We are at our mid-point check in for the Zero Waste Challenge! It’s been an exciting and productive time for our family as we have made many changes to our habits. The best part has been seeing and hearing each of us living out some of the principles we’ve adopted the past few months. As part of the program requirements, our Hennepin County staff liaison Kaitlin came out to do a home visit. The purpose of the visit is to check in and see how we are working toward our goals, and to share additional tips and resources.
Our three goals we identified in October were:
1. Reduce junk mail
2. Reduce plastic bag waste in the produce department
3. Begin composting
Junk mail reduction
With the holidays just behind us, it was the perfect time to get off of catalog mailing lists. I started making a pile of the catalogs and mailers we received. This included stores that we shop at, and those Valpak and Money Mailer coupons. After I had a good stack of mail, I would go to the individual websites and request to be removed from the list. You can normally find a ‘contact us’, or chat box located at the bottom of the store website. They will normally ask you for your name, address, and sometimes a customer ID if it’s printed on the catalog. When asked why I wanted to opt out, I simply state that I’m working to reduce waste. I always received a positive response, and was welcomed back if I changed my mind. With everything available online anyway, you’re not missing out on paper catalogs.
As you decrease the amount of mail coming into your home, you’ll be gaining the gift of time! Going through the mail won’t take nearly as long. It’s amazing how the majority of our mail is only relevant media. Now is also a good time to take inventory of paper bills or statements you are getting. See if any of those can be sent electronically instead.
Steps to reduce junk mail:
- Contact the companies where you are receiving physical mail you no longer want or need, ask to be removed from their mailing lists
- Remove yourself from these lists:
- Switch to electronic billing or statements
Reduce plastic bag use in the produce department
We bring reusable bags when we go grocery shopping (some of us remember more often than others in our house!), so why weren’t we bringing reusable produce bags too? I honestly never thought about reusable produce bags. We actually would use the store produce bags as small trash can liners. However, our switch to composting and a waste reduction mindset meant we didn’t need very many plastic bags. I actually was more worried about what other shoppers or cashiers would think about us using these in the store. Would cashiers be inconvenienced that they couldn’t see the PLU codes on the produce? Would I have them deduct the weight of the bag after they scanned my item?
Using our own mesh bags has been relatively easy to do. Since I have an assortment of sizes, I haven’t had any issues of them fitting my produce. I’ve used them at Cub Foods, Lakewinds, and Target without any issue. I don’t have the cashier tare the weights at checkout, as the weights are minimal.
I purchased a cotton mesh bag from Tare Market. It’s a bit small, and I was curious how the cotton would wash with potential food stains on it. I also ordered a set of mesh produce bags from Amazon. They come in an assortment of sizes and have the tare weight on the side of the bag.
The nice things about these ‘bags’ is that you can use them for storing things other than food. In a pinch, I once used one as a delicates laundry bag in the wash. We’ve even used them to hold toys and other household items. Washing them is pretty easy too. I normally just wash them with dish soap and rinse them out, otherwise I toss them in the laundry. Each type of produce bag has come out clean.
Organic Cotton Mesh Produce Bag: https://www.thetaremarket.com/product/organic-cotton-net-produce-bags/
purifyou Premium Reusable Mesh Produce Bags with Tare Weight Tags:
This objective has been the most challenging, yet rewarding. There was a steep learning curve as we had to figure out what exactly we were doing. We still have to remind each other when we spot something in the garbage that should have been composted. Normally it’s something like a banana peel or facial tissue. We have compost bins set up in each area of the house you’d find a trash bin; the bathrooms, laundry room, kitchen. We had to do some training with the kids to teach them what can and cannot be composted. In our house, all food items except meat and dairy can be composted. We also put in used tea bags, facial tissue, dryer lint (although we’ve been saving it to use as fire starters), paper egg cartons, and some muffin liners. Composting has kept a lot of food waste from ending up in the trash! We are doing a better job at not wasting food. We try to take only what we can eat, and make sure we use up food before it goes bad. Composting definitely opens your eyes up to food waste.
We purchased the EJWOX Large Composting Tumbler from Amazon. It’s been pretty easy to use. Since it has two chambers, we fill one side up first, then the other. You tumble the food and yard waste to help turn it over. We did find that we were filling it up more quickly than it was composting, so we ran out of room. Compost doesn’t happen too well when it’s winter in MN! Our solution was to freeze the compost materials in BPI certified bags, and then drop them off for free at the Carver County Environmental Center. Hopefully by spring we will start seeing some compost being made!
I felt so proud sharing our successes and progress with Kaitlin! We’ve also made other changes to our daily habits, as our initial program goals were easy to incorporate into our lives. (That’ll have to be another post in the future!) We were challenged to think of additional goals to focus on during the remainder of the challenge.
- Focus on food waste: How can we further reduce our food waste? Pay attention to what is filling our compost bin and trash to see if we can work on reducing that even further.
- Shopping: Consider secondhand shopping over buying new, try borrowing or renting versus buying.
- Have the kids set goals: Let the kids come up with a small goal for themselves. Keep using this as a learning moment and explain to them why we are adapting this lifestyle.
We have made a lot of changes both big and small, and our family has done reasonably well adapting. We are so grateful to be a part of this challenge, and I can say that it’s working! We look forward to finishing out the challenge with an even greater commitment to managing our resources and thinking twice about waste creation. I think out of 200 households applying to be part of the Zero Waste Challenge, only 50 are accepted. It was always our intention to share the knowledge we’ve gained with our community (you!), and hope that it inspires you to take small or large steps toward your own sustainable living lifestyle. Please comment or message me with any questions you may have!