Tag Archives | no trash shopping

Key factors


This week I signed a lease on an apartment in Brooklyn. Though I’d been amply warned about the challenges involved in finding a place to live in NYC, the undertaking proved even trickier than I’d anticipated. As a student, I will only be able to work part-time and my modest budget limited my options from the get go. Securing a dwelling that met my requirements took a good deal of time and energy, but in the end my tenacity paid off.

Feeling comfortable and at ease in my immediate space has always been important to me. In addition to finding an agreeable, clean, functional, sunlit interior, there were many other factors to consider before choosing a place to call home in a city as large as New York. My desire to live without making any trash further complicated my decision. Of course, the proximity of my home to my school and access to public transportation are both of great importance. But I was also thinking about access to resources, like bulk food vendors. And with each space I looked at I also had to consider whether or not I would be able to compost at home or nearby. Trying to familiarize myself with these factors as an out-of-towner was no easy feat. Nor was it easy on my feet. Despite my best effort to employ a daily blister prevention program of strategically placing paper medical tape on my toes and heels, while hoofing it from neighborhood to neighborhood on some of the hottest (sweatiest) days of July, I wound up with some rather raw dogs. But all the walking was worth it. I’ve started to get to know some neighborhoods, trains, eateries, and grocery stores in Brooklyn. After several weeks of searching I was able to settle on an apartment that seems to be a good compromise on everything I was looking for in a home.

I found a reasonably priced, no broker fee apartment in sleepy Red Hook. I really love the neighborhood. There’s an excellent grocery store that stocks an impressive variety of bulk foods and organic produce, an impressive community farm, some lovely garden centers, and a handful of great restaurants. One drawback to the location is that there are no trains that go directly to the neighborhood, which means that I will have a longer walk, a short bike ride, or a bus ride to get to and from the train into the city every day. But while I was hemming and hawing over whether or not I could tolerate the commute, a dear friend pointed out that I happen to be someone who is willing to pass on certain conveniences in order to experience other things of value that support a good quality of life. Hearing this from someone who knows me well made me realize that I’m quite capable of making the best of my time there. Of course it’s possible that come wintertime, I may grow weary of the commute, in which case I may choose to relocate for my second year of school, but for now I’m just excited to give it a try.


Meanwhile back in Providence again, I’m finishing up work projects, and preparing for my move. Being without my car has been great so far. I took my bike for a tune-up and replaced the synthetic squishy, leaky gel saddle with a quality leather one. I returned the gel saddle to my friend who built my bike for me. He said that despite the tear he could still make use of it. So far I’ve found the leather saddle to be a lot more comfortable than the gel. I don’t feel like I’m slipping and sliding the way I felt on the padded seat. Now that it’s the only vehicle I own and because it will ease my daily commute to the train once I’ve moved, I’m more focused on taking great care of my bike.

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Takeaway treat


Hummus, stuffed grape leaves, and zaalouk from Tea in Sahara on Governor Street. I took a break from work and biked over to the café to save my growling stomach. The owner very kindly agreed to put my order in my stainless steel containers. A woman sitting sipping tea inside admired them and asked where she could find some. I gave her a list of sources. When I thanked the owner for honoring my special request, he said “No, thank you!” I left smiling from ear to ear.

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On the way home from my Worm Ladies field trip and the beach, I made a stop at the Alternative Food Coop. I knew I’d be driving through Wakefield so I planned ahead and packed my car with a shopping kit (a large canvas tote filled with a couple swing top bottles, a couple jars, and some bulk bags). It’s been about a month and a half since my last co-op restock trip and even though I wasn’t completely out of the few package-free supplies I can’t find within walking or biking distance from my home, I decided to fill up then to save from having to make another trip in a couple weeks. I go through a lot of cooking oil. Generally speaking, I use canola oil to cook with and olive oil to dress dishes. Canola has a neutral flavor and a high smoke point (the temperature at which the oil begins to smoke… a point of interest because when an oil starts to smoke, nutrients are destroyed and potentially health-harming compounds are formed). It’s also rich in alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fat. I can get great bulk olive oil Providence, but not canola. When I entered the co-op I noticed immediately that their bulk oil station looked revamped. They seemed to have more stainless steel fusti dispensers and a larger variety to choose from. A lovely co-op employee approached me and asked if I needed any help. I told her that I would need to tare my swing top bottles before filling them and she informed me that in order to comply with the Rhode Island Department of Health, the co-op devised an new system for the liquid bulk food items. To reduce the risk of contamination from shopping with containers brought from home, customers are asked to use the sterilized funnels provided at the filling station and then deposit each used funnel in a basket to be rewashed by co-op employees. Or customers may use any of the free vessels (pictured above on the bottom shelf) that have been donated by customers and sterilized at the co-op), purchase a clean mason jar to fill, or use a free number 5 plastic container (as seen on the top shelf). Signs posted at the station clearly explain the new system and thank customers for their cooperation. Because they weren’t very busy, the employee I spoke with offered to sterilized my bottles brought from home. This was another way to ensure that there wouldn’t be any contamination from potentially harmful pathogens coming in contact with the fusti spigots. She disappeared with my two large bottles and returned with them washed a couple minutes later. She tared them at the register for me and I was ready to fill.

I had a chance to speak with co-op Manager Rosemary Galiani, about the new system. She explained that the change was spurred by a Department of Health inspection, which determined that the old, funnel-less operation was not up to food safety standards. I think it’s so wonderful that rather than removing the liquid bulk food items, the co-op chose to work with the DoH to come up with several convenient shopping options for customers, and a manageable sterilization system for co-op employees. Yet another reason to support this wonderfully small business.

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Rolling with the punches


This past week, I took advantage of the quiet University spring recess and used some of my saved vacation days to visit with friends and family. No trash travel has become pretty manageable and routine for me. Armed with a water bottle, stainless steel container, travel utensils (chopsticks and my bamboo spoon/fork), a few reusable bulk bags, a couple mini glass jars and bottles filled with my essential hygiene products, and my wits I am able to adapt to most scenarios without having to make trash. Committing to Zero Waste means having to be resourceful and I really appreciate the challenge of taking my project beyond my usual stomping ground. While the travel kit I described above serves me well most of the time, there are occasional circumstances in which I find myself missing something from home. This time around it was my trash-free herbal remedies I longed for when I found myself suffering from… ahem, acute menstrual cramps. Luckily I was staying in Toronto and as I had discovered during previous visits, the city is full of many great bulk sources. So on a borrowed bike, I took a ride to see if I could find something to ease the pain. At home I have been using teas and decoctions in place of over-the-counter or prescription pain pills to cope with the monthly distress. Slowly sipping on a warm liquid with pain relieving and anti-spasmodic properties gets me through the peak cramps. And I feel good knowing that I am not using medication that can adversely effect my stomach or liver.


I was able to pick up some chamomile at great little store called Strictly Bulk. The slogan on their very simple website reads, “because you don’t eat packaging”. I filled up one of my hemp bulk bags with enough little flowers to make several cups of tea per day for at least three days, after which I knew I would be feeling much better. Studies suggest that chamomile may work to relieve menstrual cramps. I find that drinking chamomile tea has an overall relaxing effect that helps take the edge off of menstrual pain. And I was very glad to get a hold of this trusty, familiar aid while away from home. Meanwhile the chamomile sprouts on my windowsill are growing taller and stronger.

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Hemp “pesto”


Today I used the hemp meal leftover from Monday’s hemp milk to make hemp “pesto”. I initially intended to use basil for this recipe but I couldn’t find any without packaging. All the basil at my nearby markets is currently being sold in PET plastic packs. I was able to find loose parsley tied with a rubber band so I grabbed a bundle and decided to improvise with that. I used 1/2 cup hemp meal (all that was strained out of the milk), 3 cups chopped parsley (stems included), 6 medium size chopped garlic cloves, 3/4 cup olive oil, and generous amount of cracked pepper. I combined the ingredients in a mixing bowl and pulsed them with my immersion blender until I had a paste. The total time to make the pesto was less than 10 minutes.


The hemp meal provided the body that cheese and pine nuts give to traditional pestos. Hemp has a nutty flavor of it’s own that compliments the parsley well. And what a vibrant color! Because I love the taste of parsley, it’s a fine substitue for basil… but I can’t wait to make this with homegrown package-free basil this summer!


For lunch I cooked some pasta (this one happens to be a gluten-free quinoa fusilli I found in bulk at Karma Co-op in Toronto) and tossed it with a tablespoon of pesto and fresh chopped tomatoes. Oh man, it was delicious! I think this will become another go-to package-free meal.

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Today I spent some time looking for hardware I need to complete a couple household projects. It can be a real challenge to find hardware sold as individual pieces these days. Screws, nails, hinges, and hooks are often sold in PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic boxes, each containing more pieces than you might ever use. The leftovers tend to pile up in the junk drawer, under the kitchen sink, on a shelf in the garage or basement. I went to Adler’s, a local family-run business just down the street from my apartment. They have a good selection of loose, unpackaged hardware on display pegs and in drawers. I was able to find the hooks I was looking for marked with just a piece of masking tape. I bought the three I needed, pocketed them (no bag, I insisted), then made the short but very brisk walk home, my home improvement purchase clinking with each step.


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Cashew milk


This morning I made cashew milk. It stands as my favorite of the non-dairy milks I have made so far (including oat, almond, and coconut). The process is the same. I soaked one cup of nuts in a medium-sized mixing bowl overnight, rinsed them in the morning, added 4 cups of fresh water to the bowl and then mixed the two ingredients with my immersion blender. It homogenized much more quickly than the milks, which makes sense because cashews are so soft and less fibrous than most nuts. And straining the solids through a nut milk bag (my repurposed mesh produce bag) was quicker and easier than with the other three. The cashew milk is mildly sweet and very rich. This one might be my jam for a while. Or at least until my recently restocked supply of bulk cashews runs out, which I’m guessing won’t take long, as the milk is a morning breakfast and evening dessert kind of treat. I’m continually amazed by how easy it is to make milk from grains nuts and seeds. I’d also like to make sunflower seed, hazelnut, and rice milk.


Many of the rubber gaskets for my swing top glass bottles have started to become brittle are breaking down. I searched high and low at my local hardware and kitchen supply stores for replacement gaskets but came up short. So I went online and found some on ebay. Purchased them and wrote a note to the seller asking if he could send them without any plastic and as little packaging as possible. They arrived today loose (12 in total) in a small paper manila envelop. With a stamp. No plastic. Fantastic. But I’m still hoping to find a local source.

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New kicks


I had a lovely day. It started with an unseasonably warm run. I checked the temperature before I got dressed and it was nearly 60˚F in Providence so I threw on my running shorts and a t-shirt. While working up a good sweat in the warm sun it dawned on me, it’s the middle of January! Crazy. I wore the new running shoes I finally bought to replace the spent ones I’d been sporting for years. Most running and athletic shoes on the market are made from 100% synthetic materials. I really struggled with the idea of buying a new product off a store shelf that costs so much energy to produce and that will not biodegrade once the wearable life has been pounded out of them. I am completely onboard with the minimal running shoe movement for physiological health reasons and the fact that they require less resource material (for instance, there’s no foam in my new pair) to produce than the high stability, bulkier shoes I was rocking before this. So I settled on these of 6oz water-resistant minmal shoes that will get me through all seasons. I felt that they were the best choice of everything I considered at my local running shoe retailers. So far, I really love them. They fit me perfectly, I like the feeling of being in closer contact with the ground as I move over it, and they’ve kept my feet dry and warm even in the slush and snow we had just a couple weeks ago. I believe my old shoes are too damaged in the heel to donate to be worn so I plan give them to Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program.

This evening I hung out at Fertile Underground Grocery on the westside of Providence with in-store foodie and event host Jillian McGrath and the rest of the wonderful FUG team. We spoke with interested customers about bulk food shopping and reducing food packaging waste. I had a wonderful time meeting folks from Providence and neighboring cities and discussing my project and ways to take advantage of such wonderful resources as Fertile Underground Grocery. Thanks so much to everyone who stopped to chat!

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Refrigerated bulk

At a Toronto area grocery store—chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, ground flax, pepitas, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, almonds, etc… It’s the first time I’ve seen bulk nuts and seeds (which can go rancid in warm temperatures or when exposed to air because of their oil content) kept in the refrigerated section of a market.

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A healthy addiction

Mustard greens from Arcadia Farms.

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Fertile Underground

Stopped into Fertile Underground. I was excited to see that the shop has come along since the last time I was in. They’re doing some wonderful things with the space. I’m so grateful they’re in town. Their bulk section has grown and they now offer some spices. Fantastic!

This bitter melon caught my eye. I had never seen it before. Apparently it’s grown locally. Kim of the Fertile Underground staff offered me some wonderful information on what it tastes like and how to cook it. She recommended stir frying it with other asian vegetables. I brought one home and did just that.

The posters in the windows of Fertile Underground reflect the values of the business. This Eating with the Ecosystem poster is an advertisement for a dinner series designed to raise awareness about New England marine ecosystem sustainability.

“This is not trash. This is future dirt.”

An educational poster campaign produced by ecoRI. It’s a beautiful thing. If you live in the area and don’t have an at home composting setup, you can bring your food scraps to the Hope Street Farmers Market at Lippitt Park in Providence (9:00am-1:00pm) or to the Go Local Farmers Market at the Barrington Congregational Church (9 a.m.-noon) on Saturdays and ecoRI Public Works will compost them for you. See their compost guidelines here.

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Garlic at Beth’s Farm Market in Warren, Maine.

Gladioluses in the bench room. The flowers are free with your purchase at Beth’s.

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From City Farm! Well, at least what’s left of them…

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Tea in Sahara

Yesterday I had a meeting at Tea in Sahara on Governor Street in Providence. I love this little cafe. It’s in a quiet residential neighborhood and the owners are so friendly. Hot beverages are served in ceramic mugs but iced beverages are poured into number 1 plastic cups with lids and straws. So when I ordered my iced jasmine tea I asked the woman behind the counter if she could put it in my canteen and she was happy to do it. I sat working and sipping while the thunderstorm rolled through and cooled the city down.

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Summer solstice

Today was a great day. I hit up the farmer’s market, stopped into the new olive oil and vinegar shop on Hope Street and bought some amazing aged bulk balsamic vinegar (more on this soon!) and then headed for the coast to watch the sun set on the longest day of the year (and for some relief from the heat). It was particularly beautiful tonight. I managed to get a swim in too. Happy summer solstice!

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Sea robin

From The Local Catch.

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Arugula flowers

Delicious and beautiful arugula flowers from New Urban Farmers. I never knew that so many greens could be eaten in their flowering stage. I always assumed that once plants like arugula and kale shot out blooms, they were past their peak. These are great in a salad or as a garnish. Spicy, peppery, and delicious!

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Kale flowers

From Dave at Schartner Farms. I love these colors.

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From the farmer’s market


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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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Today I was able to find the washers I need to finish a woodworking project in bulk at The Home Depot. Small victories.

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Farmacy Herbs

The No Trash Project has rather naturally led me to a territory previously unknown to me–medicinal herbs. How can I treat illness, heal injuries, or relieve pain and discomfort without making trash? This past weekend I finally visited Farmacy Herbs in their Providence shop. I mentioned the business in an earlier post about trash-free medicine, at which point I had only ever seen their products at my local farmers markets. The shop is in a small one-room building across from North Burial Ground Cemetery. Mary Blue (Farmacy’s founder) helped me find the herbs I was looking for on the shelves and gave me some recommendations for herbs that may help relieve menstrual cramping. At the self-service table setup next to the wall of dried herbs, I scooped my selections into my own glass jars and weighed them. I was surprised to find that my purchase of nettle leaf, raspberry leaf, cramp bark and ginger root (3oz or about 85 grams total) only cost me $6.00. In the half hour I spent in the shop, many customers came and went. I was excited to catch a glimpse of what seems to be a community of people taking advantage of this wonderful resource. I spoke briefly with a woman named Suzie who is enrolled in Farmacy’s Herbal Education and Training Program. She was helping to tend the store as a part of a work-study arrangement. She told me that classes take place in the shop. On their website you can see a list of topics covered from herbal terminology to wild fermentation techniques. Browsing these topics motivates me to learn about growing, harvesting, preparing, and using medicinal herbs.

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Bumps in the road

Last night the temperature outside was a balmy 60˚F. I packed a clean jar, a couple reusable produce bags, and a stainless steel container in a backpack and set out on my bike to Whole Foods. At the store I filled my jar with almond butter and one of my mesh bags with Brazil nuts. I went to the fish counter and got a piece of hake in my container, but the fish man was a little confused by my request for no packaging and he used a piece of tissue paper to weigh my hake. I should have been more specific. By now I know many local grocery store and farmers market employees, so most of the time I’m able to ask for help from someone who is familiar with my reusable container routine. But sometimes on the occasions that I shop outside of my usual hours, I’m met with the puzzled faces of strangers who aren’t sure why I’m trying to hand them my own container. I’ve learned that there are a few things I can do to help make this interaction go smoothly. Generally I try to avoid approaching the counter when there’s a long line of people. Instead I’ll shop for the rest of my groceries and return when the counter is quiet, especially if someone I’ve never met is working there. That way, there is time and space for my special request. I explain my goal before ordering. I start by saying that I’m trying to avoid making any trash. I ask if it’s possible to weigh the container first to get the tare, and then put the food directly into the container while it’s on the scale. I’ve found it helpful to explain that it’s not just that I don’t want to take any packaging with me, but that I don’t want any paper (besides the price sticker) used to process my order. Most of the time people are very friendly and accommodating, and sometimes they even encourage the no trash effort.

After I got my fish, I went to pick out a starch for my meal and decided I had a hankering for potatoes. I found the bins of loose potatoes and noticed that they were all conventionally grown. The organic potatoes were located on other side of the bins, all packaged and stacked in plastic bags. Foiled! It’s not the first time that packaging has affected my dinner plans since I’ve made buying organic a priority. For reasons I don’t understand, I often see organic produce options in packaging at the grocery store. Buying a whole bag of apples, avocados, bell peppers, mushrooms, or onions, now seems like a strange way to shop for food. I enjoy choosing individual fruits and vegetables–turning them over in my hands, scanning for nicks and bruises, feeling the weight of the food, and even smelling some produce to check for ripeness. I like to select a handful of items that are ready to eat now or in the next couple of days. Stocking up on large amounts of food that can spoil doesn’t make much sense anymore. The bags of potatoes in front of me last night became more incentive to lean on farmers markets and co-ops whenever possible as a source for fruits and vegetables. Meanwhile I remain flexible and open minded about the other trash-free, organic ingredients that are available to me. And I will continue to vote with my dollar.

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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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