A Zero-Waste Business

jars of food

I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that. — Lloyd Dobler, Say Anything

After tasting my sourdough bread or ginger beer or kimchi, people often tell me I should go into business selling it. I respond with thank you very much, I’m glad you liked it but I have no interest running a specialty food business (sounds too stressful for my personality).

I want to teach people how to cook for themselves. I want to give them the tools that will help them improve their health while reducing their dependency on corporations to feed them.

Give a man a ferment and you feed his gut for a day. Teach a man to ferment and you feed his gut for a lifetime. — ancient proverb (okay, not really)

So now I find myself running a micro cooking school here in Northern California, teaching small classes approximately twice a month. You can view the current schedule here. Because of the small size of my business, I can run it almost entirely without waste.

Three ingredients go into my sourdough bread: water, bulk flour and bulk salt

The Ingredients

Produce: I buy most of the fruit and vegetables for my classes unpackaged at the farmers’ market. If I can’t find daikon radishes for my kimchi classes there, I’ll buy them unpackaged at Whole Foods or, better yet, a locally owned store. I can easily find unpackaged, organic and local produce here in Northern California. For the fruit chutney we will make in a couple of summer classes this year, I’ll pick some peaches and nectarines from trees I planted when my kids were little.

Flour: For the sourdough bread classes, I buy the flour and wheat berries (time permitting, we will grind up some of these berries during class to make fresh flour) from the bulk bins, using my handy jars or cloth bags. We use wild yeast, which I make myself (here’s how).

Natural soda ingredients: For kombucha, I buy looseleaf tea. We brew our tea in class using metal tea infusers. Ginger beer requires only ginger, sugar and water. I have yet to see plastic-encased ginger and hope I never do. I buy the sugar in bulk in a clean glass jar I bring to the store. Water comes out of the tap. I use naked charcoal to filter it.

Scraps: At the end of classes, I compost food scraps and if we made tea, the tea leaves also.

jars of food
Large upcycled jars

The Equipment

Large jars: In the Fermentation 101 class, students take home large jars filled with kombucha which they start in class. Currently I get these giant jars from Fraîche, a locally owned frozen yogurt shop that buys jam in large glass jars and saves the empties for me. They are the perfect size! (Thank you Fraîche!)

Medium jars: Also for Fermentation 101, we need a medium-size jar for making kimchi. I’m switching to flip-top jars with rubber gaskets for these. I had been using Mason jars but the flip-top jars are easier to open and close, plus they don’t have metal parts that can rust. Sorry if you took a previous fermentation class without these nicer jars, but you paid less for it 😉

Small jars: For the kimchi in that medium jar, we use a small jar inside of it to submerge the food in liquid after closing the lid (very important!). The jar-within-a-jar trick works so well for this. I use glass yogurt jars from St. Benoit yogurt. Like the giant jam jars from Fraîche, these are also upcycled and rescued from recycling.

A kombucha topper: The kombucha needs a little cloth hat so it can breathe without attracting dirt and bugs. I sew these small squares out of whatever fabric I have lying around. You need something to secure it with and I have been using rubber bands that I’ve had on hand for years, left over from the old days before I avoided buying anything with them.

Bottles: I don’t teach many classes that involve bottling sodas, but when I do, I use glass flip-top bottles. I buy them in a cardboard box from the More Beer, More Wine store near me. I take them out of the box, hand that back to the cashier and load the bottles into my cloth shopping bags.

Kombucha, ginger beer and natural soda

The Snacks

For the homemade vegan snacks I serve in class (sauerkraut and kimchi, sourdough bread, natural sodas, whatever else I have brewing…), I buy all of the ingredients without packaging. I serve them on real plates, with real utensils and real napkins which I sewed myself.

A Note on Supply Chains

Any business (or human) in North America will at least indirectly produce waste.

Although I may not see any packaging in which the ingredients or food I’ve listed here arrives at stores, packaging still exists. I’d hate to be the UPS driver delivering 144 loose Le Parfait jars to a kitchen store.

When I first started by blog, I thought about calling it “Approaching Zero Waste” because you never quite get there. You generate waste even if you don’t see it. But almost anyone can take steps to greatly reduce their waste. And businesses—even a tiny one like mine—have a social responsibility to do so.

Currently, I teach the following fermentation classes

  • Fermentation 101
  • Sourdough Bread Boot Camp
  • Summer Bounty: Salsa and Fruit Chutney
  • Kombucha: From Brew to Bottle
  • Ginger Beer and Natural Soda

Read more about the classes and register here.

4 Replies to “A Zero-Waste Business”

  1. I’m in the process of starting up a craft business but i’m wrestling with the waste generating aspect of it. The idea is to offer more sustainable options to people who would otherwise buy something less sustainable but it will still create some waste. To be honest i’d prefer a career teaching others how to live more sustainably but i’m not sure there’s enough people in Ireland willing to pay to learn how to. Best of luck with your classes. If i lived locally I’d be booking one!

  2. Thank you for this interesting and informative post! I found especially the equipment part very helpful for me. In addition to the equipments you mentioned, there are also special wraps, so-called reuseable food wraps available, that can help you to preserve your food in a natural way. They are all natural, plastic free and handmade. This is why I higly recommend them to everyone. You can check them out at https://bit.ly/2jBARMm. Please let me know about your thoughts on them, if you too found them as great as I do.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Robin. I have used beeswax wraps and have made one. I like them a lot. ~ Anne Marie

  3. Running a no-waste business is such a commendable goal! It’s awesome that you’re managing to operate without wasting as much.

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