Zero-waste or Bust. What’s New in my Zero-waste Lifestyle

Please don’t take my lack of zero-waste posts as a sign that I’ve been slacking on trying to become one with Mother Earth. On the contrary, I’ve still been doing what I can to cut down my carbon footprint and even save a few bucks in the process.

So, just how have I been keeping up my zero-waste lifestyle? Well, I’ve made the usual tasks such as recycling part of my everyday life. I recycle at home, and when I’m out, I try to recycle whenever and wherever possible. If you read my last zero waste post, I don’t use plastic utensils or straws anymore– I bring my own now 🙂 And I always make it a point to specify that I don’t need utensils or a straw to whoever is helping me if I’m dining out or getting a drink that requires a straw. Don’t be afraid to speak up about these things! Sometimes I would notice that people would seem annoyed when I would mention it and I didn’t get it. I’d be thinking: “hey, I’m saving you money by not using your stuff and bringing my own! But I can sometimes personalize things, and so I had to realize that it may have had nothing to do with me, and even if it did — who cares! The purpose of me forgoing plastic serves a much greater purpose than worrying about a 5-minute interaction. My point is that once we start becoming more vocal about things and take charge of our user experiences when dining out or getting food, if this is something you’re not use to doing, the slightest sense of resistance can feel uncomfortable or discouraging but don’t let it distract you!

I also still bring my reusable bags with me when I get groceries. This has actually been great because I added a couple of more bags to my arsenal, starting out with two and now owning four. These bags not only help with cutting down on plastic, but they truly are useful! If you pack them correctly, you can carry so much more stuff in them than plastic bags! In one of my reusable canvas bags, I can fit about as many groceries as would probably fit into three to four doubled plastic bags. And the even weight distribution coupled with the sturdy strap of the canvas bag makes carrying it way more comfty and easy than the plastic bags, which usually start slicing into my hands after only a minute or two.

Other than the stuff I started doing when I first determined I was gonna try going zero-waste, here are a few newer things I’ve started incorporating into my life to help me get there:

I Got Reusable Towels

To cut down on my paper towel use, I started using reusable towels. I bought a pack of

reusable towels pic
Some of my reusable towel arsenal.

about 10-12 plain, white cloth towels, and I use them to wipe up spills and clean general things like kitchen counters. Honestly, this has been one of the more difficult things for me to do. Why? Well, everyone has their weaknesses right? For me, I used to be a HUGE germaphobe. It was bad. I was that person who would literally use an entire roll of paper towels to clean up a smaller spill if it was something gross because I didn’t want anything to get on my hands. My naturally evolving self has calmed down from such extremes, and that was the case even before I went vegan. But starting a zero waste venture did help with my germaphobe ways even more. But using the towels for really gross stuff is still not an option. If I ever have to clean up vomit or bodily fluids, I don’t think I’ll be using these towels. I mean, it took some– okay, a lot of getting used to when I would clean my very dirty, greasy stove and then told myself I was gonna wash that towel with my only semi-dirty clothes. I envisioned stove grease penetrating every piece of clothing I owned. An irrational thought I’m sure, but I was so tempted to grab for paper towels! That’s why I haven’t stopped purchasing disposable towels completely. And there’s another reason. I have no problem using a towel if I am eating certain foods with my hands– even the messy foods (yum). But if I have guests or family over, I don’t want to force them to use towels over paper towels. although the intention may be pure, it just doesn’t seem fair or right. But remembering and reminding myself that this is a journey and a marathon not a sprint has helped. And when looking at the bigger picture, I’ve still made vast improvements in my own usage of the disposable stuff. I’ve gone from using an entire roll of paper towels to clean up one spill and wipe down the kitchen counters, to using about 1 roll of paper towels per month. That’s pretty freakin’ good if I do say so

old reusable towel
This reusable has been through it but it’s still holding on strong.

myself! And also, keep in mind that trying to reduce waste kind of flows naturally into a vegan lifestyle when it comes to some things. For example, if the bulk of your diet is fruits, veggies, and grains, you’re not gonna have as much mess to clean up in your kitchen anyway! So you’ll naturally use less disposable paper towels and will likely not mind using a reusable towel to clean up the minor messes you create. And even if you fry, saute, roast, or do whatever else to tofu, seitan, tempeh, etc. you’ll probably still create less mess than when cleaning, prepping and cooking with meats. Just sayin’

 

 

I Started Making My Own Cleaning Supplies

I decided to go all-natural with my cleaning supplies as well. That goes for hand-soaps, household cleaning supplies, and everything else. If I do purchase something, it has to be made by a brand that is known for having all-natural products with non-toxic ingredients like Miss Meyer’s, or a brand I found out about more recently, Ecos. But cleaning supplies are one of the areas you can cut down on buying and start saving some extra

IMG_8383 (1)
Ecos dish soap.

cash too. That’s because it’s pretty simple to make your own cleansers. I use two different cleansers that are both homemade. I use them when cleaning the kitchen, stove tops and all. It’s also great because I have a cat (Atreyu <3), and I love knowing that as she’s walking around the kitchen while I’m cleaning, she isn’t breathing in any toxic fumes– and neither am I for that matter! But I do still use bleach to clean with and that is definitely a toxic product. I mostly use it only when cleaning the bathroom and definitely the toilet! I feel like bleach just can’t be beat when it comes to super-duper cleaning power. I usually dilute it and don’t use it for much else (except on my white clothes when doing the laundry), but eventually I would like to ease into using it even less than I do now. As far as my natural, homemade cleansers, one is citrus oil-based and the other is vinegar based. If I want a stronger cleanser, I’ll combine the two for ultimate cleaning power. Vinegar is great for cutting through grease and cleaning things. I’m going to write a separate post about these two cleansers, exactly what I put in them, and more on how I use them to clean so stay tuned!

ecos soap specs
Ecos uses all plant-based ingredients!

I Also Started Making My Own Laundry Detergent

I discovered the beauty of castile soap! This is a hemp and coconut oil-based cleanser and it’s one of the most versatile products I’ve ever seen in my life! It’s also the main ingredient in my homemade laundry detergent. I mix the soap with water, white vinegar castile soap detergentand apple cider vinegar to create an amazing detergent. I package it all in a mason jar and bring it with me to wash. Now I will say this– it took some getting used to using this as my detergent. When I first used this instead of store-bought detergent, it was weird because there were no frothy bubbles coming up in the machine window. I was skeptical that my clothes were actually being cleaned. But they were! And the funny part is, some of the clothes actually felt cleaner and a few things even smelled cleaner than they did when I would use store-bought detergent! This is one of those things that may take some getting use to for others also. Additionally, taking into account how much to use to feel like your stuff is clean can take some time. I am currently one single adult, so the amounts I use are also easier to figure out because I’m not washing a massive amount of laundry. Not to mention, some people may just have that psychological hold of feeling like their clothes are only being cleaned when they use store-bought detergents filled with a lot of fragrance. But fragrance isn’t what cleans your clothes. And frothy bubbles aren’t what clean your clothes. So, keep that in mind and consider giving castile soap a try! As mentioned above, for my whites I use the castile soap detergent in addition to bleach. I

IMG-6692
Castile soap laundry detergent rocks my socks.

don’t know if I’ll ever stop using bleach for my laundry because of my white clothes. But that may be another psychological hold I’ll have to work on getting rid of. And if I can find another method to get white clothes super white other than bleach, I’d certainly be willing to give it a try.

So that’s it. At this point of my zero waste journey, I’ve started using reusable bags for groceries, cutting down on my plastic use with metal utensils and straws, continuing to recycle whenever possible, cleaning with reusable towels, and making my own household cleaning supplies and laundry detergent. Slowly but surely I’ll keep at it, trying to get as close as I comfortably can to a zero waste life that works for me. And I say “comfortably” because at this point, I’m unsure if everything that can be done to live a zero waste life is something I would do. And I’m okay with that. It goes hand-in-hand with not judging others for the type of vegan lifestyle they choose to live. We are all trying to live our best lives in the vegan community, and doing anything at all is going toward the bigger and greater cause. That logic applies here also. Similar to how I don’t think I would stop purchasing paper towels completely but have made major waves in the amount I use on a daily and monthly basis, I will try new things and begin new things in my zero-waste life too. Some things may stick and some may not. But I’ll keep trying and I’ll keep sharing them with you all in the hopes that you’ll try them too. Maybe some of the things that don’t last with me will last with you and that’s another way we can all help each other. By picking up the slack where our fellow zero-wasters may have fallen. Good luck on your zero-waste journeys and stay tuned for my next update! 

 

 

What’s The Deal with Organic Anyway?

You may have heard about all the benefits of purchasing organic produce. Actually, I initially only knew about one benefit, and that’s probably the one you heard about too — buying organic means that no pesticides were used on your produce. Although that is one huge and great reason to buy organic, I’ve discovered there are so many more reasons that benefit not only you, but also the environment as well as others.

Yes, it’s Good — No, it’s Amazing for your Health

Organic produce is defined as produce that has been grown without pesticides. To be more specific, according to the USDA, organic produce must be “… grown without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers or genetically modified organisms.”* As we all know (or should know) by now, pesticides can be toxic — after all, they are used to kill bugs. They are classified as poisons and therefore, they can indeed have a harmful effect on human health. But the good thing is that none of these substances are allowed in the production of organic produce. USDA standards for organic foods don’t only measure the presence of pesticides and fertilizers, but even take into account such details soil quality. All of this oversight creates some nutrient-packed fruits and veggies! And some researchers do believe that organic produce packs more of a nutrient-rich punch:

“Recently, researchers have found that while organic foods do offer similar levels of nutrients, like vitamins C and E, they also contain more antioxidants than conventionally grown foods. Antioxidants offer many benefits, the most important is that they slow down and sometimes prevent the oxidation of molecules, which can cause damage to our cellular structure.”**

And in that same article, those same researchers have discovered some of the impact non-organic food may have on our health:

“This research also found that non-organic food often contained more pesticides and cadmium, an element that can cause negative health effects after long-term exposure.”**

Then there’s the whole GMO thing. This has been an ongoing debate for some time now. I remember when I first heard about GMO’s — I was around 14 years old, and it was on an episode of my favorite television show. The episode centered around one of the main characters championing efforts to make sure that GMO foods were not used in the school cafeteria. I loved the episode but it did nothing to stir me toward finding out more about GMO’s. But now, I am very concerned about it. Although there is still no concrete research one way or the other on the matter, the main question at hand is whether or not modifying foods genetically is a health hazard for us humans. Only time will tell, but in my opinion, it’s better to be safe than sorry. If a food naturally exists one way, who are we to mess around with the genetic make-up of that food? Let nature do its job! In addition to this, sometimes, the genes that are introduced into these foods actually come from animals. I know, I cringed when I found that out too. Look at this excerpt from an NY Times article about GMO’s:

“Modern genetic engineering differs in two ways: Only one or a few new genes with a known function are introduced into a crop, and sometimes the new genes come from an unrelated species. Thus, a gene meant to instill frost tolerance into, say, spinach, might come from a fish that lives in icy waters.”***

All that being said, when you buy organic produce, you can be certain that it is:

  1. organic, so no pesticides or toxic chemicals on your fruits and veggies.
  2. GMO free, so those fruits and veggies are in your hands the way nature intended them to be, and there will certainly be no animal genes present!
  3. Likely filled with bare minimum equal amounts of vitamins, and likely way more anti-oxidants than its non-organic counterpart.

So when it comes to your health, there’s definitely no downside to buying organic.

It isn’t Just “Non-GMO”, Because There’s a Difference

So there’s a difference between produce that is organic and produce that is “non-GMO”. These days, you will often see produce marked both as non-GMO and organic — but other foods that do not fall into the produce category are a better example here. I’m referring to boxed and packaged foods. If a food is labeled “non-GMO“, it can still contain preservatives, and other artificial stuff (coloring, dyes, etc). Only foods marked as organic do not include any of these substances.

You Help Save the Planet

Organic produce produces fewer emissions. It’s a trickle down effect — without all those icky pesticides and preservatives, organic fruits and veggies have a shorter shelf life — therefore, they are usually sold locally after harvesting — this is not always the case^, but realistically, there’s no way organic produce would last a cross-country trip and remain in peak shape without any sort of spoiling. So, when you buy organic (and locally grown) produce, you can be certain that Mother Earth is benefiting from your choice too.

Buying Organic (Sometimes) Means Supporting Local Business

If you’re buying locally grown produce, it’s probably organic. As just stated above this is not the case 100% of the time, so ask to be certain. But buying local does mean that you are supporting local farmers who are in turn, supporting their own families and business by selling what they grow to us. So if you’ve ever wondered what you can do to support small-business, buy local and organic! If you think it’s a great idea to help mom and pop shops instead of spending all your money at big-name stores, buy local and organic! If you just wanna sleep better at night knowing you helped a family business, buy local and organic!

Farmers Markets are chock-full of fresh, locally grown goodies, and this Spring and Summer season is the best time to start checking them out! I never purchased produce from a farmer’s market prior to becoming vegan. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s a little embarrassing to admit, because even if you’re not vegan, it’s great to take advantage of buying local produce and in the larger cities, these farmer’s markets are gold mines for fresh, local, and organic goods. Nonetheless, now that I have discovered how amazing they are, I know I won’t be able to stay away — it’s like introducing a kid to candy. Thus far, many of the suppliers I’ve gotten fruits and veggies from are organic and locally grown, which is great. And honestly, once you start frequenting these markets, you can see the difference in freshness. There’s no waxy, shiny coating on the apples. The leaves on all the greens look lively and big and spread out, like a male peacock’s tail during peak mating season —  it’s just great. So it is possible to gain an eye for fresh, local, organic produce, it just takes a bit of time and eating! I just started trying to hone my eye for the fresh stuff, and I’d say it’s so far so good. Pretty soon, I’ll be a fresh produce whiz. Not to mention, you guys know how I feel about paying stuff forward — if you can get fresh, organic produce while supporting local farmers in the process; it’s another win/win.

Yeah, it’s a Little Pricier, but It’s Worth it

So here’s the deal: buying organic produce does cost more. I’ll be the first to admit that I cringed at the thought of spending more money on the same size container of fruits or veggies just because one was organic. That’s because I can be (selectively) cheap. But in my mind I knew it was worth it and that it was also the right thing to do — for all of the reasons I have just mentioned above.Organic Produce Prices Huff PostAnd even if you don’t want to buy everything organic, or if you feel that it just costs too much, at least try to purchase the infamous “dirty dozen”^^ organic. These fruits and veggies are known to have higher amounts of pesticides used on them as well as higher amounts of pesticide residue by the time they reach shelves:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Nectarines
  4. Apples
  5. Grapes
  6. Peaches
  7. Cherries
  8. Pears
  9. Tomatoes
  10. Celery
  11. Potatoes
  12. Sweet Bell Peppers

There’s also the “clean 15”^^, or the produce that has the least amount of pesticide residue on them. Maybe you can forgo getting these items organic, but still try to purchase organic when and if you can!:

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet Corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Cabbages
  5. Onions
  6. Sweet Peas
  7. Papayas
  8. Asparagus
  9. Mangoes
  10. Eggplants
  11. Honeydews
  12. Kiwis
  13. Cantaloupes
  14. Cauliflower
  15. Broccoli

Below are a few of the awesome things I’ve picked up at farmer’s markets since the season started. I plan of going savage at the markets this summer, so stay tuned for more fresh goodies!

Farmers Market Potato Pic
Instastory blurb accurately naming this stand “potato heaven” at the Union Square Green Market.

Farmers Market Dino Kale Sign Pic
What exactly is dinosaur kale? Check the picture below this one to see!

Farmers Market Dino Kale Pic
Also knows as Tuscan kale or black kale, this dark leafy green bares super hearty, sturdy leaves and has a long tradition in Italian cuisine.

Farmers Market Purple Kale Pic
Purple kale! This “bouquet” has such beautiful colors.

Farmers Market Bok Choy Sign Pic
Benefits of bok choy.

Farmers Market Bok Choy Pic
Instastory blurb of the yummy bok choy I got — and used  in a recipe a couple of days later.

Farmers Market Tomato Pic
These tomatoes were so beautiful, I wish I could have taken them all home.

Farmers Market San Francisco Baguette Pic
They don’t just have fruits and veggies at farmer’s markets! They also have jams, flowers, herbs, and breads (just to name a few things)! This San Francisco baguette was everythingggg.

 

 

 

Sources:
* Huffington Post: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/buying-organic-worth-it_us_57481117e4b03ede4414733d
** Web Restaurant Blog: https://www.webstaurantstore.com/blog/1930/difference-between-local-and-organic-food.html
*** NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/23/well/eat/are-gmo-foods-safe.html
Locally grown produce is not necessarily organic — there are currently no regulations on locally grown produce — there is only a general consensus that this term refers to the distance from where the produce is grown to where it is sold. However, it is possible that locally grown produce may have some level of pesticides on them. Check with the supplier to ensure that the produce is not only locally grown but also organic. For more info on what these terminologies mean, check out this article.
^^ Produce Retailer: https://www.produceretailer.com/article/news-article/2018-dirty-dozen-and-clean-15-lists-released