Since adopting the Zero Waste lifestyle, my life and that of my family has completely changed, for the better. We not only feel happier, we lead more meaningful lives, based on experiences instead of stuff.
Today, my goal is to shatter pre-conceptions associated with the Zero Waste lifestyle and share what we have discovered about its incredible health, financial and time saving benefits. 

Zero Waste Grocery Shopping



While I plan on blogging about my local grocery stores and the bulk they carry, here is my general guide on Zero Waste grocery shopping:

- Only shop once a week: If you run all your errands on the same day and with a list (written on single-side printed paper or receipts), it saves on gas and impulse shopping. For maximum fuel efficiency, start with the furthest stop.

- Always have a few shopping baskets in your trunk: I like the straw French market baskets (I have lined them with an old sheet to make them stronger). One is filled with cloth and produce bags. I also have a rigid tote that I keep in a corner of the kitchen to store/carry milk and “wet items” jars to/from the grocery store.

- Use 2 sizes of cloth bags (10 of each should do) to transport grains and small items available in bulk (flour, sugar, beans, cereal, cookies, spices, etc…): You can buy these bags in the bulk section of your store (tucked in a dark corner…). Since I had a specific design idea in mind, I made mine from old sheets, with a fabric tie to eliminate metal ties, with their tare stamped on, and with a washable marker handy to note the item number directly on the fabric. I also use laundry mesh bags for produce (the cashier can read produce item numbers through it).
HOW: If your bags do not have a tare (weight of your empty bag) printed on them, they can be weighed at the customer service counter. In the bulk section, you then fill your bag and write its item number either on a tie (trash!) or directly on your bag (better, zero waste). At home, you'll pour your grains in see-through airtight containers. Don’t forget to put your cloth bags back in your shopping basket and car!

- Bring jars (French Le Parfait are my favorite) for wet items such as meat, fish, cheese, and deli from the counter or honey, peanut butter, pickles, etc from bulk: I like to use 1 liter jars for counter items (for my family of 2 adults and 2 kids, I use about 5 x 1liter jars a week: 2 meat, 1 fish, 1 cheese, 1 deli). Obviously life would be easier if we had succeeded in becoming vegetarians, and even easier if we were vegans (have not tried that yet).
HOW: For bulk items, get your jar weighed for its tare, fill it and write the item number on the available stickers. For counter items, simply ask the counter associate to fill your jar with your chosen, meat/fish/deli/cheese (the price sticker goes onto the jar and can be easily removed later). Some ask if your jar is clean, others ask why you’re doing this. After you've gone to the same store and talked to the same associates for consecutive weeks (same day of the week), they'll stop asking questions (see Difficult trip to WF) and you’ll get through shopping faster. Interesting fact: To this day, the Safeway cheese counter has never questioned my jars.

- Bring a large bread bag to the bakery for your bread order: I made a bag from the same old sheet.
HOW: I order my bread from Whole Foods Bakery as soon as I enter the store, I insist on no bread sleeve, and my baguettes bake while I shop. When I am done shopping, they slide the baguettes into my bag and give me one sleeve (for its barcode) to take to the store cashier with the rest of my groceries (make sure you refuse that sleeve! so they can reuse it and be reminded of the unnecessary packaging, see “what can my grocery store do to reduce packaging”). When I I get home, I binge on warm bread and freeze the rest… 15 baguettes every other week (incl. 2lbs of carbs on my belly)

- Refill liter or gallon size glass bottles with bulk castile soap, shampoo, conditioner, soy, vinegar, maple syrup...: I simply reuse empty 1 liter Whole Foods white vinegar bottles (I have not found white vinegar in bulk yet) for this purpose. I bought the gallon size at Rainbow grocery for olive and cooking oils.
HOW: These bottles also need to be weighed before you fill them with your chosen liquid and stick an item number on them. You won't be bringing these along to the store on a weekly basis. Bulk liquids are harder to find than counter products or grains, but once you find your supply, you’ll figure out your household monthly needs and the capacity of bottles needed. Again, the less you use on an everyday basis, the less you’ll need to refill, the smaller your footprint.

- Buy milk that comes in a glass jar: Depending on where you live you can either get it from a local dairy with delivery service or simply find your nearest Straus vendor. I get mine from Whole foods (your regular grocery store does not want to bother with the hassle of bottle redemption). With a recyclable cap and ring, the bottle can be returned to the store and then to the producer for reuse. I like to leave the cap on, it keeps the rinsing water in and reminds Straus to come up with a non-plastic cap.
HOW: If you buy Straus from your dairy aisle, you'll be charged a $1.50 deposit on your grocery bill. When you've drank all the yummy cream top milk, you rinse the bottle, take it back to your store (or any Straus vendor)'s customer service for a store credit slip.

- Bring your jar or cloth bag to a specialty store for a refill, such as ice-cream, candy, dog food: OK, this one is not easy, and will get you the most turn downs. But business in a jar is still business! And many are open to it
HOW: Choose a small business, Rite Aid will not refill your jar with ice cream (they are bound to too many corporate rules, but, hey, that's for the better: I doubt of its ice cream quality anyways). A small family-owned store will most likely accept. My local gelato joint has done so. For health license reasons, they have to sterilize my jar before filling it, which means that I have to drop it off and pick it up a few hours later. It does not come cheap and one cannot binge on ice cream (PMS) at this price, but the ingredients, seasonal flavors and palate excitement are worth every penny.

- Shop at the farmers market for (1) the egg stand who takes back its empty egg cartons, and (2) the sticker free produce!

- Refill your clean empty wine bottles with your everyday wine at a local winery bottling event: We like the reuse screw top wine bottles for this, no corks wasted. I’ll go into detail later about the 2 wineries I found locally, wine refilling is hard to find.
HOW: Research/contact wineries about refilling your bottles. The one winery that we like most, offers a bottling event 4 times a year. This is how they organize it: You are greeted at a table and fill a form, then move to the cashier counter and pay for the amount of bottles that you brought, then move to bottling: bottle line up, wine filling, corking or screwing, and labeling. We forego the latter, unlabeled wine is a more sustainable wine. It’s also a great way to start people talking about Zero Waste at a dinner party.

- Bring a refillable beer jug to your local brewery: some breweries carry them. We only get beer on occasions, when we’re scheduled to entertain beer drinkers, since it goes flat faster than bottled.
HOW: Look for a local brewery that will provide such service. Call around. If you get turned down, your inquiring will at least get them thinking about it. At my local brewery, I choose my beer from a long menu, the bartender fills the jug from the chosen beer tap and I pay for it, all at the counter.

One item at a time, you can "Zero Waste" your grocery shopping too.

Got milk? ... (in a glass jar only, please)

113 comments:

  1. Hi Bea,
    I followed the link from the NY Times article. I absolutely love your blog and it really inspired me to take my 3Rs efforts to the next level. I never thought as much about trying to "refuse" as I "recycle" and "reuse." I live in Oakland and compost mostly everything so we produce very little waste except for some plastic packaging and disposable diapers (need to switch to cloth diapers).

    Anyway, I am really in awe of your grocery shopping, too. I currently buy a lot in bulk and cringe whenever I use the plastic bags so I often reuse the plastic bags. Can you share your pattern for the white bulk bags that you sewed? I have an old sheet that would be perfect for that and I like the idea of integrating the tie into the design.

    Please keep sharing your wisdom! You are truly an inspiration!

    Thanks!

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  2. Moi aussi, j'ai suivi le lien du NYTimes--vous avez une voisine tres influente!
    I wanted to know about your wine bottle experience: do you have to sterilize the bottles? I would imagine that you don't want to risk the wine spoiling. Do you find that it is better to do this rather than give your old bottles to the winemaker and take their new bottles?
    I really love your idea about the cloth bags. They may make their way into my shopping bag, as soon as I find a sheet to ruin and recycle :)
    I have not bought bread in a very long time as I found a very efficient recipe that works with my busy schedule. Check out Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.. I mix up a double batch, and bake up fresh bread as needed in the size of the loaf I need. Cela satisfait mon Bourguignon.

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  3. Enchantee, Marie-France: All I do, is rinse out the bottles with warm/hot water as soon as we empty them and turn them upside down to dry. Wineries offering bottling services give advice on how to best prepare your bottles for refilling.
    Thanks for sharing your recipe, some readers might be interested. To keep zero waste simple and keep my life sane, I only choose to make the things that I cannot get package-free or in bulk, bread does not apply to that rule. Not that I have not tried making bread... I have also made cheese, soy milk, ice cream... But making such items made Zero Waste such a burden that I chose to simplify and reprioritize my time.

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  4. Anonymous2/19/2010

    Thank you so much for this fascinating post. I have often wondered how to deal with bulk food trash. I love how organized and clear your system is. I also appreciate the indulgence of your bread habit, especially as a reward for the other effort.

    Finally, we don't have much local wine in South Florida except tropical fruit wine. However, after reading your post I called a local brewery and learned that Florida will make reusable beer jugs (or "growlers") legal as of July 1, 2010. Chin chin!

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  5. That calls for a State Wide Beer Bash on July 1st 2010! A la Votre!

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  6. Suzanne2/19/2010

    I love your blog - very inspiring! Can you share a pattern or more information about the cloth bags you made? I don't have a lot of sewing experience but would like to try and make such functional items!

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  7. My husband is a beer lover and started brewing his own recently, so now any beer bottles that come into our house are reused for his next batch. He said the brewing process is much easier than he expected -- apparently the worst part, by far, is sterilizing the bottles for re-use, which he does in our bathtub! :)

    I suspect the carbon footprint of home brew is much smaller, since the water content of the beer comes directly from our tap, rather than being transported all the way from the brewery which is often hundreds of miles away.

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  8. would love to know how you make soy milk! I love rice milk and goat milk (still trying to find a glass bottle source- going to scout the farmers market soon) but the rice milk I dont know if I can live without. Would love to make my own rice milk...

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  9. Chris North4/29/2010

    Thoughtful blog! One of my design students directed me to it. We are in process of completing a 5 week seminar all about the waste packaging creates. Our conundrum as designers is that we love to design beautiful things but with that comes excess, poor choice of materials and of course waste into the landfill! Thank you for posting on Zero Waste grocery shopping. I also have another suggestion for shopping bags. When I have purchased bulk lemons or clementines at Trader Joes I have saved the plastic mesh bag. These bags are awesome for reuse in the produce section of the grocery store. The checker can see the item and they are super durable. This keeps me from using the plastic bags that are so prevalent!

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    Replies
    1. I love your idea of saving the plastic mesh bags from Trader Joe's and reusing them. Thanks for a great idea!

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  10. Anonymous5/03/2010

    I agree with the other comments that this blog is inspiring.

    I will point out that a less-than-zero but very easy way to deal with bulk (without having to shlep glass containers around) is to use every plastic bag you do own to transport bulk goods. I bike to the store, so glass is not so practical. But! If, like me, you are not yet zero-waste, chances are you have a few bags floating around. A gentle rinse, and they last forever (which, of course, is the problem with them in the first place). Also bring them for your produce, etc. I agree that zero-waste is best, but this is an easy, easy step to take towards reduction and you will be amazed at how long bags last (years. seriously.)
    I don't sew, but those bags do look great. Thanks for the ideas!

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  11. Melissa6/25/2010

    What do you keep your flour in? I have taken the plunge and am working on buying more in bulk to reduce waste. Im just having a hard time finding glass sealable containers large enough for a couple of pounds of flour. I have asked around for used glass pickle jars, but havent found anything yet.

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  12. I have 2- 2liter Le Parfait jars for flour. When I empty one, I write it on my grocery list so I never run out...

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  13. I keep my flour in a giant 2.5 gallon screw-top glass jar. It has a wood and metal handle for easy moving and a 4.5" opening that is large enough to scoop out a cup. Plus, it is really pretty on my counter. If you do a lot of baking, this is a good storage solution. If you don't use flour that often, you're better off storing smaller amounts of flour in doubled tight-weave cloth bags in your freezer.

    I found my jar for $20 at an antique store, but you can get them online at http://www.candywarehouse.com/glassbarrel.html

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  14. Wait a second...you refuse your children's artwork because it's been laminated by teachers, but still insist on buying mascara?

    What message does that send?

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  15. :) believe me, we get plenty unlaminated artwork to choose from and store in the kids "school memories folder".
    The difference is: I choose to buy my (recyclable) mascara, but the artwork is given to us laminated, whether the piece it is worth keeping or not (no choice given here). To make a completely recyclable piece of paper into one that cannot be recycled (and might end up in the gut of an albatros) should be the decision of the parents, not that of the teacher (in my mind, school money could be spent more wisely).

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  16. Anonymous7/09/2010

    Bea, I think I already can guess your answer, but do you ever use coupons when you grocery shop?

    Thanks!

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  17. I do not use coupons for the following reasons:
    -we do not receive newspapers or ads anymore
    -even if we did, the coupons in them would not apply to bulk. They usually apply to processed and prepared foods (we cook from scratch).
    That said, we recently received a coupon of $20 in the mail to celebrate the opening of our new Whole Foods and used it.

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  18. Anonymous10/15/2010

    Whole Foods is 46 miles away in Raleigh! Jesus should have one built closer but until then I'll check out the local farmer's markets.

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  19. You can make your own ice cream! I do with my Kitchen Aid Mixer Ice Cream attachment (some parts made of plastic - ARGH - and I haven't really checked to see what exactly is inside the metal tub that you freeze in your freezer-- BUT great fresh ice cream!

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  20. Anonymous1/03/2011

    Winter Greetings!
    This way of life sounds magnificent! I've just lived so long in the wrong, wasteful life that I don't really know where to start! What would you say is the perfect first step for a trash user like me?

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  21. I've just discovered your blog and I'm loving it, thank you for sharing your knowledge and experiences. I do have a question (hundreds, I'm sure, but right now only one), but what sort of fabric markers are you using on the bulk bags what they are creating no waste? I'd love to hear! Thank you!

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  22. Anonymous: Everyone is at a different stage on the road to sustainability, and I too have a ways to go.... but in my mind, the perfect first step is to reduce plastic consumption by bringing shopping totes and reusable produce bags to the grocery store.
    It's an easy step to take and with little practice, easy to implement in your shopping routine.

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  23. Anonymous1/07/2011

    Absolutely fabulous ideas. Thank you so much. I do have a few questions about the containers: What markers did you use on the cloth bags? From where did you purchase the oil cloth and how do you intend to line it so that it is safe to transport meat?

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  24. Anonymous1/08/2011

    Great blog i was wondering since i saw in the sunset mag. art. you wrote that you buy toilet paper with out the plastic lining do you buy that at whole foods as well and does it come with that little cardboard roll inside? and i hope this isnt to personal but panty liners..i use a 'diva cup' to i wont have to wast maxi pads or tampons but still havent found a 'zero wast'for panty liners. how about bathroom shavers. we go through them pretty fast is their a smarter way you use to shave? Thank you bea for all you help :)

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  25. Anynymous: please refer, to Zero Waste Bathroom for your questions on panty liners, shaving and TP roll. Thanks!

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  26. About the markers: I was using Crayola washable markers (I liked reusing those available at my local thrift shop), but have switched to woodless Aquatone watercolor pencils instead (available by the unit at my local Art store).
    I did not end up making the large oil cloth bags. Finding oil cloth was rather easy, but finding out its composition and making it work was not. I simply rely on large jars for larger cuts of meat.

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  27. Bea - I love this post. It's a very nice and thorough method that you've put together for weekly shopping. Since you've put the tare weight on the bags, I was wondering if you had ever considered putting the tare weight on the glass jars. For example, a lot of people use chalkboard paint these days. You could paint a 2 by 3 inch strip on the side of the jar. Then when you shop you could use chalk to write the item # and the tare weight on the jar. Do you know of any environmental drawbacks to the chalkboard paint or chalk? Thank you. Kelly

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  28. I love your ideas, however living in a town of 800 it seems daunting. Our closest shopping is Safeway an hour a way with very limited bulk foods if any. Farmers markets we have in the summer about 25 minutes away and a very short growing season for growing our own veggies/fruits. I have never been to a whole foods but I would imagine the closest would be 6 hours away. We live in NE rural oregon. Any suggestions for rural living?
    Thanks,
    Dawn

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  29. Thanks for your question, Dawn:
    I mentioned this before, but there is a lot one can do to reduce their waste if bulk is not available. You can Refuse, reduce and reuse. You can bring grocery totes, produce bags, and jars for meat, fish and deli no matter where you shop. Safeway often offers a nice little bulk selection, but it is overlooked and easily missed. You can eliminate disposables and use water bottles, napkins, towels, and handkerchiefs instead, no matter where you live. You can also attack junk mail, take lunch to work, or use safety razors. Solutions not involving bulk abound, check out the archives!

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  30. I will do more research. Thanks so much! I am fascinated and can't wait to start de-cluttering. I am starting by taking all of our books to the used book store tomorrow and then starting a library account in the closest big town an hour away. I think we can renew online and we are there fairly often. We love to read and seem to keep all of our books. By signing up for the catalogchoice.org does it automatically cancel all the random magazines I get such as REI, Athleta, Eddie Bauer etc? I don't like putting my personal info onto websites so I was hesitant to sign up.

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  31. catalog choice has been a time saver for us, but if you rather, you can call each catalog individually and ask to be remove from their mailing list.

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  32. Thanks Kelly for your input! Great idea. I personally do not need a tare weight on my jars anymore. I know by heart the tare of the 2 sizes that I use. But the paint to write the item number would be useful.
    I do not see drawbacks with the chalk, except that it would rub off easily in the shopping cart. For simplifying reasons, it would be easier to use the watercolor pencil or washable marker already being used on the cloth bags.

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  33. You are such an inspiration. Thank you not only for what you are doing, but for sharing how to do it.

    I love the bags in the photo above with the tare and item # written on them. I believe you mentioned making your own bags- I do not own a sewing machine and would love to find/buy some bags with the cloth ties (tare & item # would be awesome too). Any suggestions for a good resource?

    Many thanks.

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  34. Emily H.1/21/2011

    Lily: I went on to Etsy and searched for "cotton produce bags" and found a bunch of nice ones with cloth ties. I ordered about 10 from different sellers including a few crocheted string bags that look like what the Italian ladies used to carry in old movies. They arrived last week and I took them to the grocery store where, inspired by Bea, I shopped only the perimeter and the bulk foods sections. And lo and behold our trash is only one quarter of what it normally would be this week. Plus a lower grocery bill. Try it! It's so rewarding!

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  35. Sandra1/22/2011

    Another good resource for cloth bags is Ecobags (www.ecobags.com). I really like their lightweight gauze drawstring bags for purchasing bulk items, especially after I noticed my grocer did not always tare my bags correctly (the bag's weight is comparable to a plastic bag). No tare or item # printed on them unfortunately, but the tare is listed on the website. They also offer mesh produce bags, a bread bag, cotton shopping totes, string bags, and woven straw baskets similar to the one Bea uses.

    If you prefer purchasing from a store and you're in the NYC area, Green Depot (on Bowery St. near Prince St.) is also a good resource for reusable produce bags, as well as a number of other hard to find items (at least in my area) such as stainless steel straws, steel tiffin containers, natural hair cleaning brushes, LED light bulbs, etc.

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  36. I also have the mesh bags from Ecobags and love them! I also use them to strain our homemade almond milk (VERY easy to make btw). In reading through the comments, I was contemplating the chalk idea on the jars as well, I had another thought. I think I'll pull out some of that old fabric and make fabric tags (imagine a fabric luggage tag). I can attach these to both jars (the metal of the Le Parfait jars or tie around neck of other jar), and the bags. I can write the tare and item number on them and throw in the wash. Just another thought to eliminate the item ties and stickers.

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  37. I'm so glad I found you! We are a family of 6 living in an 800 square foot house, and while we have had a "micro" garbage can for YEARS, you have really encouraged me to go the extra step and really limit our waste in a whole new way. Most people think we're crazy, but then again, most people are filling the landfills so if we're odd, so be it.
    I took your challenge and, while I didn't give up 80% of our stuff, I did give up at least 50% (and we already were living with less than most). Life feels so much less stressful without having to worry about "getting" or "having" STUFF! You are such an inspiration!!!
    Thanks for the encouragement and keep up the good work! You're amazing!!!!!

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  38. I came home giddy today after my first successful trip to Whole Foods with my jars in hand. Lesson learned...ask the person in the deli to weigh the cheese on one of my gauze bags. They used a piece of plastic to carry the cheese from the slicer to the scale. I got a few funny looks, but most were very supportive, some other customers commented on how cool the jars were and where I purchased them, and the checker complimented me on bringing my own containers. Wahoo! Thanks, Bea for the continued inspiration! You're gratefully changing the world by inspiring one motivated reader at a time!

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  39. Lindsay2/06/2011

    I am having a hard time finding a local winery in Southern California that has a wine bottling event or will refill wine bottles at all. Does anyone have any advice?

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  40. Lindsay2/07/2011

    Another great reusable bulk bags are from Mothering Mother. They are resealable (I still don't know how) and have the tare weight printed on them.

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  41. Yoohoo! congrats Gwyn!

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  42. Anonymous2/21/2011

    dont worry about the "haters" Bea. You're doing a great deed not only for your family but the world as well. Way to lead by example! My wife and I are currently in the process of reducing, reusing, and recycling.. We grow gardens, have chickens for fresh eggs and have other animals which provide great fertilizer. Good to see others making a difference in not only their own lives but the lives of the people around them as well. Peace and Love to you and your family..
    -Anthony Adams

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  43. it's probably a good idea to use some cork, even if it's wasted / composted. Cork forests provide a lot of habitat, which is disappearing with the switch to reclosable caps.

    How do you freeze the baguettes (what do you wrap them in) so that they don't get stale?

    I love your blog.

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  44. We have a city bylaw in Toronto where we must pay 5 cents for plastic bags in all stores no matter what they sell--nanny state but it has helped change our attitudes. We also have compulsory organic composting in all apartment building suites as well as houses, in addition to recycling. At first people grumbled but now everyone takes their bags to shop and I got used to separating wet scraps and the stainless pail does not smell because I have a filter in it. We also have take out food places that will give you a discount if you bring your own container. So things are slowly changing in the right direction.

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  45. Anonymous3/10/2011

    Hi Bea

    Thanks for the wonderful information. I was wondering how you stamped the words on your cloth bags...like "Bread", "Tare" and "Item"?

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  46. Anonymous3/15/2011

    i think its great that you and your family on doing this. you have inspired me to try it. so with that being said i have two questions.

    1. was it hard to get started and how did you start
    2. what inspired you to do this in the first place

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  47. Anonymous:
    -Getting started was not difficult, rather satisfying. Finding alternatives for the last bits in our trash was difficult, but won't be for any of you readers, because I give out all my secrets on this blog ;)
    -Educating ourselves on environmental issues opened my eyes and made me want a better future for kids.

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  48. Hi Anonymous: I made a stencil and use leftover acrylic paint to print it on.

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  49. Bea, How do you freeze and defrost your baguettes? I grew up using aluminum foil and ziplock bags to do this, but I'm sure you can suggest a less wasteful way. Thanks!

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  50. Hi, Bea! A friend introduced me to your blog and I'm going to work on implementing a few of these ideas. When you're getting rice or flour, what kind of container (glass or bag or ??) do you take? I'm going to have my aunt make some bulk food bags for me, but I was trying to figure out what kind of closure would be best for stuff like rice that could easily slide out!

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  51. SRC: the answer to your question on the previous posting.

    Rebecca: Flour in sacks. I added a tie on my bags. When closed and the fabric is gathered, there is a small open gap at the top, but we keep the bags upright until we get home and do not have trouble transporting small items that way. I only use the jars for "wet" items.

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  52. Remembering to keep them upright in the cart and packing would help I suppose. ;) Thanks!

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  53. I haven't read all your posts, but the ones I have read I find inspiring, and sometimes convicting...lol. Anyway, you mentioned that you cannot binge on ice cream because of the expense and the hassle of the glass jars, etc. Well, I propose you make your own ice cream! My husband and I got an ice cream maker for our wedding and we use it all the time! Most recently a friend of mine purchased a jersey cow and gives us fresh (non-pasteurized/homogenized) cream and milk which we can use in our ice cream to make it oh-so-much better! It really is very easy and you know exactly what is going into your ice cream...no weird ingredients! We love it...too much... :)

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  54. Anonymous3/30/2011

    Hello!

    I have a problem with the farmer's market.

    Ours is obviously not open all year... how do you SURVIVE without it in the winter! it truly stinks that its not even moderately temperate where i live in the winter like in some places (california? i don't know. i've never been there).

    do you just fill your reusable bags at the produce section? but its not local!! agh. i am in distress.

    xoxo,
    martina

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  55. Anonymous: On the rare occasions that I do not make it to the farmer's market, I pick package-free produce at the grocery store. My store makes it easy to find the local products, the produce is organized by the distance travelled. May be you could suggest your store to do the same?

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  56. SingingCowgirl: Thanks for your suggestion. I have, of course, made my own ice cream before. But prefer to pick it up from the local shop. I do not have an ice cream maker and as mentioned before, I do not plan on getting anymore electrical appliances than the 2 I already have. Less hassle for us, a lot more choice at the store, and the kids love doing it. It gets them involved in the Zero Waste shopping experience too;)

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  57. Daphne4/10/2011

    I just wanted to mention that Winco (http://www.wincofoods.com/about/locations/) is by far the best store I've been too for bulk purchases. We are from the mid-west but we recently lived in SoCal for 1 1/2 years. There was a Winco near us and here's what I was able to buy in bulk there: rice, honeys (at least three different kinds), peanut butter (the kind you grind at the store), cooking mixes (biscuit, waffle, muffin, pancake, etc), candies, pastas, beans, cocoa, sugars, flours, tea bags, coffee, drink mixes, dog/cat food and treats, spices, chocolate chips, seasonal candies, baking chocolate, etc. This is just a sampling of what they had. When I say pasta, beans, and rice, etc. I mean 10 or more varieties of each. They only have stores on the west coast but I wanted to put this on here for all your readers.

    Some people thought I was crazy for going there instead of Trader Joes and other high end stores, but I saved a ton of money and there was SO much less waste. Hopefully this helps some of your readers!

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  58. I have a question about purchasing wet products, more specifically: milk, peanut butter, oils, and also items like flour. I live in a rather small town whose grocers consist of walmart and kroger type stores. How do would you go about purchasing my mentioned items from places like these? I would really like to reduce the packaging, and thought maybe you have encountered this before?

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  59. Hi Laurel: Maybe you do have bulk in your town, but you do not know where yet. I had no idea it was in my town, until I looked for it.

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  60. Bea - Again, I love all of your information and blog. I'm very inspired. I am ready to go zero waste step by step. My one bump in the road was trying to find lactose free milk in glass jars. That wasn't not an easy task, so I researched how to find the lactase enzyme online to cancel out the lactose in cow milk and this is what my results were thus far: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B003VSTRY8/ref=asc_df_B003VSTRY81505660?smid=A2PMP3DB63SCFJ&tag=dealtmp414047-20&linkCode=asn&creative=395105&creativeASIN=B003VSTRY8
    Amazon sells liquid lactase enzyme in glass jars with glass PBA free droppers (the only problem is that it's a rubber topper). I emailed some larger wholesalers inquiring about larger amounts in bulk and recyclable containers. But it saves money and I won't have to purchase Lactaid or organic or other lactose free milk in the cardboard cartons anymore. It's also much more cost effective - 7 drops rids 70 % of lactose (or more if more drops are used)in one pint of milk. But does take 24 hours for processing of lactose, so you just have to prioritize time. I just thought this might be handy for families or individuals out there who can't do lactose in cow milk but want to go zero waste with their dairy! For moms with babies who have to drink formula you can use it in formula too to make the cow milk more digestible.

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  61. I just saw your segment on the Today Show and am very intrested. Just moving to SoCal I am loving the availability of whole foods and farmers markets. We are a family of four and have been doing what I thought was our best to reduse, reuse and recycle. However, after this I see that taking the next step, however small, would be doing a lot. Thank you for coming across as "normal" not "radical" and not looking down at those of us who are making slow changes.

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  62. Hi Bea,

    I absolutely love what you're doing and you have inspired me to do the same. I was curious where you purchase your French Le Parfait jars? I'll be doing some searching of my own, but I thought I'd ask. I like the idea of the air-tight jars. I currently use mason jars, which work great.

    Cheers,
    .Kates.

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  63. I love everything about this and hope to find that I too can have a zero waste home. I begin making my bags this weekend (lots of unused old sheets in the closet) and start from there, then on to finding other bulk suppliers. Thanks for being such an amazing inspiration.

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  64. Anonymous4/27/2011

    Bea...how do you pack lunches for your sons? I seem stuck on the zip lock bag which keeps my sandwich ingredients safe from spilling out over the lunch bag. I'd like to re-use the bags but the kids just throw them out at school. Do you have suggestions for packing the lunch?

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  65. Anonymous4/29/2011

    Bea, I wanted to know aproximately how many of these jars you use and have in your pantry. I know each household is different but I'm curious to know aproximately how many jars I would be needing? Thanks

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  66. Katie and Anonymous: the jars are described on the blog store.

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  67. Anonymous5/06/2011

    Just wanted to voice my appreciation to you for creating and maintaining your blog! I just made my first shopping trip with my new net bags and jars/containers at our co-op and grinned the whole way home. :-) I asked the customer service guy about the tare, and he immediately weighed and marked my jars for me. Yay! Thanks again for the inspiration and motivation!!! ~ Elizabeth

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  68. Katie: You might want to look into raw milk. Since it is not pasteurized, raw milk still has all its enzymes and the lactase producing bacteria. Also, it usually comes in a glass jar from a local dairy farmer. So it would be zero waste and local!

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  69. Aloha from Hawai'i! I love this blog and am inspired by it often. I have a couple of questions about the glass jar usage: when you go to the grocery store, do they wash/sterilize it for you for the raw meat like how you said they do at your ice cream place? do all restaurants/food shops have to sterilize the container, or could you just go into a restaurant and bring a container from home for your doggie bag? with your lifestyle choice, do you get to eat out? i'm concerned about all the styrofoam used in take-out food but don't know if people can bring their own containers. Mahalo! -Meredith

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  70. Menos: they put it straight into my jar, they do not sterilize. You can bring a jar to the restaurant as doggie bag (they are happy to do so), or simply make sure that you only order what you'll eat;)

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  71. Congrats Anon on your first ZW shopping trip!

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  72. Anonymous5/15/2011

    Ive recently stumbled apon your blog in trying to make my life a bit cleaner, and greener. I started recycling, which, isnt easy in a small town like mine. But have recently decided that perhaps living a waste free lifestyle is a good thing to try. However, I dont really know how to get started. There are no bulk stores in my town, literally, most people shop at Walmart, a Lowes Food and Food Lion. The closest town is 20 miles away and from what Ive searched on google there isnt one there either and Im not entirely sure its right for me to try and drive 45 minutes both ways every week. So keeping that in mind, do you have any other helpful tips? Also, perhaps suggesting a book or two that would inform me on why choosing organic and waste free lifestyle are good choices? (Although I know the basics I truthfully have no clue why certain things are bad to consume and have no clue where to start.)

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  73. Anonymous5/15/2011

    Also, are mason jars a good alternative to plastic?

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  74. Anonymous5/25/2011

    Hey Bea,

    My biggest challenge so far is finding good reusable cloth bags for bulk food. I would love to have the ones like yours in the picture; I can't find any already made that have the tare stamped/written on them. Any chance of sharing your pattern and stenciling technique?

    And I'd like to second the Winco Foods recommendation. They rule. So many good bulk options to choose from.

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  75. Anonymous5/28/2011

    For people who don't have bulk, a good way to reduce packaging is to buy larger size bags of flour, rice, beans, sugar etc. I used to buy these items in bulk and then found that my bulk provider was only emptying the largest size bags into their bulk bins. Buying in the largest size is very convenient because I don't need to buy these items often and also can empty them into jars. I think it comes out to the same ammount of waste if I had bought these items in bulk. Also buying in a large size reduces the surface area to volume ratio which means less packaging for more food.
    I still use bulk if I only want a small amount of the item, like for pasta or special varieties of beans. I hope this helps for those who don't have bulk.

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  76. Hello Bea,
    I would like to ask if you will post a menu.

    You mentioned that you only have meat once a week.
    Do you have fish twice?

    What do you have as a main dish the other days?
    When a child doesn't like what is for dinner one day , do you offer them an alternative?

    Thank you,
    Janet
    (I just recently found you so I'm going backward and reading your post....and learning from what you do)

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  77. Anonymous6/18/2011

    Hi Janet. I'm not Bea but there is an article called "meal planning in February 2011 that will answer most of your questions.

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  78. We are doing our best to always be zero waste on our shopping trips. The produce and dry good bags are amazing (I am so happy to stop using all of those thin plastic bags at the grocery store). Even when we are conscientious it's not always easy - it seems like everywhere you turn there is wasteful prepackaging.

    Have you heard of In.gredients in Austin, TX? I think it's brilliant that a grocery store would take on the zero waste commitment:

    http://in.gredients.com/

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  79. Susan d8/08/2011

    Hi Bea:
    Love, love, love your blog! I am having so much fun catching up.
    I have to tell you about my recent experience at the bulk food store. I live in a fairly small city so there aren't too many options for bulk buying, however, there is one bulk foods store which has a very good selection. I made a list and showed up wit a variety of clean containers into which I placed the items I wanted. When I arrived at the cash the cashier had a fit. She told me that under no circumstance was I permitted to put food into my own containers. She said that I would get charged for the weight of my containers and that it was in violation of department of health regulations due to the possibility of cross contamination. I told her I didn't mind getting charged for the weight of the containers as they were very light. She did let me purchase what I had but told me NEVER to do it again. I left the store with my head hung very low and have not been back since. What to do?

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  80. Anonymous10/03/2011

    Hello from London
    Im just wondering where you stand on buying tinned produced such as sweetcorn and beans.
    I imagine they are recyclable but we do get through alot of this kinds of food being students.
    P.s We think you are amazing and a great inspiration to the rest off us.
    Bilan x

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  81. Hi Bilan from London: I choose not to buy any any tin produce. We eat fresh, seasonal and local instead. We found that it comes with many advantages: environmental by saving resources needed to can, and make/recycle the tin, but also health benefits by eliminating BPA leaching from the lining of the cans. The best packaging is afterall the natural, compostable kind that the fruit and veggies already come in;) and it does not have to be taken to the curb. My worms eat it ;)

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  82. Susan d10/10/2011

    Hi Bea:
    Following Sandra's suggestion I visited the Green Depot in NYC while I was on vacation over the summer. They have a fantastic selection of many Eco friendly products. I found some really lovely cotton produce bags. The funny thing is that I am from Canada and the bags that I purchased are actually made in Canada. You would think that I would have been able to find them somewhere in Canada. So far the checkers at the supermarket don''t seem to mind and I write the produce codes on my grocery list as I pick up the items so that they don't even have to look in the bags.

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  83. Renata1/12/2012

    Bea- I love to cook and I'm afraid I'm having a hard time giving up spices. We have an herb garden, but often there are few things it would be impractical to grow ourselves. Do you have any suggestions on how to avoid buying packages spices at the store?

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  84. To those who hate fiddling around with flimsy egg cartons, I found a few reusable ones and wrote about them here.

    Also, Renata, if you have bulk in your area, a lot of them carry spices.

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  85. true_foodie1/20/2012

    Love your blog! I use the red mesh onion bags to store my children's bath toys in the tub; and also to store pool toys and gardening tools. I use egg cartons to sort and store earrings or craft items; plastic (yes, it happens sometimes) egg cartons to hold paint for art work. I make my own yogurt each week, which costs much less than commercial brands, and does not contain starchy thickeners. Just figured out how to make ricotta cheese too, with just milk and vinegar (no rennet or cultures required). I put sandwiches in Tupperware containers instead of using plastic bags. In Ontario, Canada, where I'm from, our milk comes in plastic bags. I wash them out, and use them for storing items, freezing food, for sandwiches, or as pastry bags for cake decorating. I use natural fruit juices to "colour" frosting or whipped cream. I own a food dehydrator so I dry herbs and fruit in season. I receive recycled magazines to read, and then donate them to our local college for the students to use in projects. I cut up old towels and use them to replace the disposable paper-cloth pads for my "Swiffer". They work much better and are machine-washable. Old T-shirts, pants, shirts, etc. get cut up and used in the garage for cleanup after working on the car. We save plastic gallon jugs or large shampoo containers and put waste engine oil in them before returning them to our mechanic for recycling.

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  86. Anonymous2/05/2012

    Alternative to writing grocery list on paper: keep list on a dry erase or chalk board and snap a picture with your cell phone before heading to store.

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  87. Anonymous2/05/2012

    Hi Bea.

    I, too, have found your blog inspirational. I live in Northern CA and also buy all produce at our local farmer's market. I buy a LOT of greens (spinach, chard, kale, etc) and am wondering how to store it in the refrigerator in an environmentally friendly way. I typically pack it tightly into plastic and it keeps well all week. I have some glass pyrex containers but the greens are too bulky to store in there. Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. To Anonymous: check in your fridge, the crispers probably have adjustable humidity settings. Leafy greens should be stored at high humidity, and fruits with skins should be stored at low humidity. I put my leafy greens in the high humidity crisper and add a damp towel and an ethylene-gas absorber (from producefreshness.com) . The damp towel maintains the high humidity so the greens don't wilt.

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    2. Anonymous9/17/2012

      Hi, Anonymous. Check out this post on zero waste produce storage from HuffPost Green: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jennifer-grayson/eco-etiquette-how-do-i-st_b_1704465.html

      Delete
  88. Anonymous2/17/2012

    my local duane reade pharmacy sells "growlers" - refilable 64 oz jugs of beer that you can fill in store using their taps.

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    Replies
    1. ! that's fantastic, I wish we had one of these stores here!

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  89. Hi Bea,

    It's awesome how you've committed to reducing disposables, and in doing it so publicly, and sharing what you've learned, you've helped a lot of people in their efforts. It helps not only to get tips, but also for us to see that we are not alone, and it's ok to surprise people at the deli. More often than not, when I whip out a container at the fishmarket, people are intrigued, or someone will say "aw man, I should bring mine!"

    I've started Part & Parcel, an organization in Brooklyn to try to increase no-waste food solutions in our area. If any of your NYC readers are interested in being part of the conversation, we're actively seeking input to shape a buying club, grocery service or even retail store that's disposable-free. we can be found at facebook.com/partandparcelgrocery and @bulkisbeautiful on twitter.

    Thanks!
    -Camille

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  90. Thanks for your inspiration over these last two years. I am nearly zero waste at the grocery store since I joined my local Co-op. They happily fill my quart mason jars at the deli counter. When I get home, I seal the jars with an mason jar attachment that hooks up to a vacuum sealer. This allows the contents to store better. Now, if only I could pass up the bag of kettle chips, I would be zero waste at the grocery store.

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    Replies
    1. What are you doing in the middle aisles of the store? :)

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  91. Anonymous4/04/2012

    Where or where did you purchase your French straw market baskets? Can't seem to find any as cute as yours!!!:) If I'm going ZW might as well do it cute right? :)

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  92. Hi Bea! I've recently discovered your blog and have already read all of your posts! I was wondering if you could give me a bit of advice? My local Whole Foods (where I get ALL of my bulk food) has suddenly started telling me that I can't use my fabric and mesh produce bags because of "health" reasons. Tonight was the second time I've been told this at checkout. If this is the case, I'm not sure what to do about it since they are my only option at this time. This makes me so livid. Any words of advice besides just emailing them and complaining? Thanks in advance!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ask for the section or link to the health code that they are referring to. They are probably misinterpreting it. There is a code that prohibits returning a container to the store for a refill (i.e, take out containers) but it does not prohibit you from bringing your own. Otherwise, reusable shopping bags would also be prohibited.

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    2. I just had the same trouble at WF today for the first time. They said it is a new policy per their corporate office. :-(

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    3. What policy? code? please ask and share. Thanks.

      Delete
  93. Anonymous4/21/2012

    We have been trying to start living with less garbage as well and have reduced our garbage from and overflowing 96 gallon bin that we would jump on to make all our garbage fit down to one small bag a week. I would love to be able to cancel our garbage service however our only local "bulk" food store sells prepackaged bulk and the closest store with a package free bulk section is whole foods which is 3 hours away from home. I have asked our local oil and vinegar shop and local butcher about bringing in our own containers and they said yes without hesitation. We have also asked our "bulk" food store about getting our pantry staples in larger quantities to avoid several little packages however have not yet heard back. Any other ideas on reducing our garbage and hopefully our recycling too?

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    Replies
    1. Anonymous7/01/2012

      Just found out about a new store in our area called treehuggers that excepts everything from coffee bags to candy wrappers to water filters for recycling and they have added the newest addition to one of their locations. Package free bulk food and cleaning products as well as beauty products. They also by produce from the farm that I trust most and practices organic even though not certified. Even though I will still go to the farmers market for produce and the store is 50 minutes away it is better than whole foods 3 hours away that sells packaged foods as well. We have reduced our trash from a 96 gallon bin to 2 kitchen trash bags to 1 kitchen trash bag to a plastic grocery bag each week in less than 6 months. We aren't perfect, far from it actually but I can't wait for what is coming in our zero waste attempts. Michigans first package free grocery store!!!

      Delete
  94. Hi Bea,

    thank you so much for all your tips! My husband hated the cloth bulk/produce bag idea at first, but now that we have tried, he is actually loving it! (no more plastic bags to return to the store for recycling = less work :)).

    I also just wanted to let you know that the Difficult trip to WF link is not working...

    Best,
    Tatiana

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  95. To keep our razors sharp check this out. I stop buying new razors about 3 years ago. :-)
    http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-extend-the-life-of-your-Razor-Blade-keeping/

    I've really enjoyed reading your blog. I already learn a few things. I was preparing to begin canning, for the first time, this summer and didn't even think about the air tights jars you use. Also, instructables.com is a great site to gather ideas.

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  96. Bea,

    Thanks for the awesome suggestions! I used to bring my glass jars to the health food store in Virginia when I lived there, no problem. Now that I am down in Florida, all the stores keep saying they will not allow me to bring my own jar because of FDA regulations. I don't really understand this since FDA is throughout the USA, no? What can I do to research this and convince them to allow me to bypass the plastic bulk bag?

    Thanks!
    Malory

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  97. Many rotationally molded products are available in stone finishes which are not only aesthetically pleasing but will also hide any dirt or scratches caused from general wear and tear, therefore keeping up the overall pleasant appearance of your recycling program.

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  98. Thank you to tell us so much useful information. I’m glad to read it.

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  99. Thank you to tell us so much useful information. I'm glad to read it.

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  100. Génial ce blog!! Merci
    Dommage qu'il n' y ait de version Française ?

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  101. Bea,

    Thank you for your wonderful blog and proving that it CAN be done! I thought I was pretty good before (using reusable shopping bags and recycling) but my eyes are now open to how much waste we're still creating! I've been taking baby-steps over the past few weeks and am eager to keep going. I already have a weekly pick-up scheduled at the farmer's market with two local meat producers who let me bring glass jars!

    One question I have is about bulk items that are fine powders, such as baking soda or chili powder or ground cinnamon. Do you collect these in the draw-string bags? I'm worried that the powder will seep through or puff out the top. Or that all the powder will stick to the insides of the bags. Any suggestions?

    Thank you!
    Meg

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    Replies
    1. For spices, I personally bring my spice jar to the store, not to waste in the cloth bag and not to overbuy.
      I find that baking soda on the other hand works fine in cloth bags. I turn the bag inside out and shake it out over my storing jar when I get home.

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  102. Interesting and important information. It is really beneficial for us. Thanks

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  103. Anonymous1/22/2013

    Hello Bea,
    Love you and your ideas. Still on my way to implementing. I was just wondering what you use as a rinse aide in your dishwasher.I have heard that vinegar works. Any ideas. I know it is bad for the environment but dishes do come out better with it. Would love to hear form you.
    Anonymous

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