Sean and I have been juggling a lot of different goals these past few months, and yet we keep coming to the conclusion that they are all inter-related. When we do better with eating and cooking, we find we’re also wasting less. When we give ourselves a monthly budget, we spend more time together. And by giving ourselves all of these goals to work towards, we are becoming more self-sufficient and resourceful.
Today I’d like to talk some more about our waste management, and how we’re coming closer to zero waste.
The kitchen is the biggest waste zone in the house. Every house I’ve known has had the biggest trash can located here (aside from the one you take to the curb), and everything from plastic bags to food scraps goes into it. But it doesn’t have to be like that! Between composting and smart shopping, you can eliminate (or at least greatly reduce!) your kitchen waste.
First off, I want to say that the past two weeks (maybe three, I can’t remember), we’ve only filled up the small trashcan to take out to the curb. (Please remember that we have roommates!) But even more impressive (well, I think so anyway), is that I can’t remember the last time I opened up the cabinet under the sink to throw anything away! Sean says he can’t either! We’ve been shopping healthier, and smarter, and we’re starting to see the effects of that.
We shop with cloth tote bags instead of plastic or paper bags, mesh produce bags (originally intended for laundry use) instead of those clear plastic ones at the grocery store, and gallon ziplock bags for bulk items that we rinse and reuse. Now that we’re eating cheese again, we bring a couple of tupperwares to the store, and ask them to put the cheese right into our containers. Some people give us funny looks, but no one has questioned it so far.
We’ve cut back a lot on buying things from Jons and Albertsons. There are a couple of exceptions: milk (Albertsons has hormone-free milk for the best price), cheese (Jons carries it for the best price), and bread (Farmer’s Market and Sprouts have specialty bread, but they are very expensive). Virtually everything else we buy now comes from the Farmer’s Market, or Sprouts.
Farmer’s Market Buys:
Vendor 1: Mushrooms (4.5 oz. shitake) – $3
Vendor 2: Apples (5 giant honeycrisp) – $7 (Yes, we know the apples are a bit expensive, but we don’t care. They are so amazing tasting that it is worth the price!
Vendor 3: Strawberries (3 baskets) – $4
Vendor 4: Avocados (3 large) – $3
Vendor 5: Romaine (1 large head), Spinach (1 large bunch), Carrots (4 GIANT), Dandelion (1 GIANT bunch for guinea pigs), Parsley (1 bunch, again for guinea pigs), Bok Choy (2 bunches) – $8 – AND he threw in a bunch of Kale for us to try out (Kale Chips anyone?)
Farmer’s Market Total: $25
Jon’s: Note – We went shopping at Jon’s twice this week. Once on Wednesday to get milk and eggs because we REALLY wanted them for breakfast and dinner, and then again on Thursday to get our usual stuff. Normally, we will get our eggs from the farmer’s market and milk from Albertson’s.
Milk (1 gallon) – $3.39
20-pack of eggs – $2.99
Cheddar (~.5 lb chunk) – $3.02
Mozzarella (~.5 lb chunk) – $3.35
Mozzarella (~.5 lb sliced) – 2.68
Bread (1 loaf) – $1.99
Croissant (Sean begged for one, since he couldn’t eat them when we were vegan) – $0.50
Jon’s Total, with Taxes: $17.92
Sprouts: Mostly bulk foods, with a couple of fruits/veggies we couldn’t get at the Farmer’s Market. We need to start working on cutting back on these out-of-season fruits and veggies.
Puffed Rice (.35 lb) – $1.22
Corn Meal (.85 lb) – $0.67
Granola (1 lb) – $3.99
Honey Roasted Peanuts (1.21 lb) – $4.83
Long Grain Brown Rice (1.09 lb) – $1.08
Pearled Barley (.88 lb) – $0.87
Roasted Salted Mixed Nuts (.75 lb) – $4.49
Steel Cut Oats (1.51 lb) – $1.49
Pasta Sauce – $2.99
Cucumber (1) – $0.69
Mini Watermelon (7.81 lb) – $6.17
Red Bell Peppers (2) – $1.76
Tomatoes (should have gotten these at the Farmer’s Market but I forgot) (2) – $0.92
Bananas (7) – $1.81
Sprouts Total, with Taxes (minus bag credits): $32.78
TOTAL WEEKLY GROCERY EXPENSES: $75.70
What these numbers mean: I did some math with this tool to find out how much we would get in food stamps if neither of us had jobs, and living in the state we live in. At the end, it told me we would get $357-$367 per month. Taking the conservative $357, and dividing that in 4 (roughly 4 weeks/month), that would be $89.25 per month for food.
With our two jobs, we only budget ourselves $75/week for food, and we eat very healthy food and are NEVER hungry. When we pack lunches, we pack a lot of little things, and typically munch throughout the work day (helps keep your metabolism going through the day). Any money leftover at the end of the week ‘rolls over’ into the next week (which is why it was ok that we went over by $0.70 this week). With our cash envelope system, it becomes extremely easy to see how much you have left for the week, rather than guessing and pulling out a credit or debit card for every purchase – if there’s no cash in the envelope, you don’t buy anything.
We also have strict budgets for eating out, and gas expenses. It takes a little work to figure out exactly how much you can/need to spend in each category to make it through, but with a little trial and error, you should be able to set a limit and not go over it. So far we haven’t gone over any of our limits (with the exception of the weeks we were vegan, but at that time I had a Sprouts gift card from Christmas, and that covered the rest).
Occasionally we have to buy larger amounts of certain bulk foods (like flour or sugar) that will last us longer than just one week. We try to space those out over the course of the month so we aren’t buying all of the stock-up foods in one week and have nothing left over for fresh stuff. This week, oatmeal and corn meal were a couple of those (Now that Sean isn’t eating oatmeal for breakfast every morning, this should last us a while. We use corn meal in our quinoa patties, and our black-eyed pea fritters, among other things).
So, back to the topic of the post: waste.
Of the list of things we bought from the grocery store, there are only a couple of things that have wasteful packaging: milk jug, egg carton, bread bag, and the pasta sauce jar.
The pasta sauce jar will be washed and saved for freezing berries. The bread bag will be saved and reused in the same manner as the ziploc bags – to get bulk items home from the store. The egg carton will be reused in the garden for separating seeds and planting. In the future we will try to buy milk cartons instead of jugs, which can be cut and reused to sprout seeds in before transplant. So you see, it’s actually very easy to be a waste-free shopper, particularly if you are cooking all of your own food, and growing your own garden! 🙂
Aside from the kitchen, the bathroom is the next biggest “waste” zone. Between shampoo bottles, toilet paper rolls, and cosmetics, a lot gets thrown away in here! Again, with just a few simple solutions, you can greatly reduce the amount of waste thrown away in this room.
We have started making all of our own cleaning products. As well, we make our own “shampoo” and “conditioner,” and are practicing smart shopping to reduce our waste further. Two of the most common things we throw away are toilet paper rolls and q-tips. Toilet paper tubes are easily recycled into small pots to start seedlings in the garden. Q-tips are actually bad for you! Once we are out of them, we will not be buying any more.
As for make-up, pads for removing make-up, nail polish, etc: I don’t wear any. What? A girl who DOESN’T WEAR MAKE-UP? Yup. None. I have been known to put on a tiny bit of mascara on occasion (think anniversary or big family gathering), but I have NEVER worn it on a daily basis, and believe that all of those chemicals simply can NOT be good for your skin and health.
Now, I’m going to briefly mention a touchy subject, so those of you who are squeamish at even a mention, skip to the next paragraph/section. Like, right now. Go. Okay, those of you still with me might ask: what about feminine hygiene? Well, because of the particular contraceptive pill that I’m on (as a teen I had debilitating cramps, and this was the only thing that worked. Plus, I’m very allergic to latex), I simply don’t have that issue. Yup. Lucky me. If I did, though (or if I ever want to have kids and stop taking the pill), I would look into reusable/washable pads. Okay, that’s enough of the TMI stuff.
With just a couple of easy switches, we can greatly reduce our waste and impact on the environment. I think smart shopping is the best way to reduce our waste. If it doesn’t make it into our house in the first place, we won’t have to throw it away! Fresh foods and bulk shopping are the best ways to cut down waste in the kitchen, while making your own cleaners and cutting back on unnecessary make-ups and lotions are good in the bathroom.
In the end, remember the original rules:
Refuse, refuse, refuse! Then: reduce, reuse, and recycle (in that order, and ONLY in that order!). If you can, rot (compost). Recycling should be a last resort, not your go-to solution (notice how we reuse stuff in the garden, even if it can be recycled?). You WILL have to change how/what you buy, but that’s okay! We’re all supporting you 100%!!
I’d love to hear your questions and comments! What steps have you taken to reduce your waste?