ALL the things

Cruising around my zero waste journal this weekend, I noticed there are quite a few loose ends I need to tie up. Since we’re officially into the last quarter of the project (wow, that went fast), time is of the essence. Some will be easy to close, and some are going to take time to write and photograph. But I think that’s going to be my main goal for these last few months.

Although, as always, I’m open to suggestions.

Meal planning

Not a loose end — we’re now on week three of this whole ordeal — but surprisingly, it’s going pretty well. I haven’t made ambitious meal plans since that first week (that was just too much work), but I’ve discovered that taking a few minutes to put together a list of meals, writing out the grocery list then and there, and prepping ingredients or cooking one or two items ahead of time means I’m farther ahead the rest of the week. I like having time to read and blog and play with the kids, furry and human. I like being able to pull things out of the fridge and boom! Dinner. I like having less to clean up on weeknights. I like not having to wonder what to feed everyone.

Pearl was instrumental in meal planning Saturday.

And I find I enjoy cooking more now. Weird.

What’s also helped: I made a list in my planner of meals I can make off the top of my head (we’re trying to get everyone fed, not reinvent the wheel), and don’t assign meals to particular dates. Sometimes all I have time for is to throw some pesto on pasta. Sometimes I can actually make a full dinner. I find it less restrictive to let the day determine the meal.

And just having the ideas and the ingredients to cook is most of the battle.

Food waste is better, too — I only buy what’s on my list, and freeze any leftovers in jars for quick work lunches. Nothing is getting pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten.

Reducing the recycling overflow

This IS a loose end. I made a list of possible topics in the ol’ journal at the beginning of the project, and noted that someone asked about what to do with an overflowing recycling bin. And then promptly forgot, apparently.

But! I can actually answer that question now that I have eight-plus months under my belt.

For us, this problem has taken care of itself — I think just because we’re looking at waste in such a different way than we were this time last year. Every time I toss an item into the cart, I think about how we’re going to get rid of the packaging. Which is probably why I like the produce aisle (hello, reusable produce bags!) and bulk section (hello, beautiful jars!) so much.

Please try not to be jealous of my fancy plastic bag dryer, aka some bamboo spoons in a glass.

And why I’ve started making more from scratch. (Not that I always have time, or am always in the mood even if I do. Which explains why I have baguette in my freezer right now instead of artisan bread dough.) It’s become second nature to go for unpackaged items first, paper or cardboard second, tin and glass third, and then plastic as a last resort. Well, for most of us. Eric and the girls are getting better, but they’re not quite as militant.

I also try to think about what I can reuse before tossing it into the recycling bin. My minimalism gets in the way of keeping every single whatever that crosses our threshold, but I have been saving interesting and/or small glass jars. And any ziplock-style bags that make it into the house (some of which I’ve had for years) are washed and reused until they fall apart before getting recycled.

When I first started the project, I was trying to make my old life fit into a new plan. It didn’t work. When I just accepted what was available to us, it went a lot smoother. We’ve had to cut out things like yogurt (miss you, Brown Cow) and processed peanut butter (Abby likes the nut butter from the bulk aisle better; Johanna is lobbying for Skippy the minute the project ends), or switch brands to get cardboard or tin instead plastic or plastic wrap, but it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. It’s more a state of mind than anything else.

I’ve come to see recycling as a last resort … or the step before the trash can. I can’t get away from all recyclables, but knowing I have a say in what goes into the cart — and therefore in the bin — makes it easier somehow to keep it to a minimum.

The problem with liquids

This was also suggested by a reader at the beginning of the project — how do you purchase zero waste liquids?

Honey, dish soap and maple syrup — I know I’m lucky, you guys.

I don’t have a good answer for this one, even this far in. It just depends on where you’re at and if you’re willing to cash in a college fund. (It feels like that sometimes.)

I can get dish, laundry and castile soap in bulk. Ditto for shampoo and conditioner, body wash, and lotion. I’ve tried all but the body wash … the shampoo and conditioner are okay, the lotion terrible, the laundry soap expensive, and the dish soap amazing. I can get vanilla, although I don’t because I make it. Bulk maple syrup is a godsend, but the honey isn’t great — but who cares, I can get great local honey at farm stands in glass.

I can get milk and cream in returnable glass bottles … but it’s just too expensive to really be an option. I can’t pay $32 for two gallons of milk each week — the organic stuff in plastic sets me back close to $9 for two, and I think that’s insane. So I’ve let that one go.

My advice: Scope out what’s available in your area. Scour the nooks and crannies of the grocery. (That’s where I found the maple syrup — shoved between the eggs and tortillas in the natural foods refrigerated system. So random.) Do what you can; accept what you can’t.

Next up: If I have time to photograph it, I’ll show specifics in my kitchen. If I don’t … I’ll tell you about the articles I’ve been writing for our newspaper’s special home and garden sections, inspired by y’all.