Long before we ever heard the term “zero waste,” our efforts toward sustainable living extended past our personal space to include the world’s living room as well. Over the years we’ve increased our eco-friendly habits by recycling, reducing, or eliminating use of paper and plastic products. We swapped our disposable containers for items that can be reused many times (cloth shopping bags, refillable water bottles, etc.). These small changes in habits were relatively easy at home.
Living on the road posed new challenges. Much of our eco-friendly kitchen items were not suitable for a life of nomadic travel. As much as I loved our glass storage containers, for example, they are too heavy and bulky to bring on the road trip.
So we went off without them, assuming we would find suitable replacements for these items in the homes where we stayed. But more often than not, our host homes used unsafe plastic storage containers and bags. I resorted to using covered casserole dishes for storing leftover soup and sauces, but they were awkward to handle and bulky in the refrigerator.
I rarely found glass containers for leftovers, and used bowls instead. But I had to use makeshift covers of plates to avoid using plastic wrap or foil. I was constantly concerned that using the mismatched bowls and covers might cause breakage. Worse, these unstable storage substitutes didn’t preserve the food well and often resulted in spills.
Introduction to Zero Waste Living
In Seattle, we had the good fortune to attend a presentation by Bea Johnson, author of Zero Waste Home, and were introduced to a host of good suggestions and products that we could tailor to our nomadic life.
Zero Waste Kitchen
I learned my pressing problem of storing food safely could be solved with beeswax wrap. These reusable sheets are made from organic cotton, beeswax, jojoba oil, and tree resin. Using the heat of your hands to mold the surface, these sheets adhere to food or a plate easily and efficiently. And, depending on your usage and care, they should last six months to a year! (Wash gently by hand and keep away from heat.)
I bought a starter kit with a variety of sizes and I haven’t found the need for more. The set of 1 large, 1 medium, and 3 small sheets are always in use, yet it seems I’m never lacking in availability. I use the small sheets to close around the ends of tomatoes, cucumbers, lemons, cheese blocks, and small bowls of leftovers. The medium and large sheets cover larger bowls and wrap around pizza, sandwiches, and bulkier leftover items.
In addition to being colorful and available in a variety of whimsical prints, the beeswrap sheets fold flat and take up almost no space in our kitchen box of supplies for our trips.
Bea recommends bulk buying for food and many home products, and she goes to the store equipped with mason jars. That wasn’t an option for us, but instead we invested in a set of cotton bags of various sizes that we can bring with us. This set of open weave and solid muslin bags has proved to be another starter kit that meets all our needs, both at the store and at home. They eliminate the need for the single-use plastic bags the store supplies, and keep the food fresh at home in the refrigerator or on shelves. They’re washable and lightweight, and fold flat with our reusable grocery bags for travel.
Zero Waste Personal Care
We left with some good takeaways for personal care items that we could incorporate into our travel routine. I wasn’t ready to invest my time in creating my own hair and make up products as Bea does. (Read her book or check her website with same name for some amazing recipes and solutions.) But I did want to reduce my use of the plastic bottles these items come in as well as the amount of space they took up in my cosmetic bag.
I’ve replaced bulky plastic shampoo and conditioner bottles with a shampoo bar and a small glass spray bottle with a mixture of apple cider vinegar and water for conditioner. The shampoo bar is the size of a bar of soap and fits in a reusable metal box. I bought a pretty box on Amazon that came with a bar of bath soap, but I’ve also seen unadorned empty metal containers on Etsy.
We’ve switched to bamboo toothbrushes, although we alternate use with our Sonicare for best dental health. We’re still experimenting with switching from store-bought toothpaste to a homemade paste of baking soda with coconut oil.
UPDATE 3/2019: We have found a fabulous line of safe, healthy dental products from Uncle Harry’s, which come in recyclable glass, containers. Uncle Harry’s is continually adding new products and improving its packaging, including replacing plastic lids with metal ones on some of its containers. You can check the site for local locations where the products are sold or buy directly from the website. We LOVE Uncle Harry!
I now buy only supplies that come without any wrappers or in recyclable wrapping. I’m washing out and reusing metal containers that once held salves, creams, or lotions to carry any number of items, from paper clips to small amounts of coconut oil.
Reducing the size and amount of personal items we carry, plus eliminating plastic containers and packaging, is an on-going process. I’m making progress and plan to post again on this topic. (The story behind the cosmetic tote we carry with our personal care products is a drama worthy of its own post.)
Zero Waste Movement
Bea Johnson is credited with coining the term zero waste. She came to the presentation with a small mason jar loosely filled with small scraps or items. She held it up to the audience and shared that this was the garbage her family of four created the previous year!
It’s not likely that we’ll ever be able to make that claim, however, “movement” is a term with a double meaning here. In the larger sense, the zero waste movement is growing. Googling the term will net you plenty of resources and sites spearheaded by avid eco-conscious individuals and organizations with material geared toward helping families, individuals, professionals, corporate entities, and companies become more earth-friendly.
In the smaller sense, to me, “movement” means moving toward greater awareness and better practices on a personal level. We are continually assessing what we have, carry, and purchase, in order to decrease our personal plastic footprint on this planet.
The next time you open your refrigerator, medicine chest, or bathroom cabinet, observe how many items are packaged in some form of plastic. Remember that the next time you’re at the store and look for alternative eco-safe choices. It’s a simple gesture that keeps the zero waste movement in flow.
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