Tag Archives: zero waste lifestyle

Tracking My Trash

 

So after my big declaration of wanting to move more towards a zero waste lifestyle, I approached it the same way people wanting to make big money changes should: tracking all your expenses so you get an accurate picture of your current situation.

I decided to track all my trash for one week.

At work, at home, on the go.

Every cup, wrapper, paper, bag, container, and paper towel.

And this is what I had after 7 straight days:

tracking your trash budget epicurean zero waste lifestyle

Minus a few things from our travels:

  • a Starbucks to go cup and sleeve
  • an empty water bottle
  • a paper bag and to go container
  • wrapping from a Torchys taco
  • a paper plate and 2 napkins
  • a paper plate and tin foil
  • a synthetic wine cork

I’m not going to lie, I was a little surprised. I thought we already did a pretty great job of recycling and not buying a whole lot. But this was quite eye opening. This is only 7 days worth of trash!

The empty box of ziplocks is evidence that I have or had at least 50 more plastic bags somewhere in my house. A plastic takeout container that I had been reusing for work lunches got smashed to pieces. A styrofoam container from portobello mushroom caps. A plastic wrapper from a stick of butter. Some non-recyclable plastic windows from mail envelopes. We run through sunscreen and bug spray like water in the summertime.

With the obvious exception of toilet paper, anything I normally would trash at work got put into a plastic bag. Things that I might normally toss that could be composted, I brought home instead to toss in my compost bin. Like a banana peel, or some yellowing leaves from my lunchtime salad.

And this is the bag I kept at work:

tracking your trash budget epicurean zero waste lifestyle

And you can see it is much less heavily food-focused and more weighted towards snacks and paper products. I have always brought my own lunches to work in reusable plastic or glass containers, and have a set of silverware and cups there that I wash daily. This helps cut down on my overall waste at work.

I honestly do not think I could, nor do I really want, to get my household waste to less than a mason jar full per year. But this definitely showed me that there is more room for improvement.

I love the aptly named “Near-O Waste“, which more accurately describes the lifestyle I’m shooting for. I still want to enjoy modern conveniences and not live like it’s the 1800s. But I also want to be gentler to Mother Earth.

Lesson #1

I use a lot of paper products! Like, a silly number of kleenex and paper towels throughout the day. Obviously to blow my nose, but also to wipe up small spills around my desk, to blot grease or lipstick, after washing my hands or my lunch containers. And every single time I use the restroom at work, I use 2-3 paper towels.

Paper takes a lot of energy, water, and deforestation to create. And we waste a LOT of paper products as a species. Toilet paper, paper towels, actual printer paper, magazines, books, newspapers, paper plates… the list goes on.

With how much paper waste we produce yearly, we could build a 12 foot high wall from New York to California. Not that we should. Paper also gives off a lot of methane when it rots in a landfill, rather than being composted. And taking away trees means decreasing oxygen production, and less protection against climate change.

What can I do about it?

Well, I’m going to bring an actual kitchen towel to work. When you wash your hands after using the bathroom, they are clean, right? You just need a towel to dry them. Lets see how long it takes to get comments or weird looks 😉

I’m also going to try to remember to bring home any paper towels that I use (because you know I’m not going to remember or bring a towel every time). At least once a day I’d toss the towels in the trash and just as I walk out the door think shoot! I meant to keep that to compost… so clearly this will take some re-training.

Lesson #2

Even the Budget Epicurean, who revels in homemade goodies and snacks like energy balls, KIND barsgranola bars, and homemade granola, has emergency packaged snacks, and uses them. Sometimes it’s a crazy day, or the afternoon munchies hit, and for the good of my co-workers I must keep the hangry at bay.

What can I do about it?

Stock my desk and pockets with homemade, no waste goodies. This includes things like my homemade bars and balls, but also whole fruits and bags of nuts or trail mix. If you have any great zero waste snacks you love, please share in the comments!

There is a balance between tasty yummies that can sit at room temperature for days at a time without getting gross. Perhaps I will try bringing weekly batches, which will require more memory muscles. Or else get comfortable with being hungry until I get home.

Lesson #3

We go through a lot more packaged food than I realized. When I think of “packaged food” I think junk food. Which is a big part of the SAD (Standard American Diet) and a general no-no in my house.

However. ‘Healthy’ foods can also come in packages.

See above: edamame, sliced cheese, granola bars, frozen mixed veggies, frozen berries, radishes, carrots. All healthy, whole foods… yet all are also wrapped in plastic that gets thrown away. Not great.

What can I do about it?

I am now moving more towards ‘zero waste’ principles when grocery shopping. I will be scoping out the options in all my usual shopping haunts, as well as branching out more into my Durham co-op market and Farmers Market.

Ethnic grocery stores are also usually pretty good options for things like cheap produce, baked goods, and I’ve found a place I can buy seafood and whole fish right off the ice. I will start preparing better for shopping trips, asking more questions, and seeking out package free food options. And next year, we may get a CSA.

 

Is There Any Good News?

This week also made me much more aware of not just my own habits and consumption but also those around me. Waste and plastic packaging has become so convenient, normalized, and ubiquitous.

We don’t even think twice about using multiple plastic cups, straws, utensils, and bottles. Daily.

I think we should think.

The good news is, we are starting to catch on. More stores are offering bulk food sections, package free produce, local produce, discounts for bringing your own bags or mugs. The Zero Waste lifestyle is spreading, as awareness of the plight of and concern for the environment becomes more mainstream.

And I had several small wins throughout the week:

  • A friend asked to meet up for afternoon tea at Starbucks to catch up. It was spur of the moment, but I had brought coffee from home in a to-go mug. So I rinsed it out and took it, rather than use a Starbucks cup. Bonus, I got 10 cents off! And, maybe, planted a small seed in my friends’ head to bring her own cup in the future.
  • While walking to my office, I saw 2 paper napkins on the ground that must have blown off someone’s lunch or breakfast. I usually would at least pick it up and toss it in the trash. This time I took it to my desk to put in the ‘take home to compost’ bag.
  • One day there were 2 plastic bins with broken lids sitting by the recycle bins. Clearly they were no longer usable for their original purpose, but they could be perfect for another idea I’ve got brewing… so I snagged them and took them home to perhaps give them a second life.
  • When collecting mail from the week, I realized… it is super easy to make paper from old paper scraps. So I pulled out the little plastic windows, and got crafty. I even sprinkled wild flower seeds into it so the paper can be planted when I’m done with it! I think I’m going to use it to create a nice wedding shower card.
  • I saw an awesome bag that said “I used to be a plastic bottle“, and asked about it. That led to a fun conversation about plastic and waste and how we can all do better.

So there you have it, week one of my Near-O waste initiative, and lessons learned. I’m sure this will be a very long process, with a lot of ups and downs. Much like everything else in life. 🙂

 

Want to join me??

I’d love that! Just keep all your non-compostable and non-recyclable items, for one day, one week, one month. And then come back here to comment, or post about it on social media (maybe we can make #TrackYourTrash a trending phrase on Twitter?) and tell me what you learned.

 

Have you done a trash tracking week? Where do you struggle with low or no waste options? Do you have any zero waste snack ideas besides nuts or raw veggies??

Weekly Eating – 7/16/18

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Monday was our travel home day from a family funeral. We were smart, and prepared a batch of blueberry muffins ahead of time, so we would have something on the plane. I had also packed a bag full of healthy granola bars, energy bars, and fruit snacks.

It was nice to get home, and check in on the gardens. Turns out 4 days of no watering isn’t enough to get these plants down!

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

The zucchini finally has oodles of little baby squash coming.
I CANNOT WAIT TO DROWN IN ZUCCHINI. I’m weird and I know it. #sorrynotsorry

The tomatoes are also starting to produce fruit, there are several dozen tiny green globes. Not quite large enough to pick for fried green tomatoes, but I am so antsy. I’m dying for a taste of home grown tomato sauce on pasta. I’m also stoked that the volunteer cucumber is doing so well, since the ones I planted on purpose never came up.

Oh, and since our fence got smashed by a tree in a storm a few weeks ago, we’ve caught deer in the yard a few times. I absolutely hate this, as they are very destructive towards those things I love so much, my plants. And, the poo in my yard. Which is apparently infinitely interesting to our dogs. To the point that they want to wear it as a fragrance.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan
He knows what he did.

Yeah, green, stinky deer poop. The dog rolled in it. His face says it all.

Monday:

Breakfast – Blueberry muffins

Snack – Granola bars

Lunch – Leftover frozen burrito fixings

Dinner – White bean & pork soup. I pulled a frozen package of pork out of the refrigerator when we got home for burritos, then used some more of it to make a quick soup for dinner.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

White beans are a favorite of mine, so simple and delicious. I added some onion and carrot and radishes that were wilting in the produce drawer. Simmered on the stove for a few hours, it was a delightful just-got-home meal.

Tuesday:

Breakfast – thawed pancakes with raspberry jam

Lunch – Leftover soup from yesterday

Dinner – Quesadillas: pulled pork & BBQ for the boy, thawed black beans and cheddar for myself. With avocado, salsa, and plain Greek yogurt as toppings.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Snack – someone at work brought walnut brownies and was kind enough to share, so I had two of those

The brownies made me think Hey self, you have tons of black beans still, why not make black bean brownies?? They count as breakfast, snacks, dessert… so I did, and used this recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

They came out a little gooey, but that’s how I like my brownies. They were almost like chocolate-chip-dotted fudge. That I don’t have to feel at all guilty about eating!

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Cherry Vanilla overnight oatmeal. I layered the last of my steel cut oats in a jar with some ground flaxseed, vanilla soymilk, and frozen cherries and stuck it in the fridge overnight.

Lunch – Leftover black beans & rice with salsa

Dinner – I pulled out some chicken from the freezer, and threw it in the crock pot with a jar of my sweet pepper jam for the boy, and thawed a black bean burger for myself with steamed fresh broccoli and white corn to go with it.

Snack – an amazing black bean brownie

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Thursday:

Breakfast – cherry vanilla smoothie: I had some oatmeal left that I didn’t finish, so I tossed it in the blender with some cranberry juice, extra frozen cherries, and a banana

Lunch – Chickpea sweet potato curry with brown rice, thawed from the freezer

Snack – you’ll never guess…. yup, brownies!

Dinner – Vegan alfredo on wheat pasta, made with silken tofu.  Recipe from Saving the Crumbs.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Sounds crazy but I promise it was actually really amazing. The sauce was thick and creamy and the flavors complex thanks to a dash of nutmeg and cayenne. Even the boy said it was some of the best alfredo he’s ever had. Except it had “too much chunky stuff” LOL (that’d be zucchini & squash)

Friday:

Breakfast – smoothie with cantaloupe, frozen berries, banana, amla powder, cherry juice, and flaxseed

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

Lunch – Leftover veggie alfredo

Snack – fresh fruits: pineapple, pears, blueberries

Dinner – Leftovers, or else out somewhere with the parents

The Weekend

The boy’s parents are in town this weekend, bringing us some things we’ve inherited. So we will be finding places to put things and use what we picked out, and will get to spend a little less stressful downtime together. This also means the ‘eating out’ costs will likely be high this weekend, and I probably won’t cook at home as much. I’m okay with that.

Food Total: $27.60 + $27.03 = $54.63

We used up a bunch of things from the freezer, which is awesome. The chest freezer is getting a little out of control, so it might be time for a deep clean and defrost soon.

I still have tons of bags of frozen vegetables, pork chops, various seafood, several types of ice cream and frozen treats. We will slowly work our way through these things and then I will only re-stock with pre-cooked items like rice and beans and veggie patties.

Fruit/Veg $27.09
forelle pears 2 1.77
avocados 2 4
yellow peaches 2 1.65
black plums 3 1.49
zucchini 2 yellow squash 1 2.94
kale 1 bunch 0.99
broccoli 2 4.58
mango 1 1
cauliflower 1 1.99
pineapple 1 2.99
yellow corn 5 2.5
bananas 6 1.19

Lessons Learned

I had my first attempt at Zero Waste shopping, at Harris Teeter. It wasn’t even pre-planned, which I am a little embarrassed about, but I did a great job of not needed plastic bags and bringing home very little waste, which I am thrilled about.

I bought solely fresh produce, so there were of course bar code stickers, and the cauliflower in particular I was sad about, since they were all individually wrapped in plastic.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan
All the produce in the cover photo above fit in these 2 bags

However, this is plenty of produce for the week & weekend, in addition to another service which I will tell you more about soon! #Spoilers… The true test will come when I need to go re-stock pantry staples like pasta, rice, and oats. Oh, and there was 0.51 in tax on the groceries… but I thought food wasn’t taxed? Color me confused.

 

 

How about you guys? Did you have a learning week or an awesome week of wins?

First Ever Guest Post!

 

So, one of my goals for my Seventh Year of Blogging was to post at least one guest post and accept at least one guest post.

I’d been working on a mammoth post, on a topic that is becoming more and more near to my heart, for several days. It was getting longer and longer every time I went in to edit, and was nearing completion. I was polishing up the last edges, when Angela over at TreadLightlyRetireEarly posted her One Year blog birthday post.

Now, I had “known” Angela for almost a year, since Military Dollar convinced her to join Twitter (and thank you for that!). Then in May I had the absolute honor of staying with her and her family in Seattle.

Turns out, she’s just as cool in real life! Cooler, actually.

And as it so happens we have a lot in common. Like frugality (duh) and saving money and investing. We both still have a lot to learn too, of course. But we also are both passionate about the Earth, loving it and treating it well.

So, since this article was all about my thoughts on our wasteful society and what I hope to do to help in any small way I can, I figured this could not be more perfect for a cross-blog post!

Angela agreed, and so today, I bring your Budget Epicurean’s first guest post as well as Tread Lightly Retire Early’s first published guest post!

Pursuing A Zero Waste Lifestyle (Guest Post From Budget Epicurean)