city guide: oakland, ca.

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This city guide comes to us from Lily and Max of Wild Minimalist, a zero waste online store. Lily and Max live in Oakland, CA—a city seeing a huge surge of growth from the tech boom in the SF Bay Area. Oakland has become a destination for foodies, artists and nature-lovers alike who want to experience the charm of the Bay Area without crossing the bridge into San Francisco. I'll be in Oakland for a few days next month, so I was thrilled to hear what they recommend!

DO

-Kevin Feinstein Foraging Course: The author of Bay Area Forager has been researching local edibles for over 13 years and offers 2-hour guided walks through parks in Oakland and other East Bay locations. Learn how to identify edible wild flowers and plants that you can use in smoothies, salads and other meals.

-Temescal Alley: Once used as horse stables, Temescal Alley now houses artisan shops and eateries. Go to Crimson Horticultural Rarities for succulents and curios, Esqueleto for jewelry from local designers and vintage pieces, Homestead Apothecary for handcrafted tinctures for a healthy body and mind and Curbside Creamery for gourmet ice cream and soft serve with vegan nut-based options.  

-Secret Stairways: Take a walk through the historic stairways of Oakland and Berkeley, developed in the early 20th century. The stairways were originally designed to get homeowners up and down the steep hills to streetcar lines. The street cars are gone, but the stairways remain (some with original street lights) and are a wonderful way to get your heart rate up while exploring a side of Oakland that’s off the beaten path. Be sure to pick up a copy of Secret Stairs East Bay to help guide your walk.

-Picnic at Lake Merritt: Also know as the “Jewel of Oakland,” Lake Merritt is a picturesque saltwater lagoon with a 3.4 mile walking and jogging trail around its perimeter. During warm summer days, Lake Merritt’s grassy shores are ideal for laying out picnic blankets and bird watching. Or, take a romantic evening stroll under the “Necklace of Lights”—pearly lights strung between antique lampposts that line the walking trail around the lake.

EAT

-Cafe Colucci: Get your fill of savory Ethiopian flavors at family-owned Cafe Colucci. Share an abundant veggie combo with eggplant served on a large stainless steel platter. The atmosphere is relaxed, giving you plenty of time to eat with your hands and feast on the injera (traditional Ethiopian bread).

-Ramen Shop: Located in the Rockridge neighborhood, the menu at Ramen Shop features local, seasonal ingredients and changes daily. The ramen noodles are handmade and there is always one vegetarian-friendly option. There is often a line for Ramen Shop on Fridays and Saturdays, so be sure to go early or drop into their adjoining cocktail bar for a drink.

-Nido: An intimate, homey spot for farm-to-table Mexican food from the central and Pacific coast. Nido translates to “nest” in Spanish and true to its name, the small restaurant is adorned with local building materials—including sections of shipping containers and wood pallets native to the industrial Jack London district of Oakland. The menu is seasonally driven and everything is made in-house—be sure to try the blue corn quesadilla with mushroom, rainbow chard and salsa poblana.

-Super Juiced: Located in Old Oakland’s Swan Marketplace, Super Juiced features 100% organic smoothies, juices, acai bowls and chia pudding. Try the Emerald Moon smoothie with housemade coconut milk, kale, spinach, pineapple, medjool dates, coconut chips and cinnamon. Super Juiced is a women-owned business on a mission to bring healthy food options to the Oakland community.

STAY ZERO WASTE

-Grand Lake Farmer’s Market: Every Saturday from 9am - 2pm at the intersection of Grand Lake Ave and Lake Park Ave. There’s lots of seasonal produce to choose from, over 40 farmers, and a nice section of prepared foods by a small bistro area with live music. Be sure to stop by the dim-sum booth—the ladies there (a mother/daughter duo) utilize what’s in season (asparagus in the spring and sweet corn in summer) and will give you extra dim-sum for bringing your own container.

-Whole Foods Oakland: Great selection of bulk items (nuts, seeds, grains, flours, spices, etc) and store employees are more than happy to have you bring your own containers and reusable produce bags. You can weigh containers at the customer service desk and be sure to fill up a jar with their fresh churned almond butter. You can also bring a container to the meat counter and they will weigh and fill it for you.

-Oaktown Spice Shop: The mecca of all things spice related. Herbs, spices, tinctures and tools line two rooms, floor to ceiling, and are artfully displayed in glass jars. The wood paneling and vintage tools decorating the shop give it an old general store vibe and they will happily fill your glass jars for you.  

-Pretty Penny: A favorite vintage shop with carefully curated women’s and men’s sections. For the ladies, be sure to check out the beautiful selection of dresses sorted by era and the shoe section in the back with a nice mix of leather boots, sandals and loafers sorted by color.

Thanks so much for sharing, Max and Lily! If you'd like to see more city guides (or write your own!), there are more right here.

simple swap: bamboo toothbrushes.

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You know I'm all about simple swaps. When you're newly transitioning to zero waste, why bother right off the bat about where you can get coconut oil in bulk (answer: almost nowhere! someone fix that!) or what to swap for your beloved face wash when there are so many other easy steps to take first? Alongside other simple changes like using cloth napkins instead of paper, stashing a reusable container for leftovers in your bag when you head to a restaurant, and ditching individually wrapped tea bags in favor of bulk loose leaf tea, switching to a bamboo toothbrush is one of those changes that requires very little effort for a big sustainability impact.

I've spent the majority of my life using plastic toothbrushes, and it makes me kind of crazy when I pause to consider that every one of those toothbrushes is currently in a landfill somewhere, and will be for the next few hundred years at minimum. Conversely, the bamboo toothbrushes that I've used since moving to zero waste three years ago have since been resting peacefully in the compost, decomposing back down into soil. (This video helps explain that point a little further, if you'd like to see).

The bamboo toothbrushes I reach for these days are from Brush with Bamboo. There are many reasons I've chosen Brush with Bamboo, but what sealed the deal for me is their fully recyclable and compostable packaging. When I open a new toothbrush, the outer paper sleeve goes into my recycling and the plant-based inner wrapper goes into my compost. And, of course, the handle from the old toothbrush is tucked into my compost bucket, too, after removing the spent bristles (find a how-to on that, here). The only bamboo toothbrushes that are available in stores local to me are packaged in non-recyclable plastic, which in my mind defeats the purpose of a bamboo toothbrush, so I'm happy to have an option that's completely zero waste.

A few other reasons to love them - they ship free within the US using all recyclable packaging and paper tape. I'm concerned about the reliance of the zero waste community on bamboo products, because bamboo serves as important habitat, so reading more about Brush with Bamboo's commitment to sustainable sourcing gave me peace of mind on that score.

I dry my brush after each use to keep the bamboo in good condition, and have found that each toothbrush lasts me about two months - the same as plastic toothbrushes. If you're committed to making the switch, buying brushes in larger quantities (which can be shared among family and friends, or simply stored in your linen closet) reduces the price per brush, and ensures you never have to run to the drugstore for an emergency plastic toothbrush again. :)

PS. For Chicago readers, anyone who comes to our upcoming meet-up on April 1st will receive a free bamboo toothbrush, kindly donated by Brush with Bamboo. I'm so happy to be able to help you make the switch to compostable - hope to see you there!

This post is in partnership with Brush with Bamboo, whose toothbrushes I've used and loved for years.

april chicago meet-up!

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Chicago-area friends! I'm excited to share the details of our next zero waste meet-up - let's get together to celebrate spring at The Plant. The Plant is a food production space / urban farm in Chicago's Back of the Yards that's designed to be a net-zero, closed loop system and incubate innovative ideas relating to building a more circular economy.

We'll be taking a tour of the The Plant, visiting their farmers' market for a chance to stock up on local produce, and hanging out together in the Tap Room. We'll meet at 11 in the Tap Room; the tour starts at 11:30, and please bring $10 for it if you'd like to participate. After, we'll stick around to chat and shop their weekend farmers' market. And, everyone who comes will receive a free bamboo toothbrush generously donated by Brush with Bamboo.

I started hosting these meet-ups about a year ago to give Chicago folks interested in zero waste and sustainability a chance to chat about their interests and make new friends, and they group has blossomed into a supportive, inclusive community. You don't have to be perfectly zero waste to come (none of us are!), or even zero waste at all - to be welcome, all you have to do is show up. We hope you'll join us!

Please feel free to email me if you have any questions! And, if you'd like to be on the email list for future meet-ups, you can sign up here.

city guide: portland, or.

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My friend Chloe just published an zero waste guide to Portland, Oregon, where she lives. You already knew this, but Portland is pretty much a zero waster's dream. Compost, co-ops, community - so much good stuff is happening there for people interested in living more sustainably. You can check out her tips for where to shop package-free and secondhand in Portland, ideas for places to eat and hang out, and sign on to get involved in the PDX zero waste community. If you're interested, you can find her city guide here.

Photograph via. You can find more zero waste city guides right this way, if you'd like.

a petition for more refill options.

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Pictured here are my conditioner, body oil, hand soap, and dish soap. All were bought in bulk, without packaging. But here's the thing - I can't find any of these in bulk at the neighborhood grocery stores I frequent most. The closest options for buying some of these package-free are a few neighborhoods away, and some of these I can't even find in Chicago. (My boyfriend lives in Wisconsin near a co-op with a fantastic bulk section, and I stock up when I visit and haul everything home). Not. Cool.

I bet you, like me, struggle some with the bulk availability of the things you need. As a consumer in a country where you can buy almost anything and have it shipped to your doorstep near-immediately, it can be frustrating that many stores are lagging behind in terms of what they offer in bulk. My hope is that as the ranks of us zero-wasters swell, they'll begin to sell more of what we need. But who wants to wait for that? I want to be able to buy everything I need in bulk, in my neighborhood, and soon.

I was so glad to find We Want Refill, an organization doing the critical work of showing stores that we want better bulk options. They're petitioning stores to add refill stations for things like laundry detergent, cleaning products, shampoo, soaps, lotion, and more. Wouldn't that be wonderful? We Want Refill doesn't make these products or the refill stations - their point is merely that the technology exists, other companies make the necessary components, and gosh darn let's get these stations in stores.

It you're still on the fence about whether refilling reusable bottles is worth the minor hassle of cleaning them and bringing them back, here's how refilling stacks up next to recycling. For me and other zero waste folks, the choice is clear - I need dish soap, but I don't need the packaging that it comes in. Refilling my own bottle again and again gets me what I need while using far fewer resources.

To be able to show big retailers that there's a demand for refill options in their stores, We Want Refill is collecting signatures on their petition saying just that. Adding your name to the list says that you support bulk options and demand them in stores near you. It takes just half a minute to sign and the more of us do, the more weight We Want Refill's request will have. If you'd like, their petition can be found here.

PS. Not sure what I mean when I talk about bulk, refillable goods? Here's a quick primer.

This post is in partnership with We Want Refill, whose awesome petition aims to encourage stores to offer liquid bulk options.

homemade body lotion.

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A few weeks back, I was chatting with a reader about what to use for low-waste body lotion. For years, ever since I first got fed up with reading labels and trying to parse out which ingredients are natural and non-toxic and which aren't, I've just been using sweet almond oil. It has worked well for me, mainly because I tend to shower in the evening, which means that I have plenty of time to hang out in my towel while it soaks in and that it doesn't matter to me if a little bit transfers to my pajamas. But, morning-showerers and folks not yet on board the body oil train, there are other options! Last week a friend and I got together to make homemade body lotion from simple, mostly zero waste ingredients, and just like that it's possible that I'm re-converted to lotion.

We used this body butter recipe, which calls for equal parts shea butter, cocoa butter, coconut oil, and sweet almond oil (or another liquid oil), plus optional essential oils for fragrance.  (Chicago friends, you can find shea butter and cocoa butter in bulk at the Edgewater Whole Foods.) The end result is pretty astonishing - it's fluffy and light, and it sinks into skin quickly. I had gotten so used to needing to wait for the almond oil I used to absorb that I hadn't realized that, well, it's kind of a pain. This option is way better.

You can find a video featuring the full how-to here. It requires about an hour of inactive time for the mixture to cool once you've heated it, so I recommend watching the video in full before starting so you can plan accordingly. One more thing - there are lots of lotion recipes out there, but those with water in them tend to have a really short shelf life. This recipe doesn't have that issue, although because of the coconut oil it might get a little melty in the summer (the fridge should firm it right up, though!).

Have you ever made homemade lotion? What recipe do you use? I think this one will become a staple for me for a long time.

for nonprofits.

If you look to the sidebar at right, you'll notice something new, called "nonprofit sponsors"! I've been thinking about how I can use this space to support nonprofit organizations doing the important advocacy work that makes our country and world better. With this in mind, last month I reached out to a few of my favorite small, zero-waste friendly businesses to ask them if they'd like to purchase ad space on my blog for a cause. The deal is this: they gave money to a small nonprofit organization they love, and in turn I'm sharing their ads pro bono!

I'm so grateful to them for partnering with me to support nonprofits. The amazing companies featured this month are:

Marble & Milkweed.

From her New York City studio, Marble & Milkweed's owner Briar hand makes apothecary goods that are organic, fair trade, and gloriously natural. If you'd like, try her nourishing body oil made with hints of fir and cedar for dry winter skin, beautiful vintage tea strainers to make your morning cup a bit more soothing, or a green tea face mask in a glass jar that's useful even once empty. When possible, goods are packaged in compostable paper or versatile glass jars that you can reuse again and again. If you'd like, you can read more about the very thoughtful philosophy behind their products here. Marble & Milkweed donated to Project EATS, a New York City-based organization that uses art, urban farming, and more to build community and work toward an equitable distribution of resources.

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Tiny Yellow Bungalow.

Owner Jessie's online shop offers a selection zero waste essentials that can often be hard to find locally, like bamboo toothbrushes, reusable bulk and produce bags, travel utensils, charcoal water filtration sticks, and bar shampoo. Especially if you're new to zero waste, this online shop is a wonderful place to explore because it can be a one-stop shop for all of the things you might need. And, her zero waste gift guide can help you track down a sustainable gift, no matter the recipient. All packages from Tiny Yellow Bungalow are shipped in reused, non-plastic mailers or boxes - you can read more about their awesome shipping policy here. Jessie gave to the Athens Land Trust, an organization that works for conservation and environmental justice in the Athens, Georgia area.

Fillaree.

Fillaree makes small-batch soaps and cleansers for your body and home that are safe, sustainable, and refillable. They're based in North Carolina but are expanding to other states; in the meantime, they sell online using packaging and shipping practices that produce minimal waste. They even package some of their products in label-less bottles, which are perfect for reuse. I'd love to try their body butter, which comes in a mason jar that would find a good home in my kitchen once the contents were used up. If you'd like, you can find a list of their current stores here and all of the products they offer here. Fillaree donated to Don't Waste Durham!, which works within the Durham community to reduce single-use packaging waste and raise awareness about an alternative to our current disposable-heavy consumption model.

Do you have a small business that might be interested in participating? I'd love to chat - send me an email!