After my last post, on trying to be more mindful about packaging waste, I made a few changes. As so many people who actually put the work into the Zero Waste challenge realized, it's very very hard to make no mistakes and as Elizabeth mentioned over at The Note Passer, it's not entirely productive to put the responsibility on just the consumers. (Her post is a good read so please go read the whole thing!) Overall shifts need to be made in how companies are allowed to package things and how we consume things. But I do think that we can make small changes as consumers -- and I think if you're being mindful about those changes, you're also more willing to look for and get behind systemic changes.
These are the small changes I made as I started trying to keep packaging waste on the mind.
1. unpackaged soap by Sappo Hill
This is one of the no or very minimally-packaged soaps at my regular grocery jam. Honestly I used to use this soap all the time but got a little bored with it and started picking different brands that had various smells. Smells aren't more important than the earth to me - and frankly Sappo Hill soap is pretty good anyway - so I went back to it. Also, I always read it as Sappho Hill soap and my internal dialogue is always, "Who wouldn't want to buy soap named after a lesbian? Well done." While that's not the case, it seems to be a good company nonetheless.
I haven't figured out shampoo, conditioner and Manic Panic yet. Shampoo bars have historically not worked well for me so...we'll work that one out in the future.
2. Meal Planning, Lunch-Packing
I've been a little more diligent about packing my lunches daily, and making bulk foods that don't require packaging. Each week I usually make a batch of brown rice and a batch of bulk beans ever since I got an Instant Pot. The Instant Pot has literally changed how I eat. I like to bring "modular" lunch bowls: a grain, a protein and a vegetable. Making rice and beans weekly takes care of 2 of those categories. It also allows me to buy rice and beans in bulk (both eco and cheap) -- and it is so easy to make decent rice and bulk dry beans in an Instant Pot! (If I had to be a cheerleader for something, first it would be cats. Then it would be veganism. Then it would be the Instant Pot.) Anyway, the vegetables here also came with no packaging at the point of our purchase (winter squash, romansco cauliflower). The lunch bowl is leak-proof and I love it because it's stainless steel and doesn't retain smells and is easy to clean (oils, sauces, etc.). It will last forever and I've already had it a few years. (In typical Jesse-style, I have 2 sizes.)
I did forget my lunch one day in the past two weeks and ended up ordering takeout from Fresh & Co because I really wanted to try their new vegan tomato poke in a salad. I ended up with plastic to downcycle that day. I love that Fresh & Co tries to push the envelope with their vegan options and I do want to support that with my dollas. So, a packaging loss but a mainstream vegan win.
3. full head of lettuce
I am weirdly picky about my lettuce. We used to get the bulk mixed greens but I noticed some of the more delicate lettuces got soft and slimy way quicker...and I like crisp lettuces that are easy to rinse and uh, look through. (Our food co-op once had a frog found - alive! - in our bulk greens. Thankfully it was rescued but I had nightmares thinking about it in our salad spinner and the poor thing ending up in a bite of salad -- please kill me if this ever happens to me.) Anyway, I like to be able to rinse and examine each leaf of lettuce like a maniac so I prefer romaine or butterhead lettuces so I can confirm that there are no baby frogs or other species alive babes in my salad. The bagged hearts of romaine are my preference but I decided that I could be an adult who picks through and rinses her own head of lettuce so I can avoid the bag. So now we get a head of romaine.
Our carrots and cukes are overwhelmingly purchased as bulk from the produce aisle and I get two canned toppings for salads (hearts of palm, water packed artichokes - both by Native Forest) so those cans are recyclable. We did have some flavored tofu (protein!) in this salad, which came in plastic, which is not recyclable. Basically all our tofu comes in non-recyclable plastic so I am unsure how to get around that.
4. on-the-go drinks
Usually when I'm out and I have forgotten my trusty mason jar or Klean Kanteen (or there is no obvious free source of water but there are stores), I will buy a drink. I usually begrudgingly buy a bottle of water when I'm stuck. But this time I thought, "I should get a can. Aluminium is more easily recycled." And thus, I tried my very first La Croix (it was fine). I will look for canned seltzers in the future.
5. homemade soy yogurt
In a move I can't really justify as eco-friendly, I purchased a second Instant Pot. I didn't realize that only some versions of the Instant Pot had a yogurt button and the one I grabbed on sale on Amazon first did not have such a button. I figured I'd use two Instant Pots simultaneously enough times to warrant two, and made the purchase. The huge bonus is that now we can make our own soy yogurt -- before we used to purchase individual yogurts in small plastic pots or one large plastic tub. Now we purchase 1 tetrapack soymilk, 1 cardboard-boxed and plastic-bottled acidophilus and some cashews (hopefully via bulk in the future) and we make our own yogurt. (And those probiotics last a while.) I'm kind of into it. It's one of those things that always sounded really hard but is actually pretty easy. I'm hoping homemade bread will be the same situation.
6. on-the-go lunch
Last night I forgot to pack my lunch, although I did jar up some homemade soy yogurt and grabbed a banana for my breakfast. I was near a grocery this morning on my way to work and figured I'd just buy lunch there instead of ordering takeout again ($$$, and also more packaging). I figured I could reduce packaging if I bought my lunch at a grocery store since I'd have more knowledge of how stuff is packaged in advance of purchasing it, unlike takeout -- and I was right. I ended up with a can of Amy's lentil soup (can! recyclable!) and an everything bagel (which required a sheet of waxed paper for me to procure the bagel from the bulk bin in a sanitary and socially-accepted manner). That is what a banana looks like after I shove it in my tote bag, and we take our trip on the subway to my office.
Thankfully I had my coffee in my mason jar with trusty Cuppow lid so I was covered there.
There were plenty of mistakes along the way, too! The very sleepy morning I was at the vet with one of my cats (whose name I couldn't remember as I was checking in...for a good 10 seconds) caused me to buy an iced coffee (plastic cup and straw!) when I was waiting for her services to be finished and her to be released to me. I thought about the straw but didn't see a way around navigating the vet office, Uber and carrying her carrier without a straw so I gave in.
But also plenty of the good stuff stayed. We still compost. We recycle what we can. We use food scraps for soup stock. We buy a lot of bulk. I have a wonderful array of reusable products for coffee, tea, eating, etc.
But I think overall, I did shift some habits and that's what I was looking for -- progress, not absolute perfection.