furoshiki, different ways.

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In a small apartment, things have to earn their keep. Glass jars hold pantry bulk goods, leftovers in the fridge, gifts for friends, candles, cotton rounds, and on and on. Linen napkins also function as placemats, faux paper towels for pressing the water from tofu, coasters. I usually use my French press for brewing loose leaf tea, but when coffee drinking friends stay over, it comes in handy for that, too. And, I've written here about all of the ways uses I find for cotton bulk bags.

The newest tool in my use-it-for-everything arsenal is a furoshiki cloth. Though the concept is found in many cultures, the work "furoshiki" comes from Japan and refers to a large square of cloth that's purposefully, um, multipurpose. Mine is a little under a yard square, sturdily woven from hemp and organic cotton. Paired with a long piece of twill tape, it ties around my waist as an apron. It can be a kitchen towel, carry a warm bowl to a potluck, serve as a table covering, wrap up donations to take to the thrift store, or bring greens or squash or anything else home from the farmers' market. Here's a peek at how I tie up my lunch gear into an easy-to-carry bundle for eating on the go (plus, in warm weather the furoshiki can double as a picnic cloth):

My furoshiki comes from Ambatalia, which makes beautiful and useful cloth goods for the home that help us move away from a reliance on disposables (you might know them from their awesome cloth bento bags or cloth bowl covers). It's mesmerizing to watch Molly from Ambatalia fold her furoshiki into useful shapes - for gift wrap, casserole carriers, around wine bottles:

Have you heard of furoshiki, or do you have one that you use? I think the ways I've been folding mine are just the tip of the iceberg, and I'm looking forward to discovering even more uses.

Many thanks to Ambatalia for sending along a furoshiki to try. Can't wait to use it for years to come.

bulk bags giveaway!

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Look around my house, and you'll find cotton bulk bags pretty much everywhere. I originally purchased mine for zero waste grocery shopping, and that's still the main way that I use them. But I also find them helpful for holding my current knitting project, carrying home apple cores and orange peels from work to compost, making a little zero waste travel kit with a napkin and fork, and packing snacks on the go.

I was excited when Kimberly from Stitchology reached out to offer a set of cotton bulk bags from her shop to a reader of mine. In addition to the cotton bags pictured above, she also sells reusable snack bags, cloth coffee cup cozies, and other helpful cloth kitchen gear for a zero waste home. She packages orders in compostable / recyclable cardboard, with recyclable paper tape, too.

On offer in this giveaway is Stitchology's zero waste shopping kit, pictured here. It features three large drawstring produce bags, three medium drawstring produce/bulk bags, and three smaller drawstring bags for herbs, spices, or anything you use in smaller quantities, plus a washable crayon for recording PLUs. Each bag comes pre-stamped with its tare weight, saving you a step at the grocery store!

To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment below! You can just say hi, or if you'd like I'd love to hear the most creative way you've found to use bags like these. Be sure to include your email address when logging in, so that I know how to reach you if you win. One winner will be drawn at random and contacted privately. Sorry, but this is only open to readers in the United States, Canada, or Mexico. Giveaway closes Wednesday, March 1st at midnight. Best of luck to you!

If you're new to zero waste grocery shopping, here's what I pack for a zero waste grocery run, and a little primer on how to shop in bulk.

This giveaway is now closed. Thank you all for your entries and comments; I loved reading them. The winner has been selected at random and notified - congrats, Shannon!

city guide: houston.

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Liz of Green Revival Blog kindly offered to share a zero waste city guide to her home of Houston, Texas. It's full of outdoor activities, local restaurants, and some tips for visiting the city zero waste style. Thanks, Liz!

DO

-Buffalo Bayou Park: Hike, bike, or run along the Buffalo Bayou and enjoy the fruits of a $58 million, 160-acre project to revamp Houston’s most popular greenway. Bikes are available to rent at any B-cycle station, or you can rent a canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard at Allen’s Landing.

-Hermann Park: Watch a free open-air performance at Miller Outdoor Theater. Wander around the Japanese Garden and Reflection Pool.  Grab a snack at the Pinewood Café and trace the spiral mount in the lush new Centennial Gardens for a sweeping view of the city. Hermann Park is our favorite spot to escape the city’s hustle and bustle.

-Museum District: The diverse, expansive museums make Houston a beacon of culture. The butterfly center at Houston Museum of Natural Science is stunning, and a fun activity for kids. The Museum of Fine Arts is an architectural gem in and of itself; the permanent and visiting exhibitions are excellent. For travelers on a budget, the Menil Collection offers free admission.

-Arboretum: Hit the trails in this wooded haven for native plants and animals. The Nature Center is replete with puzzles, discovery boxes, interactive exhibits, and microscopes for kids to learn about wildlife.

-River Oaks Theatre: Catch an indie film or lecture at this historic movie theater.

-The Heights: It’s easy to lose track of time wandering around this neighborhood packed with cute craftsman bungalows. 19th Street is the central retail area, packed with mom-and-pop shops (Casa Ramirez sells beautiful Oaxacan folk art, and Retropolis is the place to find cool vintage costumes). When our feet grow weary, we break for a coffee at Antidote and a salted chocolate chunk cookie at Red Dessert Dive. Fill up your growler with local beer on tap at Premium Draught next door.

-Montrose: This neighborhood is popular for good eats, low-key cafes and cocktail bars, and great boutiques and thrift stores. Pavement has the best atmosphere and widest selection of women’s and men’s vintage clothing. Menil Park is an idyllic spot for a picnic, and West Alabama Ice House is always packed during gametime. I live for the vegan emapanadas and beet-juice mochas at Campesino Coffeehouse, a Latin café in the heart of Montrose.

EAT

-Local Foods: Houston is brimming with a surprising number of farm-to-table restaurants, but Local Foods is at the top of our list. Their casual, aperitive entrees are paired with healthy sides like cauliflower + pomegranate tabbouleh, and their house-made kombucha is available on draft.

-Ruggles Green: Find local and organic ingredients, extensive gluten-free options, and wood-fired organic pizzas at this casual certified “Green Restaurant.” Don’t miss the quinoa mac ‘n cheese.

-Down House: Our favorite cozy, science-themed nook in the heart of the Heights, Down House is beloved for electic food and cocktails alike. Menus note the farm where each ingredient was sourced. Weekend brunch is legendary, but expect a long wait.

-Baba Yega Café: Baba Yega’s is a Montrose institution and a mecca for Houston vegan cuisine. The cozy restaurant is situated in a converted bungalow.

-Tout Suite: We never have trouble finding a table at this industrial EaDo café full of natural light. There’s something for everyone – fresh-squeezed juices, macarons, cupcakes, small bites, wine, and of course, excellent coffee. Many ingredients are local. A small note painted on the floor near the juice bar pays tribute to its roots as a Ford dealership constructed in 1904 (pretty old for Houston!). 

-Other recommendations: Kanomwan ThaiPho BinhChilosos Taco House,  Fat Cat CreameryMoving Sidewalk’s nitrogen-infused mint cocktails, and Hugs & Donuts. For a fancier date night, we love farm-to-table restaurants UnderbellyColtivare, and Pax Americana.

STAY ZERO WASTE

-Grocery shop: Central Market is our favorite grocery store – the produce department is beyond anything I’ve ever seen, with an incredible selection of local and organic produce (including bulk salad greens and mushrooms – hooray!). Central Market also has a large bulk food section, where we stock up on dry goods and spices. Its sister store, H-E-B, also provides many spices and dry goods in bulk. For bulk oils and vinegars, head to Urban Eats. Bring your own container to Houston Dairy Maids to scoop up some local cheese. Central Market’s bakery will satisfy any bread craving, but if you’re looking for more, try Common Bond Café or Weights + Measures.

-Compost: The concept of composting hasn’t taken on in Houston yet, and it is difficult to find locations to dispense your food scraps around the city. For now, take advantage of the compost bins at MOD Pizza and Whole Foods. You can also drop off compostable material for the garden at Houston Food Not Bombs.

Thanks so much, Liz! Be sure to check out her blog, Green City Revival, if you want to read more of her writing about zero waste and minimalism. Photograph via. Find more city guides, here.

citywide composting.

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In November, we flew to Seattle for vacation. And, guys, it was a composting HEAVEN. At my apartment in Chicago, I compost using a pickup service. I pay them a small fee each month, for which they pick up a five gallon bucket of my food scraps and replace it with a clean one I can fill up the following month. This system works well for me, but when I'm out and about composting gets harder. If a restaurant offers me a paper napkin I can't refuse, I'll take it home to compost. Same with lemon slices in my water, wooden toothpicks in sandwiches, tea bags, and more. I literally squirrel away all these little things to take home to compost, which is funny and weird.

In Seattle, though, composting is mandated by the city, which also provides bins and pickup services for it. So, at a restaurant, I could leave food on my plate, knowing it would be taken care of sustainably. Paper napkins I could throw in the compost on my way out. At coffee shops, I would compost my tea right there in the shop instead of taking it home with me. We were able to compost easily at our Airbnb, saving food scraps in the fridge and then tossing them in the apartment's shared compost bin on our way out the door. I felt free of the low-level compost guilt or obligation that I might feel at a Chicago restaurant; composting was so easy, integrated with my life rather than necessitating extra effort.

While the federal government refuses to take leadership on mitigating climate change and other environmental problems, we can ask our cities to step up. Seattle, San Fransisco, and Portland (and maybe a few other cities - does yours?) currently offer mandatory municipal composting. Their leadership proves that national action on this isn't necessary to create change - it can start with local cities serving as examples.

Composting is an essential part of an environmentally sound community. It diverts waste from the landfill, provides super-rich soil for increasingly depleted farmlands, and promotes a circular system in which "useless" food waste instead becomes regenerated into something that can grow more food. (And this article helps explain the ways in which composting can be financially beneficial for cities, too.)

If for you, like me, Seattle's system sounds like something you wish your city offered, let's start the long, long process of getting there. Can you start or sign a petition? Do an internet search to see if these efforts already exist in your area and offer your support? Talk with a local representative about the feasibility of getting started? Get together with a few zero waste friends together to start figuring out a way to lobby your city council?

There are so many ways in which our cities could do better sustainability-wise, so it's completely okay if this issue doesn't light your fire and you prefer to work on other things. Hopefully it lights someone else's!

In the meantime, if you don't compost currently, maybe this list can help you figure out how to do it where you live, whether you have a backyard or not.

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PS. Cities can be environmental leaders in other ways, too. Seattle's city council just voted to divest over three billion dollars in city funds from Wells Fargo, which funds the Dakota Access Pipeline. Read more on that here, if you'd like. If your city isn't ready for composting, could you support its leadership on another environmental issue? Within the next month I'm planning to share what getting involved at a city level will look like for me going forward... stay tuned. Thanks for reading, friends.

Photograph from a dessert spot where we stopped in Seattle - isn't that the fanciest compost set-up you've ever seen?

on repair.

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If we're to live in a finite world (we do) and still need / want to use objects in our lives (we do), the way we care for our objects matters. I'm very far from doing this perfectly, but as part of striving for zero waste I also try to be a really good steward of my objects. Almost all of the objects in my home are completely and easily replaceable, but when one of them breaks I try to turn to fixing it rather than turning to purchasing a new one.

Repair can take so many forms, and I get a secret thrill from the ingenuity needed to bring something broken back to life. That can mean fixing something myself, bringing it to a local repair shop, or emailing the company to ask for help or suggestions. I haven't done this option, but I imagine it could also mean turning to the Internet to ask people to crowdsource a fix.

If you know how something could be repaired, but don't have the skills (sewing, darning, woodworking, whatever!) yourself, perhaps you could teach yourself using an online tutorial or offer to swap skills or tasks with a friend (for example, not to get too gendered about this, but I sew back on my boyfriend's buttons and he fixes my clogged kitchen sink, because those just happen to be two of the skills we have and need!). You could also see if there's a Repair Cafe near you, which offers tools and materials you might need, often for free! (You can read more about them in this New York Times article).

And part of this ethic, of course, means trying to purchase things that can be repaired in the first place. This can look like seeking out companies with circular missions and lifetime guarantees, spending a little more on something higher quality, or perhaps owning fewer things so that you have the time and energy to devote to caring for each one.

A few of the repairs I've undertaken of late: wool socks get their life extended a few years by sewing a felt patch over a worn spot. About once a year I take a few pairs of well-loved shoes to a local cobbler for re-soling. When my humidifier broke a few weeks ago, I emailed the company to ask if they could help me troubleshoot it, and they ended up sending over a single part (for free!) that made it work again. The object I'm holding in the photograph above started its life as this bracelet, and when it snapped in half I reached out to the company to ask if they offered a repair program (and they do - not free, but still appreciated). I popped the bracelet halves in a re-used mailer and into the mail, and I'm looking forward to having my bracelet back again.

What have you fixed, and what do you wish you could have? I'd love to hear!

february chicago meet-up.

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Our next zero waste hangout will be a little swap meet! You can bring any housewares, clothing, books, toiletries, etc. that you don't use and would be interested in trading.

(For example, some of the things I'm planning to bring: extra glass swingtop bottles, a few kitchen items, unopened bottles of Acure shampoo that don't suit my hair, and several pieces of clothing I don't wear any longer).

You definitely don't have to end up trading any of your items if nothing suits your fancy, and you are also welcome to come empty-handed and just hangout, too! 

We'll be meeting at Moira's house in the Ukrainian Village - if you'd like to come, please just shoot me a quick email and I'll send you her address! All are welcome, and we hope to see you there.

happy (almost) vday, cuties.

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Happy Valentine's Day to you all! I'm so grateful to you for reading and commenting and following along, for writing your own blogs, emailing me with questions and tips, and just being here. Thank you, guys.

I like to celebrate with a meal at home with my guy (last year: homemade veggie burgers and sweet potato fries) and by sending copious e-valentines to my gal pals. (A few I love for this year: this, this, and this).

And, a couple of gift ideas for your love or a friend:

-Something for self care. Bath salts bought in bulk at Whole Foods, a jar of bulk tea, a healthy homemade treat, a plant to brighten up their bedroom, a beeswax candle.

-A donation in his or her name. To the ACLU, 350.org, Planned Parenthood, whatever floats his or her boat. Nothing sweeter these days, I don't think.

-Some pre-stamped blank postcards they can write to their congresspeople, a la this, if like me, your valentine has been texting you daily with mild to severe political freakouts.

-A commitment to love others just as much as you love him/her. (Goes great with the postcard gift above). Can be expressed by going to a protest, calling your congresspeople to ask them to stand for equal rights for all, showing up at a local town hall meeting, volunteering in your community, etc. etc. etc. forever and ever.

-A Spotify playlist made just for them, with all your favorite mushy songs. (Like this one).

Last year I shared a few more zero waste Valentine's Day ideas, too - see them here, if you'd like. Hope you have a good one, friends. Wishing you all the love and peace and happiness in the world.

Image via Paperless Post.