My Zero-Waste World: The TMI Post

aloe

In recent interviews, people have asked me if I follow zero-waste practices in aspects of my life other than food.

The short answer: Yes but besides food, what else is there?

The long answer follows.

Food

I’ve got this one covered in the 145+ posts on this blog. Essentially, to go zero-waste in the kitchen:

  1. Put together a shopping kit consisting of jars, containers and cloth produce and bulk bags.
  2. Shop at the farmer’s market where the unpackaged food also happens to tastes great.
  3. Fill up on staples in the bulk aisles at the grocery store.
  4. Cut out all processed food from your diet.
  5. Cook.

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Shelter

I live in an intentional community and I love it. In our community kitchen, volunteers cook vegetarian dinners four nights a week.We share stuff. We watch each other’s kids. We carpool. We know our neighbors’ names. Among these and many other benefits, living this way helps minimize our footprints. This is the real sharing economy, not Airbnb or Uber…

You can find intentional communities around the world at ic.org and read more about my intentional community here

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Our community kitchen
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Our community started its own CSA several years ago and grows lots of fruit, such as figs

Clothing

If you want to go hardcore zero-waste, move to a nudist colony. You’ll buy fewer clothes.

Relax, I’m kidding! Mostly…

Fortunately, my non-nudist family LOVES thrift store shopping. On a recent trip, my kids bought:

  • Silk (!) pants
  • Cotton pants
  • A hoodie
  • Three pairs of shorts
  • Two t-shirts

Clothing happened to be 75 percent off so they spent only about $12 on their new-to-them threads. Their dad (we separated in 2005—I may as well just tell it all…) does buy Charlotte new clothes sometimes but she has recently come to realize that for the same amount of money, she can get 12 tops at the thrift store or one at the mall. 

I do buy some new clothes but rarely as I struggle to find clothing made from natural fibers and if I do, it costs a fortune. I wear the same size as my kids, so when they get tired of their clothes, I take them (if appropriate for a mom). I’m not sure if I call the clothes hand-me-downs or hand-me-ups. I also buy the odd thing from thrift shops. When clothes wear out, I donate them to Goodwill, or, if I can use them, toss them on the fabric pile to sew with later. In its previous life, the linen produce bag below was a pant leg with a drawstring.

pant leg bag
Pant leg transformed into a produce bag

Beauty

My beauty routine consists of yoga for about 45 minutes most mornings.

I recently reverted back to bangs which revealed a wide shock of grey that I refuse to dye. I avoid putting anything down the drain that I won’t eat. Nasty chemicals aside, I’m too lazy for the upkeep. I rarely wear makeup. I have some old powder and lipstick I wear about once every six months.

My boyfriend—possibly biased—says I’m hot 😉

Personal Care

I had been washing my hair with baking soda (purchased in bulk) and rinsing with homemade vinegar but my hair started to look dry and bird-nest like. So I recently switched to a shampoo bar, which I follow with a kombucha vinegar rinse. Either vinegar will work, I just happen to have lots of kombucha vinegar right now.

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My kombucha vinegar (left) and SCOBY hotels

For most of the minimal personal care products I use, I look to my pantry for ingredients to make them.

Deodorant: baking soda, corn starch, coconut oil (here’s the full recipe)

Hand lotion: beeswax, almond oil, coconut oil, essential lavender oil for scent

Face moisturizer: olive oil—with the pads of your fingers, pat it around your eyes and elsewhere

Mouthwash: I dislike the taste of vodka but homemade vodka mouthwash works like magic. Basically, steep spices in a jar of vodka for a month and shake the jar every few days or so. I don’t make or use this often but started some a couple of weeks ago. I added cloves, star anise and a cinnamon stick I broke in two. You’ll want to dilute this very concentrated stuff—let’s say 1/2 a teaspoon to 1/4 cup water. Swirl it around in your mouth. Spit if desired 😉

Toothpaste: I had been using homemade toothpaste made of coconut oil, baking soda, ideally bentonite clay and essential peppermint oil to make that clay more palatable. But my teeth are a bit messed up so my dentist gave me prescription toothpaste last week that’s in a plastic tube. Because I grind my teeth at night and clench my jaw, they keep breaking at the gum line, which damages the enamel. I took the Rx but I’ll also try to commit to oil pulling for my teeth. It’s worth a try. I’ve oil pulled a bit in the past but was not at all disciplined about it.

Dental floss: I use Eco-Dent dental floss, which unfortunately is synthetic but at least I can recycle the paper box.

As I said, I no longer wear makeup but MK does and she removes it with olive oil. About mascara she says, “It’s like chemical paint so you need a solvent to remove it” so she no longer wears it. She opts for eye shadow and eye liner.

Bathing: I wash my face and most body parts with water only. I use soap on the three spots that need it: underarms, feet, plumbing. Apryl Martinez from Plum Brilliance gave me the soap I’m currently using. It came packaged in minimal, compostable, recyclable wrapping. About that bit of packaging, let me just say I would rather support a small business that uses minimal packaging (that I don’t throw in landfill anyway) than buy naked soap from Whole Foods. Plus Apryl’s soap is much nicer (she did not pay me to write that…).

Being of French descent (i.e., hairy), I do shave my legs. I wish I didn’t care about my hairy legs (I sometimes can’t believe what I write on here…). Shaving presented a conundrum when I first went plastic-free. Throw-away razors and replacement cartridges generate so much waste. I bought a safety razor from Life Without Plastic, which requires real metal blades that you can recycle (store spent blades in a tin can until you have accumulated a bunch). I use just soap for shaving lubricant.

I also use the blades to score my sourdough bread (blades that have not touched my legs of course!). What a difference the blades made in my bread!

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Menstruation

When I was pregnant with my youngest, I bought a bunch of flannel fabric, cut out receiving blankets and finished the edges on my serger. When Charlotte grew up, I cut these receiving blankets into pads and sewed a bunch of them. I made thick ones and panty-liners. I also use a silicon menstrual cup, which I find very convenient.

sewing machine
I hope to sew some goodies on this machine we found on the side of the road

Household Cleaning

I use baking soda and homemade vinegar to clean the bathroom sink and tub. I use straight homemade vinegar to clean the toilet. I sweep the kitchen floor and throw the dirt out the front door. It came from outside after all. (Here’s a post on cleaning your kitchen without plastic.)

For laundry, I either use detergent I buy in bulk or homemade detergent (I use this recipe). I almost always dry our clothes on a dryer rack but last night we washed so many loads, they wouldn’t all fit so we used the dryer.

Transportation

I do own a car and long for better public transportation here in Silicon Valley. I live in Mountain View near the Google garage that houses all the self-driving cars. I sound like the grumpy old woman I hope I do not become but I am not a fan. We need to ditch our cars and invest in mass public transit. You know what we used to call a self-driving car? A bus

I ride my bike for most errands, like shopping at the farmer’s market.

traffic jam
Traffic jam at the farmer’s market

Kids

Sadly, I didn’t go plastic-free until my kids were older but I was still fairly hippied-out. I breastfeed them and used cloth diapers. I cooked from scratch. I baked bread. I opted for durable toys that required no batteries and shopped at educational toy stores. Toys R Us carries a lot of landfill in transition, although we did shop there occasionally. We inherited toys from older cousins and sometimes bought them at yard sales. We also borrowed piles, piles and more piles of books and some movies from the library. We never hit toy lending libraries but that’s a brilliant option. I bought MK’s first ice skates second-hand when she was almost three (as a Canadian, I felt terribly guilty she started so late).

Work

I work as a senior editor at a small publishing company so I require few materials, just my brain and my laptop. A client once called me “cute” for using pencils. For years, I have wanted a nice fountain pen (like the one I had in high school). One day. I do use some paper but recycle it. When my kids were younger, we often made paper using the paper in the recycling bins.

I work from home most days and even when I do work in the office, I dress extremely casually, which again, helps keep my wardrobe simple.

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Homemade paper

Travel

I avoid flying but do need to visit my octogenarian mother in Canada soon. I plan on camping lots this summer in an undisclosed location about four hours away from me by car. A perfect environmentalist would bike or walk but at least I won’t travel very far. We hope to bake sourdough bread over the campfire this year. We’ll see how that turns out. Zero-waste camping has sat on my to-blog list for a while. Eventually I’ll write that post.

Until I do, I’ll give you a trick:

Freeze huge blocks of ice a week or so before your camping trip. Simply pour water into a large stainless steel bowl and place that in the freezer. That giant block lasts a lot longer than the small cubes you buy in plastic bags. To remove the ice from the bowl, just set the bowl out on the counter and let it rest a few minutes to melt a bit. Then slip it out. Cheap ice! No plastic waste!

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Giant block of ice in the freezer

Sex

I did issue a TMI warning…

Aloe makes great zero-waste lube. However, I don’t know how it works with condoms. Having had a tubal and being in a committed, monogamous relationship, I don’t use them. If you are a sexually active zero-waster in a different situation (non-monogamous, fertile), don’t be completely neurotic. Use condoms! One trip to the doctor over an STI scare can generate more waste than a whole box of condoms. And an unintended pregnancy? Let’s just not go there. I haven’t tried Sustain condoms but apparently they are compostable.

My daughter MK stays to live truly zero-waste, you must practice celibacy. My mother says no one should have sex outside of marriage and even when married, you probably shouldn’t enjoy it too much.

Let’s be realistic.

aloe

This post contains an affiliate link to Life Without Plastic. If you shop there via this blog, I earn a small commission, which helps me keep this blog going. I only include affiliate links to products I like and use myself.

43 Comment

    1. Thank you!

  1. I love the sound of your community! (And will read this post properly at the weekend as there are so many ideas there.) 🙂

    1. Thanks Minna. I do love living here 🙂

  2. Wow – what an awesomely thorough post. Just wondering what type of fabric your cloth bulk bags are made from? I use organic cotton muslin (with a string tie) but discovered they weigh 26 grams each (quite a lot heavier than plastic). Luckily, the very cool lady who owns my local bulk store is happy to deduct the weight, but I’d like to find a more lightweight option (maybe silk??).

    1. Thank you Kristy 🙂 My cloth is also a bit heavy. I do have some that I made out of a silk blend and those ones are lighter. My sewing machine does embroidery but I hadn’t thought of embroidering on the tare when I made my first bags. So I plan to do that for my next batch of bags. Most (but not all) stores around here will deduct the tare but I don’t know what it is at the moment! I’m glad your bulk store owner deducts it. Sounds like a good shop. ~ Anne Marie

  3. Lori says: Reply

    Not quite enough “tmi” for me. What about toilet paper? I’ve been wondering if you can buy some that doesn’t come wrapped in plastic.

    1. Anna K says: Reply

      Lori – currently I buy seventh generation toilet paper which comes wrapped in paper. I’ve also been looking into “Who Gives a Crap” toilet paper (http://au.whogivesacrap.org/pages/about-us) which comes wrapped in paper and supports WaterAid with its profits (I’m in no way affiliated with them, just think they seem like a neat company!). In addition I’ve been looking into getting a bidet (they are fairly inexpensive, surprisingly, and can be attached to your existing toilet) and then using cloth to dry. There are a number of options! Hope this helps! 🙂

      1. I would like a bidet too, Anna. I should look into that too. I cut some rags for “the family cloth” but my kids aren’t going for it. I use it sometimes though. Also, and I really think this is TMI but oh well…it is the TMI post…if I get a paper napkin in a restaurant, I save that and use it in the toilet. I’m not that sloppy of an eater and the napkin is always clean and I can’t bring myself to toss it. I may be slightly OCD…

      2. Soetkin says:

        My contribution to this TMI post:
        We live in Europe (Belgium) and here you hardly ever see bidets. But my husband, who has Arabic background, has always been using water after going to the toilet and feels very self-conscious when he hasn’t had the chance to clean himself properly (e.g. at school, work, a friend’s house..)
        He taught me how to use a plastic water bottle or a watering can (memorable relationship threshold lol) that we kept next to the toilet and it literally took me only one day to get used to and to perfect my skill :p It freaked me out a little before I tried it, but it makes so much sense, and indeed, you feel MUCH cleaner compared to when you only use paper. (As an analogy: you wouldn’t “bathe” your body with paper either – you really do need at least some water to get yourself clean) Now I cannot imagine not cleaning myself like that and I would feel dirty if I didn’t.
        A few years back we found a system that would be called a “hand held bidet” (google it, it’s like a mini shower head that you attach to the water supply of your toilet) – it was super cheap, definitely less than 10 euros, takes up no space at all, and we installed it in like 15 minutes. This made our lives even easier, as we don’t even have to take that 1 minute to fill the bottle before we, ehm, do our thing :p
        We do dry ourselves with toilet paper after, but that’s a fraction of what you would use without the “water treatment”.
        Thanks for the wonderful idea though, Anna K, I hadn’t thought of using cloth to dry instead of paper, but I might get my husband on board to implement that in our household too!
        Long comment, sorry for that and sorry if I used some words that sound super crazy – English is not my mother tongue, but I hope I got this message across: YAY FOR HAND HELD BIDETS / WATER BOTTLES! :o) TRY IT!

    2. Hi Lori. I buy Seventh Generation also. It’s wrapped in paper. I also bought some bamboo/sugar cane bathroom tissue the other day, which is also wrapped in paper. The company is called Green2. I haven’t tried it yet but it should be fine. It was on sale at Sprouts 🙂

    3. Livie says: Reply

      “Family cloths”…made from any terry or flannel I have left over from other sewing…or face cloths that get too thin…or…or… I’ve not yet graduated to using them for ‘solid’ waste, but urine is a cinch. You can also create them to be like baby wipes, but who really needs to? Just keep something to keep them in…like the old diaper pails. Wash, hang…

      1. I have a jar of cut-up old t-shirts. I use them occasionally for, err, liquid. No way will my kids use them though :/

  4. chris says: Reply

    Loved this post! So eye-opening and answered a lot of questions that I didn’t even know I’d wondered about until I read it. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. Thanks for reading it Chris. I’m glad it answered the questions you didn’t have 😉 Have a nice weekend.

  5. Alisa says: Reply

    I’m still figuring out how to store vegetables in the absence of plastic bags. I switched to cloth bags at the market but carry greens home and put them in reused plastic bags.
    I’m running out of my expensive hair product and would like to find a DIY alternative for it as well as shampoo and conditioner but I have coarse hair that frizzes easily. Since I work in a fairly corporate environment, I have to keep the hair tamed. Still getting the guts to try alternatives to salon products for the hair.
    Always wondered about floss and zero waste. I guess it doesn’t quite exist yet.
    Great article. Not too much information at all.

    1. Thanks Alisa. I wrote a post about how I store produce after I bring it home. If you are interested, you can read that here: //zerowastechef.com/2015/11/08/farm-to-fridge/

      I found hair one of the trickiest areas to deal with. Some days, I just wanted to shave my head 🙁 So far, the shampoo bar and vinegar rinse are working. I hope they continues to do so… Coconut oil helps mine with frizziness. I use just a tiny bit. Or I use my hand lotion, which is mostly oils with a bit of beeswax in it.

      Someone once suggested I use thread as dental floss but it’s hard to find thread on wooden spools. My Whole Foods sells silk dental floss but it comes in a hard plastic dispenser. The package is quite large considering the small amount of floss inside. Maybe we should start our own company 🙂

  6. zaraan says: Reply

    Reblogged this on Waste Not yxe and commented:
    Some awesome ideas here! ^_^

    1. Thanks for much for the reblog 🙂

  7. Hilda says: Reply

    Great post – very thorough. Let me know when you do visit if you have a spare few minutes!

    1. Thank you Hilda. I will for sure. I’d love to meet up 🙂

  8. A wonderful post and I adore you Anne Marie. You are so real yet so inspirational! Hey re sex– coconut oil is good (hey I’m wondering writing that what you might have to say about coconut oil)
    and if you soak seaweed you get a very slippery potion to play with…

    1. Thanks Annie. The feeling is mutual 🙂 Someone on Instagram also wrote that coconut oil works well. I do go through a lot of coconut oil when I cook and feel a bit bad about that because it has to travel so far. Lately I’ve been using less. I make a ton of sourdough crackers and use local olive oil for those now. But as for lube, I would opt for coconut oil over commercial stuff. I did a quick search just now of a popular brand and it contained all sorts of junk. I like the seaweed idea too. We have plenty of that in California 😉

  9. I’m super stressed out now cuz I gotta get to doing all this! Thanks a lot:) AMAZING post – concise, yet thorough.

    1. Thank you but I don’t want to stress you out!!! Just start small and build from there. It took me several months to purge the plastic from my routine when I first started this, and living this way a constant (but fun) work in progress 🙂

  10. What an unusual way to live. And very impressive too!

    1. Thank you Cynthia. It’s fun 🙂

  11. I love this post! Question re: safety razor. I just use Dr. Bronner’s with a cartridge razor currently. Can I continue to use soap with a safety razor or is that not a good idea?

    1. Thanks so much 🙂 I use soap too. I forgot to mention that…I’ll update the post. Soap works well for me.

      1. Perfect. Thanks for your response!

      2. You’re welcome 🙂

  12. Jay says: Reply

    great post! especially telling is your comment “I avoid putting anything down the drain that I won’t eat.” Thank you.

    1. Thanks Jay. I’m glad you liked the post. I think the would-you-eat-it test is a good determinant 🙂

  13. I just loved this post! Lots to giggle over 🙂 I’ve been living for about 12 years with a waste water system that outflows into a series of ponds so this very quickly focused my mind on what goes down the sink drain. We’ve recently been using a washing machine which so far drains onto different parts of our land – we move the drain hose about – so I really need to sort out the detergent end of things, I’m going to check out your recipe now. We’re a long way from zero waste however we’re also a long way from mindless waste, it’s a journey.

    1. Jay says: Reply

      Best detergent products for grey water systems I’ve run across are the Oasis laundry and AP products (US). Usually you have to get in their gallon jugs which is annoying, but a little goes a long ways. Technically you can ship back the empty jugs, but that’s REALLY annoying. Some places with bulk sections might have it -Rainbow Grocery, for one, does.
      The Berkeley Ecology Center has a webpage with lots of info on what to/not to use (e.g., no Borax): http://ecologycenter.org/factsheets/greywater-cleaning-products/

      1. Jay says:

        Oops, pretty sure Oasis not an option for you! Still, webpage = good info.

  14. Julia says: Reply

    As far as dental floss goes, there are larger rolls you can get, so it’s less packaging per linear foot. Additionally, I’ve talked to multiple dentists/dental hygienists about reusing the same strand a few times and all of them say there’s absolutely no problem with it. They don’t even look at me like it’s a weird question.

  15. I just read through your stuff looking for ideas…. I have never even heard of a menstrual cup! I. Heading to menopause, so it’s too late for me haha! …. Might suggest it to my girls, at least inform them! For info, fountain pens are still widely used here in France, maybe you know someone who’s coming over who could get you one haha 🙂

    1. The cup is SO convenient. It’s nearly too late for me, but I’ll get a bit more use out of it. One of my daughters likes them, the other, well, maybe one day… I will have to find someone going to France to get me that fountain pen 😉

  16. Mary says: Reply

    Just wanted to say I love your blog, so many helpful posts and great ideas that I want to try!!! 🙂

    1. Thank you 🙂

  17. kath says: Reply

    The best deodorant is a squeeze of lemon. When I cut a lemon, I just slice off a bit and rub it under my arms. It lasts for several days, or until you shower. I love your site and your ideas.

    1. Oooh, I’ve never tried that. Thanks for the tip Kath (and for your nice comment). I’m going to use lemon this morning. ~ Anne Marie

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