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.

favorites, lately.

San Fransisco | Litterless

Tomorrow, I'm off to California for vacation. The Bay Area, to be exact! I'll be backpacking along the Point Reyes National Seashore for a week with a friend (don't get me started on zero waste and backpacking), then heading back to the city to spend a few days with a good friend in Oakland. I'm excited to be back in the land of municipal compostRainbow Grocery, the Pacific Ocean, and Berkeley.

I'll be back here on Litterless in a week and a half or so. To keep in touch until then, you can follow along with what I'm up to on Instagram or Facebook. I'll doubtless be posting about the wonderful zero waste finds out there. And, in the meantime, I wanted to leave you with a few posts that you might have missed that I love. All my best tips on secondhand shopping, a DIY project or two, a primer on saving seeds (now that fall is here!), and more:

And, a note from my last trip to San Fransisco, as well as a zero waste city guide to Oakland (Lake Merritt, I'm coming for ya). Hope you have a good week, and see you back here soon!

baking soda-free deodorant?

Baking soda free natural deodorant | Litterless

This is NOT a post where I talk about the armpit rash I had for a week or so from the baking soda in my natural deodorant, which irritated my skin. You don't need to know about me trying to ignore the itch or applying aloe to my underarms. Nope, that kind of thing is best kept private. This is simply a post where I note that something like that may have happened to me and to other friends too, and a post where we now turn to you: do you have a favorite brand of natural deodorant that doesn't use baking soda?

At the moment, I use the Meow Meow Tweet deodorant pictured above. It doesn't contain baking soda, so it has proven to be gentle on my skin. As a deodorant, it works fairly well, but it's expensive, and I'm interested in what else is out there. Maybe you have a brand you love, or - even better - a slam dunk recipe for making your own. I've been wanting to get into the world of DIY deodorant, but since my store-bought deodorant works okay at best, I'm wary of having to try out multiple concoctions before settling on a recipe that actually works.

So, if you also use deodorant sans baking soda, I want to hear: what brand? What recipe? What's worked for you?

upcoming events.

Upcoming zero waste events | Litterless

I have a few upcoming events that I want to share with you fellow Midwest folks! If you live in Illinois or Wisconsin, I hope you'll be able to join me at one of the following:

-September 23 in Chicago, IL: Zero Waste Chicago is hosting a DIY Body Products workshop. We'll be learning how to make zero waste lotion and a face / body scrub. For more details, visit the event page here.

-September 23 in Chicago, IL: Zero Waste Chicago is also hosting two free zero waste workshops at The Freehand. Join us for Zero Waste 101 or Composting 101 - we'll teach you the basics, answer questions, and you might leave with some new zero waste gear! Tickets are limited, so make sure you sign up here ASAP.

-September 25 in Madison, WI: I'll be hosting a free Zero Waste 101 workshop in Verona, WI, just outside of Madison. To register for the event or learn more, visit the event page here.

I've also added a page up in the top navigation bar called "Events" where you'll be able to find the most current information about any upcoming events! They will, of course, be mostly in the Midwest, but I occasionally do events when I travel, too, so stay tuned.

Photo from one of my favorite events so far this year - our zero waste discussion in May.

in a pinch.

Zero waste this weekend

Sometimes zero waste looks like bread wrapped up in a slightly crumpled napkin and soup toted home in a thermos more typically used for hot tea. Despite my own advice, I don't always have the right zero waste tools with me. I'll think, "Every time we go to X restaurant I never have leftovers, so I don't need to bring a to-go container this time." And then said restaurant is closed and we end up at another spot and my meal is much bigger than I would have thought, and you know how it goes.

On Sunday, a quick coffee run turned into lunch, and before I knew it I had a bowl of soup I wasn't planning to finish and no containers to bring it home in. Or no traditional containers to bring it home in. Luckily though, I had a water bottle with me, and unconventional though it is, I spooned the soup into it, wrapped the bread up in the paper napkin that came alongside it, and voila, easy (albeit strange) zero waste leftovers.

Friends and I have joked about the number of times we've eaten too much rather than let food go to waste. Though I try to remember to bring my zero waste restaurant kit with my when I go out to eat, it's a balancing act between bringing what I need and not bringing what I don't. Like many city-dwellers, I don't have a car, so I walk or take public transportation everywhere. If I want to bring something with me, I have to carry it - and carrying too much can turn a lovely walk into a long slog. Sometimes I gamble by not bringing a to-go container with me and it works out, sometimes I gamble and lose, sometimes (like Sunday), I gamble and in a pinch come up with a solution that's not elegant but is good enough.

I ate my leftover soup and toast yesterday for lunch, and I was grateful I'd brought it home instead of letting it languish at the restaurant. Sometimes you don't have the right tools for the job, but you have a tool, and it's good enough. What recent "in a pinch" victories have you had lately?

a beach clean-up.

Zero Waste Chicago beach clean-up | Litterless

Last week, Zero Waste Chicago hosted a beach clean-up at the pretty spot pictured above, 31st Street Beach here in Chicago. We brought gloves, trash bags, pencils and paper, a hanging scale for measuring our impact, and asked volunteers who showed up to just bring themselves. More than 20 people came, eagerly grabbed gloves and bags and headed out to get started.

In two hours, we gathered about 35 pounds of trash. Most of it was tiny: 700 cigarette butts, 300 food wrappers, 75 or so straws, 200 miscellaneous pieces of plastic, a few hundred plastic and metal bottle caps. It was a fun way to spend time outdoors, chatting with friends as we gathered small bits and pieces from the sand and the grass.

And, it was a good reminder too of why zero waste matters: it's literally easier to reduce one's trash output down to very little than to clean up even one small stretch of beach. I'm sure we didn't even get half of the trash that was there, and in a few weeks it will be right back to how it was. Better to try to avoid food that comes in wrappers when we can, to say no to straws, to be vigilant about avoiding things that are neither recyclable or compostable.

How to host or attend a beach clean-up | Litterless

In case you're interested in hosting or attending a beach clean-up in your area, a few thoughts to get you started, below.

Hosting a beach clean-up:

You can partner with a local organization that collects data on collected trash, or you can go out on your own. We used the materials from the Alliance for the Great Lakes Adopt-a-Beach program. They provided data collection sheets that we filled out and sent back to them, as well as providing some guidelines for how we could successfully host the event.

If you don't live in the Great Lakes region, there might be another organization you can partner with who would love to use any data you collect and will help you figure out how to go about it. Or, you can simply set a date and location and gather friends for an informal clean-up. Certainly you'll be able to collect much more trash if you don't have to stop to record every cigarette butt you pick up.

If you're hosting, bring gloves for all or ask folks to bring their own. We used washable cloth gardening gloves to prevent making more trash from disposable latex or plastic gloves. We also brought garbage bags and sent each small group of two to four people off with two bags: one for trash and one for recycling. We also kept a bag set aside for compostable materials, too, like wooden barbecue skewers. Take it from us: bring more garbage bags than you think you'll need, as we had to ask a nearby food stand to kindly lend us some.

Attending a beach clean-up:

To find an event near you, do an Internet search, or ask a local environmental organization if there are any groups who offer them in your area. If you're near the Great Lakes area in the United States or Canada, the Alliance for the Great Lakes keeps a map of local events. A few other beach clean-up hosting regulars worldwide: United by Blue on the East Coast of the United States, or the Clean Coast Collective in Australia. If you know of a local organization you'd like to share with others, please comment below!

There of course, too, is immense value in picking up trash without a formal event, without data collection, on places other than beaches. It needn't be formal. You can do so on a walk with friends, your dog, while sitting at the beach slightly bored with your kids. My dad fills a small bag with trash each time he takes the dog for a walk at a nearby creek. All I recommend if you're going solo is using a pair of gardening gloves to keep your hands clean and taking care to avoid sharp objects.

Thank you to all who came to our event and showed so much enthusiasm for it. We're looking forward to hosting more of these next year!

Top and bottom left photographs taken by my friend Marguerite - you can see more photographs from the event in her blog post about it, here.

compost beauty.

Beautiful compost from Community Composting

On most days, the inside of my compost bucket looks like... a compost bucket: moldy, decomposing, and really a bit unpleasant. Either that or it's empty, because the old one was just picked up. There's not a whole lot of beauty to be found in mine, besides the conceptual beauty of keeping organic waste out of the landfill. Recently, I found these photographs of beautiful compost buckets on the Community Compost Instagram feed. Brightly colorful, artfully arranged, full of peels and browning flowers... they're gorgeous.

Beautiful compost from Community Composting

I talk about compost a lot on this blog, which might be because I'm obsessed with compost. This is something a friend said about me when introducing me at a zero waste get-together this past weekend. I thought, "Wait, am I obsessed with compost? (Yes). Did people notice? (Apparently). Is that an insult? (Not really)." But yes, I'll admit it, I am.

You can read more about my compost routine in my city apartment here, if you're curious. If you'd like to start composting but aren't sure where to start, here are a few resources that might be helpful:

Compost resources:

-How I Compost: This series I ran last year offers a peek into how folks around the world approach composting using different methods and tools. See how Shia uses worms to compost at her home in Germany, how Jane composts in her backyard in the United States, how Amira composts at her home in Turkey, and more. 

-Where to Compost: This directory of compost options in the United States and Canada aims to corral the diverse resources and compost pick-up providers into one easy guide. See if your city is on the list!

-Chicago residents: We have a billion (aka, at least twelve) composting options here, which work for apartment dwellers, condo-ers, homeowners, and the like. You can find them all here, including some tips on choosing the option that's best for you.

-Rochester, NY residents: If you live in or near Rochester, New York, you could compost with Community Composting, whose photos are featured above!

-And for the compost obsessed: Now that we've noted there's no shame in numbering amongst the slightly compost obsessed, you can read all my past posts on compost here (including tips for how to compost on the go, at work, more ideas for how to do so at home, etc!).

We can't all have beautiful, flower-strewn compost... but most of us can, in fact, have compost of some sort. As my friend Jenny noted recently, we can't currently do much about a certain garbage president, but in the meantime we can do something about our own literal garbage. Compost on, friends.