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The Low Waste Trend

Part three - plastic bags. I grew up in the era where everyone should have a plastic grocery bag full of other plastic grocery bags somewhere in their house. And yet I would never actually take any with me when I shopped, thus gradually increasing the bag stockpile with every trip. Now I took the initial step by purchasing a few sturdy re-usable fabric bags from my local grocery store as my "starter kit". Somehow I also managed to accumulate a few through purchases where the stores had great discounts on them if your purchase was above a certain amount. Moving forward however I have now come across a genius idea thanks to Pinterest that will be my permanent method for new as I need them. Search on T-Shirt Bag DIY and you will come across pin after pin of how-to instructions on turning old, worn out t-shirts into reusable and fully washable grocery bags! To me this is amazing as I will hold on to old shirts with cool logos for far too long simply because I like the logo and don't want to accept that really the shirt shouldn't be worn anymore. This lets me salvage those shirts and hang on to them without taking up space in my dresser anymore. Even better is that different sizes from family members can result in an assortment that may be ideal for products you can either stuff lots into a bag together right down to more delicate items you want to be more careful with or that are too heavy for grouping in a large bag. There are even some cool patterns for making more mesh style bags - basically lots of options for fashion at its finest for the grocery store.


The quickest and easiest no brainer for us was to ditch single use plastic water bottles. We were a typical family who purchased flats of water bottles from our local bulk warehouse store for convenience. Doing road trips, needing to grab water on the go, and even just convenience around the house meant we were going through a flat or two (of 30+ bottles each) every month! Step one was to go through and figure out all the reusable bottles we have accumulated over the years. Being someone who hordes bottles and jars, it was surprising how many glass water bottles I had gathered, sanitized and just left in a cupboard. To add to my collection giving us upwards of a weeks worth available, I hit the local dollar store and online to purchase a dozen extra bottles with screw on caps. I am still paranoid about lying them down on their sides as I don't always trust they will seal as well as a heat sealed plastic bottle would, but I can easily fit enough in our refrigerator to handle half a week at a time. This gives us a great grab-and-go for around the house, and for grabbing for in the car. Yes they are glass, but finding ones that fit comfortably in car cup holders without being too loose and prone to tipping wasn't actually that difficult, and I definitely find on hot days the cold water stays colder than in flimsy plastic.


Secondly - straws. Oh the dreaded fast food straws! I always hated the plastic ones as I inevitably got one that had a split in it and would either leak or cut my lips. Or with some of the more environmentally friendly places now using cardboard or paper straws, I find they start to disintegrate really quickly and become goo well before I am done drinking. So step two in my low waste adventure was to track down good but cheap reusable straws. Again, my friendly neighbourhood online retail giant, along with finding one-off deals at local in-person retailers led me to both flexible silicon and some nice firm metal straws. A great combination to have as the flexible ones are more kid friendly and safe (no straw damage to the roof of a mouth when someone trips and falls when drinking). I also managed to come across a set of flexible silicon straws in little fold up containers for in bags or purses just in time for Christmas - hello stocking suffers! Now I can bypass the straws at any restaurant or café as well as have some around the house.


Part three - plastic bags. I grew up in the era where everyone should have a plastic grocery bag full of other plastic grocery bags somewhere in their house. And yet I would never actually take any with me when I shopped, thus gradually increasing the bag stockpile with every trip. Now I took the initial step by purchasing a few sturdy re-usable fabric bags from my local grocery store as my "starter kit". Somehow I also managed to accumulate a few through purchases where the stores had great discounts on them if your purchase was above a certain amount. Moving forward however I have now come across a genius idea thanks to Pinterest that will be my permanent method for new as I need them. Search on T-Shirt Bag DIY and you will come across pin after pin of how-to instructions on turning old, worn out tshirts into reusable and fully washable grocery bags! To me this is amazing as I will hold on to old shirts with cool logos for far too long simply because I like the logo and don't want to accept that really the shirt shouldn't be worn anymore. This lets me salvage those shirts and hang on to them without taking up space in my dresser anymore. Even better is that different sizes from family members can result in an assortment that may be ideal for products you can either stuff lots into a bag together right down to more delicate items you want to be more careful with or that are too heavy for grouping in a large bag. There are even some cool patterns for making more mesh style bags - basically lots of options for fashion at its finest for the grocery store.


Part four - containers and buying in bulk where you can. For many products, buying in bulk doesn't make sense. If you wont get through a huge jar of jam or package of crackers before they go bad or stale, you aren't actually saving money in the end even if you did get a great deal on it. That being said, awareness of what you get through and how quickly can open up the doors to buying in bulk and storing in reusable sealable containers as a great option to minimize waste. In some cases buying the bigger bag of flour, sugar, or cereal may seem like more waste, but compared to multiple smaller packages actually results in a smaller overall amount when viewed based on the total amount of product you get. For my household, baking staples and products such as dried lentils, quinoa and chia seeds all have their own glass mason jars or jars with rubber gaskets and clamps to hold them closed. A secondary perk is that we have never had any of those pesky little bugs that can get into rice and flour since ditching cardboard and plastic and going to glass. I also like that I can reuse the jars for different products as I shift through what I may want at any given time, or need to rebalance based on our use habits (I recently greatly downsized my sugar jar but increased how much raw oatmeal we are using, so those two jars were cleaned and swapped). I haven't found anywhere local yet that works well for taking your own jars in to fill directly, but even there, depending on the product, tight-woven fabric bags, reusable nylon material bags, and even the latest reusable silicon zip-lock style bags can all be used to bring the products home from the store, shift to the glass jar, and the bag can be cleaned and reused. A win-win for reducing waste and in many cases reducing costs. Companies that provide dry goods via bulk purchases where you fill a bag or container from a bin usually work out cheaper by weight compared to buying pre-packaged versions of the same items elsewhere. Again, the key focus with this side of lowering waste is knowing your use levels and managing so that you don't buy more than you need before the product would expire.


Part five - composting. This one was strange for me as I had never really thought about how much food waste we produced. I had the push for this one more out of convenience as our city went to a "green bin" composting system for all residents to try to reduce garbage waste. They provided a proper composting bin for in the house as well. I think my biggest take away from this endeavour was the need to sanitize the in-house bin every time I emptied it out. I did splurge and got a proper box of compostable liner bags for it so that the actual bin doesn't get gross inside, but I still spray it down with vinegar and rinse and dry it well before the next liner goes in and it is ready for use. Having heard horror stories from other local residents about flies and smells coming from their bins, so far this habit has kept us from those issues and without seeing the bin you would never know there is one in the kitchen. It is also surprising how much goes into them - I hadn't realized before the program that bones or paper towel with food residue could be composted through this kind of program. Now for us this didn't result in a massive shift of food waste from the garbage bin, as being a family of two we don't actually produce a large amount of waste period, but it definitely did shift enough to make it worthwhile and we get a few compost bags full of waste being diverted to that program in our city instead of just going into the landfill.


The last thing for this posting is the ever present - recycle recycle recycle! Again, we live in a city with an active blue bin program that allows us to divert a lot away from the local landfill, and we started doing this as soon as the program became available to us. Taking the time to learn the rules for our program was also a must-do, as there are rules for many programs about what types of materials they take versus what they are not equipped to deal with. In our city, they do not want the recyclable materials to be bagged inside the bins. But then there is the note that if it is paper from a shredder it has to be in a specific type of garbage bag... so with all the rules, to make sure that what the recycling depot gets they can process properly, it is always worth reading them well, and even writing on the bin with a wax crayon as a reminder works great.

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