an un-fussy cloth napkin how-to.

How to switch to cloth napkins for a zero waste home | Litterless

When switching to cloth napkins over disposable paper ones, I think it's helpful to liberate oneself from the cloth napkin's traditional fussiness. To replace paper napkins, cloth ones need to be as easy as paper napkins. (I've come to find them easier, in fact: no running to the store to grab more, just popping them in with the rest of my laundry when they're dirty).

If cloth napkins aren't about having a perfect-looking table, but instead are about making a simple, practical zero waste choice, then you can choose to use them differently than your grandmother might have. A few un-fussy principles that I follow as a daily cloth napkin-user:

-Don't iron them. Ironing takes cloth napkins out of the realm of the daily and lands them smack dab in the realm of a fancy dinner party. There's no need to add to your chore list: rumpled cloth napkins have a certain casual appeal, and certainly a time-saving appeal as well.

How to switch to cloth napkins for a zero waste home | Litterless

-Keep them at each family member's place. Sure, you can give each person a new napkin every day. But for a five-person family, seven days a week, that's either a whole lot of napkins or a whole lot of laundry. Instead, I replace them only when they're dirty, or once or twice a week. You can leave them at each family member's place, in the meantime. (I hang mine on the backs of chairs to keep the table clear. If that's some huge faux pas etiquette-wise, don't tell me, I don't want to know.) Caveat: guests get a clean napkin, always, of course.

-Keep enough handy. You certainly don't want to be doing laundry more often than you used to, so when you commit to making the switch, try to gather enough napkins that you won't have to be running loads of laundry every time you want to have a dinner party or your kiddo has a messy meal. I do fine with about ten napkins at a time, but depending on the size of your family, you might want to have many more.

-Look for them secondhand. (Or make your own). If cost is an issue, or even if it's not, cloth napkins are a great thing to buy secondhand, bum off your grandmother, or make yourself. (This tutorial for fringed napkins requires no more sewing knowledge than sewing a straight seam, and is the perfect thing to knock out when watching a movie or listening to a podcast).

How to switch to cloth napkins for a zero waste home | Litterless

-Stains are fine. (Or choose dark-colored napkins). If you're going to be vigilant about keeping your napkins stain-free, choose patterned or dark-colored napkins in the first place, otherwise you'll just have to sit and grind your teeth as your guest mops up a red wine spill with a favorite napkin, or you'll jump up from the table to run your napkin under the faucet at the first splash of spaghetti sauce. If your light-colored napkins get ruined beyond repair, you can always look up a tutorial for naturally dyeing them - I've done this with friends and it makes for a fun evening. I have some light napkins, though, and through five years of use they've truly been fine. If you inspected them, you might find a few stains, but who's inspecting them?

The wonderful upshot of cloth napkins is that once you purchase them once, you'll have them for years to come: a simple change that you can make once and reap the benefits of for a long time. I've found them so easy to use: have you? Any other tips to share?

Previously in Simple Swaps: Bar soap, and a laundry DIY.

make your own vegetable broth.

DIY vegetable stock from food scraps for a zero waste kitchen | Litterless

Hi, home cooks. You probably already know about making your own vegetable broth or stock, in which case you might think this post has nothing new to tell you. Maybe so. This is less of a post about how to make your own broth and more a post in defense of doing so, weekly, whether you've got soup on the meal plan or even a meal plan in sight.

Here's why: broth is so easy to make and so easy to use. Not making soup? Beans and grains are even better when cooked in broth instead of water. Sauces get a little added flavor when you stir in a third of a cup of broth instead of reaching for the faucet. I've tried making polenta with water and it's got nothing on polenta with that little bit of deep vegetable flavor that comes from stock instead. Once you have broth sitting in your fridge, you'll probably use it, and your meals will be better for it. Or at least, mine are.

This is easy enough to do because broth made from food scraps is essentially free. If you cook at home (which, if you don't, you don't need broth anyway), you likely already end up with vegetable scraps each week. Thyme stems, celery leaves, onion tops, carrot odds and ends, parsley stems, fennel fronds, rosemary bits, shallot skins, kale stems, lettuce cores: these can go in your compost, of course, but better yet if they can get used up in a pot first.

Make your own vegetable broth from kitchen scraps | Litterless

So, if you can make a habit to set those aside in a separate container in the fridge or freezer and then to upend said container into a pot of water each week, you'll have everything you need to make a simple vegetable broth. What should be saved: all herb bits, carrot and celery and onion bits, cruciferous and green bits, tomato cores, leek tops, mushroom stems. I don't add starchy things like potato or squash ends, though you might as well experiment with them if you get curious or are planning a squash risotto. I also don't save really strongly flavored things like radishes because that doesn't sound appealing; your intuition will tell you whether something is good for the soup pot or not.

Vegetable scraps should also be in fairly good condition when they go into the pot: remember, you're eating this. So, clean and scrubbed free of dirt, maybe a little yellow around the edges but not too yellowing, nothing that seems to be already gone bad. Just take your nice clean, fresh scraps, put them in a pot and bring it to a boil, and let simmer for no more than 45 minutes (otherwise it might go slightly bitter). Let it cool and strain it, then pour it into containers for the fridge or freezer. If you're planning to freeze it, take care to do so in straight-sided jars or containers; if the liquid is in a rounded Mason jar and tries to expand past the curved part, the jar will crack.

How to make your own homemade vegetable broth from food scraps | Litterless

There are also times when you find yourself with more vegetables than you can use in the allotted time: maybe you're headed on vacation, maybe you have a bumper crop from the garden or a sale at the farmers' market. In that case, you can get more specific and follow a recipe, one that calls for this amount of onions or that amount of celery, to make a well-balanced and chef-approved version. But I bet that if you make broth each week or even each month, you'll slowly learn a recipe of your own: what you like and what you don't.

Broth / stock tips for the rest of us? Meat eaters, want to chime in with your tips for chicken and fish stock?

Previously in Food & Drink: A balm for winter blues, and a plastic-free jar opener.

building a better zero waste resource.

Bulk shopping guide for zero waste folks | Litterless

Over the next month, I'm excited to be tackling a major project around here: updating my guides to where to shop in bulk and where to compost throughout the United States and Canada. Before I dive in to making those changes, I'm curious to hear from you about what updates you'd finde most helpful.

The guides work like this: I wanted to make a central place to corral geographically-specific zero waste knowledge, like grocery stores and compost sites, so that readers could have an easier time transitioning to zero waste habits, even if they weren't yet plugged into a supportive zero waste community in their area. I've found that there are certain local "rules" that are best learned by experience, whether your's or a friend's: which chain groceries have bulk aisles but don't allow you to bring your own container, negating the benefits of said aisle, which compost pick-up service will service your apartment, where to find the best -package-free and palm-oil-free bar soap locally, and so on. The goal of the resource pages is to put knowledge like that, whose transfer often happens by word of mouth or not at all, in one central place, so that you can use to it to set up a zero waste routine at home, or to aid in traveling to new places where you don't know the lay of the land.

With that said, the Where to Shop guide doesn't include a grocery store if I haven't been able to verify that they welcome folks bringing their own containers (I do this by combing through their websites or relying on reader tips). That's why you won't find many Whole Foods or other large chain grocery stores listed on the page, since stores' willingness to accept brought-from-home containers can vary so widely. And, this also means that not every medium-to-major city in the United States and Canada is included in the resource, though most are; for those that aren't, I haven't been able to find or haven't had a tip about a truly zero waste-friendly store in the area.

So, in this guide refresh, I'm looking forward to doing a few things: Auditing all of the existing links to ensure that the stores and compost services listed are still accurate and active, to the best of my knowledge. Adding in additional resources that I've found on social media and elsewhere. Reorganizing the pages so they're more clear (the geographical categories have in a few cases proved confusing, so I'll be moving some states around to make it more clear, if not eliminating the geographical categories completely). Writing updated explanations to help new users understand how the guides work. And so forth, with the goal of making the pages an even more vibrant and helpful resource.

Before I get started, I want to hear from you! Have you wished the guides were organized slightly differently, or found that something in your area was misleading? Do you have a minute to read over the paragraphs for your city and suggest additions, subtractions, or other tips or resources to highlight? One note: the guides currently only extend to the United States and Canada, since I can't claim a knowledge of anywhere else. International readers, you're off the hook for this request!

I've put together a (very) short survey here, and I'd be grateful for your feedback (it should take you less than five minutes). You can also leave a comment below or send me an email. Thank you for taking a few moments to help out - without you, this resource wouldn't be what it is.

zero waste body lotion.

Zero waste body lotion | Litterless

Another winter, another zero waste lotion update. Last winter's lotion of choice was this DIY version. I still like and use that same recipe for homemade lotion, but it really feels like more of a balm or body butter - it's thick and gloopy and take a minute to absorb. At the start of this winter, I went on the hunt for a more, well, lotion-y zero waste body lotion, and since my new routine has been working well for a few months now, I thought I'd share it with you.

Since I'm lucky enough to have a few stores near me where I can buy bulk body lotion, the answer was fairly simple. I brought a clean glass Mason jar to one, read the ingredients labels on the bulk dispensers and chose a lotion, then at home I replaced the lid of the jar with a stainless steel Mason jar pump that a friend had given me for my birthday one year. (You could also just wash out an old plastic lotion or shampoo bottle and use that, of course!). So that's it, a very normal lotion situation that's been zero-wasted a bit.

If you don't have bulk lotion available for purchase near you (you can check the guide here to see if there's a store near you), a few other options to consider:

-Lotion in a returnable bottle. Plaine Products makes a body lotion that they'll mail to you in their refillable stainless steel bottles. Once you're done with the lotion, you can mail the bottle back to them for free to be sterilized and reused. (PS. You can use the code LITTERLESS for 10% off your purchase).

-Bulk lotion purchased online. If you have a family and think you'll be able to use this quantity up in a year or so, you could always purchase a bulk lotion dispenser for yourself, like this or this. Since this is how bulk lotion is sold in most stores, you'll be cutting down on waste to the same degree that you would be if you filled your own jar up at a retail store, like I did. Keep the large dispenser out of the way in a closet or under the sink, and fill smaller bottles with it to keep around the house. Alternatively, you could gather up a few zero waste friends and ask if they'd like to split this, too.

-Lotion bar, DIY or not. I haven't used lotion bars, but I know folks who do. You could pick one up package-free at a store like Lush, or find a recipe online and make your own. (If you have a favorite bar or recipe, I'd love to hear).

What's your routine like right now? Any other suggestions for folks without bulk options available?

Previously in Bath & Beauty: Soap ends and menstrual cups.

secondhand wardrobe: online resources.

How to shop for secondhand clothing online | Litterless

Kicking off the new year with a discussion of a not-new wardrobe sounds pretty good to me. The nuts and bolts and behind-the-scenes of building a secondhand wardrobe is something I'm looking forward to talking about here in 2018.

Everyone approaches secondhand shopping differently, but I've really gravitated toward purchasing secondhand items online. Online secondhand stores have a leg up on local joints in that they allow you to search more easily: rather than digging through racks of clothing in every style, you can simply search for the styles and brands you love and used to purchase new.

In high school and college, I loved the experience of thrifting in person with friends; but back then, only a few pieces of clothing in my closet at any given time were secondhand. Now that I'm working toward purchasing a much higher proportion of thrifted goods (about two-thirds of my closet, at the moment), spending the time to scour physical racks of items one by one doesn't seem as feasible. Instead, I've turned to websites that are easily searchable. Some favorites:

How to shop online for secondhand clothing | Litterless

ThredUp.

ThredUp is one of my favorite online places to hunt for secondhand clothing. Folks send in their used pieces to ThredUp, which gives folks a payout for the clothing items before photographing, detailing them, and listing them for sale. The site allows you to save a list of your sizes and favorite brands, which makes it easy to check in every week or so to see what's new. The photographs of items are clear and well-lit, and measurements and condition details are provided as well, so you know what you're getting (though they offer returns, too).

For an online retailer, their packaging isn't so bad, either; purchases come shipped in a cardboard envelope, with just tissue paper and a paper tag inside. One major caveat: I don't recommend selling things here, as you may be disappointed with how your items are valued. But of course this translates to better prices on the for-sale side, which is primarily how I use it.

If you want to try it out, here's a code for $10 off your first purchase on the site. Pictured here are two of my favorite closet staples from Everlane, purchased on ThredUp.

Good for: Everything except jewelry and smaller, independent brands. Since you can order multiple items in one go, it's a good place to stock up on basics if you need them: sweaters, t-shirts, exercise clothing, and more.

Poshmark.

Another site that allows you to easily search for clothing by your favorite brands, only on this site they're sold directly by individuals. I find that Poshmark often has items that are slightly more current than those on ThredUp, and that Poshmark tends to have a higher number of items from popular brands like Everlane, Madewell, and more.

Since items are photographed in people's homes, I sometimes find myself getting overwhelmed by all of the options and unwilling to sort through hundreds of differently staged or poorly lit photos. But their search feature is really helpful, and you can put in as much information as you want or have: item names, brand names, sizes, or simply item types. You can also follow specific accounts, so when you find someone who routinely offers things you like, searching for your next piece becomes easier.

If you're new to Poshmark, you can sign up here and use the code "litterless" for $5 off your first purchase.

Good for: Everything, especially if you're looking for something very specific. Not as good if you need multiple items, since they'll all be shipped separately to you.

How to shop online for secondhand clothing | Litterless

eBay.

I turn to eBay mainly when I have a specific item in mind. A dress I tried on at a store but couldn't justify buying new, something I loved on a coworker and wanted to shamelessly try to find myself, or an item from a smaller designer that I'd had my eye on and wanted to see if I could find it secondhand first. Though I don't always find eBay's interface to be the easiest or loveliest to use, I have a few favorite pieces that I've gotten from there that make it worth keeping on my list. Pictured above are favorite dresses by Dolan, Ace & Jig, and Steven Alan, all found on eBay.

Good for: Everything, eventually, though you may have to be patient and keep checking back. Since you're buying directly from an individual seller, you can ask them to ship your package in upcycled, reused materials, if possible.

Etsy.

Good for you vintage lovers out there. To make shopping for vintage clothing on Etsy easier, one way to approach it is to measure a few favorite items in your closet. What rise do you like your jeans to be? What length are the dresses you reach for most often? What is the sleeve length on the jacket you typically wear? Keeping these measurements jotted down somewhere handy can help you sort through the plethora of options and narrow it down into items that will fit how you want them to.

Good for: Vintage, especially things from the 80s and 90s, like ever-popular vintage Levi's and Wrangler jeans. Plus, since you're buying from a seller, not a large company, you can easily include a note asking them to please ship your item without new packaging like tissue paper or a brand-new mailer.

Slowre.

An online consignment shop, Slowre focuses on re-selling items that were ethically made in the first place. You'll find lots of smaller labels with a commitment to ethical manufacturing in some respect: maybe they produce their items in the United States, emphasize natural materials, or are made by hand. Signing up for the e-mail newsletter will help you call dibs on items as soon as they're posted.

Good for: Small, ethical, or made-in-the U.S.A. labels, like No.6Everlane, Tradlands, Eileen Fisher, or Zady.

I've added links to each of these websites to my essentials page, so that you'll be able to find them next time you're hunting for something. You can also find more ideas for places to secondhand shop, including some tips for browsing in person rather than online, here.

Up next in this series, I'll be tackling specific wardrobe areas, like exercise clothing, workwear, and more, plus delving into how to care for items so that they last as long as possible. And if you have questions, leave 'em below: I'd love to hear them

Previously in Wardrobe: An introduction to this series, and notes on letting clothing go.

a year of zero waste.

Happy (almost) New Year, folks. To ring out 2017, a look back at a few of my favorite posts, one from each month of the year:

In January, the simplest switch.

Simple zero waste swap: bring your own chopsticks to restaurants as needed | Litterless
How to use a furoshiki cloth to reduce plastic use and stay zero waste | Litterless
How to build a zero waste restaurant kit | Litterless

In April, minimizing nicks.

How to use a reusable stainless steel razor | Litterless
A primer on how to shop for secondhand clothing | Litterless

June, encouragement to make simple zero waste requests.

At coffee shops, restaurants, and more: what to say when making zero waste requests | Litterless

In July, a how-to for composting while traveling.

How to compost while traveling | Litterless

For August, perhaps the simplest tip yet.

Simple zero waste swap: bar soap instead of pump soap in a plastic bottle | Litterless
Staying zero waste in San Fransisco and the Bay Area | Litterless
How to stay zero waste on a long flight | Litterless

In November, playing favorites. (Plus, a simple DIY here).

Essentials for going zero waste | Litterless
How to wrap gifts zero waste style | Litterless

Many thanks to you for following along this year. I'll be back to regular posting next week, to dive into 2018 together.

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?