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:

-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.

diy handkerchiefs.

How to make DIY handkerchiefs | Litterless

September is two weeks away... which means you have just enough time to scurry around finding a few handkerchiefs to replace your Kleenex habit before your first autumn cold hits. Yikes, two weeks until the cultural end of summer, if not the calendar end of summer? What am I doing here typing away, instead of out being outside enjoying the last gasps of summer? Am I insane? Apparently for you, dear reader, I will do anything.

So, yes, fall, colds, handkerchiefs. If you're brand new to the handkerchief world and want a primer on how they work, why they aren't super gross, and more, go take a peek here first!

Today, I'm sharing how I acquired most of my handkerchiefs: handmaking them! Those of you who don't sew probably think this tutorial isn't for you, but you'd be wrong; stick around because I promise this is an easy project even for a novice. Sew four straight lines and you've got yourself a new zero waste tool that, if you're anything like me, you'll soon find indispensable. Although you may certainly use a sewing machine if you wish, I always sew mine by hand. It goes quickly and requires a minimum of fuss.

How to make DIY handkerchiefs | Litterless

DIY Handkerchiefs

Step one: Gather your supplies. You'll need a piece of fabric, 10 - 15 straight pins, a needle, thread, and a pair of scissors. You can keep your supplies basic and choose whatever you have on hand, or if you're purchasing new supplies, a few notes you might want to heed:

Choose a soft cotton fabric for your handkerchief. Although I have made some out of quilting cotton, it can be quite stiff, and I find that I reach for the softest ones first. You can purchase new fabric, beg scraps off a crafty friend, or even use a piece cut from old clothing. As for thread: f you choose a 100% cotton thread over a polyester or a polyester blend, your handkerchief will be compostable many, many years down the line when it gets too well-worn to be of use any longer.

How to make DIY handkerchiefs | Litterless

Step two: Cut your fabric to size. What size, of course, is all down to what you prefer. Play around with what you like - some people I know prefer larger handkerchiefs, some prefer smaller ones. A good rule of thumb is to cut your fabric one inch wider and one inch taller than you want the eventual handkerchief to be, as the hem on each side will use up about half an inch.

How to make DIY handkerchiefs | Litterless

Step 3: Pin one side. Fold the edge under by about a quarter inch, and then under again one more time so that the raw edge is entirely enclosed. Pin as you go so that it holds its shape. True sewists may choose to break out the iron and ruler here to ensure a crisp, uniform line, but hey: I say we're just doing handkerchiefs here, no need to get too fussy unless you'd like to.

How to make DIY handkerchiefs | Litterless

Step four: Once you've pinned the edge, sew along it by hand with a simple running stitch, taking care to catch all three layers of fabric. If your skills are failing you at this point, watch a few YouTube videos or ask a friend, then dive in!

Step five: Pin the side opposite from the first one you did, and sew that, too. Then, do the remaining two sides the same way.

That's it, you're done! No need to buy a handkerchief because now you have one made by your very own self. I found the process of making them to be quite fun, and after making a large stash for myself (on some winter weeks, I go through the whole lot), I made a few to give to friends, too.

One last thing to note: if sewing isn't your jam, there's no reason handkerchiefs need to be perfect. Grab a square of unhemmed fabric and call it a day - it will fray in the wash but remain perfectly serviceable. Other easy ways to stock up on these: use bandannas, find vintage ones, ask your parents or grandparents if they have extras in their stash.

Have you sewn your own handkerchiefs? Any beginning sewing questions I can answer? Happy handmaking!

city guide: nashville.

Zero Waste City Guide: Nashville

This city guide comes from Bailey Basham, who is navigating zero waste and post-grad life in Nashville, the city she calls home. If I didn't already want to plan a road trip down there (spoiler alert: I did already want to), I sure would now. Here's Bailey on the places she recommends:

DO

-Live music: It seems like there is always some sort of live music going on in Nashville. Whether you're looking for some of the expected country music or for something a little different, there is usually a bit of something for everyone! My favorite venue is Exit/In; it’s a relatively small venue, so if you get there early, chances are you can get a spot right in front of the stage. And if you go to Exit/In for a show, check out Café Coco afterwards. It’s super close by - within walking distance - and is open 24/7, which is perfect for those late-night, post-show fried food cravings. 

-Oz Arts Nashville: In March, I saw a women’s panel/installation celebrating International Women’s Day at this local contemporary arts center; you'll love this spot if you’re into art and are looking for something a little smaller than the Frist.

-McKay’s: One of my favorite places to shop in Nashville, McKay’s Used Books & CDs is an enormous book-and-music-lover’s paradise. There are rows upon rows of bookshelves stacked high with secondhand books. Plus, they have a floor entirely dedicated to CDs and vinyl. What’s not to love? 

-Radnor Lake State Park: Go for a hike or spend an afternoon swinging in a hammock at the park. Radnor Lake also has a schedule of events on their website - things like wildflower walks, moonlit hikes, canoe floats, and live animal shows.

-Music City Thrift: Hands down, my favorite thrift store around my neck of the woods. They do student discounts (30% off!) on Wednesdays, and they usually have color tag sales every other day of the week.

EAT / DRINK

-Baja Burrito: Baja serves delicious burritos, tacos, and salads with fresh, locally sourced ingredients - but be sure to go prepared. They wrap burritos in foil, which isn’t too bad because foil can be recycled. Their to-go boxes are plastic, so order “for here!” They also have small plastic bowls for salsa and Styrofoam bowls for queso, just so you know. (Vegan/vegetarian options).

-The Pharmacy Burger and Beer Garden: The Pharmacy uses Tennessee-raised beef for their burgers and pure cane sugar in the sodas; plus, they make all their own condiments. They use paper cups for water, so either bring your own water bottle, or plan to order a homemade soda (served in a real glass) or a canned drink that can be recycled. (Vegetarian options). 

-Istanbul Restaurant: Istanbul is a true hole-in-the-wall, but the food is amazing, and the people are so, so kind. Plus, when you dine in (and refuse a straw!), you make no trash! If you are into Turkish food or are open to trying new things, put Istanbul on your list. If you do go, be sure to try the Tarhana yogurt soup. To an unadventurous eater like me, just the sound of that is scary, but trust me: it. is. amazing. (Vegan/vegetarian options). 

-The Flipside: A low-waste joint! Their napkins, plates, and utensils are all reusable. I am not sure about their to-go boxes because I've never needed one - the food is so good! (Vegetarian options).

-Jeni’s Ice Cream: Jeni’s serves my all time favorite ice cream - their dark chocolate is so, so decadent. Their spoons are plastic (but their tasting spoons aren’t, so no worries about sampling!), so make sure to bring your own. But if you get a cone, you don’t have to worry about any waste at all! Bonus: Jeni's also has locations in other states, too!

-Crema Coffee: Crema is a zero waste coffee shop in Nashville! They go beyond just offering reusable coffee mugs - you can read about their full zero waste initiative here. I’d recommend taking your own to-go cup (unless you plan to stay for a while to drink your bev) and your own straw. Ps: I recommend the Iced Cuban coffee.

-Taco Week: August 21 through 27, Nashville Scene, a local magazine, is sponsoring a taco week—that means you can get $2 tacos at participating restaurants for the whole week. What's better than that?!

STAY ZERO WASTE

-Farmers' markets: There are several different farmers markets to choose from - East Nashville Farmer’s MarketWest Nashville Farmer’s Market, 12 South Farmer’s Market, and the Nashville Farmer’s Market  - for fresh, local produce, meats, and baked goods. Sometimes, you might even spot a cute little flower truck around! 

-Zero waste grocery shopping: Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and The Turnip Truck are grocery options that offer bulk sections for your perusal. And, at White's Mercantile, you can purchase refillable, nontoxic soaps and household cleaners made by Common Good and Co.

-Compost: Compost Nashville offers a weekly food scrap pickup service - they provide the bucket, you fill it with kitchen castoffs, and they'll pick it back up! They'll give you back the compost if you want it for your garden, or will donate it to local gardens and urban farms if you don't.

Thanks so much for sharing, Bailey! If you'd like to see more city guides (or write your own!), there are more right here. Photo of Crema via

diy dried herbs.

DIY dried summer herbs | Litterless

I didn't intend to write about this again this year - and yet here we are, late summer and the herb party in my parents' back yard is out of control and I'm back at it, drying bundles of herbs to use throughout the rest of the year.

Here's how I approached it when I prepared this basil, parsley, and rosemary for drying yesterday:

DIY dried summer herbs | Litterless

First, I washed the herbs thoroughly but carefully, ensuring I got all of the bugs out but trying not to bruise the delicate leaves. Because they were then sopping wet, I wanted to give them a head start on drying so they didn't drip water on the floor or get moldy when hanging. So, I then dried them off by patting them in a clean towel.

Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 9.54.49 PM.png

The herbs that I wanted to hang dry - parsley and rosemary - I tied in a bundle with string; we then hang them from the ceiling in the pantry, which is cool and dark. There they'll stay until fully dried, when we'll strip them from their stems and store them in glass jars to use this fall and winter.

DIY dried summer herbs | Litterless

If you'd like to remove the leaves from the branches before drying - it can be easier to strip them off when the herbs are fresh than when they're dry and brittle - I like to place them on a cooling rack. This helps the air circulate well and means that I don't have to be careful about turning them so that each side can reach the air, as I might need to if I just placed them on a non-permeable surface, like a dinner plate.

The above little project took me just twenty minutes yesterday, and it makes use of herbs that our garden is producing in such large quantities that they'd just be wasted if we didn't set some aside to dry. If you don't have a garden you can pull from, bundles of herbs are often inexpensive at the farmers' market this time of year, too. I also hope to dry some dill, mint, thyme, and sage before the season is out.

I love the fragrant ritual of spending some time with piles of fresh herbs each summer. Are you planning to do this, too? What herbs do you like to make sure you dry each summer?

simple swap: bar soap.

Switch to bar soap for a zero waste bathroom

If you've been reading here for awhile, you'll know I'm fond of claiming that something or other is the "easiest zero waste switch ever." I take it all back, though, because I think this is actually the easiest zero waste switch ever: the move from liquid hand soap or body wash in a plastic bottle to a good old-fashioned bar of soap.

Unlike some things - ahem, liquid hand soap or body wash - bar soap is quite easy to find package-free. Regardless of whether or not you can buy body care and cleaning products in bulk at a store near you, you'll probably be able to find unpackaged or minimally packaged bar soap wherever you already get your groceries. Look for the soap aisle or display at any medium-fancy grocery (the bars shown here are from Fresh Thyme), body care shop, apothecary, or gift store, and snap up any bars you see that come unwrapped. Tie them up in a cloth bag or other container brought from home, and you're set. Switch made.

I keep one bar in my shower, one on my bathroom counter, and one by the sink in my kitchen. They replace the liquid soap I used to use for those purposes, and they even come in handy in a pinch: scrubbing an errant spot of plum juice from a shirt, lathering up a dish brush when I run out of dish soap, lathering up in a washcloth to wipe down the counter if need be.

As far as choosing a bar goes, I'm not wedded to a particular brand, scent, or type. Some I've used were gifts, some souvenirs, some picked up in a hurry at the grocery. I like trying out new kinds, the small thrill of choosing a bar with a different scent or the feeling of using a new bar for the first time. Small luxuries, people.

Switch to bar soap for a zero waste bathroom

A few more notes as you choose your next suds:

-If you can't find fully naked soap in a store near you, choose your paper-wrapped soap with care. As you may (or may not) be able to tell in the picture above, the bar of Dr. Bronner's soap I purchased to test out came packaged in paper - but upon unwrapping, I found that the paper was plastic-lined, making it not recyclable. Shy away from papers that seem waxy, as there's no guarantee that'll be recyclable. Better yet, go with something like a Zum Bar, which comes wrapped in just a small, plastic-free paper sleeve.

-If there's something you're trying to avoid, read ingredients labels carefully. Just because a bar is technically zero waste doesn't mean that it's 100% sustainable. The package-free bars of Good Soap by Alaffia that you find at Whole Foods contain palm oil, as does the bar of Dr. Bronner's pictured above. (For an introduction on why palm oil might be something you'd want to avoid, click here).

-If package-free bar soap is hard to find near your or necessitates a visit to an out-of-the way little store, well, there's nothing wrong with stocking up big time so that you're able to make fewer trips. I recently toured the manufacturing space of a local cleaning products company, whose owner noted that some people feel bar soap works best after sitting around for a year or so. A verrrrry long expiration date, if any? That's a philosophy I can get behind.

Switch to bar soap for a zero waste bathroom

Is this a switch you've made? (Of course, I have my usual caveat of: do whatever works for you. Maybe pump soap is your jam!). Do you have more thoughts on choosing a bar of soap that you'd like to share? I'd love to hear. 

PS. More simple swaps like this, here.

compost, on the go.

Compost on the go

A couple of days ago, a friend and I were chatting about compost (as you do), and how this weird perspective shift can happen: you can throw food in the trash for years or decades without thinking twice about it, but as soon as you start composting or start thinking about composting, putting food in the trash can start to feel so loaded. 

On the occasions over the last decade where composting wasn't available to me (most of college - yikes, a weeklong vacation to somewhere less progressive than Seattle, a trip away from Chicago to go to a wedding), throwing food scraps into the trash has always been accompanied by a persistent twinge of guilt, a small leaden feeling in my stomach.

(By the way, if you haven't figured out a way to make composting work for you yet, I'm not knocking you at all. It can be hard, especially for renters and apartment dwellers and students and travelers and those who are busy and those on a tight budget. You can take a peek at my guide here to see if there's an easy compost solution available in your city.)

In college, I got so fed up with having to ditch my apple cores and banana peels in trash cans that I developed a tactic I called "guerrilla composting." This involved pitching apple cores as deep into the woods as my arm could throw - a method that, yes, I know isn't particularly helpful or ecologically sound, and one that I probably wouldn't turn to now. But still: it speaks to the fact that composting can sink its teeth into you and not let you go.

So you better believe that I don't let a little thing like being away from home stop me if I can help it. A few weeks back, I shared how I approach composting when I'm traveling. Those techniques also apply to composting when I'm away from home but still in my city. Though I frequent restaurants and coffee shops that choose to compost their waste when I can, so often I find myself someplace that doesn't.

Most days, therefore, when I leave my house, I bring a small empty container with me. It's often a Ball jar like the one above, but I also sometimes place compost scraps in an empty water bottle, my emptied lunch container, or a cotton produce bag. Some of my friends use a Stasher reusable ziploc bag, which has the benefit of folding flat and not being breakable. For those who don't carry a purse or tote, you could fold compostable scraps in the paper napkin that came with your meal and stick it in your pocket temporarily.

Whatever the vessel, the approach is the same: to corral compostables picked up throughout the day. It might be a teabag, the crust of a sandwich, cherry pits, a clementine peel, a wooden toothpick, a paper napkin, an apple core. I tuck away anything that can be composted, and at the end of the day when I get home I empty the jar or bag into my compost bin, wash the jar out, and the next day I'm ready to start anew.

I keep coming back to this: we can set up our homes to be fairly low waste, but we can't control what businesses and workplaces and events offer us when we're out and about. We can lend our support to businesses that choose less wasteful practices, of course, but to try to avoid disposables completely can be maddening. So, sometimes I just have to accept that my sandwich will have a toothpick in it and that I'll get a paper napkin when I'd rather use my cloth one. But by planning to tote my compost home with me, I know that the detritus of the day won't, at least, go in the trash.

Are you part of team compost jar? What's your container of choice these days?

plastic-free bread storage?

Plastic free bread storage | Zero waste kitchen

Zero waste people: HOW DO YOU STORE YOUR BREAD. I'm not happy with my current method, and I'm sure one of you has an answer I've been looking for. Let me explain:

I'm happy with the routine I have in place for buying bread. I head to the farmers' market or bakery or merely the bakery section of the grocery store, and pop a loaf into my own bag like the one pictured above. These breads tend to be so much tastier than the supermarket pre-sliced, pre-bagged versions anyway, and at some stores and bakeries I can even ask them to slice the loaf for me. Convenient! (But that's where my really where expertise ends).

When I get the cloth-bound bread home, it lasts for two days on my kitchen counter tops before beginning to dry out. Many's the time I've forgotten about a loaf during a busy week and picked it up to find it curiously rock-hard, fit for nothing but a crouton or crostini. And those are beautiful things, but sometimes I want sandwiches. And toast that doesn't shatter into a thousand shards when I bite it. And other things that bread is for.

Plastic free bread storage | Zero waste kitchen

What I currently do about that problem is this: I cadged a large ziploc bag from a family member, and it's my go-to for bread storage. I pop the cloth-wrapped bread in there, seal it up, and the bread lasts so much longer. However, the bag is getting increasingly ratty: it's splitting down the sides, and I think there's got to be a method that doesn't require me to pilfer a plastic bag from friends and family every few months. (Also, to be frank, it's not a solution that's lovely to look at. And sometimes you just want that, you know?).

Of course, I recognize this isn't the biggest of deals. Instead of seeking out the ideal zero waste bread storage solution, you could call it good enough and move on - which is perfectly fine, too. There are other things to do, like calling your elected officials and going on a summer walk and sitting down with a bowl of blueberries and finally getting around to doing the dishes. I wholeheartedly support all of those things.

But, if you have a good idea, would you share? A few other solutions that I've seen floating around: wrapping bread in Bee's Wrap (are there even sheets big enough for a full loaf?). A breadbox (do these actually work?). Placing the bread under a cake or cheese dome (love this idea, but my apartment doesn't have enough counter space to house this comfortably).

So: what do you do with your bread? I'll accept my solution if I must, but I have a hunch one of you knows something better. I'd love to hear.