Homemade Wood Conditioner

How to make DIY, homemade spoon butter and wood conditioner from zero waste ingredients | Litterless

Winter feels like it’s coming to a close in Chicago these days. The sky as I write this is that shade of bright blue that would have seemed miraculous in January, but now seems normal. Evenings are longer, I stopped in my tracks at the sight of snowdrops in someone’s yard the other day, and everyone’s mood is a little brighter. Midway through March, a good place to be.

Towards the end of winter, I always seem to use up the last of my spoon butter and need to make another small pot to last me through the following winter. Spoon butter, sometimes called wood conditioner, is a simple beeswax-and-oil salve meant to lock in moisture on dried-out wooden kitchen implements. After months of stirring up stews and soups, my wooden spoons take on a decidedly dry aspect and need some care to keep them from remaining that way permanently.

Enter homemade spoon butter: a simple and satisfying DIY project that you can whip up in about ten minutes. Here’s how:

How to make DIY, homemade spoon butter and wood conditioner from zero waste ingredients | Litterless

-Gather your materials.

You’ll need beeswax (I prefer the pellets, which melt more quickly, but you can generally also find blocks of beeswax unpackaged at your farmers’ market), coconut oil, and a small amount of a liquid oil (I used grapeseed oil here, but walnut oil is particularly good, if pricey). Some recipes recommend mineral oil, which I avoid because it’s made from petroleum (ick).

You’ll also need an old tea towel that you don’t mind getting a little oily, some cotton rags you’re willing to compost, a double boiler for melting the ingredients (it should be one set aside specifically for projects like this, because once you melt beeswax in it the residue will stay fairly stuck; I got mine secondhand so that I don’t mind it getting waxy), and one or more jars for holding the finished product.

If you aren't sure where to buy these ingredients in bulk, there's a little note at the end about where I got mine in reusable glass packaging. Note: a few of those links are affiliate links.

How to make DIY, homemade spoon butter and wood conditioner from zero waste ingredients | Litterless

-Combine the ingredients for the butter in your double boiler.

Like most projects, I tend to eyeball this one, going for two parts coconut oil to one part beeswax, and a small splash of the liquid oil I’m using. The beeswax is what makes the salve firm enough to lock in the moisture from the coconut oil, and the liquid oil helps make the salve a little more malleable. A mixture of just coconut oil and beeswax can be too firm to scoop, especially in the winter when the coconut oil hardens.

If you want an exact recipe to follow, try one-third cup beeswax pellets, two-thirds cup coconut oil, and two tablespoons of your liquid oil. (You’ll probably need a jar slightly bigger than mine). You can scale that up or down to make as much or as little as you’d like, but I try to make enough to last me about one year – which equates to about the amount shown in these photographs – so that I can make a fresh batch often enough to ensure the oil stays in good condition.

-Slowly melt the ingredients over low-to-medium heat.

Place the double boiler over a pot of gently simmering water, and stir slowly and intermittently to combine the ingredients. The coconut oil will melt first, and you’ll need to keep stirring until the beeswax is melted, too. I like to stir the mixture with a wooden spoon, which saves me the trouble of onerously scraping the beeswax off my spoon; instead, I just rub it right into the spoon when I’m finished.

Take care not to let the mixture boil; it shouldn’t be able to in a double boiler, but it bears saying anyway. You want it all to melt slowly together until it’s a uniform bright, clear gold with no visible beeswax particles.

How to make DIY, homemade spoon butter and wood conditioner from zero waste ingredients | Litterless

-Pour the melted mixture into your jar.

You’ll need to work carefully and quickly once you remove the double boiler from the pan of water underneath, since beeswax starts to harden as soon as it cools in the slightest. Turn off the stove, and use hot pads or over mitts to pick up just the top part of the double boiler, leaving the water bath where it is. Use a tea towel to wipe any condensed water off the bottom of the double boiler; you don’t want it to drip into your mixture when you pour it. Then, tip the double boiler over your jar or container to decant the mixture.

How to make DIY, homemade spoon butter and wood conditioner from zero waste ingredients | Litterless

Let the jar cool completely; it will turn from clear to opaque over the course of several hours.

How to make DIY, homemade spoon butter and wood conditioner from zero waste ingredients | Litterless

-Once cool, rub it into your wooden spoons, cutting boards, and more.

I use my hands to coat each piece with a thin layer of the spoon butter, then I lay each piece out on a ratty old tea towel for a few hours or overnight. After some time has passed, I use a very small cotton rag cut from an old t-shirt to buff the butter deeper into the grain and to smooth off the extra butter so the pieces no longer feel sticky or tacky. I compost the rag when I’m finished with it, since it’s oily enough that I don’t want to wash it. Repeat this process as often as you remember, especially during the winter when you notice your cutting boards or spoons look dry.

How to make DIY, homemade spoon butter and wood conditioner from zero waste ingredients | Litterless

As for where to find the beeswax, coconut oil, and grapeseed oil in bulk, it varies based on where you live, of course. You can check out the guide to bulk groceries in the U.S. and Canada here to see if these are sold somewhere near you. Or, you can buy them online in sustainable packaging. My friend Brit from Refill Revolution sent me the beeswax, coconut oil, and grapeseed oil shown here, in glass jars that I plan to reuse down the line once they’re empty. Though coconut oil and grapeseed oil can be bought in glass jars at most groceries, I appreciate that the containers Brit uses are ones that are more likely to remain useful in my home. (As a treat for readers, if you’d like, you can use the code LITTERLESS to save 10% off your order at Refill Revolution).

Previously in DIY: A simple make-up remover, and a deep-winter body butter.

On Minimalism and Zero Waste

How zero waste and minimalism are related | Litterless

There are folks who think minimalism and zero waste are inextricably linked, that one without the other can't exist. There are other folks who posit that the current minimalism trend is in some ways antithetical to zero waste: as anyone who's read about Marie Kondo's decluttering style of literally throwing away as many trash bags of possessions as possible to achieve a tidy home can attest, it's a fair point.

As with most philosophies zero waste, I fall someplace in the middle. The fewer resources we can use to live happy and healthy lives, the better for the planet, undoubtably. And unused things lying around are in some ways just waiting to become trash. If you clean out your bathroom cabinet and find a jar of six-year-old body lotion, you're probably not going to want to use it; into the trash goes the lotion (and into recycling the jar), when if you'd found it four years earlier it might have gotten used up just fine. The examples in favor of a more minimalist home being more conducive to zero waste are legion: elastic stretches beyond repair on clothing left in drawers too long, spices wither and get flavorless. And so on.

Using something yourself in its prime eliminates these possibilities, or passing unused items along to someone else allows them to be useful while they can be. Where I find minimalism problematic is in some of its most vocal proponents' assertions that it is IT: the path to happiness and peace and a calm home and life. Owning less certainly can be a path to that, but more likely you'll still be the same person with the same worries before and after you get rid of your toaster.

Getting rid of things you'll use isn't necessarily more virtuous than keeping things you'll use. Our things can get devalued when passed along. You know the history behind your favorite skillet, which kept you company in your first apartment; given to a thrift store, it's just another stained piece of cookware in a stack of stained pieces of cookware. I own three wooden spoons, and after putting two away to make more space in my current tiny kitchen, found I could actually make do with one. But the other two are beloved to me; I remember the farmers' markets where I purchased them in college, and the turmeric tint reminds me of years of past meals. I'd hazard that if given to a secondhand shop or a friend, someone would scoop them up and use them, but might later discard them more cavalierly, as the spoons would lack the sense of history for them that they hold for me.

I've found balance in, well, a balance. I'm good about passing along things that I truly never use or no longer want, but have no compunction about keeping extra things tucked away if I know I'll find them useful in the future. Extra bars of soap, bamboo toothbrushes, wooden spoons, tea towels: though I don't actively seek out extras, when I find myself with extras, I'm okay with having more than I actually, truly need at any given time. I think that's a perspective that's rare in the zero waste world, where we often hear that we need to get rid of every single thing we don't use at a given time. To me, that seems unrealistic and a little austere. (Though it certainly does work for many people). I've found I like life better with a little cushion. But not, of course, too much.

On minimalism and zero waste | Litterless

This month, I've been playing a twist on the Mins Game. Created by the some of the same vocal proponents whose strident statements rub me the wrong way, it's nevertheless become a tool in my zero waste arsenal that I appreciate. Have you heard of it? The idea is that you give yourself a month to take the time to sort through your possessions and find what you can get rid of. The first day of the month, you get rid of one thing; the second day, two; the third, three, and on until you hit thirty-one.

A friend of mine started the game among a group of our friends in February of last year, and when the same month rolled around this year, I was pulled again to the idea of a fresh start. The game is a good motivation to tackle the big task of getting rid of the clutter, the unused, that can be easy to put off nearly-forever until that jar of body lotion slinks to the back of your cupboard, not to be discovered for another six years.

However, as zero wasters, we play the game with a few twists. Repairing, cleaning, or otherwise getting an item back in circulation in your home counts just as much as getting rid of something. Of course, we also take the time to get things to their proper homes: rather than stuffing it all in a trash bag, items get donated to the right places, recycled, and composted. (A guide to sustainable decluttering, here). And, we stop when we're finished; if we don't have enough items to get rid of sustainably, we can end early. Simple as that.

For me, the game is a way to take stock of all the small odds and ends lying around. I rarely get rid of larger things en masse anymore; I'm happy with my wardrobe, the items in my kitchen have earned their place there, and just generally there aren't really many big items in my home that don't deserve to be there.

But I can admit to a penchant for buying new lotion or making new body butter before my current stash has run out, and to a reluctance to dig my fingers way down deep to get at the last bit in the jar when the new jar is so pleasingly, temptingly full. I have a few used-up bamboo toothbrushes waiting to have their bristles removed and their handle composted. Junk mail piles up in a corner before I can get around to emailing the companies that I'd like to be taken off their mailing list. If I can use up the last bit of lip balm in a tin, I can use that tin for something else. A game that takes on tackling the small tasks of caring for small objects enables me to periodically give everything a total once-over. I like it.

Want to play along? Other thoughts on the zero waste and minimalist divide? I'm fascinated: please share.

Previously in Home: Waiting to make purchases, parts one and two.

Secondhand Wardrobe: Workwear

How to find secondhand clothing for wearing to work and the office | Litterless

When starting this series on a secondhand wardrobe, I put out a casting call, of sorts. I wanted to know what’s been the most challenging part of your wardrobe to tackle finding secondhand. Many readers wrote to me to say that finding nicer pieces to wear to work has been an issue; cotton t-shirts abound in the secondhand world, but what about finding silk blouses that don’t have someone else’s tiny grease spot on them? Seems like every silk button-down I pull off the rack at my favorite thrift store is in perfect shape except for that tell-tale blot on the front. No thanks.

When choosing items of clothing that are a bit more polished, I apply the same criteria that I use for choosing everyday items, too. I prefer natural materials like cotton, linen, wool, and silk, which I think feel nicer on my skin and additionally aren’t made of plastic, like synthetic materials are. I like pieces that aren’t incredibly form-fitting or structured, which has the added benefit of making them more comfortable on a long day.

No matter what I like, though: you probably already know what you like to wear to work, and are just looking for ways to buy your normal garb secondhand. Here are some places to start, plus a look into some of my favorite secondhand office-ready items, and where I found them (some of the links below are affiliate links):

In general:

-For workwear, many folks do choose to go with polyester because it’s a washable silk look-a-like (ish). If this describes you, then buying those pieces secondhand is important because it makes use of existing synthetic materials rather than using virgin plastics to weave new fabrics. And consider investing in a Guppyfriend, which enables you to wash your synthetic fabrics without allowing the microfibers that inevitably peel off them in the washing process to hit the water stream.

How to find secondhand clothing for wearing to work and the office | Litterless

-Check items out carefully before you purchase them. Because office items tend to be a bit more precious than the everyday, they’re often donated because a small stain that could easily be removed from, say, a cotton t-shirt, just wasn’t possible (or worth the effort) to remove from silk, or the wool sweater became peppered with just a few tiny holes. It’s worth a careful once-over to make sure that what you’re getting meets your standards before you shell out. Pictured above, a stain-free silk shirt, bought secondhand from ThredUp.

-Arguably the biggest trope when talking about building a polished wardrobe for the office is getting things tailored. “Just tailor it!,” style blogs and books alike cry. I admit I am rarely on top of my tailoring game, but getting familiar with what can be tailored can help make your thrift searches more productive. Easy wins: replacing hideous buttons, hiking up hems, tapering in skirts. Harder: altering items to fit in the shoulder area, letting items out to make them larger. If you find something that would be perfect if if if an alteration is possible, check the store’s (or site’s) return policy: perhaps you can buy it, take it to your tailor for a second opinion, and simply return it if the alteration is a no-go.

-The things that we wear to work are often less fun to think about than the things we wear for, well, fun. There are surely folks who get excited about a heel and a structured wool dress and a blazer – maybe that’s you – but it’s not really me. In that spirit, I’d suggest taking a targeted approach to searching for secondhand pieces. Instead of taking the time to scan the whole breadth and gamut of what’s out there secondhand, stick to searching for the brands you already know work well for you. It’s a time-saving strategy, sure, but one that also seems likely to turn up better results, too.

Where to search:

How to find secondhand clothing for wearing to work and the office | Litterless

-ThredUp: If I’m a broken record, so be it; this is one of my favorite spots to find secondhand clothing online. If you have a beloved mass-market brand you rely on to stock your working wardrobe, you can likely find clothing from it here: Ann Taylor LOFT, J. Crew staples (pencil skirts, sweaters, and blazers), Banana Republic, Zara, and more. For brands that don’t have ethical or sustainable credentials but that have been good staples for you, find them secondhand here as a better alternative to buying them new.

I like that you can search items on ThredUp by brand, color, and size, and that each item comes with a detailed description of its condition (so you’ll know if there’s a concerning stain) and fabric composition, so you can eliminate synthetic pieces if you so desire. Above, a favorite dark-gray dress found on ThredUp. (And here’s a code you can use for $10 off your first purchase, if you’re interested).

-Poshmark: Excellent for finding secondhand versions of pieces you’ve had your eye on at their original stores. Search here for pieces from Everlane, leather satchels from Madewell and Baggu, shoes from Nisolo, and lots more.

How to find secondhand clothing for wearing to work and the office | Litterless

-Consignment stores: When searching for secondhand office-wear in person, not online, look for spots in your city that are labeled “consignment” rather than “thrift.” These tend to stock nicer pieces in better condition than typical thrift stores. They’re a little more expensive – and certainly there are workwear gems to be had at traditional thrift stores – but the higher likelihood of finding something that will work makes the search less frustrating, I think. Pictured on top of the stack above, a silk Equipment sleeveless shirt found on a random consignment-store wander on my walk home from work last year.

-The Real Real: Same principle as the physical consignment stores, above, these guys accept better-quality clothing than other online resale shops. Search here for silk shirts (like this creamy beauty from Everlane), suede boots like these, and lots more.

Where to shop online for ethical, secondhand polished office wardrobe staples | Litterless

-Etc.: It’s easy to get tired of clothes you wear often, and in the case of clothing you wear to work, it's easy to get tired of clothing that you may have never really adored in the first place. In that case, swapping clothing with friends – or simply making a mutual pact to share donation piles with each other prior to selling or donating – can be a source of gems. The cozy gray sweater above was snagged from my mom before she gave it away; it's become a simple, versatile favorite for traveling and winter evenings at home.

Ethical workwear brands to keep in mind:

Whether purchasing them new or searching for them secondhand, a few folks doing good work in the ethical office-wear arena:

-Amour Vert: Clothing made in the U.S. from sustainable fabrics, where possible. I'd recommend avoiding their cotton t-shirts, which are super-soft but pill quickly. Instead, search for basics like silk shirts and dresses, or shoes that are just the right amount of demure-meets-interesting.

-Everlane: Responsibly made basics for both weekend and workday. Since it can be hard to find secondhand sweaters that aren't already pilly, I often turn to these guys when I need a new sweater or other wool items. (This hat has been a recent, cozy addition to my winter gear, and I also love this sweater). But they also offer wool work pants like this slim variety, cotton and silk shirts, and crisp work dresses.

-All offices have different vibes. A few other places to browse for something that suits your style: Eileen Fisher, Ali Golden (made-in-the-U.S. basics that are versatile enough to dress up or down), and It Is Well LA.

-Shoes: Good-condition secondhand shoes can be one of the hardest things to find. Everlane has beautiful leather loafers, mules, and heels at the moment, as does the Tennessee-based Nisolo (these perfect slip-ons have been on my wishlist for ages). I also like Fortress of Inca's leather booties and deconstructed oxfords. Anyways. Perhaps some work shoes to stalk on Poshmark, or to bite the bullet and just buy new.

Have any working wardrobe tips for folks seeking to build a secondhand closet? Other topics you’d like to see tackled in this series?

Previously in Secondhand Wardrobe: The opposite of workwear, and a deep dive into the online resources out there.

Cloth Napkins to Make or Buy

Where to find cloth napkins for a zero waste home | Litterless

Earlier this year, I wrote down my thoughts on making cloth napkins seem less formal and more, well, everyday. (Find those tips here). Since then, I've been going down the rabbit hole of lovely cloth napkins, and wanted to share where I've looked for additions to my current small stack.

You can find cloth napkins most places, from the most utilitarian homewares store to small shops on the internet to big-box stores like Target. When buying something I want to use and love for years to come, I try to spend some time making sure said item is something well-made, something I love, something made by a smaller business that merits my support.

As you can tell from reading this blog, I like neutral, rumply, gray-blue-brown-cream things, and most of the napkins featured below will be thus. You might like riotously flowered things or bright geometric prints: your table is almost assuredly more colorful and fun than mine, if so. Hopefully the sources below are diverse enough that you can find something that speaks to you, too.

Below, a few places to look for cloth napkins, including where I've purchased my favorites, and some notes on making your own (a few links are affiliate links): 

-Fog Linen: "Iron only if you feel compelled to iron," the care instructions say. The cloth napkins I've had the longest are by Fog Linen, which makes hard-wearing linen napkins in simple, yarn-dyed patterns. I purchased a set of these gray-blue ones with stripes when I ran across them on sale in Seattle a few years ago, but I especially love these homey, cozy checked ones.

How to go zero waste using cloth napkins | Litterless

-The Everyday Co: Handmade in Boston from deadstock fabrics, so much thought and care goes into these. Kathryn sent me a set of their 7-inch napkins to try, pictured here, and they're beautifully weighty and thick. They feel timeless, but the contrasting edges give them an indisputably modern touch. Someday I'd like to purchase another set, and will probably choose the slightly larger dinner napkins. (I love this one, and this one).

-Etsy: Right now, Etsy is full of shops selling really beautiful linen goods, like the beautiful clothing lines Linenfox and Not Perfect Linen. This extends to the home, too: Magic Linen makes linen napkins a wide range of colors (I like this gray-blue set), Not Perfect Linen has ones with subtle stripes and checks reminiscent of Fog Linen, and Lakeshore Linen makes a perfect rumply fringed version (and others) in Minneapolis. Of course, there are many other shops and fabrics available too, so if those aren't your jam, plunge into the search bar to find what is.

-Secondhand, of course: I've never had good luck finding cloth napkins at secondhand stores near me. I look for natural fibers, like cotton or linen, but almost all I ever see are either synthetic polyester napkins or napkins with some sort of garish holiday print. Maybe you'll get lucky at a local store, though! Otherwise, searching for vintage ware on Etsy, choosing a brand you love to stalk on eBay, and other traditional sources of online secondhand can bring good things to those who wait.

-Make your own: For beginner and experienced sewists alike, napkins are some of the easier projects out there because, well, they're just rectangles. Purl Soho's many handmade napkin tutorials are a good place to browse for inspiration. I've made these and can attest to their ease (if you or a friend owns a sewing machine and can sew a single straight line, you can make these). If you don't have a sewing machine, you can hand-sew the hems a la these.

Previously in Home: More uses for cloth at home, and a one-paragraph game changer.

Imperfect Produce

A review of Imperfect Produce's food rescue delivery service | Litterless

Rare is the item I can get shipped to my door. Zero waste means missing out on much of the time-saving hedonism that is, apparently, the new millenium. How many Blue Apron podcast ads have I fast-forwarded through at this point? How many meal service delivery kits have I emailed to ask them to please stop sending me flyers? How many things have I not impulse-purchased since cancelling my Amazon Prime subscription? A whole lot, that's how many.

As I wrote about last month, though, when there are companies where their shipment and subscription model might possibly have some other sustainability benefits, I'm not opposed to giving them a try. And so for the last few months, I've purchased a fortnightly box of imperfect produce from, well, Imperfect Produce. (This is a good place to say: This post isn't sponsored, and I've paid for all of my Imperfect boxes myself).

It's well-known that most conventional grocery stores only accept the very "best" produce, meaning the produce that conforms to their detailed descriptors of what, say, a perfect lemon should look like. This has little to do with taste and lots to do with appearances, meaning that fruits and vegetables that don't meet this very narrow set of standards often get wasted - literally left in the fields or thrown into a landfill. These might be foods that are a shade too small or too large, have a funky pattern or slightly strange growth, are an unusual color, have a scar, or are simple produced in excess such that they're left over after grocery stores get their orders in.

A review of Imperfect Produce's food rescue delivery service | Litterless

Imperfect Produce takes these foods that grocery stores won't accept and sells them instead of letting them go, quite literally, to waste. They work with farmers to buy up the veggies that are cosmetically slightly imperfect, and they let folks buy boxes of them weekly or biweekly. You can choose what comes in your box - I like a mix of organic fruits and veggies, heavy on the leafy greens - and items are often cheaper than they might be at the grocery store.

From late spring through fall, I try to shop at a nearby farmers' market as much as possible. The produce I find there comes from local growers and might be a little wonky - too large, too small, and otherwise cosmetically deformed - but it looks and feels alive and fresh in a way that its grocery store brethren lacks. But of course, in the winter the selection available at the farmers' markets dies down, and this year I've been filling in the gap with a biweekly shipment from Imperfect.

In addition to the major reason I've chosen to purchase from Imperfect (feeling like I'm having a tiny impact on the amount of food that's wasted in the United States just because it's ever-so-slightly flawed), not having to trudge through snow or brave a chilly night to grab groceries is a boon, as well.

In case you're interested in giving them a try, here's what I've liked - and disliked -  about my experience so far:

Trying out Imperfect Produce's food rescue delivery service in a zero waste home | Litterless

To love:

-Food waste due to cosmetic imperfections is a travesty, and in a season when buying locally from the farmers' market isn't a possibility for me, knowing that even if my produce is shipped from all over the country, at least it's largely rescued food, is a good feeling.

-Relatedly: there are some foods I'm probably always going to purchase even if they're not grown locally. Oranges in the winter, and lemons, limes, and avocados all year-round are some good examples. You might be willing to go without these in the name of local food: I, at this moment at least, am not. So if I have to purchase food from California (guilt guilt guilt), I'm happy that there's at least some small sustainability component to it.

-The aforementioned not having to go to the grocery as often in the cold (win).

-I can customize my box each time, so that I only get food I'll actually eat. I tend to stock up on foods that will last for awhile (squashes, onions, garlic) so that I always have those on hand even if the rest of the contents of my refrigerator have dwindled. (You can also choose only organic produce, only conventional, or a mix of both).

-In most cases, they tell you on their website why the food you're buying is considered "imperfect." Perhaps the farm had a surplus, maybe the lemons are too small, maybe the squash has been set aside due to scarring. It's been a fascinating experience to learn the different reasons food is cast aside before making it to shelves, and it makes me even more glad to be doing something about it.

-Much of the produce arrives gloriously unpackaged inside the cardboard box. Shown below is last week's box, with everything laid out in exactly the packaging it came in. You'll notice that the greens are unpackaged, as are avocados, squash, pears, garlic, lemons, and parsley.

A review of Imperfect Produce's food rescue delivery service | Litterless

Not to love:

-Shipments come in cardboard boxes, and they can't take the boxes back for reuse due to health code restrictions. This means you'll be left with a cardboard box after each delivery. Ideally it can be reused (I've used mine for dropping off thrift store donations; someone I know finds it perfect for corralling her recycling each week), but otherwise it gets recycled. I've chosen to get a box every other week rather than every week - and to purchase a greater volume in said box - to cut down on the cardboard waste. You could go a step further and just get a monthly box too, full of the less-perishable staples you might want to keep around for longer.

-There is some plastic trash involved. Though many produce arrives loose, some of it is, in my experience, plastic-packaged. There are some instances in which this doesn't bother me: for example, greens come tied using a twist tie that isn't recyclable. Since this is the same twist tie I'd get if I purchased greens at the grocery, I'm happy to let it slide. More frustratingly, a few items in each shipment seem to come packaged in plastic bags, and there's no way to tell in advance which items those will be, making the plastic bags hard to avoid. I've had carrots bundled loose with rubber bands (perfect!) and single onions wrapped in a plastic bag (yikes). This week's shipment had ginger in a plastic bag, and same with clementines. I think they use the plastic bags to help portion items sold by the pound, but the first shipment I ever received used paper bags to accomplish the same goal. I've reached out to Imperfect about their plastic, and I haven't been satisfied with their response. For now, I keep the bags tucked away to recycle at a store near me.

-You have to choose what's in your next shipment about five days in advance of receiving it, and it can be tough to know what you're going to need in five days. (Maybe for the more organized this isn't an issue).

Here's what the trash from my most recent shipment looks like (though the plastic bags and paper card will be recycled):

A zero waster reviews Imperfect Produce | Litterless

The funny thing about it? I actually think a lot of the produce from my box is way more perfect than what I usually get; since it was grown to be sold at grocery stores, it often seems shiny and regular in ways that my summertime farmers' market veggies aren't. My imperfect produce is typically, actually, pretty perfect.

Imperfect Produce currently services the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Portland (Oregon), Seattle and Tacoma, and the Chicago area. If you live in their service area and would like to give them a try, here's a link you can use for $10 off your first order with them.

Have you tried their service? What have you liked, disliked? I'd love to hear.

Previously in Food Waste: Ideas for using up citrus peels, and favorite books on the subject.

Climate Optimism

Cause for climate optimism | Litterless

To work on issues of climate change (like I do) or to worry about issues of climate change (like we all do), is to live in the strange land of a hope that can feel doomed, the knife edge of optimism and despair.

My mood swings up when kind readers leave comments here about the small changes they've made in their own lives, when going to a friend's house and seeing their compost bin has come to be more the rule than the exception, when a Zero Waste Chicago event is packed with folks who want to learn about how to reduce their impact on a daily basis.

My mood swoops down when I read about the current EPA gutting the Clean Power Plan, when I pass a trash can full to the brim with Starbucks cups, when I think about all the promises made and broken (Paris, etc). That sick feeling of fear and anger in my gut is one I know too well. I'm sure you do too.

Truth is, you might be surprised at how loosely I follow the environmental news these days. I read articles about zero waste, plastic pollution, environmental justice, and the Chicago environmental space. I don't read much about what's happening in our National Parks, what's happening in the current EPA, the current science on climate change. To do my environmental work, I have to believe there is cause for hope, or how else could I work at it?

It's a balance: knowing the severity of the problems facing us is both utterly galvanizing and utterly demoralizing. You might find yourself more motivated the more you learn; I've found that the more I learn the more I feel paralyzed. Instead, I've given myself permission to keep my fears to one side and let myself dwell in the possibility and hopefulness of change. I've found it easier to work on the environmental problems right in front of me, in my life, in my community, when I don't force myself to bear the burdens of the entire world all at once. Not just easier, I suppose: that focus is the only thing that makes my work possible.

This is all to say: here's an essay on how climate journalist Eric Holthaus balances on the knife edge of climate despair. It's rare that I hear folks speak frankly about this, and I appreciated his honesty. In the spirit of kinship, here's a little bit of my own. Onward we work, because and despite it all.

Photograph from an Introduction to Zero Waste workshop we gave in Chicago last September.

Nothing New: Just Replacements

Going zero waste on a budget | Litterless

It's human nature (or maybe just my nature) to latch on to a change and want to make it happen all at once. New Years' resolutions, exercise plans, travel itches: good intentions can turn into mad dashes to the finish line can turn to burning-out. When I talk to folks wondering how to dip their toes into the waters of zero waste, I often talk about choosing just a few small things to change at once. To give ourselves time to let each habit sink in and stick before slowly layering the next one on top of it.

The bad news is, this method lacks the instant gratification of seeing your trash bag shrink from full to empty in a week's time. The good news? It gives you time to consider thoughtfully which changes you think are the most doable, which you'd like to tackle first in your home. And, too, it means that you don't need to rush out to buy a bunch of gear to turn your home zero waste at the snap of a finger. It means you can replace things as you use them up instead of all at once, lightening the strain on both your to-do list and your wallet.

How to go zero waste without buying anything new | Litterless

So, for this installment of Nothing New, the series where we ransack our homes to find the zero waste-friendly gear we might already own, a bit of a cheat: today I'm talking about purchasing new items, but things you'd have to purchase anyway.

Hear me out; I think choosing to replace only the things you run out of, one at a time, is a pretty good strategy for transitioning to a zero waste home. In practice, this is how it goes down for almost all beginning zero wasters. Rare is the person, I imagine, who doesn't have a small stack of plastic toothbrushes in the bathroom, a load of paper towels in the basement, all sorts of things to use up before replacing them with zero waste alternatives. For me, this stage lasted for several years as I worked through everything from razor cartridges to lotion bottles to plastic-wrapped DIY ingredients. (And of course there are still many things around my home left over from pre-zero-waste days that have packaging I wouldn't necessarily choose to buy now).

How to go zero waste without buying anything new | Litterless

Rather than making this the de facto strategy, we might as well make it an intentional one. If the number of changes you'd like to make seems daunting or pricey, consider giving yourself the permission to make no changes and buy nothing new for zero waste except what you need to replace around the home. It's a way to ease yourself gently into your new habits, to take stock of what you have and use that up, to give yourself space to carefully think through your next addition. And, since you'd be purchasing a new version of the item anyway, the cost of the zero waste version might not feel like quite as much of a pinch.

Some things you might replace as they run out:

-Swapping soap in a plastic pump bottle for package-free bar soap.
-Purchasing a stainless steel safety razor once you run out of plastic ones.
-Using up the last of your paper napkins and choosing cloth alternatives.
-In your bathroom, replacing disposable cotton rounds that come in a plastic sleeve with washable cloth cotton rounds.
-Switching out your plastic dish brush for a compostable wooden one.
-Making your own cleaning spray with vinegar once your plastic bottle of all-purpose spray gets emptied.
-And you can find a list of more of my favorite replacements, here.

Slow changes can be agonizing when all you want to do is throw out all your plastics and start afresh. But there's value in it, too. Any replacements you're working on these days?

Previously in Nothing New: A use for glass bottles, and an introduction.