Tag Archives: zero waste

One Small Thing: Bags

 

In the One Small Thing series, I am highlighting small changes you can make to your daily habits to reduce your waste and make the world a little greener, and your wallet a little thicker.

Check out all the habits already discussed:

Today we are going to talk about a personal favorite of mine: reusable bags.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

If plastic straws and plastic bottles are the top 2 offenders found on beaches, the lightweight, ubiquitous bag probably rounds out the top three problem children. We have all been walking along, or driving down the road, only to see the tumbleweed of the twenty-first century, the plastic bag, float across our view.

These bags are small, lightweight, and tear easily. They can be pulled out the open window of a car on the highway, fall out of a shopping cart, or sneak under the lid of a trash can.

America is by far not the only nation with this problem. In fact, in a release from Earth Policy in 2014: “Before a ban on thin bags—which tear readily and get caught by the wind— went into effect in 2003, plastic bags were christened South Africa’s “national flower” because of their prevalence in bushes and trees.”

This problem has been ongoing and recognized for years, and many nations are trying to combat it with both taxes and bans. Many states and countries around the world have instituted taxes on merchants, consumers, or both, for using plastic.

Many more have outright banned single use plastic bags, instead imploring suppliers and citizens to use glass, cloth, paper, or cardboard instead. In America: “U.S. cities with bag bans include San Francisco (as of 2007), Portland (2011), Seattle (2012), Austin (2013), Los Angeles (2014), Dallas (to begin in 2015), and Chicago (2015).”

Some more facts from ConservingNow.com:

“Worldwide

  • A person uses a plastic carrier bag on average for only 12 minutes.
  • On average we only recycle one plastic bag in every 200 we use.
  • Each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide. That comes out to over one million per minute. Billions end up as litter each year.
  • Windblown plastic bags are so prevalent in Africa that a cottage industry has sprung up harvesting bags and using them to weave hats, and even bags. According to the BBC, one group alone harvests 30,000 per month.
  • According to David Barnes, a marine scientist with the British Antarctic Survey, plastic bags have gone “from being rare in the late 80s and early 90s to being almost everywhere.” Plastic bags have been found floating north of the Arctic Circle near Spitzbergen, and as far south as the Falkland Islands. Source: British Antarctic Survey
  • Plastic bags are among the 12 items of debris most often found in coastal cleanups, according to the nonprofit Center for Marine Conservation.

Sources: International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies or persons as cited.

reusable grocery bags

So you know it’s a problem.

You know bags take 500 years to degrade, and even then don’t fully break down, but become toxic micro-plastics.

If you have a bag tax or fee, you’re tired of paying it.

You have a bag full of bags under your sink, or in a closet.

You don’t want to add to your stock anymore.

You’re ready to do something about it.

Now what?

Recycle or re-use old plastic bags

Since you already have a stash of plastic bags (you know you do), the first thing you can consider is recycling them. Many grocers are now putting up collection bins for old plastic bags right at the checkout or store entrance.

Those bags may be recycled into composite wood, which is a mixture of plastic and wood scraps. Or they may be melted down into a new batch of plastic bags. And a small portion may even end up in the space-age-sounding field of nanotechnology:

“Scientists at the University of Adelaide have developed a new way to recycle those plastic bags and create carbon nanotube membranes, which may potentially be used for energy storage and biomedical innovations. ” (source)

If you don’t have a store near you that offers plastic bag recycling, you can at least get creative and give them a second life.

Options include craft projects like turning bags into rugs or purses. You could also use them as liners for small trash cans, to hold dirty diapers, or pick up dog poo. But all these uses ultimately get them into the landfill anyways, now they also have gross stuff inside.

A better choice?

Don’t collect them in the first place!

How? Read on…

Reusable grocery bags – freebies/synthetic/plastic

I have at least 100 reusable bags at this point in my life.

This is not an exaggeration.

I fill the trunks of two cars, and there are even more sprinkled all around the house too.

And I think I paid for… 3 of them?

reusable grocery bags

Tons of events now give away bags, because it is easy branding.

They plaster their logo on the side, and you carry it around town.

If that bothers you, maybe you’ll have to scroll down to the you-buy-it options that can be plain or patterened.

As for me, I don’t give a hoot what’s on the bag. Only what’s in it.

BUT

These bags do come with some risks.

Most shoppers do not separate their groceries into produce – dairy – canned – meats, etc. And a very tiny number of people actually wash their reusable bags, ever, let alone after every shopping trip.

Myself included.

Guilty as charged.

I don’t think I’ve ever washed my reusable bags.

I know I know, how can I even blog about these things? Because honesty is the best policy. And honestly, I’ve never yet gotten sick. I suppose there’s a first time for everything.

And I’d still rather take that chance than keep accumulating bags full of bags.

The biggest message here: reusable is awesome! But wash them often. And never put raw meat in them, this is one case where plastic wrapping is A-O.K.

reusable grocery bags

Reusable bags – natural fibers like cotton, hemp, wool

The best option is to use an extremely sturdy bag made from organic, natural sources.

Emphasis on organic.

Crunchy granola gurus tout cotton bags, but neglect to mention the devastating impacts of pesticides, herbicides, and water usage demanded of conventionally grown cotton.

“The larger takeaway is that no bag is free of environmental impact, whether that’s contributing to climate change, ocean pollution, water scarcity, or pesticide use. The instinct to favor reusable bags springs from an understandable urge to reduce our chronic overconsumption, but the bags we use are not the big problem.” (source)

So look for organically grown cotton or hemp bags.

Or best yet?

Make your own!

Take your old clothing or linens that are destined for the landfill or Goodwill, a little bit of time and DIY sewing, and create yourself an arsenal of free, eco-friendly shopping bags.

Here’s a nice no-sew DIY for a t-shirt tote bag: https://www.mommypotamus.com/no-sew-t-shirt-tote-bag-tutorial/

And 7 more ways to do the same thing: https://thethingswellmake.com/recycled-t-shirt-bags-review-of-7-ways/

As with the reusable bags warning, remember to wash these often, preferably after each use with hot water.

 

Other uses for bags:

  • Corral trash/recyclables/compostables to bring home
  • Keep your car/office space organized
  • Hold wildflowers you pick or a bouquet you buy
  • Forage wild fruits, herbs, mushrooms, or nuts
  • Use instead of giftwrap/tape/bows for the holidays

reusable grocery bags

 

Tell me! Have you ever done any fun DIYs with old bags? Made bags yourself from scratch? How do you avoid single use plastics?

One Small Thing: Coffee Filters

 

In this series I am highlighting one small change you can make to your daily routine or one small thing you can do to make the world a little less wasteful. Don’t miss the previous posts about cloth napkins, handkerchiefs, water bottles, straws, and travel mugs.

Today we are continuing the caffeine chat with: Coffee Filters

This includes regular-sized coffee pot filters, as well as Keurig-style pod cups.

one small thingone small thing

A Brief History of Coffee Filters

As the story goes, all coffee used to be brewed the same way as Turkish coffee insists on being brewed: hot and dark and with the grounds still in the finished drink. This often led to an unpleasant taste and gritty texture.

One day, a housewife decided she was tired of chewing her morning drink. She tried a few different items around the house and found that her son’s blotting paper and a copper pot with holes put in it were the perfect combination for getting the black gold liquid without the gross solids.

And thus, the filter was born.

Through the years we have improved and refined filters based on material type, thickness, and adding ruffles. Those variegated sides help the liquid flow better, and the thickness and grade of paper determines how finely it can filter.

There are even filters made from a far wider array of materials than wood pulp, such as metal, bamboo, even gold.

What Are Coffee Filters Made Of?

Let’s imagine that at least one of those 2.7 cups of coffee per day consumed by 150 million Americans is made at home. That means at least 150 million coffee filters are used per day. And probably at least 149.9 million of those are tossed into the trash, destined for the landfill.

Every day.

coffee filter

Enter the Keurig

Coffee was chugging along, enjoying a slow but steady rise in popularity, when along came an invention that shot it to meteoric fame in homes and offices alike.

Yes, the Keurig.

Originally founded in 1992, Keurig launched its office brewers and line of products in 1998. As the single-serve brewer gained popularity among our instant gratification, everyone-is-unique culture, the Keurig became a household name and expanded for home use in 2004.

Green Mountain Coffee bought the Keurig company and brand in 2006, and business boomed for both through that partnership.

Several more acquisitions and mergers later and they are now part of the Keurig Doctor Pepper brand, and is now “a publicly traded conglomerate which is the third largest beverage company in North America.[

And of course, I must step up onto my soap box for a moment to lambast the Keurig k-cup, or pod, or whatever you want to call this insidious piece of single use plastic crap.

An estimated one in three homes has a Keurig brewer, and the company is on pace to sell over three billion cups per year.

That’s a sh*t-ton of plastic.

Even the inventor of the K-cup says he sort of regrets it… and he doesn’t even own a Keurig machine, saying “They’re kind of expensive to use”.

There’s been much backlash against the waste produced, even to the point of a YouTube video entitled “Kill the K-Cup” which dramatizes the damage it is doing and ends with “Kill the K-Cup before it kills our planet”.

<iframe src=”https://player.vimeo.com/video/116606409″ width=”640″ height=”360″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

When the patents expired, tons of knockoff brewers and cups flooded the market, many of which are better choices based on being recyclable, compostable, or reusable.

Though thank goodness, they are finally trying to change the composition of the cup such that the material is more attractive to recyclers and thus can be diverted for re-use rather than sent to landfills worldwide.

 

How Can You Do Better?

If you use a paper/bamboo filter, compost it

The first point is that most coffee filters are totally compostable! Yes, most are made of paper, and you can toss them into a compost pile or bin, coffee grounds included. The coffee grounds will provide a great source of nitrogen to your plants, while the filter itself will provide some great carbon.

 

Consider re-usable filters

Next, consider a re-useable coffee filter. I bought myself this one, and use it every day. Each night I dump the spent grounds into my compost bin, give it a quick rinse, and restock with fresh grounds for the next day. Easy peasy. I will probably never have to buy another filter in my life! How awesome is that.

We also have 2 sets of these reusable Keurig cups, which hubs uses in his home office, and I took one to work as well. They fit in most Keurig-style coffee makers, but make sure you read the full list in the product description to make sure yours is one with which it is compatible.

 

Another Option: the French Press

A French Press is a (usully) glass container into which you pour raw grounds and hot water to let it steep. It has a filter attached to a pump / handle that you simply press down, and it filters out the grounds. You then pour out your hot coffee, leaving the solids behind. A quick rinse of the press, and you’re good to go.

If it’s just you, try a small 1L size press, or if you have a big thirst or multiple java fiends try the larger 12 cup version. The press is reusable for many many years, and some say even makes a better tasting, less bitter brew, since it doesn’t soak in any oils from the grounds the way a paper filter does.

Can’t Forget My Tea Drinkers!

Oh yes, don’t think just because you don’t get your caffeine from coffee that I’ve forgotten about you. If you morning caffeine hit comes from a nice hot cuppa Earl Grey or a London Fog, this still applies to you.

If you already use only loose-leaf tea with a filter of some sort, then thank you, and feel free to tune out.

Filters and french presses can definitely be used for tea just as easily as coffee grounds. And they can be just as impactful on the environment. In fact, individual tea bags are responsible for several thousands of tons of non-biodegradable waste.

Though like filters, most are made from paper, least 20-30 percent are made from non-recyclable and non-compostable materials. And even the paper kind rarely gets put into a compost pile, most just end up tossed in the trash bin.

Then there are the foil or plastic or plastic-lined packets that some individual bags are further wrapped in, the boxes that are plastic wrapped, the little metal staple that holds the tag on the bag… you get the picture.

Step 1: If you must have individual tea bags, then at least read up on your favorite companies about their production line. Learn which companies have better or worse practices, and maybe switch. Choose tagless, natural sourced bags with minimal packaging.

Step 2: When you use tea bags, compost them! If you don’t have a pile and don’t want to start one, see if there are any local gardens, community gardens, or schools that will take them. Most gardeners won’t turn down extra, free compost materials.

Step 3: Graduate to loose leaf! The bonus is that it is usually far cheaper per pound versus bagged since you don’t have to pay the “processing fee” of bagging and packaging them. You can also get creative a make your own mixes. Go ahead and put a teaspoon each of green tea, spearmint, and chamomile in a cup, you crazy lady you. And then use a filter, steeper, or French press. And compost the leaves, too!

 

Reasons you should consider reusable filters:
  • Saves you money
  • Saves you time – never shop for filters again
  • Saves you hassle – no more forgetting to pick up a new pack of filters at the store and having to buy to-go coffee or -gasp- go without
  • Saves the planet – keep hundreds of pounds of plastic waste out of the landfills

And now that you have your delicious, hot cup of low-waste coffee, don’t forget to put it in your own to-go mug!

 

 

How do you get your caffeine fix?

One Small Thing: Plastic Straws

 

In this series I am highlighting one small thing you can do in your life that will make a difference in our collective waste production and move us towards a plastic free world. Don’t forget to read back through why you should consider making the switch to cloth napkins, handkerchiefs, and anything other than plastic bottles.

Today, I am breaking the news: Plastic straw are out.

You may have heard.

There are literal laws against them now in places like Seattle and California, and massive international companies like Starbucks and Disney are on board.

budget epicurean one small thing plastic straws

And thank goodness for that, because Americans use about 500 million straws per day!*

*Though the oft-cited 500 million straws per day number might not be accurate, the point is the number is really high, and no matter what the number is, we can and should work towards lowering it.

According to Time.com:

“Some scientists estimate there are 7.5 million plastic straws polluting U.S. shorelines, and anywhere from 437 million to 8.3 billion plastic straws on shorelines around the world. And plastic straws are just a small percentage of the more than 8 million metric tons of plastic that end up in the ocean each year.”

So whether the number is 5 thousand or 5 million, we need it to become closer to zero.

Some may argue the fact that straws are plastic and recyclable. To which I ask: when is the last time you actually recycled a straw?

We are really bad at recycling straws.

They are small, and so ubiquitous as to be an afterthought.

And even if we tried to recycle them, the machinery we have is built for dealing with cans and bottles and laundry detergent jugs, it cannot sort things in the tiny size range of straws.

Here’s a quick primer to answer: “can I recycle this”.

Recycling Mystery: Plastic Straws

Now, I want to be clear: this is not a political issue for me.

This is not a liberals versus conservatives thing.

I don’t give a good goddamn if you have a closet full of rifles or voted for Obama, twice.

I’m not advocating for #StopSucking or #StrawGate.

All I’m saying is, maybe this is the wake-up call that consumers and beverage providers need. The humble straw can be a “gateway plastic” of sorts. Maybe this will get people thinking about all the other single use plastics in our lives.

Maybe we can start asking why.

And how.

And what can I do to stop it.

budget epicurean one small thing plastic straws

We go through our days on autopilot, just throwing things away.

Where is “away”?

Where do you really think your trash goes?

Because literally every piece of plastic anything, ever made, is still here, on this planet. It may have broken down into microplastics, some may have been melted and turned into some other plastic thing, but it is all still here. And we just keep piling it on.

There is a lot of good to this movement, but also some bad.

Why People With Disabilities Are Sick of Hearing, “You Can/I Just.” And I Am Too.

There are people who, due to muscular, nerve, or other disorders, can only drink a beverage safely through a straw. And I don’t have all the answers.

What I’m hoping is that this inspires more of a cultural shift.

A change in perspective. A gentle jolt out of our complacent first world lives where we don’t know or care what is happening outside the boundaries of our social media feed.

 

Some ideas for alternatives to plastic straws:

Other straw materials

To choose the right alternative straw for you, you need to ask yourself a few questions.

What is your price point? How often do you use a straw? Hot or cold drinks? Thick or thin liquids? (i.e. milkshakes and smoothies vs iced coffee, water, and tea)

The good news is there is a plethora of options, with more becoming available all the time.

Paper:

Paper Straws are made from… paper.

The good news is that means they are compostable at the end of their life span and can be returned to the earth. They do have their own pitfalls as well though.

budget epicurean one small thing plastic straws

PROS
o Can be printed with food safe vegetable inks
o Vintage appearance, vibrant and colourful
o Completely biodegradable & compostable
o Great for use with children
o Trees can be a renewable resource if harvested responsibly

CONS
o Will go soggy after a short period of time
o Not suited for thick smoothies and milkshakes
o Some may still be coated in a thin layer of plastic

Sugar cane or Corn starch:

PLA STRAWS – PLA, short for ‘Polylactic Acid’ is made from a renewable resources, such as corn starch & sugar cane.

PROS
o Has the appearance of plastic
o Completely Biodegradable & compostable
o Made from renewable sources
o Can make it flexible like bendy straws
o Easily transportable

CONS
o Can only be composted at commercial composting facility, not at home
o Looks like plastic, so consumers may mistake it for plastic
o Not yet cost effective to a large restaurant/supplier

Glass:

Glass straws are of course made from glass. Most are decently thick such that you shouldn’t have to treat them too delicately, but they are still, well, made of glass.

PROS
o Very smooth, like sipping right from the glass
o Clear, you can see that it’s clean (hopefully)
o Doesn’t really conduct heat, so you can drink hot or cold drinks

CONS
o Easily breakable if dropped or banged against anything
o Slightly heavier than paper or PLA straws

Steel

Stainless steel straws are the most durable option. Made from stainless steel, they should last forever, and not rust.

PROS
o Lasts a LONG time, very cost effective
o Sleek and smooth like the glass kind

CONS
o May hurt if you hit yourself in the teeth with it
o Conducts heat well, so a hot drink might be a problem
o May occasionally get a metallic taste using it

budget epicurean one small thing plastic straws

Reusable sturdy plastic

When all else fails, a reusable plastic straw can at least be washed and drunk from many many times.

I’ll admit I have a handful of plastic straws that I bought on sale at Target several years ago. While they are plastic, they are also a sunk cost for me. They have already been manufactured, packaged, shipped, and bought.

They are a thicker, heavier plastic, and they are dishwasher safe. I use these straws to get myself to drink more water throughout the day, in my morning smoothies, iced coffees, and in many other ways, at home and out and about.

Since I wash them over and over, I’m certain these 5 or 6 straws have already been used dozens of times, and have several more years of life left in them.

 

Bring your own, duh

To go along with the points above about using your own straw that can be used over and over, it is also a good idea to bring one with you at all times if you are a frequent straw user.

There are legitimate arguments from some corners to keep at least the option of straws at restaurants, mainly for folks who, because of a disability, literally cannot drink without straws for one reason or another.

To that I say, why not have places that sell beverages be stocked with reusable straws that they can also sell? (See above)

Have it be a low enough price point that it is affordable, maybe $1.

Yes, everyone is human and if this is your situation you likely carry a straw regularly. But forget enough times and it will become very ingrained, and/or you will eventually have a straw in every car, bag, purse, and coat pocket.

Just drink from the damn glass

This is the simplest option of all: just don’t.

Like the opposite of Nike.

Just don’t use a straw.

Drink from the glass like humans have done for millennia.

budget epicurean one small thing plastic straws

Whether hot or cold, at home or on the go, you can always just drink from the vessel into which you put your liquid. And then of course either wash and reuse it, or properly recycle the container.

 

Want to figure out which straw you should use?
Take the Going Zero Waste quiz and find out!

 

 

What do you think about these plastic straw bans? About time, or too little too late? How do you avoid plastic straws?

One Small Thing – Water Bottles

 

In this series, I am highlighting one small thing you can change in your daily life and habits that add up to a plastic free world. Don’t forget to read up on cloth handkerchiefs and cloth napkins too. We as a species have a long way to go, but each tiny step in the right direction brings us closer to the goal.

Today, we are beating this dead horse: Water Bottles.

Unless you live under a rock, you know all about this. You’ve heard it a million times, seen it a million times.

Plastic is everywhere.

And none is moreso ubiquitous than plastic water bottles.

By the way, when I say water bottle, I also mean any other single use plastic bottled beverage. Sodas, lemonade, iced tea, sports drinks. They all come in plastic, and they are all part of the problem.

The numbers are pretty dire.

“Annual consumption of plastic bottles is set to top half a trillion by 2021, far outstripping recycling efforts and jeopardising oceans, coastlines and other environments” (Source: the Guardian)

plastic water bottles on a table

Think about everywhere you may have been offered or used a plastic water bottle.

  • Your office or work place
  • At a conference
  • A kids sports event
  • At a play or musical
  • Moving day
  • Lecture halls
  • On vacation
  • On a hike
  • At a lake
  • Camping
  • Potlucks
  • Barbeques
  • Office meetings
  • Retirement party
  • Birthday party
  • Wedding shower
  • Baby shower
  • On a plane
  • In an airport
  • At an amusement park
  • An aquarium
  • At the zoo
  • Skating rink
  • Soccer stadium
  • Baseball stadium
  • Football stadium
  • Hockey rink (you get the point)
  • Family holidays
  • At a friends’ house
  • At your house?!?

With the exception of times when local municipal water is honestly not safe to drink, there is absolutely no excuse to drink bottled water rather than tap water in your own home.

If this is your situation, then by all means drink from bottles. Water is hella important to the staying alive thing, and I’d far prefer that you drink water than not.

As the daughter of a chemist and director of seven water management facilities, I can tell you that 99% of tap water is perfectly safe to drink. I grew up my whole life drinking tap water.

Is it a taste thing?

Do you not like that water has no flavor? Does your tap water have too much chlorine or other flavor you don’t like?

Get a filter. Add cucumber slices or frozen berries. Squirt in some lemon juice. Invest in a SodaStream to make it fizzy. Hell, buy a few Mios and squirt some in.

No excuses.

And when you are out and about, there is a 90% chance that you can find a tap to refill a bottle, IF you have one. That’s a big if. Just like stocking every bag and car with a reusable cloth bag, why not start putting a reusable bottle there too?

If you have your own bottle, guess what?

That refill is free!

Yes, you can save yourself anywhere from $1 to $5 (depending on the location) by not buying a drink.

And, not use another plastic bottle!

AND, water is WAY healthier for you than any other sweetened, flavored beverage you might buy.

Win win win!

Any plastic, glass, or stainless steel bottle will do. Many colleges, businesses, or sports teams give them out for free. Thrift stores are bursting with reusable bottles for mere dimes. Get yo self a bottle and USE IT.

For the health of it. For the planet. For the financial savings.

SO, repeat this out loud please: I will stop using plastic single-use bottles.

Why?

  • It is 1,000 times cheaper to drink tap water! (Infinity times really because dividing by zero. #maththings)
  • Remembering my own bottle is easy, and will become a new habit.
  • I care about the future of our planet, forests, animals, and oceans!

 

Did I miss any water bottle locations or excuses? Just kidding, pretty sure literally anywhere could go on that list. How do you avoid single use plastic bottles?

Weekly Eating – 8/20/18

 

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!

 

Over the weekend, I spent some time pulling out diseased squash vines and clearing a corner of the garden. Since there is now space, I also started a big batch of fall seeds!

budget epicurean fall planting seedlings

My library is amazing and has a free seed service, where you can take home up to 4 kinds a few times a year. You can also save seeds and bring them in to share with your fellow Durhamites. I started the 4 from the library and a few from home too, so hopefully I will have beets, turnips, kale, collards, swiss chard, and/or onions in a few weeks.

 

Monday:

Breakfast – smoothie with peaches, bananas, frozen blueberries and flax & amla powder

Lunch – leftover veggie burger + portobello wrapped up in a whole grain wrap with roasted red pepper hummus and sliced veggies

Dinner – This AMAZING egg roll in a bowl from Don’t Waste the Crumbs: https://dontwastethecrumbs.com/2018/03/egg-roll-bowl/

budget epicurean egg roll in a bowl

Tuesday:

Breakfast – I diced up a potato, some mini peppers, grape tomatoes, and sweet potato leaves and cooked them in a frying pan with a lid on for about 15 minutes for a delicious and filling breakfast hash.

budget epicurean breakfast hash

Lunch – Well… I brought leftover egg roll in a bowl. But I forgot that Tuesday is now my busiest day, and I rarely am at my desk between 10 and 2 anymore. So I was starving, and couldn’t wait long enough, and succumbed to Starbucks (the closest semi-healthy option).

budget epicurean emergency starbucks lunch

I felt so much guilt for the $8.50 spent, as well as the plastic container. I’m hoping this makes me remember next week to pack a lunch that can be portable at room temp. I intend to re-use the package at least a few times.

Snack – hummus and veggies

Dinner – I diced up oodles of veggies: squash, zucchini, bell peppers, white corn, and red onion, and mixed it with 1 cup of quinoa and 1 cup of water. Then I baked it at 350 for about an hour, stirring once. The result was an amazing summer one pan dinner.

budget epicurean quinoa summer veggie casserole

I also had another big batch of leftover old bread slices and ends, so while the oven was on anyways I roasted the bread too, and then pulsed it in my food processor to make bread crumbs. Waste not want not right?

Wednesday:

Breakfast – homemade bread with peanut butter and fruit

budget epicurean toast and fruit

Lunch – leftover egg roll in a bowl with rice. I also had my reuseable water cup with straw, real fork from home, and used a hankie as a napkin. Was pretty pleased with myself.

budget epicurean leftovers waste free lunch

Snack – peaches, apples, and pear slices

Dinner – Erin’s amazing Turkish red lentil stew! I thought I over-did it on the cinnamon, as it smelled pretty strong, but the flavor was great!

budget epicurean red lentil soup

Then that night I had a great food debate on Twitter, which all started with popcorn. Of course I ended up making a big bowl.

budget epicurean stovetop popcorn

Thursday:

Breakfast – my tropical granola with almond milk

budget epicurean granola and milk

Lunch – leftover summer veggies and quinoa casserole and a big green salad

Dinner – Thursday night $3 co-op dinner! Some friends and I are making a tradition of it. Can you tell which is the beef hot dog and which is the vegan one? In my opinion they tasted pretty much the same!

budget epicurean co-op dinner hot dogs

We also went to one of the final home games of the Durham Bulls season, and a great time was had by all. Even though we got shut down pretty hard… at least the weather was GORGEOUS.

Friday:

Breakfast – I chopped up a potato, a handful of green beans, some tiny peppers, and an heirloom tomato and tossed it all in a pan with 1/2 cup lentils and 1 cup water. I let that simmer for 30 minutes while I made coffee and fed the dogs and got dressed, and then enjoyed my hot and tasty breakfast.

budget epicurean lentils for breakfast

Yes, lentils for breakfast. Try it sometime, you might be surprised.

Lunch – leftover African peanut stew that I made over the weekend with a giant rainbow of free produce from a friends’ parents.

budgetepicurean african stew

Snack – hummus & veggies

Dinner – leftover eggroll in a bowl

 

The Weekend

This will be a half and half weekend. Saturday is chillax and no stress day, I can be productive or choose not to be. And Sunday I am hosting another tea party!

 

Food Total: $55.49 + 74.05 = $129.54

This week’s delivery box price was a bit steeper than usual because in addition to my usual box I also invested in 10 pounds of ‘seconds’; peaches that were slightly bruised or discolored, to process into frozen, canned, and jam.

budget epicurean produce box

And then I spent a hefty sum at the co-op on Thursday, for a few reasons. One, we are nearly out of maple syrup. And I learned that real maple syrup is HELLA expensive. Like $20 a bottle. But. HFCS is no longer allowed in the house, and therefore this is the only option. Hopefully this will last a good long time.

Two, I did not realize spirulina is FORTY TWO DOLLARS PER POUND. Yeah I got like an ounce, but that cost near $20. Ugh. But it was already in my own glass jar and weighed and I wasn’t about to go put it back on the shelf… so I sucked it up. Better make some damn good smoothies is all I’m saying…

I also caved when I saw this amazing steel straw and straw cleaning brush on sale this week. It was cheaper here than on Amazon, plus now there’s no shipping or packaging, and my co-op benefits a little. I have tons of heavy duty straws but no cleaners, so this is great. Now the ones that are questionable from dried on smoothie gunk can be squeaky clean again!

budget epicurean steel straw

 

Lessons Learned

Bulk, package-free shopping is addictive! I had so much fun last time that I found myself getting some things that were not on my list, just because I had already tare-d jars just waiting to be filled. Hoarding habits die hard folks.

Also, always get wide-mouth if you have the choice. SO much easier to fill. And finally, almonds are heavy and come out really fast! I accidentally overflowed my jar, and had to pull out and extra container to put the handful that spilled into. Because I ain’t wasting $10/lb almonds y’all.

 

 

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

 

 

One Small Thing: Cloth Napkins/Hand Towels

 

In this post series, I am highlighting One Small Thing you can change in your daily life to decrease your consumption and waste production, and move towards a more environmentally friendly, low waste lifestyle.

These changes are focusing on the low-hanging fruit, the small switches that will not break the bank or add hours to your daily or weekly routine.

These are largely changes that used to be considered ‘the way of life’ just a few short decades ago.

Today we are talking about Cloth Napkins & Hand Towels.

budget epicurean cloth hand towels

I know the title looks like two things, since I mention both napkins and hand towels.

But let me explain why they are the same: they are the same.

A cloth, rather than paper, to wipe your hands with. That’s it.

The only real difference being that we call it a hand towel when it is in the bathroom and used to dry your hands after you wash them, and it is called a napkin when it is used at the dinner table or in the kitchen to wipe your face and hands.

cloth napkins

Because we generally don’t use napkins with dinner anyways (I know, we’re animals… no we just aren’t that messy I guess) I haven’t felt the need to invest in a set of cotton dinner napkins.

But I feel that coming on someday soon, as I do love hosting dinner parties and would be more than willing to host family holidays now that we have our own home.

You can re-use cloth over and over for years before they finally break down. And once they become too stained/ripped to use with company, they can become heavy duty cleaning rags for cars, floors, bathrooms, and more.

And the best part is, once they are beyond even that functionality, 100% cotton cloths can even be composted, to totally complete the cycle and close the loop.

Let’s say that your family of 4 uses 2 napkins each per day. I assume lunch outside the house. That equals 56 napkins per week, and a total of 2912 napkins per year.

Now let’s also just pick a random number and say you can get 100 paper napkins for $1 at the dollar store. That still means you are spending a minimum of about $29 per year on paper, which is then thrown away.

That is not taking into account if you buy napkins somewhere more expensive, or in fancy colors or patterns for the holidays, or host family or friends often.

If instead you invested that $29 into a set of nice, restaurant grade cotton cloth napkins, you would most likely never have to buy napkins, ever again! You could probably save yourself over $1000 easily throughout your life, and just imagine how many trees.

budget epicurean cloth hand towels

We used to be die-hard lovers of paper towels.

I mean, what could be easier when you spill some sauce on the counter than grabbing a sheet or two off the roll, wiping it up, and tossing the paper towel in the trash?

There was a roll in the kitchen, on the dining table, on the coffee table, in the bedroom. You never know when you might have to deal with an errant drip of coffee, or a smushed bug, or a dog would cough up something you do not want to touch.

But this convenience comes at a cost, as we would order cases of paper towels every 3-6 months. Not to mention the cost to the environment of all that paper production, transportation, and the greenhouse gasses caused by paper products rotting in landfills.

I figure, we probably spent about $25 on paper towels every 3 months. You can buy 24 cloth hand towels for $16, and they last far longer than 3 months.

That’s a savings of $75, per year!

What I do have oodles of now is cloth hand towels.

If you take a tour of my bathrooms, you will notice towel hooks and a different color towel hanging off each one. Sometimes I even put a second backup towel folded on the counter as well.

budget epicurean cloth hand towels

Many of these are now several years old at this point, as they were purchased on sale throughout college or gifted to me for various birthdays and holidays.

They have cleaned up spills, flour, counter tops, tables, floors, mud, grease, soap, and much more. They have likely been through the wash at least a few dozen times by now.

And all are still perfectly sanitary, and perfectly functional. I have a minimum of one towel hanging off the stove at all times, for cleaning random spills and drying hands or dishes after washing.

budget epicurean hand towel on the stove

When they get dirty, wet, or stained, they just go into the laundry hamper. I wash them with our weekly loads of clothing and bath towels, and have never had a problem.

Though I’m sure there is some small number of pennies spent on laundry soap, water, electricity, and time, these towels have paid for themselves many times over, and will continue to do so for years.

 

To summarize, why should you consider cloth napkins and hand towels?
  • They are infinitely cheaper over time
  • You only need to buy them once every few decades, if that
  • They take far less energy to create than hundreds of paper towels
  • They do not contribute to landfills every week
  • You will love the soft feel of the fabric versus paper
  • They are far more absorbent, for large messes
  • They come in tons of colors and patterns
  • You can use them to clean up after babies and animals
  • They may be able to be composted at the very end of their life

 

What you do think, did I miss any good reasons? Do you use cloth napkins and/or towels, and why or why not?

 

One Small Thing: Handkerchiefs

 

As you may have noticed, this blog is all about being frugal, since I’m the Budget Epicurean and all.  But not to the exclusion of new experiences and food, of course, hence the Epicurean part.

You probably also already know that one great way to save money is by not spending it.

And a great way to not spend money is to incorporate habits and products in your life that can be reused multiple times or in multiple ways. This keeps you from having to buy more than one product for the same need. Handily, not throwing things away also is great for the environment.

The process of incorporating more Zero Waste habits into your everyday life should be pretty easy at the beginning.

There are so many simple habits we can change: using real straws or refusing plastic ones, bringing your own metal or bamboo silverware, using actual hand towels or cloth napkins rather than paper towels.

If you think this is too big of a leap, I will show you in this series how you can help save the planet with One Small Thing at a time.

The One Thing we will talk about today: Handkerchiefs.

Warning: detailed descriptions of snot ahead. Proceed to click the x in the corner if you don’t want to read about it or are squeamish.

budget epicurean zero waste changes one thing
Also check out that amazing 1960s packaging

Handkerchiefs can be beautiful, utilitarian, or tell the story of a place and time in history. They can be hand-sewn cotton, or crafted of the finest quality silk. If they are meant only for decoration and not for use, they can be called pocket squares.

The word originated from “kerchief“, meaning a head covering. Their use became more widespread, and their purpose became moreso to wipe your face or hands, thus “hand” was added to create handkerchief.

Handkerchiefs are also differentiated from cloth napkins in that they are typically not of quite as heavy fabric, and are carried around all day, not just for use at the dinner table.

Fun fact: everyone produces about 1 to 1.5 L of snot every day.

The purpose of all this mucus is to:

  1. Protect your sinuses and lungs from dirt, dust, and other particles in the air we breathe
  2. Act as a defensive barrier to foreign bacteria
  3. Keep your cells lining your airways lubricated

Things that can increase mucus production includes cold weather, allergies, spicy foods, emotional upset, and illness or infections. Healthy mucus is thin and clear, and is typically swallowed or absorbed and we don’t even notice it. When it thickens or becomes discolored, that’s usually a sign of infection.

Since I recently inherited a large collection of gorgeous heirloom handkerchiefs from my great grandmother, I have become a total convert. Yes, I had all the same questions and fears you probably do, and let me dispel a few myths for those still on the fence.

budget epicurean zero waste changes one thing

Your pockets will not get wet

Yes, mucus is 80-90% water. But how much volume do you produce on average? I’d wager not much more than a teaspoon. Most hankies can handle it, especially if you fold it multiple times. If you happen to have a runny faucet, just bring multiple hankies and switch out halfway through the day.

They will not ruin your washing machine or clothes

Unless you are ill, and producing an abnormally large volume or, forgive me, viscous snot, your hankies will do just fine in a normal washing machine. I have a bin where used ones go, and when its full I just toss them in with the next load of towels. It is best to wash them on high heat, but even that is not totally required.

Women who use reusable menstrual pads or cloth diapers can tell you that a washing machine is perfectly capable of sterilizing bodily fluids. You wash your bathing suits and undies/boxers in the same washing machine with your other clothes don’t you? Enough said.

You should use a new one each day (or more often)

Some people seem to be under the mistaken impression that if you use a handkerchief, you only have one and you use it over and over and over. That is not true. Dried on snot is not great, no matter how crunchy-granola you are. If you only have one hankie, you better be washing that bad boy daily.

They have *so many* uses

Of course the main use we are discussing is for blowing your nose or wiping a runny nose. But that is only one small part of the usefulness of carrying a handkerchief.

You can wipe sweat off your brow on a scorching summer day.
You can wrap small items in it such as baked goods when no other bag or wrapper option is avaialble
It can be a fashionable head wrap in a windy convertible while driving up the Amalfi coast
It can wipe up small spills, muddy paws, sticky hands, or wipe your mouth after eating
You can dry your hands after washing them instead of using paper towels that kill millions of trees per year
Y
ou can cover your mouth & nose if there is particularly dusty/ dirty air situation or an offensive smell
It can be a substitute bandage for a small injury
It can be a grand gesture to someone who is teary-eyed to hand them your hankie
They can be used to polish shoes or clean glasses
They can be used for some kinds of dances to enhance arm movements
It can become and emergency sling for an arm or baby
It can stand in as a potholder to grab hot objects

Anything else I forgot? Feel free to tell me in the comments!

Hand washing and air drying is best, but not required

The gentler you are with your hankies the longer the fabric will last, this is true of all fabrics. Sure, if you can pre-soak them, and then gently hand wash them, and then pin them up on a line to dry out in the great outdoors, and then press each one to mint condition, that is the ideal.

But I can tell you from experience so far, they will survive a spin through the washer and tumble dry in the dryer. They may be a bit wrinkly on the other side, but who cares when I’m just putting them in my pocket?

They do not have to be expensive, and they will save you money in the long run

Sure you can buy 3 handkerchiefs for $65. Or, you could buy 100 for $10. Or you could even just make them yourself from old sheets, pillow cases, or tshirts. A handkerchief does not have to be fancy and expensive, it just needs to be a piece of cloth you can re-use after blowing your nose or wiping up spills.

And shoot, why not just ask grandma or grandpa? They might have some hanging around and be happy to hand them down for free!

You can also re-use a handkerchief for literal years. Just having a stack of 7 could prevent you from ever having to drop $3 on a box of tissues ever again! I know we used to go through a roll of paper towels and a box of kleenex at least every other week.

Now, with a bin of clean and a bin of dirty towels and hankies, we haven’t had to buy any of either in over a month. And probably won’t have to for a long time, at least until flu season*. This switch will probably save us hundreds over the next 6 decades or so. I may even get to pass these on to further generations some day, for even more savings!

budget epicurean zero waste changes one thing

*Important note: Disposable tissues are by far the better option when you are legitimately sick and/or in public. When you have a viral infection, and blow your nose, virus particles are in there. If you use a hankie, and re-use it, you risk infecting those around you with everything you touch. Better by far to use disposable, toss the germs right into the trash, and wash your hands afterwards.

So, yes, there are certain situations where something disposable is definitely called for. New babies, sickness, allergies, come to mind. But for every day general use, consider trying out a hankie. You never know, it could end up saving you thousands, and saving the future of the planet as well.

 

 

 

More posts about hankies for your reading pleasure:

Zero Waste Alternatives: The Ultimate List

Tissues vs. Handkerchiefs (Zero-Waste Journey)

Handkerchiefs Save Money: Men’s or Women’s, Cotton or Silk, Embroidered or Plain

Handkerchief History

Every Man Should Carry a Handkerchief

“There is an inverse relationship between the handkerchief’s popularity and the rise of our germa-phobe culture. A society that sprays the air with disinfectant to rid it of those pesky bacterium and totes hand sanitizer on key chains looks eschew at the reusable tissue. I think hankie ignorance is partly to blame. Having not grown up around handkerchief-carrying men, it seems some people are under the impression that a hankie is used over and over again, all week long. But a man should take a clean handkerchief each day, and launder them weekly. It should go without saying that when offering a lady your handkerchief, it should always be an unused, clean one. You should probably tell her that when you hand it over, as to allay any fears she might have about what’s lurking in its folds.”

Weekly Eating – 8/6/18

 

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!

 

Well, I survived my long drive last weekend to Ohio, and turns out it was pretty worth it. The bridal shower was beautiful, they did a great job of decorating and making the hall magical. And it was so nice to see family, I hadn’t been to town in about 2 years.

weekly eating budget epicurean

We caught up on life and things, and just being around the people who raised you is always comfortable. I also benefited, as there were several items I brought home that I previously hadn’t been able to get because I flew rather than drove. I inherited an Instant Pot my mom used once and didn’t like (hello, canning in my future!), a cast iron griddle that was too heavy for my grandma to use, a box full of mason jars, and handkerchiefs from my great grandmother.

weekly eating budget epicurean

I’m pretty excited to use some family heirlooms in my Zero Waste journey. It goes to show you that you should always ask around, old folks lived in times where zero waste was just a way of life, and they know things that we as a society have forgotten.

 

Monday:

Breakfast – potatoes, eggs, and pancakes

Lunch – chili at work. It was a crazy busy day, so I would not have been able to eat at all if a co-worker hadn’t brought chili and pretty much forced me to eat a bowl. The cornbread muffin was really good

Dinner – Chipotle! I know that’s 2 weeks in a row. I’m not mad. Does derail the diet plans a bit…

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Leftover pancake, with bacon and candied walnuts

Lunch – Baked sweet potato, black beans, avocado, and salsa

weekly eating budget epicurean

Dinner – Rest of the Chipotle

weekly eating budget epicurean

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Corn tortillas with fried potatoes, peppers & onions, and sweet potato leaves! Turns out they taste just like spinach when cooked, and we have an abundance of them right now.

weekly eating budget epicurean

Lunch – baked sweet potato with black beans, avocado, and salsa

Dinner – Slow cooker tofu masala. I chopped up onions and bell peppers, mixed garlic, ginger, tons of spices, tofu, and coconut milk and let it simmer on low all day at work. When I came home, the house smelled amazing and as soon as the rice cooker was done our dinner was ready. Ridiculously healthy, tasty, and satisfying.

weekly eating budget epicurean

I made a big batch of blueberry banana muffins using this recipe from Amazing Paleo because I want to experiment with more gluten free recipes (so I have things for next time my sister visits). I used local NC blueberries instead of nuts.

weekly eating budget epicurean

I also made 2 more loaves of my favorite white bread because we were out. It was getting late, so I decided to let it rise overnight and go to bed rather than rush it or stay up too late baking. In the morning it turned out they had risen into monster blobs!

budget epicurean weekly eating

Haha still tasty, and actually the loaves were extra light and fluffy due to the overnight rise time. I bet I could turn this dough into 3 loaves with the extra rise time.

Thursday:

Breakfast – Paleo blueberry muffins

Snack – hummus & raw veggies

weekly eating budget epicurean

Lunch – tofu tikka masala

weekly eating budget epicurean

Snack – my favorite chocolate PB bars, and a salad because they had a potluck at work for someone’s retirement

Dinner – Thursday night Co-op $3 dinner! Loaded baked sweet potatoes with black bean and corn salsa, vegan butter and sour cream, and cinnamon sugar & raisins.

It was a blast, and I also finally made the leap and became an owner… It’s a one time fee of $100 and you get discounts and deals all year long. This was also my first Zero Waste grocery shopping adventure!

weekly eating budget epicurean bulk grocery shopping

Bringing jars and tare-ing was a little awkward at first but the cashier clearly is familiar with the process. And the per pound deals are pretty great. Sadly I did smash my biggest pickle jar, so I was quite sad about that…

weekly eating budget epicurean bulk grocery shopping

Friday:

Breakfast – PBFit on fresh bread

weekly eating budget epicurean

Lunch – lunch out with a friend. I did half great with this. I remembered to bring my towel as a napkin, and even brought my own real fork for the salad. But I did not have a container, so I was stuck with a huge plastic clamshell. Baby steps, this is still progress.

weekly eating budget epicurean

Snack – fresh fruit! I cut up a TON of fruits last night, so we have a wall of containers in the fridge with local NC fruit now.

Dinner – Last of some leftover beef n vegetable soup with my homemade bread.

The Weekend

This will hopefully be a pretty chill weekend. We don’t have any real plans yet, besides several potential friend hangouts, weather permitting. I will probably do some sort of baking or sewing project, like trying a batch of tortillas or crepes, maybe some gnocchi. We are still slowly sifting through the freezer and pantry and cleaning it out, so I’m trying to come up with recipes to use what I have that the boy will also actually like and eat.

We also have a lot of yard work to do, and various housekeeping and cleaning. Vacuum, sweep, laundry, clean the bathrooms… you know, adulting things. I may make some time for relaxing, a new sewing project I have in mind, and/or taking my books back to the library too.

Food Total: $44.12 + $146.27

This is extra high because it includes the $100 membership fee to become an owner in the Durham Co-op. It is a one time fee, and without it I still only spent $90 on food this week! Yay!

Lessons Learned

Bulk shopping is super cheap, and not as hard as you may think. Any glass, or even plastic, container will do. I did learn that a wide-mouth jar is best, as the pour spouts for the bulk containers are very wide, and if your jar you’re pouring into is too narrow, you will fling pinto beans and dried rice all over the place. Don’t be that guy. Luckily my store had a handy wide mouth cup to use, to pour from the container into and then pour from the cup into my smaller containers. It’s like they’ve done this once or twice.

 

 

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

Weekly Eating – 7/23/18

 

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!

 

Having the in-laws in town was really great. I’m lucky that they are awesome and we enjoy spending time together. We explored the area, did some shopping, went for walks, cooked good food and went out a few times, and they helped us fix our fence that got smashed in a storm a few weeks ago.

budget epicurean fence fix
The big ol tree that did the smashing is still there next to the fence on the right.

I’ve also decided that I need to get back to my pre-cruise diet habits. I’ve gotten quite lazy about working out (i.e. I don’t…) and more generous in portion sizes, and it’s showing on the scale and in the fit of my pants lately. I hate it.

But it’s all my own doing.

Since I’m tracking other things anyways (like our trash) I started tracking calories on my Fitbit app again. And have been consistently over-shooting my target range by 300-500 calories… whoops. That explains a lot.

So, after we work our way through the silly amounts of leftovers (am I the only one that ends up with infinite leftovers when family comes to visit?) meals will get more boring for me.

 

Monday:

Breakfast – a peach Almond milk yogurt

Lunch – leftovers from the weekend

Dinner – shrimp garlic fettuccini with broccoli & cauliflower

Tuesday:

Breakfast – homemade wheat toast with raspberry jam

Lunch – leftover turkey gyro & fries

Snack – 1 peach, 2 matcha energy balls from a previous food trade

budget epicurean weekly eating

Dinner – Leftover sopas from the weekend. Sopas are a super easy corn pancake basically, then you top with whatever toppings you like. I had pinto beans, guac, tomato, a tiny bit of pulled pork, and lettuce.

Tonight was also a Bull City Food Swap, to which I took my pickled watermelon rind, and some fresh rosemary garlic bread.

In exchange, I brought home Cherry Rum Jam, 6 oz fresh smoked bacon, spicy and garlic dill pickles, gingersnaps, “British flapjacks” and the happy feeling of making several new friends. 🙂

budget epicurean weekly eating

Wednesday:

Breakfast – 2 slices of homemade wheat bread with 1 tbsp PB & jelly

Lunch – Big salad with avocado, cucumber, and tomato

budget epicurean weekly eating

Dinner – we went out with a couple from work to a Mexican place, and got some delicious fried things with beans and rice and all the fixings. I swear, my diet starts tomorrow…

Snack – a peach

Thursday:

Breakfast – fruit smoothie with watermelon, mango, banana, flax, and amla powder

budget epicurean weekly eating

Lunch – tuna salad sandwich and peach & tomato salsa

Dinner – pinto beans & brown rice with steamed cauliflower, broccoli, and corn on the cob

budget epicurean weekly eating

Friday:

Breakfast – green tea matcha latte

Lunch – leftover tofu alfredo. Seriously some of the best alfredo I’ve ever had, ridiculously healthy, and tons of protein. This needs to be a staple in our meals. Also you can see the hand towel I brought to work peeking into the corner of the photo 🙂 This has been awesome to wipe my fingers after lunch, and dry my hands after washing.

budget epicurean weekly eating

Dinner – we had some people over for games, bonfire, and fun. I didn’t have time to eat dinner beforehand, so food ended up being all the snacks: pepper jelly cheese dip, chili cheese dip, raw veggies and hummus, and chips and my soon-to-be-famous Carolina Reaper Salsa! I made a new triple batch with fresh peppers, and a whole pint disappeared easily.

budget epicurean weekly eating

The Weekend

This weekend was supposed to have a food tour, but it ended up getting cancelled. That’s okay by me. We have a huuuuuuuge pile of mulch from cutting down some trees that we need to spread all around the various gardens, some weeding to do, watering, and hopefully some harvesting. And of course a big dose of relaxing.

Food Total: $34.73 + $27.51 = $62.24

This week we got our second delivery of a local produce box, and supplemented it with a trip to ALDI. I’m going to give it a few more weeks, and then I’ll tell you all about this service.

$27.51
Dairy $4.18 Staples $10.93 Fruit/Veg $12.40
Almond milk 1.89 Tortillas 4 4.66 Watermelon 2.69
organic hummus 2.29 pita chips 1.99 Pineapple 1.65
blue tortilla chips 1.89 Mini bell peppers 2.39
gallon vinegar 2.39 Mango 0.59
Celery 0.89
Bananas 2.06
Cherries 2.13

I adore ALDI so much for their low prices and no-frills shopping experience, but boy do they love packaging. The produce especially makes me sad now, all the things are individually wrapped.

I get that people want a sanitary food shopping experience, but why do I need peppers wrapped in plastic, apples in plastic, plastic boxes for the fruits and lettuce, styrofoam under my mushrooms and zucchini and jalapenos with more plastic wrapped around it?

I don’t.

Give me my produce naked! The way god intended.

Take that however you like.

Lessons Learned

The process of cutting down on grocery shopping waste is going to be a long one. Tortillas are a not-optional meal staple here, as the boy will wrap literally anything in one and call it dinner. And though I have made my own tortillas, both corn and flour, it is not an easy process. And without a tortilla press, I can’t get them thin enough without breaking or sticking to my counters.

Another part of the process will be having ‘convenience’ foods on hand at all times. We decided to have people over pretty last minute (like, barely 24 hours in advance last minute) so I did not have time to make things that require forethought, like homemade hummus which requires overnight soaking.

So perhaps I need to rethink the freezer situation. Once we work our way through all the things still waiting inside and empty it out more, I’m thinking a big batch cooking day is in order. That way I can stock it with pre-prepped things like rice, beans of all sorts, waffles, breads, cookies, granola bars, etc.

 

 

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

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??