A New Place to Find Me

Zero waste city living | Litterless

I've got a new spot on the web! Sort of. I've moved over from the old Litterless.co to a brand-new Litterless.com. All links to the original Litterless.co now redirect to Litterless.com, so if you have any posts bookmarked or pinned, they should still work just fine. Welcome to the new site! Which, of course, is basically just the old site.

Zero Waste Coffee with Ethical Bean

Brewing zero waste coffee with Ethical Bean | Litterless

This post is sponsored by Ethical Bean, makers of fair-trade certified, organic coffee that comes in compostable and recyclable packaging.

I've written before that I'm not the most frequent coffee drinker out there; my late nights in the library in college were aided instead by green tea and dried cranberries filched from the dining center. Luckily, I have an in-home coffee consultant (er, my boyfriend, Julian), so when I wanted to figure out what to recommend to readers who ask me what lower-waste options for brewing coffee are out there, he was only too happy to conduct some tests (er, drink coffee), with the help of a few zero waste-friendly coffees by Ethical Bean.

There are a couple of different ways to brew coffee without disposable products. You can insert a reusable coffee filter into a standard coffee maker, buy a reusable cloth filter for a pour-over cone or a Chemex, or use a French press, which comes with its own built-in filter for catching grounds. My boyfriend typically uses a pour-over cone and composts the paper filter each time, but I already own a French press (typically put to use for brewing larger quantities of loose-leaf tea), so that's what we do at my house.

How to brew zero waste style coffee with Ethical Bean | Litterless

As with all things, brewing coffee in a French press can be as precise or as loose as you'd like it to be. The basic method: add a tablespoon of ground coffee per cup of water to your French press. Pour in just-boiled water, top the glass chamber off with the cap, then about four minutes later depress the plunger to keep the grounds out of the way. For those looking to delve more into the details of French-pressing (just how hot should that water be?), I trust the pros at Food 52: here's what they have to say on the subject.

Pour and enjoy! Then, when you're cleaning out the press don't forget to compost those coffee grounds. Or, better yet, you could choose to reuse them first by making a quick DIY body scrub, made mixing equal parts coffee grounds and coconut oil, and a few drops of the essential oil you like best).

How to brew zero waste coffee | Litterless

Now that we've taken care of brewing zero waste coffee, how to buy zero waste coffee in the first place? This is another realm where the options are many, of course. If you're a rare coffee drinker, you can forego the home brew entirely and simply bring your own reusable travel mug to a coffee shop whenever you'd like a cup. Coffee shops typically buy their beans in huge packages - effectively giving you the option to buy coffee purchased in bulk, without having to search for it in local grocery stores. For the more frequent drinker, you can of course also look for package-free beans in a grocery store near you (this guide might give you a place to start the search).

If neither of those work - or even if they do - another option is to purchase coffee in recyclable or compostable packaging. That's where Ethical Bean comes in. They sell fair-trade certified organic coffee out of their roastery in Vancouver, where they compost the organic by-products of production, like coffee chaff, at their factory, before packaging up the beans and ground coffee in bags that can either be composted - like those brown kraft paper bags below (just remove the tape and the metal closure) - or mailed back to Ethical Bean for recycling through their bag return program - like the bright green bag shown below.

Ethical Bean, organic, fair-trade, and responsibly packaged coffee for the zero waster | Litterless

The verdict, according to said personal coffee consultant? Julian liked the bright, fruity flavors of the Exotic blend, which were balanced by the full-bodied quality of the roast. We'll take his word for it: my coffee palate isn't well-developed enough to be able to corroborate that yet. But I can concur with his thoughts about the packaging: he appreciated the paper packaging (those brown bags pictured above), because he could choose to keep it around to reuse when buying bulk coffee in the future, send it back to the folks at Ethical Bean for recycling, or compost it.

Kudos to Ethical Bean for helping us take control of us take control of our waste, and for offering a lower-waste option for folks where buying bulk package-free beans isn't an option - or where bulk beans are an option, but not organic, or fair-trade, or high enough quality to satisfy the palate of the coffee devotee.

After you hop on over to the Ethical Bean site to check out their selection, come back here to enter their giveaway! They're offering a French press and three bags of coffee to one lucky winner in the United States or Canada. You can enter below; good luck!

The contest is now over and the winner has been notified; thank you to all who entered!

Coffee lovers: what other tips do you have for brewing zero waste coffee? Any other methods to share?

Previously in Food & Drink: For the tea drinkers, and a new, simple use for beeswax wrap.

This post is sponsored by Ethical Bean; all thoughts are my own. Thank you for supporting the companies with better business practices who work to make zero waste-friendly resources.

Zero Waste Gift Wrapping, Again

How to wrap gifts zero waste style | Litterless

When wrapping a gift for a friend with an autumn birthday a few weeks back, I snapped some pictures of my method. I'm not on top of it enough to have wrapped holiday gifts yet - but when I do, this is close to how I'll be approaching it.

The most zero waste gift wrap, of course, is no gift wrap. But I've found the more that zero waste looks like austerity, the more I push back against it, unwilling to give up some of the things make my life a bit brighter and better. (Gift wrap, mascara, soba noodles. Etc.). Since my goal is changing habits for the long term, not making frantic overhauls that won't last, I've found the space in my zero waste routines to wear mascara, eat plastic-packaged soba noodles, and wrap gifts, and I'm the happier for it.

Of course, that doesn't mean throwing in the towel, buying a few huge rolls of plastic-packaged wrapping paper, and wrapping gifts normally. When have I ever done anything around here normally? (Side note: that shiny wrapping paper is typically not recyclable. !!!). Instead, I rely on reusable and compostable materials to wrap gifts in a way that aligns with my ethos. There are lots of ways to do it - here's how I approached it last year - but this year, here's what I'm thinking:

How to wrap gifts zero waste style using upcycled materials | Litterless

Step 1: Gather supplies, with an eye toward the reused, the reusable, and the compostable. For me, this process starts much earlier in the year: I keep a box in my closet that's full of papers and supplies that come my way that feel ripe for reusing.

The paper shown here was saved from a special purchase at Elizabeth Suzann earlier this summer, tucked away because it was too good to just recycle. I also save the plain brown kraft paper that often comes with online purchases, which can be dressed up with drawings or a special ribbon or even left as is. Other ideas for reused paper that can be turned into wrappings: the pretty catalog you find in your mailbox (before you email the company to get off their mailing list), newspapers (please not any section featuring our orange-in-chief, so depressing), or gift wrapped saved from another special occasion earlier in the year.

Other supplies you might want: compostable paper washi tape, and then some ribbons or twine as the final touch. For that last part, I go with natural twine (compostable!), or otherwise, ribbons I've saved over the years from gifts given to me.

Zero waste gift wrapping using compostable, reusable materials | Litterless

Step 2: Wrap the thing! Easy. If you don't have washi tape, you can also wrap gifts without any tape by being inventive with how you tie your twine or ribbons. Here's a little primer on that method, which I used last year.

Step 3: Make sure the recipient knows how to recycle the materials, if you think you can slip this information in without being preachy and irritating. An excited "And the tape is compostable!" or a "Here, let me recycle that" might do the trick. Taking charge of cleaning up the gift wrap on a holiday evening or morning is a good way to ensure that you can sort and save things properly, rather than letting a relative or host sweep everything pell-mell into a garbage bag.

Of course, this is just one way to wrap gifts, the way that aligns most closely with traditional gift wrapping. There are many other ways to do it, and using your inventive little mind is most of the fun. I've wrapped gifts in tea towels, reusable tote bags, bento bags, reused tissue paper, reused gift bags, furoshiki cloths, reusable cotton bulk bags. (You can find my favorites of those items linked here, in case you're in the market).

For more ideas on how to wrap gifts zero waste style, take a peek at last year's posts on the subject, here and here. Anyone else still staunchly clinging to gift wrapping? Favorite tricks to share?

Previously in Zero Waste: The simplest zero waste travel tip out there, and a guide to the items I use day in, day out.

DIY Eye Make-up Remover

How to make zero waste, plastic-free eye make-up remover | Litterless

A few years ago, I found that oil worked really well to remove eye make-up. Unlike anything else I'd tried, it doesn't have weird synthetic fragrances, doesn't have to come packaged in plastic - or worse, little single-use wipes, doesn't have a long ingredients list to puzzle over, and doesn't leave your sensitive eye-area skin dry. Quite the reverse, actually: it's like moisturizing and cleaning in a single step.

I'm glad to be sharing my recipe today for a DIY version... if you can even call this a DIY. It's two ingredients, one step, and thirty seconds of work time, once you have the ingredients on hand. 

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

Homemade zero waste, plastic-free eye make-up remover | Litterless

Here's how I make the version I use: I combine three parts grapeseed oil with one part argan oil in a small bottle. Um, that's it.

For the bottle, I like something with a pump top or an eye dropper like this one, but you could literally use anything as long as it's tinted (to protect the oils from light). An old essential oil bottle, very well cleaned and dried, might be just the thing.

At the moment, grapeseed oil is my preference for the base oil - it has a neutral scent, absorbs quickly and easily, and is inexpensive. Plus, it's literally made from waste: it's pressed from the seeds of grapes, a by-product of winemaking that would otherwise be left unused. Argan oil is more expensive, but I've found that adding just a little of it seems to up the moisturizing power of the potion a bit.

You could use other oils, and other ratios, of course - I've used straight up olive oil when staying at friends' houses or while on vacation in an Airbnb. I have a friend who uses coconut oil, but I don't like having to melt it in my hands during the winter to be able to use it. As you can tell, the recipe is loose and flexible. Just use common sense: don't include essential oils, in deference to the delicate nature of the eye area.

How to remove eye make-up, zero waste style | Litterless

How to use it: I put a few drops on my fingertips, rub them together quickly to warm it up, and then just rub it onto closed eyelids and around my eyes until the make-up seems to be loosened and dissipating. I don't wear a huge amount of make-up (on my eyes, usually just mascara), so I use my fingertips to gently wipe away the extra oil, taking the make-up with it, before rinsing my fingers with soap and water to get the oil off. When I do that, there's usually a small amount of oil left on the skin around my eyes, which I leave in place to soak in and moisturize.

If you wear a lot of make-up, though, or prefer the experience of using cotton rounds to remove it, that works too. You can purchase or make reusable cotton cloth rounds (the ones pictured are by Marley's Monsters, though I also have some I've made myself); just choose some in a dark color so you don't have to fight the losing battle of mascara smudges on white cloth. And, hand wash those babies in cold water with lots of soap immediately after using, and air dry: you don't want to leave oily cloths around or put them in the washer or dryer, because they could choose to catch on fire. (YIKES).

Not sure where to buy these ingredients in bulk locally? You can search my guide to bulk shopping throughout the U.S. here, if you'd like. Or, buy them online! My friend Brittney owns the store Refill Revolution, which sells (among other things) bulk ingredients for zero waste DIYs. She ships many of her ingredients in glass bottles like these, or in reusable plastic pouches, which you can then mail back to her to be sterilized and used again. When we met, we got excited to share some of the easy DIY products we reach for every day, so she sent me bulk versions of a few of my go-to ingredients to fine-tune into a recipe to share. If you'd like to purchase some ingredients of your own, use the code LITTERLESS at Refill Revolution for 10% off your purchase.

Previously in DIY: Make your own handkerchiefs (even for sewing newbies!), and a homemade cleaning spray recipe.

Nothing New: Any Jar Will Do

Mismatched glass jars for zero waste, plastic-free pantry and kitchen storage | Litterless

Last night, I gave a zero waste workshop near Madison, Wisconsin. One thing we talked about? Fancy glass jars. Fancy jars - like Le Parfait, Weck, and mason jars - are excellent for making your pantry look gorgeous and for fitting nicely together on shelves and for uniformity's sake. But the reality is: any jar will do.

If you use glass jars for pantry storage or for shopping in bulk, or if you want to start using them, consider this permission to go mismatched. Sure, your pantry could look like this. But also, it could look like a beautiful collection of whatever random jars you find yourself in possession of at the time.

Mismatched glass jars for zero waste, plastic-free pantry and kitchen storage | Litterless

A few weeks ago, a friend came over to my house for a meeting and brought some snacks with her, pictured here. The diversity of containers illustrated well the plethora of jar options out there: everything from Le Parfait jars with an orange rubber seal to colorful Mason jars to glass Tupperware to jars salvaged from finished pantry staples (in this case, a jar of Grey Poupon). 

The jars I use to store food are a mix of Le Parfait, Ball / Mason jars, and Weck jars, many of which I've accumulated from thrift stores. (When you only pay sixty cents for a jar that normally costs $7, it's pretty great). You can also just hold on to old salsa, mustard, sauce, olive, etc. jars, which are especially good for storing smaller things or sending leftovers home with a guest. Labels kept on or removed, they too work just fine for what they're meant to do: store food.

What types of jars are your favorites? Any thrift store scores to share?

Previously in Home: How to use a furoshiki cloth, and some musings on a zero waste home.

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving | Litterless

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers and friends. I'm thankful to you for reading this year and for bringing community to this space. Also thankful for veggies, candlelight on dark winter evenings, love and friendship, and the fact that the 2018 midterm elections are finally less than a year away.

See you back here next week with more, of course. In the meantime, here is last year's Thanksgiving post, and the year before's. I really love this time of year.

PS. A post by me elsewhere, with an idea for how to use up your Thanksgiving food scraps.

A Petition with We Want Refill

A petition for bulk, zero waste options with We Want Refill | Litterless

This post is sponsored by We Want Refill, whose work encourages stores to offer liquid bulk options.

Sometimes zero waste is a little bit lovely: bulk body oil on a marble countertop, a pantry full of glass jars of colorful beans, cloth napkins on the table in lieu of paper. Sometimes, for me at least, it is also completely unglamorous. A time that comes to mind recently is toting a jar to and from another state for the express purpose of filling it with bulk body lotion. Unfortunately, this type of insane maneuver isn't as rare as you might think for me in my efforts to stay zero waste.

To be fair, I didn't travel to Wisconsin to fill up my mason jar with lotion; I traveled there to visit my boyfriend, who lives in Madison. There are two places I know of to get bulk, package-free lotion in Chicago, but both are a forty-five minute public transit ride away, and since I don't have a car, that becomes a bit too much time to dedicate to lotion-purchasing. Hence, when I knew I'd be visiting a friend with a car and a great bulk grocery store near their house, out came the jar.

Although that's a bit of an extreme example, I'm sure we all have stories that fall along similar lines. Whether it's commissioning a purchase from a faraway friend because you know she lives near a great zero waste store, or tucking a bulk food purchase in your luggage as a zero waste souvenir, we've all probably gone to semi-crazy lengths. But the really crazy thing? That we have to go to crazy lengths to find what we need in bulk at all. It's 2017! We've been to the moon! I want to buy bulk lotion in my neighborhood!

A petition for bulk, zero waste options with We Want Refill | Litterless

Enter We Want Refill, an organization working to expand bulk body and home care products in stores near you. They ask stores to add refill stations for bulk liquid items we use daily, like cleaning products, laundry detergent, shampoo, conditioner, and, yes, lotion. They don't make these products or the refill stations themselves; they simply make the point that the technology to offer this is out there, as is the demand, and that stores should start offering better options. To which, of course, any zero waster would heartily agree.

We Want Refill is asking you to support their efforts by taking two minutes to sign their petition. When you add your name, you're strengthening the movement to make bulk offerings more accessible - so that you don't have to live in a big city to access them, nor drive to another state, nor sit on a train for an hour, nor cajole a friend into ferrying you something you haven't been able to find locally. You can sign here, and take a look at their helpful educational resources here, if you're interested.

Previously in Zero Waste: Notes on staying zero waste in a pinch, and how to keep your travel souvenirs zero waste, too.

This post is sponsored by We Want Refill. As always, all thoughts are my own. Thank you for supporting the companies working toward a more zero waste world.