In summer, my kitchen relies more on farmers markets, farm stands, and homegrown foods than on my nearby grocery stores. I look around for the reddest tomatoes, softest peaches, biggest bunches of herbs. These are a few scenes from one of my favorites spots in my hometown of Indianapolis, Locally Grown Gardens. It's a beautiful and welcoming space, always full of seasonal produce, beautiful garden wares and home goods, and freshly baked pies. The blackboard above the counter in the tells what's in season each month of the year. Lines of tomatoes gleam rosily on most of the tables. The baskets make me itch to walk out the door with one on my arm and go berry picking. The doors and windows are always open in the summer, meaning you don't get that chilly grocery store effect that makes you wish you'd worn jeans and a sweater. This place is a good one. I love stopping by.
I recently spoke with Kinetic Magazine; we chatted about living sustainably, my favorite household cleaner, and permission to not to reach “zero” waste. The interview gives some background on why zero waste matters and why it's okay not to strive for perfection. If you’d like, you can read the full interview here. Happy Tuesday!
Photograph of my parents' garden, which is in full swing; I've been at their house more often lately, raiding it for dinners we can cook together.
Today I'm sharing how I brush my teeth in a low-waste way, and outlining a few other options you can go with (there are tons!). Read on for way more than you ever wanted to know about recyclable toothpaste tubes, compostable floss, and more. Seriously, way more.
Many zero waste people that I've spoken to brush their teeth with baking soda or with a homemade toothpaste based around baking soda. Before I committed to striving for zero waste but still was re-evaluating my daily routines to be more sustainable, I began using baking soda to clean my plastic retainer each night in lieu of the cleaning tablets packaged in individual paper and plastic tear-open pouches. After a few weeks, I found that the baking soda had abraded my retainer to be really rough in many spots. All this to say, I'm wary of using baking soda on my teeth, and if you are too, I've listed a few other options below.
-Toothpaste in a metal tube: Metal tubes seem to be more widely recyclable than plastic tubes, and they work to help you move toward using less plastic. I've tried a few brands and have really liked them. David's* (pictured above) is made in the United States with largely nontoxic ingredients, and it has a really fresh minty flavor that I like. It's pricey but high quality. If you order some, ask if you can receive yours without a metal key to push out toothpaste, which they typically ship with each order. Weleda toothpaste is likewise mostly natural, packaged in a metal tube, and can often be found in stores near you - my local Whole Foods stocks it in a few flavors. If you aren't a fan of mint flavored toothpaste, Weleda has some other options (I purchased their fennel variety when I ran out of toothpaste in Ireland, and it's a fun change). I'd also love to try Goodwell's toothpaste, which is nontoxic and comes in a recyclable metal tube.
-Toothpaste in a recyclable plastic tube: If you don't want to make the switch to homemade toothpaste nor pay the higher price tag associated with some of the brands that come in metal tubes, know that you can recycle tubes of Toms & Colgate toothpaste through Terracycle (sadly, only those brands are accepted - both companies have partnered with Terracycle to make it happen). One further possible option: tubes of Dr. Bronner's toothpaste have a recycling symbol but no number. I'm not quite sure that it's allowable; I reached out to the company to ask why it doesn't have a number, but all they told me is that their tubes are fully recyclable. Before going this route, I'd try to check the rules in your area to see what happens to recyclables without numbers.
-Toothpaste in a glass jar: You can also purchase toothpastes in a glass jar. I've tried Truthpaste*, which was lovely, but whose jar came shrink-wrapped in plastic. You could also try the toothpaste packaged in glass jars from Uncle Harry's or Fat and the Moon, or search on Etsy and contact the seller to ask that yours be shipped in minimal packaging.
-Homemade: If you're game to try homemade toothpaste made with baking soda, recipes abound. They range from just baking soda, to a few simple ingredients, to this one that looks the most similar to store-bought toothpaste.
Bamboo toothbrushes, which are compostable except for the bristles, are the gold standard of zero waste toothbrushing. There are many brands - choosing between them comes down to which come in minimal, recyclable, and compostable packaging, and which are made closest to where you live or can be bought in a store near you. (And price - because they're definitely more expensive than plastic toothbrushes). Whichever you choose, know that the toothbrushes aren't as durable as plastic, being, of course, compostable. Drying my toothbrush on a hand towel in between each use has kept them in good shape and helps them last longer. Below, a little review of a few of the different brands out there, including where some of them are made, to help you determine which might be the best fit:
-Go Bamboo*: Go Bamboo is made in New Zealand; they don't ship to the US, but they do to Europe. They're a company on a zero waste, plastic-free mission. Their toothbrushes come in totally recyclable paper packaging, and in an upcycled paper mailer. They also sell orthodontic toothbrushes and end tufted toothbrushes, if you need those.
-Gaia Guy*: My bamboo toothbrush from Gaia Guy came in a recyclable mailer, and the toothbrush itself was packaged really simply, in a recyclable cardboard sleeve. The round handle is nice and weighty, a pleasure to use.
-Bogobrush*: They're based in the US, and they make a biodegradable (non-bamboo) toothbrush, which comes in simple cardboard boxes with no extra plastic.
-The Environmental Toothbrush: A classic bamboo toothbrush, made in Australia.
-Goodwell: Goodwell's bamboo toothbrush heads are screwed on to a reusable base, so less bamboo is used each time you need a new toothbrush head. I think this system is totally genius, and once I've used up the last of the toothbrushes I have on hand I may switch to theirs'.
-Brush with Bamboo: Based in the United States, they make bamboo toothbrushes. I especially like that you can buy them in larger quantities at a discount, which is great for families or if you want to stock up.
-PearlBar*: My PearlBar toothbrush was shipped to me in a fully recyclable manila paper envelope. The brush itself was packaged in a paper carton with a clear plastic window, which they say is compostable. Their toothbrushes are made in China but ship from Australia.
-WooBamboo*- WooBamboo's bamboo toothbrushes are currently in packaged in a combination of cardboard and recycled/recyclable plastic - however, this year or next they're switching to backyard compostable plant-based plastic, so check back in with them.
Once you've used up your bamboo toothbrush, use pliers to remove & recycle the bristles, then compost the handle. Or, you can upcycle your brush before it hits the compost.
-EcoDent*: Theirs' is only floss I know of that's packaged in paper and is itself compostable, too. The floss comes wound around a little plastic spool that isn't recyclable, but, you know, you win some, you lose some. I've been using it for a few months now and like that it's low-waste but offers the same experience as conventional floss. I never thought I'd say those last four words, but hey. I like my floss to feel like floss I guess.
-Silk: Bea from Zero Waste Home recommends unraveling a piece of silk fabric and using it as floss. I haven't tried this yet, but when a silk shirt of mine recently became ripped beyond repair, I did set it aside to use in the future when the rest of my floss runs out.
-WaterPik: Do you have one of these collecting dust in the very back of your bathroom cabinet, left over from your orthodontia days a decade ago? Yeah, me too. It makes a good floss alternative, but on the other hand it does take electricity to use. Plus you can't use it while reading in bed, which is the only way I can get myself to make flossing a daily habit. Your call on that one!
Clearly, it's easy to go down the rabbit hole with this one. I say, pick the options that seem to hit the sweet spot of being affordable, easy, local, and sustainable for you. Maybe it'll make sense to sacrifice one of those categories for more of another. And then, if you don't like what you've tried, shake it up and try a new one. Hopefully you'll hit on a routine that works well for you.
And now, I'm curious...what have you been using these days?
Products marked with an asterisk were sent to me so I could review them & their packaging and report back to you. All opinions are my own. Thank you for reading!
Throughout the summer, stands at my farmers' market sell big bundles of herbs for crazy-low prices, like one or two dollars. I'm always awed by this summer abundance (dried and fresh herbs can get so expensive at the grocery store!). I never mind picking up way too many huge bunches, and I poach a few different types from my parents' abundant garden, too.
Many of these I use fresh, but let's be real - when have you ever bought and used a whole bundle of herbs before it goes bad? Since I typically cook for just one or two people, I use herbs in smaller quantities, and I hate feeling like I have to use up a larger amount quickly. After a few days of using sage or cilantro in everything, I start to get tired of the flavor.
Better, I think, to still buy big bunches of herbs but to dry the majority of them. I've already dried thyme and oregano this year, and even though I've never heard of dried chives (seriously, are these a thing?), I was left with a lot of extras and so I'm trying that out, too. This works particularly well with all kinds of cooking herbs (like the standard oregano, thyme, rosemary, and marjoram), as well as herbs that make lovely teas (mint, lemon balm, lavender).
To dry them, I wash whatever herbs I have left, tie a rubber band around a small bundle, and hang them from a hook in my kitchen. You can also lay the herbs out on a big plate or cooking sheet, turning them with your hands every few days until they're dry. Herbs work best dried in a well-ventilated spot with low light. You can store them on their stems or remove the leaves once dry. Then, just pop them in spice bottles or glass jars and use them all year long.
A few weeks ago, my friend Kathryn sent me a homemade shampoo bar, with the instructions that it could be used as shaving cream if it didn’t work with my hair. My hair has been too dry to have luck with it, but I’ve loved using it as a simple, low-fuss shaving cream. And, can you believe she made it herself?! With just three ingredients, it looks totally replicable. If you've been searching for a zero waste hair or shaving solution yourself, you can find her tutorial here.
It’s here! At the request of a few readers from Canada, I’ve been working for a while now on expanding my guides to where to shop package-free and where to compost to feature Canadian cities, too. And today those Canadian additions are live! Go ahead and explore those links at right to find your city, or click here or here to get right down to it. And, have anything else to add? I’d love to hear and feature it in the list, too. Happy searching!
It’s my summer rite of passage to jump in Lake Michigan at least once each year. I usually wait till August to give the sun ample time to heat up that big lake. Get those last summer bucket list items in, friends. Live bravely. Go outside. Watch fireflies. Listen to cicadas. Notice everything.
Grainy film photograph of Chicago two summers ago.