Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Expo West 2015: Creating A Low Waste Experience

As I prepare for my third visit to Natural Products Expo West my mind isn't on the best gluten free foods or even the best low chemical beauty products. This year I want to focus on attending the expo and making little to no waste, while discovering products that support a no plastic and low waste lifestyle.

Years past I have brought home an abundance of free swag. I make a conscious effort to only take samples of products I am truly interested in and will use. I still find myself emptying bags, yes plural, of samples on my living room floor. I found myself having excess in 3 different ways and have decided to create an action plan to stop wasting so much by limiting  the amount of waste I create while still being able to share the experience of the expo.

1. Bags. There are a lot of bags. The bright side is they are reusable bags given away by exhibitors with their logo on the side. During the expo it is a great way to carry samples and flyers, and of course can be used later. I would arrive home with 10 reusable bags that I truly didn't need. The upside was being able to give my family members reusable bags for them to take shopping. This year, I'd like to come home with zero.

The Solution: I plan on taking my own canvas tote and only using the one tote for any items I bring home.

2. Paper. Flyers, coupons, business cards and advertisements are handed out by all and received by many. When I am preparing a blog post about the products I discovered while at the Expo it is great to have website information and a contact’s name so that I can connect with the product rep after the post has been published or while I'm writing if I have any questions. But then what? Long are the days of rolodex since contact information can now be loaded into a digital address book. I plan on collecting zero paper.

Solution: After thanking the exhibitor for the information, I will explain that I am trying to limit my waste at the expo and will instead take a photo of their business card, flyer, etc. I have a feeling I may be met with mixed reactions, but considering it is a natural expo, I'm hoping most people are eco-conscious.

3. Packaging. Expo West has an enormous amount of food sampling, which on the expo floor is generally full sized items cut down to snack sized portions. Samples are usually served on paper products, which are compostable. Many samples given to attendees to take with them are in single use packaging. Food items like single serving yogurts, sample size bars or even mini sized bottled water are often provided as snacks outside the expo as well. My goal is to not have any food packaging waste during the expo aside from compostable napkins and spoons that samples are served on.

Solution:  Along with a reusable water bottle, I will bring along unpackaged snacks and look out for waste free samples.

Have you experienced a successful waste free expo or conference? Share you tips in the comments.

Monday, March 2, 2015

March WLC: This for That

I was hoping to end January with a celebration of successfully completing the month’s Waste Less Challenge without buying anything. This didn’t happen. As I flip through my notebook where I kept a daily log, I realize that sometimes life just happens. What a terrible excuse, right? After all, I initiated the challenge and shared it with you, and now I’m telling you how flippant I was about it. Just hear me out.

My first purchase was 2 vintage Pyrex bowls from a thrift shop for $3. As a vintage hoarder collector, there are times when a purchase has to be made in the moment or the item is gone forever. That is a tough choice to make regardless of your intended consumer footprint, however thrifted is always better than purchasing a new product. More on that later this month.

Next I bought a yoga mat because I needed it. No really. Under doctor’s orders I needed a yoga mat for prescribed exercises. Knowing that yoga mats are made of plastic, I wanted to make a healthy choice for my body and the environment. I chose a mat that was made without latex, PVC or phthalates. I can rest on my mat comfortably knowing that my body isn't going to absorb chemicals.

Although part of my personal challenge was to not buy any packaged food, I failed miserably here. I thought that eating vegetarian and ditching packaged food at the same time would be a no brainer, you know, because plants don’t need packaging. I was poorly prepared which left me eating out more than I would have liked. I tried to choose restaurants that served their food in paper or compostable material, and even kept track of the waste. There were times when water arrived with a straw already in it, or dressing came in a plastic container. Keeping a log made me realize how much packing goes into food that comes prepared, and to go.

Although I didn't complete the challenge with 100% success, the purchases I did make taught me the importance of thinking before buying. Really evaluating how something impacts your life, the environment and even your local economy, which brings us to February’s Waste Less Challenge.

Coming out of our consumer cleanse, let’s think before we buy.

1.     How much packaging is too much packaging? Is the packaging compostable? Is it made of plastic? Can it be recycled?

2.     Does it have to be new, or can it be thrifted?

3.     When I’m done with what I’m buying, how can it be reused, repurposed, regifted and finally, recycled?

With the amount of consumer goods and packaging made of plastic, we are quickly polluting our water ways. By avoiding new items, reusing, repurposing and shopping thrifted items, we are becoming part of the solution by not contributing to consumer plastic pollution.

Vintage: Old is the new, new. Aside from the unique, vintage is a great alternative. If something from the 1960s is 50 something years old and still in great working condition, then it was made to list.

Go thrifting: You might find something new, or old, but it is new to you. Thrifted clothing keeps textiles which are usually not recyclable out of the landfill and into your closet.

Buy from the source: Farmer’s Markets and buy in bulk stores lend themselves to be more waste free than conventional markets and will help cut down on food packaging.

Read the label: Chemicals in plastic is nothing new. Be sure to read not only what’s not in what you are buying, but what is in your purchase. This goes for beauty and cosmetic products too.

Before you buy, learn to consider the impact your purchase has on the environment, local economy and most importantly on you. 

Be sure to share your story in the comments and by social media with #wastelesschallenge

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Food Will Win the War

When I heard about Meatless Monday my first thought was who would want to give up meat any day of the week? I was consuming meat at just about every meal, mostly because I was under the impression that for the best source of protein I needed meat. Gym trainers, nutritionists and even restaurants enforced this school of thought by making protein synonymous with meat. It would be years before I learned that broccoli, spinach and a variety of other plant based foods have as much, or even more protein than meat. It would be months before I would figure out that I could experience Meatless Monday and be satisfied with what I was eating. And full.

When I decided to start off 2015 by giving up meat for the month of January, I was a bit weary. Last year I swore off gluten, which proved to be pretty difficult, but I continue with a mostly gluten free diet because it makes me feel better. I was surprised to find how easy eating vegetarian actually is.

Even though eating vegetarian was easy there were drawbacks. First of all, it is easy to eat fast food. Did you know that every meal at Taco Bell can become vegetarian if you just ask for no meat? While we weren’t eating fast food very often before eating vegetarian, it became something that we could eat in a pinch. It is amazing how simpler eating vegetarian can be, but how much more meal preparation is needed.

We were making some meals at home, but it seemed that we were cooking a bunch of veggies. I felt like we were lacking actual meals. I shared this with friends who were long time vegans and vegetarians who knew exactly how I felt. Their solution was soups, sandwiches and salads. We frequented our local vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant who I think had it right. They treated the vegetables the way traditional dishes treat meat. I don’t think we have creating vegetarian meals down yet, but we are working on it. 

We have continued eating mostly vegetarian, with a few meals a week including chicken, turkey or seafood. The reason behind our meatless month was more than a health resolution, or even for the love of animals. Sustainable Sam and I chose a month without meat for environmental reasons. If you aren’t familiar with the state of soil, you might be wondering what soil and meat have to do with one another. I joined Sustainable Sam at the viewing of the documentary Symphony ofthe Soil and learned much more than I ever thought I wanted to know about soil. One fact is that monocrops (growing only a single crop at a time) that are grown to feed meat industry animals are not only contaminating soil with pesticides, but damaging the natural make up of the soil. When healthy soil is missing, food cannot grow and animals, including humans, cannot eat.

In fact, last week the Washington Post published a story about a report put together by the nation's nutrition panel that will be used to update US dietary guidelines that highlighted how the American diet should be more plant based, not only for health, but also for environmental reasons.

The first timeMeatless Monday was introduced in America was during World War I by President Hoover. Americans were inspired to create meals around vegetables grown in their own Victory Gardens by the saying "Food will win the war". Giving up meat once a day, once a week, or even regularly today can do the same. Food will win.

How will you help win the war on soil?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


This last year I had a stack 2 feet high of 6 months of unread magazines. Magazines that I proceeded to flip through quickly and donate to my library because I really wasn't interested in their content anymore.

Quitting magazines is a big deal. I love print. Beyond print I love layout and design, straight lines and color. I've worked in print since I was laying out my high school yearbook, and today I still design and layout print. I love flipping and earmarking pages, even the smell of freshly printed pages.

My love of print goes back even further. I remember flipping through Disney Adventure magazines in long grocery lines as a kid. As a tween, waiting for my mom to finish shopping for produce while I flipped through Bop magazine. As a teen I would pour over the pages of Seventeen, ripping out pages and pasting them back together to make collages I hung on my bedroom walls. Early in college I tried the distasteful Cosmo, and then moved onto Glamour. I've had subscriptions to Runners Magazine, Latina and Self. My most recent subscriptions to Martha Stewart, Eating Well and Better Homes and Garden, now cancelled.

I am officially unsubscribed.

If I have learned anything through my relationship with magazines it is that my interests change, sometimes quickly, not even surviving a year’s subscription. The earth, the landfill, and the recycling center don’t have to be impacted by my wavering interests. In this digital age there are many alternatives. Instead I subscribe (and unsubscribe) to blogs. I follow Pinterest boards and sign up for newsletters. I am better at finding time to read these medias. The best part? Most are free, don’t take up space and are zero waste.

Even though many say print is dead, I’ll continue to love it. While the world has been digitizing for many years, I've finally caught up. I’m still reading the information I want, without the clutter and waste.

* This post is part of the 30 day XOXOrganizing Challenge: Day 14 Donate Unused Books and Magazines

Monday, January 5, 2015

January Waste Less Challenge

As another consumer season comes to an end, I feel it only fitting that the January Waste Less Challenge be to not buy anything. That's right, you heard me. Nothing. If that scares the you-know-what out of you, you aren't alone. I've been mentally preparing (aka freaking out) by wondering if I have enough socks and underwear. I haven't actually bought into my freak out, but at least they've been practical items. As long as you've been nice all year, there shouldn't be much that you need to start the New Year.

But let's get serious. The fact is that in the US, waste increases 25% between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency that is an extra 1 million ton of waste generated during the holiday season alone.

I came across a quote by Pope John Paul II that states, "Modern Society will find no solution to the ecological problems unless it takes a serious look at its lifestyles." The January Waste Less Challenge isn't just about not buying anything for one month, but taking a good look at our lifestyles and seeing how we can change to be more environmentally friendly. Start the New Year by keeping the amount of waste you create low, and see how we can work to reduce our waste all year long. Download the Waste Less Challenge calendar here

Don't buy anything.

Okay, we need to eat, and I know I cannot possibly grow all of my food. The exception I am giving myself is I can purchase unpackaged food. This will include fruits and veggies, dried goods from the bulk bin and any other food I can purchase while bringing my own containers. 

Remember these guidelines are there to help you. Feel free to move and stretch them as much as you need to for you to be successful in your Waste Less Challenge.

Reflect on your wants and needs: Each time you find yourself wanting something think about why. How will it impact your life? Will it contribute to your happiness? How does it bring kindness into your life? Maybe you will wait until February to make the purchase, or you'll make it at that moment. By giving yourself the time to think about each item you purchase gives you consumer awareness to what you bring into your life.

Experiences over things: My sister's birthday falls at the beginning of January. I could have bought her a gift in December, but lucky for me she asked for an experience over something material. Delivering an experience can be just as, or even more thoughtful than a wrapped gift. It is also a way of giving that person a little of you.

If you receive discounts and promotions via email, re-direct them to a folder so you aren't tempted in your daily inbox.

Do you have a shopping habit like stopping by the mall after a bad day, or browsing the racks of you favorite store during lunch? Focus on you instead by taking a walk or reading a book.

When all else fails, create a virtual shopping experience. Make a vision board or two, but remember to consider the needs and wants.

The goal of the consumer cleanse isn't only to be happier with less, but to add less material things in the world. In the long run you will save money for the purchases that do matter, you won't be contributing to the cycle of stuff as explained by The Story of Stuff Project and there will be less waste by avoiding packaging. So let's reevaluate our lifestyles and see what we can pass on. 

Be sure to share your story in the comments and by social media with #wastelesschallenge