Well, I tried and I'll keep trying: a packaging waste story.

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. 


  1. "Smells aren't more important than the earth to me..."

    See, I have to consciously remind myself of things like that.

    ME: "I want that bag of candy!"
    Me: "The packaging will probably never be recycled. It will haunt the earth for decades."
    ME: "No, you don't understand--- candy tastes good!"

    You make the Instant Pot sound awfully tempting.

    Onward and upward!

    1. Well, that's with soap. I have similar issues with candy, although I've tried to stick with Alter Eco's vegan bars since they're packaged in cardboard and then thin aluminium foil vs plastic. It does not stop me from eating delicious treats when they're in front of me, individually wrapped and all. (Though I have noticed I tend to eat less of them if I'm thinking about the packaging with each bite.)

      I think the Instant Pot is great - but I'm also not a big cook otherwise. I like to prep something and then be done with it instead of standing over the stove (aka "I don't need special skills or need to make a lot of judgement calls") so in that respect the IP is great for me. I have never been able to make decent rice or have the patience to pre-soak dry beans (or even have them come out not-gritty when I did try). The IP fixes all of that for me, so if I only use it for rice and beans (and yogurt!) forever, it's still totally worth it to me.

      I don't think it actually saves any time, except for being able to make bulk beans without pre-soaking in under an hour. So many recipes will tout just the time it takes to cook at-pressure but don't note that it takes a good 10 mins to come TO pressure and that, depending on the dish, you might be waiting 10-15 minutes for the pressure to naturally release as well -- you do so with beans and rice but not veggies, which you can "quick release" aka vent before pressure naturally reduces after the unit goes into warming mode.

      I have tried to make a few one-pot meals in them but that takes special planning (aka buying more than 1 ingredient), so it doesn't happen often.

      As per usual, I have a lot to say about the ol' IPs.

    2. I can make decent rice and beans, but having a relatively good, consistent way to make yogurt would be nice. I rarely eat yogurt, but Ian's not vegan and he eats dairy yogurt by the bucket. If I could make GREAT vegan yogurt maybe he'd eat less or no dairy yogurt, but if I couldn't master it then I'd have an IP for nothing and still have a fridge full of yogurt buckets. Hmm.

      Thank you for sharing your Instant Pot wisdom!

    3. I wouldn't say it's perfect - we're still trying to get down the right process. A lot of people have yogurt that's too liquid-y. Right now ours is thick but is way tart so we need to tone that down. It's still a process - the IP just makes the whole keeping a vessel at 100 degrees for 12 hours a time more likely!

    4. I tried the Miyoko recipe and got... basically edible results, I guess? Much tweaking and a machine would probably help a lot. Or if I could gently steer Ian toward eating Something Else Entirely, I could skip the whole yogurt learning curve...

      What's the name of the leak-proof lunch bowl, and is it TOTALLY leak-proof?

  2. Buying in bulk is a great way to reduce packaging. When you purchase small items, the mountain of packaging waste at the end of the week is phenomenal.


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