of turkey with no plastic.  The lady behind the counter starred at me with a blank expression. I continued and said, "Can I please have a pound of turkey only wrapped in your paper?" She said she had to ask someone because she wasn't sure. While she was gone a line was starting to form, and I was trying not to feel embarrassed as she came back with a manager. The manager said they could put it in a plastic container for me and I explained that I did not want the meat in plastic and only the paper.  They looked at each other and then the manager said, "Oh, why don't we wrap it in saran wrap? Is that ok?". I explained that saran wrap was also plastic and if they weren't allowed to only wrap it in paper I would pass. The manager felt that wrapping in paper was not safe. I'm not sure why, so I again left Food Lion empty handed. I felt very frustrated and embarrassed with all of the head shakes and eye rolls I was seeing when I left the line. When I got home I expressed my frustrations and my oldest son said, "Mom, keep your head up! Remember we are taking on the world one plastic straw at a time!". I love my children's motivation and dedication to this project. 

*Even though the acupuncture needles will not go into our waste bins because they needed to be disposed of properly, they will still be in my weekly waste count.

Monday, August 5, 2013

What happens when I am not prepared for dinner.

  My summer vacation is over and I started back to work today. We had a strange busy weekend and I was not able to do my normal grocery shopping at Whole Foods. The closest Whole Foods from my work is 45 minutes away, therefore, I decided to go to Food Lion, the local grocery store.  Since I had not pre-planned for dinner, I walked around the store aimlessly trying to find something to cook for dinner that wasn't wrapped in plastic. I broke one of my most important rules, always be organized and prepared when you cook non-processed foods. 

   At Whole Foods, I sometimes purchase meat that I obtain from behind the meat counter.  They wrap it in butcher paper and eliminate any plastic packaging. I thought I could do the same thing at Food Lion and pick up chicken to throw on the grill. I walked over to the meat counter and asked the man working in this department if he could wrap some chicken breast in butcher paper for me. He stared at me like I had two heads and said, "Excuse me ma'am, I do not understand your request". I explained that I did not want to purchase anything wrapped in plastic and if I could have something from behind the counter that wasn't wrapped yet. He laughed and said, "Ma'am, we don't even have butcher paper in this store".  Then he explained that all of their meat is delivered to the store prepackaged. I asked if their meat was fresh and he said he couldn't answer that because it is shipped from another supplier. He then told me that in his 13 years at Food Lion, he had never been asked for meat to be wrapped in butcher paper from behind the counter. I left Food Lion empty handed. 

   Question: Is my lifestyle extreme? Or is the way that our society has programmed us to use single-use plastic for the majority of purchases extreme?  

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Addition to our rules



  I just watched a fabulous documentary, The Clean Bin Project. In the documentary, a husband and wife compete for one year to see who can have the least amount of waste. One of their rules was to bring home all restaurant waste, including food to compost. This is important because food thrown into trash bags will rot. The rot releases methane, which damages the environment 20 times more than carbon dioxide.  

  Although we have been bringing home all of our trash from restaurants, we have not taken our leftover food home. The boys decided that they wanted to incorporate this into one of our rules. I just finished a large glass mason jar of vegetable soup that I bought at the Farmer's Market. We washed it clean tonight and put it straight into the trunk of the car so that we are prepared if we decide to go out to eat. 

  The picture above shows some compost bins from Plow and Hearth. We own the stainless steel compost pail.  Although I think the ceramic composts are far more attractive, having three boys I was worried it would break quickly. Each evening after dinner, we empty the bin to the backyard where we have a designated spot for our compost pile.  The compost turns into soil which we mix into our garden. The soil provides nutrients which grows our fruits and vegetables. Perfect cycle.  

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Benefits of homemade laundry detergent

  I first started making my own laundry detergent in order to eliminate plastic waste and because it is a huge cost saver; 7 cents a load compared to store bought brands that are 25 cents a load. While researching other topics, I stumbled across documentaries that expressed concerns regarding how toxic laundry detergents are for humans and to the environment. The run off from treatment plants reek havoc on our lakes and rivers. Consequently, I began doing research on the ingredients in the detergent in my home. I was horrified at what I read. 

  Most detergents contain harmful toxins. These chemicals can cause cancer, lung damage, mucous membrane damage, kidney damage, reproductive system failure, endocrine and damage to the immune system. If you are using store bought deterent, take the time to research the ingredients to ensure it is safe. Find out what is in those 'fragrances' and what you are really smelling when you breath in those different fresh scents. Your body absorbs all chemicals that are on your clothes. Knowledge of what you are putting into your body is key. My oldest son, Aaron, has asthma and allergies. In the past, he consistently got nosebleeds. Once I started making my own laundry detergent and household cleaners, his nosebleeds have been few and far apart. 

  Making your own laundry detergent is simple, quick, cheap, safer for the environment and for your family. There are hundreds of different recipes on the internet. Below is the one that I use. 

1 cup of Washing Soda
1 cup of Borax
1 bar (use a cheese grater or blender until soap is fine) of Dr. Bronner's Castile/ Kirk's Castile/ Ivory or other natural unscented bar soap. 
Use 2 tablespoons for full load
* I prefer Castile soap because it contains vegetable oil instead of animal fat. Pure Castile is also ecological and toxic free.