People have been asking what we’re doing as a family to reduce our waste, so I decided to put a list together and oh my, I was surprised how much we achieved in a little over a year! I limited this post to the kitchen as I realized there’s content for future posts by room. 🙂
Over the past 12 months, there have been indeed many ups and downs. Days full of bad news followed by some good and hopeful days. I’ve got to say I prefer to hold on to the good ones and focus on the learnings of 2020. Spending more time at home while entertaining the kids in between Zoom classes required a huge amount of creativity and optimism. Family cooking was a big one in many households and it was not different in my house. The smell of a homemade loaf or brioche, a creamy yogurt topped with my own granola recipe and local seasonal fruits – it’s like living in a farm. As featured in Livia’s post, revisiting the good habits from the past is often the solution to a healthier, lower waste and, on top, money-saving lifestyle. It’s not just about avoiding supermarket and crowds, it’s the pleasure of trying your own recipes, with its successes and failures – until you nail perfection. At the very end, it’s chemistry classes in the kitchen. And kids love it!
- Dish scrubber/sponge: it took me too long, but I finally found plant-based dish scrubber that I’m happy with. This one is 100% natural loofah, which is a super soft natural material and replaces well the soft part of a regular foam. I also have a coconut fiber pad to do the harder work. Both can be home composted after use.
🟢 Impact: the classic yellow and green foam ones are typically made of polyurethane, and nylon or PP fiber. They contain hardening and abrasive materials such as Aluminum oxide (alumina), Titanium dioxide and resins. They are not recyclable and go straight to the landfill, taking about 100 years to decompose. A pack of 6 would be our consumption in a year, meaning 6 less sponges in the landfill.
- Cloth napkins: I confess we reused paper napkins for years, we would use them several times until the point they were torn. It was, of course, not ideal but also very confusing since they would sometimes be misplaced at the table. Was this one mine or yours? (embarrassing). I wanted not just a better material solution but also the ability of customization. The idea of embroidering our names on cotton napkins was tempting and it became one of our lockdown projects. It was a long process, which was not really a problem in 2020, and I even got my 5yo to embroider her name on it. The result is beautiful. I got extra cloth napkins embroidered with frogs and princesses for when we have guests, so we don’t need to throw more paper in the trash bin.
🟢 Impact: paper napkins are not attractive for paper recycling given the low content of fiber, so they are landfilled. When thrown away, they decompose much faster than plastic though, and some will compost, which is an advantage. But consider that paper (or cellulose) source is critical for agriculture and carbon sequestration. Paper napkins are often not FSC certified and usually come wrapped in non-stretchy plastic film, which are not recyclable either.
- Beewax food wrap: this is a cotton fabric embedded in bee wax, making it moldable to nearly every shape and format. It’s a great swap for plastic wrap or really any food container. It lasts months or years, keeping food tasty and fresh for longer. You can also try to do your own (plenty of tutorials online). I love the cute patterns and the light honey odor of those. It’s a no-brainer.
🟢 Impact: plastic wrappers are made of PE or PVC film, which are hard to recycle. The film usually comes on a paper spool and inside a paper box. Often the box will have a sharp metal cutter, making it even harder to separate all those different materials before throwing them into the right bin… landfill destination, again! One regular box carries 200 sq.ft of plastic wrap. Well, that’s a lot!
- CSA local produce box: CSA stands for “community supported agriculture”. We subscribed to one of our local services in Georgia last year. It’s a reusable and fully customized box, collected once a week. Whatever packaging (usually ice packs and foil insulators) they bring in, they will take it back, and I love this part! Since then, we are keeping things seasonal, organic and lowering even more our packaging footprint. I am a strong believer that those services could do some much more as far as educating farmers and consumers on how to reduce their waste. They do have the potential to become zero waste facilitators.
🟢 impact: PET clamshell, PE and PP film, multilayer pouches, paper bags are the ones we’re not bringing home anymore.
- Herb garden: what a joy. Last year we did several herbs, bell peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes. My kids cared for them as they were little babies. We are currently working on this year’s harvest. We already have cilantro, basil, rosemary, mint and will certainly include tomatoes. We got one of those big self-watering planters and I couldn’t be happier!
🟢 Impact: same as CSA boxes.
- Homemade yogurt: I had a yogurt maker for my birthday last year and, since then, have been making 1-2 batches of yogurt per week. It’s easy, versatile and yummy. I make both Greek and European style yogurt, but you can make any type, it only depends on what type of culture you pick. Win-win type of situation: healthier, tastier and cheaper than industrial yogurt.
🟢 Impact: I estimate we’re reducing our plastic footprint by 7 kg (15 lbs) per year. At least 4 families started to make their own yogurt after trying mine. Should I say we’re saving 35kg-ish of plastic waste all together? Remember most commercial yogurt cups are too small to be recycled. The ones in the yogurt maker are made of glass.
- Popsicles: a friend gave me a popsicle mold and ta-da: frozen yogurt is kid’s favorite snack now! Pour some homemade yogurt to it, freeze for at least 4 hours and ready! Let kids create their recipes: our staples are strawberry, chocolate and cookies. Again: easy, versatile and yummy.
🟢 Impact: Commercial popsicles come wrapped in non-recyclable PP film inside a paper box. Packaging footprint saved? Hard to say. But the popsicles are a hit!
- Bakery section:
- Pancakes, waffles and crepes: with 2 kids at home, those are the answer for a quick weekday breakfast. I make and freeze them. Tastier, healthier and cheaper than industrial.
- Bread: my husband makes sourdough and brioche. He recently started making yeast at home too!
- Granola: never realized it was so easy until a friend mentioned his recipe. I’ll never buy a pouch again. Mine is customizable, tastier and pairs just perfectly with my yogurt!
🟢 Impact: tons of films, pouches, plastic bags, and twist ties (made of a wire + plastic/paper). The stretchy film can be recycled if you bring to a participating store. The tiny twist ties are not recyclable and will last several decades in the landfill (they are tiny, but birds and sea animals might eat them). The pouches are hard to recycle and their destiny is the landfill.
- More sustainable packaging: I have been more attentive to the type of packaging I buy. Is that too small? Too colorful? Is there a paper or aluminum option for this product? Should I buy a large tin of olive oil and refill the glass bottle I have at home? Sure! There are also some ingredients you can find in bulk and I will consider going to another store just for that reason. Some will accept your containers, others don’t. There is a long way to go here in Georgia in that department… Few examples of easy-to-find bulk are beans, lentils, couscous, cereals of my granola recipe.
🟢 Impact: less packaging (and waste) of all sorts.
- Home composting: we got a dual tumbler and are having fun watching it turn in fertilizer.
🟢 Impact: food waste that decomposes in landfills releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is at least 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Food that is composted can be used as a fertilizer, improving soil health and productivity, and reducing our carbon footprint.
Hopefully these simple actions will inspire small changes in your household! If we multiply the impact, it will make such a difference! Feel free to reach out for recipes. 😉