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!

Upcoming Events

Upcoming zero waste events | Litterless

I have a few upcoming events that I want to share with you fellow Midwest folks! If you live in Illinois or Wisconsin, I hope you'll be able to join me at one of the following:

-September 23 in Chicago, IL: Zero Waste Chicago is hosting a DIY Body Products workshop. We'll be learning how to make zero waste lotion and a face / body scrub. For more details, visit the event page here.

-September 23 in Chicago, IL: Zero Waste Chicago is also hosting two free zero waste workshops at The Freehand. Join us for Zero Waste 101 or Composting 101 - we'll teach you the basics, answer questions, and you might leave with some new zero waste gear! Tickets are limited, so make sure you sign up here ASAP.

-September 25 in Madison, WI: I'll be hosting a free Zero Waste 101 workshop in Verona, WI, just outside of Madison. To register for the event or learn more, visit the event page here.

I've also added a page up in the top navigation bar called "Events" where you'll be able to find the most current information about any upcoming events! They will, of course, be mostly in the Midwest, but I occasionally do events when I travel, too, so stay tuned.

Photo from one of my favorite events so far this year - a zero waste discussion in May.

A Beach Clean-Up

Zero Waste Chicago beach clean-up | Litterless

Last week, Zero Waste Chicago hosted a beach clean-up at the pretty spot pictured above, 31st Street Beach here in Chicago. We brought gloves, trash bags, pencils and paper, a hanging scale for measuring our impact, and asked volunteers who showed up to just bring themselves. More than 20 people came, eagerly grabbed gloves and bags and headed out to get started.

In two hours, we gathered about 35 pounds of trash. Most of it was tiny: 700 cigarette butts, 300 food wrappers, 75 or so straws, 200 miscellaneous pieces of plastic, a few hundred plastic and metal bottle caps. It was a fun way to spend time outdoors, chatting with friends as we gathered small bits and pieces from the sand and the grass.

And, it was a good reminder too of why zero waste matters: it's literally easier to reduce one's trash output down to very little than to clean up even one small stretch of beach. I'm sure we didn't even get half of the trash that was there, and in a few weeks it will be right back to how it was. Better to try to avoid food that comes in wrappers when we can, to say no to straws, to be vigilant about avoiding things that are neither recyclable or compostable.

How to host or attend a beach clean-up | Litterless

In case you're interested in hosting or attending a beach clean-up in your area, a few thoughts to get you started, below.

Hosting a beach clean-up:

You can partner with a local organization that collects data on collected trash, or you can go out on your own. We used the materials from the Alliance for the Great Lakes Adopt-a-Beach program. They provided data collection sheets that we filled out and sent back to them, as well as providing some guidelines for how we could successfully host the event.

If you don't live in the Great Lakes region, there might be another organization you can partner with who would love to use any data you collect and will help you figure out how to go about it. Or, you can simply set a date and location and gather friends for an informal clean-up. Certainly you'll be able to collect much more trash if you don't have to stop to record every cigarette butt you pick up.

If you're hosting, bring gloves for all or ask folks to bring their own. We used washable cloth gardening gloves to prevent making more trash from disposable latex or plastic gloves. We also brought garbage bags and sent each small group of two to four people off with two bags: one for trash and one for recycling. We also kept a bag set aside for compostable materials, too, like wooden barbecue skewers. Take it from us: bring more garbage bags than you think you'll need, as we had to ask a nearby food stand to kindly lend us some.

Attending a beach clean-up:

To find an event near you, do an Internet search, or ask a local environmental organization if there are any groups who offer them in your area. If you're near the Great Lakes area in the United States or Canada, the Alliance for the Great Lakes keeps a map of local events. A few other beach clean-up hosting regulars worldwide: United by Blue on the East Coast of the United States, or the Clean Coast Collective in Australia. If you know of a local organization you'd like to share with others, please comment below!

There of course, too, is immense value in picking up trash without a formal event, without data collection, on places other than beaches. It needn't be formal. You can do so on a walk with friends, your dog, while sitting at the beach slightly bored with your kids. My dad fills a small bag with trash each time he takes the dog for a walk at a nearby creek. All I recommend if you're going solo is using a pair of gardening gloves to keep your hands clean and taking care to avoid sharp objects.

Thank you to all who came to our event and showed so much enthusiasm for it. We're looking forward to hosting more of these next year!

Top and bottom left photographs taken by my friend Marguerite - you can see more photographs from the event in her blog post about it, here.

A Zero Waste Picnic


This past Sunday, the environmental organization I work on with friends hosted a picnic potluck in Chicago, open to any and all who wanted to join. We gathered in a shady spot at a community garden, lush with overgrown squash plants and big plots of greens, to celebrate summer and just enjoy a meal with each other. And, of course, we thought through how to make it as low-waste as possible, always a bit of a fun challenge.

Picnics shouldn't be fussy, and neither should staying zero waste at them be. A picnic in a park with just yourself and your sweetheart/BFF/dog for company is, of course, easy enough to keep zero waste. Pop your meal in a reusable container, bring a water bottle and a fork, tuck some stone fruit in your bag for dessert, and you're done. A picnic with a larger crew and a potluck set-up requires a bit more planning, but we were so happy with how ours turned out.

In the invitation, we asked everyone to bring a dish to share, as well as a plate, fork, and water bottle for themselves. I made a simple summery vegetable pasta, as well as a few pitchers of tea that were conspicuously not as iced as would have been ideal. Other folks brought lemonade, quinoa salad, veggie dips, coleslaw, crumbles and scones, plums and berries, a killer beet tart, and a beautiful salad (pictured above!) that was entirely homegrown. It was a good spread, and the shared work of the potluck-style picnic meant that the whole affair felt easy enough on a hot day.

I loved seeing the creative ways that friends packaged up their food. Moira brought a bowl of potato salad covered with a simple sheet of Abeego beeswax food wrap. Amanda wrapped a big bowl of salad in the red scarf pictured below, furoshiki style (more on that, here). Other friends cut up a tart to fit in a metal tiffin, piled plums in a reusable produce bag, or simply brought food in a plastic container, which is lightweight enough not to be a pain to carry. And what would a zero waste picnic be without something in a mason jar, like the lemonade below?

Zero waste picnic with a furoshiki and mason jar

We made sure to have a few extra utensils and plates on hand for those who might have forgotten theirs. Empty jars served as extra drinking glasses that could go home with other owners if need be. We also kept an empty glass container nearby to take home for compost: things like peach pits, tart crusts, and other little scraps piled up slowly over the meal.

And, well, yes, there were some hiccups. It was a hot day, and we had too little extra water on hand. It turns out that lukewarm iced tea and lemonade do not, in a pinch, quite do the trick. There were a few too many heavy bags of supplies to tote to the site. We zero wasters sure do love our glass dishes, don't we? If this were to be a frequent occurrence, I might buy some lightweight reusable dishes (like these?) to keep around - lugging even a short stack of porcelain plates on public transportation is not an experience I am dying to have. Also, the party ended with us using a watering can to pour water on a few of the plates to get them clean enough to pack up and take home. I didn't mind - it was hot out and the water felt good! - but next time I could bring a dark-colored (read: stain-proof) towel to wrap them in, or better yet bring lidded containers like this for food instead.

Have you hosted any zero waste (ish) summer gatherings recently? Tips gleaned from them? Please spill, below. Happy end of July to you!

July Zero Waste Chicago Meet-Up

Zero Waste Chicago Meet-up July 2017

Excited to share the details of our July Zero Waste Chicago meet-up, for any local readers and friends! We'll be getting together over a picnic potluck at Monarch Community Garden in Humboldt Park to chat, eat, and enjoy summer in the garden.

Monarch is located on California Ave between Adams and Cortez, directly across from Adams & Sons Garden Center. Street parking is available, or the garden is also easily accessible via the California or Division buses. Please bring a snack or dish to share, as well as a plate, utensil, and drinking glass or water bottle for yourself. We'll make sure that vegan and gluten-free options are available. And, if you're planning on coming, I'd recommend signing up for the Zero Waste Chicago email list (click here and then "subscribe" down in the bottom right-hand corner), so we can make sure to let you know if the event gets rained out last minute!

And, don't forget about our June meet-up tomorrow, June 10th. We're joining forces with Urban Rivers to plant a garden that will later be installed in the Chicago River, to provide a habitat for wildlife and help keep the river clean and trash-free. Full event details here - hope you can make it!

July Zero Waste Chicago Meet-Up

June 2017 Zero Waste Chicago Meet-up

Chicago friends and readers, I'm excited to share details of our next Zero Waste Chicago meet-up. At our June event, we'll be helping Urban Rivers plant a garden that will later be installed in the Chicago River, to provide a habitat for wildlife and help keep the river clean and trash-free. All of the work will be happening on dry land, though - no kayaking needed!

Please plan to wear closed-toe shoes and clothes that you don't mind getting dirty. If you're planning to attend, just shoot us a quick note to RSVP at

As always, everyone is welcome - feel free to bring friends and family who might like to spend some time getting their hands dirty for a good cause. You can find more details on the event here. Hope to see you soon!

May Zero Waste Chicago Meet-up

Chicago zero waste meet-up, May 16th, 2017

Chicago friends! We hope you can join us in a few weeks for our next zero waste hang-out, where we're hosting an On the Table discussion with The Chicago Community Trust. We'll be talking about how we can build a stronger, more inclusive zero waste community in this city. Our discussion will be held at the wonderful Local Foods grocery store and restaurant space. We hope to see you there, and feel free to bring friends (non-zero wasters are so, so welcome, too!).