Zero Waste, Period

Zero waste period supplies | Litterless

Zero waste can sometimes feel prescriptive. To be zero waste you have to store food in glass jars, you have to own a reusable coffee thermos, you have to… use a menstrual cup. You can work towards zero waste and do these things, and you also don’t have to.

I’ve used a menstrual cup for years and it has made my life (or at least four days each month) much, much easier. No more running to the store for tampons! No more forgetting tampons! No more taking out the bathroom trash! And so on.

Through my work on Litterless, I have a few menstrual cups: some brand-new and never used that I keep as props for zero waste workshops, a clear cup I purchased years ago that is now very stained but just as functional as ever, and a Dot Cup (pictured above), which I love because it doesn’t show stains and is manufactured here in Wisconsin. (Plus, to quote a certain Marie Kondo, that perfect handmade pouch brings me joy).

I’ve written fairly extensively about menstrual cups before, with thoughts on how to choose one, which soap to use, and other notes; you can read that here, if you’d like.

Much of the zero waste period advice out there boils down to just use a cup. And, well, yes, just use a cup, if you can and want to. I can’t overstate how simple and convenient and comfortable I’ve found it. And yet you may not want to switch or it may not work for you. If just use a cup doesn’t feel like helpful advice, there are so many other options for a lower-waste period. A few of them, below.

Note: some of the links below are affiliate links, if you’d like to support Litterless if you make a purchase.

Period underwear
These are the best, best, best, best. I have a few pairs and really love them. They can be expensive, but unless they’re the only thing you want to use, you probably don’t need a pair for every single day of your period. I rotate my two pairs in and out in a combination with other methods.

-Dear Kate: Dear Kate period underwear has no plastic films or layers, although the fabric is a nylon/lycra composite and it does arrive in a small, reusable zippered plastic pouch for storage on the go. The nude pair pictured above is their Nellie hipster.

-Lunapads: These folks are better known for their reusable pads, but I like their period underwear, which comes in a wide range of styles, including a high-waisted version and boxer briefs (for anyone, but perhaps especially helpful for queer or trans folks).

Zero waste period supplies | Litterless

Reusable pads

These are new to me, and great. They come in a wide range of patterns (or no patterns), absorbencies, shapes, styles. Here’s the ones that have caught my eye:

-GladRags: The plastic-free pads pictured at right above are made from soft and comfortable flannel in a range of colors. They’ll omit extra packaging material upon request and ship products loose in a kraft paper mailer; I was so, so pleased to shake pads out of the mailer with no added packaging whatsoever. Midwest readers can find a local supplier for GladRags at Litterless sponsor Green Life Trading Co.

-Hannahpads: I rarely choose patterns when I could choose solids or neutrals, but Hannahpads are just so cheerful without being garish or twee; their patterns make me smile when I see them in my drawer. You can buy their variety of absorbencies as a single pad or a set. They fold up and snap for easy stowing in a purse, backpack, pocket, or palm.

-SckoonPads: Reusable pads made from colorful patterns with a brown inner lining, so you won’t have to see stains compound month after month. They’re made from organic cotton and dyed with metal-free, low-impact dyes.

-Reusable silicone Stasher bags can take the place of a single-use plastic bag for storing a used pad throughout the day; perhaps choose a Stasher in a different color than the ones you use in your kitchen so you can always tell them apart.

Zero waste period supplies | Litterless

Applicator-free tampons
We’ve all seen tampon applicators wash up on beaches or lakefronts and avoiding them is simple. Though tampons without applicators are packaged in plastic, they come in much less plastic than the version with applicators. When possible, choose organic cotton tampons, which doesn’t contain pesticides or other toxic chemicals.

In lieu of choosing just one option, stocking your cabinet with a range of them can be nicer. Though a menstrual cup is generally my preference, there are days or nights in which period underwear is more comfortable or when not having to think about where I’ll remove the cup is a relief. (In a word, not on airplanes, please).

What other products or brands are your favorites? Other strategies to share?

(Many thanks to Dot Cup, Dear Kate, GladRags, Hannahpads, and Stasher for the samples pictured above.)

Zero Waste, Wash Your Face

Zero-waste, plastic-free, package-free face wash for a more sustainable beauty routine | Litterless

There are probably just about as many ways to wash your face as there are faces: water only, bar soap, pump soap, oil cleansing, masks, and on in infinite combinations of ingredients and products and options.

There isn’t just one zero waste way to wash your face; any of the above can be slowly transitioned to a slightly less wasteful routine by taking note of packaging and disposables. However you wash, notes on choosing wisely, below.

Zero-waste, plastic-free, package-free face wash for a more sustainable beauty routine | Litterless

Note: some of the links below are affiliate links, if you’d like to support Litterless if you make a purchase.

-Water only: Skin hero Adina Grigore notes in her book Skin Cleanse that for many people, washing with water only might be less irritating and just as cleansing as washing with soap. She recommends doing 10 to 20 splashes, moving your hands up and down your face once per splash. The simplicity appeals, though for heavy make-up wearers and others it might not suit. 

-Face soap in a pump bottle: What I’ve used for years, though I’m trying to transition away as I eke out the last few drops of my current bottle. Though most face soaps come in plastic bottles, there are a few companies packaging theirs in glass or metal. Plaine Products offers bulk face wash (and facial moisturizer) online in refillable metal bottles that they’ll take back for reuse, or non-bulk options packaged in glass or metal include face wash made by S.W. Basics, evanhealy, or Goddess Garden. While glass and plastic can of course both be recycled in most municipalities, the pump itself is made from multiple materials and is almost always trash. With glass bottles, I try to save and reuse them myself, or pass them along to a friend to do the same.

-Bar soap: Entering the world of bar face soap is a little nerve-racking, as bar soap can be so drying. I’ve been on the look-out for bars that are specifically formulated for faces. Meow Meow Tweet sent me a bar of their pink rose clay facial soap to try, pictured above, which I’ll do once my current bottle is empty. Other folks making bar soap for faces include Little Seed Farm (local to the Midwest) or Sappo Hill (local to the West Coast).

-Oil cleansing: Though these usually come in packaging as well (the ones at my local co-op are almost all bottled in plastic), at least they’re just one single, simple ingredient, and they feed thirsty skin. I use rosehip or jojoba oil to cleanse a few times a week, and I wipe the remainder away with warm water on a thick washcloth. (My favorites, the pillowy versions shown here, are a gift from Natural Linens made from organic cotton fabric and organic cotton thread, compostable!). You might find a different oil works better for you; again I’ll recommend Adina’s genius Skin Cleanse from the library or elsewhere.

-Buy it in bulk: You might be able to find bulk oil or face wash near you (check here). Bulk options let you try a small sample before you commit, choosing to fill a very small container at first before going back a week later for more. For containers, you can refill a plastic or glass pump bottle left over from a used-up product, a reusable squeeze bottle like a silicone GoToob, or fill a glass jar and screw on a pump top.

-Etc: If you use cotton rounds for make-up removal or anything else, they are such a great reusable to keep on hand as opposed to the plastic-packaged single-use kind. (The cotton rounds pictured were a gift from Natural Linens, or you can also make your own). Mine kept getting stuck in the door of our front-loading washer during the spin cycle, so I recently purchased a small mesh bag from Fillgood to keep them together in the wash. (Anything to make life 0.0005% easier).

Other suggestions for a lower-waste routine?

Zero Waste Weekly Planners for 2019

Zero waste weekly planners for 2019 | Litterless

Freshman year of college was the last time I was without a yearly planner. Lacking a school-issued version like in middle school and high school, for several months I used a system of post-it notes, lists, and a journal to keep track (or fail to keep track) of to-dos and appointments, until a particularly stressful stretch of weeks sent me scurrying to the local stationery store in search of better overall life organization.

Zero waste weekly planners | Litterless

The planner I purchased at first didn’t suit, but a few tries later I found the type of planner I’ve used ever since, a Moleskine. While the paper inside my Moleskine is recyclable, the covers, elastic tie, ribbon bookmark, back folder, and plastic-wrapped packaging are not. The past few times that I’ve purchased each year’s replacement, these details have weighed on me. I thought I could do better, zero-waste-wise, but some habits are hard to think about changing. This year, I finally have.

Zero waste weekly planners and calendars for 2019 | Litterless

When the women behind Wisdom Supply Co offered to send me a copy of the zero waste planner they designed, I jumped at the chance to finally switch to something fully recyclable (or, hey, compostable). Below, notes on that and other options for keeping track this year.

Zero waste weekly planners for 2019 | Litterless

Note that a few of the links below are affiliate links, if you’d like to support Litterless as you shop.

-Wisdom Supply Co: When they couldn’t find a planner that met their specifications, the women behind this zero waste school and office supply store made their own: all-paper, made from recycled content, nothing metal or plastic that can’t be tossed straight in the recycling bin. I love the large size, and the ruled pages for each week that give plenty of space for (most) to-do lists. They also make a beautiful version geared towards students.

-Going paperless, without going paperless: For those looking to avoid paper altogether, a stone-paper planner from Karst is a beauty, and is recyclable or biodegrades within a year; learn more here.

-Wall calendar: If you’re more of a large-format wall-calendar person, this one is made from recycled paper that’s designed to be reusable as list-paper once the month’s through. Or, better yet, go with one single sheet for the year, like this beautiful version by Egg Press. (Perhaps to be reused as wrapping paper come December?)

-Look for vintage calendars: The years 1991 and 1963 have the exact same parameters (dates, days, and lengths) as 2019. If you’d like to go secondhand, an eBay or Etsy search might turn up an old calendar you can make new again.

-Bullet journaling: The beauty of the bullet journal system, which you can learn for free here, is that you can do it with any notebook, be it lined, unlined, or gridded. Choose one that’s both recycled and recyclable; this and this are good options for sustainable notebooks purchased new. Even better, pick up a secondhand notebook up at your local creative reuse store or dig one out from a stack of office supplies languishing deep in your closet.

Of course, too, there are completely paperless solutions. I have friends who are reliant on Google Calendar or apps like Todoist. I doubt that I’ll ever fully go digital (why even do something if you don’t get to cross it off a list?), but if you have favorite online resources to share, please do.

Other calendars you’ve turned to this year? Questions to ask?

A Year of Zero (Ish) Waste

Happy 2019! To ring in the New Year, a look back at a few of my favorite posts from last year, one from each month of the year:

De-mystifying and de-fancying cloth napkins in January.

How to switch to cloth napkins for a zero waste home | Litterless

In February, same thing for cleaning without paper towels.

Cleaning without paper towels in a zero waste home | Litterless

In March, assembling a simple zero waste grocery kit.

How to build a zero waste grocery kit | Litterless
Zero waste, bulk food shopping at grocery stores in London | Litterless

Figuring out where to donate rubber bands in May.

Where to donate rubber bands for a zero waste home | Litterless

Berry buying (and moving!) in June.

How to buy berries without plastic | Litterless

July, plastic-free food storage without buying anything new. (Featuring the last of June’s asparagus).

Plastic-free food storage in a zero waste kitchen, without buying anything new | Litterless

Zero waste school supply explorations in August.

Zero waste school supplies | Litterless

In September, a paean to swapping.

Resources for zero waste swaps | Litterless
Zero waste razors and shaving when traveling by airplane | Litterless

And in November, the same for thrift stores.

A zero waste thrift store tip for secondhand shopping | Litterless
On zero waste and simplicity | Litterless

Many thanks to you for reading last year and this. Here’s to a 2019 full of small changes that add up to big changes. Any waste-y resolutions you’re working toward this year?

(Final photograph by Anna Zajac for Litterless).

Nothing New: Saving and Repurposing Jars

Saving (and repurposing) glass jars for a zero waste kitchen | Litterless

Our kitchen cabinets are full of glass jars holding grains and beans and nuts and seeds and herbs and spices. It’s more a practical choice than an aesthetic one: glass doesn’t leach the harmful chemicals that plastic does, it’s easy to see what’s inside the jars, and they’re an airtight place to store decanted bulk goods. A devotion to jars is a cliché within the zero waste movement, but, of course, clichés exist for a reason. And in this case that reason is a photogenic pantry an inexpensive and convenient way to store food.

Many of our jars are from secondhand shops or swaps with friends, Ball jars and Mason jars and a few favorite Le Parfait and Fido jars, too. Just as many, though, are saved from food we bought. When I can’t find what I need in bulk, I try to buy it in a glass jar rather than a plastic container. Many of those glass jars I scrub and save and put back to use. We keep them around for sending friends home with extra food and leftovers, for storing small bits and pieces to donate (like so), for serving as makeshift votives or for re-melting spent candles into new ones. For water bottles, for extra glasses at a party. For anything.

I’ve written before about which jars are my favorites to save, with readers chiming in and offering their ideas, too. Here, other resources for putting saved jars to good use: 

-Remove those labels.
-On saving those plastic Ball jar lids (from mayo jars, from other foods) to use again, in the comments on this post.
-“Use what’s useful, but don’t let yourself drown in potential usefulness.”
-Bon Appétit’s editors share their favorite jars to save.
-How to freeze things in reused jars.
-If the lids still smell like pickles (etc), soak them in plain white vinegar for a few hours.

I’m also on today’s Live Planted podcast, chatting with Alyssa about this Nothing New series and why I love writing it. You can listen to the episode here, if you’d like.

Pictured up top, my very favorite jar, one that I took from my parents’ basement when I moved into my own apartment for the first time after college. It’s held oatmeal ever since, and I’ll never scrub off the cheerful label if I can help it. 

Other jar tips for the rest of us? Favorite jars to save, part two?

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

On Zero Waste and Simplicity

On zero waste and simplicity | Litterless

These days, I think a lot about how to slow down the pace of my weeks. They’ve been very full, full to bursting, so much so that I haven’t been able to show up here on Litterless as much as usual. I’m working on it, and trying to get back into the swing of things here while also remaining in the swing of things elsewhere.

I had the pleasure of being interviewed for Erin’s Simple Matters series over on Reading My Tea Leaves today. (You can read the piece here). Since then, I’ve been thinking about the ways in which zero waste has made my life simpler, and the ways in which that sentence might seem almost oxymoronic. Zero waste, especially to people who might be newer to it, may seem daunting and complicated and, most of all, very time-consuming. I wanted to share both why that is true and also, why it isn’t. 

Zero waste certainly requires a large investment of time at the start. A beginner’s checklist might look like: figuring out how to compost, learning more about local recycling ordinances, finding where to shop for bulk foods nearby, researching reusable alternatives to single-use items, and purchasing those alternatives (or scouring secondhand stores for them).

While I’m a proponent of a strategy that changes habits slowly and one at a time (more on that here), that’s a list to daunt even the most enthusiastic. But once you’ve made those changes, they by and large stay made. The upfront work fades, and I think what is left is less time-consuming than what came before.

On zero waste and simplicity | Litterless

Since much of practicing zero waste is about replacing disposables with reusables, your home becomes stocked with things to wash and reuse again. Once you’ve got your handkerchiefs, your kitchen rags, your water bottle, your reusable food storage containers, your cloth napkins, whatever you decide will be part of your toolkit, then, pretty much, you’re set. For me, it feels much easier to throw something into the washing machine than to write it on the grocery list. I’ll happily stand over the sink washing a piece of Bee’s Wrap, but I won’t happily run to the store to replace a box of plastic wrap. I feel less frenetic never having to think about buying paper towels, tissue boxes, water bottles, tinfoil, plastic wrap, parchment paper, paper napkins, cotton balls, razors, tampons, and a host of other disposables that now have nearly eternally-reusable replacements at our house.

Replacing disposables is only one part of zero waste, of course. Alongside may come cooking a few more things from scratch. We don’t make our own tahini, for example, but we do make our own hummus (usually). We don’t buy cans of beans anymore (usually), but cooking dried beans takes no more than five minutes when you have a slow cooker (ours is from a secondhand store) and the headspace to think about dinner a day ahead. Sometimes you just have to throw in the towel and get take-out, in which case, we might go to Chipotle for the compostable bowl, or get food to go at a local spot in a container brought from home.

My point is that routines become, well, routine. I don’t much miss the convenience of pre-zero-waste because I don’t much remember it; these are just our routines now, same as any other.

The equating of zero waste and simplicity isn’t true for every household, most likely. For you, dishes and laundry may be your particular bugbears, in which case having to wash more things rather than just go to the store for new ones may fill you with anxiety. I don’t mean to sugarcoat the matter and imply that zero waste is your ticket to a blank calendar and a calm frame of mind; I just think aiming to make less trash has the potential to simplify routines and strip away a few of the tasks on our to-do lists.

There are aspects of zero waste that remain complicated and time-consuming to me, and they likely always will. Making sure hard-to-recycle items do get recycled takes effort and research. I spend time looking up where to bring lightbulbs and electronics and gift cards and fabric scraps for recycling, and then making sure these things get where they need to go. (I’ve compiled some of that information, here).Right now in our apartment we drop off our compost at a local site, but eventually we’ll probably move somewhere that dictates setting up a backyard compost bin. We’ll also at some point have to replace our handkerchiefs, cloth napkins, beeswax wrap, and other reusables as they wear out. But replacing them less often than their disposable counterparts continues to feel like a plus.

I would never say that my life is simple, but I do think my zero waste practices have become so. Each day, my routines are rarely more complicated than remembering a metal fork when I go out to eat, grabbing a few produce bags on the way out the door to the grocery, and putting food scraps in the compost bin while making dinner instead of in the trash can. We’d have to take out the trash, anyway; now we just take out the compost, too.

How about you—simple, complicated, easy, stressful, somewhere in the middle? 

More essays and thoughts like these, here.

(Photographs by Anna Zajac for Litterless).

Choosing More Ethical Tech with Nimble

Choosing ethically made, sustainable tech with Nimble | Litterless

Buying electronics might be one of my least favorite chores. (Yes, including cleaning the bathroom). When something breaks or desperately needs an upgrade, I generally put off replacing it for as long as possible, unwilling to do the research to find out what I should purchase next. (Retina display? Battery life? Who cares?).

Now that I screen all of my purchases for sustainability factors too, well, the process has gotten even more complicated. I try to choose secondhand tech whenever possible, but sometimes you just need a certain thing, or you need a certain thing right now.

So I’m heartened by a shift that I’m seeing in the sustainability space towards companies offering more ethical, eco-friendly technology options. Our electronics are likely always going to have an outsize environmental impact, but folks are investing in decreasing that impact, and making the choice easier for picky shoppers like me.

One of the companies making an effort to provide better tech options is Nimble. I’ve been using their five-day portable charger, which I’ve found helpful for trips, airport charging emergencies, and even workdays at coffee shops when an outlet is hard to reach. (Especially workdays at coffee shops when an outlet is hard to reach). They also make portable chargers with smaller or larger capacities and wireless chargers, in addition to standard wall-mounted plugs and cables, in case you need a replacement or extra cable to keep on hand.

Choosing ethically made, sustainable tech with Nimble | Litterless

Nimble sources their production materials as sustainably as they’re able; my portable charger is made using recyclable aluminum, plant-based bioplastics, and other materials with a lower environmental impact than traditional materials. Better yet, I’m making every effort to take very good care of it so that it lasts as long as it possibly can, by tucking it into a small fabric pouch instead of throwing it loose into my tote bag. 

Their products come in plastic-free packaging (down to the paper tape!), wrapped in paper and cardboard made from 100% recycled materials. Instead of using inks and dyes, which can be toxic and energy-intensive, they simply emboss their logo into the cardboard packaging surrounding their products.

 Better yet, each item comes with a small pouch that you can send back to Nimble with a piece of old electronics that you’d like to recycle. (Just print a free label on Nimble’s website). For every Nimble product you buy, you’ll be able to send up to a pound of old e-waste back to them for responsible recycling and disposal.

Choosing more ethical tech with Nimble | Litterless

 You can look through Nimble’s products here, and follow them on Instagram at @nimbleforgood. They’re currently offering 30% off site-wide through the end of the week (no code needed).

(This post is sponsored by Nimble. Thanks so much for reading and supporting my work on Litterless.)