Favorite Tools for Plastic-Free Food Storage

Zero waste, plastic-free food storage options | How to store food without plastic | Litterless

After a week away from home, settling back into our routine feels good. Last evening, as we unloaded food from a lunchtime run to the co-op and set about chopping vegetables for dinner, I snapped a few photographs to illustrate a few of our favorite tools for storing food with less waste.  

I’ve made use of glass jars for storing food since college, but over the past several years I’ve tinkered with other useful alternatives to plastic and disposable food storage methods, as well. Reusables are better for the planet, of course, but I also appreciate the added ease of never having to add plastic bags, tin foil, plastic wrap, or parchment paper to the grocery list. Instead, glass and metal storage tins, silicone Stasher bags, and Bee’s Wrap take the place of disposable plastics, and last for years.

We’ve been turning to EarthHero recently when we need to stock up on reusables; their stringent criteria for selecting and shipping products means that you won’t be surprised with greenwashed items or unwanted plastic packing materials. They’ve also developed a library of sustainability logos that make it easy to tell whether a product fits with your values, and to identify recycled, upcycled, organic, and low-impact products at a glance.

Zero waste, plastic-free food storage options | How to store food without plastic | Litterless

As long-time lovers of Stasher reusable bags – for sandwiches, for snacks – we were thrilled by their recent addition of a half-gallon size, for storing vegetables in the fridge or putting up larger quantities of freezer goods. Stashers last for years and years when washed gently with dish soap and a dish brush. They’re sturdy and durable, easy to throw into a tote bag or the fridge alike.

Zero waste, plastic-free food storage options | How to store food without plastic | Litterless

For dinner last night, we made a delicata squash and kale panzanella salad, with one of the first squashes of the season. We use Bee’s Wrap every day – to top a bowl of leftovers or vegetables cut in advance, around a loaf of bread to keep it fresh, to open the lid of a jar like so, to cover a pot of soaking beans.

Zero waste, plastic-free food storage options | How to store food without plastic | Litterless

Bee’s Wrap takes the place of plastic wrap, and a sheet can be washed gently with a little dish soap and used over and over (and over) again. They get softer over time, but each sheet lasts for six months to a year. We’ve long had a few pieces of their small and medium wraps, but recently added a larger wrap and a baguette wrap to our arsenal. (The Bee’s Wrap variety pack is an economical way to avail yourself of most of their sizes).

Zero waste, plastic-free food storage options | How to store food without plastic | Litterless

After dinner, we clean everything up for the next day. I work from home most days, so I store leftovers for my lunches in whatever container I have handy. Julian uses a large, divided stainless steel UKonserve to hold his lunch and a smaller, shallow divided version to hold granola and fruit for breakfast. (We use this granola recipe, made and eaten almost weekly). UKonserve containers are made from durable stainless steel, with a top that can be recycled at the end of its life (though we’ve had some of ours for a few years now, and they’re still going strong)

Zero waste, plastic-free food storage options | How to store food without plastic | Litterless

Most days Julian bikes to work, so having a trusty, leak-proof, unbreakable container is key. Though we mainly use glass containers in the fridge – being able to see what we have makes it that much more likely that our food will actually get eaten – stainless steel containers are our choice for on the go, lunches or otherwise. In the fall, in addition to our usual UKonserve containers, that also means soup in a stainless steel thermos.

For more simple swaps in your kitchen, EarthHero has corralled their favorite zero waste food storage solutions here. And, if you’d like, you can take 15% off your purchase at EarthHero with the code litterless2019 through December 31, 2019 .

What are your favorite food storage systems these days? Questions I can answer?

Tips for wasting less food, here.

(This post is sponsored by EarthHero, a one-stop shop for all things sustainable).

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).

A Plastic-Free Stain Stick, for Travel and Everyday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing New: Resources for Swapping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decanting Bulk Foods

How to decant bulk foods into glass jars, for a zero waste kitchen | Litterless

This is a story about how I own three funnels and need them all.

Let’s back up.

Circa 2015, I was working towards zero waste (still am) and trying not to buy anything I didn’t need. That included funnels.

How to decant bulk foods into glass jars, for a zero waste kitchen | Litterless

Also at the time, the closest store where I bought bulk foods didn't allow me to bring glass jars to fill up; instead, I washed and reused the plastic containers they provided. Every grocery run ended with decanting a cloth produce bag or a plastic container of dry goods into their eventual home in a glass jar. Without a funnel, beans bounced, quinoa jumped, herb leaves fluttered. Inevitably, some things would make their way from plastic container to countertop to floor. In an effort not to buy a funnel, I was wasting food.

How to decant bulk foods into glass jars, for a zero waste kitchen | Litterless

So I bought some. First a narrow-mouth funnel for decanting liquids and (I thought) dry goods. When even fine flours got stuck in its neck, I added a wide-mouth funnel for pouring beans and grains and really anything larger than a liquid. When the mouth of my narrow-neck funnel didn't fit into a few of my smaller jars, like the one I've saved for storing bulk vanilla extract, I kept an eye out for an even smaller version and finally snagged one at Muji in London in April. A set of three is just right for anything I may need to pour, decant, or re-home.

How to decant bulk foods into glass jars, for a zero waste kitchen | Litterless

Much as I hate to suggest that we might need new things when going zero waste (more on that here), I found I really needed these. Wasting food, even a few beans at a time, is something I'm trying to halt entirely, and these help. This recent article on food waste in The Washington Post outlines some of the reasons why zero food waste is such an important thing to work toward.

You may not need funnels: maybe you can fill your jars directly with bulk foods at the store, maybe you don't have access to bulk foods at all, or maybe you've mastered the knack of pouring, not spilling. Regardless: this is my current set-up, and it's exactly what I needed. 

Other resources:

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

-Big, medium, and small funnels. (Or a set).
-Learning how to buy just the right amount.
-Any jar will do. (For liquids, too).

(Photos by Anna Zajac for Litterless).

Refillable Dish Soap, in Every City

Zero waste dish soap with Fillaree | Litterless

When you’re your own dishwasher, you get picky about the tools you use. Round wooden bottle brush: the best for cleaning anything, pots or not. Small wooden pot scrubber: too stiff for other uses, it only comes out to clean the cast iron pan. Like choosing compostable wooden brushes over plastic ones, our choice of dish soap is one where we’ve also looked for a more sustainable alternative than those packaged in single-use plastic bottles.

In the absence of options available locally in bulk, for several years now we’ve relied on dish soap from Fillaree, which is shipped to us in a durable plastic bottle that we wash and return for reuse.

Fillaree is based in North Carolina and run by my kind and hard-working friend Alyssa; she and her team hand-make small batches of their bulk, non-toxic cleaning and bath supplies at their Durham storefront. Products are mild and unscented, or scented using only essential oils.

Zero waste dishwashing and dish soap | Litterless

Fillaree stocks local refill stations throughout the country (see if there’s one near you here), and they recently launched a new subscription offering to make it easy to purchase their bulk offerings even if you don’t live nearby one of their refill locations. We can vouch for the Clean Plate Dish Soap, which is the sudsiest we’ve ever tried. (It’s sooo good). I also like that it’s not thick and gloopy, so it easily flows out of a metal pour spout.

Here’s how the subscription works:

-Pick your products. Fillaree offers a hand and body soap, dish soap, and all-purpose cleaning spray. If you want to test one out before committing to a subscription, you can first purchase a glass bottle of any of the products to make sure you like it. Right now, we’re just signed up for the dish soap subscription, as we use bar soap instead of pump soap for our hands and in the shower, and we make our own all-purpose cleaning spray too.

-Pick your time frame. Though you can always change the time between deliveries to suit, select one to start out with. Alyssa recommends starting out with a delivery every three months, but I chose a six-month window since I know that’s closer to how often I need to replace my dish soap.

Zero waste dishwashing and dish soap | Litterless

When we receive our soap in the mail, we decant it into a clean glass bottle with a pour spout, then rinse out the container and let it dry before popping it back in the envelope it came in, slapping on the pre-printed label, and sending it back to Alyssa and the Fillaree crew. They reuse the shipping materials for as long as possible before recycling or composting them at their storefront. The only trash on mine was the backing from the sticker, which they request that you mail back to them along with your empty bottle - they don't currently have a way to recycle the sticker backing, but are collecting and keeping them all in the hopes of being able to find a solution soon! (What a commitment to circular systems!).

When you send the empty container back, you’ll get an $8 coupon code to apply to your next subscription. We’ve found our soap lasts a long time – it’s concentrated and a little bit goes a long way, so a bi-annual delivery is just right for us.

If you’d like to try out a Fillaree subscription for yourself, you can take $8 off your first month with code GOLITTERLESS.

(This post is sponsored by Fillaree, whose mission is to make package-free cleaning products available to all. Thank you so much for reading and supporting Litterless.)

Chicago Apartment Tour

A zero waste apartment in Chicago | Litterless

A few weeks before I moved to Madison, Anna Zajac came over to my house to photograph a love letter of sorts, to my neighborhood in Chicago and my apartment, capturing a slice of what I loved about those years and what I’ll miss. Things like plants sprouting in the late afternoon sun of the big northwest-facing windows, the little blue dish of keys on the bookshelf, the soap dish found on a neighbor’s stoop. Things that have nothing to do with zero waste but that I thought you might want to see, anyway. An ode to a loved home.

A zero waste apartment in Chicago | Litterless

Coats and scarves hanging just inside the door, often much less neatly than this and a home to visiting friends’ coats, too.

A zero waste apartment in Chicago | Litterless

Desk-dinner-table-craft-station-extra-countertop all rolled into one, in the main room.

A zero waste apartment in Chicago | Litterless

Elsewhere in the same room, a couch, a chair, a footstool from my grandmother, a bookcase found out on the curb in college. A cactus from a friend who moved away, an aloe plant that the former tenant had left in my very first apartment, stacks of cookbooks.

A zero waste apartment in Chicago | Litterless

A treehouse feeling in the summer, my very favorite kind of tree (a locust) right outside.

A zero waste apartment in Chicago | Litterless

As with so many small city apartments, a kitchen almost too small to be worth mentioning, not much more than a sink-square of countertop-stove-fridge, what I’ll miss the least.

A zero waste apartment in Chicago | Litterless

Wooden dish brushes, some my own, some given to me by a friend who moved away (and who I hope sees this from her current perch in Morocco).

A zero waste apartment in Chicago | Litterless

The bedroom, a tiny closet, often crammed with things hidden from sight elsewhere, a secondhand headboard, a birthday gift of a blanket.

A zero waste apartment in Chicago | Litterless

We’re far from settled into our new Madison home, but time not spent putting clothing away has been spent on bike rides, making bread and hummus and dinners, tending to summer herbs on the balcony with a glass of iced tea. More on everything, soon.

(Photographs by the talented Anna Zajac for Litterless).