zero-waste progress report.

I should start by saying that the zero in this post title is a little misleading. Less waste is probably more accurate but in the spirit of aspiration, I’ll stick with zero. I thought it might be nice to give a little progress report. Here are a few things that we’ve improved on and a few things that have tested my comfort level.

Progress:

zero waste progress report | reading my tea leaves

Spices:

Our red pepper flakes were getting dangerously low. There were four black peppercorns left in the pepper grinder. Every time I had a craving for tacos or chili, I’d gnash my teeth and think about the empty jar of cumin. We risked bland food blues and I wanted to find a place closer to home to refill our spices. I went to our neighborhood spice shop on a quiet morning and strengthened my resolve to ask if I could get special treatment and the chance to have them fill my empty jars. The answer: Nope. Try, try again. The good news? Across the street there’s another little shop. The one with the cat in the window and the buckets of fermented foods and olives left on the floor. The shelves are stacked high with boxes that look they come from another decade in another century. The entire experience is like taking a step back in time. In the back of the shop, squeezed into a narrow space hardly big enough for me to fit in, there are jars of spices. Frisbees serve as the lids. I plunged a metal scoop into the jar of cumin. It was pungent enough to be encouraging. There were no red pepper flakes in the shop, but there were dried chilis and a young shop worker willing to grind them for me. “They’ll be more finely ground than you’re used to,” he warned. “I’ll grind them. If you want them, you take them.” I took them. And a scoop of fresh Aleppo pepper for good measure.

Tip: Bring same-sized jars for filling, then the folks behind the counter only have to weigh the container once to get the tare weight. Plus: a few thoughts on spice storage, right this way.zero waste progress report | reading my tea leaves

Tofu:

We eat a fair amount of tofu in our house and I’ve been feeling guilty about the plastic film that covers it. I stopped into a nearby green grocer recently and noticed a bin of fresh tofu they sell in little take-home plastic containers. “Can I buy it without the container?” “Yes,” says the woman behind the counter. “People come from all over for that tofu.” Sold.

Tip: When we get home we cover the tofu with fresh water to keep it fresh longer. But you can also freeze it!zero waste progress report | reading my tea leaves

Bread:

We’re pretty regular bread eaters around our house—and we’re pretty picky about the bread we eat. In the zero waste game this is helpful because it cuts out most breads of the standard sliced-and-plastic-bagged variety. Still, before making a concerted effort, we’d get a loaf of bagged sourdough from the local grocery store on a fairly regular basis. We’ve since stopped (cold turkey), choosing instead a fresh baked loaf from our own oven or a slightly longer walk but a terrific loaf from a nearby bakery.

Tip: We keep the bread fresh by storing it cut side down and covered in a dish towel. I just invested in this bento bag to make for a slightly neater countertop storage solution.zero waste progress report | reading my tea leaves

Yogurt:

I just made my very first batch, a small one to prevent too much milk waste if my skills needed improving. My analysis? Pretty dang good. More soonish.

Tip: I’m a yogurt-making newbie. So I’ll crowd-source the tips the for this one. Anyone had terrific luck?

Room for improvement:

zero waste progress report | reading my tea leavesMilk: Faye is a real guzzler these days. And so am I. Add in making our own yogurt (and pudding, ahem) and there’s a lot milk consumption going on in our house. Here’s the problem: the milk in the glass bottle at our grocery store costs exactly twice as much as the milk in the plastic jug. I swallow a lot of higher prices in the name of helping the environment—and maybe I should just get over this too—but I admit that I balk at the price. (For more milk bottling consternation, head here.)

Thoughts going forward:

There’s been a little bit of goose chasing and a little bit of serendipity in our quest for less waste. I went to three different neighborhood shops before I could find one that would let me fill my own bulk spice containers. It took me stopping into a different grocery store to realize they had a crate of unpackaged tofu for buying in bulk and then it took me returning later with my own container to bring it home. (It’s a little like an obstacle course—pretty fun if you embrace it with the right attitude.) Admittedly, in both of these cases, I had to get over my skepticism about cleanliness. In this country we’re used to fairly antiseptic food shopping. Regardless of what actually happens between kitchen or field or processing plant and shelf, neat packages and bright lights and plenty of plastic wrapped foods have us thinking that our foods are untainted. And food safety isn’t something that I want to mess with. One of my sisters once become seriously ill after eating tainted tempeh. And yet. You can’t be scared all the time. And so: Onward!

More zero waste resolutions, this way. More habit shifts, this way.

What about all of you? Any progress to report?

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