At my office, on most days there is some kind of a meeting with leftover food. It usually winds up in one of the kitchen areas for people to randomly find. Some gets eaten, some ends up in the trash. At my office, we also use a chat program for communicating, so I created a chat channel called #free. This has worked great for not just meeting leftovers, but has included some items culled from folks’ pantries at home, personal lunch leftovers, non-food items, and a successful call to eat (or take home for banana bread) the very ripe and spotty bananas in the kitchen one day before they would have been thrown out. This has to be one of the easiest ways to keep food out of the landfill in an office. We’re up to 59 members now who share info on food that needs saving or at least will happily eat some of it. 🙂
Here are just a few of the many recent postings with successfully adopted items:
Going zero waste isn’t about denying yourself the good things. In fact, the things that are trying to frustrate me this week don’t have anything to do with zero waste at all…. Well, the soda has been beckoning me and it’s hard to resist and it’s quite wasteful, but I have much better reasons to not drink it than Zero Waste Week.
And I definitely have the things that really matter, so without further ado, here are just a few of the things that I’m grateful for this week….
I’ve said it before, but first and foremost, I’m grateful that we have healthy and inexpensive tap water available so there’s no need to resort to a bottle.
I am grateful that we have a refrigerator and stove, which together make eating leftovers a breeze. (We ate yesterday’s leftover soup for dinner tonight, this time remembering to add the chickpeas and mushrooms.)
I am grateful that one of our local farmers at the market had tons of delicious cucumbers last weekend, and our local grocery sells package-free carrots, cabbage, and salad mix.
I am grateful for working somewhere with a foosball table and plenty of coworkers willing to play a game or two. When your job involves staring at a computer screen all day, getting up, moving around, and maybe letting out a bit of aggression is a very welcome option. And other than the occasional drop of rod grease used, it’s zero waste entertainment.
I am grateful that my husband and I were able to afford this house and that it has a great yard that was (and still is) rich with weeds. There was plenty of clover adding nitrogen to the soil and dandelions loosening up the soil by sending down their long tap roots. Without them, we wouldn’t have these happy cowpea sprouts and squash baby.
The cowpea sprouts are going strong
The squash was successfully impregnated and is showing off its already bulging belly
I am grateful that even though I didn’t realize until after I picked it that this canary melon wasn’t fully ripe, it turned out to still be sweet, crisp, and satisfying.
I am grateful that although some insects are in the biting mood lately, most of them are totally harmless to me.
Growing up I only knew one kind of soup. It required chicken, white rice, carrots, celery, corn, cabbage, salt, pepper, comino, garlic powder, and part of a can of tomato sauce. That was the only soup I knew, so if I had planned to make soup for dinner and didn’t have one of those ingredients on hand, I ended up eating something else instead.
Well, that was just silly. Soup can be made from anything, and it’s a perfect way to use up random veg in your fridge.
So today, into a pot half-filled with water I added veggies that I had on hand: carrots, onion, bell pepper, garlic, and corn. At the last minute I also discovered a potato hiding away and threw it into the pot. There’s so much potential for food waste prevention here. I had a couple of bell peppers, so I chose the one that was slightly softer to add. (Sometimes bell pepper seeds add a nice texture, but unfortunately my pepper today was not seed-rich.) Got ugly carrots? Slicing and boiling them makes those cosmetic blemishes totally disappear.
For seasoning, I added the standard salt and pepper. Plus some red pepper flakes (I have a ton of flakes from pizza lunch leftovers at work), comino, coriander, and oregano. If I had other seasonings in my pantry, I’d use those instead. Just don’t add something like cinammon unless you’re really adventurous. We’re trying to keep food out of the trash, remember?
Did I need chicken? Not quite. Strangely, I saw two of them walking through different parts of the neighborhood on my way home from work today, but I wasn’t tempted to slaughter them for dinner.
Chicken #1 exploring a parking lot
Chicken #2 expressing disappointment at an area filled with litter
Of course, if you have a half-eaten chicken leg in the fridge or other random leftovers, throw those in too. It’ll only add value.
Some people use mushrooms as a meat replacement. I had some in the fridge, as well as some chickpeas that were ready to go. I totally forgot about them. Did the soup suffer? Nope, it was still delish. (The shrooms and chickpeas will get eaten later this week, no worries.)
For carbs, I added a bit of everything–brown rice, wild rice blend, and also barley for texture. Every once in a while I’ll throw in a bit of quinoa because my husband loves it. Other times we’ll just throw in some kind of pasta. Pretty much anything will work here. The only thing is if you use something that generally cooks fast, wait a bit longer before throwing it in to keep it from getting too mushy.
That’s it! Water and whatever else you have on hand. That’s what makes a soup.
What recipes do you have to help prevent food waste?
Today was the easiest day of zero waste week because it was a holiday and I wasn’t tempted by the junk food at work. Instead around lunch time I made a huge pot of vegan chili full of various diced veggies. FYI, this is also a great way to use up random veggies that would otherwise go bad. To start out the week, I’ll share the foods I stocked up on this weekend in preparation for this no-fast-food week. Not perfectly zero waste, but fairly close.
I knew I would need plenty of sweet fruits to avoid the week without regressing to soda so I picked up some peaches, pears, and holiday honeydew (maybe?). Plus there are a few canary melons in the backyard which are almost ripe.
Likewise, plenty of bread for satiety.
More carbs and plenty of nuts, plus peppercorns for good measure. (I’m already fully stocked on beans).
Extra veggies, with a few stickers just to taunt me. I got these pears before getting the farmers market pears shown above and probably should have skipped these. And I know avocados aren’t the most eco-friendly item to buy these days, but my husband is so happy to eat the occasional avodado.
Then of course, there are the weekly wasteful things. Milk is a necessity for my husband and he’d be rather upset if I didn’t get him any… and then go out and get it himself. As for the toilet paper, well, at least the wrapper and cardboard core will be composted, and I imagine some of the tissue particles will wind up in Dillo Dirt.
To make up for that waste, though, I did something adventurous to make sure the pumkin blooms in my backyard weren’t going to waste. This morning there was both a male and female flower open, so I pulled off the male flower, stripped it down to the stamen, and showed that female flower a good time. I’m usually less concerned about wasting future food, so this is my first lesson learned for Zero Waste Week.
Well, that’s it! Time to get to sleep early so I’ll be less tempted by the caffeine tomorrow.
Could you go for one week without disposable cups, straws, napkins, bottles, or other single-use disposables? Well great news! Next week, September 5-9, is Zero Waste Week. Sign up to participate. Or just try it on your own.
I, uh, drank a can of soda today and also picked up some fast food for lunch with significant packaging so I definitely have some room for improvement. For at least one week I can be prepared with bringing my lunch every single day! I’ll make sure to stock up at the market this weekend so I don’t fall to other temptations later in the week. And who knows, maybe it’ll really stick this time.
Every year they have a theme for those who have already mastered the previous years’ challenges, and this year the special theme is “Use it up!” You may hear a lot about plastic waste, but food waste might just be the worst waste of all. We’re talking about food that uses up good land and water, pollutes other water sources with artificial fertilizers, and so much more. And all that for food that doesn’t even get eaten!
So even if you feel like you can’t get away from disposable napkins for a week, consider some of the other things that you may be able to do to help reduce your food waste:
Buy only what you need.
Have a no-new-food day or two, and just eat leftovers or whatever other perishables you may find in your fridge. Consider making this a regular thing.
Learn a new recipe like how to make older apples into applesauce.
When you go grocery shopping and you see a wonky carrot with two legs, buy it instead of letting it get tossed out by the grocer later.
Yes, Plastic-Free July was on my mind even on holiday. I don’t know if you can call this a staycation if it’s a single day, but my husband and I both had the day off from work and were eager to go out and see the town.
We took the bus downtown to start the day with brunch at 24 Diner. I’ve been there before and the food is consistently delicious. With real plates, real glasses, real silverware, and cloth napkins, this place is great for a plastic-free meal. I even remembered to ask for no straw although I think that’s their default. And to be a bit more healthy I opted for the veggie sausage instead of bacon or conventional sausage. It wasn’t my favorite and they were rather large patties but I managed to eat one and fortunately my husband was game to eat the other so no nutrients went to waste. As a special bonus, 24 Diner sources their food from local farms.
Afterwards, I stopped in at the Whole Foods across the street to get a brownie to snack on later during the day. Using a clean cloth napkin from home, I was able to take it from the display case without any single-use packaging. And it was delicious. 🙂
We were stuffed from the large brunch and decided to pass up a visit to the Capitol, instead heading straight for the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. As a native Texan who has frequently been right across the street from the museum, visiting is something that I’ve been meaning to do for a long while, but amazingly it’s never happened until now.
I should have guessed that getting in would require some kind of plastic, but I didn’t even think about it until we were told to wear these stickers as proof of admittance. Fortunately, they were pretty small so not as much plastic as it could have been.
Food thrown out by the average family in a year
So much food lost!
My favorite part was the mini-theater with clips from the Austin City Limits shows since 1974, but there was also a (non-Texas-specific) exhibit about food waste that caught my attention. They had a ceiling-height column filled with boxes and plastic food depicting the average amount that gets thrown out by a family each year. It’s really tragic. I’m not perfect about using up every bit of food, but I take some relief that my husband and I have made a lot of improvements on this front in the past couple of years.
After browsing all the exhibits, it was time for a show. We had tickets to see the new Ghostbusters movie in IMAX 3D as a special treat. By filling up at brunch, we had no problems passing up the bottled beverages or boxed candy. The ginormous screen and how close we were sitting to it was kind of intimidating before the movie. The previous time I tried to watch a 3D movie gave me a bit of a headache. But this time it all worked out great. Nothing distracted me from the movie, and when it was all over we returned the 3D glasses for washing and reuse. No plastic wrappers or single-use anything.
And if you’re wondering about the movie, well, if you’re a fan of the original Ghostbusters you’ll probably enjoy this reboot. Even with the characters and plot changed around a bit, it’s very true to the franchise with plenty of goofy comedy, dangerous weapons, and original ghosts (plus Slimer, of course). If you’re not a fan of the original Ghostbusters, I have no idea what you’ll think.
After this, we headed back home on the bus with me humming Ray Parker Jr’s “Ghostbusters” most of the way. I gave into some cravings to end the day with junk food as we ate a Little Caesars pizza (no plastic tables in the box) for dinner while watching the original Ghostbusters. Not perfect, but all in all a great day with minimal waste. Even the pizza box will be put to good use feeding the compost.
I haven’t bought as many groceries this month because of the invasion of relatives who visited and left behind so much food that I can’t stand to see go to waste. But there’s still some decent variety in this week’s grocery trip so you can see what I do to try to keep my shopping plastic-free and where there’s room for improvement.
In Austin we’re very fortunate to have a number of stores in the area with bulk bins. I’ve found that even at the stores where they don’t tare containers, no one blinks if you bring your own light-weight bags to purchase bulk goods in. But I really do like seeing what I have on hand easily, and have been using glass jars for my bulk purchases from Wheatsville. Most of the time I can even get away with reusing the same sticker as a previous visit or rubberbanding a piece of scrap paper to the jar as a label to get the goods home without any waste. Mason jars are especially good for this because I can cut out a piece of scrap paper using the lid as a pattern and display it in the lid after screwed on.
There were plenty of delicious fruit options at the farmers market today. A small watermelon, a basket of peaches, and a basket of figs made their way home for me and with nary a produce sticker. Anything left over after we devour them can go straight in the compost bin (although I’ve been eating the watermelon seeds and saving some of the peach pits for a future peach-tree-growing adventure).
We were already mostly set on veg too, but I needed an extra onion from the farmers market. And to fill out our salads for the week, Wheatsville has both organic carrots and mixed greens available in bulk. I just have to be sure not to squash the lettuce! Yes, the avocado has a sticker, but my husband really enjoyed it so it was worthwhile. Today I used up many of last week’s veggies by dicing them up and making a hearty spaghetti sauce–no spaghetti jar needed.
Yum, fresh package-free bread from the farmers market. Plus a package-free bagel picked up from the display at Wheatsville with my clean napkin. (It was a full bagel until I left the store.) Normally, I’d get more bread than this but we’re still working through frozen bread leftovers from my sister’s visit.
Normally a cardboard carton is good enough to get through plastic-free July. But bulk eggs that you can take home in your own (reused) cartons? Even better! This is an awesome option at Wheatsville… although this carton should probably be retired soon.
I know, I know. TetraPaks have at least a couple of layers of plastic, and there aren’t even facilities to recycle them in my area. I’m about to try my hand at making some oat milk again. But I got this as a backup because my husband would be grumpy if he didn’t have some kind of milk product to drink. Well, only grumpy until he went out and bought some himself, likely picking up other plastic-wrapped goods in the process. If I keep my husband away from the grocery store, that in itself is a less-plastic success.
Originally I hated not getting quite as good a deal on toilet paper as was possible with the multi-packs wrapped in thick plastic. But since then I’ve grown very attached to the idea of only having to pick up a single roll or two of TP every week and never having to lug home one of those monstrocities. Totally worth it.
Well, that’s it! I told you it was a smaller shopping trip this week. What do you do to keep your groceries plastic-free?
My sister and her family left behind tons of leftovers after their visit to my mother’s so my husband and I have been doing or duty of eating them up the past few days and still have plenty to go. What we didn’t expect to eat soon enough, we stuck in the freezer. That’ll keep any of this food from going to waste before we can get to it.
This evening I was entertained for a good half hour by watching the trees outside our bedroom window swaying in the wind. If you look around, you already know that often nature can be much more entertaining (and relaxing!) than anything on tv.
I’ve eaten two canary melons from the garden in the past week and enjoyed every bit of them. Although critters got to most of the cantaloupes, I was able to save the last one and it’s waiting in the fridge now to be eaten. Last week I also planted more melon seeds to hopefully get some more delicious zero-waste, plastic-free, local, and organically grown fruit this fall.
The two Roma tomato plants that we grew this summer produced way more fruit than we could possibly consume, so last week I took care of most of them by blending them up and then cooking them down into tomato paste, which has now been divied out into (appropriately enough) old tomato paste jars and stashed in the freezer for future use.
Our tv was in bad shape. It was turning off on its own and creepily also turning back on on its own fairly regularly. I was ready to take it to be repaired rather than abandon it to be “recycled” and then have to replace it, but fortunately neither option turned out to be necessary. We left it unplugged for a week (we have a second tv set so it wasn’t much of a sacrifice), and since its long siesta it has been working great.
Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up to?
This month Josh Blaine, manager of the in.gredients grocery store here in Austin, stopped by at the beginning of our Talk Green to Me book club to discuss zero waste and other efforts. The discussion tied in with many of our read books including this month’s The Green Collar Economy by Van Jones, American Wasteland by Jonathan Bloom, and of course Beth Terry’s Plastic-Free.
in.gredients was launched in 2012 as a package-free neighborhood grocery, which is pretty awesome. Of course, Beth Terry heard about this, and Josh describes her as “like a kid in a candy store” when she came to check out the shop.
I hadn’t heard of the store before reading Plastic-Free as it was nowhere near my neighborhood. When I visited the store about a year and a half ago, I think getting there on the bus took nearly two hours. It was definitely not my neighborhood grocery and visiting was anything but sustainable. It was a bitter-sweet visit too because this was after in.gredients had made the difficult decision to also sell packaged goods.
At times I’ve fantasized about opening up my own neighborhood grocery store (not too seriously) which really is package-free, but after Thursday evening I have a much better understanding of just how difficult that might be. Josh explained that they wouldn’t have been able to stay in business as a package-free grocery. When customers bring in their own containers, they’re less likely to pick up other things. Potential customers may skip a visit to the store or go elsewhere if they don’t have the right supplies on hand. And some things that customers want may not be available package-free, like coconut oil or soymilk.
Package-free food also doesn’t always last as long, which sometimes is irrelevant but sometimes is really important like for beer which is only at really good quality in kegs for a couple of days. That means it has a much shorter time frame to sell within. in.gredients is also a smaller neighborhood store, so having something things packaged like in kegs means that there’s going to be a lot less variety for customers to choose from. Unfortunately, there are so many reasons why packaged goods can be better for business.
To get more customers, in.gredients switched from all package-free to a focus on local foods 18 months after it opened. But that’s not just lipservice. Food sold at this store may be as local as vegetables grown in the garden in their front lot. They also work with many local farms like Urban Roots and Green Gate Farms. After hearing Josh talk about how closely in.gredients works with the vendors I’m more tempted to go back just because I know I’ll be able to pick up anything I see and buy it knowing that some really good people have already done the hard work of finding vendors with earth-friendly and community-friendly processes.
Josh is part of the Austin Zero Waste Alliance, and zero waste is definitely still one of the core values of the store. I don’t remember the specifics, but I think he said that the average amount of trash created by a person per day is five pounds, which is what their store creates in a month! They’re able to do this by making it a priority. They even work closely with local vendors to arrange for deliveries in reusable packaging like buckets of granola that go directly into the bulk bins before being cleaned and swapped out during the next delivery.
There’s so much more that was discussed, like involvement in the community or fair pricing, but my current dream is just to be able to buy what I need without getting a lot of extra trash as part of the deal. They still have a bulk selection filled with good food, though, and fresh local produce free even of stickers. So if you’re in Austin, stop by in.gredients to pick some up or other local goodies.