How to Compost in an Apartment

How to compost using a drop-off location | Composting for free in an apartment | Litterless

Composting has been shedding its stereotypes. It’s not just for farmers, for suburbanites with a backyard, for gardeners, for the time-rich, for environmentalists, for other people. Over the last four years, there’s been a huge shift in the resources available, and I’ve loved (LOVED) watching it become more accessible, affordable, and much, much easier to finagle in a small space.

I’ve lived in an apartment since college, and I’ve composted ever since the second month of living on my own. I’ve used pick-up services, drop-off locations, lobbed squash stems in my parents’ backyard bin, and checked out friends’ vermicomposting and bokashi composting set-ups. It all works.

If you, too, live in an apartment and have wondered if composting might fit into your home and routines, here is a run-down on the small-space solutions out there. All of the methods assume you don’t have yard space, and some of them don’t even require scrap of balcony, deck, or basement space.

How to compost using a drop-off location | Composting for free in an apartment | Litterless

-Pick-up services: When I lived in Chicago, I used a compost pick-up service for four years, and LOVED IT. For $15-$25 a month, all I had to do was dump my scraps in a bucket that the service provided and haul said bucket down to the curb once or twice a month. And the haulers took care of the rest!

If you elect to go with a pick-up service, it’s worth doing a little research to make sure you like where your food scraps (and dollars) are headed. Providers should be transparent about the method they use to compost food scraps and where the finished compost ends up. Ideally, you’d want the compost to go to landscaping, farms, gardens, or back to customers, or perhaps fed to animals; some lower-quality compost ends up as landfill topper, which ideally the company you’re considering doesn’t support.

Now more than ever, there are so many pick-up services out there, often several options in any particular city. (You can search your area on the Where to Compost page). If you can afford it, choosing a pick-up service is a wonderful way to support what is most likely a fairly new sustainable business in your area, and it is possibly the very easiest way to make sure your food scraps end up as compost. (If you’re curious, more notes about pick-up services, and the answers to a bunch of FAQs, in this post).

-Drop-off spots: No pick-up services in your area, or no wish to spend twenty bucks a month on one? Try dropping off your compost somewhere near you! This is how we currently compost from our home in Madison: every few days, we empty our countertop compost into a five-gallon bucket we keep sealed on our patio. When that fills up every few weeks, we drive it a couple of miles over to a local food scrap collection site. (This summer we may try to figure out how to haul that bucket in a bicycle panier or trailer).

I keep a list of drop-off spots on my Where to Compost guide, but if there aren’t any listed in your area, it’s worth doing some further research yourself. What you’re looking for is not a little compost bin at your favorite coffee shop, of course, but a specific community space that welcomes your food scrap drop-offs. Check with local farmers’ markets, community gardens, urban farms, community centers, your local area on ShareWaste.com, or even with neighbors and friends. Some drop-off spots will charge a fee for deposits, but it’s usually around $5 or less, and many are free.

One thing I love about using our drop-off service is that by the very act of depositing scraps, we’re driving demand to keep it running. The bins into which we empty our food scraps here in Madison are often empty or nearly empty. It would be easy for the provider to think that nobody uses the service and to stop investing in it; by adding our scraps each month, we help ensure the continued existence and success of the program.

-Vermicomposting: Worms! If worms are fascinating to you, chances are this is the method for you. If worms are not fascinating for you and-that’s-putting-it-mildly, skip ahead. Vermicomposting uses a special breed of worms and a small collection of bins to break down food scraps right inside your house or apartment (my brother keeps his vermicomposting set-up under his kitchen sink). When I visited him in New York last fall, I was surprised to find that his worm bins didn’t smell like anything other than wet newspaper and that they fit out-of-sight in a small cabinet. If you’re curious about “vermiposting,” as it’s often called, learn more here.

-Bokashi composting: This method is new to me, but I got to see it in action last year for the first time at my friend Moji’s apartment. Bokashi composting uses bokashi powder, or “bran,” to break down food scraps more quickly than traditional composting does; for this reason, it’s great for very small spaces. This article explains more about it without trying to sell you anything.

How to compost using a drop-off location | Composting for free in an apartment | Litterless

Other notes:

-You can freeze your food scraps to buy yourself more time to deposit it in the location of your choosing.

-Each method above allows you to compost a slightly different combination of items; in the case of pick-up services and drop-off locations, this will also vary by provider. Make sure to choose one that fits the way you and your family eat. If you have lots of meat scraps, perhaps commercial composting with a pick-up service will be your best bet; if it’s all carrot tops and apple cores around here, seeing if your friend will let you deposit scraps in her backyard bin may be just the thing.

-You can try lots of methods to see how they work. Love your pick-up service but winnowing down your monthly expenses? Try to find a drop-off spot. Worm care not meshing with your travel schedule? Consider bokashi. You don’t have to compost the same way forever, and each method you try is one you get the chance to learn a little more about.

-Our compost bucket pictured here is a gift from EarthHero. We sometimes line our bin with these compostable liners, but more often we leave it liner-less and just wash it after we empty it. (Note: these links are affiliate links, if you’d like to support Litterless as you shop).

Questions about apartment composting? Hurdles you just can’t quite cross? Send ‘em my way, please.

More posts on composting, here.

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.

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.

Nothing New: Zero Waste Utensil Wrap

How to go zero waste without buying anything new: make your own utensil wrap from things you already own | Litterless

In 2014, the first year I really started going zero waste, I bought the following things: three stainless steel metal food storage containers, a bunch of cloth produce bags, a wooden dish brush, and a tiny bamboo travel spork that could fit in the smallest of bags. That year, that was all the gear I had. I eventually added a few other things that I now consider indispensable: a menstrual cup, a reusable coffee mug, Beeswrap.

Largely, even back then I had what I needed. Tote bags, cloth produce bags. Metal containers, glass jars. Cloth napkins, cloth handkerchiefs. When I think back to those first purchases to aid in staying zero waste, what stands out clearly is how little, back then, there was to buy. Diving into the world of zero waste shopping now seems like it might be overwhelming to a newcomer. How do you decide what you really need? How do you choose from the thousands of products now catering to the zero waste market, if you don’t yet know what zero waste will look like for you?

I’m far from being anti-purchase, but I hope to be a resource to help you navigate what you really need versus what other folks say you need. Zero waste doesn’t have to look a certain way, and there’s nothing you absolutely need to own to consider yourself zero waste. (Though without a reusable water bottle, you’re going to be awfully thirsty).

To that end, this week I removed the “Essentials” page where I used to catalog my favorite zero waste products. In its place, I’m working on a new set of resources focusing less on things to buy and more on resourceful ways to get what you need, whether that means buying them from a small business or creatively reimagining what you already own.

How to go zero waste without buying anything new: make your own utensil wrap from things you already own | Litterless

So. Consider the fork, as they say. Travel and on-the-go utensils are one area where there must be a hundred different options for sale. I own several of them, both things I bought to use personally and a few that I keep tucked in my tabling kit as examples when I do workshops and public events. They vary from that first petite spork bought years ago, to a beautiful linen utensil wrap from Ambatalia, to a three-piece kit from Bambu.

Thing is, I found I don’t reach for any of those options very often; for some reason each is not quite right for me. The tiny spork takes up no space in my bag, sure, but when not wrapped in something else it’s bound to pick up every piece of lint and detritus that resides down there in the bottom. The multi-piece utensil wraps are wonderful in theory, but I rarely need a fork, spoon, and knife all at once. None of them come with napkins, which is the thing I really (really, really) need on me at all meals.

How to go zero waste without buying anything new: make your own utensil wrap from things you already own | Litterless

Instead, my preferred method to bring a utensil with me on the go is to wrap it in a cloth napkin and throw the wrap in my bag. Done. Usually it’s a metal fork pulled from my kitchen drawer, but sometimes it’s a pair or two of chopsticks. I like that this method comes with a built-in napkin, that the fork stays clean in my bag, and that it’s easy to tuck in the dishwasher and washing machine afterward.

You may love your utensil kit to high heaven, and that’s great, too. It’s not necessarily more virtuous to refrain from buying something that you’d really use just to say you refrained from buying it. The goal is to buy what we need and not buy what we don’t, and that’s so much easier said than done. In this case, if you’ve wanted to buy a utensil set but haven’t yet, here’s a method to consider trying first. Maybe for you, like me, it will do the trick.

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

(Photos by Anna Zajac for Litterless).

Imperfect Zero Waste Travel

Imperfect zero waste travel | Litterless

I hope it’s clear that when I talk about zero waste I really mean “low waste.” “Zero waste ish.” “I’ve made some big lifestyle changes to reduce my reliance on disposable goods but I still make some trash of course, because I’m human and that’s life in our current system that prizes convenience over everything.” You know. That kinda thing.

For me, nowhere do I feel the challenge of striving for zero waste (read: low waste) more strongly than when I’m traveling. At home, I’ve spent years building routines that feel simple and doable. I know what to bring with me when I go to the grocery store. I know what to bring with me when I’m going out to eat. I know where to compost. I still make bits and pieces of trash: twist ties on bunches of kale, accidental plastic straws, the little detritus of life. I’m comfortable with where I’ve landed, somewhere in the sweet spot between making little trash and also living a very normal life through it all.

When traveling, though, boom, it’s all instantly upended. On my recent trip to London, as on most trips, I packed my bag with zero waste in mind, bringing a few of the items I use at home every day: cloth produce bags, handkerchiefs, a reusable thermos and water bottle, a stainless steel container for holding food. I was optimistic about my ability to mostly follow my normal zero waste routines, but found myself making more trash than I had anticipated.

Imperfect zero waste travel | Litterless

This used to be the type of story I would keep to myself. It must be because I didn’t try hard enough to be zero waste on this trip, I’d think. Next time I’ll try harder.

But, truly, no. I really just think staying zero waste while traveling is itself hard, and all we can do is go into it with the best of intentions and kindness toward ourselves when we inevitably can’t do it as well as we’d like to.

I joked to my mom one day in London that I’m only vegan in the United States, meaning my butter and clotted cream consumption while in England received carte blanche. After all, the point of going somewhere new is to be truly there, to have the experiences that are worth the long journey. Zero waste isn’t necessarily enjoyment-inhibiting, but stressing about doing it perfectly, of course, is. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m only zero waste in the United States, but the sentiment stands: when I’m not home, I can’t make as little waste as I can when I am home.

When traveling, especially abroad, I want to be able to pick up weird and delicious-looking foods at the grocery without worrying hugely about the packaging they’re in. When the bulk section at the grocery store I visit is mostly full of things that need cooking (oatmeal, lentils), I want to give myself permission not to spend time at the stove on my trip, but instead to search out snacks in recyclable packaging and be fine with it.

Imperfect zero waste travel | Litterless

I want other things too, of course: to be able to find somewhere to deposit compostable materials. (Here’s how to find places to compost when you’re traveling). To avoid plastic water bottles and coffee cups by bringing my own. To remember my own travel soap in case the hotel’s soap is packaged in plastic.

Pictured above, what was underneath the sink at our Airbnb in London. A trash can, and nothing else. I made a small pile for recyclables, and another for compostables. I found a public recycling bin on the street for depositing the recycling, but the compost went in the trash as I wasn’t able to figure out a place to bring it.

Two years ago, having to place compostable items in the trash would have made me think things like, “But shouldn’t my trash fit in a jar?” (Answer: no). This year, having to throw them away made me think things like: “Shouldn’t London have a better answer for public composting?” (Answer: yes).

My point is: there are things I can easily do to stay zero waste while traveling. There are things, too, that I can’t easily do. The less guilt I feel over supposed failures, the more energy and motivation I have to keep doing zero waste long-term. And that, friends, is my goal, not reaching perfection on any given trip.

Thoughts on traveling? Is this philosophy horrifying to you? A relief?

PS. I’ve started a tag to corral thoughts like these on doing zero waste imperfectly. Find other posts in the series, here.

Building a Zero Waste Grocery Kit

How to build a zero waste grocery kit | Litterless

The grocery was the first place I started with zero waste. That was several years ago now, but what I do remember is that a set of produce bags was one of the very first purchases I made when I decided I was finally brave enough to start emulating the few folks I'd heard about who were working on paring down their waste. Four years later, and those same produce bags are still in rotation every week. (Albeit quite stained and a little worn, but hey).

The grocery store is not, of course the place that you have to start, but I found that starting with changing up my grocery run was an angle that offered a good measure of instant gratification. And that can-do spirit I felt when I watched my kitchen trash shrink each week motivated me to make changes in other areas, too. Groceries are by volume and number the largest amount of new things I bring into my home each week, so it makes sense that slashing my packaging waste in that arena propelled me on to others.

How to build a zero waste grocery kit | Litterless

A little forethought and some time spent assembling gear means you'll be ready to tackle a lower-waste grocery run, too. Or, even if you already have, sharing some of the stuff I take along might give you a behind-the-scenes thrill. Here's what I tend to bring:

Containers for liquid bulk.

When liquid bulk goods like vinegar, olive oil, or tamari are on the list, I make sure to bring along a few glass jars. I like to use repurposed glass vinegar bottles when possible, since the plastic lids don't rust like metal Ball jar lids do, and the narrow neck means I don't waste any food when pouring. Luckily, as I've mentioned before, glass bottles like these are better hoarded from past uses than bought new, although you can certainly purchase something like a glass swing-top bottle to do the trick for these instead. (They're also worth scouring thrift stores for).

If you're buying something super sticky like honey or molasses, a narrow-neck bottle might not work as well as a wider-mouth jar, where you can get a spoon in and clean that sucker out at it gets empty. Luckily, honey and molasses and the like are less likely to rust a metal lid than corrosive vinegar is, so you're probably in the clear with a standard Ball jar.

How to build a zero waste grocery kit | Litterless

Containers for produce.

Produce bags comprised my very first zero waste purchase, and I'd posit that they're a good one. Wrestling open clingy, squeaky plastic produce bags is not something I miss. I keep a big stack of cloth produce bags around because I use them for everything: produce, sure, and bulk dry goods, but also holding craft projects while traveling, as a makeshift lunch bag, to send extra food home with friends (a la this), and on and on. It's nice to have enough that I can make a grocery trip even some of my bags are in the laundry pile.

The bags shown here are these mesh bags and solid cotton bags, which were a recent gift from EcoBags. It's a treat to have a few bags that aren't stained (yet), and I'm especially glad to have the mesh bags, which mean that I answer fewer questions from the cashier at check-out about what's in each bag, since they can see through the mesh. (Otherwise, our interactions can look something like: "What's in here?" "Lemons." "And here?" "Kale." "What's in here?" "Cremini." "Are these fuji apples?" "Nope, pink ladies.")

Containers for bulk dry goods.

These can be glass jars, plastic containers (like these very un-fancy ones), or even cloth bags like the ones you'd use in the produce section. To make my life easier, I try to grab my bulk dry goods like beans and nuts in glass jars when possible, so that I can put the glass jars directly into my pantry when I get home, rather then spending time decanting purchases into different containers.

Looked at another way, though, carrying a big load of clanking, heavy, breakable jars to the grocery can be anything but convenient. Bringing some cloth produce bags or plastic containers in addition to your glass jars can mean a lighter load. Where possible, I choose to put items with larger pieces (beans, nuts) in produce bags, and items that will be harder to decant, like cocoa powder, spices, and tiny grains directly in the glass jars in which I'll plan to store them.

How to build a zero waste grocery kit | Litterless

Containers for bringing it all home.

A.k.a. tote bags. Reusable tote bags are the only piece of zero waste gear that's been pretty much universally adopted, so you probably already have way too many. And thank goodness for it. Store them in the trunk of your car, piled on a hook in the coat closet so you see them each time you reach for your coat to head out the door, keep an extra folded up in each purse. The string bags pictured here, a gift from EcoBags, are a recent favorite version of mine, as they make me feel farmers' market-y, even in the winter when there's no market to be had.

And, the ability to remember to bring it with you.

The best-stocked kit in the world won't help you if it's in your hall closet as you head to the grocery. Like all habits, this one can take a while to build, but it does eventually stick. Now I'd no more leave the house for a grocery run without my produce bags than I would leave without my wallet. If you have a car, keeping a small box in your trunk with clean containers and produce bags might be the trick you need; if you tend to walk or take public transportation to the grocery, you could hang your tote bags on your door handle to remind you, or put up a temporary sign like this.

How to build a zero waste grocery kit | Litterless

What you choose to stock your kit with, of course, depends on what you can find in bulk near you. (You can use this guide to help you find local options). If you are lucky to have a place to buy liquid bulk items like olive oil and white wine vinegar, you'll want to prioritize a few bottles that seal tightly. If you only have dry bulks goods available, maybe glass jars or plastic containers and a stack of produce bags will be all you need.

Over time you can add to and take away items as you figure out what you use most during a normal month. If you have extra produce bags, they make great holders for knitting supplies, travel toiletries, snacks on the go, really anything. And if you have extra glass jars, well, those are darn useful elsewhere too.

What does your grocery kit look like these days? Favorite things to keep on hand?

Nothing New: Just Replacements

Going zero waste on a budget | Litterless

It's human nature (or maybe just my nature) to latch on to a change and want to make it happen all at once. New Years' resolutions, exercise plans, travel itches: good intentions can turn into mad dashes to the finish line can turn to burning-out. When I talk to folks wondering how to dip their toes into the waters of zero waste, I often talk about choosing just a few small things to change at once. To give ourselves time to let each habit sink in and stick before slowly layering the next one on top of it.

The bad news is, this method lacks the instant gratification of seeing your trash bag shrink from full to empty in a week's time. The good news? It gives you time to consider thoughtfully which changes you think are the most doable, which you'd like to tackle first in your home. And, too, it means that you don't need to rush out to buy a bunch of gear to turn your home zero waste at the snap of a finger. It means you can replace things as you use them up instead of all at once, lightening the strain on both your to-do list and your wallet.

How to go zero waste without buying anything new | Litterless

So, for this installment of Nothing New, the series where we ransack our homes to find the zero waste-friendly gear we might already own, a bit of a cheat: today I'm talking about purchasing new items, but things you'd have to purchase anyway.

Hear me out; I think choosing to replace only the things you run out of, one at a time, is a pretty good strategy for transitioning to a zero waste home. In practice, this is how it goes down for almost all beginning zero wasters. Rare is the person, I imagine, who doesn't have a small stack of plastic toothbrushes in the bathroom, a load of paper towels in the basement, all sorts of things to use up before replacing them with zero waste alternatives. For me, this stage lasted for several years as I worked through everything from razor cartridges to lotion bottles to plastic-wrapped DIY ingredients. (And of course there are still many things around my home left over from pre-zero-waste days that have packaging I wouldn't necessarily choose to buy now).

How to go zero waste without buying anything new | Litterless

Rather than making this the de facto strategy, we might as well make it an intentional one. If the number of changes you'd like to make seems daunting or pricey, consider giving yourself the permission to make no changes and buy nothing new for zero waste except what you need to replace around the home. It's a way to ease yourself gently into your new habits, to take stock of what you have and use that up, to give yourself space to carefully think through your next addition. And, since you'd be purchasing a new version of the item anyway, the cost of the zero waste version might not feel like quite as much of a pinch.

Some things you might replace as they run out:

-Swapping soap in a plastic pump bottle for package-free bar soap.
-Purchasing a stainless steel safety razor once you run out of plastic ones.
-Using up the last of your paper napkins and choosing cloth alternatives.
-In your bathroom, replacing disposable cotton rounds that come in a plastic sleeve with washable cloth cotton rounds.
-Switching out your plastic dish brush for a compostable wooden one.
-Making your own cleaning spray with vinegar once your plastic bottle of all-purpose spray gets emptied.
-And you can find a list of more of my favorite replacements, here.

Slow changes can be agonizing when all you want to do is throw out all your plastics and start afresh. But there's value in it, too. Any replacements you're working on these days?

Previously in Nothing New: A use for glass bottles, and an introduction.