On Climate Change and Individual Action

Individual action on climate change | Litterless

For a report that mostly confirms what we already knew, the new United Nations Climate Assessment felt, last week, like a terrible surprise. The timeline faster, the consequences more dire, the predictions more concrete than what I’d been imaging when the words “climate change” crossed my lips. That climate change is here, now, not in the future, is not news. But that it’s here now, and will hit a crisis point in the next decade, felt like news.

I’ve written before about how climate optimism has been an essential ingredient to my environmental work. About how I’ve given myself permission to step back from the daily grind of environmental news and to focus my efforts on community action and writing in this space. That feels harder to justify now. Climate disasters feel, are, closer now. Action is more urgent.

I still believe that hopefulness and despair are necessary ingredients to galvanizing climate action. I still have hope and I still have despair. What's newly, slowly, painfully emerging is a sense that my work, that our work, doesn’t have one percent of one percent of one percent of the effect that it needs to. That everything needs to change so much faster than I believed.

I already knew this - but now I know it. The difference between the two feels vast.

On individual action and climate change | Litterless

For me, the zero waste movement has always been about channeling my frustration with government and business inaction on environmental issues into changes that I can enact daily. Four years ago, frustrated by living in a country that declined to take on the mantle of environmental leadership, I decided to do more myself. To vote, yes, to call legislators, yes, to patronize businesses that work to minimize their impact, yes, but also to do what I could in my own life to make sure my everyday choices aligned with the world I wanted to see.

Sometimes individual actions seem ridiculous when compared what policy could achieve. And, perhaps, they are. I believe strongly that we need both: we need policies that hamper emissions and pollution, and support clean energy, carbon sequestration, municipal composting, comprehensive recycling, and true corporate responsibility.

And yet we also need to rely less on disposable plastics, to mend and repair what we have, to not believe that the government will solve all of our problems, to do better ourselves. Both, and not one, will get us closer to where we need to be. We can’t solve climate change without huge policy changes and we can’t solve climate change without a dramatic re-thinking of what it means to be a consumer. Let’s get back to work on both.

How to do more, today:

-Talk about it. With your family, with your friends. Last night while making dinner Julian and I talked about the climate report and the dire predictions, and how we can do more for the environment beyond zero waste. We re-affirmed our commitment to eating local foods, to walking and biking instead of driving. We talked about ways to arrange our lives in the future so that we need to fly less. I set our thermostat schedule to lower the heat at night. I made a plan to write this post. All tiny things. All basically useless, in the grand scheme. And yet.

-Show up for environmental justice. Privilege has the effect of sheltering many of us from the worst of climate change, as it does from many other things. Particularly for white people in Western countries, like myself, this means we aren’t the ones facing the consequences of our over-consumption (as Polly put it here). If you have privilege, use it: donate money, volunteer time, consume less, vote. That is your job, and mine.

-Make sure you’re registered to vote. Though the midterm elections aren’t until November 6th, voter registration deadlines in many states are this week and this month. Resources for registering in your state, here.

How are you feeling? Where do you fall on a belief in individual action? Other ideas to share? Please do.

More essays, here.

(Photos by Anna Zajac for Litterless).

Favorite Tools for Plastic-Free Food Storage

Zero waste, plastic-free food storage options | How to store food without plastic | Litterless

After a week away from home, settling back into our routine feels good. Last evening, as we unloaded food from a lunchtime run to the co-op and set about chopping vegetables for dinner, I snapped a few photographs to illustrate a few of our favorite tools for storing food with less waste.  

I’ve made use of glass jars for storing food since college, but over the past several years I’ve tinkered with other useful alternatives to plastic and disposable food storage methods, as well. Reusables are better for the planet, of course, but I also appreciate the added ease of never having to add plastic bags, tin foil, plastic wrap, or parchment paper to the grocery list. Instead, glass and metal storage tins, silicone Stasher bags, and Bee’s Wrap take the place of disposable plastics, and last for years.

We’ve been turning to EarthHero recently when we need to stock up on reusables; their stringent criteria for selecting and shipping products means that you won’t be surprised with greenwashed items or unwanted plastic packing materials. They’ve also developed a library of sustainability logos that make it easy to tell whether a product fits with your values, and to identify recycled, upcycled, organic, and low-impact products at a glance.

Zero waste, plastic-free food storage options | How to store food without plastic | Litterless

As long-time lovers of Stasher reusable bags – for sandwiches, for snacks – we were thrilled by their recent addition of a half-gallon size, for storing vegetables in the fridge or putting up larger quantities of freezer goods. Stashers last for years and years when washed gently with dish soap and a dish brush. They’re sturdy and durable, easy to throw into a tote bag or the fridge alike.

Zero waste, plastic-free food storage options | How to store food without plastic | Litterless

For dinner last night, we made a delicata squash and kale panzanella salad, with one of the first squashes of the season. We use Bee’s Wrap every day – to top a bowl of leftovers or vegetables cut in advance, around a loaf of bread to keep it fresh, to open the lid of a jar like so, to cover a pot of soaking beans.

Zero waste, plastic-free food storage options | How to store food without plastic | Litterless

Bee’s Wrap takes the place of plastic wrap, and a sheet can be washed gently with a little dish soap and used over and over (and over) again. They get softer over time, but each sheet lasts for six months to a year. We’ve long had a few pieces of their small and medium wraps, but recently added a larger wrap and a baguette wrap to our arsenal. (The Bee’s Wrap variety pack is an economical way to avail yourself of most of their sizes).

Zero waste, plastic-free food storage options | How to store food without plastic | Litterless

After dinner, we clean everything up for the next day. I work from home most days, so I store leftovers for my lunches in whatever container I have handy. Julian uses a large, divided stainless steel UKonserve to hold his lunch and a smaller, shallow divided version to hold granola and fruit for breakfast. (We use this granola recipe, made and eaten almost weekly). UKonserve containers are made from durable stainless steel, with a top that can be recycled at the end of its life (though we’ve had some of ours for a few years now, and they’re still going strong)

Zero waste, plastic-free food storage options | How to store food without plastic | Litterless

Most days Julian bikes to work, so having a trusty, leak-proof, unbreakable container is key. Though we mainly use glass containers in the fridge – being able to see what we have makes it that much more likely that our food will actually get eaten – stainless steel containers are our choice for on the go, lunches or otherwise. In the fall, in addition to our usual UKonserve containers, that also means soup in a stainless steel thermos.

For more simple swaps in your kitchen, EarthHero has corralled their favorite zero waste food storage solutions here. And, if you’d like, you can take 10% off your purchase at EarthHero with the code LITTERLESS.

What are your favorite food storage systems these days? Questions I can answer?

Tips for wasting less food, here.

(This post is sponsored by EarthHero, a one-stop shop for all things sustainable).

Travel Tip: Plan Ahead for Shaving

Zero waste shaving while traveling by plane | Litterless

This past weekend, we visited Asheville for a close friend’s wedding. As part of our pre-wedding sprucing up, we both pulled out a plastic razor from our toiletry bags. At home, we shave with metal safety razors that are plastic-free and nearly endlessly reusable. When flying, though, the blades don’t make it through the security checkpoint - nor should they. After being reminded of this the hard way on a trip last month, this month we arrived in North Carolina with razors un-confiscated, but also un-zero waste.

Over the past few years of traveling with a mind to making less waste, I’ve found myself on both ends of the spectrum: safety razor packed and the blade confiscated at the airport, and safety razor not packed and a plastic razor purchased later while on vacation. In the spirit of finding solutions that are both simple and effective, I’ve been making more of an effort to accept the inevitable: yes, I wish I could just bring my safety razor and blade in my carry-on. No, that doesn’t work and neither does ignoring the issue entirely. Instead, I’m working on taking the time to plan a solution ahead of time instead of throwing up my hands and leaving shaving on vacation to the whims of fate.

Zero waste shaving while traveling by plane | Litterless

In case you’ve been in a similar boat (er, airplane), here are some ideas about how to shave in a more zero waste way while on vacation. Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means Litterless may make a small commission on items purchased.

-Check your safety razor through. If you’re checking a bag, the choice is easy. Safety razor blades can be included in your checked luggage. Pop your standard safety razor in your toiletry bag - carry the blade in a small, hard-shell case or box to avoid the risk of cutting yourself accidentally as you dig through your belongings - and stow it in your bag to check.

-Buy a blade at your destination. Safety razors themselves are fine to go through security; it’s the blades that pose an issue. You can bring a blade-less razor in your carry-on with a plan to buy a blade when you arrive. To save time, take your razor out of your bag at security so they can quickly check it to make sure it doesn’t have a blade; otherwise, they’ll have to search your bag, which takes longer. Places to search for safety razor blades include Whole Foods, local food co-ops, zero waste stores, barbershops, and corner shops. This method works best for longer trips where you’ll have time to shop and time to work your way, at least somewhat, through a package of blades. You can also plan to leave the extra blades with a friend or host, or to check them through on the way home to avoid wasting an open package.

-Purchase a Preserve razor. I’ll admit to being a general skeptic of Preserve products, slightly irritated that their recycled and recyclable toothbrushes and razors come in packaging that is, to my knowledge, neither. But they offer the best semi-sustainable plastic razor out there; it’s made of recycled plastic and you can send it back to them to be recycled as well. Plus, once you buy the handle, you can purchase replacement blades to cut down on waste a little bit further.

-Use an old plastic razor. When I bought my metal safety razor, I stashed away the rest of my unused plastic razors to use while traveling. Since I only shave a few times each trip - if that - the pile of razors has lasted years. When they finally, finally run out, I’ll choose an alternative. For now, making do with what we already own feels like the easiest route.

-Skip shaving. Of course, this is always an option, on vacation and off. As with all things grooming, shaving is a personal choice and your body is perfectly acceptable as it is. If you prefer not to shave, you’ll sidestep the issue entirely. But if you prefer to shave, make a plan.

Other tips for traveling and shaving with less waste? Tips for switching to a safety razor here.

Read more zero waste bath and beauty ideas here.

Stock Up at the Farmers' Market

How to stock up for winter at the farmers' market to support local foods year-round | Litterless

The wisest words on local foods come, I think, from Barbara Kingsolver in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. She writes, "If you’re reading this in midwinter and that is your solution, put the thought away. Just never mind, come back in six months. Eating locally in winter is easy. But the time to think about that would be in August."

Unlike going zero waste, unlike shopping secondhand, unlike mending your clothing when it rips, shopping locally as a way to reduce your environmental impact is something that can only be done a certain time of year. The time to think about it is August, June, even April, and, surely, October. Depending on where you live, the availability of local produce in the winter might be slim or none; many farmers’ markets closer for the season in October. But, if you have room in your budget, you can choose to buy a few extra, long-lasting foods now, and store them so that you can eat them in the months to come.

Preserving food need not be a huge kitchen operation, requiring bushels bought and a canning kettle and a whole weekend or two set aside for the endeavor. If you have the time and the inclination - by all means. But for us, this fall has been unexpectedly busy and it was all I could do to make applesauce and throw berries in the freezer and can five jars of pickles. This is all to say: putting up food gets a bad rap. It’s not just the purview of pioneers or farmers or urban homesteaders or the time-rich. Putting up local foods for the winter can equally mean storing some onions in a dark part of your pantry and purchasing a few extra squash to display on the countertop until you eat them. Some ideas for stocking up, easily, below.

How to stock up for winter at the farmers' market to support local foods year-round | Litterless

-Buy a few bunches of herbs to dry. Herbs in season at the farmers’ market are cheap and abundant, sold in huge and fragrant bunches. Contrasted with the plastic-packaged variety at the grocery store or the often-insipid dried variety, it makes fiscal and flavorful sense to dry your own. (Plus, this way you pay local farmers, not a global conglomerate). I think herb drying can be easier than we think; here’s my five-minute approach.

-Freeze tomatoes. If it seems criminal to freeze a peak-season, juicy, ripe, plump tomato, it might be even more criminal to forego doing so and thus resign oneself to months of a tomato fast, the canned variety, or - shudder - supermarket tomatoes in December. I freeze tomatoes whole, with the skins on. They won’t be good for eating raw after you freeze them, but they’re excellent in soups and sauces.

-Stock up on squash, onions, and garlic. All should last for months when stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated area. When I purchase extras, I make a habit of checking on each squash or allium twice per week, so that I can quickly identify ones that are past their peak and use them up rather than letting them rot or grow feelers.

-Make an extra batch. If you’re buying apples for applesauce, buy double. If you’re buying a flat of tomatoes for soup, buy two and freeze the second batch of soup. It can be a pain to spend time to turn farmers’ market foods into something to freeze - especially when that time could be spent going on walks to watch the leaves change, or eagerly watching the thermometer climb back to cycling weather. If you’re already cooking, though, you might not notice the pinch.

-Look for items that are already preserved. Popcorn kernels, dried beans, locally milled grains: local foods where the work is done for you. If you’re able, grabbing an extra bag as the farmers’ market winds down for the year supports farmers, reduces the carbon footprint of your meals, introduces you to a new variety or flavor (cranberry beans, yum), and lets you find the holy grail: bulk AND local.

How to stock up for winter at the farmers' market to support local foods year-round | Litterless

Other favorite foods to stock up on in the fall? What’s growing where you live?

(Photos by Anna Zajac for Litterless).

Resources for Voter Registration

Resources for voter registration | Litterless

Though the November 6 midterm elections are a month away, voter registration deadlines are fast approaching in many states. I can’t think of a better way to spend five minutes today than in checking your voter registration or in registering for the first time.

No states’ registration deadlines have passed yet as of today, but the following states have registration deadlines tomorrow, October 9th: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah. Many other states have deadlines the following day or in the coming weeks. You can find a full state-by-state list of voter registration deadlines, including information on in-person and online registration, in this New York Times article.

To check your registration, request an absentee ballot, and find out where to go on Election Day, visit Vote.org for state-by-state resources. If you’re already registered and would like to do more, local candidates need volunteer canvassers and phone bankers; we’re signing up for a few shifts over the next few weeks. You can also talk with friends and family to make sure they’re registered and have a plan for voting, or to help them sign up for an absentee ballot or research local elections (BallotReady.org is useful for researching local elections and ballot initiatives). If you have other favorite resources for voting prep, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.

For people, for the planet, for being better than we are, for waking up on November 7th with a reason to feel a little more hopeful and with the perpetual knots in our stomachs lessened, just a tiny bit.

Online Bulk Directory

Online bulk directory for purchasing refillable, zero waste beauty and cleaning products | Litterless

Shopping in bulk locally supports local businesses and keeps zero waste resources alive and vibrant in communities. But rare is the person who can find everything they need in bulk in stores near them, which is where online bulk purchases come in. Online bulk shops sell bulk beauty, household, and DIY products in packaging that you can recycle, compost, or return for refill and reuse. When you consider that many of our recyclables are shipped overseas to be recycled or simply thrown away, the impact of shipping back a container to be re-used is put in perspective.

Online bulk directory for purchasing refillable, zero waste beauty and cleaning products | Litterless

Below, a full list of U.S.-based online bulk and refill shops. Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means Litterless may make a small commission on items purchased.

-Arbor Teas: Most stores that offer any selection of bulk foods also sell herbs and teas. If you aren’t able to find bulk tea available locally, consider these folks, who sell organic loose-leaf teas in packages that are backyard compostable. You can choose their largest “bulk” size to cut down on packaging even further. Ships from Michigan.

-Amazon: I do my best to shop from small or local businesses when possible, but Amazon can be a good source for certain bulk items. I purchase refills of Castile soap from the pump dispenser at my local co-op grocery, but if you don’t have that option, you could buy a gallon of Castile soap yourself on Amazon, where it comes packaged in the same bottle as in the bulk aisle at the co-op. Amazon also sells gallons of the same shampoos (EO Products and Giovanni), conditioners (EO Products and Giovanni), body lotion, and liquid hand soap that I’ve often seen in bulk aisles. If you have a product you love but haven’t been able to find in bulk, searching “[product name] gallon” might turn up a larger size. To ensure it all gets used, consider splitting a bottle with a friend, choosing a product your whole family can use, or decanting some into a smaller container for easy use and storing the larger bottle in a closet or under the sink.

-Common Good: Common Good makes non-toxic, biodegradable cleaning supplies like laundry detergent, dish soap, all-purpose spray, glass cleaner, hand soap, and more. In addition to their refill stations around the country, they’ve introduced refill boxes for online customers, where you can order their products in 80% less packaging than the originals.

-EarthHero: A one-stop shop for all things sustainable, EarthHero has several bulk beauty offerings, including refillable Plaine Products shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion, All Good sunscreen in a reusable, recyclable metal tin, or a bulk, 32-ounce bottle of mineral sunscreen.

-Etsy: It’s harder to say what you can’t find on Etsy than what you can. Of interest to the zero-waster: package-free shampoo bars (or this one), vegan body butter in a glass jar, or lip tint in a compostable tube. Look for items that come unpackaged or are in containers you could reuse or donate, and then leave a note to the seller that you’re hoping your order will be shipped in reused packaging rather than new. If you’d like to minimize shipping distance, use their geographical search tool to narrow the field to your local area.

-Fillaree: North Carolina-based Fillaree makes and ships refillable soaps and cleaning supplies throughout the United States. We use their Clean Plate Club dish soap refill program, and they also make a refillable all-purpose cleaning spray and liquid hand soap. To sign up, choose your shipment frequency, and then you’ll get a shipment packed in paper and sealed with paper tape of a refillable bottle. Decant the soap and send it on back for reuse! (You can send any empty container back to them for reuse, even if it’s not part of their refill program). Ships from North Carolina; you can also look for a local refill stockist near you here.

-Fillgood: Stéphanie at Fillgood offers bulk goods by delivery in the Bay Area, but also ships out bulk goods in paper packaging to elsewhere in the United States as well. Shop here for bulk dishwasher powder, laundry powder, and bleach oxygen in recyclable or compostable paper packaging. If you’d like, you can use the code Litterless for 15% off your order. Ships from the Bay Area.

-The Good Fill: The Good Fill offers bulk beauty and cleaning products that ship in recyclable paper bags or reusable plastic pouches. The latter comes with a pre-paid envelope so you can send the pouches back for reuse. Standout examples include dishwasher powder and bulk hairspray! Simply decant the products into your own containers. Ships from Nashville, Tennessee.

-Meliora Cleaning Products: Kate and Mike make rigorously tested and rigorously certified natural cleaning products out of their Chicago warehouse space; we use their laundry detergent and cleaning spray religiously. To buy in bulk, choose the “refill” option for their laundry detergent, which comes in a paper bag that you can reuse or recycle, or their all-purpose cleaning spray refill, which makes 18 bottles worth of their powerhouse spray. I’m also a big fan of their plastic-free stain stick and unpackaged bar soaps. Orders come packed in paper and sealed with paper tape; ships from Chicago.

-Plaine Products: Plaine makes environmentally-friendly bath and beauty products in refillable metal bottles; when yours are empty, you can send them back to be washed and reused. They currently offer refillable shampoo, conditioner, body wash, hand soap, body lotion (which I use every day and love for its mint-rosemary scent), and face wash and moisturizer.

-The Refill Revolution: My friend Britt at Refill Revolution has a huge selection of bulk products - you choose the container, and you can either keep it or send it back to her for a refill. Find bulk beauty products, bulk cleaning supplies, bulk essential oils, bulk DIY ingredients, and bulk gallons. Of particular note: bulk Meow Meow Tweet deodorant, bulk lavender essential oil, and bulk coconut oil. Ships from Colorado.

-The Refill Shoppe: The Refill Shoppe sells refillable cleaning and beauty supplies. Pick what you want, add a scent if you’d like, choose a size and package, and they’ll ship your bulk products right to you with an envelope for returning the packaging for reuse or recycling. You can find their full list of refillable products here. Ships from California.

Zero-waste online bulk directory for shops that sell refillable, package-free items by mail | Litterless

This directory will live permanently in the sidebar at right, under the name “Online Bulk.” I’ll continue to update it there as I learn of more resources; I hope this can be helpful over and over again.

PS. The “Essentials” page up top is back, by popular demand (so many kind emails!). I’ve been re-vamping it to be more useful and to focus on highlighting smaller makers. Keep checking back for more.

Thanks to The Refill Shoppe and Meliora Cleaning Products for sending samples my way to photograph for this post.

Compostable Dish Brushes to Use (and Reuse)

Plastic-free, compostable dish brushes for a zero waste kitchen | How to use (and reuse) wooden dish brushes around the home | Litterless

Compostable dish brushes are pricier than their disposable plastic alternatives, but we use ours for so many things that the cost seems like it must be pennies by the time they (finally) end up in the compost. They begin their reigns cheery and new in a jar by the kitchen sink, and then slowly migrate to other areas of the house as the bristles wear down and the wood starts to turn a darker brown.

Prior to banishing the brushes from the kitchen for use elsewhere, I like to clean them well to make sure that they don’t just end up spreading kitchen dirt around. To clean them, I boil a large pot of water and let the brushes float in it for five or so minutes to sterilize them; you could also add a cup of white vinegar to the mixture for an added anti-microbial boost.

Plastic-free, compostable dish brushes for a zero waste kitchen | How to use (and reuse) wooden dish brushes around the home | Litterless

Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means Litterless may make a small commission on items purchased.  

Bottle brush (pictured above)
-Good for: Everything. The dish brush I reach for nine times out of ten, its shape is perfect for cleaning jars and bowls and glasses and pots and plates and, well, everything. If I could only keep one dish brush, this would be it. (And it would perform admirably).
-Reuse as: A toilet brush. You can buy a specific wooden toilet brush, of course, but it will be shaped almost exactly like this one. We like to save ourselves the trouble (and the forty bucks) and just clean and reuse an old kitchen brush.

Zero waste, plastic-free dish brushes | Litterless

Dish brush (with replaceable head)
-Good for: Cleaning flat surfaces, like plates, forks, and pans. Additionally, you can replace the head without replacing the whole brush, making it a more economical (and low-waste) option for those who foresee regular replacements.
-Reuse as: A cleaning tool. We’ve marked one as “cleaning” and store it in the cabinet underneath the sink; it’s shape is just right for scouring grosser spots, like the kitchen sink at the end of the week. 

Vegetable brush 
-Good for: Scrubbing the dirt from hardy root veggies, like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and parsnips.
-Reuse as: A tub scrubber. Mark “Tub,” store in your bathroom cabinet, and never buy a plastic scrub thingy again.

Coir twisted brush
-Good for: Cleaning cast iron pans, and giving stains on pots and pans a really (really) tough scour.
-Reuse as: Frankly, I’m not sure! The super-stiff bristles don’t call to mind other uses. If you’ve got ideas, I’d love to hear them.

 Other favorite compostable brushes / reuse ideas to share?

(Photos by Anna Zajac for Litterless).