Stock Up at the Farmers' Market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photos by Anna Zajac for Litterless).

Resources for Voter Registration

Resources for voter registration | Litterless

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

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

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

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

Online Bulk Directory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compostable Dish Brushes to Use (and Reuse)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zero waste, plastic-free dish brushes | Litterless

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

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

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

 Other favorite compostable brushes / reuse ideas to share?

(Photos by Anna Zajac for Litterless).

How (Exactly) to Switch to Bar Soap

How (exactly) to switch to bar soap, with zero waste beauty essentials from Bestowed Essentials | Litterless

Sometimes the zero waste swaps that look the simplest have layers of questions underneath. When I wrote about switching from liquid hand soap to bar soap last summer, I touted it as the easiest zero waste swap I’d made. And yet, that glossed over some of the aspects of bar soap that don’t come into play when you have pump soap. Readers asked, how do you keep the bar soap from staying wet and getting slimy? How do you store a bar in your shower without it disintegrating under the water stream? In other words: sure, this switch might be easy for you, but it hasn’t been so easy for me.

Except for a few bottles of refillable body wash still kicking around in our shower, these days we use bar soap exclusively. Bar soap is less likely to come in plastic packaging than pump soap, and it takes about one-fifth of the energy to manufacture, as well. So in our house, there’s a bar by the kitchen sink, one by the bathroom sink, and a bag of soap ends in the shower for sudsing up, for those who prefer bars to liquid body wash (me). The day when one bar runs out and we get to choose the next from a small under-sink stash is always a banner day. 

How (exactly) to switch to bar soap, with zero waste beauty essentials from Bestowed Essentials | Litterless

Lately, we’ve been using bar soap from Bestowed Essentials. The creator Callee makes zero waste bath and beauty products in her solar-powered studio on wheels as she travels the United States. Her small-batch, certified vegan and cruelty-free soap bars, face masks, and other products are inspired by her travels and her experiences as a zero waster herself. This means that her products are packaged in recyclable or compostable packaging (typically, recycled cardboard or glass), and are shipped using boxes and packing material made from recycled fibers.

 In case it’s helpful, here’s a peek into the bar soap set-up we use these days. It keeps soap dishes from sliming, soap bars from disintegrating, and has overall made the jump to bar soap a pure pleasure. 

-Choose a slatted soap dish. In my experience, water pools in soap dishes that don’t offer it a place to drain. This prevents the soap from drying out fully between each use, meaning that it gets a bit slimy or worse, disintegrates into an unusable mush. A soap dish with slats – or simply a draining soap dish set on top of your usual one – ensures that the bar stays firm and intact. Ours pictured is this one from Bestowed Essentials, which is made from recycled tulip poplar wood gathered from a scrap pile and can be composted at the end of its life.  

How (exactly) to switch to bar soap, with zero waste beauty essentials from Bestowed Essentials | Litterless

-Use a soap saver bag to corral slivers. When a bar gets so thin that even a gentle rub breaks it into ever-smaller pieces, we transfer the pieces to a soap bag. This corrals smaller pieces so that you can use them without worrying they’ll slip through your finger and down the drain. Plus, the rough texture acts as a plastic-free loofah in the shower, and since it’s made out of natural sisal fibers, it too can be composted at the end of its life.

-Keep it out of the shower stream. When you keep bar soap in the shower, try to store it in a place where it won’t be hit by the spray. We keep our metal shampoo bottles on the shelf closest to the spray and our bar soap and bag of soap ends on the shelf farthest from it. This helps the bar soap stay dry, an essential to its long and happy life. 

How (exactly) to switch to bar soap, with zero waste beauty essentials from Bestowed Essentials | Litterless

In particular, I love the calming scent of the cucumber + spearmint soap shown here. Each soap is a blend of natural ingredients for maximum gentleness and healing, oftentimes a mix of powerhouse ingredients that are kitchen staples of the home cook and herbalist, like turmeric + calendula or Florida orange. (Or, ahem, a pumpkin spice bar for all you autumn lovers).

Once you find ­­­­a scent you like, you can even purchase a bulk loaf of soap in lieu of individual bars, cutting down on packaging waste even further. (Each loaf is equivalent to just over eight bars, making it a more economical option, too).

You can find Bestowed Essentials’ full line of bar soaps here. Or, peek at their plastic-free toothpowders, face masks, and more. And, if you’d like, you can save 15% off your order using the code LITTERLESS.

How (exactly) to switch to bar soap, with zero waste beauty essentials from Bestowed Essentials | Litterless

Other questions / bar soap dilemmas I can answer? Any other concerns holding you back from making this zero waste switch? 

(This post is sponsored by Bestowed Essentials, a collection of ethical and eco-friendly personal care products).

Nothing New: Plastic-Free Travel Toothbrush Cover

IMG_0690.jpg

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.