Plastic vs. Glass/Aluminum/Paper – Clearing up some myths

This past plastic free july I decided to annoy all of my facebook friends by posting one plastic fact every day of the month to try and get more people aware of their excessive plastic use.  One of my posts ended up getting a lot of positive response, and it was a post I wrote about why I believe using other materials other than plastic is more environmentally friendly (mainly, the argument for reusables).  So I decided to post it again here (and make it a bit more in depth) so that if a new zero waster found it they would be informed!

There is a lot of misinformation about recycling out there.  Let’s start with a little history: According to the book I just reviewed, Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, plastic recycling was invented by the plastic industry due to the big environmental movement of the 70’s, which was the beginning of the outcry against plastic use.  They spent billions of dollars developing the technology to recycle it, so that they could keep producing it and convince everyone it’s okay to buy it.  Except, in the process, a lot of misconceptions developed: the first, is that those little symbols on the bottom of your plastic items, the numbers surrounded by the recycling symbol, doesn’t mean it can be recycled.  It is just a labeling system to label what type of plastic it is.

#1 means PET (or PETE) or Polyethylene Terephthalate (water bottles, soda bottles etc). This is considered a safe plastic (by the FDA which means no I don’t trust that it’s really safe).  These are not supposed to be reused, because they easily leach toxins. Which is why they are used for single use items.  These are most commonly recyled into more bottles, carpet, fibers (for fleece and other plastic fabrics)

#2 is HDPE, high density polyethylene (detergent bottles, cleaning product bottles, milk jugs, shampoo bottles, plastic bags, etc).  These are usually recyled into more detergent bottles (but the color in the bottles is tough to deal with because you can’t get the color out), lumber, pens.

#3 is PVC, or polyvinyl chloride (pvc pipes, shower curtains, juice bottles, plastic wrap). These are not commonly picked up by recycling facilities in the US. Has lots of nasty chemicals in it. Recycled into flooring, speed bumps etc.

#4 is LDPE, or low density polyethylene (cothing, plastic bags, food packaging like bread bags and frozen food bags).  Considered safe, but do with that what you will.  Not often picked up by recyling facilities. Recycled into compost bins, trash cans, shipping envelopes, etc.

#5 is PP, or polypropylene (ketchup bottles, syrup bottles, yogurt containers, medicine bottles etc). Considered safer (meh).  Recyled into brooms, bike racks, ice scrapers, etc.

#6 is PS or polystyrene, or styrofoam. Terrible. Leaches toxins when heated, rarely accepted by recycling facilities.  Recycled into egg cartons, foam peanuts, insulation.

#7 is everything else that isn’t 1-6.  Notorious for containing BPA. Rarely accepted by recycling facilities.  If it is, usually recycled into plastic lumber.

(Examples of objects come from: http://www.nationofchange.org/numbers-plastic-bottles-what-do-plastic-recycling-symbols-mean-1360168347)

So now that you know your plastics, we can discuss the issues with recycling.  As you can see from above, not all plastics with a label are guaraneed to be able to be recycled.  It’s a labeling system so that if they do end up in the recycling facility, the workers can figure out what it is.  If the recycling facilities can’t easily and very quickly classify a piece of plastic, it will either be sent to landfill, or baled up with other “mixed plastics” and shipped somewhere else for someone else to sort and use. If you are on the west coast, it will usually be sent to China to be sorted in a facility with child workers (probably). If you are in the middle of the country it is probably landfilled because it’s too expensive to ship anywhere, and if you are on the easy coast it’s probably sent to a domestic recycling facility. Plastic is not often recycled back into plastic that you can use.  Only certain PET bottles (soda bottles) can be recycled back into bottles.  And it’s not a 1:1 ratio.  The PET is melted down and made into pellets with virgin plastic and that is used to make new bottles.  Most plastic is downcycled into plastic wood and other building materials.  This is what plastic bags are mainly used for.  However, the rate of plastic bag recycling is anywhere from 5 to 14%, so many of them are ending up in places they shouldn’t be.

The other main issue is that most single use plastics are bought and disposed of on the go, and not every public space and street is equipped with recycling bins.  Walk by any park or beach and the trash cans will undoubtedly be filled to the brim with coffee cups (paper and plastic), straws, water bottes, plastic bags, and to go containers.  These will be sent straight to landfill, or blown into the ocean or rivers or forests.  Some estimates claim that only 5% of plastic water bottles will be put into a recycling facility.  And americans alone used about 50 BILLION just LAST YEAR.  That is an absurd amount of plastic water bottles (not even including the other types of plastic) that is now in the environment somewhere, whether that’s a landfill or the ocean.  That’s NOT okay with me.

So, here’s the thing. Yes, recycling facilities don’t take all the plastic, and most of it gets thrown out when you’re not at home. But what about the statistics for when you ARE recycling at home? Well, let’s start out with the national average. In America today, only 34% of items that can technically be recycled are actually being recycled.  In Boston, our recycling rate was 30% last year. But Denver has an appalling 16% recycling rate.  This is terrible.  Especially considering how environmental everyone around here appears to be.  (Will do another post on neighboring Boulder, CO’s amazing Zero Waste Initiative).

In Boston and in Denver (and in most places in the US) we have single stream recycling.  Which across the board has increased recycling rates due to convenience.  This has increased the amount of plastic that gets recycled, but actually ends up decreasing the amount of material that can be converted to new materials.  This is because glass, paper, and leftover food stuck to your recycling are all mixed.  Broken glass loses value the smaller the pieces get.  The pieces of glass that are too small for anyone to try to recycle into new glass products are downcycled, usually into fiberglass, insulation bits, or sand.  Glass gets broken up a lot easier in a single stream recycling system than if you recycled glass through a bottle return (please always vote for local bottle bills, they always get overturned because of successful lobbying from non-environmentalists. Don’t listen to them!).  The issue with paper is that it gets dirty with food spillage from the recyclables you didn’t wash, which lowers the quality of the paper to be sold to people who will recycle it.  Little bits of plastic and metal (bottle caps, can tabs, etc) get lost in the paper and baled with it, which also lowers the value of the paper to be sold. Most places will only buy paper bales with less than 3% contamination.  Paper and glass are normally very efficiently recycled, so this is a bummer.  Aluminum is still very efficient and has a high recycling rate in single stream recycling so continue to go for it with the cans.

The recycling system is not the gold star solution to alleviate all of your environmental guilt unfortunately.  Only about 9% of plastics produced every year are being recycled.  Even glass and paper recycling is lower than you would imagine.  The answer is not to recycle more, or switch to only glass, paper or aluminum.  If you went to the store and had to choose between paper and plastic bags, the paper would actually be worse for the environment in the short run. The answer is to switch from DISPOSABLES to REUSABLES, so that all trash and recycling is REDUCED, not replaced with alternatives.  Every product has a negative environmental impact, but reusables can negate this impact due to it’s long useful life.

So there it is! Why I choose a lifestyle of reusables (and paper/glass/aluminum alternatives when necessary). It’s pretty fulfilling and I suggest it of everyone!

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Book review – Plastic: A Toxic Love Story

I read a great book and I wanted to let you all know the details!

I wanted to find a book that explained the history of plastic, explain how the plastics industry got so out of control, etc.  If I was going to be starting a plastic-banning adventure I wanted to fully understand why, and sound like I know what I’m talking about when I explain it to other people!

It’s called Plastic: A Toxic Love Story by Susan Freinkel


This was the book about plastic that was the highest rated on amazon, so I got it from my local library (for a zero waste read). And it was surprisingly amazing.  The author is a great writer, I flew through this book, she really makes it easy to stay interested and easy to understand.  This book provides a great history of plastic by focusing on a few ubiquitous pieces of plastic – frisbees, chairs, combs, lighters, plastic bags, water bottles, medical supplies, mainly IV bags.  She doesn’t completely focus on these, in each chapter she branches out to discuss other facts and history, but always nicely ties it back to the object she started with.

I learned a TON. My favorite piece of new info is that most things made out of plastic these days were never created because they were necessary.  The plastic people just went out into the world and were like “what could we capitalize on.” Plastic bags? Literally nobody asked for them. They just decided they would make them really cheap and basically force their way into stores.  When they first came out, people didn’t like them because they tore easily and didn’t fit as much stuff, but then they were just forced to like it because they were cheaper to buy than paper bags. And as they became more and more prevalent people stopped bringing their own bags. Weird, right?

I highly suggest you read it if you want a good background on plastic, specifically learning about the different industries (because interestingly the different industries (toys, water bottles, packaging, etc) are all completely unrelated and don’t really associate with each other), the chemical backgrounds of different types of plastic, law suits that have been filed, history of plastic recycling, etc.  It was super interesting if you’re as obsessed with plastic as I am 🙂

Check it out!

Zero Waste Takeout – Indian Food!

Take out is a HUGE source of waste. It’s always in styrofoam or plasic clamshells and usually that piece of trash is also wrapped in a plastic bag. It’s pretty heinous.  However, this is probably one of the hardest things to get people to stop doing, because take out = laziness.  I’ll be the first to admit that chinese delivery is literally the greatest thing on a snowy night but I’ve changed my ways!

The only things I ever get for takeout anymore is indian food and pizza. Pizza always comes in just the box so I tear it up into pieces and compost it. But indian food generally comes in so much plastic! So NOW, (and I’ve done this at countless places and they’re always okay with it) I just bring my own containers! Which rules out delivery but it’s honestly not that much of a hassle to just go to the restaurant and order at the counter and wait. It rarely takes more than 10 minutes. Usually only 5.  BUT, before I took my regular sized weck jars to get indian because they were about the size of the containers they usually give you for takeout, and I would bring one for rice and one for the vegetarian meal I was getting, and they wrap the naan in foil.

Breakthrough: last night I didn’t have any clean weck jars so we just brought our empty glass tupperware containers, two of our large size tupperwares, like basically 7 x 5 ish size ones. And they were big but I just assumed they measured out how much they gave each person so it was fine. WRONG. THEY LITERALLY FILL UP THE ENTIRE CONTAINER.


AMAZING REVELATION. I HAVE SO MUCH INDIAN FOOD NOW. I actually have enough for most of this week’s dinners.

P.s. when you get indian take out they always give you those spicy cracker things and the plastic containers of chutney. I always ask that they don’t give those to me, because I usually don’t eat it anyways!

I feel like I should feel like I’m stealing from them but they didn’t seem to care, soooooo pro-tip you get absurd amounts of indian food if you bring your own large containers. You didn’t hear it from me…

I’ve used my own containers to get takeout almost everywhere – burrito places, etc, and people are always very willing so don’t be afraid to ask! It helps if you sound confident and explain that you’re trying to eliminate your plastic use.

Happy eating!

13 Earth Day Tips!

For my absolute favorite day of the year, Earth Day, I decided to hop on the list bandwagon and write my top easy tips for going green. These are things that I feel are pretty easy to implement into your daily life and can make a lot of impact.

1. Stop using K-cups

Seriously stop using these even the guy who invented K-cups regrets inventing them.  They are unrecyclable and are rapidly filling up landfills everywhere. And they’re excessively expensive. Buy one of these reusable ones: http://www.amazon.com/Keurig-Reusable-Coffee-Filter-Single/dp/B000DLB2FI

2. Bring a reusable mug/cup with you all the time.

    You never know when you’ll want coffee or tea or a smoothie or anything that comes in a paper or plastic cup. Doing this makes such a huge difference.  Most people buy a couple cups a day, so if you drink 2 cups of coffee you save around 700 cups a year from the landfill (because no one can tell me they actually recycle their coffee cups)

3. Bring a reusable straw and silverware with you all the time.

     So many straws and plastic utensils are thrown around everyday just to be thrown out, never recycled. Bringing a little case of a foldable spork and a stainless steel straw takes up no space and saves so much plastic.  Or if you’re at a restaurant where you can drink out of the cups without the straw reject straw offers. I have these straws: http://www.amazon.com/Stainless-Steel-Drinking-Straws-Strongest/dp/B00O92HN3C/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1429653540&sr=8-7&keywords=Stainless+steel+straw and this utensil set: https://store-jfohpy.mybigcommerce.com/repeat-utensil-set-avocado/ and the straw fits right in there and I just throw it in my purse or backpack.

4. Turn off your lights, water and car.

This is the oldest rule in the book but it’s always worth reiterating. Turn off the water when you’re brushing your teeth, take shorter showers, turn off the lights when you leave the room and in your kitchen when you’re not in there, never sit in your idling car.  These things add up and always help.

5. Bring reusable shopping bags

      Plastic shopping bags are the worst! They blow around and get stuck in trees and blow into the ocean to get eaten by sea turtles. Just think about the turtles next time you buy groceries. Bags are given out all the time and cost very little, there’s really no excuse to not use them anymore. And you can get cute ones like these!  

6. When you go grocery shopping, try to pick out the food that has the least amount of packaging. 

Instead of buying carrots in plastic, buy loose carrots and put them right in your cart.  Buy the reusable produce bags that are on sale everywhere and put your veggies in those instead of those horrible thin green bags. Buy bunches of leafy greens instead of buying the bags or boxes and wrap it in a dish towel to keep in your fridge.  If you never used any of those green produce bags it would keep a lot of plastic out of the landfill! Store your veggies in the reusable produce bags right in your fridge, or keep certain veggies like carrots in a cup of water to keep them crisp.

 7. Bring your own Tupperware when you go out to dinner for leftovers and bring them if you’re picking up food to go. 

   Styrofoam or those hard plastic to go containers are just going to end up in the landfill, and who doesn’t have a billion pieces of Tupperware lying around? Buying stainless steel is even better because they will last forever, especially these ones from life without plastic: https://www.lifewithoutplastic.com/store/stainless-steel-airtight-watertight-food-storage-container-12-cm-4-75.html

8. Use bar soap instead of bottled

     Use bars for hand soap instead of the (proven to be bad) antibacterial soap that comes in plastic bottles. Use bar body soaps in the shower instead of body wash and if your hair can handle it, shampoo bars.  Soap bottles are usually always thrown out and end up in a landfill, and they’re used up so quickly. You’ll save a lot of money by switching! Try to buy soap bars that are unpackaged or only packaged in paper. Or save an old shampoo bottle and refill it with bulk shampoo and conditioner!

9. Never buy drinks in plastic bottles.

Chemicals leak into your drinks, and these bottles are bought and then thrown in the trash 20 minutes later.  If you want to buy a drink at a store stick with drinks in glass or cans and then recycle it or take it to a return station at a grocery store.  I can’t begin to tell you how stupid water bottles are! Water is free right out of your sink! And water in America is very safe, and can be even more delicious if you invest in a water filter like brita or preferably this sweet company: https://www.drinksoma.com/?ref_id=adwords_brand_product_soma_filter_bm&gclid=Cj0KEQjw6tepBRDLqLnxouaY_pkBEiQAPIOiBkknQNvWw08VebaXesxOev7EukYLt-CLJ8OLPFjfRdEaAnhN8P8HAQ

10. Plan your meals and food shopping trips

This is important to reduce your food waste, keeping food out of landfills reduces a lot of weight and reduces the amount of methane (greenhouse gas) that gets released when it rots in the landfill.  If you plan out your meals you’ll let less food go bad because you forgot to eat it and youll be able to send less trash out! And your kitchen will smell better and you won’t have to do nasty fridge clean outs.

11. Compost food scraps with a backyard compost bin or vermicompost if you live in an apartment. Or if you live in a city with compost curbside pick up, get a bin! Or find compost drop off sites near you and keep your compost in the freezer.

See above for why it’s important to never throw away food scraps!

12. Walk or bike as many places as you can.

     Walking or biking to the post office or store will keep the air clean and you happier and in better shape than driving! The costs of this will really add up over time.

13. Always keep the environment in mind.

     Our throwaway culture has trained people to use what they want and not think about the environmental consequences.  If you had to breathe the air that comes right out of your car or keep all of your garbage in your home forever you’d think twice about buying so much single use packaging or driving your car so much. Next time you buy a coffee or use a plastic bag, think about where that cup is going to end up, or where that bag could fly off to.  The oceans are completely filled with plastic, our landfills are quickly reaching capacity, and our weather is getting more out of control because of climate change.  Just don’t go through life not thinking about the environmental consequences of your actions.  Individuals can change more than you think!

Enjoy earth day, appreciate the earth! It’s our only home! And it’s really beautiful!

Zero Waste Overhaul: Kitchen Edition

Starting to go zero waste can certainly be daunting, but I think that starting with the kitchen is the easiest way to get started because there’s so much waste that you can eliminate just by altering the way that you shop for food. Since I currently live with my parents I cook in a VERY non zero waste kitchen. It is full of disposable plastic and unnecessary packaging, but that’s how it’s always been, and according to my parents will always be. (One day I’ll convince them!)

I decided to go through everything in my kitchen to see for myself, and try to prove to them, how much of the items in the kitchen can be easily bought without packaging.

Warning: these pictures have SO MUCH PACKAGING in them.

Starting with the pantry, since my Mom wanted to clean it out and organize it anyways:

I took everything out and made it into three piles: can be bought in bulk easily, can sort of be bought in bulk but you would have to prepare it, and cannot be bought in bulk

Can be bought in bulk:

 

  • Pasta, multiple kinds (though I haven’t found spaghetti in bulk yet)
  • Bread crumbs
  • Beans
  • Potatoes
  • Multiple kinds of rice
  • Couscous, Israeli couscous
  • Sliced almonds
  • Dried fruit
  • Quinoa
  • Peanut butter
  • Coffee beans
  • Granola
  • Tea

This stuff is the majority of the pantry. So easy to replace and we would get rid of most of the packaging we bring into the house just by buying these items in bulk.

Things that can be bought in bulk but would have to be prepared:

 

Things in this picture include

  • Canned soups
  • Bottled soups (in the cartons)
  • Canned beans and canned tomatoes
  • Unsure if you could make evaporated milk? So ignore that one for now
  • Soup packets
  • Macaroni & cheese
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Lasagna noodles (I can’t imagine people sell these in bulk)
  • Oatmeal packets
  • Rice pilaf

Everything here has the ingredients available in bulk (vegetables, cheese, flour for lasagna noodles, oats, rice and spices, popcorn kernels) but would take some extra time to prepare them exactly how they come in packaging. Maybe these things could be a phase 2 of going zero waste

Cannot be bought in bulk:

  

Ignore the left side of the second picture, all of that can be bought in bulk!

  • Certain types of cereal
  • Girl Scout cookies (these will never be given up)
  • Cheezits
  • Triscuits
  • Ritz crackers
  • Soy sauce, sesame oil, etc
  • Goldfish
  • Tortilla chips
  • Pita chips
  • Cape cod potato chips (a Wiggin family necessity)
  • Plastic bags, aluminum foil, wax paper, parchment paper
  • Apple sauce
  • Mayonnaise
  • Pickles
  • Powdered sugar (but I just blogged about this, check it out!)

A lot of these things can be made of course, but it’s not going to be the same as store bought, so these things will either have to be eliminated or substituted. But it’s not bad! Eliminating these things will probably make you feel a lot better and you won’t miss them after a while. There are so many delicious zero waste snacks! And of course these things can certainly be made at home and they’ll probably be even more delicious.

I would say about 75% of our pantry could be replaced with unpackaged foods, and 85% if you add in easy to make items!

Moving on to the refrigerator. This is harder than the pantry because there is a lot more that cannot be purchased package free.

   

Can be bought in bulk:

  • Onions
  • Leafy greens
  • Green beans
  • Lemons
  • Carrots
  • Blood oranges, regular oranges
  • Apples
  • Cucumbers
  • Tomatoes
  • Baby yellow tomatoes
  • Deli items like sliced ham, turkey, cheese
  • Berries (though not in winter 😦 )
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Garlic
  • Other veggies
  • Other fruits

Can be bought in bulk but would have to be made

  • Cheese sticks (cut mozzarella)
  • Jams
  • Orange juice
  • Almond milk

Cannot be bought in bulk (some items not pictured, in door!)

  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Cream
  • Cream cheese
  • Mayonnaise
  • Apple juice
  • Veggie stock
  • Butter
  • Seltzer
  • Wine
  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Other condiments
  • Salsa
  • Pickles

All of these things can be made! (Probably not wine for most of you).  A lot of them (dairy items) would need a supply of milk in glass that can be refilled, which I haven’t looked for near me cause I don’t drink milk, but is available to a lot of people. But the non dairy items can certainly be made easily like salsa, Apple sauce, veggie stock, ketchup etc)

I would say about 50% of the refrigerator can be easily replaced with unpackaged foods!

I didn’t add the freezer because everything in there is packaged and that will be a post for another day.

Onto the bread/snack drawer:

 

Things that can be bought in bulk:

  • So many different types of bread from bakeries/whole foods
  • Bagels from bagel shops
  • Cookies
  • Nuts
  • Candy

Things in bulk but have to be prepared

  • English muffins
  • Pita bread
  • Granola bars
  • Cookies
  • Candy

Things that cannot be bought in bulk

  • TJs edamame crackers (yum)
  • Pita chips
  • Certain Easter candy
  • Real Oreos

I would say about 75% of the drawer can be bought in bulk or made easily! Easy switch right here.

And lastly, the spice cabinet!

 

Things that can be bought in bulk:

  • Peanut butter
  • Honey
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegars
  • Canola oil
  • Sugar
  • Flour
  • All spices
  • Chocolate
  • Bread crumbs
  • Maple syrup
  • Popcorn kernels
  • Corn starch
  • Corn meal
  • Brown sugar (if not can be easily made)

Things in bulk that have to be made:

  • Vanilla extract
  • Powdered sugar
  • Lemon juice

Things that cannot be bought in bulk:

  • Vinegar
  • Crisco
  • Sprinkles
  • Toothpicks
  • Gravymaster/bullion cubes

The things that would have to be made are all very easily made and vinegar can be bought in glass which is much better than plastic! Toothpicks generally come in cardboard or can be replaced.

I would say about 95% of this cabinet can be easily bought in bulk or easily made. Easy peasy!

Going through the kitchen this way is really eye opening. In each case the vast majority of food in each place comes in packaging that could easily be eliminated. It makes the task of reducing waste seem that much easier when you lay it all out this way. It’s really not a huge change from your normal habits, just the way you shop will change, and it’s really not that hard! I’ll be posting about the way I zero waste shop soon.

Good luck! Happy cooking!

Herb-tastic

Herbs are great and what’s even better is when you don’t have to buy them! Fresh herbs can be pricey and something that is not pricey is pots from my parents shed and some dirt from the backyard!

I set out on this rare amazing sunny April day to plant some herbs for the summer! Since I’ve moved back to the suburbs as a poor college graduate its come with some perks aka a backyard. I found 8 pots in our shed and went to our compost but not really compost pile to get some healthy dirt.

I shoveled out a big pile and put it on top of our big sieve over the wheelbarrow to get out all of the big rocks and sticks. 

    

I filled the pots with rocks from our ridiculously rocky not yet planted anything garden:

And filled the bottom of the pots for extra drainage

Then filled them up with dirt, placed the seeds either right under the surface of the soil or 1/4 in deep whichever the directions on the back of the seed packet said, and labelled them with old clothes pins

  

And watered them!

I planted oregano, chives, basil, lavender, spearmint, rosemary, and another I can’t remember right now, will update later.

This is in contrast to last year when I urban farmed in my windowsill and planted my herbs in Mason jars with dirt I bought from the hardware store down the street. It worked well for sprouting them but I soon needed to replant them in bigger pots because they stopped growing any bigger.

Oh the difference!

Happy growing!

Zero Waste Stores in Boston

Today I went on a Zero Waste adventure to find zero waste shopping in the city of Boston (not greater Boston) and I found so many things!

I went into Harvest Coop in central square in Cambridge and it was a bulk dream!! Besides the normal bulk foods (rice, grains, flours, etc) I found some really exciting things:

  • Vanilla beans for 2.99 each. Of course I found them the day after I spent the whole afternoon stressing about buying vanilla beans in plastic and writing a post about it. Go figure.
  • Animal crackers, adorable
  • Baking soda, baking powder, arrowroot powder, finally!
  • Brown sugar
  • Vegetable broth powder. I have no idea how to use this and the bottle didn’t have proportions of how much water to use but I’m pretty excited to not homemake broth (ain’t nobody got time for that)
  • Olive oil and canola oil
  • Multiple kinds of chocolate chips
  • Shampoo/body wash (I guess an all purpose soap…)
  • Israeli couscous, it’s so good and I’ve never seen it in bulk before
  • So many types of granola, who knew
  • Black quinoa (apparently this is good?)
  • Vegetable protein (seriously what is this)

I then went to a local kitchen shop in Jamaica Plain called Kitchenwitch, I’d been in here a lot they have the cutest most colorful and unique kitchen stuff, and I wish I could own the whole store, but some exciting things I found there:

  • Unbleached cupcake liners in a cardboard box!! I am so excited about this I’ve only ever found liners in plastic bags or a plastic tube
  • Bambu tongs, I found these online and I had been meaning to buy a pair! They were only 4.98 too which is awesome and had two sizes
  • Beeswax wrappers, like the abeego wraps, I was gonna buy some but at 20 bucks for one large one I think I’ll pass for now, that is in no way something I can afford. The abeego ones are a lot cheaper!
  • Stainless steel lunchbots lunchboxes
  • Bamboo kitchen utensils and large utensils
  • Stainless steel funnels (but no large mouth funnels)
  • Dish scrubbers shaped like fish (I can’t resist fish shaped anything)
  • Loose metal cookie cutters
  • Ecobags small cotton drawstring bags like the ones I made. But at 5 bucks a bag it’s a little pricey. I made 23 for about 11 dollars (I think only around 6 dollars for the fabric alone)

My last stop was the other Harvest Coop location.  I had been to one Harvest location in Jamaica Plain where I remember finding shampoo and chocolate chips and spices but not as much as I found at the Harvest in Cambridge.  However this one recently closed so I went to the only other location, farther south in JP, and there was definitely less than the Cambridge location, especially no brown sugar and they were out of shampoo. They did have though

  • Jojoba oil
  • Fig newton like cookies
  • Sesame sticks in multiple flavors
  • Even more types of granola

Some things I’m still trying to find:

  • Conditioner. What the heck why does no one sell this in bulk.
  • Cocoa powder. Strange since the bulk shops so far have had every single spice on the planet and a lot of baking things including multiple types of yeast
  • Coconut oil

On some other days I have gone on adventures to a couple other places to check out their selection. The first trip I took was to my local whole foods. They just built a massive whole foods a town over from me and my family doesn’t shop there because it seriously is the most expensive place on the planet. So I went one day to check out their new huge bulk section and it’s interesting for sure. It’s strange because it has so so much but also not even close to everything I would need. Cool stuff it does have

  • Dried dates (definitely a hard to find item)
  • So many spices
  • Beans on beans on beans
  • Bulk pasta shaped like dinosaurs named with the amazing pun Apastasaurus. Delicious and scientifically accurate!
  • Really big rotini (love)
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Honey roasted peanut butter (what)
  • Grade A maple syrup (a New England necessity)
  • Wildflower honey
  • Trail mixes
  • Lots of dried fruit options (which are not at the harvest coops)
  • So many nuts
  • Quinoa corn elbow pasta (i haven’t decided if I like it yet)
  • Honey vanilla granola that looks delicious
  • Awesome candy like juju stars

But other than that it’s missing pretty much all things you would need for baking except flour and sugar, not too many rice/couscous/pasta options, and no bulk cleaning products like castille soaps or shampoos, no oils

I also visited Boston Olive Oil company on Newbury St and they have so many different types of amazing olive oils and balsamic vinegars all in big stainless jugs that you can sample (paper sampling cups instead of plastic!) I’m not sure if you can fill your own containers I wasn’t able to talk to the guy there but I’m sure you can bring back your purchased bottle to get it refilled for a discount.

That’s all there is in Boston. Obviously you can find loose veggies and go to delis for unpackaged meat and sliced cheese, but for goodies always found in packaging these are the only places in the greater Boston area that have bulk sections. This is really sad because Boston does not have world class public transportation. The only two grocery stores in the city for bulk is the two harvest coops, and one whole foods in JP. Cambridge and Jamaica plain are not easy places to get to if you live anywhere else. I spent my college years living in the Fenway area and it would take at least 20-30 minutes on the train (a lot for Boston) to get to the JP location and even more for the Cambridge location because you have to switch trains. Not even counting the fact that the trains have barely been running all winter. This would be even worse if you lived in other areas of the city. Accessibility to these stores is key because with so many grocery stores at your doorstep downtown, not a lot of people are willing to put in the extra effort to go all the way across the city to ones where they can buy in bulk, especially in Boston’s ridiculous winters where everyone just orders delivery.

Maybe more stores will catch on, but for now I’m happy I live in the suburbs near a whole foods with lots of options, and my boyfriend lives in JP so if I need castille soap or other things I can get it there!

Happy shopping!

Homemade bags!

To get my zero waste shopping goals underway I set out to make some reusable drawstring bags. Here they are!  

I used organic unbleached cotton muslin that I got from Joann fabrics. I wanted to use any old fabric that we had around the house but the only extra unused sheet set we had was a really stretchy tshirt fabric from my freshman year.  Super comfy sheets but would be really hard to sew and crumbs would stick to that fabric like crazy, so I settled for new. However the fabric comes in bolts and they just cut you a piece off, so I got it totally zero waste except for the receipt! Which I recycled.

I used 2 yards of fabric and probably around 10 yards of the rope, and I used different thread colors to make them prettier and got 23 bags. I made 3 sizes

Small (9)

The medium is shown above (7)

And the large (6):

And I accidentally made 2 large ones that are shallower but it will be perfect for veggies.  I wanted to make mesh bags but I haven’t found a fabric I like yet so I’ll keep you updated! For now these will fit about everything I would want to  buy and I’ve written the tares right on the bag (on some of them, not shown)

I’ve already put them through the wash, I just pull them inside out and throw them in with the rest of the laundry!

  Juju stars from whole foods (my favorite)

 With the tare (this is just temporary with the pen at whole foods) 

If you buy small foods you can tie it off to make the closure more sealed

Happy zero waste shopping!