happy thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving | Litterless

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers and friends. I'm thankful to you for reading this year and for bringing community to this space. Also thankful for veggies, candlelight on dark winter evenings, love and friendship, and the fact that the 2018 midterm elections are finally less than a year away.

See you back here next week with more, of course. In the meantime, here is last year's Thanksgiving post, and the year before's. I really love this time of year.

PS. A post by me elsewhere, with an idea for how to use up your Thanksgiving food scraps.

a petition with we want refill.

A petition for bulk, zero waste options with We Want Refill | Litterless

Sometimes zero waste is a little bit lovely: bulk body oil on a marble countertop, a pantry full of glass jars of colorful beans, cloth napkins on the table in lieu of paper. Sometimes, for me at least, it is also completely unglamorous. A time that comes to mind recently is toting a jar to and from another state for the express purpose of filling it with bulk body lotion. Unfortunately, this type of insane maneuver isn't as rare as you might think for me in my efforts to stay zero waste.

To be fair, I didn't travel to Wisconsin to fill up my mason jar with lotion; I traveled there to visit my boyfriend, who lives in Madison. There are two places I know of to get bulk, package-free lotion in Chicago, but both are a forty-five minute public transit ride away, and since I don't have a car, that becomes a bit too much time to dedicate to lotion-purchasing. Hence, when I knew I'd be visiting a friend with a car and a great bulk grocery store near their house, out came the jar.

Although that's a bit of an extreme example, I'm sure we all have stories that fall along similar lines. Whether it's commissioning a purchase from a faraway friend because you know she lives near a great zero waste store, or tucking a bulk food purchase in your luggage as a zero waste souvenir, we've all probably gone to semi-crazy lengths. But the really crazy thing? That we have to go to crazy lengths to find what we need in bulk at all. It's 2017! We've been to the moon! I want to buy bulk lotion in my neighborhood!

A petition for bulk, zero waste options with We Want Refill | Litterless

Enter We Want Refill, an organization working to expand bulk body and home care products in stores near you. They ask stores to add refill stations for bulk liquid items we use daily, like cleaning products, laundry detergent, shampoo, conditioner, and, yes, lotion. They don't make these products or the refill stations themselves; they simply make the point that the technology to offer this is out there, as is the demand, and that stores should start offering better options. To which, of course, any zero waster would heartily agree.

We Want Refill is asking you to support their efforts by taking two minutes to sign their petition. When you add your name, you're strengthening the movement to make bulk offerings more accessible - so that you don't have to live in a big city to access them, nor drive to another state, nor sit on a train for an hour, nor cajole a friend into ferrying you something you haven't been able to find locally. You can sign here, and take a look at their helpful educational resources here, if you're interested.

Previously in Zero Waste: Notes on staying zero waste in a pinch, and how to keep your travel souvenirs zero waste, too.

This post is sponsored by We Want Refill, whose work encourages stores to offer liquid bulk options.

travel tip: bring your own soap.

Zero waste travel tip: bring your own soap | Litterless

If you're traveling later this week for Thanksgiving: drive (or fly) safely, and bring your own soap. If you're staying in a hotel, that is. It's easy to avoid the plastic- or paper-wrapped bar by the sink if you spend two minutes at home prepping your own.

Here's how I do it: I cut a small block off a bar of soap (purchased package-free), then pop it in a little tin to travel with. Last year I bit the bullet and bought a soap tin from Lush that was just the right size and shape, but I imagine you could use anything to hold the soap sliver: a plastic container, an Altoids tin, a small container from your kitchen, a small glass jar. The soap block should be big enough to last you awhile, but not so big that it adds significant bulk to your travel kit. I find that a one-inch square seems to be just right, but if you're packing for a family, you might want it to be a bit larger.

There are many ways that staying zero waste while traveling can be complicated and challenging: finding places to compost, navigating airport meals, all the unexpected things that can crop up. But avoiding overly packaged hotel soaps? It's an easy one.

More travel tips if you need them, right this way.

Previously in Bath & Beauty: More zero waste soap ideas, and a DIY project.

easing into winter with loose leaf tea.

How to brew zero waste loose leaf tea | Litterless

Well, here we are. Daylight Savings and November and suddenly Chicago is dark and cold. My friends know that winter is not my favorite time of year (understatement), but each November I do my best to get cozy and embrace what's coming.

This year, it's made a little easier with my secondhand electric kettle (only secondhand in that I took it from my brother), which boils water in under a minute, as opposed to five to ten minutes on the stovetop. Heaven! And, with the constant cups of tea made with the hot water from said kettle.

I've mentioned before that there are three main ways to think about brewing tea if you're aspiring to zero waste: buy tea in bulk, grow the herbs for tisanes yourself, or buy tea in compostable packaging. You can learn more about the first two options here, and today, we'll be chatting about the third way - purchasing tea in backyard compostable packaging - in partnership with the folks at Arbor Teas, who've shared their favorite tea blends for getting cozy and their tips for brewing zero waste tea.

Zero waste loose-leaf tea | Litterless

Whether you're choosing a blend from them or another bulk option from the grocery store, the folks at Arbor Teas have a few recommendations for brewing loose-leaf tea:

-Use a large tea strainer (instead of a tea ball, like the one I was using until recently). You want to make sure the tea leaves have space to expand once the water is added, so that they can emit the most flavor possible. Here's the one I'm using in the photograph above. Chelsea at Arbor Teas said even a kitchen sieve will work - it's good to know that you don't need to have anything fancy, and that maybe something you already own will do the trick!

-Store loose-leaf teas in opaque, airtight containers. You can get away with clear containers, like glass jars, if the jars are consistently kept in a closed cabinet. I store my tea in a mismatched collection of jars in a kitchen cabinet - small jars with teas I just want to sample, larger jars full of my mainstays like rooibos. And, note that most tea remains fresh for about a year, so plan to use it up within that time.

-Brewing the loose-leaf tea can be as easy (or as complicated) as you'd like. Though it's not quite as easy as dunking a pre-filled teabag in hot water, I love the small ritual of pouring the leaves into the tea strainer. You'll use about one teaspoon of loose-leaf tea per cup of water for most teas. Green teas should steep for 2 - 3 minutes, black tea for 3 - 5, and herbal teas for 5 - 7. But, as long as you like the taste of what you're making, you can't really go wrong. You can find a more detailed guide to timing and measuring teas here, if you'd like to delve deeper.

-You can mix teas yourself. Love fruity green teas? Mix a more standard green tea with something like a fruity herbal tea. If you have some peppermint tea and some chamomile tea to use up but neither lights you up, mix them together and see what you think. Pull down some cinnamon sticks from your cabinet to warm up a normal black tea. Make teas as strong or as weak as you want. With loose-leaf tea, you can run the show in a way that you can't with pre-bagged tea. So, experiment!

Zero waste, loose leaf tea | Litterless

This winter, I'm gravitating toward cozy and festive-feeling teas like a cranberry spice tisane, which is rich and fruity, or a ginger turmeric, which feels like a tonic when winter sicknesses hit. For black tea lovers, they also have a holiday spice black tea blend, with orangey and citrus-y notes.

About the packaging: Arbor Teas loose-leaf teas come packaged in bags that can go straight into the compost - whether you compost commercially with a pick-up provider or you compost in your backyard (the bags are backyard compostable, down to the paper labels on them). So, when the cardboard box arrives, you can recycle it and the paper receipt, tip the tea carefully into a jar or container, and stick the packaging in your compost.

New York folks, you can find Arbor Teas in stock locally at Package-Free Shop in Brooklyn; for the rest of us, their website is right here. Other tea drinkers out there: what have you been sipping on recently? Here's to staying cozy this season.

This post is sponsored by Arbor Teas; thank you for supporting the brands making zero waste supplies and supporting Litterless.

zero waste essentials.

Zero waste essentials | Litterless

Today, I'm excited to share a project that's long been in the works: a guide to the zero waste items I reach for day in and day out, the things I consider my absolute essentials. These are the things I use every day, that you've seen in my pictures a thousand times, the answer to so many "How do you keep X activity zero waste?" questions.

But, even better, the guide tells you how each item is packaged, how to take care of it, and how to keep it out of the landfill at the end of its life, if possible. I wish retailers took more responsibility for giving us all of that information - until then, I hope my new guide is helpful in learning how to use and care for your zero waste items.

You can find the guide here, or in top navigation bar under "Essentials." I'll be adding a few things over the next few weeks as well, as I wander through my house and think, "Hey, that's pretty essential, too." Anything else you'd like to see a packaging / use / care / disposal guide on there for?

Previously in Zero WasteTen companies that will take their products back to reuse or recycle, and how to stay zero waste while traveling.

caring for a bamboo toothbrush.

How to care for a bamboo toothbrush | Litterless

It's really easy to know how to care for a plastic toothbrush: in a word, you don't have to. You throw away the packaging, use the toothbrush for a few months, and throw away the toothbrush. Making the switch to a compostable bamboo toothbrush is actually almost as simple: you compost the packaging, use the toothbrush for a few months, and compost the toothbrush. Same number of actions, radically different end game. But, there are a few little nuances that can make your switch to a bamboo toothbrush go a little more smoothly. Below, in partnership with Brush with Bamboo, I'm sharing what I've learned about making my toothbrush last longer, upcycling it, and composting it when it's worn out:

Compostable bamboo toothbrushes by Brush with Bamboo | Litterless

Deal with the packaging. One of the reasons I like the toothbrushes from Brush with Bamboo is that their packaging is entirely compostable. Whole Foods stores in Chicago now sell bamboo toothbrushes... that come packaged in plastic. It's hard to see the point of a compostable toothbrush when the packaging still goes to the landfill. Brush with Bamboo toothbrushes come packaged in a cardboard outer layer and a compostable inner liner. The cardboard outer layer is both compostable and recyclable, so you can take your pick of actions there. Note that the inner liner does need to be commercially composted: if you compost at home, you could save the inner liners to give to a friend who uses a commercial compost pick-up program, or ask a local business that composts commercially if they'd mind taking yours every few months when you come in to make a purchase.

How to make your compostable, zero waste bamboo toothbrush last longer | Litterless

Keep it dry. Not being made out of impenetrable plastic, bamboo toothbrushes require just a tiny bit more care than a regular toothbrush. All this means is that I dry mine quickly on a towel after each use, and that I store it upright in a clean glass container. This ensures the bamboo stays dry throughout the day, keeping the toothbrush in better condition longer. You may notice that the wood changes color slightly over time as you use it. In the picture above, the newest toothbrush is shown at left, while the other two have had their handles darken a bit over time with use. Totally normal, and just the sign of a well-loved toothbrush.

Upcycle it. If you can reuse your worn-out toothbrush before you compost it, so much the better. I've cleaned an old one (by boiling it for 3 - 5 minutes) and used it to clean grout in my shower, to gently scrub a stain out of clothing, to smooth melted beeswax over fabric to make homemade beeswax food wraps. In these cases, I like to write "CLEANING" on the handle of mine so that there are no disastrous mix-ups. You could also write "Basil" (etc.) on it and stick it in your garden or a pot as a natural plant marker. 

How to remove the bristles from a bamboo toothbrush | Litterless

Remove the bristles. Before the toothbrush heads to its ultimate resting place (the compost), make sure to remove the bristles. Before I removed them for the first time, I thought it would be a bit tricky, but it's not. Simply grab a pair of pliers and start pulling at the bristles. I find a quick diagonal motion works best to remove them. Provided your pliers are nice and grippy, the bristles should slide out fairly easily. Continue until no more bristles remain.

How to remove the bristles from a compostable bamboo toothbrush | Litterless

Compost it. Once you've removed the bristles, you'll have a nice little pile of plastic bristles and tiny metal staples, like the one pictured above. Though the plastic bristles may technically be able to recycled, the reality is they're likely too small to make it through your city's recycling system. So, to avoid gunking up the recycling works, I set mine aside to throw away. The bamboo handle, though, can of course be composted. If you have a backyard compost set-up and are worried it won't break down fully, I'd recommend (very carefully) taking a hammer to it or otherwise breaking it up a bit before depositing it. However, if you use a commercial composter, you can leave it intact: breaking it down will be no problem for them!

How else have you upcycled your toothbrush? Or any bamboo toothbrush issues I can help troubleshoot?

Previously in Bath & Beauty: The easiest zero waste swap of all time, and a recipe for DIY body butter.

This post was sponsored by Brush with Bamboo; all opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting Litterless.

use beeswax wrap to open jars.

Use beeswax food wrap for a zero waste jar opener | Litterless

In addition to the standard hitting it against the counter, running it under hot water, drying it off, shaking your hands out and trying again, sometimes you just need a little help opening a jar. I was excited to see a tip recently that beeswax food wrap can also be used to open a jar! It’s grippy and a bit sticky, just like the rubber kind of jar opener. I’ve used it a couple of times and each time it’s worked like a charm. Sometimes what you need is already in your kitchen drawer, it seems.

Previously in Home: How to host houseguests when you're zero waste, and everything I know about stopping your junk mail.