I’ve been KonMari’ing so much lately that I haven’t written as much about some of my other topics, including my zero waste project. But that still continues, and I’d like to share how things are going in the kitchen specifically.
My goal, overall, was to eliminate food packaging as much as possible in favour of using my own containers. As many zero waste advocates point out, before the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ steps we should think about ‘refusing’ altogether, and in terms of packaging, this means eliminating it as much as possible. Of course food is packaged in shipment to the supermarket, but I can at least eliminate some of the smaller packages that I use to bring it home.
I now buy all our meat on a monthly basis from the meat counter at Whole Foods, and mostly in my own glass containers – a combination of Le Parfait jars and lidded Pyrex dishes. My local HEB will allow me to use my own containers, but the selection is more limited and I’m specifically choosing to buy pastured meat. But if you’re starting out, living in Texas, and want to keep shopping at HEB (which seems to be the typical place most people shop here), try their meat counter with your own containers. On my last shop, I bought a month’s worth of meat all in reusable containers; the only item the butcher packaged was a whole chicken, too big for any of my jars. Possible solutions: ask them to chop the chicken up for me, or get a big container.
Pretty much all produce I now buy unpackaged, save for little stickers and twist ties. I’m honestly not worrying about those right now. Sadly, my only plastic-bagged produce comes from our farm subscription box! But in my regular shopping, I’ve been using my reusable mesh bags.
Dry goods, like coffee, herbs and spices, rice, granola, beans, and various nuts and dried fruits, I buy from bulk bins either at HEB or Whole Foods, or occasionally another nearby supermarket, Sprouts. HEB actually has a reasonable selection of these things, and I buy them there when I can to encourage them to keep stocking them at a ‘normal’ supermarket. I use mostly cloth bags for these things, because at HEB you can’t tare your containers – i.e. deduct the container weight from the weight of the item – and so you are paying for the weight of the container. Thus I opt for my lightest weight bags, rather than jars. I launder my cloth bags along with my weekly load of towels.
I’ve begun baking our bread again, so we aren’t acquiring bread bags. I do buy flour packaged in paper, because you can’t buy bread flour from the bins, and I’m picky about that. But it’s only a paper wrapper which is recyclable, so I’m okay with that.
I can get some liquid items in reusable containers as well: oil and vinegar from a local shop that refills jars, and maple syrup from Whole Foods.
Now, in other areas I am buying packaged goods, but I’ve changed my packaging choices. What is ‘the best’ packaging seems like a huge area of debate, but for myself, I prefer to avoid plastic where possible because of questions about its toxicity, and because it is not biodegradable and often not recyclable. So I look for cardboard boxes, glass, and aluminium, all of which are recyclable in my area.
I buy yogurt in a glass jar from White Mountain Foods, and most of these jars never even make it to the recycling because I reuse them for storage purposes of all kinds.
I buy pasta from Barilla in cardboard boxes, the biggest size I can, and remove the little plastic window before recycling the boxes.
I get yeast in a glass jar.
I do buy cans of tomatoes pretty often, and occasionally cans of soup or tuna.
Now, I haven’t mentioned the things that I haven’t changed, like plastic-wrapped tortillas, crisps and tortilla chips, frozen fruit and vegetables, butter, and milk. Overall, we’ve reduced our consumption of some of these things, so I don’t buy them all weekly, but I’m not aware of any easy alternatives. Zero waste folks are alway saying things like, ‘Make your own tortillas!’ Yeah, I’ve done that. Do you know how labor intensive and time consuming it is? And when you’re done with the tortillas, you still haven’t made dinner yet. There’s my rant!
I started this zero waste project in February, and all these changes have truly become easier with time. I’ve realised something about this ‘refusing’ business, which is that although it’s only the more extreme folks (of which I guess I’m now one) who undertake it, in the long term it’s actually easier than a middle ground. Now, if you’re at the other extreme, and don’t mind just throwing things away, that’s easy to do. But if you have some degree of environmental consciousness, the most likely thing you’ll do is try to recycle and reuse more: but these are so time consuming and troublesome! (As a great example of this, I watched a TV show recently about recycling in Japan, where people in small apartments are dismantling bottles and separating all kinds of materials into many containers – laudable efforts, but a lot of clutter and labour.) Figuring out what you can recycle and how, dismantling things for recycling, or trying to find alternative uses for them, is such a bother. But having a glass jar that you just use and wash, unthinkingly, over and over, is actually much easier. That’s what I mean by saying that refusing is easier than more moderate efforts. If you’re faced with refusing packaging versus recycling it, I think refusing generally requires a little more work, but definitely less hassle. Does that make sense?
Finally, we started composting our food scraps in July. Our city offers rebates to help with the cost of buying a composting system. That’s good for us, because we chose the most expensive kind there is, a bokashi system, which is fully enclosed, and thus suitable for an apartment balcony. I won’t blather on about it now, but this system is working well for us and made a huge dent in our overall trash production. Once we started composting, we went 5 weeks without emptying our kitchen trash (previously it had been weekly). I was actually surprised that all my efforts made such a measurable difference. I also don’t have to keep wiping up gross spills on the trash can lid!
So, in case you were wondering, my zero waste project has been very successful so far, and so many aspects have become normal to me that I don’t foresee giving them up.