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My Favorite Vegan Meal Prep Recipes Oven roasted potatoes and peppers in purple baking dish

My Favorite Vegan Meal Prep Recipes

Introduction

After a two week break from the blog, I’m back. I’ve decided to slim down to one post a week due to my increasingly busy schedule. Today I wanted to share my favorite vegan meal prep recipes.

My husband and I rotate through this list along with a handful of other recipes each week. All of them are very tasty, super easy to make, and healthy vegan meals you won’t get bored from!

Most of these vegan meal prep recipes were improvised and change a bit each time I make them depending on the ingredients I have on hand. I don’t really time or measure things, so I tried my best to give you proper amounts and instructions. If something seems way off, let me know so I can fix it.

Squash Pasta

I actually just made this vegan meal prep this week, which is what inspired me to do this post. Pasta is already an easy thing to make, and adding veggies makes it so much tastier and filling. You can add other vegetables if you want, but I would advise against adding bell peppers. We tried them once and didn’t enjoy the result.

This recipe and many of the others utilize “super firm tofu.” I highly, highly recommend this over firm tofu or softer versions because it holds up so much better.

Vegan squash pasta with veggies in saucepan and pasta in pot

Ingredients

  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 yellow squash
  • 1 lb whole wheat pasta
  • 1.5 jars of pasta sauce
  • 1 package of super firm tofu (16 oz)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Spices to taste (basil, oregano, etc.)

Directions

  1. Chop zucchini and squash into small pieces about fingernail size.
  2. Cut tofu into chunks.
  3. Peel and finely chop garlic cloves.
  4. Start cooking pasta according to directions.
  5. Sauté garlic cloves in saucepan.
  6. Add squashes, tofu, pasta sauce, and spices. Cook on low/med until pasta is finished.
  7. Drain pasta.
  8. Combine pasta and sauce in large container. Add a bit of each at a time so all the pasta gets coated.

Shepherd’s Pie

My husband really likes shepherd’s pie and suggested we make a vegan version. This recipe is taken from The Forks Over Knives Plan cookbook that we bought at a thrift store, but we’ve changed a few things to suit our tastes. We also decreased the ingredient amounts compared to the book’s recipe.

Vegan shepherd's pie with mashed potato top layer in red pan

Ingredients

  • 3 potatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 package of super firm tofu (16 oz)
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 cup green beans
  • 1 cup peas
  • 1 cup corn
  • 3 cups unsweetened plant milk
  • 6 tablespoons cornstarch
  • Spices to taste (salt, pepper, paprika, thyme, oregano, etc.)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  2. Cut potatoes into chunks.
  3. Dice onion.
  4. Peel and finely chop garlic cloves.
  5. Slice carrots and green beans to desired sizes.
  6. Place potatoes in large pot and bring to boil. Reduce heat and shimmer covered until tender. Drain and mash potatoes. Add additional plant milk as desired.
  7. Sauté onion, garlic, tofu, and carrots in saucepan on medium until onions are translucent. Stir and add water occasionally.
  8. Add peas, corn, and green beans to saucepan. Cook until heated through. (Our saucepan isn’t big enough for all this so we pour the onion mix into the baking pan then add these vegetables with the milk mixture below in the saucepan.)
  9. In bowl, combine plant milk and cornstarch and whisk until blended. Add to saucepan along with spices and cook until thickened.
  10. Transfer vegetables to 9 x 13 inch pan. Spoon and spread mashed potatoes on top. Sprinkle with paprika.
  11. Bake until bubbly and lightly browned, about one hour.

Veggie Stew

This vegan meal prep is pretty similar to the shepherd’s pie due to the ingredients, but it’s cooked in a slow cooker instead of baked in the oven. I like mine a bit more watery than my husband does, so you can judge for yourself how much cornstarch to add as a thickener at the end.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb kidney beans
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 package of super firm tofu (16 oz)
  • 2 potatoes
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 cup green beans
  • 1 tomato
  • 3/4 cup peas
  • 3/4 cup corn
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • Spices to taste (salt, pepper, oregano, thyme, basil, etc.)
  • Cornstarch as desired

Directions

  1. Prepare beans according to directions. (Soak overnight then boil for around an hour until tender.)
  2. Dice onion.
  3. Peel and finely chop garlic cloves.
  4. Cut tofu into chunks.
  5. Sauté onion, garlic, and tofu in saucepan on medium until onion becomes translucent.
  6. Cut potatoes, carrots, green beans, and tomato into chunks or pieces sized how you want.
  7. Combine all ingredients except cornstarch in a slow cooker.
  8. Cook on low for 3 to 4 hours.
  9. Add cornstarch during the last 20 minutes or so as desired to thicken the stew.

Vegan Chili

This is probably my favorite vegan meal prep, even when it’s not winter! I absolutely love this chili, and the tofu chunks are my favorite part. I only wish we had a bigger slow cooker so we could make more at once.

Delicious vegan chili cooking in slow cooker

Ingredients

  • 1 lb kidney beans
  • 1/2 lb black beans
  • 1 package super firm tofu (16 oz)
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tomato
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 cup corn
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp vinegar
  • Spices to taste (garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, etc.)

Directions

  1. Prepare beans according to directions. (Soak overnight then boil for around an hour until tender.)
  2. Cut tofu into chunks.
  3. Dice onion and tomato.
  4. Peel and finely chop garlic.
  5. Sauté onion, garlic, and tofu in saucepan on medium until onion becomes translucent.
  6. Cut green bell pepper and tomato into small pieces.
  7. Add all ingredients to slow cooker. Cook on high for 1 hour then cook on low for 3 more hours.

Stir Fry

My mom used to make stir fry frequently while I was in high school. It’s an easy dish to make and has a nice change of flavor due to the soy sauce instead of the broth or tomato-based recipes above. Feel free to mix up what veggies you add in. Sometimes I do buy the frozen stir fry mixes, but usually I just add whatever vegetables I have on hand.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb whole wheat pasta (spaghetti or linguine works best, but I often use penne)
  • 1 package of super firm tofu (16 oz)
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • Soy sauce (enough to cover the bottom of the pan and soak into the veggies/pasta)

Directions

  1. Chop onion and bell pepper into bite size pieces.
  2. Cut tofu into chunks.
  3. Sauté onion, bell pepper, tofu, and broccoli florets in soy sauce in saucepan on medium.
  4. Cook pasta according to directions.
  5. Drain pasta.
  6. Combine veggies and pasta in saucepan or container (if saucepan would overflow).

Oven Roasted Potatoes and Peppers

This is actually a recipe from McCormick (the spice company) which you can find here. I discovered this because I happened to have onion, bell peppers, and potatoes that I really needed to use up. A quick Google search led me to this awesome recipe I’ve made many times since. It’s so easy but tastes like it’s much more complicated than cut up veggies in oil and spices.

Oven roasted potatoes and peppers in purple baking pan

Ingredients

  • 3 potatoes
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Spices to taste (salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450° F.
  2. Cut potatoes into chunks.
  3. Chop onion and bell pepper into small pieces.
  4. Combine all ingredients in greased baking pan with spoon or hands to fully coat potatoes with oil.
  5. Bake for 40 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Conclusion

So there you have it! Six of my favorite vegan meal prep recipes. I hope you find some inspiration from these recipes and try them out for yourself. You won’t regret it! Which recipe are you most excited to try out?

If you struggle to eat leftovers/meal prep batches before they go bad, head over to my post on How To Use Up Leftovers.

My Favorite Vegan Meal Prep Recipes Oven roasted potatoes and peppers in purple baking dish
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How To Use Up Leftovers A blue plate with uneaten sliced carrots ready to be stored in the fridge for later

How To Use Up Leftovers

Introduction

We waste a lot of food. So much that food waste accounts for 20% of what we send to landfill. Leftovers is one way to prevent it, but sometimes it’s hard to remember (or want) to eat them. I’m still falling victim to saving food just for it to go bad waiting in the fridge. In this post, you’ll learn not only how to properly store leftovers but also how to use up leftovers before they go bad.

Save Those Leftovers

Before we get to discussing how to use up leftovers, you have to remember to save them first! Don’t toss extra food into the trash after dinner (or even the compost bin if the food is still good). Even if it’s a few bites, it can add up over time to a lot of wasted food.

Container

The best way to store leftovers is in a clear, airtight container. The reason you want a clear container is so you can easily see what’s inside and if it’s gone bad. We still use plastic containers, but I try my best to avoid microwaving them. At higher temperatures, plastics can leech out endocrine disruptors into the food. Glass containers or jars are your best bet.

Fridge

If storing for a short time, you can keep the containers in the fridge. Make sure they stay towards the front and don’t get buried. Place newer leftovers behind older ones so you remember to eat the old first.

If it helps, add a strip of masking tape to the lid and use a pencil to write the date. Using a pencil allows you to erase and write a new date for another batch of leftovers. You could also use a grease pencil directly on the container.

Freezer

If storing for a longer period, you can put them in the freezer. Marking them with the date will be more important for frozen items.

If using glass jars, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, ensure there is space at the top for expansion as the food freezes. Wide mouth jars are better to freeze than ones with “shoulders”. If you don’t have any wide mouth jars, just leave even more space (a couple inches below the shoulder). Cap loosely until they are frozen, and try to keep glass containers from touching each other.

For all glass containers, let your food cool a bit before putting it in the freezer. Quick changes in temperature can cause the glass to shatter. Similarly, when you want to heat up frozen leftovers stored in glass, let the food thaw a little first before putting it in the microwave.

Tip #1: Leftover Day

The first way to use up leftovers is to dedicate one night a week to eating a leftover meal. Not only will you prevent food waste, but you’ll also clear up space in the fridge and save yourself some cooking time.

Leftover Day should be the day or so before you plan to go shopping. This allows you to know exactly how much food you currently have so you don’t overbuy. And as I said, eating up those leftovers will make space in the fridge so you have room for new groceries. Taking inventory of what leftovers you have can also inspire what you’ll make next, whether that means incorporating leftovers into a new meal or going in a different direction for variety.

Most of our days are Leftover Days because we meal prep a large portion at the beginning of the week and eat it throughout the week. It saves so much time to make everything at once! Plus, we don’t have to worry about perishable items like produce going bad while it waits in the drawer to be cooked some other night.

Tip #2: Leftovers For Lunch

Making lunch every night before work is an absolute breeze when you use leftovers. When I didn’t use this tip, I ate the same PB&J or bagel every day. But now, I have hot food for lunch pretty much every day, which to me is more filling especially if it’s cold outside.

When you go to store your leftovers, portion them out into smaller containers you can quickly throw into your lunch bag. Many times, our meal prep “leftovers” are a bunch of ingredients I can mix and match and season differently so it’s not exactly the same each day. These ingredients tend to include brown rice, quinoa, lentils, corn, beans, and broccoli.

If you’re bringing in leftovers that are just last night’s dinner, I suggest waiting an extra day or two before bringing them in. How many times do you want to eat the same thing you ate the night before? By spacing things out, you can create a bit of variety in your meals.

Tip #3: Mix It Up

I mentioned this in the section about Leftover Day. You don’t need to just eat leftovers as they were when you had them the first time. Spice them differently, like I do for lunch. Add in a new ingredient. Add the entire container to a new recipe.

Here’s some ideas for how to use up leftovers:

  • Add different spices, hot sauces, or condiments to your leftovers (soy sauce, barbecue sauce, mustard, etc.) to give them a new flavor
  • Add leftover side dish veggies to a stir fry or pasta dish
  • Leftover roasted potatoes can turn into mashed potatoes seasoned with garlic or cheese
  • Make a burrito, taco, or quesadilla out of your leftovers
  • Add leftovers to a soup, stew, or chili
  • If bread gets stale, make breadcrumbs or croutons
  • Juice leftover fruits and veggies or add them to a smoothie
  • Use leftovers as pizza toppings
  • Make homemade veggie burgers using rice, beans, and veggies
  • Compost when leftovers produce, legumes, and grains have gone bad

Conclusion

Leftovers can easily be incorporated into your weekly meals without becoming boring by eating the same thing again and again. If you properly storing leftovers, you’ll make sure they aren’t forgotten. By scheduling out specific times to eat leftovers and getting creative with their usage, pretty soon you’ll be an expert on how to use up leftovers.

Curious about other ways to minimize food waste? Check out my 12 Ways To Reduce Food Waste!

How To Use Up Leftovers A blue plate with uneaten sliced carrots ready to be stored in the fridge for later
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What Are Ethical, Sustainable, And Slow Fashion? Hanging rack of minimalistic white, brown, and grey shirts from a slow fashion wardrobe

What Are Ethical, Sustainable, And Slow Fashion?

Introduction

You may have heard the terms “ethical fashion”, “sustainable fashion”, and “slow fashion” online or from a friend, but do you know what they really mean? In this post, I’ll define each term (because they don’t all mean the same thing) and discuss their importance in our lives.

Next week, I’ll be posting a How To guide on transitioning your wardrobe to include more of these pieces instead of cheap and trendy fast fashion garments. (EDIT: Read that post here!)

What Is Fast Fashion?

You’ve probably heard this term a lot more than its antithesis, slow fashion. Before we discuss the good approaches to fashion, we need to look at how a large part of the industry is producing goods.

Fast fashion started near the turn of the century and is all about creating lots and lots of trendy pieces that aren’t meant to last much more than a single season. They are low quality and sold at ridiculously cheap prices. The goal is to feed our desire for what’s new by constantly changing what’s on store racks and enticing customers with rock bottom prices you can hardly resist.

Fast fashion has coincided with brands sourcing work from less developed countries to reduce labor and production costs. These miniscule costs (compared to domestic factories with higher standards and requirements) allow brands to achieve prices like $5 t-shirts and $8 summer dresses.

Fast Fashion Brands

Most mainstream clothing brands could be counted as fast fashion. Here’s a quick list of some popular brands:

  • H&M
  • Zara
  • GAP
  • Forever 21
  • Primark
  • Victoria’s Secret
  • Uniqlo
  • Urban Outfitters
  • Rue 21
  • Charlotte Russe
  • PacSun
  • Wet Seal

Due to the pressure from consumer who want brands to be more accountable, some of these brands have raced to start sustainable clothing lines and increase transparency about their practices.

Fast Fashion Materials

Most fast fashion garments are made of cotton. Although cotton is a natural fiber, it is a very thirsty plant. It can take 20,000 liters of water to produce a single kilogram of cotton. While obviously not always the case, some cotton growers use child labor, but don’t think cotton is the only culprit!

Other garments are made of synthetic, manmade fibers like nylon and polyester. These materials are plastics. Yes, plastics. Fast fashion relies on fossil fuels, and not just to power the factories. For polyester alone, a whopping 70 million barrels of oil are consumed each year.

When washed, they release small fibers called microplastics into the water. Small organisms eat the microplastics released into our waterways and then are eaten by larger animals up the food chain until a larger concentration of plastic is in our salmon dinner.

Although viscose/rayon is a natural fiber, its production processes are energy and chemical intensive and cause harm to both workers and the environment.

Fast Fashion Ethics

Due to the high volume of demand, brands need lots and lots of garments produced quickly and cheaply. Read the labels on items in your closet, and you’ll find a lot of India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and China. The labor is cheap, which means the saving get passed onto the customer. But at what cost?

Although the cost of living is lower in these countries, garment workers are living in poverty, their hours are long, they are usually not paid for required overtime, they work in dangerous conditions, and are sometimes verbally or physically harassed/assaulted.

As mentioned, child labor is a huge problem in the fashion industry. Children work at all levels of production, from growing cotton to sewing garments. They are oftentimes taken away from family, denied an education in addition to a childhood, and work extreme hours in horrid conditions.

Unsafe Factories

This post comes on the anniversary of a tragedy. Seven years ago today (April 24, 2013), a building housing multiple garment factories called Rana Plaza collapsed in Bangladesh. On April 23, the building was evacuated due to cracks in the walls. The owner then reportedly said the building was safe and threatened to withhold pay from workers who did not show up the next day. That day, the building collapsed, killing 1,134 people and injuring over 2,500.

Collapses aren’t the only problem. Factory fires have also killed hundreds. Also in 2013, a factory fire killed 112 workers, and there were reports that the exit doors were locked and trapped workers inside.

The True Cost

I made the decision to stop buying fast fashion after watching a documentary called The True Cost. This documentary goes inside garment factories to expose the ethical violations and environmental impacts of fast fashion. You can check out this doc and others on my List of Must Watch Eco-Documentaries!

Fast Fashion Production

As if the ethics weren’t bad enough, fast fashion production methods aren’t great for the environment either. The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world.

From Farm to Factory and Beyond

Textile production uses a lot of water (see the Materials section above). Dying fabric takes a 200:1 ratio of freshwater to weight of clothing dyed. Untreated wastewater from factories oftentimes gets dumped into waterways, which harm plants, animals, and humans who live in the area. Fertilizers and pesticides run off into waterways as well, with similar problematic effects.

Speaking of fertilizers and pesticides, heavy use of these chemicals degrade the soil on cotton farms. Dyes, bleach, and other chemicals used in production are toxic to both workers and the environment.

During production, a full 15% of the total fabric gets left on the factory floor. This fabric will be thrown out as a complete waste of the resources that went into making it. Once in the landfill, it can take 200 years for a garment to decompose. Remember, plastics only degrade into smaller bits of plastic. They never truly go back into the environment.

From Factory to Customer and Beyond

While most of the world’s clothing is made in Asia, most of the consumers are in North America and Europe. Garments have to travel thousands of miles to get to stores, which results in a lot of carbon emissions.

Fast fashion encourages over-buying, throwing out wearable items, and frequent shopping trips. Over-buying results in a false higher demand so companies will continue making more and more items. Throwing out clothing fills up our landfills. Textiles make up 5% of landfill volume and the figure is growing. More trips to the stores means more emissions into the atmosphere.

At the end of their short lives, garments are usually tossed into the trash. Since the quality of the garments is low, it’s less likely the item could be donated or sold secondhand. While 95% of textiles could be recycled, only 15% are recycled or donated.

What is Ethical Fashion?

Ethical fashion is exactly what is sounds like: fashion created in an ethical manner where workers are treated properly by employers. Workers are paid a fair wage, provided safe working conditions, and are not worked to death.

Example Code of Conduct

Ethical fashion brand Reformation holds all its suppliers to a strict Code of Conduct. This Code of Conduct ranges from disallowing child or slave labor to limits on overtime to health and safety requirements. Reformation also requires third party audits of all of its factories to ensure a good working environment.

Ethical Fashion Brands

Because of the problems uncovered in the fast fashion industry, many ethical brands have emerged to give consumers peace of mind when shopping.

Check out these ethical fashion brands:

What Is Sustainable Fashion?

Sustainable fashion uses natural fibers grown responsibly and low impact production methods to create built-to-last garments. Workers do not have to handle toxic chemicals to produce and dye textiles.

Waste products are dealt with responsibly (no poisonous wastewater and massive heaps destined for landfill). Oftentimes, garments are produced closer to where they will be sold, such as brands with factories in America.

Sustainable fashion also includes secondhand garments because they extend the life of an item and cost no additional resources compared to buying new. If you aren’t convinced secondhand shopping is for you, I suggest reading my 8 Reasons To Thrift Shop to change your mind!

Sustainable Fashion Materials

Cotton

Organic cotton is a popular choice for sustainable fashion garments. These plants are grown from non-GMO seeds, and fertilizers and pesticides are not used. However, because organic cotton uses even more water than conventional cotton, it is not necessarily the most sustainable choice.

Linen

Linen comes from the flax plant. This plant not only absorbs lots of carbon from the environment, but it also can grow in poor soil unsuitable for food crops. Linen uses 60% less water than cotton, and even non-organic linen uses less added chemicals than cotton.

Lyocell

Lyocell comes from eucalyptus (and at times other trees) and is a form of rayon. The textile is made of the wood pulp from trees that require neither irrigation nor pesticides to grow. It also goes by the brand name Tencel. I have a sweatshirt that it made of lyocell, and it is super soft. Hard to believe it came from trees!

Bamboo

Bamboo grows super fast, and the plants help restore soil quality and prevent erosion. While the usual process of making bamboo into a textile is chemical-intensive (not great), the brand Monocel uses a closed loop process that recycles water and less harmful chemicals.

Hemp

Like bamboo, hemp is one of the fastest growing plants in the world. It requires less resources than other plants (50% the water cotton needs) and does not degrade soil as fast as other plants do. The only problem is hemp growing is highly restricted because the plant is in the cannabis family (although has none of the effects).

Alpaca

Alpaca comes from the animal of the same name. Alpacas produce much more hair much more quickly than goats or sheep and are low maintenance animals. Manufacturing alpaca textiles does not require harsh chemicals either.

Recycled Materials

What about recycled textiles? Although it is a plastic, recycled polyester is a good option because it uses 70% less energy than new polyester and cuts the CO2 emissions in half. It is made from PET (the same plastic as water bottles) and diverts waste from landfills. Recycled nylon is also a plastic but reduces carbon emissions by 18% over new nylon.

There’s also recycled natural fibers. Recycled wool and cotton also divert waste and save on the large amounts of resources to create new wool (taking care of sheep) and new cotton (all that water we’ve talked about).

With the exception of recycled polyester and recycled nylon, all of these textiles are 100% biodegradable.

Sustainable Fashion Brands

Eco-fashion has grown in popularity as more and more consumers are concerned about climate change and the health of our planet.

Here are some of the best sustainable fashion brands.

What Is Slow Fashion?

On the opposite end of fast fashion is slow fashion. The term “slow fashion” was coined by Kate Fletcher from the Centre for Sustainable Fashion as an echo of the emerging slow food movement.

Slow fashion garments are high quality and built to last by incorporating high quality materials and expert craftsmanship. Instead of a new collection of clothes released every month or even more frequently than that, slow fashion brands release only a small handful of collections per year.

It shuns the consumerism and impulse buying that come with fast fashion, and encourages buying less and only when you need to. In addition, many slow fashion brands look for sustainable materials and methods as well as have high ethical standards.

Beyond Buying

Slow fashion isn’t just about the garments you buy. It’s also about how you take care of them.

Increase the longevity of your clothing by following the care instructions on the tag. Reduce how often you wash your items so they won’t stretch, shrink, or fade as quickly. Mend your clothing in the places it does wear out. You can learn yourself or hire someone to do it for you.

I’ll get into more details about clothing care in next week’s post about creating a responsible wardrobe so be sure to check it out.

Slow Fashion Brands

Like with ethical and sustainable fashion, slow fashion brands will charge a higher price, but it is well worth it for a garment that lasts. If pricing “per wear”, it really isn’t all that expensive.

Here are some great slow fashion brands:

Why Are Ethical Fashion, Sustainable Fashion, and Slow Fashion Important?

While on their own, each approach to fashion can make you feel good about your purchases, together they create a wardrobe you can feel great about. Many brands already combine all three. I had a hard time deciding which category the example brands fell into because of that!

You will know neither workers nor the environment are paying the price for that “steal” you found at the mall last weekend. You also know that garment is built to last for years instead of weeks.

By choosing transparent brands or secondhand markets over fast fashion, you’re voting with your wallet. You’re voicing your distaste for the practices of fast fashion brands and reducing their profits. In addition, you’re encouraging and supporting smaller brands to keep doing what they’re doing (since many ethical or sustainable brands aren’t huge multinational companies found in every city).

Conclusion

The impacts of the fashion industry are widespread around the globe and harm uncountable lives and our planet’s future. So what can you do about it? How can you transition your current wardrobe so that it focuses on ethical, sustainable, and slow fashion?

Stay tuned for my post next week on that very subject! (EDIT: Read that post now!)

What Are Ethical, Sustainable, And Slow Fashion? Hanging rack of minimalistic white, brown, and grey shirts from a slow fashion wardrobe
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15 Zero Waste Online Shops For Beginners A wooden table covered with many different zero waste swaps like straws and cloth bags

15 Zero Waste Online Shops For Beginners

This post contains affiliate links. I will receive a commission if you make a purchase using these links, at no additional cost to you. Read more on my Disclaimer page.

Introduction

Not all of us are lucky enough to have local zero waste shops in our area; however, that’s where the internet comes in. There are tons of zero waste online shops where you can find plastic free and sustainable items so starting your zero waste journey is super easy!

While this doesn’t replace secondhand shopping or shopping local, online shopping comes in handy when you can’t find that certain item yourself. Check out my post on 8 Reasons To Thrift Shop to get some motivation for shopping secondhand instead of buying new!

I’ve organized the shops by country of origin, but some may ship to other places (all of Europe, worldwide, etc.).

United States

Life Without Plastic

Life Without Plastic has been selling plastic free items online since 2006. What started as an eco-conscious couple selling glass and steel baby bottles has grown into one of the best zero waste online shops. They have something for every part of your life and even have a subscription box service (you can also purchase a one-time box instead of a subscription). The founders also wrote a bestselling book as a guide for others. Life Without Plastic ships worldwide and is based in both the US and Canada.

NOTE: I am a Life Without Plastic affiliate.

Tiny Yellow Bungalow

Tiny Yellow Bungalow started in 2015 as a blog that eventually expanded into a giant zero waste online shop. They focus mainly on kitchen, bath, and cleaning products, but they also have handmade and vintage sections. They can ship internationally and have free shipping on orders over $100.

ZERO Market

ZERO Market is the first brick-and-mortar zero waste store in Colorado located in Aurora, CO. Their zero waste online shop has over a thousand items that ship to the US and Canada. The cool thing about this shop is their selection of zero waste gift sets such as a zero waste to go bag or a picnic set. They also sell herbs and teas in either reusable containers or paper bags, which I think is super neat!

Marley’s Monsters

The first of Marley’s Monsters was a fabric scrap stuffed monster sewn by Marley’s mom back in 2013. From there, her mom Sarah started making everything Marley needed with a focus on sustainability which grew into an online business and retail store. Their fabric and wood products are handmade in Eugene, Oregon, and they have a retail shop in town if you’re in the area. You can even customize your fabric prints (currently suspended during COVID-19). They ship worldwide, and shipping is a $5 flat free for US orders over $100.

Wild Minimalist

Zero waste parents Max and Lily started Wild Minimalist to help others begin their own zero waste journeys. They are based in California and ship worldwide (shipping is free within the US). Like ZERO Market, Wild Minimalist sells zero waste kits which make great gifts!

EarthHero

EarthHero’s mission is to make buying responsibly second-nature by providing a one-stop shop for sustainably made items without sacrificing on convenience. They have everything from clothing to toys to home and pets. They also offer free shipping on orders over $50 (ship to US only currently, but they are working on expansion).

EcoRoots

EcoRoots is also based in Colorado. They sell ethically and sustainably sourced items for the home, kitchen, and bathroom. Like most of these zero waste online shops, they ship using recyclable and compostable materials (even their packing peanuts are cornstarch and dissolve in water!). A portion of every purchase is donated to Ocean Conservancy to reduce single use plastic pollution in our oceans. EcoRoots offers free US shipping on orders over $30.

Boston General Store

The Boston General Store began in 2013 as a small online store, but now they have two brick-and-mortar locations in Dedham and Brookline, MA. The store pays homage to owner April’s grandmother who taught her the importance of reusable, well-made goods. Both locations have such a welcoming old-timey vibe, but for those outside Massachusetts, you can still buy zero waste items, local foods, and clothing online. There is free shipping on US orders over $25, but they can also ship internationally.

United Kingdom

Anything But Plastic

Anything But Plastic is a funky little shop started by a “whippersnapper trying to self-righteously change the world.” The owner really tries to educate consumers by including sections on “What does it replace?”, “Why is it better?”, “Is it worth it?”, and “Material ratings” for each and every product sold on the site. Currently, ABP ships only within the UK.

Waste Not

Waste Not is a plastic free online shop promoting reduction in plastic use that is polluting our planet. They offer home, kitchen, and bath products, as well a few kits. For their sanitary products, they run a one-for-one program which helps young girls receive access to both menstrual products and advice. How great is that? There is free shipping in the UK on orders over £50.

Plastics Free

Based in Cornwall, Plastics Free is aiming to make the transition to a plastic free lifestyle as easy as possible. They sell bath, kitchen, and cleaning products, and they have sections for pets and kids. They ship to all of Europe, but UK orders over £25 ship free.

Life Before Plastik

Two sisters started Life Before Plastik in 2018 as a way to help others make ethical and sustainable purchases. At least 90% of their products are vegan (those that aren’t include beeswax). None of their products were tested on animals, and all are sourced responsibly. LB4P ships to Europe, US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. There is free shipping on UK orders over £50.

Boobalou

Boobalou offers a huge selection of home, living, women’s, and baby products. Every order donates a tree to the Eden Reforestation Projects. Boobalou also has an EcoPoints system in which for every pound spent, you receive a 5p EcoPoint to use on future orders. They ship worldwide and offer free shipping on UK orders over £50.

Australia

Biome

Biome started way back in 2003 with the vision “to preserve a safe, healthy environment on this wonderous planet for now and for all who come after us.” Beyond your typical zero waste swaps and home items, Biome sells slow fashion garments, outdoor items, books, and even food. They have very strict standards for their products, which you can read about here. Biome ships to most of Asia, UK, US, Canada, and European Union countries. They also have seven store locations in Australia.

Canada

NU

NU Online is an online zero waste grocery store that also sells other zero waste products (personal care, cleaning products, etc.). If you want to make your own DIY products, NU sells various ingredients plastic free. NU has a physical location in Ottawa for in-store pick-ups. Grocery purchases are for Ottawa only, but other items can be shipped wherever in Canada.

Conclusion

What zero waste online shops have you used to help transition to a sustainable lifestyle? Let me know in the comments.

15 Zero Waste Online Shops For Beginners A wooden table covered with many different zero waste swaps like straws and cloth bags
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How To Avoid Consumerism While Going Zero Waste A woman holding too many shopping bags after giving in to impulse buying

How To Avoid Consumerism While Going Zero Waste

Introduction

We’ve all seen it. Somehow the trendiness of sustainability has allowed our consumer pasts to seep into our plans for the future. Instagram is filled with minimalist pictures of the best new gear to hop out and buy. Influencers push more and more products that are just a click away. And although the rationale of buying better products is good at heart, buying more and buying new is an easy trap to fall into, especially if you are prone to impulse buying to begin with. So today, we’ll focus on how to avoid consumerism while continuing on our zero waste journeys.

But not all these advertisements are bad. Since most ethical and sustainable companies are small and just starting out, it can be hard to find out about them without sponsored posts. It’s important to have this stream of information, but at the same time we each need to reflect on what is best for our interests and if what we have right now still does the job. We need to learn to be patience, to use up what we have, and to find other avenues of “shopping” that are better for the environment.

We also need to remember to keep our personal “why’s” in mind when we are faced with the option to make new purchases. Consider the consequences that decision will have on your chosen reason to save the planet to nudge you in the right direction.

This post will also include a brief discussion of some things you might see all over the internet, but you really don’t need them. Either you can just do without them completely, or there’s something you own that can serve the same purpose.

Learn Patience And Resist Impulses

It’s hard to avoid consumerism when we’re surrounded by product ads (or just pretty photos). We get impatient and impulsive, justifying it as a “sustainable swap”. We don’t want to wait until our shampoo bottle runs out to switch to fancy shampoo bars. No one wants to wait until their shirts become rag-worthy to buy a new one from an ethical brand. Frustration drives you to impulse buys that end up replacing a useful item you already have.

I’m still trying to use up my disposal products. Sometimes it really bothers me that I’m still surrounded by plastic when I could go out and buy better versions right now. I’ve bought things impulsively because they look pretty and are sustainable or zero waste, but I didn’t really need it right then. While that would make me feel good in the moment, I’d feel guilty afterward because I’m wasting what I own. Or I let the new item sit there and taunt me as I continue to use up what I own instead (sooo frustrating).

The best way I’ve found to stay patient is by keeping yourself busy by learning. Read an informative article or watch a documentary. Research resources available in your area. Discuss the environment or zero waste with others in person or online.

Take this new knowledge and set some goals. Focus on changes you can make that don’t require a physical item. By staying busy, you won’t have time to brood over your slowing dwindling supply of disposables. At the same time, you’ll get doses of satisfaction from learning something new and from the changes you make.

Use What You Have And Use It Up

A number of “swap” videos and blog posts take you through the same list of products, but many of those items can already be found in your own home. Three frequent products are travel silverware, mason jars, and reusable bags. Let’s see how we can avoid consumerism by using items found in our own home instead of clicking “Add To Cart”.

A fork and spoon from your kitchen drawer can do the job just as well as a new kit. Many foods already come in glass jars or bottles so you can save these from recycling and use them again yourself. Pasta sauce, pickles, vinegar, jelly, and some drinks can come in glass. Using a backpack, reusing plastic grocery bags, or a cardboard box can perform the same function as new canvas reusable bags. Not only do these diminish the demand for new products, they also save you money.

Be sure to check out my list of 50 (Free) Little Changes which focuses on making do with what you have before heading to the store or Amazon as well as behavioral changes which are both green and save you green.

If keeping busy isn’t enough, try turning using up what you have into a game. Occasionally I go through my apartment and make a list of what I still have to use up. It’s fun to do a kind of scavenger hunt for disposables, see what I’ve used up from last time, and try to guess how long each item has left.

Other Ways To Shop

What happens when you can’t avoid consumerism and do need something new? There’s a few possible solutions that still don’t mean buying new. Shopping secondhand either from online marketplaces or thrift stores has so many benefits. You get something that solves your problem, all while not contributing to new product demand and rescuing one from landfill. You can read more about the benefits of thrift shopping in this post.

While thrift shopping is great, especially for those of us who love to shop, there are other options too. You can ask your friends or family if they have something you need they’d be willing to part with. Have a clothing swap with friends to freshen up your wardrobe. Borrow books from the library instead of heading to Barnes & Noble. Do your best to contribute to a sharing economy instead of a single stream.

Another way to “shop” is by turning these new purchases into gifts you receive from others. This doesn’t avoid consumerism, but it does help reduce it. Instead of being gifted items you don’t want, you’ll ensure you’ll receive something sustainable, needed, and useful.

Keep Your “Why” In Mind

Lastly, before you make any purchases, think about how they will affect the reason you’ve chosen to go zero waste. I discuss finding your “why” in Part 5 of my recent series on How to (Finally) Start Going Zero Waste. Remembering this reason will keep you focused and avoid impulsive decisions.

For example, my “why” is protecting innocent wildlife. When I think about making a purchase, I think about how that purchase will affect (or has affected via production) wildlife. Did its raw materials come from land that used to be thriving animal habitat? At the end of the product’s life, is there a chance it ends up as plastic in the ocean, enticing fish and birds to eat it instead? The answers to these questions help me decide what purchases are worth it.

Things You Probably Don’t Need

There are also some items I recommend avoiding entirely. Special lunchboxes or stainless steel tiffins aren’t necessary. You can use containers or jars you currently have, or learn furoshiki, the Japanese art of cloth wrapping, to protect your meal. 

Reusable napkins can be replaced with washcloths or hand towels you already own, or you can make your own our of old clothing. I pack a washcloth with my lunch every day, which also comes in handy to dry my containers after washing them out.

Charcoal sticks for your water in lieu of filter attachments are something that really confuse me. Most tap water is perfectly fine to drink (even many brands of bottled water are just tap water). You can perform a test at home if you are worried about it, but I just drink plain water from the tap.

At the grocery store, I try to avoid bags as much as possible. If I’m buying just a handful of items, I just carry them out with me. Although I do own a mesh produce bag (and use it for green beans), it’s generally not that necessary. Just keep your produce loose instead. I tend to use the self-checkout lanes when possible to avoid potentially annoying the cashiers with my unbagged produce, but it shouldn’t be an issue if you bring it to a cashier.

Conclusion

There are so many ways to avoid consumerism. You can learn to resist impulse buying, turn using up items into a game, shop secondhand, borrow, or just plain do without. Many zero waste swaps are living right under your nose already; sometimes you just need to get creative.

When it comes time to buy new, of course you should try to purchase from companies that align with your beliefs, but for the good of the planet, try to wait a little longer.

Need a few distractions to avoid consumerism? Check out these posts:

How To Avoid Consumerism While Going Zero Waste A woman holding too many shopping bags after giving in to impulse buying
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Vegan or Environmentalist Choices: Who's Right? A woman stands before two arrows pointing in opposite directions drawn on the pavement

Vegan Or Environmentalist Choices: Who’s Right?

Introduction

For many, veganism and environmentalism go hand in hand. Many who are vegan care about the environment, and many environmentalists eat a vegan or plant-based diet. These two ideals, however, sometimes butt heads. I’ve decided to look at which choices are better for animals and the environment.

As an environmentalist, I believe many vegans have lost sight of the bigger picture and have one goal in mind: do not use animal products no matter the cost. Using alternative products can have a much larger impact on the environment, including on the same animals vegan are trying to protect.

On the other hand, I had a couple changes of heart while writing this post and have learned the environmental, social, and animal welfare impacts of non-vegan options may be just as bad as or worse than the vegan option.

Both have their reasons and their flaws, which is why it is up to you to decide which options align best with your morals and ethics. Let’s take a look:

Foods

I’ve split the conflict between veganism and environmentalism for foods into two categories: food items and food packaging.

Food Items

Eggs

I still eat eggs every now and again. So long as the hens who lay them are treated ethically, I see little reason not to eat their eggs which would otherwise go to waste. That stipulation is important though as apparently not all ethical eggs are as ethical as they claim to be. It is important to note “cage free” usually still means hens are kept in overcrowded barns with no access to the outdoors.

“Free range” should be better and allow for ample outdoor roaming, but Nellie’s (owned by Pete and Gerry’s) is currently facing a lawsuit due to alleged overcrowding in their barns and little access to outside.

One qualm I have for believing these allegations is they were made by PETA, which is a horrible organization that euthanizes most animals they “rescue” yet accused Steve Irwin of abusing animals. In the future, I want to keep chickens for eggs so that I know exactly how they are being treated.

Honey

When I set out to write this post, I believed honey was perfectly fine to eat. I figured few to no bees were harmed in the process and beekeepers were just taking some excess honey. This is not always the case. Bees may get smashed and killed while retrieving the slabs of comb from the hives. Many times beekeepers will take extra honey and feed the bees sugar water during the winter as a replacement for the honey the bees had stolen from them.

It is a common belief that honeybees are critical to our food sources since they pollinate such a large portion of our crops; however, commercial honeybees are invasive and have led to dwindling populations of the thousands of wild bee species around the world. So although we should definitely be concerned with the bee population, we should not be concerned with the honeybee population used as agricultural tools and kept by humans.

As a final note on the problems with honey, most commercial honeybee populations are trucked to California each year to pollinate almond crops. Along with the transportation emissions involved, this trip is very strenuous on hives and many bees die because of it.

Food Packaging

For some vegans, especially many beginners, vegan substitutes are part of their daily diet. These vegan hot dogs and vegan cheeses are highly processed and come in plastic packaging. This isn’t necessarily a conflict so much as a warning. By eating whole food ingredients instead of packaged vegan alternatives, you will prevent a lot of waste from packaging and creating those items.

In the same vein, food packaging is an important concern. I first started changing my grocery list by trying to buy as little packaging as possible. Once I decided to try to be more vegan, I began to slack and ended up buying a lot of items in packaging just because they were vegan. So again, if you are vegan/plant-based, try to find as many whole food ingredients that are unpackaged as you can. Most produce items will have at least one version unpackaged.

Now there is a lot of data to suggest that while going vegan leads to the least carbon emissions, being just vegetarian/flexitarian or even subscribing to a Mediterranean diet is just about as good. Protein for a Mediterranean diet comes mainly from seafood, nuts, and legumes, and red meat is rarely on the table. So if you can’t let go of animal products, know you are still doing a lot for the planet by eating them in large moderation.

Materials

In my opinion, materials is where veganism and environmentalism really clash. As a vegan, beyond having a plant-based diet, you do not use any product from an animal. This includes materials like leather, silk, and fur, which all have vegan alternatives. Let’s take a quick look at each of these.

Leather and Pleather

Leather is mostly a byproduct material from the animal agriculture industry. In certain cases with unusual leathers (alligator or snake for instance) it is not a byproduct, but over 99% of leather comes from cows, pigs, and sheep. Now while leather is a current byproduct, if somehow the world demand for meat plummeted, leather demand could keep animals coming to slaughter.

There are many steps involved in processing leather, which can take up to 10 days. This process involves toxic chromium, which harms workers (many times child labor) and is dumped into rivers. In addition to the exposure to chemicals and pollutants, workers often face poor working conditions and are at high risk of injuries on the job.

Vegan leathers are plastics (PVC or Polyurethane) with production processes that are more harmful to the environment than real leather. PVC releases dioxins during production and is treated with phthalates which are a harmful to human health. The chemical process to create polyurethane is dangerous to human as it can cause breathing problems and cancer. Furthermore, as a plastic, vegan leather will never fully break down in the environment like organic leather will.

Silk, Nylon, and Polyester

Silk is an ancient material from Asia that is created from the material used by silkworm larvae to build their cocoons. To harvest the cocoons, silkworm larvae are boiled alive. The cocoons are then carefully unwound. Some companies do allow the the silkmoth to emerge before boiling, which as an animal activist, you would think is the best option. But thousands of years of domestication for silk production have harmed the silkworm. If left alone, the silkworm moth will emerge with no mouth to eat and wings that it cannot use to fly. It will mate if possible and die within a week.

Silk alternatives like nylon and polyester are manmade fibers (plastics) made from petroleum. Their production processes consume large amounts of energy. For example, nylon requires three times the amount of energy to produce as cotton. Polyester production alone consumes a whopping 70 million barrels of oil each year. These plastic fibers release N20, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Although viscose/rayon is a natural fiber, its production processes are energy and chemical intensive and cause harm to both workers and the environment.

In addition, microplastics are shed from garments in the wash and will not be caught before entering the natural environment (contributing to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch).

Fur and Faux Fur

There is a very feeble leg to stand on for environmentalists about the fur industry. Animals used for furs like minks, rabbits, and foxes, are farmed and killed solely for their pelts. They are kept in horrible conditions, and there is little regulation in the industry. Unfortunately, demand for furs has risen, especially in Asia, so the market is not feeling the pressure to stop their inhumane practices.

There are only two ways I would be comfortable buying a fur: 1) if it was from someone who trapped the animal, ate the animal, created the garment themselves, and is selling it as their source of income or 2) if it is a vintage piece secondhand. (Although I’m not too sure why I would ever need a fur since there are so many other types of fabrics I could use instead that have much less of an impact.)

Beyond that, the fur industry are hunters for profit and discard the body. Faux furs are usually plastic polymers like acrylic, which we know come from petroleum and have harmful manufacturing processes and will never fully degrade in the environment. There are, however, faux furs made from natural fibers.

The best option whenever buying clothing is to buy secondhand. In doing so, you are not contributing to demand for virgin fibers and lengthening the lifetime of existing garments. Vegan environmentalists should have no issue wearing secondhand leather, silk, or fur because not only are they not personally contributing to the demand of animal products but they are not requiring harmful processes to create vegan material alternatives.

Beyond textiles, there is the floss debate on whether to use biodegradable silk floss or cruelty free plastic floss. Luckily, Dental Lace has come out with a plant-based alternative to both floss options.

Beyond Production

We must also look at the end of an item’s lifecycle. Food packaging may or may not be recyclable, and even when it is, it may not get recycled anyway. Natural materials will biodegrade, but man-made plastic ones will not. Here is where I believe many vegans forget to look.

By contributing to waste, you are harming animals. The plastics that flow into the ocean, whether they are whole objects like tofu packaging that blew off the barge on its way to Asia or the microplastics that were released from a pair of nylon tights in the washing machine, are harming the ocean biome.

Plastics are being eaten by everything from tiny plankton to albatrosses to blue whales. They die of starvation for mistaking plastics for food or of complications relating to plastics stuck in their digestive tracts.

The need for more landfill space will require destruction of natural habitat and kill off entire populations of animals. Vegans must think not only of how production affects animals but also of how the item will affect them after its useful life is over.

Conclusion

As you can see, every option has pros and cons. What’s best for you may be different than what’s best for someone else. Make sure to keep yourself educated about the products you are purchasing, ask questions, and look at the bigger picture of the lifecycle of those items.

So what do you think? Does avoiding animal cruelty in production outweigh the environmental impacts of alternative products? Where do you draw the line on animal products? If you are vegan, do you or would you buy secondhand animal textiles?

Vegan or Environmentalist Choices: Who's Right? A woman stands before two arrows pointing in opposite directions drawn on the pavement
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How to Shop without Bulk Bins Shelves of plastic free produce in a local grocery store

How to Shop without Bulk Bins

Introduction

We all live in different situations. Some of us have multiple natural food stores, co-ops, and even zero waste shops to buy unpackaged bulk foods. Some of us just don’t. I personally don’t have many options around me. But even if I had easy access to bulk, sometimes you just can’t justify or paying 2 or even 3 times the price. So how can you shop without bulk bins and still reduce waste?

Reduce Food Packaging

First look for completely unpackaged items. This will usually only be fruits and vegetables, although you can ask the bakery or deli to get items without packaging (by bringing your own container or bag). They may say no, but it’s always worth a shot.

When you do need to buy something with packaging, limit the amount of plastic as much as possible. Choose cardboard, glass, and metal packaging instead. Sometimes metal cans are lined with BPA, a plastic coating that can be harmful and should be avoided. There are some brands who note their cans are BPA-free, but some studies have shown the alternatives used still disrupt hormones the way BPA does.

When purchasing naked produce, you don’t need to then put it in a plastic produce bag. Produce bags aren’t necessary, and few cashiers – if any – will care if your items are loose. You can always bring your own cloth or mesh produce bags too. If they are light enough, they won’t add any weight to your purchase. My produce bag weighs a little bit, so I remove the items before weighing at checkout and stick them back in afterward.

Reduce Food Miles

Produce stickers and price signs will sometimes say what country the items came from. By reducing the amount of travel your food had to do, you eliminate some pollution from the boats, trains, and trucks who brought the food from farm to grocery store.

Also check out any local farmers markets. These items were grown nearby and are usually organic. Vendors sometimes will take back the packaging (egg and berry cartons, for example) for future use. This prevents you from taking in waste and prevents the vendor from needing to purchase more containers. Small mom-n-pop butchers and delis are also good resources if you eat an omnivorous diet as they are more likely to be accommodating.

And if we’re reducing food miles, why not reduce them to zero? If you have the space, you can start your own garden with seeds, starter plants, or even kitchen scraps (link to something on Pinterest about the scraps)! All you need is a sunny spot so don’t think you need a yard. Balconies and windowsills work too.

Buy Organic

Packaging and food miles aren’t the only ways to shop environmentally. Organic goods were grown without harmful pesticides and fertilizers. Runoff from farms can contaminate adjacent ecosystems and waterways. Pesticides kill important pollinators like bees. Buying organic foods tell companies you care about the environment and its wildlife.

If you aren’t sure whether a product is organic, look at the produce sticker. Stickers numbers starting with ‘9’ mean the item is organic. Organic bananas always have a plastic wrapper around the stem. This is to slow the ripening process, but it’s also a good indicator of being organic. Sadly this means the bananas will come with some plastic.

Shop the Outer Perimeter

Most grocery stores are set up the same way: produce when you walk in with a deli along the wall, refrigerators and frozen on the back wall and opposite side of the store to the produce, then bakery in the far front corner. All the packaged and processed goods are stocked in the middle aisles. By shopping the outer perimeter of the store, you avoid being tempted by packaged foods. Your shopping cart will then mostly contain whole ingredients with minimal packaging.

If you must enter the middle for packaged items like pasta and canned goods, avoid wandering each aisle. Go directly to the aisle with what you’re looking for and return to that outer perimeter. Sticking to your grocery list will help prevent impulse buys along these aisles.

The Other Type of Bulk

Wholesale food clubs like Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJ’s are a double-edged sword when it comes to environmentally-friendly grocery shopping. On the one hand, buying larger quantities reduces the packaging ratio. For example, a 10 pound bag of rice will have less total packaging than ten 1 pound bags of rice due to the difference in surface area.

This larger quantity will take longer to eat and therefore can reduce the number of trips you take to the store, cutting down on transportation emissions. I can’t speak for other wholesale clubs, but BJ’s also sells a large variety of organic foods.

On the other hand, wholesale clubs have a very limited selection of unpackaged produce. The only things I usually see unpackaged are melons and pineapples. Otherwise everything comes in a plastic bag, cardboard box, or other packaging.

My pet peeve is items bundled together with extra packaging. A plastic wrapper or thick plastic ring will hold multiple normal items (peanut butter jars, juice jugs, etc.) together to ensure you are buying the correct amount and scanning the correct barcode. So for some items, wholesale bulk is a good option, but for others, you’re just creating more waste. Keep packaging in mind when buying in wholesale bulk.

Conclusion

Whether you can shop from bulk bins or not doesn’t prevent you from lowering your shopping footprint. You can shop without bulk bins and still create little to no packaging waste. In addition to buying sustainably, make sure to read my post from earlier this week on 12 Ways to Reduce Food Waste.

How to Shop without Bulk Bins Shelves of plastic free produce in a local grocery store
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12 Ways To Reduce Food Waste wire basket on table filled with tomatoes, squash, and other plastic free produce

12 Ways To Reduce Food Waste

The average American throw out over 6 pounds of food per week (over 400 grams per day). That’s about 340 pounds per year! Food waste accounts for 20% of what we send to landfill. Despite its organic nature, food can take years or even decades to break down in landfills because there isn’t enough oxygen to facilitate decomposition. This leads to the release of methane into the atmosphere. So it’s really important to go beyond reducing food packaging waste and reduce your food waste as well.

Before I started lowering my impact, I threw out a lot of food. I forgot about leftovers and was not able to compost until mid-2018. I had to take out my garbage before it was full because of the smelly foods inside. But now my food waste is mainly limited to dairy that my compost can’t accept and the occasional forgotten leftover (I’m still working on this one!).

I’ve come up with 12 great ways to reduce food waste that span from before you go shopping to after you’ve eaten. Let’s get started!

1. Shop when full

Shopping on an empty stomach will tempt you into buying more than you need or items that you should avoid (packaged, sugary treats). When you aren’t hungry while grocery shopping, you can more easily focus on sticking to your list. Speaking of which…

2. Make a plan and stick to the list

Before you even step food in the store or farmers market, you need a plan. What meals are you planning for this week? What is already in your kitchen you can create meals around? What needs to get used up before it expires? Answering these questions will help you create a list of the ingredients you’ll need for that week. You will be less likely to overbuy amounts that will go bad before you get around to it, buying duplicates of items, and wasting leftovers from last week.

3. Take the oddball fruits and veggies, single bananas, and slightly imperfect foods

Be less picky when it comes to selecting produce. Small blemishes and odd shapes do not make an item inedible. Single bananas often get left behind in favor of a connected bunch, but the table usually has a good number of singles ripe for the taking (bad pun…).

Global Waste is a documentary on Netflix that highlights the already high standards a fruit or veggie needs to meet before getting to the store, meaning so much is already being wasted. Imperfect produce left on the stand will be tossed out if no one sees past the brown spot or “unnatural” shape. There are services that will actually ship you some rejectable produce. Check out Imperfect Foods (previously Imperfect Produce) and Misfits Market!

4. Check the “Yesterday’s Bakery” and markdown sections

A few grocery stores around me (Stop & Shop and Shaw’s) have a Yesterday’s Bakery section as well as markdown sections for dairy and other goods that are nearing their sell by date or have damaged packaging. I always make sure to stop by these shelves in case I can save something from being wasted and get a good deal at the same time.

5. Only buy what you need for that increment between shopping trips

Buying only the quantity you will use between shopping trips has the same benefits as creating a meal plan. You won’t have all this extra food to quickly eat before it goes bad. With less to store, you will be able to more readily see your ingredients and avoid that hidden jar in the back of the fridge that went bad last month.

6. Have meals at the end of the week specifically be “leftover” meals to clean out the fridge

If you still have meal portions left over at the end of the week, be sure you eat them before they spoil. By planning in leftover meals before your next shopping trip, you won’t find moldy leftovers you promised you’d get to but this week’s meal prep was too delicious to pass up.

7. When food is served buffet-style, take less than you want and get seconds if you need them later

Grocery shopping is not the only place to reduce food waste. When at parties or out to eat, taking less than you think you want will prevent excess food waste. You can always ask for more later, but you can’t put back what you’ve already taken.

8. Eat out less

The less you eat out, the more control you have over how much food you receive, where it comes from, and how it was packaged. At home, you can make the amount of food you know you’ll be able to finish in one sitting. I find it’s less tempting to leave a few bites on the plate at home than in a restaurant, especially if you forgot your own container and would have to use a single-use one instead of grabbing one out of the cabinet in the kitchen.

9. Learn to properly store food items for longest life

Despite following what our moms and dads did, we might not actually know the best ways to stores our ingredients. For example, place herbs in a glass of water like flowers in the fridge, separate your bananas to slow the ripening process, or keep tomatoes on the counter instead of in the fridge.

Check out these links for more food storage info!

If you want to keep your items longer than they will last in the fridge or countertop, consider canning or freezing them.

10. Don’t throw out foods based on the printed date on the package

The “Best By” and “Use By” dates are not hard safety dates on food items. They refer to when the peak quality period has ended. It is perfectly safe to eat foods beyond their date so long as they have no signs of going bad (smell, mold, etc.). The only time a date is for safety reasons is the “Use By” date on infant formula.

11. Donate what you won’t use and accept leftover foods from others

Apps like Olio can be used to give away foods you won’t use to others who will, including businesses/restaurants. Olio is free to use and works both ways. You can accept other people’s items as well as give. Too Good To Go is another option to save food from going to waste. They began in Europe but recently launched here in the US.

You can also donate non-perishables to your local food bank or share with friends and family directly. Finally, always take home leftovers after eating out or at an event if possible. Be sure to bring your own containers!

12. Compost

For me, composting is one of the best ways to reduce food waste. Food scraps from cooking and bad leftovers can be composted to create nutrient rich soil for growing new food. There are many options for composting: barrels, piles, small bins, and pick up or drop off services. But don’t worry if you don’t have access to composting. You can still you most if not all the other 11 tips above!

Conclusion

Which waste reduction techniques do you use at home? Are there any others ways you reduce food waste? Let me know!

12 Ways To Reduce Food Waste wire basket on table filled with tomatoes, squash, and other plastic free produce
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How To Reduce Packaging Waste large cardboard box overflowing with wasteful plastic wrap, foam sheeting, and paper cushioning

How To Reduce Packaging Waste

Introduction

If you look in your trash or recycle bin, you’ll notice a lot of what you’re getting rid of is packaging for other items. Food packaging is a major problem in today’s society, but this post is going to focus on how to reduce packaging waste from gifts, online shopping, and non-consumable items like housewares.

Gifts

To many people, gift giving is a very important tradition to show you care. The down side is it can create a lot of waste. Luckily, there are many ways to reduce packaging waste involved with gift-giving and and receiving.

Giving

When choosing gifts for others, first look for experiences that require no packaging whatsoever. Tickets to a movie, concert, or sporting event can be purchased online and saved to your phone. You can also go out to dinner, go for a healthy hike, or have a movie night in together.

If you still want to go the traditional route, be conscious about the materials your gift is made of and packaged in. Is there a glass alternative to that lotion you’re eyeing? Is there a toy that doesn’t come sealed in that razor sharp, scissor-breaking plastic (you know the kind!)?

Next head to the wrapping station. Does your gift even need wrapping? It’s possible to just dress up a gift without needing to hide it in a bag or under some paper. For example, I gifted some granola in a mason jar for Christmas a few years ago and tied some green and red yarn around the lid. Still festive and still low waste.

If you aren’t shipping the gift, try out furoshiki, the Japanese art of cloth wrapping. Check out this useful guide to wrap a variety of different items. You can also reuse packaging you’ve received. Who doesn’t have a little stash of old giftbags? Lastly, you can repurpose paper grocery bags and decorate them with markers or crayons to use as wrapping paper.

If you are shipping, reuse boxes, envelopes (UPS has some that can be reused and resealed a second time) and packing materials (bubblewrap, air pillows, packing paper). You can also reuse old newspaper to help cushion the gift. You can either send the gift wrapped inside the shipping box, or just have that box be the wrapping.

Receiving

When holidays or your birthday are drawing near, be sure to inform potential gift-givers of your stance on gifts. Let them know you appreciate their generosity, but you would prefer no gifts, gifted experiences, low waste gifts, or a donation to a charity or non-profit organization. To reduce packaging waste even more, tell them they don’t need to wrap anything. You can also give specific suggestions of items or brands you support.

Online Shopping

Online shopping is a booming industry that just keeps growing, but with that is a growing pile of wasted packaging materials. You can shop online and still reduce packaging waste by shopping smart and doing a little extra work.

Let’s tackle the big one: Amazon. There are many ways to prevent unnecessary waste. If offered, bundle your items together so they all come in the same box. This is possible when the items can come from the same location.

Have you heard of Amazon’s Frustration Free Packaging? These items come with minimal packaging and, if possible, ship in their original box instead of repacked into an Amazon box. Items in the program are mainly children’s items, office supplies, snacks, and batteries.

Finally, a hidden tip: you can request that Amazon put a note on your account to use as little packaging as possible. While this doesn’t guarantee you will always get less packaging, it doesn’t hurt and can only help. All you need to do is email cs-reply@amazon.com from the email your Amazon account is linked to and request they add this note to your account:

“I have an Amazon account under name@email.com. I would like to put a note on my account letting packers know I would prefer as little packaging as possible, especially plastic air pillows and bubble wrap. Thanks!”

As for other online retailers, try resale sites like eBay, Etsy, or the various fashion resellers (Poshmark, ThredUp, etc.) first. This way you can contact the seller and request minimal packaging. Resale sites are also better for the environment because you are giving new life to old items instead of increasing the demand for new ones. Some sites show seller location. This then gives you a better idea of where your items will shipped from so you can choose nearby sellers to reduce transportation emissions.

Non-consumables

This section is for reducing packaging waste outside of food packaging. Look for items packaged in recycled materials. If this is the case, it will usually say somewhere on the side or bottom. Most commonly it will be recycled paper or cardboard. Post-consumer content is material recycled after it has been used by the public. Pre-consumer content is reused waste material from the production process. 

Buy secondhand whenever possible because most items will not come with any packaging. You’ll also save money and not contribute to the demand for more new products. Check Craigslist or your local Facebook Marketplace or “Buy Nothing” pages. Hop over to your local thrift shops and check out what’s in stock today.

Ikea is a good place to shop for furniture because their items are packed flat to reduce packaging, and they have switched to using mushroom-based packaging in place of styrofoam. How cool is that? Check out my post on Sustainable Packaging Alternatives to learn more about this new packaging!

Packaging Materials

Reuse and recycle packaging materials. Cardboard and paper are easily recyclable, but you can reuse them in many different ways. Cardboard boxes can be reused for gifts, storage, made into a playhouse for kids, and a million other things. A simple internet search will open up a huge variety of reuse and upcycling options. If unwrapped carefully, wrapping paper can be reused a second time. You can also use it to jazz up craft projects. Paper can be reused for crafts and papier mache projects.

Plastic cushioning materials can be reused again and again so long as they still have air. Local grocery stores will take back bubble wrap and air pillows for recycling in the same bin used to collect and recycle plastic grocery bags. UPS and FedEx stores may also happily accept bubblewrap, air pillows, and packing peanuts.

Receipts

Although not really packaging waste, receipts are an almost inevitable piece of waste that comes with shopping so I wanted to include a few tips in this post about reducing the amount you receive.

  1. Shop online so order confirmations/receipts are emailed to you
  2. Select for receipts to be emailed instead of printed at locations that ask (my library does this for example)
  3. Decline receipts (although many times one is printed anyway and just tossed)
  4. Avoid stores notorious for unreasonably long receipts (I’m looking at you, CVS!)
  5. Remember! Receipts are usually printed on thermal paper which contains BPA. For this reason, receipts are NOT recyclable as they can contaminate the entire batch of material. The batch may then be refused and sent to landfill or incinerator instead.

Conclusion

That’s a wrap! (Get it?)

Although packaging may not be completely avoidable in our society (yet), there are lots of ways we can reduce it and get as much use as we can from its materials. Want to learn more about sustainable packaging ? Be sure to check out my posts on Sustainable Packaging Alternatives!

How To Reduce Packaging Waste large cardboard box overflowing with wasteful plastic wrap, foam sheeting, and paper cushioning
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8 Reasons To Thrift Shop eco-conscious shopper on her tip toes looking for thrift shop treasures

8 Reasons To Thrift Shop

One of the first changes I made to start living more sustainably was thrift shopping, but there are so many reasons to thrift shop even beyond sustainability. At first it seemed a bit daunting, and how good can used clothes and items be? Answer: Pretty darn good!

I absolutely love buying secondhand. Not only is it really fun and satisfying when you find “that” item you’ve been looking for, but it’s the best way to purchase items from a sustainable point of view. I’ve found gifts for others, professional work clothes, genuine sports apparel, and good quality casual clothes, dishware, and shoes at thrift stores. All of this at far below market price!

Many people are turned off by the thought of secondhand items, but I have eight reasons why everyone should be thrifting.

1. Cheaper, sometimes a lot cheaper

Because the items are used, they will generally carry a very reduced sticker price. Some examples: I have a couple pairs of jeans that cost $3-4 each. I bought a genuine Red Sox jacket for $8. My husband bought a long men’s overcoat for $28 with the original tag inside that said $375!

The savings don’t stop at clothing either. You can find very cheap working small appliances like toasters and mixers. We bought all of our glassware secondhand for about dollar per piece. Thrift shops also sell gently used furniture items.

2. Variety of colors, styles, and items

Unlike some other stores that sell certain clothing items or styles, the thrift store will have apparel from formal wear to graphic tees. Beyond clothing, you can find accessories, shoes, furniture, housewares, toys, etc. all in one spot! This means all your shopping can be done in one stop instead of wasting time, money, energy, and emissions running around to various stores.

The variety also helps spark inspiration. You will be drawn to certain things more easily than if the rack was filled with the same shirt in a few different colors in all the sizes. And you can find completely unique items that can’t be found anywhere else to give your wardrobe or home décor a special touch.

3. Fit and quality

Fit and quality are our next reasons to thrift shop. The good thing about used clothing is it’s already stretched and shrunk. The fit later will be true to how it is in the dressing room. I always hated buying an item, washing it, and having to give it away because it shrunk too much. Now I don’t have that problem!

You can also judge the quality of thrifted items much easier than new. If the sweater pills, it will likely already have some. If the shirt wrinkles easily, it will likely already have wrinkles. Toys that still work have already withstood rough play from other kids. So there’s far less guesswork that comes along with purchasing secondhand.

4. Boost trading economy

By buying someone else’s items, you boost the local trading economy. This reduces the need for companies to produce more new items. It’s all about voting with your wallet. If you don’t buy new clothing, demand goes down, and then companies will adjust and produce less to meet that new demand.

As a side note: In addition to thrift stores and consignment shops, there are other more direct options for secondhand shopping. Facebook Marketplace, Poshmark, and eBay are great online resources along with the traditional neighborhood garage sale.

5. Not supporting unethical production practices

This goes hand in hand with #4. By not buying clothing new from “fast fashion” brands, you are rejecting their production practices. Refusing to support these unethical companies and instead using my dollars to extend the life of items are my personal top reasons to thrift shop.

The clothing industry is rife with unsafe working conditions and very low pay. I suggest watching the documentary “The True Cost” if you want to learn more about how companies like Forever 21 and Old Navy can profit on those low sale prices. I cannot justify buying new items knowing others are suffering for my “great deal”.

6. Reduce waste

Buying items secondhand prolongs their lifetime and delays their final stop in a landfill. Thrift stores won’t try to sell you trash. The items in stock have plenty of life left in them. They’re just waiting for someone to give them a second chance.

And once you’ve finished with them, you can either re-donate or sell them if they are still in good condition or turn them into something new. Old clothing can be turned into wash rags, hankies, or patches. Glass and electronics can be recycled. Furniture can usually find a new home quickly.

7. Donating overseas can harm their economy

Lots of people donate clothing in the hope that it helps the less fortunate. Donated clothing to charities and clothing items that fail to sell in thrift stores often get sent to developing countries. Before the 1980s, Kenya had a thriving garment industry and imported donated clothing was distributed for free. Then donated clothing was being sold for cheap and the garment industry workforce has declined by over 96%. A couple years ago, a few African nations enacted clothing import bans, but they were then subjected to backlash in trade agreements with the US.

And when organizations send these garments overseas, they wrap them in giant plastic bundles like this. So not only will buying clothing secondhand prevent it from being sent either to a landfill or to a struggling country, but it will also reduce a huge amount of plastic waste and transportation emissions.

8. Fun

Finally thrift shopping if FUN. You never know what’s going to be in stock today, and you can usually count on finding something that puts a smile on your face even if you don’t end up buying it. Thrift stores are a big collection of random items. Maybe you’ll find “12 Days of Christmas” glasses (I did!) or a shirt with your elementary school’s name printed on it.

As they say “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Thrifting is sort of like a treasure hunt, but it’s best to go in without a specific item in mind. Look for a nice blouse for work rather than a cap sleeved red blouse with a v-neck. Maybe you’ll find that, but most likely it’ll be green or 3/4 sleeve with beading. But maybe that’s way better than what you thought you wanted anyway.

Conclusion

What are your top reasons to thrift shop? In addition to physical stores, what apps and websites do you use for online thrifting?

8 Reasons To Thrift Shop eco-conscious shopper on her tip toes looking for thrift shop treasures
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