Nothing New: Plastic-Free Travel Toothbrush Cover

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Until several recent spates of decluttering over the past few years, the bathroom I shared with my siblings in my childhood home was littered with all sorts of years-old items. Chief among them, several used and discarded plastic toothbrush holders, still slightly grubby and streaked white with spots of toothpaste. If you’ve ever had a plastic toothbrush cover of your own, I’m betting it looks somewhat the same.

There are some single-use plastic items that I miss since going zero waste, but plastic toothbrush holders are not one of them. They were hard to clean, hard to keep dry, and I rarely used each for more than a couple of trips before getting too grossed out to use it again.

Zero-waste, plastic-free travel toothbrush cover using just a handkerchief | Litterless

Instead, for the past several years I’ve wrapped my toothbrush in a clean handkerchief for a simple travel cover. The handkerchief keeps the head of the toothbrush clean, and I can lay the handkerchief flat once at the hotel so that I can rest the toothbrush and other items on a clean surface. Better still, after each trip the handkerchief goes into the wash and comes out perfectly clean. No toothpaste residue, no cracks and crevices to harbor bacteria or mold, no fussing about.

To wrap my toothbrush, I lay the handkerchief flat with the clean side facing up, place my toothbrush to one edge of the handkerchief, and double the handkerchief over it to enclose the portion with the bristles (most of the handle remains outside of the cloth). Then, I roll the handkerchief up around the toothbrush, and toss it in my toiletry bag. You could secure the roll with a rubber band, but I’ve never needed to; packed in a bag with lots of other things, the set-up seems to stay in place well enough without one.

Zero-waste, plastic-free travel toothbrush cover using just a handkerchief | Litterless

Sometimes a switch like this is so simple that I hesitate to write about it. But in preparation for a few upcoming trips, I’ve been reviewing my usual routines, and this one seemed like it might be helpful. I hope you find it so.

More resources:

-If you’d like a more traditional plastic-free alternative, Brush with Bamboo also makes a travel toothbrush case.

-How to make your own handkerchiefs.

-Another simple travel tip along these same lines.

Anyone else do this? Other simple zero waste travel ideas to share?

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

Nothing New: Love Your Library

IMZero-waste library inspiration | How to use your local library | Litterless

It was a hot day in early June when I walked over to the nearest library to my first apartment in Chicago to get a library card. By contrast, last month I biked over to the big public library here in Madison on a cool, breezy evening to apply for a card. Since then, riding to the library has become a weekly tradition: dropping off old reads, picking up holds, browsing the rotating displays. It’s easier to get to the library here than it was in Chicago, so my reading habits have shifted away from using a Kindle back to picking up a stack of physical books. The routine reminds me of childhood summer days spent on the floor of our nearest library, selecting the Babysitters’ Club books that I hadn’t yet read – and the Laura Ingalls Wilder books I’d read a million times - and lugging home a basket almost too heavy for me to carry.

As a prodigious reader and a serial re-reader, buying books is something that I’ll always make space for, even as I try to limit clothes-buying and homegoods-buying to just the essentials. Yet to keep myself in enough books is an expensive habit, not to mention space- and resource-intensive, so leaning more heavily on the library lately has been a revelation.

Zero-waste library inspiration | How to use your local library | Litterless

While as a child I was content to plop down and explore what several favorite sections had to offer, as an adult I’ve become a bit more methodical about finding books to check out. I keep a Google document with lists of books I’d like to read, adding to it anytime I see or hear of a book that sounds enticing. (It helps keep the slightly stressful feelings of “Now what was that book?” at bay). Before a trip to the library, I log into the catalog at home and pick a few books from my list that I’d like to read that week. I place holds for any that aren’t available at my nearest branch, and for ones that are, I jot down the shelf numbers so I can find them easily. I only ever pick out a few beforehand, as lately my best reads have come from browsing the curated displays and certain favorite sections.

Zero-waste library reads | How to take advantage of your local library | Litterless

I still find it magical that I can get any book I want, anytime, for free. Sure, some come with long wait lists, but while patiently biding my time there are always plenty of other books to read, too. When I used to rely primarily on library reads checked out on my Kindle, I felt more constricted as to the choices available: often, I couldn’t access a particular e-book and had to choose between buying it or not reading it at all. But now that I use the physical library exclusively, a whole new world has opened up. I can find any book, and it I can’t, chances are another library has it. It’s a beautiful thing.

Zero-waste library inspiration | How to use your local library | Litterless

Other sources of library inspiration: 

(Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means Litterless may make a small commission if you choose to purchase a book linked below. Of course, use your library first!)

-Currently reading. (And this spellbinding memoir).

-My friend Laura is a library maven, and seeing the stacks of checked-out books she shares on her Instagram account always induces me to add a few new titles to my own list.

-Favorite books that have aided in my quest to fight food waste, here.

-A few inspiring sustainability books of late: A Life Less Throwaway by Tara Button, Give a Sh*t by my friend Ashlee Piper, The Unsettlers by Mark Sundeen (magical and inspiring), and I’m looking forward to Christine Liu’s upcoming Sustainable Home and Katrina Rodabaugh’s Mending Matters, too.

Favorite reads to recommend lately? Other library love stories to share?

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

A Plastic-Free Stain Stick, for Travel and Everyday

Plastic-free, zero-waste stain stick from Meliora Cleaning Products, for travel and everyday | Litterless

I’m not historically the most efficient packer out there, which perhaps is why I felt inordinately proud of myself this past Labor Day weekend. After I threw all my clothing in my favorite weekend bag to head to a lake house with friends, said bag remained a good one-third empty. I marveled at its lightness and the way the top of it squashed down, a far cry from my usual luggage, which is full to the hilt and more.

I’m learning to be better about choosing multipurpose items when I travel: instead of pajamas, leggings that work for yoga or lounging or sleeping. Instead of three handkerchiefs, a handkerchief and a cloth napkin and we’ll see how it goes. 

Plastic-free, zero-waste stain stick from Meliora Cleaning Products, for travel and everyday | Litterless

In my arsenal since earlier this summer, the soap stick from Meliora Cleaning Products. It’s intended to serve as a laundry stain remover, which it does with aplomb, but since I’ve been carrying it around with me, I’ve found it works for other things, too. It does dual duty as bar soap in a hotel bathroom where you’d rather not unwrap the plastic-packaged bar by the sink. Or, dare I say, the gas station bathroom that is somehow out of soap entirely.

Typical plastic stain removal pens not only aren’t recyclable, but they also can’t serve as hand wash in a pinch or make suds for sock washing in the sink. They’re full of junky and toxic chemicals that you probably wouldn’t want to wash your hands with, even if you could. Conversely, Meliora’s stick is just soap. Soap that’s been especially formulated to optimize stain removal – Kate and Mike, the founders, are both engineers and trust me when I say I’ve heard them get deep in the weeds on the science that makes their products so effective – but also soap that you could use as a body wash if you need to, or for rinsing out duds in the river on a camping trip, or for lathering up your kid’s hands in the park.

Plastic-free, zero-waste stain stick from Meliora Cleaning Products, for travel and everyday | Litterless

Or, say, the power went out at the lake house you and twenty other people had rented for Labor Day just at 7 pm when you were all trooping in from a day swimming in the lake. Since the running water for showering was out too, of course, you might want a biodegradable soap that you could jump right back in the lake with and lather up. Same applies to backpackers and camping enthusiasts. I’m glad to have a multi-use option that lets us lighten both our load and the planet’s. 

A few further details: the soap stick comes packaged in a cardboard box, which you can recycle or keep around for storing it. For traveling, it’s hard-wearing enough that it won’t crumble if you tote it around in a bandanna, napkin, washcloth, or small travel tin. I keep one with my travel toiletries, near our washing machine, and sometimes carry one in my tote bag, too. The soap stick is also palm oil-, cruelty-, and fragrance-free, and boasts the Made Safe certification. (Not to mention that Meliora is also B-Corp and pledges 1% for the Planet; you can learn more about their certifications here).  

Plastic-free, zero-waste stain stick from Meliora Cleaning Products, for travel and everyday | Litterless

You can find the soap stick on their website right here, or browse their other products, like laundry detergent and an all-purpose cleaning spray that we’ve lately become entirely reliant upon for nightly kitchen straightening.

Orders placed on their website come packaged in a cardboard box with all-paper wrapping, including paper tape. And if you live in Chicago, where they’re based and do their manufacturing, you can find Meliora products locally at Dill Pickle Food Co-op, the Whole Foods at North and Clybourn, and at Sugar Beet Food Co-op, which also carries their laundry detergent in bulk.

(This post is sponsored by Meliora Cleaning Products, makers of cleaning products with the highest standards for safety and sustainability.)

Farmers' Market in Early Fall

Zero waste at the farmers' market | Litterless

A rainbow of chard, matching the rainbow of carrots and squashes and the earliest apples.

Zero waste at the farmers' market | Litterless

The last of the cucumbers, to be quick-pickled or eaten plain, with salt.

Zero waste at the farmers' market | Litterless

A sheer glory of fiery, globular tomatoes.

Zero waste at the farmers' market | Litterless

Pattypan squash, yellow and green zucchini. Some overgrown, for bread and fritters, some slender and springy, for eating as is. (I love the biggest ones best, for an excuse to make zucchini fritters for dinner).

What are you buying this time of year?

Nothing New: Resources for Swapping

Resources for swapping items | How to go zero waste without buying anything new | Litterless

I didn't know we needed a toaster until we had one. We used roommates' toasters, and then when roommate-less, toasted bread in the oven or in a cast iron pan on the stove. An energy waste, and with inconsistent results, but the bread was crunchy and toasted and fine.

During my last few weeks in Chicago before moving up to Madison, I invited a few friends over for an informal stuff swap, glad to have one more chance to see each other as well as a chance pass along items to loving new homes. A friend offered up an extra toaster, and I snapped it up.

I'm a believer in secondhand shopping, but also a firm believer in circumventing secondhand shops more often than not. When items go to thrift stores, they lose the stories behind them. Rather than being your best friend's frying pan that she gave you when she moved away, it's just a frying pan with a whole bunch of stains from a stranger's kitchen. I'd never buy a jar of half-used deodorant from a thrift store, but I'd take one from a friend. Giving items to - and borrowing them from - people you know instead helps preserve a sense of the item's value.

And then too, there's the phenomenon of the overburdened thrift store. Many don't accept electronics, or certain types of electronics (and rightfully so). Many have too much clothing pouring in and must send a portion overseas or to the recycler's. When dropping off items at our closest secondhand store, we've seen the volume of donations pouring in and wondering how sales can possibly keep up the pace.

So, the toaster. My friend didn't need two, and expressed a preference for her toaster oven over a pop-up toaster, anyway. (I feel the opposite, and love my pop-up toaster). It's a little stained around the top, but she cleaned it before handing it over, and I packed it to move up to Madison. We use it every day, sometimes multiple times a day, and each time I'm thankful not to have to keep an eagle eye on bread toasting in the pan, which always felt like it was three seconds away from being completely charred. In return, she took away a framed print I no longer wanted, some bowls, and terra cotta pots. It was a good trade.

Resources for swapping items | How to go zero waste without buying anything new | Litterless

Below, my favorite resources for finding swaps of your own:

-Friends. This is my favorite level at which to swap. I've given away a half-open jar of deodorant of my own, stopped by a friend's house the night before she moved to cart away some of her extra fridge food, and offered up a squash in return for extra beets. My beloved table and chairs are from a family friend who was also moving. Over Labor Day we slathered our faces with a tin of Raw Elements sunscreen that a friend offered up after realizing it didn't work for her skin. Books, clothing, extra food, un-needed make-up: it's all fair game.

If you don't have any relationships where you currently swap things back and forth, get started by offering up an item or two from your home to a friend you think might want them. All of my sharing relationships have started this way, with one friend or the other broaching an offering. With the best of them, the first swap turns into years of trading small items back and forth, never keeping track, just happy to help out a friend and get something unused into new hands.

-Barter at work. Coworkers at my first office job used to leave extra produce or baked goods on the kitchen counter with a "Free! Eat me!" sign; parents had a Slack channel where they were able to unload (or load, depending) baby gear that their kids had outgrown. Whether it's a specific swap like that or simply a general "Swap" Slack channel or email group, work might make a great place to begin bartering or donating, as, like your friends, your coworkers know you and so there's a higher chance that items will be in clean and working condition.

-Buy Nothing Groups. These informal Facebook groups help neighbors find and share items they need or don't need. You can post an "ISO", or "In Search Of" if you're looking for a specific item, or if you have something to donate you can share a picture with the item's description. Find your local group and keep an eye on the listings! (Recent offerings in the Madison-area group have been baby goods, extra house paint, and a wastebasket).

-Freecycle. Freecycle works much the same way as a Buy Nothing Group, I believe, but I've never used it. If you have an experience to share in the comments, I'd be curious to hear what you think!

-Host a swap. Whether it's for a group of your friends or for the wider community, hosting a swap can simultaneously let you offload your cast-offs and keep an eye out for things you might need, like a toaster. A swap can be as informal as inviting your friends over to your house for a few hours with anything they no longer want, or you can find a neighborhood meeting space and set up some rules. Either way, clearly delineate the parameters (clothing only? housewares only? books only? all of the above) and give everyone a few weeks notice to gather up some goods.

A note: Of course, as with any secondhand purchase, there's an element of caveat emptor to swapping that increases as you move out of your friend circle into the wider community. It goes without saying to not take opened food or toiletries from people you don't trust, and to clean secondhand clothing, dishes, furniture, etc. that comes into your house. For that reason and others, my favorite swaps are always done between friends or other close community groups that offer accountability.

Madison-area readers, we're planning a community swap for October 20th. Save the date! Once we have them, I'll share more details on my Events page and in the Madison Facebook group.

Any recent swaps to share? Or additional tips for the rest of us?

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

Produce Bags to Make or Buy

Cloth produce bags for a zero waste home | Litterless

Swapping cloth produce bags in for plastic produce bags was one of the first zero waste changes I ever made and one of the best. I have a visceral reaction to the squeaky sound that clingy plastic produce bags make as you attempt to get them open; once I learned more about plastic pollution and waste, I developed an environmentalist's aversion to them, as well. There are a few zero waste changes where I've never had a moment's regret for making the switch - menstrual cups, bamboo toothbrushes, cloth napkins - and this is one of them.

In case it's a change you haven't made yet, I put together my favorite resources for finding cloth produce bags. They're easy to make, and even easier to buy. I look for produce bags that are all cotton or linen. While I've also owned plastic mesh produce bags which have ripped within a year of use, my cotton and linen bags I've had for years and nary a hole.

Cloth produce bags for a zero waste home | Litterless

Below, tutorials for those who'd like to make their own, and a list of favorite brands for those who wouldn't. Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means Litterless may make a small commission on items purchased.

Make

-Tie a furoshiki cloth: The simplest produce bag of all is one that starts with a square of fabric - a tea towel, a napkin, an un-hemmed scrap. In a pinch, you can place produce in the middle and then tie the edges together to form a small sack. I've made use of this technique when caught at the farmers' market without a spare bag (evidence, here).

-Sew a drawstring bag: If you've sewn before, making your own produce bags is simple to master. I've made my own in the past, and I like that you can make any size you need. Two recommendations for those planning to DIY: I use French seams for mine, which ensures that edges left unfinished don't fray into whatever food you're buying. And, wash and dry the fabric several times prior to cutting and sewing to pre-shrink it. Around here we've ended up with a few accidentally shrunken bags, once fit for a baguette and now more suited to buying bulk carrots. If you're new to sewing, this homemade cloth produce bags tutorial is helpful.

-DIY Bento bags: You can also, of course, sew your own bento bags. They're a piece of fabric wizardry that, with a bit of folding and pinning, turns a single length of cloth into a three-dimensional bag. Once you have a few of these, you'll find you use them for everything: in addition to holding produce, mine have been knitting project bags, lunch boxes, dopp kits, foraging bags, and gift wrap. Here's a pattern for making your own.

Cloth produce bags for a zero waste home | Litterless

Buy

-Simple Ecology: The first produce bags I ever purchased, my set of Simple Ecology bags from the summer of 2014 is still going strong. A bit stained, a bit softer, but no holes or worn patches to speak of. The external tags on the bags note the tare weight in ounces and grams.

-EcoBags: I like their mesh bags for larger items with skins like oranges and onions, and their solid cotton bags for smaller items like bulk salad greens, grains, or nuts. They also have a three-piece set of printed bags, but it's made of a thinner cotton that feels a bit flimsier.

-Ambatalia: Molly DeVries makes beautiful, reusable cloth goods for the home out of her studio in Mill Valley. Her bento bags are among my very favorite produce bags. I have a large one for bread and greens, and a few smaller ones that I use for everything from organizing snacks while traveling to buying a few apples to keeping small items corralled in my daily tote bag. She also makes a jar tote bag with fabric dividers for easier bulk shopping.

-Dans Le Sac: Made in Quebec out of tough, heavy-gauge cotton, these bags are long-lasting and designed to hold specific items. If you're a weekly baguette buyer, their long and skinny baguette bag may just solve all (or at least some) of your worries. See also their bread bag or drawstring sacks.

-Small makers: There are some beautiful ones available on Etsy. I love this selection of bags in printed linen, or these bread bags in solid colors of linen. This set shows the tare in ounces, pounds, and grams, which is helpful when checking out.

Cloth produce bags for a zero waste home | Litterless

Other favorite produce bags to make or buy? What are you using these days?

Make or Buy is a series that acknowledges that sometimes we want to make things ourselves, and sometimes we want to buy their sustainably made equivalent. Other zero waste gear to make or buy, here.

(Photos by Anna Zajac for Litterless).

Five-Minute Dried Herbs in Late Summer

Easiest dried herbs | Zero waste kitchen DIY | Litterless

I can’t force summer to stick around, but come late August, I always try. Evenings that are dark this early are never long enough for all of the walks and bike rides and outdoor dinners I want to cram in, but cram I do, regardless.

August is also a time to take in the bounty of late summer. We only have a small balcony garden, but nightly walks past our nearest community garden remind me of the riches that plants offer up this time of year. And so, a balance: preserving what food we can while also preserving precious evening hours for time spent outdoors, activities more enjoyable than spending an hour indoors stringing up herbs to dry for the winter.

Easiest dried herbs | Zero waste kitchen DIY | Litterless

Enter my new favorite method: lazy herb drying. It’s as easy as washing what you pick, laying the sprigs out to dry on a towel, and then setting the towel – or moving them to a bowl – somewhere they can rest for a couple of days. I turn the leaves every day or so to make sure each surface has a chance to dry, and then I transfer them to a glass jar when they seem as dry and brittle as they're going to get (this seems to only take about a few days to a week).

Easiest dried herbs | Zero waste kitchen DIY | Litterless

No stringing things up, tying bundles, being fussy. Better yet, it keeps drying herbs from feeling like a capital-P Project and more like a five-minute task you can slot in between dinner and a bike ride. Though the time saved may only be ten minutes, getting over the need to find ten extra minutes sometimes means the difference between a project done and a project wished-for.

In my experience, this works best with herbs that are structured enough to hold themselves up a bit. Place a handful of basil leaves in a bowl, and they’ll slowly meld together into a wilty mass. Do the same with thyme or rosemary, though, and their sturdier stems will hold them in place well enough to allow air to circulate between the leaves.

Currently drying at our place, some lavender buds on a towel and some thyme in a bowl. Before we head out of town this weekend, I also want to snip and start some of the oregano and mint currently outgrowing their pots on the porch.

Easiest dried herbs | Zero waste kitchen DIY | Litterless

More involved herb drying, here and here. (Writing about this appears to have become somewhat of a late summer tradition).

What are you preserving this time of year?

(Our bowl is the Everyday Bowl, a gift from East Fork Pottery. These links are affiliate links, which means Litterless may make a small commission on items purchased.)