Tag Archives | bulk grocery shopping

Lions and lambs

Lion

Oh March, you fickle old girl. I love the changes you bring each year. The image above is was taken while I was out for a run Friday morning. It was snowing sideways and the temperature didn’t get up above freezing all day. But by mid-day Saturday, much of the accumulated snow had already melted in the sun. Sunday brought more sun and mild temperatures nearing 50 degrees Fahrenheit so I jumped at the chance to log some hours outdoors.

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My best friend and I took a drive out to the Willimantic Food Co-op to stock up on some bulk goods that we can’t get package-free in Providence, namely liquid soap (for household and personal hygiene purposes), agave nectar, honey, and canola oil. Fertile Underground Grocery’s bulk selection continues to grow and I’ve been told that their goal is to one day offer these liquid bulk goods, but for now I’m still making out of town trips every two months to fill up my glass jars and swing top bottles. Of course, having to drive 40-60 minutes to get to the nearest liquid bulk goods source is not ideal. I take care to plan ahead, writing lists and packing a shopping kit with ample vessels to minimize my trips. Carpooling with a friend and incorporating an outdoor adventure into the errand helps ease my anxiety about burning the fuel.

hike

We hit up Old Furnace State Park—one of my favorite semi-nearby hiking spots. The extra hour of daylight seemed like such a gift. The air was warm enough to smell the wet earth and leaves underfoot. On several instances I was overcome by excitement and found myself breaking into a full sprint along the trails. My friend and I weren’t the only ones enjoying the warm weather—the birds were chirping up quite a chorus. Being confined to my apartment or office for most of the winter has its serious drawbacks, no doubt, but the cabin fever makes the coming of spring that much sweeter.

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Good Tern

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This weekend I made a trip up to midcoast Maine  to visit with some dear friends I made at wood school this past the summer. On my way home I stopped into Good Tern Natural Foods Cooperative and Café. in Rockland, a wonderful source for organic local produce and bulk grocery goods. Each time I’ve been into the co-op, I’ve had a lovely experience. They have an easy tare system at the register. On two occasions I allowed (and welcomed) to rinse one of my less than squeaky clean reusable containers in their kitchen sink to use for my bulk goods purchases.

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Good Tern’s wall of bulk spices is one of the most comprehensive displays I’ve seen of all the co-ops I’ve visited. And their baking goods selection even offers alternatives to gluten flours.

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They even have bulk dry dog and cat food!

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And a fantastic selection of bulk oils, vinegars, honey, nut butters, and extracts.

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I came home restocked with package-free olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and tahini. Oh, the many meals these three simple ingredients will inspire!

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Fertile Underground

Fertile Underground is located at 1577 Westminster Street on the west side of Providence.

Fertile Underground is located at 1577 Westminster Street on the west side of Providence.

Fresh local and organic produce on display beneath a chalkboard sign that reads, "No farmers, no food... Know farmers, know food!"

Fresh local and organic produce on display beneath a chalkboard sign that reads, “No farmers, no food… Know farmers, know food!”

A delightful display of bulk spices and teas. A milk crate full of donated clean empty jars is available to customers to share. "Sharing is Caring"

A delightful display of bulk spices and teas. A milk crate full of donated clean empty jars is available to customers to share. “Sharing is Caring”

Sprouted lentils!

Sprouted lentils!

Today I picked up some groceries at Fertile Underground on the west side of Providence. Since their opening last year, the cooperative food market has been slowly adding to their local RI farm produce selection (both organic and conventional) and expanding their bulk foods section. Today I was so pleased to see a significant increase the in bulk spices offered since the last time I stopped in. I was also impressed by the number of organic dry bulk legumes and grains (even a few sprouted) that are currently available. Rice, quinoa, cous cous, popping corn, oats, granola, garbanzo beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, red and green lentils, and coffee are stocked. The store is becoming a great local resource for No Trash efforts and as they continue to add more bulk items I’ll be able to rely more heavily on Fertile Underground for my grocery needs. Employees Nancy and Chrissy graciously allowed me to take pictures as I shopped. Every time I’ve been in to shop, the folks working at the register and cafe have been incredibly friendly and helpful. It feels great to be able to support this small business. Less regular trips to co-ops outside of town of course means a reduced carbon footprint. Thank you Fertile Underground for your work to bring alternative food shopping to Providence!

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Bulk Barn

So, there’s this chain store in Canada called Bulk Barn. I had my first Bulk Barn experience the other day and I was amazed by the range of products they offer. As I walked up and down they aisles all I could think was why don’t we have something like this in the states? I would think that such a business would do well because of the obvious savings it offers consumers. I was surprised to find that Bulk Barn doesn’t sell reusable bulk bags. Plastic bags that hang over the bins are supplied to shoppers. They do stock a few glass jars but there are no weigh stations in the store. My friend and I were able to purchase a few goods in his reusable mesh produce bags brought from home, but I’m not sure if it would be possible to buy any of the liquid goods in any container other than the plastic tubs provided in the store.

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They stock a wide variety of bulk teas and coffees.

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Bulk cake decorating supplies.

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Bulk pet food!

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Even bulk bird seed…

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Liquid and paste bulk food products like garlic spread, pie filler, and nut butters are kept in tubs at the back of the store. Bar soaps and powdered cleaning supplies are also available, but they don’t stock any liquid soaps or cleaners.

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Bulk molases, corn syrup, and honey. Bulk Barn #5 plastic tubs are provided… perhaps customers could wash these containers at home and refill them? Seeing such a large variety of foods sold in bulk is exciting because choice having choice is always appealing. The dry bulk food bins are impressively large. I’ve often wished for a similar business near me, but I picture a place that sells all organic products with weigh stations at which customers can tare their own containers. The truth is that I can get what I need in bulk at my local co-ops and supporting small businesses is certainly the way I prefer to shop. It’s clear that reduced waste is not an objective that drives the Bulk Barn business. While working on these posts I read on some forums that people had trouble using their own bags at some store locations. I assume fear of violating health codes must be the reason for this… what a shame. Still, I’m always interested to see different systems for dispensing wet and dry bulk foods. The inside of this store was impeccably clean. No food was spilled anywhere. These stainless steel honey dispensers are very efficient appliances. It seems to me that personal containers would never have to come in contact with the food source. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all get honey from dispensers like these in reusable jars at any local grocery store? These are the kinds of things I dream about.

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Chatham Real Food Market Co-op

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I took a trip up to the Adirondacks with some friends this weekend. On our way north we managed to find The Chatham Real Food Market Co-op in Chatham, New York. We stocked up on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains to bring with us to our cabin destination. Local farm vendors were selling produce and baked goods out in front of the store. I was able to get bulk salad greens, kale, rainbow carrots, garlic, fingerling potatoes, and butternut squash without a single sticker or tie. Inside the immaculate store, I picked up an eggplant, some apples from the local produce section and some quinoa, red lentils and pepitas from the well-stocked bulk section. There was a small prepared foods section and a cafe area. The employees were lovely. It was the first co-op I’ve been to where I didn’t have to write down the price look-up code (PLU) for the dry bulk goods. I just told the woman at the register what was in my bags and she was able to pull the codes up on the computer while she weighed the goods. I get so excited to see one example after another of small and beautiful cooperative food markets that function so efficiently.

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Geeking over the impressive spread of dry bulk goods.

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Bike Days

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Today I realized that I haven’t driven my car in two weeks. Biking and walking everywhere feels great, especially since the weather has been so beautiful. This afternoon I ran all of my errands on my bike and still managed to make it to work on time. At certain hours of the day, biking in the city seems faster than driving. I hit the bank, the tailor, the grocery store, and Olive del Mondo (where I received 50¢ off my olive oil refill for returning my bottle to be washed). It’s been a great way to spend more time outside—something I always crave at this time of year as the days get shorter.

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Good Tern Natural Food Co-op and Café

I checked out Good Tern Natural Food Co-op and Café today. Another great local bulk goods source located in Rockland, Maine. They had an impressive variety of spices.

I was so excited to see seaweed in bulk at Good Tern. Wakame, Kelp, and Dulse. It was the first time I’d come across it loose in a jar and not in a cellophane wrapper or stretch plastic bag. I’ve dreamed of package-free, homemade seaweed soups and salad.

Got some miso soup in my stainless steel container from the Good Tern Café.

Beautiful local produce!

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Snacks

Cashew butter and fruit at the workbench. Purchased at the Belfast Co-op.

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Fresh Off the Farm

Pictured above is a market I’ve been frequenting here in the Pine Tree State. Fresh Off the Farm has been my main source for produce and dry bulk goods since I’ve been here. The employees are really accommodating and friendly. I love stopping in.

Even small produce are kept loose for customers to take just as much as they need. There’s always something local, like potatoes, baby garlic, cucumbers, or carrots available.

Bulk spices!

Pack of goods.

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Wood school

The last two weeks have been fantastic. My weekdays are filled with studio work—learning to sharpen hand tools and cutting dovetail and mortise and tenon joints. I’m working amongst some really inspiring people here and I’m making friends. Breaks from the work are filled with adventures on land and in water. Hiking, biking, swimming, and sailing.

Getting package-free food in this new setting is going really well so far. There are a couple great dry bulk grocery store options (one of them even sells bulk spices) and for the most part I’ve been able to get what I need. For the sake of research and curiosity, I plan to check out a couple recommended co-ops that are a bit farther (one 7 miles and the other 25 miles) away at some point. I may need to refill on cooking oil before I leave Maine and I’d also like to get some bulk tea.

I’ve been making dinner at home for friends and myself and saving the leftovers for lunch the next day at school. There’s also a business not too far down the road from campus called the Market Basket with a great prepared food selection and the employees have been so nice about filling up my stainless steel container on the days that I arrive to school without lunch. The picture above was taken on such a day. I enjoyed a meal of wild rice with walnuts, roasted potatoes and stuffed grape leaves at my workbench.

I had one fail at a fish market in Rockport called Graffam Bros. Seafood Market when I went to get a piece of Arctic char to cook at home. I introduced myself to the woman at the counter and proposed my special request. She happily agreed but then laid two pieces of sheet plastic on the counter to cut my piece to size. At the register I asked her if there was anyway around having to use the plastic and she explained that she needed to cover the counter surface to make the cut. Understood. The next time I went back, I was shopping to make dinner for myself and two others. The young man behind the counter that day was able to tare my container and put one large uncut fillet directly into it. The piece ended up being the perfect amount for the three of us. It was super fresh and delicious.

For sustenance, I’ve been toting stone fruit, carrots, almond butter, nuts, and energy cubes to class. Yesterday I snacked on wild blueberries while out on a hike with a friend. My land people have been extremely generous in offering me sugar snap peas and berries from the property and when the grapes on the deck are ready, I will help myself. I’ve been eating like a king.

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Olive del Mondo

After shopping the Lippitt park farmer’s market on Wednesday afternoon, I stopped by the recently opened Olive del Mondo at 815 Hope Street. My friend Seth sent me word about it at the beginning of the week and I was excited to check it out. As I’ve mentioned in many other posts, I have been getting my oils and vinegars from the Alternative Food Co-op in Wakefield, RI. I travel down there every 1.5 to 2 months to restock. The co-op products are very satisfactory—especially for cooking, but when it comes to dressing oil and vinegar, I have longed for a bulk source of specialty products. Growing up, my Italian father was always so excited to bring home dark green earthy olive oils and thick sweet balsamic vinegars to feed us. He’d open a bottle or can, drizzle it’s contents over a tomato or soak it into a piece of bread and present it to me with ebullience saying, “you’ve got to try this!”  It spoiled me.

As I stepped into Olive del Mondo, a huge smile came over my face. Glinting stainless canisters or “fustis” of oils and vinegars line the walls and island displays. Printed cards carefully describe the contents of each. I immediately noticed the emply dark glass bottles with cork stoppers that fill the lower shelves, and thought, “this looks promising”. I approached the young woman at the counter and introduced myself. I expressed my excitement and asked about the bottling system. Jennifer (that’s her name) explained to me that customers buy a small or large glass bottle to fill with the oil or vinegar of their choosing and then when they’ve finished with the product, they can bring the bottle back to the store to be washed and reused. The shop is equipped with a washing and drying system (bottle trees) in back. Fantastic! Plastic sampling cups and utensils are provided for customers to try different flavors, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be a problem to use one’s own sampling vessel brought from home.

http://olivedelmondo.com/

Jennifer and her husband Salvatore—who came in while we were talking, opened the business together. Both are graduates of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and their sensibilities show in the details of the store layout. We chatted about waste reduction projects. They told me it was a bit of a struggle to convince the Department of Health that the reusable bottle system could be sanitary, but eventually they were able to get it approved. I asked about the containers their products are delivered to the store in and Salvatore told me that they do come in plastic jugs (this is standard in shipping because of plastic’s lightweight characteristic—more weight equals more money and fuel). One jug fills one entire fusti. The plastic shipping container is certainly an imperfection in the bulk goods shopping system. It’s something that I discussed with Rosemary, the manager of Alternative Food Co-op, when I toured the store in January. She told me that paper and burlap are still being used to distribute many dry bulk goods, but today most liquid bulk products are shipped in plastic.

It’s important to acknowledge that buying imported food products is not a Zero Waste practice. As implicated by the shop’s name, the products Olive del Mondo carries are shipped here from around the world. While writing this post I realized that I did not know where the olive oil I buy in bulk at the co-op comes from. So I called them up and spoke to Liz, who is the store buyer and she told me that currently the olive oil they are purchasing in bulk is indeed imported and that it’s an issue they are both aware of and concerned about. So far they have not been able to find a distributor of bulk domestic olive oil.

When it comes to shopping for liquid bulk goods, variety is not always easy to come by… but there’s no shortage of it at Olive del Mondo. I really enjoyed speaking with Jennifer and Salvatore and I so admire the work they’ve done to set up the reusable bottle system. Currently, oil plays an important role in my diet, as it’s one of my main sources of fat. And while vinegar is a source of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium, the real reason I continue to consume it is that I simply love it. I passed on sampling in the shop because I didn’t have a vessel on me, but I did purchase a small bottle of 18-year aged balsamic and a reusable pour cap (the standard stop caps cannot be returned for reuse). As it turns out, it’s the most delicious balsamic vinegar I’ve ever tasted. I will savor every last drop.

 

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Dates!

Bulk Medjool dates at long last! This precious package-free treat came from the co-op in Wakefield. They’re kept in a jar in one of their refrigerators.

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Snack stack

These “date bars” recently appeared in a local bulk bin and I’m really excited about them because they taste a lot like Lara Bars, a packaged food I used to enjoy. Just like a Lara Bar, this snack has is made from very simple, healthy ingredients. Dates are the base ingredient—a fruit I love but have not been able to find in bulk. Buying these is far more economical than buying individual plastic wrapped bars.

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Spring equinox

Today is the spring equinox, but it looked and felt more like summer out there. People were walking around in bathing suits. The jet stream is making a dramatic curve across the 48 states allowing the cool air from Canada to move down west coast and all the warm air from the Gulf to move up the midwest and east coast. Winter was largely a no-show this year. These record high temperatures are unsettling to say the least. But the warm and balmy air feels good on my skin and lungs and I try to accept and enjoy the physical comfort.

This evening I rode my bike to the market to pick up some groceries for dinner. It was beautiful out. The man at the fish counter said, “You’re going to start a new trend of bringing your own container.” I smiled. That would be great. The girl who rang up my purchase was patient while I gave her the price look-up (PLU) code for my bulk rice. On the ride home I passed a man eating soft serve. I wonder what the weather will be like this summer.

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Oat Milk

I decided to try making oat milk at home. The standard recipe that I found on several online sources looked really simple. The ingredients are: oat groats, water, and salt (optional). So I picked up some organic oat groats in bulk from a nearby Whole Foods.

The oat milk was so easy to make. Here’s the recipe I followed:

1/4 cup raw organic oat groats

4 cups water 

1/4 teaspoon of sea salt.

Soak the oat groats in a bowl of water for about 8 hours. Rinse the oats and discard the soaking water.

Place the oats, salt, and 1 cup of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil then cover and simmer over low heat for 40 minutes. Remove from heat and let the oats cool completely.

Blend the cooked oats with the 3 cups of water until very smooth (I used my immersion blender and added the water directly to the saucepan—which meant less dishes to wash afterwards!).

strain through a fine mesh strainer into an airtight container. I reserved the solids to use in a baking recipe (not sure what I’m going to make yet). The oat milk will keep for 3-4 days in the refrigerator.

You can also make raw oat milk.

Leave the soaked and rinsed oats in a colander in a cool spot for 12-24 hours to initiate the sprouting process. Then blend the oats with the 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 4 cups of water until very smooth. Let the blended oats sit for 1 hour before straining.

The texture of the oat milk is smooth and creamy. Cooked oat milk tastes nutty and I’ve read that raw oat milk has a grassier flavor. Homemade oat milk is a wonderful solution to a packaging problem. Store-bought oat milk (and other boxed liquids) come in a drink carton that is comprised of 75% paper, 20% plastic, and 5% aluminium foil. There is also usually a plastic pour spout on the top of the carton. Making your own is also far more economical. A quart of organic oat milk from the store will cost around 3 to 4 dollars. The oat groats I bought in bulk only cost $1.69 per pound.

f drinking the milk straight, you might try sweetening it with a little honey. Today I topped mine with freshly ground cinnamon. It was delicious.

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Co-op bounty

Today I made a trip to the Alternative Food Co-op to restock on some goods. It’s been almost exactly two months since the last time I visited, which seems to be close to the average time between my trips. It was a beautiful day and the drive was nice—still, I wish the shop was closer to my home! I can’t say enough good things about the co-op’s staff and their bulk goods selection. I came home with package-free olive oil, canola oil, turmeric, curry powder, chili powder, chocolate energy cubes, dried mission figs, baking soda, natural bar soap, and conditioner.

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in.gredients

If you haven’t already heard about in.gredients, check out this video! The in.gredients team is busy remodeling their store in Austin, inching towards the grand opening. Meanwhile they’ve been sharing updates, facts, and inspirations on their wonderful blog.

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Sweet treat

Bulk local honey!

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Alternative Food Co-op

Yesterday I took another trip down to the Alternative Food Cooperative in Wakefield to restock on oil, soap, and baking soda. This time I brought my camera along and received permission from Rosemary–the co-op’s manager, to take pictures inside the store. Before the recent opening of Fertile Underground, Alternative was the only food co-op in Rhode Island. Shopping there is a very different experience from the conventional grocery store shopping experience I’ve known most of my life. As I’ve mentioned before, because of the variety of goods available in bulk, this resource has allowed me to take my project to a more thorough level. The co-op’s success is the result of a good business model, excellent management, and invested, conscientious employees. I want to share these images of what alternative food and household supply shopping can look like.

The co-op has the largest dry bulk food section of any store I’ve visited in the Rhode Island/Massachusetts area. Here I can find red quinoa, forbidden rice, and even goji berries. Spices, teas, and medicinal herbs in glass jars line the back wall. Oils, honey, and vinegar are kept canisters next to the spices. There is also a refrigerated bulk foods section. A small produce section offers fresh organic fruits and vegetables from local growers. Hot soup, baked goods, coffee and tea are offered at the front of the store. While I was there, a masseuse was giving massages to customers.

spices, teas, and medicinal herbs

spices, teas, and medicinal herbs

Bulk Tofu!

Bulk Tofu!

 

bulk cleaning supplies

bulk cleaning supplies

 

All of the stations in the store are extremely clean and well organized. Any spills around the bulk dispensers are quickly mopped or swept up. Pans and brushes hang on the wall so customers can clean up after themselves too.

The dry bulk foods supply is kept in a walk-in refrigerator located in the kitchen at the back of the store. I’ve always wondered how the foods that I scoop out of the bulk containers are packed and shipped to businesses. Inside the refrigerator, nuts, legumes, grains, and flour are stacked on simple wooden shelves, mostly in paper bags and boxes.

The walk-in

The walk-in

The back deck can be reached by walking through the kitchen. It overlooks the municipal lot where customers can park if there are no spaces on the street. Beyond the lot lie the Saugatucket River and a bike path that runs along it. Rosemary said that riders headed south from the co-op would arrive at the beach in about 15 minutes. In the summer the deck is set up with tables and chairs and the awnings are rolled down to provide shade.

Before shopping I weighed my containers again at the register. Then I filled up my glass jars, bottles, and bulk bags with olive oil, canola oil, quinoa, almonds, baking soda, and castile soap. I should be well stocked for at least another month, but if Alternative Food Co-op was located in Providence, I would do my daily shopping there. Many thanks to the whole co-op gang for chatting with me and for letting me photograph your beautiful shop.

Trash-free shopping basket

Trash-free shopping basket

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Antipasti

I brought my ‘no trash gear’ with me to visit with my parents over the holidays. While out shopping for food, I put appetizers from their local grocery store’s antipasti bar straight into my stainless steel container. My dad and I share a taste for olives, especially Sicilian Castelvetrano olives (the dark green ones). I’ve found it’s been pretty easy to practice trash-free shopping and eating while traveling as long as I remember to bring a couple containers and bags. I don’t mind asking store employees if their policy will allow me to use my own. Even if initially there is some confusion over the request, I find that most of the time people are willing to accommodate me.

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No trash kitchen

More food storage. Purchased in bulk without packaging, plus a couple home grown foods, and some spices with labels that were purchased before starting the project.

From the left: carob chips, flour, rice, fennel seed, cumin seed, sugar, granola, nutritional yeast, raisins, camomile tea, flax seeds, cannellini beans, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, chili peppers (grown), rolled oats, dried apricots, stevia powder (grown), cocoa powder, almond butter, millet, green tea, yerba maté (grown), balsamic vinegar, sesame oil, canola oil, salt, pepper

All of the spices on my shelf are available in bulk at the co-op. I’ve been thinking about how long mine have been sitting, and as time goes by, their freshness fades. I may end up giving some away if I don’t find the inspiration to use them. I like the idea of buying smaller amounts of each spice at a given time so that they are more potent.

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Bulk time lapse

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One month of trash-free bulk foods on my countertop.

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Prep

Getting ready for a trip to the co-op. Empty 16 oz glass peanut butter jars make great containers for loose tea, dried bulk goods, nut butters, baking soda, and even bulk moisturizing lotion.

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It started in the kitchen…

A lot of time passed between the point at which I decided to create a blog about the No Trash Project and the point that I finally got it started. I’ve been thinking (probably too much) about how to organize it. Of course a blog is a wonderful platform for documentation, and I know that as time goes by, it will become a sort of album and journal. Ideally, I would like the content to be useful to others as well.  I’ve decided to try to outline the ‘big picture’ ideas motivating the project and also describe the details of the daily problem solving involved.

I think it’s important to talk about the reevaluation of both need and habit that has been necessary for me to make any kind of progress.  As cliché as it may sound, we are ‘programmed’ to participate in trash-making routines.  It’s easy to accept that the products we see on television, billboards, and store shelves will enhance the quality of our lives. I was very much in the habit of buying and using things that just seemed necessary to function in a productive way. Now, the question I repeat over and over everyday is, “Do I need this?” Do I really need a different cleaning product for each and every surface in my house? Do I need dryer sheets to keep my laundry fresh and static free? Do I need plastic wrap to keep my food from spoiling? After several months of making these continuous checks, I’ve found ways around the trash to get what I need to be happy and healthy. Eventually I came to the question, “Do I still need my trashcan?”

I want to stress that at the beginning of this project I decided that the venture must always be about feeling good. I wanted to be very careful not to make this process about deprivation, especially because I would be working on it with another person whose wants and needs vary from my own. The system is not perfect. There are many stubborn problems still to solve. A small amount of recyclables still go out to the curb every week. There’s always room for progress and I love watching the project grow.

Okay, now for some specifics. To start down the no trash road, I needed a plan of attack. I had to organize the steps required to establish working systems in my home and the rest of my life. I looked at the different ‘zones’ in which I make trash. In the broadest sense, I categorize my trash production into three zones that exist both in and outside of my home.

Zone 1: Food–before I began this project, the majority of the trash in my can was from food products

Zone 2: Hygiene–both personal and household

Zone 3: Work–for me this zone applies to both the practices of my artist studio, and my university film department job

For the rest of this post I’m going to talk about the food zone, as it’s the area that is working most efficiently today. Here is a breakdown of the food zone subcategories.

Shopping: As I mentioned in my first post, bulk grocery shopping was a catalyst for the project. I buy all my food in bulk and I try to limit my produce and animal product shopping to farmer’s market as much as possible. A local fishing company has agreed to take my container home and return it at the next market day, filled with a fresh caught fish of their choosing. When I do go to the grocery store I shop the perimeter. I purchase all my fruits and vegetables without packaging of course and I have someone at the meat and fish counter put my purchases directly into a container I’ve brought from home.  They place the empty container on the scale to get the tare weight, and then place the meat directly into the container. No paper for the cat to pull out of the trashcan at home.  I fill up peanut butter and almond butter from the grinder machines into my own jar. The tare weight is subtracted at the checkout register. While there are great selections of bulk dry goods at my local markets, discovering a nearby co-op helped me to take the project to the next level. There I can fill tea, spices, oil, vinegar, and many non-food products into my own containers. It’s wonderful. Finally, choosing responsible distributers at the markets and buying organic has become an important part of the overall no trash effort.

Food Storage: Once the food gets home, the dried goods are poured into glass jars of all shapes and sizes, greens are placed into cups of water, and meat is kept in airtight containers in the refrigerator. The humidifier drawer is helpful in keeping vegetables longer. Carrots and radishes will stay crunchy for a surprising amount of time if stored submerged in water in the fridge. With regard to perishables, I’ve found that it’s imperative to only buy what I know I’m going to consume in the next couple of days. This way I can altogether avoid throwing out spoiled food. My refrigerator is not cluttered with forgotten groceries like it used to be. It has become a very efficient space that is constantly being emptied and restocked with colorful foods. I’ve established a collection of storage containers that play a daily part in this cycle. Luckily I live in a place that’s within close proximity to many grocery stores and farmers markets.

Food Scraps: Compost, compost, compost. After years of talking about it, I finally built a compost bin. It sits in the small yard behind my city apartment—my landlady was nice enough to allow it. All the scraps from the kitchen (except for citrus) go into the pile, and the compost fertilizes my plants. The local farmer’s markets also have a compost service.

Make Your Own: There are many products that cannot be purchased in bulk or without some kind of packaging.  Of those, most I’ve found are very easy for me to live without. I’ve learned to make some of the foods I still crave at home, from ingredients purchased without trash—like hummus or kombucha for instance.

Eating Out: Here is another area where it is important to choose responsibly. Supporting businesses that buy locally, serve no processed food, and plate reasonable portion sizes is important to me. A reusable container from home can replace the need for a doggie bag. Also, a container can be brought to a restaurant for takeout service or to the window of a food truck. I make a lot of meals at home to carry with me to work or on a day trip.

So there it is—a scratch at the surface. A bit of the macro and the micro.

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Introduction

For the past six months I’ve been focused on an undertaking that I’ve been calling the No Trash Project. The goal: avoid purchasing anything in packaging and eliminate personal trash production. As this is my first blog entry, I’d like to explain the inspirations for this endeavor. When I think back, I can pinpoint a few key discoveries that led me to the big ‘all or nothing’ push.

First, many years ago I came to the realization that Rhode Island only recycles numbers 1 and 2 plastics and that all the other numbers I had been putting in my recycling bin had ended up in a landfill. I began to notice how many different kinds of plastics are used to package goods and was amazed by the volume of my routinely purchased products that were packaged with numbers 3 through 7 plastics. For the first time I really took notice of how many plastic components surrounding and encasing the goods that I purchased, that were not meant to be recycled at all. I was making far more trash than what I was carrying out in a trash bag every week.

Then came the all-important discovery of bulk grocery shopping. For years I had passed by the bulk sections in my local markets to shop the middle aisles, buying my cereal, grains, nuts, beans, flour, sugar, etc… in plastic bags and cardboard boxes. Once in a while I turned to bulk to get a particular dried fruit that wasn’t on the shelf, or some trail mix that looked appetizing. I’d fill up the available plastic bags or the number 5 containers provided by the bins. Because of the guilt I felt over tossing out the containers, I began washing them at home and bringing them back to the store to refill. This was a real aha moment. Much like my reusable bag, here was a system that (if I remembered to bring my containers to the store) cut out a piece of trash. Soon I began to view the bulk section as a more prominent source for my dry grocery needs. Somewhat surprisingly, I discovered that bulk shopping even had an aesthetic appeal. With my food stored in clear containers on the countertop, rather than behind labels and packaging–tucked away in cabinets, ingredients looked more appetizing and inspired more cooking. Eventually I found myself wishing that more goods–even beyond the kitchen, were available to me in bulk.

A year ago, I attended an Action Speaks radio conference at AS220 about the 1987 roaming Mobro Garbage Barge. Three panelists spoke about the problem of where to put all the garbage we make, and whether or not recycling as we know it today, can even begin to curb the crisis. I remember being particularly struck by the comments of a young woman from the audience who had emigrated from Eastern Europe. She described growing up in a post-communist economy where out of necessity, everyone was “obsessed with recycling”. Glass milk, beer, and juice bottles were returned to the store to be used again. The conference prompted me to think a lot about the monetary cost of convenience.

Finally, in April I saw a news video online about a family of four (plus one dog) from Northern California, who after six months had just a handful of garbage to show for the waste in produced in their home. I was floored when I saw this story. The Johnsons have developed systems by which they consume food, hygiene, clothing, and other goods without carrying home the by-products that become garbage. After a glimpse of the Johnsons’ success, decided that I needed to go further.

Since April, I have been overhauling my lifestyle, implementing new shopping, cooking, and cleaning systems to produce as little trash as possible. Today, I can’t imagine ever turning back.

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