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Whether you live a life of simplicity, or consider yourself a minimalist, or even call yourself a homesteader, one common thread appears within all three lifestyle choices.
Zero-waste habits are often practiced and perfected.
These habits can be a deliberate or a natural consequence of your lifestyle, but however you get there, zero-waste habits can and should be part of our lives each and every day.
Our kitchens are probably the greatest producers of waste in our lives, if we allow them to be.
Learn to cook from scratch – Kitchens are often full of pre-packaged foods that leave us with plastic wrapping to deal with, long after the food is gone. Cooking from scratch leaves very little, if any packaging that can’t be composted.
If you’ve never cooked or baked anything in your life, you’re in good company. I didn’t open a cookbook until I was 31 years of age. When I did, it was like reading Greek. It’s ok, you’re not stupid, you’ve just never been taught. Find that person who will help you to make some simple recipes and give you the “ins and outs” of baking. Or watch cooking shows, but I really think it helps to have a live human being to show you how it’s done. Just ask around, offer to clean another mom’s house for her if she’ll take some time out of her day to show you how to make a few things.
Learning cooking skills is not only critical to your health long-term, but to your ability to be less wasteful overall.
Compost! – Composting is so stupid easy. If you have a corner in your backyard, just start with a pile of dry brown rubbish, like dead leaves or straw, then add your food scraps in layers (alternating 75% dry with 25% moist food scraps), mixing occasionally. A good compost pile needs sun and oxygen to break down. There is plenty of information out there about composting, but don’t make it harder than it is. You can’t add meat or dairy, and you can’t add cat, dog or human feces. However, you can add other manures, like rabbit, goat, horses, etc.
Virtually anything that will break down can be composted, I compost lint from the dryer, cardboard toilet paper rolls and cotton socks with far too many holes to repair.
Now, for you apartment dwellers, I have a story to tell you. Years ago, I knew another mom at our pool who was very serious about what she ate, consuming only organic fruits and vegetables. She was telling me about how much rubbish she created but couldn’t compost where she lived. I offered to take it for her and compost it! She kept the scraps from her fruits and vegetables in old plastic bags and gave them to me at the pool. If we missed each other, she just put them in the refrigerator and I picked them up later. If you live in an apartment, I absolutely KNOW that someone would love to have your food scraps, to either compost or even to feed livestock with! My chickens love food scraps and I love being able to offer them because it lowers my food bill and produces still more manure to use in the garden. Win/win!
STOP Food Waste! – I’m convinced that this is not only the most challenging part of eliminating waste, but also the most impactful if you can get your arms around it! Did you know that over 40% of the food grown here in the US is wasted!!??? 40%!
There are several keys to lowering food waste, but the number one thing is to not bring any more food home than you can eat before it goes bad! Overbuying is the number one reason we waste food. Most of us over pack our refrigerators and never eat what we just spent our hard-earned money on. New stuff only allows last week’s “old stuff” to get shoved to the back of the frig, never to be seen again. That is until it grows something green and smelly, and then we pitch it.
“Just Eat It‘ is an excellent documentary about a couple who set out to eliminate food waste by eating only discarded food for 6 months, I can’t recommend it enough!
Having a Plan B for food that is going bad is another critical piece in abolishing food waste. In our house, when bananas get too brown, they either go into the freezer for smoothies or get made into banana bread. Then the peels go directly into the compost jar. Leftovers get eaten for lunch and the following evening for dinner, or put in the freezer for another time. After meal plates are scraped in our “chicken bucket” and taken out to the hens. Nothing goes to waste.
There is an “Eat Me First” bowl on the counter of food that needs to be eaten before it goes bad, and family members are told to eat from there first when they’re hungry.
Make a commitment to eat what needs to be eaten, NOT what you’re in the mood for. That’s where we get into trouble and find ourselves with food that’s gone bad, simply because we didn’t eat it soon enough. More about food waste and how to combat it here.
It’s really all about having a plan, just that simple. It will vary from family to family, but just give some thought to what you are throwing away and ask yourself the question “What else can I do with this besides throw it away?”
Shopping for groceries
Zero-waste shopping is all the rage, but unfortunately, it can be cost-prohibitive.
You might find, as I do, that many “bulk food” stores are not only expensive, but not as “zero-waste” friendly as they could be.
Check out food coops – Rather than trying to shop “zero-waste” solo, why not check into a food co-op? These may or may not be less expensive, but it’s worth it to check them out. Another cooperative alternative would be for a group of friends to just go in together on #25 or #50 bags of oats, wheat berries, sugar, etc and divide it between you. This leaves virtually no plastic to deal with.
One of our Farmer’s Markets has a bulk food stand that will totally work with you if you want to buy bulk, I’m sure there are stores like this in other areas, you’ll just have to search your town.
If you live near an Amish community, it’s very inexpensive to buy bulk foods there! It could totally be worth the trip.
Don’t buy food with excessive packaging – I’m always blown away when I’m at a grocery store, only to see produce in big plastic clamshell packages. What the heck? Why is that necessary?? Are we to the point where we can’t even touch our produce and choose for ourselves which ones we want? That’s just crazy. I just will not buy that product, or anything else for that matter, that is packaged in such a stupid way.
I don’t want to have the burden of dealing with the plastic afterwards! Recycling is all well and good, but refusing this kind of packaging is much more effective long term.
Yes, I am “one of those people” who will go over to the service desk and fill out a form for the suggestion box, using kind words. Letting stores know how you feel about overuse of plastic packaging, again in a kind and respectful way, impacts the way the company makes decisions in the future.
Bring your own cloth grocery bags – Your bags don’t have to be fancy, they just need to hold groceries. Keep them in your car for easy access, and don’t forget to bring them in the store!
Stop buying expensive pet food – Total budget killer, here. Read my post about “How to Make the Best Dog Food That Your Dog Has Ever Eaten” and think about making your own dog food. It is really pretty simple, saves money and trips to the store. PLUS, I’m convinced that homemade is healthier for my dogs. Check out my “Dog Food” Pinterest board!
Eating at home
Making your meals at home is hands-down the most effective way to save money, eat healthier and shore up waste from packaging. However, you must make sure it get’s eaten. When you make a meal for your family, consider doubling it and put one half in the freezer for another time. This will keep you from eating out on those busy days when you don’t have time to cook.
Eat those leftovers! When you make a commitment to eat leftovers, you’ll be shocked at how much food you really have in the house. There are times when my freezer is just full of leftovers in all shapes and sizes. Some nights, I just pull everything out, heat it up and there’s dinner! My freezer gets emptied out, everyone is fed and I didn’t have to open anything new.
Growing and preserving food is another fabulous way to avoid food waste and food packaging. We grow a big garden every year as well as forage on our property. This allows us to grow our own tomatoes, green beans, broccoli, melons, strawberries, asparagus, apples, cherries, pears, almonds, peaches, black raspberries, red raspberries and mulberries. Not to mention all of the wild herbs we forage and dry for cooking and natural healing.
You don’t have to live on a farm to grow a significant amount of your own food! When we lived in the suburbs, I dug up all of the landscaping and planted tomatoes and peppers all around the house, not to mention a salad bed where it was shady. Most towns have “community garden plots” that are available through your county’s extension office for a nominal fee.
You can grow a ton of food in pots on a balcony! Wherever you live, there are ways to grow food!
Preserve your own food -Keep in mind that when you can and preserve your own food, there is very little waste because you use the same mason jars over and over again! They can last for decades. Once again, your local extension office likely offers classes on canning and preserving food. Start small, like making jam and gain confidence before moving forward.
Learn to make your own bread – There is nothing in the world that says “home” like fresh bread! Learn how to make great bread here!
Out and About
Bring food and drink with you – While you are at work or out running errands, chances are that you’ll get hungry during the day. Since this is a given, why not take a few minutes to fill your reusable water cup (bottled water is a no-no) and pack a sandwich for yourself? Or some nuts and dried fruit?
This accomplishes a couple of positive things, you’ll save money because you won’t eat out. Further, you won’t create waste from restaurant plastic packaging.
Take leftovers home – When you do eat out, and we all do from time to time, bring some small containers with lids to put your leftovers in and take them home. Don’t ask the waiter to do it for you, you’ll wind up with a Styrofoam container to dispose of…that stuff never breaks down. But DO take the leftovers home, you paid for them after all!
Restaurants produce such large amounts of waste, simply from the food that people leave on their plates. This just makes no sense to me when there are so many hungry people. We don’t have a food shortage problem, we have a distribution problem. Sometimes the best we can do is to not be part of the problem!
I would love to hear what your “zero-waste” ideas and habits are in the comments!