Zero Waste Deodorant for Sensitive Skin

Zero waste deodorant for sensitive skin | Litterless

I've been road-testing deodorants for you for many months now. Which zero waste deodorants smell the nicest and which work the best? Despite making little notes in my phone like "too floral," I'm here empty-handed: though I now know which work for me, I've figured out that telling you which ones you should use is kind of like telling you what kind of coffee to drink. My preferences have no input on your preferences, my body works differently than your body, what I like doesn't mean a whole lot about what you'll like.

So, presented (mostly) without comment, in case it's helpful, a selection of the natural deodorants I've tried that come in recyclable or compostable plastic-free packaging. The one thing they all have in common is that they are free of baking soda, which I've found to irritate my skin. (More on how to avoid that, here).

Zero waste deodorant for sensitive skin | Litterless

In case you're in the market for a new alternative, here are ideas for places to start:

-Meow Meow Tweet: Their baking soda-free deodorant is my go-to and what I reach for every day. It comes packaged in a cardboard box (recyclable) and then a glass jar (reusable, then recyclable). At $14 a jar, this may seem like more than you want to pay for deodorant, but one jar has lasted me almost exactly a year. They offer a mini size for half the price if you want to test it out or purchase a travel version.

They also make a more traditional deodorant stick, without the plastic or the nasty ingredients; the cheerful cardboard packaging is biodegradable once it's empty. I'm eager to try their new rose geranium scent, but for now I have their grapefruit version.

-Little Seed Farm: Though I haven't tried their deodorants, I love the scents that Little Seed Farm uses in their soaps, and the fact that they make their products just a few states away from where I live. They have a new baking soda-free deodorant that comes in a glass jar, inside a small cardboard box printed with the words "please recycle this box." When you check the box for their "zero waste shipping option," your order will come with no additional packaging materials.

-Routine: This Canada-based natural deodorant brand makes "The Curator," a baking soda-free option. I found the scent overpowering, but fragrance enthusiasts might be fans. Note: the glass jar of deodorant comes with a plastic seal on top that will become landfill trash, and consider avoiding their small sample sizes, which come in tiny non-recyclable plastic pots.

Zero waste deodorant for sensitive skin | Litterless

-Fat and the Moon: This all-natural variety has a balm-like texture that's smooth and luscious. I have the small tin for traveling and testing, but if you love it and are ready for a commitment, you can size up to the 6-ounce jar to cut down on packaging waste.

-Other options: Lalin et La Sirèn's four-ingredient deodorant stick in a paper tube (found here on BLK + GRN), Primal Pit Paste's sensitive skin formulation in a glass jar, Chagrin Valley Soap Co.'s option with clay in lieu of baking soda (in the order notes, ask for yours to be shipped without bubble wrap), and Soapwalla's sensitive skin deodorant (comes in a recyclable plastic pot, but is enough of a cult favorite to be worth mentioning here).

Do you have a favorite that isn't listed? A question I can answer? Fire away.

More notes on zero waste bath and beauty, here.

Strategies for Wasting Less Food

Strategies for wasting less food | Litterless

Like flossing and other habits, wasting less food is something I have to constantly re-commit to. Though it has gotten easier over time, sending fewer scraps to the compost bin is still a matter of making the daily choice to scout the contents of the fridge, to finagle a spot for those extra beans in a dish, to buy less at the farmers' market, no matter how tempting that stone fruit looks.

We’re not perfect, in food waste or in anything. But then again, we don’t have to be. Here are some of the strategies we’ve found helpful in the everlasting quest to waste less food:

-Keeping a loose meal plan. We’ve experimented with several types of meal planning over time. What seems to work for us is picking a few recipes at the start of each week, but not assigning them any particular day. If we choose recipes right before grocery shopping, when the fridge is nearing empty, we can make sure the recipes incorporate any last bits and pieces of produce lying about. We write down the list of recipe suggestions for the week and use that to make a shopping list.

Keeping our meal plan loose and flexible means that if we over- or under-estimate how much we’ll eat, we don’t have to shift an entire plan around; we just pull another recipe from the list sooner, or later, than we might have otherwise. I’d never been a meal planner until lately, so it’s strange to be operating on this system and stranger still to be in the position of recommending meal planning. (Everyone recommends meal planning. How tiresome. But it’s with good reason that this is oft-mentioned in regards to food waste and life organization and everything else).

-Shopping for food more often. Maybe this means the farmers’ market on Saturday, followed by a bike ride to the co-op on Wednesday night. Or, like a recent weekend, a trip to the farmers’ market Saturday morning and a bike ride to the co-op Saturday afternoon. However it happens, we’ve had more success buying food for roughly half a week than trying to buy food for a whole week and stressing out about being able to finish it up in time. And since we can’t always know what the week will bring – an unexpectedly large amount of leftovers, dinner out with a friend – it’s helpful to have less food around, not more.

Strategies for wasting less food | Litterless

-Using clear food containers. If we can see it, we can cook it. Plus, this saves shuffling around a tippy stack of opaque containers to peer into the back of the fridge, peeling off lids exploratorily only to find the wrong item, and so on. Ours are mostly plain old glass jars or glass food containers bought secondhand. (More on simple food storage solutions, here).

-Creatively repurposing ingredients. A few weeks ago, we made a batch of refrigerator strawberry jam. The homemade variety doesn’t keep as well as something shelf-stable, and we wanted to make sure to use it before it went off. So, we made an oat-y topping and turned the jam into strawberry crumble. Ditto the kabocha squashes sitting on our countertop: reasoning that any squash is basically a pumpkin by another name, into pumpkin bread they went.

When we have cooked red beans and a recipe calls for black beans, we use the red beans already in our fridge. Ditto grains, ditto different types of onion, ditto – as previously mentioned – different types of squash. For us, flexibility is key to using ingredients up. Recipes might be most delicious when you use the exact thing called for, but that’s how the fridge end can end up with, to take the example to an extreme, two yellowing green onions, half a withering shallot, a few dried-out slices of red onion, and a molding white onion on the countertop.

A note: this one requires a little bit of kitchen confidence. I got mine from this book and then years of practice. The years of practice can’t be faked, of course, but the book is still a good place to start.

Strategies for wasting less food | Litterless

-Loving our neighbors. (Or, giving food away). Thank goodness for friends who are appreciative, not surprised, when you thrust an onion / sweet potato / garlic head / squash into their hands on their way out your door / at the end of dinner at a restaurant / when you get to their house. I joked in this article that 80% of my friends have received an extra onion from me at some point, and if you add limes, radishes, sweet potatoes, and garlic into the mix, that number probably rockets up to 95%. Part of wasting less food is getting it eaten – and if you can accept that it might not be by you, but that giving it to someone else is much better than feeding your compost or the landfill, you’ll start proffering onions, too.

If you’re left with produce or food you know you won’t have time to eat, offer it to friends, family, neighbors, coworkers. You can swap it, like the neighbor and friend who brought me two of her beets recently in exchange for an extra squash of ours. You can just leave it out in the kitchen at work with a “Free! Take me!” sign. You can bring a few things as a mini host gift when going to dinner at a friend’s house, or invite someone to cook a use-it-up-meal together. Regardless: if you’re lucky enough to have a small community on a similar mission, sharing food both makes good use of that community and serves to build it up even further.

-Maintaining a watchful eye. This applies to food in the fridge and on the countertop, sure. It’s self-evident that checking on your produce and leftovers every day or so will help get things used up before they go bad. But more broadly, keeping a close eye on habits is helpful, too. The places that slip you up are probably different than the places that slip me up. Attentiveness to pitfalls and habits can teach you where to exercise particular caution. And, when food waste happens, as it will, making a mental note about what caused it can turn the moldy leftovers into a learning experience rather than just, um, a waste.

Other tips you'd share?

More resources on food waste, here.

(Photos by Anna Zajac for Litterless).

Decanting Bulk Foods

How to decant bulk foods into glass jars, for a zero waste kitchen | Litterless

This is a story about how I own three funnels and need them all.

Let’s back up.

Circa 2015, I was working towards zero waste (still am) and trying not to buy anything I didn’t need. That included funnels.

How to decant bulk foods into glass jars, for a zero waste kitchen | Litterless

Also at the time, the closest store where I bought bulk foods didn't allow me to bring glass jars to fill up; instead, I washed and reused the plastic containers they provided. Every grocery run ended with decanting a cloth produce bag or a plastic container of dry goods into their eventual home in a glass jar. Without a funnel, beans bounced, quinoa jumped, herb leaves fluttered. Inevitably, some things would make their way from plastic container to countertop to floor. In an effort not to buy a funnel, I was wasting food.

How to decant bulk foods into glass jars, for a zero waste kitchen | Litterless

So I bought some. First a narrow-mouth funnel for decanting liquids and (I thought) dry goods. When even fine flours got stuck in its neck, I added a wide-mouth funnel for pouring beans and grains and really anything larger than a liquid. When the mouth of my narrow-neck funnel didn't fit into a few of my smaller jars, like the one I've saved for storing bulk vanilla extract, I kept an eye out for an even smaller version and finally snagged one at Muji in London in April. A set of three is just right for anything I may need to pour, decant, or re-home.

How to decant bulk foods into glass jars, for a zero waste kitchen | Litterless

Much as I hate to suggest that we might need new things when going zero waste (more on that here), I found I really needed these. Wasting food, even a few beans at a time, is something I'm trying to halt entirely, and these help. This recent article on food waste in The Washington Post outlines some of the reasons why zero food waste is such an important thing to work toward.

You may not need funnels: maybe you can fill your jars directly with bulk foods at the store, maybe you don't have access to bulk foods at all, or maybe you've mastered the knack of pouring, not spilling. Regardless: this is my current set-up, and it's exactly what I needed. 

Other resources:

-Big, medium, and small funnels. (Or a set).
-Learning how to buy just the right amount.
-Any jar will do. (For liquids, too).

(Photos by Anna Zajac for Litterless).

Zero Waste Meet-up in Madison, WI

Zero waste meet-up in Madison, WI | Litterless

Hi guys! Light week this week as we're headed out on a short vacation this afternoon - I'll be back with a new post next Thursday.

In the meantime, I wanted to make sure local folks saw the announcement that we're having a zero waste meet-up in Madison in August! We'll be getting together at the Colectivo on the Square after work on August 23rd to meet each other and chat. It's nothing formal, no new organization, just building a small bit of zero waste community here in Madison. All are welcome, and we hope you can make it. You can find the full event details here.

If you can't make this meet-up but want to get connected with other local zero waste people, come join the Facebook group! And to my 99% of readers who don't live in Madison, thanks for slogging through this. See you next week!

Nothing New: Plastic-Free Food Storage

Plastic-Free food storage for a zero waste kitchen, without buying anything new | Litterless

One of the easiest places to avoid buying anything new to go plastic-free is, I think, the kitchen. It's also one of the places that boasts the biggest abundance of special zero waste tools on the market. We have many of them, but we could do without most of them; most of the things we reach for on a daily basis are ones that we've had forever and that serve multiple functions.

Plastic-free food storage for a zero waste kitchen, without buying anything new | Litterless

If we had to stock a kitchen from scratch, here's what we might repurpose to store food and keep bread:

Jars, saved and scrubbed. (Or not scrubbed).

If you're trying to cut down on food stored in plastic, you can't find a much cheaper or easier source of glass containers than jars. We use ours for everything; if I looked in the fridge right now, I'd find glass jars holding, among other things, a sourdough starter, vegetable scraps to make broth, foraged black raspberries, and so many other things. Open a cabinet, same story. 

You can buy jars of course, and we've bought many, some new, some from thrift stores. But you can also save them, too. Unless you're canning, there's nothing about a glass jar that formerly held olives that makes it work less well than a glass jar bought new. When I'm buying something in bulk, especially bulk liquids, I often like to save the jar from a packaged version to use. An old glass bottle that held vanilla extract is that amber-tinted color you'd want for storing bulk vanilla extract; old glass vinegar bottles, as I've noted before, are the perfect shape for pouring vinegar. 

Jars work for dry goods and bulk goods, soups and starters, but also for storing fresh produce, too. Asparagus keeps better tucked into a jar with a few inches of water, as do scallions. I store parsley at room temperature in a jar with water, though the same principle doesn't seem to apply to its sisters kale, chard, or cilantro. I'd say: experiment here, but keep a close eye on produce so you can rescue it if this method doesn't seem to agree.

Plastic-free food storage in a zero waste kitchen, without buying anything new | Litterless

Plate-over-a-bowl, and other impromptu methods to top existing pans and plates.

If you have a plate, you have an instant lid for soaking beans, putting leftovers in the fridge, and so on. Also in this category: drape a tea towel over a pan of cake, wrap bread in a napkin overnight (but no longer), or rest a cloth or paper coaster on top of a jar of iced tea in the fridge (and then take care not to spill).

Since none of these methods are air-tight, they're of course less long term than others, with some risk of stale-ness and spoilage. Although I don't know about you, but when we have cake or bread or any prepared food around, it gets eaten more or less immediately. So.

Bread storage, without plastic. 

We store our bread in our dutch oven, sometimes wrapped in a tea towel, sometimes not. The pot is heavy enough to keep air out and moisture in, and it's a simple solution that allowed us to finally get rid of some of our very ratty old plastic bags that we'd used for bread storage formerly. If you don't have a dutch oven or stockpot or are simply curious about other approaches, I wrote more about storing bread without plastic, including many other great ideas sourced from readers, here.

One word of caution: be careful not to keep the stock pot on your stove with bread inside - we did so up until last week, when we (meaning I) accidentally lit the wrong burner and smoked out the loaf and towel inside. Oops. Now I've cleared a spot on the counter for the dutch oven to live when it's holding bread.

Plastic-free food storage for a zero waste kitchen, without buying anything new | Litterless

Etc.

If you'll allow me to recommend two things to buy, they'd be a large clear glass Pyrex-type bowl with a lid, plus a few sheets of beeswax wrap. In defense of the the former, we use ours for everything from storing bread and cookies and apples to soaking beans and keeping compostables and stashing away food scraps for broth. We have two, and they're some of the most versatile and most-used items we own; both of ours were from a thrift store or estate sale, for less than $5 each.

The latter, beeswax wrap, well, I did without it for many years of zero waste, but now that I have some, I'm hooked. It cuts down on the amount of food storage containers we need, as it turns bowls into covered containers, keeps bread fresh without tying up our stock pot, and is a simple way to cover a pan of sheet cake. You can make your own (look for a tutorial online), or buy a few sheets that are made in Vermont by the Bee's Wrap crew.

Other resources:

-I'm curious about #thejarmethod from @brownkids. Has anyone tried it? What did you think?
-Posts on food waste for when storage methods (and planning ahead) fail, here.
-How to make your own cloth produce bags, from Zero Waste Chef.
-Get your berries plastic-free this summer, parts one and two.

What else do you use repurpose into simple food storage? Things I missed?

More posts on going zero waste without buying anything new, here.

Refillable Dish Soap, in Every City

Zero waste dish soap with Fillaree | Litterless

When you’re your own dishwasher, you get picky about the tools you use. Round wooden bottle brush: the best for cleaning anything, pots or not. Small wooden pot scrubber: too stiff for other uses, it only comes out to clean the cast iron pan. Like choosing compostable wooden brushes over plastic ones, our choice of dish soap is one where we’ve also looked for a more sustainable alternative than those packaged in single-use plastic bottles.

In the absence of options available locally in bulk, for several years now we’ve relied on dish soap from Fillaree, which is shipped to us in a durable plastic bottle that we wash and return for reuse.

Fillaree is based in North Carolina and run by my kind and hard-working friend Alyssa; she and her team hand-make small batches of their bulk, non-toxic cleaning and bath supplies at their Durham storefront. Products are mild and unscented, or scented using only essential oils.

Zero waste dishwashing and dish soap | Litterless

Fillaree stocks local refill stations throughout the country (see if there’s one near you here), and they recently launched a new subscription offering to make it easy to purchase their bulk offerings even if you don’t live nearby one of their refill locations. We can vouch for the Clean Plate Dish Soap, which is the sudsiest we’ve ever tried. (It’s sooo good). I also like that it’s not thick and gloopy, so it easily flows out of a metal pour spout.

Here’s how the subscription works:

-Pick your products. Fillaree offers a hand and body soap, dish soap, and all-purpose cleaning spray. If you want to test one out before committing to a subscription, you can first purchase a glass bottle of any of the products to make sure you like it. Right now, we’re just signed up for the dish soap subscription, as we use bar soap instead of pump soap for our hands and in the shower, and we make our own all-purpose cleaning spray too.

-Pick your time frame. Though you can always change the time between deliveries to suit, select one to start out with. Alyssa recommends starting out with a delivery every three months, but I chose a six-month window since I know that’s closer to how often I need to replace my dish soap.

Zero waste dishwashing and dish soap | Litterless

When we receive our soap in the mail, we decant it into a clean glass bottle with a pour spout, then rinse out the container and let it dry before popping it back in the envelope it came in, slapping on the pre-printed label, and sending it back to Alyssa and the Fillaree crew. They reuse the shipping materials for as long as possible before recycling or composting them at their storefront. The only trash on mine was the backing from the sticker, which they request that you mail back to them along with your empty bottle - they don't currently have a way to recycle the sticker backing, but are collecting and keeping them all in the hopes of being able to find a solution soon! (What a commitment to circular systems!).

When you send the empty container back, you’ll get an $8 coupon code to apply to your next subscription. We’ve found our soap lasts a long time – it’s concentrated and a little bit goes a long way, so a bi-annual delivery is just right for us.

If you’d like to try out a Fillaree subscription for yourself, you can take $8 off your first month with code GOLITTERLESS.

(This post is sponsored by Fillaree, whose mission is to make package-free cleaning products available to all. Thank you so much for reading and supporting Litterless.)

Buying Berries Without Plastic, Part Two

How to buy zero waste berries at the farmers' market | Litterless

Despite how quickly the weeks have flown, it's still summer, still berry season, thank goodness. Not strawberry season anymore, sure, but there are currents and blackberries and raspberries and, my favorite, black raspberries. After this post on buying berries without plastic, a reader sent me an email asking for a little more detail on how to buy berries without packaging at the farmers' market. What do you say? Will they be okay with you bringing your own container? Will you get turned away? In the spirit of encouragement and community, I thought maybe you might want to hear the answer, too.

How to buy zero waste berries at the farmers' market | Litterless

Here's what to know:

-Most farm stands want to keep their containers to reuse. Those pretty blue baskets of berries don't buy themselves, you know. Often when I ask to buy a box of berries, the person behind the table immediately reaches for a plastic bag to dump the berries into to save the box for a future market, anyway. By bringing your own container, you're saving them money on a box or a bag.

-Most stands will accepts boxes back for reuse immediately. So, come prepared. While I've found that some stands will take a stack back at a later date, it's easiest just to ask then and there rather than cart everything home and back again and risk getting turned down later. Before I decant berries into my own container, I ask, "Do you mind if I take these home in my own container?," brandishing said clean, empty container as I speak. I usually end up pouring the berries into my container myself and handing over the box with a smile, so that they don't have to touch my container brought from home and risk potentially contaminating anything else at the stand.

How to buy zero waste berries at the farmers' market | Litterless

-Carry berries home in a box of your own, not a bag. If you've never seen the mess that a cotton produce bag full of squashed black raspberries makes, well. Let me save you the trouble. As careful as I think I can be, it's never careful enough. "Oh, it's fine, I'll just carry this bag or rest it at the top of my basket," I think breezily. Nope. Come prepared with a stainless steel container, glass jar, or old plastic container. Anything solid - just not a bag - will do.

-You probably won't get turned down. Your request is eminently reasonable, they've likely heard it before, and the people I've met tend to be either curious or appreciative or both. But if you get turned down, you can try again at the next stand, the next week, the next market, or the next year.

More simple scripts for asking zero waste questions in this post, if you're interested.

(Photos by Anna Zajac for Litterless).