zero waste souvenirs.

How to shop for zero waste souvenirs | Litterless

You've probably heard the mantra: Choose experiences over stuff. The intent is to help us be mindful of moving away from rampant consumerism to a more thoughtful approach, one where activities done with those we love are prioritized over the small rush you get when buying something new. I'm on board with that. And yet experiences won't hold your groceries or blow your nose - only tote bags and handkerchiefs can. (Pictured above are a tote bag and handkerchief I bought in San Fransisco last month).

As in all things, of course, there's a balance to be struck. I find that trying to adhere to zero-tolerance rules like "Experiences are always better than stuff" rubs me the wrong way and never ends up being a change that I can implement long-term. 

And that's why I'm writing in defense of souvenirs. Souvenirs get a bad rap - they're often associated with useless, trinket-y crap, and rightly so. But that doesn't mean that all souvenirs have to be useless or trinkets. I mainly follow two unofficial guidelines for souvenirs: I don't buy things I wouldn't normally buy (there! all trinkets are officially excluded), and I apply the same criteria to souvenirs that I would to purchases at home. Here are a few more detailed looks into how I approach it:

-Save purchases for trips. The fact that I rarely buy things when I'm not traveling is probably the root of 75% of my souvenir purchases, and part of the reason why I fall staunchly on Team Souvenir. I keep a running mental list of things that I need, but I rarely feel compelled to purchase them when I'm at home: I get busy, I don't often shop, the need isn't pressing, etc. But when I'm on vacation and spy the perfect item to check something off my list, I instantly feel no guilt about bringing it home. Items that I've bought this way include a wool blanket in Ireland, linen napkins in Seattle, a birthday gift for a friend in Death Valley, a tea strainer in Milwaukee. The birthday gift excepted, these things fill gaps in my home and remind me of the trip each time I pull them out. So much nicer to think of the foggy day we spent on Bainbridge Island when I hang my napkins up to dry than to think of a Target in Chicago.

-Buy useful things. If the intent of a souvenir is to recall warm memories of a trip, what better than something you'll actually put to use, day in and day out? Tote bags, handkerchiefs, kitchen towels, wooden spoons. My parents have a habit of picking up kitchen items on their trips: anything from a mundane spatula to something special, like a beautiful porcelain serving bowl. A couple of years ago when we were engaged in a round of drawer decluttering at my parents' house, I tried to give away an old garlic press; my dad snatched it back, saying, "I bought that in Poland twenty years ago!" That's proof: useful souvenirs have staying power.

-Buy consumables. I've mentioned before that I always love swinging by a local bulk food aisle to check out the selection and perhaps bring a few things home to cook with (what my friend Elizabeth calls "grocery store tourism"). But, this doesn't have to just be food - it can be anything that you periodically need to replace. I've bought compostable wooden dish brushes in Ireland, Bee's Wrap for a hostess gift in San Fransisco, bulk tea and spices in Oakland. You could also choose a few bars of package-free bar soap, a bamboo toothbrush, anything you'll use up or wear out. Since you'd need to buy these items eventually anyway, getting them as a souvenir isn't an issue.

-Choose a local specialty. For coffee drinkers, planning to buy coffee to take home in a jar brought for that purpose or compostable packaging makes sense. A spicy rub from a barbecue-heavy city, local honey from a rural area, tea from the United Kingdom will remind you of your trip and prove useful in your kitchen. Often, things like these are sold in pretty jars or tins that you can reuse for years, too.

-Do some secondhand browsing. I'm deeply choosy when it comes to secondhand shopping, so I can't remember actually purchasing a secondhand item to bring home with me - but I have happy memories of browsing in a Seattle thrift shop with my friend Susan, a New York City one with my closest friend from college, and popping into a favorite Philadelphia store when I was there last.

-Plan ahead. The thing about shopping for package-free items is that, well, you're gonna need to provide the packaging yourself. If you're able to tuck a few empty jars, produce bags, and a tote bag in your suitcase, you won't be stuck later on having to purchase said items in a rush or having to sadly say no to buying bulk ramen noodle bricks or whatever else you fancy.

Do you purchase a few trip mementos like me, or have you kicked the habit entirely? What do you typically gravitate to?

Previously in Travel: How to stay zero waste on a long flight, and a trip to Rainbow Grocery.

takeback programs.

Baggu zero waste resuable tote bags | Litterless

In San Fransisco a few weeks ago, we were visiting the Mission District and wandered into a Baggu store. Baggu makes those reusable totes that fold up into small squares and are quite light; I use mine nearly daily for errands or work. (You can see mine in action here, here, here, and here, if you're so inclined). I'd been wanting another one, and browsed their beautifully technicolored displays until I found one that I wanted - which, of course, was not technicolor itself, as I am a boring neutrals lover (I went with the solid teal shown near the right of the photograph below).

Baggu bags aren't recycled cotton, organic hemp, or anything extra sustainable in and of themselves. But, a bag in the hand is worth two in the bush, right? Being able to refuse single-use shopping bags depends on actually having a reusable one with you when you need it, and unfortunately bags made from natural fibers tend to be heavier and bulkier and not as conducive to carrying around just-in-case. So, I use both Baggus and cotton bags on different occasions, and it works well for me.

Baggu reusable zero waste totes | Litterless

One thing Baggu gets right is that they accept their worn-out bags for recycling (!!!!). I'm of the opinion that companies should stand behind their products, repairing them until they can be repaired no longer and then offering to recycle them at the very end of their lifecycles. With that in mind, I've compiled a list of the companies who do this, whether it's taking back a container that their product comes in or accepting back the product itself. And because reusing something is preferable to recycling it, next to each I've noted which you can expect to happen to your returned goods.

Clothing & Accessories.

-Baggu: Baggu takes their bags back when they've reached the end of their useful life (until then, you can wash them or mend them yourself to extend their use). You can bring bags to one of their physical stores in the Bay Area or Brooklyn, or mail them to the address listed hereReuse or recycle? Recycle.

-Eileen Fisher: EF is working toward becoming a completely circular company, and so they have a few programs set up to make sure your Eileen Fisher garments need never go to the landfill. They'll help you repair your favorites, or accept garments you no longer want back for resale, repurposing, or recycling. You'll also get a $5 store credit for each item you send or bring in. I went to a talk by some of their designers working on zero waste principles back in April, and I left super impressed. Just a week or so ago, my mom gave me an old Eileen Fisher tank top of hers to send back to the company for resale or repurposing... but I liked it, so I kept it. You can shop their secondhand pieces on their website or find the details on returning your worn goods hereReuse or recycle? Both.

-Madewell: I don't have much applause for the sustainability credentials of this brand (though you'd never know it by the number of Madewell clothes I pick up secondhand), but they do accept old jeans from all brands at their stores for recycling; you can find out more about that program, hereReuse or recycle? Recycle.

-Patagonia: Patagonia has been incredibly supportive of Zero Waste Chicago, so I'd already be a fan even if their circular economy initiatives weren't so rad, which they are. Through their Worn Wear program, they buy back good-condition Patagonia clothing, repair things that you'd like to keep but that need some TLC, and accept unusable pieces for recycling. So, when buying sportswear, Patagonia is a great choice because you know your items will never need to hit the landfill. You can also follow along with their Worn Wear antics on InstagramReuse or recycle? Both.

-REI: REI accepts their old clothing and gear back for donation; you can send it in using a prepaid shipping label. To find out more or get started, click here. Reuse or recycle? Reuse. And maybe recycling if not - I can't quite tell.

Cosmetics.

-Lush: This cosmetics company offers many products entirely without packaging; those that do come packaged are typically sold in little pots that can, once emptied, be returned to the Lush store. If you collect five empty pots to return, they'll give you a free face mask! It's a nice incentive, but unfortunately the pots are recycled, not cleaned and reused, so still take caution when purchasing from here. More info on their takeback program can be found hereReuse or recycle? Recycle.

-Schmidt's: Schmidt's, makers of natural deodorant that you can find locally at places like Whole Foods, offers a takeback program for their glass jars of deodorant. For every five empty glass jars that you return, they'll give you you a free deodorant - plus, it's free to mail the empties back to them, as well. They sanitize and reuse their empty jars; just note that each new jar comes with an unnecessary, and not recyclable, small plastic scoop. You can learn more about their program, as well as get started on mailing yours in, hereReuse or recycle? Reuse.

-Origins: This cosmetic company accept cosmetics packaging from any company, not just their own, for recycling. You can read more about their program hereReuse or recycle? Recycle.

-Kiehl's: Like Lush, Kiehl's is a cosmetics company takes back their empty containers for recycling, and gives you a small reward when you collect enough empties. Because their products are invariably plastic-packaged, this is small comfort for the zero waster, but maybe you can hoard your sister-in-law's stash or convince your BFF to start collecting the empty containers from her favorite lotion. Get the full scoop on their program hereReuse or recycle? Recycle.

Terracycle programs.

If you frequently purchase the same product that comes in packaging, check to see if there's a Terracycle program for recycling it. You can find a current list of Terracycle's free recycling programs here; they typically partner with companies directly, so, for example, you can send in the packages from Toms of Maine oral care products, Gu Energy gels, Bausch & Lomb contact lenses, and Lara Bars to be recycled. This isn't an excuse to buy overpackaged products like plastic-wrapped granola bars, of course, but merely a way to deal with them if they arise (which, despite the best of intentions, they often might). Take a look at the full list to see what else appeals to you - for musicians, they take instrument strings! Reuse or recycle? Recycle.

Etc.

Too often I think zero waste writers and public figures assume that no one will have anything in danger of becoming landfill trash, because everyone is able to buy everything without packaging and never has anything to dispose. But of course we do ourselves a disservice with this type of thinking; fact is, everyone has to buy things in packaging occasionally, or has clothing items that wear out and can't be donated. The more options we have for getting those objects to a place where they'll be correctly recycled or reused, the better.

So, let's all build a mental directory of where we can send things like this. And, when you mail things in, you can of course use smart zero waste-style mailing practices; I've shared my favorite tips for that here. There are, I'm sure, so many programs that I'm missing, and I'd love to learn what they are - if you know of more, kindly share in the comments?

Previously in Simplify: How to stop junk mail, and notes on keeping reading material circulating.

zero waste on a long flight.

How to stay zero waste on a long flight | Litterless

I've written before about how to stay zero waste when flying; you can read that original post here. But, it's one thing to plan to stay zero waste on a quick two-hour flight, and another thing entirely to prepare for a four, five, six, seven, eight, eight plus (yikes) hour flight. With that in mind, I wanted to share what I brought while flying to and from California a few weeks back, about a four-and-a-half hour flight (so not the longest flight ever, but not the shortest, either).

Packing to stay zero waste on a long flight | Litterless

-Two water bottles. TWO, people. If not three. If you require more water once you're on the plane, it'll be poured from a single-use plastic water bottle. If you bring bottles of your own, you can fill them up after security from the water fountains in the airport and skirt the offered beverages on the plane entirely. Two bottles typically works for me, though on my flight home from Ireland last year I succumbed to asking the flight attendant for a refill after I finished my second one. Though I usually drink from a metal or glass water bottle at home, plastic Nalgenes are my travel bottle of choice because they're so much lighter when I'm carrying multiples. If you don't own plastic bottles of your own anymore, you could borrow them from a friend or simply swipe empty Gatorade bottles from the recycling bin at work.

Trial and error will likely teach you the number of bottles that works best for you. On the flight to California, my boyfriend only brought one; though I very annoyingly cautioned "You might regret it!" (I am sometimes quite the zero waste know-it-all), he didn't end up needing more. So maybe I'm more of a water guzzler than most.

Another note, beverage-wise: if you're a coffee drinker relying on getting one at the airport, you'll of course want a reusable thermos with you, as well. I like both the Klean Kanteen and the KeepCup.

-Snacks and meals. Airplane food is universally fairly gross, so this is an area with multiple fringe benefits: you can reduce your waste while eating things that are overall more tasty and healthy.

A flight attendant friend of mine recently confirmed that, no, if you refuse the provided airplane meal, it won't be reused on down the line and instead will become waste anyway. I'm curious if any reader has ever called ahead to say "no" to a meal in advance - but I doubt it would make a difference. Knowing this, you could just opt to eat the food instead of letting it go to waste; I don't like the way it tastes, though, and opening all those tiny plastic-wrapped packets now kills my soul, so I prefer to bring my own when I can. Packets of pretzels and soft drinks are, of course, used on down the line if they're refused, since they're not perishable. (Although anyone who has ever eaten dinner on an airplane can attest that those don't exactly seem perishable either).

Regardless, I like to bring my own food, bought in bulk or prepared at home in advance. Things I've eaten on planes recently: homemade sandwiches, bagels bought package-free, apples, citrus fruits, trail mix, pistachios, stir fry over rice in a stainless steel container, a croissant, a big kale salad with grains and beans, chocolate, homemade granola bars. If your flight is quite long, you'll want to prep multiple meals, which can be a pain, especially when you're rushing around doing everything else that's required to get ready for a longer trip. I got a bit lazy before my flight to Ireland last year, and let me tell you: eating peanut butter-and-apple sandwiches for three meals in a row was not an enjoyable experience, even with the addition of chocolate chips to one of them.

If, as I like to contend, zero waste is largely a matter of planning ahead, next time I'll improve matters by jotting down some meal ideas in advance and then prepping them the day before, not the day of. A sample menu for an overnight flight could look like a stir-fry made ahead to eat for lunch at your gate, then a sandwich and roasted veggies for dinner on the plane, followed by a bagel with peanut butter and a piece of fruit for breakfast on the plane the following morning. Planning meals in descending order of the refrigeration needed is key. And supplementing these with copious amounts of snacks, of course, is another way to quell the ennui of a long flight.

A note: if you're leaving the country, customs can make food planning more difficult. If you'll be going through customs upon arrival, make sure you've eaten all your food during the flight, or disposed of it once off the flight. With this in mind, you'll probably want to bring things that don't need composting, since you won't be able to get apple cores and the like through customs. Another tricky scenario to be aware of is that some international airports abroad do U.S. customs before the flight leaves (this happened to me last year in Shannon, Ireland), so you won't be able to take any fruits, veggies, meat, dairy, etc. on the flight at all. If this happens, I recommend using a cloth produce bag to purchase a few pastries at a coffee shop post-customs (said coffee shop probably won't sell any fruits or veggies because it's post-customs) and then eating the airplane food itself. Things happen, c'est la vie.

-A container for compost. I sometimes forego this, instead planning to put my compost in my empty food container once I've finished eating. This of course doesn't work if you don't eat your whole meal or snack at once, so I appreciated having this small reusable bag handy for apple cores, pistachio shells, and the like. A huge bonus was that we were flying to San Fransisco, whose airport has compost bins everywhere. Score.

-A cloth napkin and an eating utensil. You probably already bring these most everywhere, and a flight is no exception. How else are you going to eat your lovingly prepared stir-fry?

-A handkerchief. Indispensable whether in the air or on the ground. But especially on long flights, that dry air can do weird stuff to your sinuses. Don't get caught snatching your neighbor's drink napkin to blow your nose, or using your cloth napkin that you'd prefer to save for other purposes. If you don't already own a handkerchief, you could make your own pre-flight with this tutorial.

Also imperative, though not pictured: warm clothes and maybe a scarf or blanket and a pillow of your own. Anything the flight attendant might hand to you, you could try to bring for yourself to avoid the inevitable plastic wrapping that accompanies it.

Though I typically bring all of the above, I could share plenty of stories when my best-laid plans were rerouted along with the airplane and I ended up buying food in a compostable or recyclable container, accepting a beverage from the cart, etc. If this happens to you, you'll learn something, you'll try again next time. Over time the lessons stack up and I get better and better at zero waste traveling. If you have lessons of your own to share, I want to hear: what else do you bring for flights like these?

Previously in Travel: A trip to Rainbow Grocery, and how to compost while traveling.

a secondhand wardrobe.

How to grow a secondhand wardrobe | Litterless

"Twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five...". Counting under my breath yesterday morning, I worked my way down my closet to make a note of how many of the items in it were secondhand, ethically made, or handmade, as a way to chart my progress on moving away from fast fashion. The verdict: just over half of my closet is comprised of secondhand items, and about two-thirds of my closet is in some way a secondhand or ethical purchase.

If I'd seen those figures three years ago, I might not have believed them. Back then, I had the best intentions for shopping mainly secondhand, but I wasn't finding the things that I wanted to wear in the thrift stores I tried. I would read the stories of women who'd made the leap before me, women who said things like "I only buy secondhand clothing" or "I mainly buy secondhand clothing," and I would think, "But how???"

Happily, I now find myself on the other side of the equation, with a comfortable routine for finding things I love on the secondhand market. Inspired by Slow Fashion October, a month of taking time to be thoughtful about stepping away from fast fashion - whether to secondhand items, handmade things, mended garments, or ethically or locally made clothing - I'm excited to start sharing more of my secondhand finds here, as well as thoughts on how to grow the percentage of your wardrobe that's secondhand, in a new series called "Secondhand Wardrobe."

I hope to demystify the process a bit: secondhand shopping isn't just for people with heaps of time on their hands to browse thrift stores. It isn't just for folks who live in areas where the thrift stores are nearly as good as the regular stores. It isn't just for that mythical person who just has an eye for combining older items with new ones, who walks out of the vintage store in a leopard-print coat that should look terrible but somehow just doesn't. That person is decidedly NOT me - and yet, here I am, solidly in secondhand world.

When I think about zero waste done successfully and well, I don't necessarily think about keeping trash to the bare minimum. Instead, really the crux of it is that all of our consumer choices need to be looked at more holistically. In other words, purchasing a cheap fast fashion t-shirt can be technically zero waste if you refuse the bag at checkout and recycle the paper tag. But in the true spirit of reducing one's impact, saving up for a higher-quality, ethically made piece, finding a similar t-shirt in a secondhand shop, mending the small hole in one you already own, or hosting a clothing swap with friends is another way to achieve the same end.

That's not to say that I'm perfect at this, by any stretch. Two weeks ago found me hobbling around San Fransisco on blistered feet and dashing into a big department store to buy a more comfortable pair of sandals, provenance unknown. The jeans I wore on repeat this summer were white Levi's, not ethically made nor secondhand, and yet beloved nonetheless. I still own many items from that time, three years ago and before, when I was just beginning to look at what a slower approach to fashion might look like and thought finding what I needed secondhand to be nearly impossible. You might be at that point, too. But, that's always been the ethic of this space: start where you are, do what you can. Hopefully this series will give you some new tools to do so.

If you have specific questions about secondhand or ethical shopping, I'd love to hear them (and take a stab at answers) in the comments below. Otherwise, this past post of mine on my method for secondhand clothing shopping is a good place to start. Back soon with more, on this and other things zero waste.

Pictured above, two new-to-me (but not new), clothing items for fall.

rainbow grocery.

Bulk, zero waste grocery shopping at Rainbow Grocery | Litterless

You already know that my interest in zero waste has turned me into a grocery store tourist: when I'm someplace new, I love going to small, local grocery stores to see what interesting bulk foods they might stock. Sometimes I go to these groceries just out of curiosity, though more often I'm there to buy snacks for the week or to buy a few bulk foods to take home. So even though I still haven't finished using up the package-free ramen noodle bricks I bought at Rainbow Grocery when I was there in April, on our September trip to the Bay Area I obviously had to make my way over there again, as well.

Though I'm fortunate to live near several groceries with great bulk selections in Chicago, there are many things that I have to choose to either buy in packaging or do without: soba noodles, coconut oil, tofu, miso, pretzels. For some of those, I can easily pass them up; my life is equally as good, and probably a bit healthier, without a bag of pretzels always on hand (though I certainly wouldn't presume to judge if you do the opposite). Others become rare purchases, like tofu, while still others I just buy in packaging as often as I need to and try not to feel guilty about it: soba, coconut oil, miso.

Bulk, zero waste foods at Rainbow Grocery | Litterless

Well, you probably know where I'm going with this, but those lucky folks who live near Rainbow Grocery don't have to make the same choices: they can buy all those things listed above in bulk in their own bags/jars, and so much more! Fresh pasta, fancy sea salts, breakfast cereal, tons of chocolates, weird dried fruits like mulberries, kimchi, seaweed, multiple types of miso, natto, sauerkraut, liquid aminos, Nutella, every kind of flour you can think of. And, that's all in addition to the normal stuff: granola, trail mix, pasta, rice, beans, nuts, herbs, and spices.

Zero waste grocery shopping at Rainbow Grocery | Litterless

Pictured here are hers-and-his photos of Rainbow; me with some bulk pretzels (three guesses as to how long those lasted), and my partner taring some bags for his purchases.

It's so fun to wander the aisles and fill a few bags with food to take home and think - THIS is what bulk shopping can be! Not just the standard bulk aisles we're so familiar with, where you can get grains and nuts and beans and spices and maybe a few snacks, but not too much else. Instead, here, you can pretty much find whatever you need package-free. 

I realize that this probably isn't on every zero waster's list of fun things to do while traveling, but it sure is on mine. I'm always curious to see how other cities approach zero waste, and I usually leave with some new ideas to try to implement in my city - or at the very least, some new bulk foods to implement in my kitchen.

Bulk herbs and spices at Rainbow Grocery | Litterless

Other lust-worthy zero waste grocery stores: Berkeley Bowl, again in the Bay Area (I've never been to that store, but from what I hear it gets rave reviews), and I'm also pretty partial to Willy Street Co-op in Madison, French Broad Food Co-op in Asheville, and Sugar Beet outside of Chicago.

What other spots would you add to the list? And what bulk foods do you wish you could magically implant into your nearby bulk aisle? I'd wish for soba noodles, coconut oil, tofu, and coconut milk. I think I see a theme there (unabashed coconut lover).

PS. If you want to explore more grocery stores with bulk foods in your community or while traveling, you can check out my state-by-state guide here.

trip to the bay area.

Point Reyes National Seashore | Litterless

Our trip to the Bay Area last week was one we planned at the beginning of the year, and I was grateful for the time away after the busiest summer of my life. We spent a week backpacking by the Pacific Ocean in Point Reyes, then another week split between downtown San Fransisco and Oakland.

I suspect you already know this, but the Bay Area is probably the most zero-waste-friendly place in the United States; it offers widespread municipal composting and the best package-free food and toiletry selection that I've found anywhere. That's not why we went there, of course, but it was such a pleasure to be in a city where zero waste required less planning ahead and careful forethought. 

As someone who's used to taking food scraps home from restaurants to ensure they're composted, having compost available everywhere lit me up. So convenient, so guilt-free, so lovely. Thanks for leading the way, Bay. We found that many restaurants don't even offer a trash can for customers, instead dividing the store's entire waste between recycling and compost bins. (That doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement: single-use disposable cups, etc., were still rampant, even if they were being recycled or composted).

As for the bulk foods available in San Fransisco, I think they deserve their own post. But one thing of note was that even chain stores had upped their zero-waste friendly offerings: the Whole Foods near my friend's house in Oakland offers bulk Dr. Bronner's soap, something that I haven't seen in any Whole Foods in the Midwest.

Tartine Bakery | Litterless

In addition to ogling bulk food at Rainbow Grocery and gleefully pitching apple cores in compost bins, we also, of course, did other things. A few highlights:

-Tartine Bakery (pictured here): Waited in line here because, hey, baked goods. It was a fun pilgrimage and such a pretty space.

-Mission San Delores Park: A friend told us we had to go here, and it ended up being my very favorite part of the trip. All we did was sit on a bench watching people play fetch with their dogs, but the view of the city was beautiful. Sometimes those unassuming moments end up being the best, don't they?

-Gracias Madre: All-vegan Mexican food. Handmade tortillas and tortilla chips, and cashew cream galore. I'll probably come back here every time I'm in San Fransisco, for the pure pleasure of being able to order anything off the menu. So much goodness here.

-Ferry Building Marketplace: Munching samosas from the Saturday farmers' market in the sun before heading back inside to browse the food stalls and shops was so much fun we went two mornings in a row. And frankly, we could have gone a third, too.

-Lake Merritt: One of my closest friends lives in Oakland, so I always try to stay a little longer so I can see her when I'm in California. Her apartment is close to Lake Merritt, and walking the three mile perimeter with a podcast on or my mom on the phone or my friend next to me has become one of my favorite traditions.

There's so much more I want to share - a few of the fun bulk foods we found, thoughts on lower-waste backpacking, how I think through staying zero waste on long flights, and more, so stay tuned for that good stuff coming later this week. Hope you've had a good few weeks, and I'd love to hear your favorite Bay Area spots too, if you'd like to share below!

passing food along.

Giving extra food to friends to stay zero waste | Litterless

Readers often ask me for tips on preventing food waste. I'm reluctant to paint myself as an expert in an area where I often feel like I have so much learning still to do. I'm good at only buying foods I like, freezing foods that are going bad, thinking of ways to use up stale bread, and hoarding vegetable scraps for other uses. But meal planning, taking regular inventory of the dry goods in my cupboard, and forgoing a meal out when I still have a lot of food in my fridge? Not my strongest suit.

One other area though where I've found myself in a good routine: swapping extra food with friends. The zero waste community here in Chicago is vigilant about not letting things go to waste. This has looked like everything from a text thread where we ask zero waste questions and offer up objects we'd like to find a new home for - a bag of potting soil, a humidifier - to meeting up for a stuff swap to sharing our favorite secondhand stores and recycling drop-off points.

It also looks like this: having dinner at a friend's house a few weeks ago, she rummaged around in her fridge and pulled out some extra food for me to take home. Her household was in CSA overload and she wanted to make sure the food got used, so I left with a carrot, an onion, and some lettuce bundled up.

My friends and I have the same types of cloth produce bags for the most part (these and these), so we never swap food in those (they'd get mixed up with the recipient's and accidentally never returned). Instead, my friend sent me home with the produce wrapped in a cloth tea towel, furoshiki style, as shown below. I ate the lettuce as a salad, and turned the onion and carrots into a mirepoix for that week's soup.

I've often been on the other end of this, too. When I'm heading on vacation and have more food than I can eat before I go, I'll bring a piece of produce with me when I meet up with a friend, offer it up at work, or send out a text: "Hey, can you use ___?"

Anyway. Swapping food needn't be premeditated or fancy or include a large amount. Heads of lettuce are worth sharing, as are single tomatoes and fruits and peppers. And free food is much better than the kind you pay for, so here's some encouragement to go out on a limb and start a food swapping culture with your friends. They'll doubtless be grateful for the extra watermelon, soup, or kale you've realized you don't need.

Sharing unused food is hardly revolutionary - but sometimes it's good to have a reminder to stop and think for a minute before pitching something in the compost. What food have you passed along lately?

PS. My ten all-time favorite ideas for preventing vegetable waste, here. And, I've started a new tag to corral posts on food waste - if you'd like to nerd out on it, click here.