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Zero Waste Exceptions: What I Still Buy in Packaging

Zero Waste Exceptions: What I Still Buy in Packaging

Zero Waste Lifestyle

Last Updated on April 4, 2020

Let’s take a hot second and talk about the “zero” part in zero waste. Zero is a goal. A circle to represent a circular economy. Do you know what we have? Not a circular economy.

We have a linear economy, making perfection – the ultimate zero – just north of Atlantis. 

And no, I’m not talking about the resort in the Bahamas. I’m talking allegory on the hubris of nations, or the Disney movie – whatever. It’s mythical, fantastical, NOT REAL.

Not real. Not possible. And, don’t even get me started on up-waste.

Zero waste is a goal, a representation, a call to move towards a circular economy, a vote for businesses to think about the end life of their product instead of just the here and now. 

YOLO is not an appropriate business plan. Capiche? 

SO,  Lets answer the big question…. (drum roll please.)

What do you still buy in packaging? 

I have access to probably the greatest bulk store in the world: Rainbow Grocery. However, I am accepting nominations and would love to hear about all of the cool stuff you can buy without packaging! 

It’s a bit of a trek; so, it’s still not practical for items I use a lot. I am trying to list everything I typically buy that comes in some form of packaging. A lot of orange stuff apparently… orange is life.

Flour

I bake a lot. I love to bake. I make sandwich bread and pizza dough on the reg… and chocolate chip cookies and brownies and banana bread. I like carbs, ok?

I go through about 5lbs of flour every three weeks. I use whole white wheat flour.

And, the closest bulk store that offers any flour is roughly 20 miles away. And, I’m sorry… I’m not lugging this glass jug that fits 5lbs of flour around a store. Clean up on bulk aisle #3. 

I also never have enough browns in my compost so the flour bag is a very welcome addition to my backyard bin

Wine

I love red wine. It’s delicious. There is wine on tap here in NoCal near the bulk store that offers flour.

It is a little pricey at $18 for a non-organic red blend, and they close at 5 on weekdays. Working 9-5 really inhibits accessibility, plus driving 20 miles, and paying a bridge toll. 

I am much happier buying my wine at the bodega around the corner. And I can get it in my “I’m-just-out-of-college-I’m-poor” $8-$12 budget. Real talk – for those older, when did you graduate to more expensive wine?

Does my wine budget get bigger when I turn 30? 40? 

Also, bonus points for personal sustainability

Glass can be infinitely recycled with out losing any quality. So, I have no qualms buying products that come in glass.

Corks are compostable, but I save mine for projects. I’m not typically into crafting, (I have no patience) but I have always dreamed of having a Christmas tree full of wine cork garland. 

Dog Food

Rainbow grocery does have dog food in bulk! But, I couldn’t get there as often as I need to buy it.

My dog food bags are made of 100% recycled plastic and can be recycled curbside. Not perfect, but the best solution I’ve found so far. 

Toothbrush

I like to brush my teeth! You can read more about my dental care here.

Brush with bamboo comes in a cardboard box with no tape or glue. It can go straight into my backyard compost adding more of those browns it desperately needs! 

Baking Soda

I have bought baking soda in bulk. But, I have also bought the orange box. I plan on adding the box to my compost pile – must. have. more. browns. 

Buffalo Sauce

You will have to pry this bottle out of my cold, dead hands. Life is about balance, people. 

My love affair/addiction with buffalo sauce started my sophomore year of college. I just couldn’t get enough. I’d drink the stuff.

Douse everything in unending heaps of spicy, vinegary goodness. 

I have greatly reduced my intake, but deep fried cauliflower gets what deep fried cauliflower needs: buffalo sauce

I recycle the glass, and the cap. All hard plastics are recyclable in NoCal. The plastic film at the top of the bottle goes into my trash jar and I have no regrets. 

Mayo

I don’t eat very much mayo. Justin likes it on his sandwiches. I buy it in a glass jar. With as little as we eat, it wouldn’t be personally sustainable to make it. 

The glass and the lid are recycled and the plastic safety seal is in my trash jar. 

Caesar Dressing

Same as above. I really like vinaigrette on my salads which I can make from Olive oil and vinegar bought in bulk. Justin isn’t a huge fan of salads or vinaigrette in general. 

The exception is caesar salad. It takes 3-4 months to go through one glass bottle, so I buy it instead of make it.  

Pasta Sauce

I know, I know what you’re thinking. “Why would you ever buy pasta sauce when you have the best recipe in the world on your blog!?” To be honest, I didn’t make enough to last through winter. 

I’ll try and do better this year. I also really like freezing in old pasta jars. It doesn’t take away from my mason jar collection and if they break, I’m not heart broken.  

They’re also great to keep on hand for guests. They can take home leftovers. Or if I’m headed to the bulk store and they need me to pick something up for them.  

White Vinegar

I buy white vinegar in a glass bottle. I’m not familiar with anywhere that sells it in bulk. 

Butter

I am from the south. We. Love. Butter. You can by both vegan butter and real butter in cardboard and wrapped in paper. I compost them. Browns. All about the browns.  

Zinc Oxide

This is a new one. I have ventured into the land of homemade sunscreen.  

Wrinkles and skin cancer are some things I would like to avoid. I’m planning a camping trip in August; so, we’ll see how it goes. This is what I have.   

Allergy Medicine

Comes in a plastic bottle and everything. No. Regrets.  

Hay fever is real, and it sucks. I don’t know what I’d do with out it the full swing of spring. I haven’t been ill recently. But, I will never not fill a prescription/go to the doctor for wanting to avoid waste. That’s crazy. 

CRAZY.  

Your health always comes first. Take care of yourself.  

Lye

This might be a strange thing to see on the list. But, I make my own soap/shampoo/shave bar. 

I can buy soap without packaging, but I don’t like that Good Soap uses Palm oil. We have an artisan soap maker in town whose soap is AMAZING.  

But, it’s not in my budget unfortunately. Making it right now is the most practical for me. The lye I buy comes in plastic #2 so it has a pretty good chance of getting downcycled. 

Razor Blades  

The razor blade refills come in a giant box Saran wrapped which is in the trash jar.  Then they’re in tiny little cardboard boxes separating the blades in packs of five. 

Can you guess what I’m gonna do with all that cardboard???  

And, it still prevents a ton of waste compared to plastic disposable razors.  

Hydrogen Peroxide and Rubbing Alcohol

I lump these two together since they’re first aid/cleaning. They do come in plastic. We’ve had the bottles for over a year. They don’t see much use, but they do come in handy for certain situations. I would recommend having them on hand.

Safety first! 

Anything else? 

Not that I can currently think of…  If I discover something, I will add it to the list.

Or maybe make an update in the next couple of months.  I do have an earthquake kit which contains large jugs of bottled water and canned goods. 

Any regrets? 

I do regret not buying a physical copy of the Hamilton soundtrack. Justin told me to buy it. And, I was like – nah, zero waste! But, he was so right. I don’t have one of those cool things that plays the iPhone in your car. 

How am I going to improve my rapping skills!?  My carpoolee’s are probably very, very happy I don’t have a physical cd…. 

In all seriousness, zero waste should not be about depravation. It should not be a great sacrifice. Will it be a temporary inconvenience to change some habits? Sure. That should be expected.

But, after a couple of months of changing your habits, there shouldn’t be any resentment.

If there is, you’ve stretched yourself too far somewhere along the way. And, no dish washing doesn’t count. Be an adult. Wash your dishes.

This is not black and white. Zero is a goal – not and ultimatum.  

Be conscious, be aware, do your best. It’s not about perfection; it’s about making better choices. 

My step dad asked me this question once, “Is this the hill you want to die on?” 

It was a question in reference to an argument, but I use it to frame a lot of questions in my life.

And, let me tell you – the hill I want to die on has buffalo sauce, red wine, and that penguin plate I bought at the thrift store with a giant sticker on it. No. Regrets.

Happiness is important. Balance is important. 

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  1. Love the post

    Agree with the logic of real life

    But mayo and the other sauce you can make at home in less than 5 minutes, its healthier and tastes better…

      1. I LOVE homemade mayo but made w/raw egg yolks, olive oil, garlic, and sea salt it has a different flavor than say Kraft. You can add whey to preserve shelf life. Salad dressings also you can make your own. But my QUESTION is what is preserving the salad dressing you buy store bought that lasts, and why couldn’t that be added to what you make? Just curious!

  2. Yup yup, this is great. We can’t recycle as much in my area as you can in CA but I still end up with certain things that are store-bought because it’s personally sustainable for my family. There will always be haters, and even though I make so much from scratch, there are times when life just needs to go on and not come to a halt because of zero waste. xo!

  3. Great post!!
    Agree with white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, and the odd condiment like mayo, salad dressings (as well as worcestershire, relish, mustard -can’t make it right, ketchup -too lazy to make). Potentially -if you were obsessive- you could get salad dressings at your store’s salad bar…
    I use Everclear Vodka instead of rubbing alcohol, better product and comes in glass!
    Also, occasionally I’ll make a pilgrimage to Green 11. They have toothpaste, sunscreen, as well as lots of typical other products all in bulk.
    I get butter at the local cheese/bakery shop. No waste πŸ™‚
    Wine -yeap. Pasta sauce – yeap, unless inspired to make or to swing by local soup/pasta place where they’ll dole it straight into my jar.
    One -actually two- not on your list: canned tomatoes in the winter (again, too lazy to home can), and tomato paste. Oh, and, once a year or so, Borax.
    Of course, meds as needed.

    Totally get the Buffalo Sauce!

  4. Thank you for being real.

    The reality for many people, including myself, is that not everything comes package-free where you live. Some things I have not been able to find in bulk near me are: raw honey, olive oil, vinegar, baking soda, wine. I also buy flour in a paper bag because there is a wonderful local, stone ground option which I like better than the flour in the bulk bins.

  5. Can I join you on that hill? Maybe we can have a party! πŸ˜‰ I completely agree with you about balance. I make strides to limit the environmental impact of my lifestyle, but I will never be perfect and there will always be a balance. My two arguments along these lines are Why I Don’t Keep My Trash in a Mason Jar (http://skipthebag.blogspot.com/2016/07/why-i-dont-keep-my-trash-in-mason-jar.html) and We Can All Do Better (http://skipthebag.blogspot.com/2016/06/we-can-all-do-better.html). Glad to see I’m not the only one that feels that way.

  6. Great post! Thoughtful, detailed and inspiring.

    Just one small correction: You have written above, "In all seriousness, zero waste should not be about depravity." I think you mean "deprivation" and not "depravity." But I do agree with you that zero waste should not be about depravity either. πŸ™‚

  7. My buffalo sauce is Sriracha- I’ve tried recreating it at home but I just can’t do it… I make lots of different hot sauces but sometimes I just need the perfect taste of Sriracha. And rice paper wrappers. I do lettuce wraps (especially Korean style Sam Bap) but sometimes I just want a real spring roll. They sell rice paper wrappers in a cardboard package here (like you, I never have enough browns!), but the Sriracha has to go in the recycling bin and if I don’t clean it properly it’s probably yanked right out of the pile and sent to landfill.

    1. Yes! Love this! I have been wanting to make spring rolls for so long, but haven’t because of the wrappers. Maybe I’ll cut loose a little. Go crazy… buy some spring roll wrappers. πŸ˜‰
      Also, I totally feel you on the sriracha. It is so good! My friend made some that tastes sooooo similar. So, I just have to beg him to share the recipe. I hear the secret is red jalepenos.

  8. I’m surprised that Rainbow doesn’t have white vinegar, they have all the other vinegars in bulk (maybe you could talk to the manager about buying it?). Costco has 2 gallon jugs of white vinegar, which is what I buy and use in my laundry. WRT hydrogen peroxide, I recently read that it loses its efficacy pretty quickly after being exposed to air, so if yours is over a year old, might be time to replace it…

    1. Compost is made up of greens and browns. You have to balance them. My compost is mostly food scraps which are greens. So, I have to have some browns to balance it out. You’re supposed to have 75% browns to 25% greens. I’m lucky if I get 50/50.

  9. Does anyone have a solution for dental floss? I’ve seen simple swaps for mostly everything else, but I can’t find a simple solution for dental floss? Do you use it or just a toothbrush?

    1. I heard from Bea Johnson they use a small piece of organic silk and pull a thread of it off for flossing. Lasts for months.

  10. Hi I loved your website!!! I live in Turkey, Istanbul and I can’t find paste-macaroni without plastic pockests or ambalaj. Do you have any idea for this problem? And toilrt papers is a big problem…
    Congratulations I hope I can do same!!

  11. So I’m pretty new to zero waste living, but am very excited about the new change. It’s slow but steady. Your blog has made for some wonderful reads and great tips! I am however wondering what brand dog food you have found that’s is in recyclable plastic? That’s my biggest struggle so far and I can’t find it available to buy in bulk anywhere near my area.

  12. Thanks for the post, just found your blog. One question – from the research I have done around TX, any [primarily-]clear, flimsy plastic that’s clean can be recycled with plastic grocery bags…this would include those tiny pieces of plastic sealing bottles/caps. I throw them in along with saran wrap remnants from packaging, compacted into one plastic bag, and drop it off at my grocery store. I’m curious if you’ve found any similar recycling option for this inevitable scraps.

  13. Found your blog through a post from Beth Terry on Facebook today and adding it to my feed. At least I tried to. WordPress keeps telling me it can’t find a feed for your URL. I tried it with and without the https:// … /blog. Bummer.

    On another note, I use organic whole wheat flour as well, and, if you’re shopping at Rainbow, I’m thinking you live in SF. Whole Foods has whole wheat flour in bulk bins. One time the bin was empty and I asked if they had more in the back. The guy brought out a ten pound bag of Bob’s Red Mill organic whole wheat flour and filled the bin. Well then. That completely obviates the purpose, doesn’t it?

    But Whole Foods Organic whole wheat flour comes in paper sacks with no plastic lining, so completely compostable, if that helps.

  14. I’ve fallowed your blog for awhile now and I’m slowly starting to reduce my waste personally. I have always felt bad about my pill bottles going in the recycling or the waste, but today seeing your comment on your Allergy Medicine makes me feel a lot better. I’m a preschool teacher and what I do with the bottles after they are empty I sanitize them and put them in box that we have for pretend play of a doctors office. It is safe for the children and they always enjoy playing with them (after we have had a discussion about medicine safety of course.)

    1. I’m mortified that you felt guilty about buying medicine. Your health is your number one priority! It’s cute that you found a way to upcycle them though! A toddler doctor sounds adorable!

  15. I’m nearing forty and have been drinking wine for a couple decades now. The $8-12 range is perfectly respectable! Most of my favorite wines fall into this range, though I may splurge on occasion.

    Loving your blog! Great inspiration for those of us seeking to reduce our impact.

  16. As someone who is trying to make better choices, I find this post super refreshing! I’ve belonged to zero waste Facebook groups and found that so many people putting each other down and really negative. Excellent post!

  17. Nezza Naturals (Victoria, BC) has zinc oxide in tiny baggies. I thoroughly wash and reuse for household items like paper clips, rubber bands etc.

  18. i’m a newbie to zero waste & i’m starting with reducing single use plastic. i live a small seaside town in scotland & i don’t think we have any bulk stores even in big cities. πŸ™ i’ve found a coop in edinburgh where i work that does bring your own container so i’m hoping to try that soon. don’t fancy lugging lots of jars around (i use public transport) so trying to source some reusable bags to take. i get a lot of stuff from our local fruit & veg shop which is loose & not bagged. when i buy quinoa or the like from there (which is in a plastic bag) i like to think i’m supporting my local economy so i don’t beat myself up too much. switched to one bar of soap for showering & that does my hair as well. & now sharing bf safety razor. it’s going to be a long journey but it’s worth it. πŸ™‚

  19. I make cheater Caesar dressing with fresh garlic, lemon juice, parmesan, and store bought mayo. So tasty and your store bought mayo could do double duty!

  20. I’m impressed! The garbage man must like your stop, emptying your garbage jar. I bet it makes him and the neighbours smile. Sure would, me. I aim for less garbage too. Thanks for the inspiration.

  21. Thank you. I have read other blogs on minimalism and bulk shopping with glass and fabric containers. But the question I always had was medications and brown bags. There are somethings I can’t get gluten free in bulk bins because of cross contamination and have to buy online in plastic, which can be curb recycled. Thanks for addressing practical loving like allergy meds, pet food, and baking supplies.

  22. This post makes me love you even more than I already did. Hilarious and honest!

    P.s. just started buying wine in the $15 – $25 range…..so very worth the jump πŸ˜‰

  23. This post makes me love you even more than I already did. Hilarious and honest!

    P.s. just started buying wine in the $15 – $25 range…..so very worth the jump πŸ˜‰

  24. Thank you!!!!!!! I read your blog all the time and you have always done an amazing job of making zero waste accessible and attainable. I also follow the Zero Waste Chef online and she said something that really jumped out to me- "we don’t need a few people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing zero waste imperfectly" and I appreciate so much your ability to inspire people without making it some huge daunting and unattainable goal. Baby steps.

  25. Thank you! This is all great to know!

    I live in Michigan and don’t have many bulk shopping stores near me (very sad) and am wondering how you buy your salt and pepper? I can find salt in a cardboard container but pepper is always in plastic. I am looking into getting a mason jar shaker lid to store my salt and pepper in my mason jars and be able to use those. But can’t find refills that aren’t in plastic containers. I can buy salt and pepper grinders and the refills are still in plastic. I found 1 glass jar with pepper in it but it is pricey and small, not realistic and I would have to buy a lot of is with how much pepper we use (fills my small table pepper shaker).

  26. I live in Texas, but Big Lots carries 1 gallon containers of White Vinegar for $2.25! It’s in a plastic container, bummer, but could defo be used for storing other things later!

  27. I also do the pasta jar thing! I make a lot of Indian food, which requires a lot of tomatoes that aren’t always in season. I’m iffy about getting canned tomatoes in plastic-lined tins, so I will sub it with very plain pasta sauce. My go-to has been Classico because I can buy the two-part lids to replace the tops if they ever get lost or too smelly.