happy holidays.

Tips for a zero waste holiday season | Litterless

Plants have been watered and fingers crossed that they'll be alive when I get back... and I'm off, traveling to spend the holidays with my family. If you'd like, you can follow along with what I'm up to on Instagram, or I'll be back here with a new post at the end of December. In the meantime, a few posts to peruse as we head into the holiday season:

For the holidays:

-How to wrap presents, here, here, and here

-Zero waste hostess gift ideas. (Candles or bulk coffee beans, anyone?)

-Get a jump start on your zero waste resolutions. (I'm still working on #7, as evidenced by this post).

A simple guide to staying zero waste during the holidays | Litterless

For traveling:

-How to stay zero waste on flights and long flights, here. You already know the drill: snacks and water bottles, folks.

-Stock your car for a road trip. ("Vacation isn't the time to worry about being perfectly zero waste: I think it's a time to try to be generally zero waste, and to relax about the rest. But if you're loading up the car for a trip anyway, why not tuck in a few of the above items?").

-How to stay zero waste at a hotel. In one respect, at least.

-Package-free travel snack ideas, whether or not you've got a bulk aisle at your disposal.

-Zero waste city guides. (Escape the house and do something fun!). 

For staying cozy, wherever you are:

-Zero waste tea, three ways

-Take home a coffee or hot chocolate from your favorite spot.

-And, speaking of chocolate...

And, lastly, it's never more important than in this month of the year to give yourself grace and ditch the guilt when your best-laid plans to zero waste fall by the wayside. Traveling, being a guest in someone's home, gift-giving, parties: all can make it hard to stay zero waste. You try your best, you win some and lose some, you try again next year. That's my plan, at least. Do you have any tips for staying zero waste during the holidays to share?

books to prevent food waste.

Favorite books for fighting food waste | Litterless

First, waste less food. Then compost. I've got a new motto around here after hearing a few months ago that people tend to waste more food when they know they can compost it. (Source here). "That makes sense," I thought, followed a few seconds later by "Oh no," as I realized that I'm surely a culprit, too. So I'm trying to be a little more mindful, inventive, and on top of things in the kitchen these days: not trying to send zero food to the compost, but simply trying to cast aside fewer edible scraps and fewer fruits and vegetables that went bad before I could use them.

In that vein, I'm sharing a few of the books that I turn to for inspiration, advice, or recipes. You can likely find most of these at your local library, secondhand bookstore, or favorite local spot in your community. In case you can't, or are in the market for a special present for a zero waster, I've included links below as well:

-An Everlasting Meal, by Tamar Adler. If it sounds dramatic to say this book taught me how to cook: it's true. Neither a cookbook nor a memoir, exactly, it's instead a thoughtful look into how to cook simply and economically, guided by recipes but not bound to them. Though the book is full of practical ways to use up food scraps, even better: it helps build intuition about how to cook with what you already have, so that when you find yourself with half a bunch of parsley in the fridge and a recipe that doesn't explicitly call for it, you can trust yourself enough to add it. I also love her recipe for a broccoli stem pesto (which I've outlined roughly here), devotion to turning stale bread into croutons for sprinkling on everything, and how-tos for washing and cooking unusual things like beet greens. (Indiebound | Amazon)

-The Love and Lemons Cookbook, by Jeanine Donofrio. This all-vegetarian cookbook is organized alphabetically by produce, which helps me use what's already in my fridge instead of feeling like I need to go shopping. For example, the asparagus section has a couple of great recipes, the berries section gives several options, and so it goes right on down the line to zucchini. So, when I find myself with a butternut squash but stuck without ideas for using it up, I turn here. Recipes are simple and bright and anything but boring; I reach for this book several times a week. Also included for each recipe is a note on how to make it vegan or gluten-free. (Indiebound | Amazon)

-Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook, by Dana Gunders. When I wonder how to freeze beans, how to best store lettuce, what to do with softening apples, I flip through this book. Written by the woman who leads the National Resources Defense Council's anti-food waste campaign, the book offers a mix of practical tips for buying what you need and using what you have, a look into the science behind best food storage and use techniques, and statistics on food waste that are deeply motivating. (Although some of her tips - like relying on plastic bags for freezing - will need to be adapted to incorporate reusable, plastic-free storage options rather than single-use ones). If you're looking to waste less food but aren't sure where to start, consider this book your how-to. (Indiebound | Amazon)

-Canning for a New Generation, by Lianna Krisoff. Canning is daunting, and rightfully so: getting it wrong can introduce pathogens into your food, with disastrous consequences. But following a recipe from a book rather than clicking on a random link from Google gives me confidence that I'm doing it properly, and the premise of this book that we over-complicate canning leaves me feeling encouraged. Most helpful to me have been the recipes for pickles, which I just store in my fridge for eating within the following few weeks. I often quick-pickle cucumbers, radishes, and jalapeños that I don't think I'll be able to use up in time. (Though I also have dreams of purchasing a few flats of tomatoes each summer to can for the winter). (Indiebound Amazon)

-Zero Waste Home, by Bea Johnson. Many discussions of food waste frustratingly tend to mostly ignore food packaging waste. When I read about companies that use imperfect, cast-off fruit to make juice that comes packaged in plastic, I wonder why wasting said plastic is okay when wasting the fruit isn't. In a better world, we'd work toward reducing food waste and packaging waste hand in hand. Bea offers tips for shopping package-free and making key kitchen staples yourself to cut down on packaging waste. This book is a little more militant than most (Bea offers a no-excuses approach to zero waste that doesn't always sit well with me), but sometimes I like reading books better than reading blogs, so I occasionally check this out from the library for a little refresher course. (Indiebound | Amazon)

What books to you reach for when you have extra food you aren't sure what to do with? Any other favorites to share?

Previously in Food Waste: Passing food along, and ten ideas for using up the ends of vegetables.

a new place to find me.

Zero waste city living | Litterless

I've got a new spot on the web! Sort of. I've moved over from the old Litterless.co to a brand-new Litterless.com. All links to the original Litterless.co now redirect to Litterless.com, so if you have any posts bookmarked or pinned, they should still work just fine. Welcome to the new site! Which, of course, is basically just the old site.

zero waste coffee (and a giveaway).

Brewing zero waste coffee with Ethical Bean | Litterless

This post is sponsored by Ethical Bean, makers of fair-trade certified, organic coffee that comes in compostable and recyclable packaging.

I've written before that I'm not the most frequent coffee drinker out there; my late nights in the library in college were aided instead by green tea and dried cranberries filched from the dining center. Luckily, I have an in-home coffee consultant (er, my boyfriend, Julian), so when I wanted to figure out what to recommend to readers who ask me what lower-waste options for brewing coffee are out there, he was only too happy to conduct some tests (er, drink coffee), with the help of a few zero waste-friendly coffees by Ethical Bean.

There are a couple of different ways to brew coffee without disposable products. You can insert a reusable coffee filter into a standard coffee maker, buy a reusable cloth filter for a pour-over cone or a Chemex, or use a French press, which comes with its own built-in filter for catching grounds. My boyfriend typically uses a pour-over cone and composts the paper filter each time, but I already own a French press (typically put to use for brewing larger quantities of loose-leaf tea), so that's what we do at my house.

How to brew zero waste style coffee with Ethical Bean | Litterless

As with all things, brewing coffee in a French press can be as precise or as loose as you'd like it to be. The basic method: add a tablespoon of ground coffee per cup of water to your French press. Pour in just-boiled water, top the glass chamber off with the cap, then about four minutes later depress the plunger to keep the grounds out of the way. For those looking to delve more into the details of French-pressing (just how hot should that water be?), I trust the pros at Food 52: here's what they have to say on the subject.

Pour and enjoy! Then, when you're cleaning out the press don't forget to compost those coffee grounds. Or, better yet, you could choose to reuse them first by making a quick DIY body scrub, made mixing equal parts coffee grounds and coconut oil, and a few drops of the essential oil you like best).

How to brew zero waste coffee | Litterless

Now that we've taken care of brewing zero waste coffee, how to buy zero waste coffee in the first place? This is another realm where the options are many, of course. If you're a rare coffee drinker, you can forego the home brew entirely and simply bring your own reusable travel mug to a coffee shop whenever you'd like a cup. Coffee shops typically buy their beans in huge packages - effectively giving you the option to buy coffee purchased in bulk, without having to search for it in local grocery stores. For the more frequent drinker, you can of course also look for package-free beans in a grocery store near you (this guide might give you a place to start the search).

If neither of those work - or even if they do - another option is to purchase coffee in recyclable or compostable packaging. That's where Ethical Bean comes in. They sell fair-trade certified organic coffee out of their roastery in Vancouver, where they compost the organic by-products of production, like coffee chaff, at their factory, before packaging up the beans and ground coffee in bags that can either be composted - like those brown kraft paper bags below (just remove the tape and the metal closure) - or mailed back to Ethical Bean for recycling through their bag return program - like the bright green bag shown below.

Ethical Bean, organic, fair-trade, and responsibly packaged coffee for the zero waster | Litterless

The verdict, according to said personal coffee consultant? Julian liked the bright, fruity flavors of the Exotic blend, which were balanced by the full-bodied quality of the roast. We'll take his word for it: my coffee palate isn't well-developed enough to be able to corroborate that yet. But I can concur with his thoughts about the packaging: he appreciated the paper packaging (those brown bags pictured above), because he could choose to keep it around to reuse when buying bulk coffee in the future, send it back to the folks at Ethical Bean for recycling, or compost it.

Kudos to Ethical Bean for helping us take control of us take control of our waste, and for offering a lower-waste option for folks where buying bulk package-free beans isn't an option - or where bulk beans are an option, but not organic, or fair-trade, or high enough quality to satisfy the palate of the coffee devotee.

After you hop on over to the Ethical Bean site to check out their selection, come back here to enter their giveaway! They're offering a French press and three bags of coffee to one lucky winner in the United States or Canada. You can enter below; good luck!

Coffee lovers: what other tips do you have for brewing zero waste coffee? Any other methods to share?

Previously in Food & Drink: For the tea drinkers, and a new, simple use for beeswax wrap.

This post is sponsored by Ethical Bean; all thoughts are my own. Thank you for supporting the companies with better business practices who work to make zero waste-friendly resources.

zero waste gift wrapping.

How to wrap gifts zero waste style | Litterless

When wrapping a gift for a friend with an autumn birthday a few weeks back, I snapped some pictures of my method. I'm not on top of it enough to have wrapped holiday gifts yet - but when I do, this is close to how I'll be approaching it.

The most zero waste gift wrap, of course, is no gift wrap. But I've found the more that zero waste looks like austerity, the more I push back against it, unwilling to give up some of the things make my life a bit brighter and better. (Gift wrap, mascara, soba noodles. Etc.). Since my goal is changing habits for the long term, not making frantic overhauls that won't last, I've found the space in my zero waste routines to wear mascara, eat plastic-packaged soba noodles, and wrap gifts, and I'm the happier for it.

Of course, that doesn't mean throwing in the towel, buying a few huge rolls of plastic-packaged wrapping paper, and wrapping gifts normally. When have I ever done anything around here normally? (Side note: that shiny wrapping paper is typically not recyclable. !!!). Instead, I rely on reusable and compostable materials to wrap gifts in a way that aligns with my ethos. There are lots of ways to do it - here's how I approached it last year - but this year, here's what I'm thinking:

How to wrap gifts zero waste style using upcycled materials | Litterless

Step 1: Gather supplies, with an eye toward the reused, the reusable, and the compostable. For me, this process starts much earlier in the year: I keep a box in my closet that's full of papers and supplies that come my way that feel ripe for reusing.

The paper shown here was saved from a special purchase at Elizabeth Suzann earlier this summer, tucked away because it was too good to just recycle. I also save the plain brown kraft paper that often comes with online purchases, which can be dressed up with drawings or a special ribbon or even left as is. Other ideas for reused paper that can be turned into wrappings: the pretty catalog you find in your mailbox (before you email the company to get off their mailing list), newspapers (please not any section featuring our orange-in-chief, so depressing), or gift wrapped saved from another special occasion earlier in the year.

Other supplies you might want: compostable paper washi tape, and then some ribbons or twine as the final touch. For that last part, I go with natural twine (compostable!), or otherwise, ribbons I've saved over the years from gifts given to me.

Zero waste gift wrapping using compostable, reusable materials | Litterless

Step 2: Wrap the thing! Easy. If you don't have washi tape, you can also wrap gifts without any tape by being inventive with how you tie your twine or ribbons. Here's a little primer on that method, which I used last year.

Step 3: Make sure the recipient knows how to recycle the materials, if you think you can slip this information in without being preachy and irritating. An excited "And the tape is compostable!" or a "Here, let me recycle that" might do the trick. Taking charge of cleaning up the gift wrap on a holiday evening or morning is a good way to ensure that you can sort and save things properly, rather than letting a relative or host sweep everything pell-mell into a garbage bag.

Of course, this is just one way to wrap gifts, the way that aligns most closely with traditional gift wrapping. There are many other ways to do it, and using your inventive little mind is most of the fun. I've wrapped gifts in tea towels, reusable tote bags, bento bags, reused tissue paper, reused gift bags, furoshiki cloths, reusable cotton bulk bags. (You can find my favorites of those items linked here, in case you're in the market).

For more ideas on how to wrap gifts zero waste style, take a peek at last year's posts on the subject, here and here. Anyone else still staunchly clinging to gift wrapping? Favorite tricks to share?

Previously in Zero Waste: The simplest zero waste travel tip out there, and a guide to the items I use day in, day out.

diy eye make-up remover.

How to make zero waste, plastic-free eye make-up remover | Litterless

A few years ago, I found that oil worked really well to remove eye make-up. Unlike anything else I'd tried, it doesn't have weird synthetic fragrances, doesn't have to come packaged in plastic - or worse, little single-use wipes, doesn't have a long ingredients list to puzzle over, and doesn't leave your sensitive eye-area skin dry. Quite the reverse, actually: it's like moisturizing and cleaning in a single step.

I'm glad to be sharing my recipe today for a DIY version... if you can even call this a DIY. It's two ingredients, one step, and thirty seconds of work time, once you have the ingredients on hand.

Homemade zero waste, plastic-free eye make-up remover | Litterless

Here's how I make the version I use: I combine three parts grapeseed oil with one part argan oil in a small bottle. Um, that's it.

For the bottle, I like something with a pump top or an eye dropper like this one, but you could literally use anything as long as it's tinted (to protect the oils from light). An old essential oil bottle, very well cleaned and dried, might be just the thing.

At the moment, grapeseed oil is my preference for the base oil - it has a neutral scent, absorbs quickly and easily, and is inexpensive. Plus, it's literally made from waste: it's pressed from the seeds of grapes, a by-product of winemaking that would otherwise be left unused. Argan oil is more expensive, but I've found that adding just a little of it seems to up the moisturizing power of the potion a bit.

You could use other oils, and other ratios, of course - I've used straight up olive oil when staying at friends' houses or while on vacation in an Airbnb. I have a friend who uses coconut oil, but I don't like having to melt it in my hands during the winter to be able to use it. As you can tell, the recipe is loose and flexible. Just use common sense: don't include essential oils, in deference to the delicate nature of the eye area.

How to remove eye make-up, zero waste style | Litterless

How to use it: I put a few drops on my fingertips, rub them together quickly to warm it up, and then just rub it onto closed eyelids and around my eyes until the make-up seems to be loosened and dissipating. I don't wear a huge amount of make-up (on my eyes, usually just mascara), so I use my fingertips to gently wipe away the extra oil, taking the make-up with it, before rinsing my fingers with soap and water to get the oil off. When I do that, there's usually a small amount of oil left on the skin around my eyes, which I leave in place to soak in and moisturize.

If you wear a lot of make-up, though, or prefer the experience of using cotton rounds to remove it, that works too. You can purchase or make reusable cotton cloth rounds (the ones pictured are by Marley's Monsters, though I also have some I've made myself); just choose some in a dark color so you don't have to fight the losing battle of mascara smudges on white cloth. And, hand wash those babies in cold water with lots of soap immediately after using, and air dry: you don't want to leave oily cloths around or put them in the washer or dryer, because they could choose to catch on fire. (YIKES).

Not sure where to buy these ingredients in bulk locally? You can search my guide to bulk shopping throughout the U.S. here, if you'd like. Or, buy them online! My friend Brittney owns the store Refill Revolution, which sells (among other things) bulk ingredients for zero waste DIYs. She ships many of her ingredients in glass bottles like these, or in reusable plastic pouches, which you can then mail back to her to be sterilized and used again. When we met, we got excited to share some of the easy DIY products we reach for every day, so she sent me bulk versions of a few of my go-to ingredients to fine-tune into a recipe to share.

Previously in DIY: Make your own handkerchiefs (even for sewing newbies!), and a homemade cleaning spray recipe.

any jar will do.

Mismatched glass jars for zero waste, plastic-free pantry and kitchen storage | Litterless

Last night, I gave a zero waste workshop near Madison, Wisconsin. One thing we talked about? Fancy glass jars. Fancy jars - like Le Parfait, Weck, and mason jars - are excellent for making your pantry look gorgeous and for fitting nicely together on shelves and for uniformity's sake. But the reality is: any jar will do.

If you use glass jars for pantry storage or for shopping in bulk, or if you want to start using them, consider this permission to go mismatched. Sure, your pantry could look like this. But also, it could look like a beautiful collection of whatever random jars you find yourself in possession of at the time.

Mismatched glass jars for zero waste, plastic-free pantry and kitchen storage | Litterless

A few weeks ago, a friend came over to my house for a meeting and brought some snacks with her, pictured here. The diversity of containers illustrated well the plethora of jar options out there: everything from Le Parfait jars with an orange rubber seal to colorful Mason jars to glass Tupperware to jars salvaged from finished pantry staples (in this case, a jar of Grey Poupon). 

The jars I use to store food are a mix of Le Parfait, Ball / Mason jars, and Weck jars, many of which I've accumulated from thrift stores. (When you only pay sixty cents for a jar that normally costs $7, it's pretty great). You can also just hold on to old salsa, mustard, sauce, olive, etc. jars, which are especially good for storing smaller things or sending leftovers home with a guest. Labels kept on or removed, they too work just fine for what they're meant to do: store food.

What types of jars are your favorites? Any thrift store scores to share?

Previously in Home: How to use a furoshiki cloth, and some musings on a zero waste home.