(Almost) Zero waste living

There are changes that we have made to our way of living that are more ecofriendly.  

A male seal proudly displays his chest showing he is the leader of the pack, San Diego, CA, 2010

A male seal proudly displays his chest showing he is the leader of the pack, San Diego, CA, 2010

I think most of them anyone can do.  As with anything, there is always a trial period and not every change works.  There were some changes we made before I discovered and read (twice) Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson which is a book I recommend reading if you are thinking of taking more drastic measures to become more green.  The book gets bad reviews at times due to the nature of this family’s lifestyle.  However, you know yourself and what works for you, and it’s fun to be adventurous now and then.   What I like most about this lifestyle is the mantra “refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot.”   So give at least one of these a try:


No more paper napkins

I can’t remember the last time we bought paper napkins.  It has to have been at least 5 years.  We’ve been using cloth napkins.  We started with white napkins, but as with anything white, the stains become harder and harder to get out.  So, yes, we’ve thrown some of them away.  We’ve received some cloth napkins as gifts, and we’ve also inherited some cloth napkins.  I’d say we are good for at least another decade.

Not to say we never use paper napkins, because it is hard to say no at other people’s houses when they don’t have cloth napkins.  I’m not at the point where I’m carrying around an extra cloth napkin.  Also, when you order out, the restaurants usually big you a big pile of paper napkins.  These I put in my car to use when I spill something, as I am very adept at doing.

I get weird comments at work when I hold my apple in my cloth napkin and eat it.  If I didn’t have a cloth napkin to hold it with, I’d still used something else because apple juice is sticky, and I don’t like it dripping down my hand especially when I’m also trying to type on a computer.  You’re welcome for not sticking up the keyboard keys with apple juice!

Use less paper towels and more cloth rags

Along the same lines as the paper napkins, we don’t buy as many paper towels as we used to.  I used to use paper towels to clean up spills in the kitchen.  Now, we mainly use cloth rags (usually old undershirts that have been cut up) to clean up larger spills if the dishcloth won’t do.

We use the cloth rags to do all of our housecleaning, and they get washed in a separate load with bleach.  Due to the occasional dog and cat accidents, the cloth rags have saved us a bunch of money not having to buy paper towels every few weeks.

I’ve seen on Etsy some reusable cloth towels that people make that have snaps and that you can roll up around your paper towel holder, but I haven’t been adventurous enough to try them out yet.  Has anyone tried them?


This seems more daunting than it is.  I guess it depends on how you want to go about it.  At first, we tried just an open pile in the backyard, and it created some really great soil at the bottom, but because it wasn’t contained, it was hard to dig out and use it elsewhere.  Then I tried a container system, but this was even more unwieldy because it didn’t get hot enough to breakdown the pieces and decompose.  I did get a little bit out of it, but it took way to long to decompose.  I didn’t want to spend money on a compost turner, and I still don’t.  Now I’ve picked a piece of our backyard that needs better soil and we’ve just started throwing compostable material in that spot much like our first attempt, but this time we don’t have to move it.  It’ll just break down where we need it to.

Did you know that dumping your used coffee grinds on hosta plants will keep the slugs away?  You can also cut up the cardboard roll from your toilet paper and paper towels and put this in your compost pile.  It counts as brown material.  Seattle is going to start fining those people who are throwing away compostable food.

Those who live in apartments and don’t have yards may consider throwing compostable food and material into pots to breakdown and create soil that you can then use to plant in those pots.  Think how rich in nutrients that soil will be!  A false rumor regarding composting is that it smells.  However this is not true.  As long as you don’t try to compost any oils or animal fats, your compost will not smell.

There is tons of information on the internet to get you started composting.  You might even try to contact your city or garden to see if they offer classes.  James and I took a free class at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens.  Before you start, at least learn the different between green and brown material.

Change your laundry routine

I’ve realized that our clothes get the same amount of clean whether I run them through the normal cycle (54 minutes) or the quick cycle (28 minutes).  We don’t have very dirty clothes on a regular basis, so this works well for us.  I still run the sheets and the towels through the normal cycle.  This way, I save on water and electricity, and I’ve cut my laundry time down about an hour a week.

I’ve also made my own powdered laundry detergent using a combination of washing detergent, Borax and shredded Fels-Naptha.  You can find plenty of recipes online.  I’m still using store bought fabric softener, but plan to try making my own once I’m done with the current container.  I’ve also stopped using the fabric softener with the sheets and towels, therefore extending the use of my current container.

I always hang dry my delicate clothes (bras, workout wear, sweaters), but now during the warmer months I hang dry more clothes and open the window to the laundry room.  Therefore I cut down on a load that would normally go in the dryer = more electricity saved.  I’ve also noticed that if I hang dry my cotton work shirts, they don’t pill up as fast which means I don’t have to spend money to replace them as often.

A few websites I’ve visited state that you can stuff your used cardboard toilet paper and paper towel rolls with your dryer lint and use them for camp fire starters.

Buy bulk with your own containers

This was slightly nerve wrecking for me at first because though I shop at Earth Fare which sells bulk items like flour, sugar, rice and nuts, I’ve never seen anyone use their own containers.  I took the jump a few months ago and realized that no one looks at me like I’m crazy.  I’m still not perfect because sometimes I forget to bring my container, and I’m not going to not buy something I need/want just because I can’t buy it in bulk.

Bring a clean container to the store and have them tare it for you and write this somewhere on the container so you’ll always have it.  Fill your container and check out as usual!  Not only do you save the earth from extra waste (either the plastic container you would normal fill and then throw in the recycling bin, or the bag the flour comes in that you would normally throw away), but your pantry will look super organized without really trying.  I also found that less of my baking products have those little moths in them.  I think the bulk products are fresher and keeping them in an airtight container keeps out any bugs that might travel from other products in your cabinets.

If this doesn’t work for you, then you can at least double check the containers you are buying your products in and see how much of the container is recyclable.  I buy a certain dog treat that is just as much as other dog treats because the box is recyclable.  I found a mascara that has a recyclable top/wand.

Earth Fare sells milk and lemonade in glass containers which you can return.  You pay $2 deposit fee, but on return you get it back.  The plastic top is recyclable, and the glass bottle is reusable which means that we don’t fill our recycling can as fast.  The downside, is that milk doesn’t last as long in clear containers as it does in darker containers like cardboard.  But after we get our $2 deposit back, the milk in the glass container is $0.30-0.50 cheaper than the cardboard equivalent.

I don’t want you to think I’m against recycling, but it still takes a large amount of energy to recycle plastic and if you don’t recycle correctly, you can ruin a batch which the center then has to get rid of, or you can ruin the machines which then takes time and energy to fix.  I saw on Twitter recently that people are throwing hoses in recycling bins.  Hoses are not recyclable!  If they aren’t caught before they go through the machines, they can be detrimental to the batch and the machines.

Simplify your cleaning supplies

For years we have been using Simple Green all purpose cleaner that we buy in a big jug at Home Depot and dilute it in a reusable spray bottle.  We use it to clean 90% of our house.  It smells great, it’s environmentally friendly and even with regular cleaning one jug lasts us more than a year.  Recently I made a batch of white vinegar diluted with water, because some say they like to use apple cider vinegar or white vinegar to clean because it doesn’t have any chemicals.  I’m all for it, but I could do without the vinegar smell.  I will use up the batch I made as to not waste it, but I think I’ll stick with my Simple Green mixture from now on.

We still use Windex to clean mirrors and windows, but I heard using a white vinegar/water mixture and a microfiber towel will work just as well.  I haven’t been motivated to invest in a microfiber towel, so I can’t vouch for this method.  I’ve also seen homemade “Windex” recipes, but I haven’t tried these either.  Has anyone tried either of these methods?

These are just a few ideas to get you started!

Let me know what you tried and what did and didn’t work for you.  Though we have gigantic garbage and recycling bins, we now put these out on the curb only when they are full which is on average less than once a month for both bins.  It’s been a five year process for us so far, so don’t think it’s going to happen overnight!

I’ll have future posts related to zero waste living, so keep checking back.



(originally posted on bottlesofhamburgers.wordpress.com on 9/24/14)

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