zero-waste progress report.

February 23, 2016

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.


zero waste progress report | reading my tea leaves


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 waste progress report | reading my tea leaves


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


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 waste progress report | reading my tea leaves


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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  • Reply Anna February 23, 2016 at 9:03 am

    So exciting that you’ve started making yogurt! I try to make a lot from scratch, because I enjoy it, to minimize waste, and for healthy and tasty eating but yogurt is the one thing that I always make and never buy. As you already know, it tastes great, saves a lot of money and packaging, and it so worth it. Everyone (who likes yogurt) should do it! 🙂

    • Reply Tina March 12, 2016 at 9:05 pm

      I was reading your post about zero waste and trying to work around bringing my own containers for the bulk bins when I came across these on Amazon.
      Simple Ecology Organic Cotton Muslin Produce Bags
      From Simple Ecology
      They are talked about on minimalist beauty blog. The tare weight is printed on each bag to make it easier for the cashier. The weight is on the inside of the bag so this blogger just uses them inside out to make it easier. Hope this helps with your zero waste.

      • Reply Erin Boyle March 13, 2016 at 9:13 pm

        Nice! We wrote the tare of our bags in thin sharpie to solve the same problem!

  • Reply Ricarda February 23, 2016 at 9:14 am

    Oh, I make my own yoghurt all the time and it’s never gone wrong so far. I also use only stuff I had on hand anyway. My recipe:

    – empty jars (mine once held jam. Make sure they don’t smell of pickle!)
    – a hot water bottle
    – a warm throw blanket
    – a bowl
    – a pot
    – something to stir with
    – a cup

    – 1 l milk, whole is best
    – 1 Tbsp of active yoghurt

    1. People recommend that you sterilize your jam jars. I have never really bothered, I just take the clean jars out of the pantry. So far, I had no problems whatsoever. If you do want to sterilize your jars, go ahead and do it now.

    2. Put some water in the pot, set the bowl above it and warm your milk to 43 C.

    3. Take a few Tbsp of milk out of the bowl, put it in the cup and stir in the yoghurt. Don’t worry if it’s a bit lumpy.

    4. Pour the milk-yoghurt mixture into the warm milk and stir a couple of times.
    Make sure your milk is not too hot, otherwise the yoghurt bacteria die instantly and nothing will happen.

    5. Pour the milk into the jars and screw the lids on.

    6. Pour the hot water from the bottom of the pot into the hot water bottle and close it.

    7. Place the hot water bottle on the throw, arrange the jars around it and wrap it all up. Think warm and snuggly. 😉

    8. Leave it for ~ 8 hours, and don’t move it in the meantime! The vibrations might disturb the process. I tend to just let it sit overnight.

    9. The next morning, stick it in the fridge to firm up.

    10. The longer you leave it the stronger it becomes. After a while, it might form a clearish-greenish liquid on top. This is normal, just stir it in.

    • Reply Jessie March 6, 2016 at 2:10 pm

      The clear liquid that has come out is whey. The color (yellowish) is due to riboflavin. A natural vitamin found in milk. 🙂 Whey is released if the gel (yogurt) has been disturbed (which relates to your suggestion to not touch the yogurt as its forming. It is such a delicate process!) (I have a Ph.D. in dairy chemistry and work on cheese for a living.)

  • Reply MA February 23, 2016 at 9:19 am

    I love this effort – so inspiring.
    We started making yogurt about 10 years ago when my son (then 1 year old) started eating yogurt at every meal that we would let him. Now we make it by the 2-quart jar, which lasts us (family of four) about 5-7 days. We eat a LOT of yogurt. I love hearing how others make it because it does seem like everyone has their favorite way. I buy a quart of Brown Cow yogurt every 1.5 months as a starter (I could write a ton about all the different yogurts we tried as starter! I’ll spare you), freeze it in ice cube trays, and use two cubes per batch of yogurt. I heat milk up to about 170-180 deg, then cool it to about 110, drop in two cubes of starter, and stick it in the Salton yogurt maker overnight (which is really for a 1-qt but we just stick an insulated lunch box over the top to accommodate the 2-qt jar height). I find its better if let it finish in the fridge the next day as opposed to eating it right away. My husband and I share the job of yogurt-making in our house and we frequently hash out the various scenarios of yogurt making that did and did not work (its science!). Anyways, that’s a lot to say about yogurt. But I’m such a fan of food fermenting on my counter-top!

  • Reply Pat S February 23, 2016 at 9:23 am

    I don’t recall even seeing a glass bottle option for milk where I live. I do, however, refuse to buy the plastic cartons. I drink a lot of milk but always find the milk has an “off” taste very quickly. I opt for the waxed cardboard containers. The milk tastes great to the very end. And I’m fortunate to have multiple places where I can buy spices in just the amounts I need and in my own containers. I don’t like tofu, so that’s not a problem. 😀

  • Reply Chrissy Lou February 23, 2016 at 9:23 am

    I’m loving this habit shift series! I’m also on a zero waste journey and find your posts encouraging. The obstacle course gets easier after you’ve run the course a few times!

  • Reply Erin February 23, 2016 at 9:39 am

    I make my yogurt in the crock pot, it’s ridiculously easy. If you’ve got leftovers, continue to strain it (in a cloth napkin) until it stops dripping and – voila! – you’ve got cream cheese! And, fresh whey. Put the whey in a mason jar in the fridge for future use! 🙂

  • Reply jane February 23, 2016 at 9:41 am

    yay! this is so exciting! i’m making yogurt right now…we eat (and love) it every morning. here’s my two cents on making it:

  • Reply Lauren February 23, 2016 at 9:46 am

    This sounds like wonderful progress, especially only two months into the year! Thank you for sharing – I also have a discomfort I need to get over about asking to use my own container in certain stores. As for yogurt, I have kept the same starter going for years and have had great luck using a small round slow cooker with a ceramic plate in lieu of a lid – turn it on low (empty) when you are heating the milk on the stove, then turn it off about 15 minutes before you transfer the milk in. Add the starter and let it sit overnight. I don’t use individual jars – just do it all in one big batch, which makes it easy to strain over a floursack towel to thicken a bit at the end, and results in less jar washing for us. One more tip: for homemade bread, we’ve found that storing it in an unused enameled dutch oven keeps it wonderfully fresh! (And the pot is the perfect size for round loaves). If we need to use the pot, we temporarily transfer the loaf to a towel for the evening, then back in the pot once it’s clean!

  • Reply Sophie February 23, 2016 at 10:06 am

    You can slice the tofu (square, not too thin) before freezing it. It is a must-have for Chinese hot pot.

  • Reply Anna Kristina February 23, 2016 at 10:26 am

    Oh, milk! When we lived in Kansas, there were good local dairy options at the grocery store, which came in glass bottles. It was more expensive, but the cost included a bottle deposit. If we brought back the bottle on our next grocery trip, the actual price of the milk wasn’t actually that much higher (but the deliciousness was!). When we moved to Boston we got rid of our car, so our grocery shopping was limited to nearby stores, which didn’t have those options. We recently moved closer to work and now have a car again (and a new grocery store) and there are probably local glass-bottled options we can access now, but then would our emissions from driving so much for one specific thing offset the benefits? Making good choices for the planet can get complicated so quickly! But then I remind myself of a Barbara Kingsolver quote from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: “Small, stepwise changes in personal habits aren’t trivial. Ultimately they will, or won’t, add up to having been the thing that mattered.” Do what I can in my circumstances, and keep looking for ways to improve. In that vein, your post is a good reminder that I’d like to see if I can lose the packaging for some things. Said new grocery store sells (amazing!) fresh pasta in bulk, for example, and I should ask if we can BYO a container for that!

  • Reply Rebecca N February 23, 2016 at 10:29 am

    I am fortunate to live in an area where it is easy to find bulk items and bring my own cloth bags, or, buy bulk items in paper bags that then can be turned into sheet mulch for my garden. Also, I can buy a cow share and get fresh milk in a glass bottle weekly from a local farm. I’ve never made yogurt as I am dairy sensitive and my son does not like yogurt….although people keep telling me I need to try raw milk and see if I’m sensitive to it.

    • Reply Jennifer March 16, 2016 at 9:39 am

      Try it! I too am sensitive to dairy, especially milk, but every time I try raw, I’m fine. I sadly have to drive almost two hours each way to get it, so I usually do without…but if you have a source anywhere around you try it.
      On a side note, it’s scrumptious. It does taste different.

  • Reply Taru February 23, 2016 at 10:44 am

    Hi Erin, I live in Brooklyn as well. Could you share the names of the shops for the tofu and spices? Regarding milk, Trickling Springs milk comes in glass bottles that you can return to the grocery store when empty for a $2 redemption. This lowers the cost and creates zero waste.

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 23, 2016 at 10:47 am

      Hi there: Both stores are between Clinton and Court on Atlantic Avenue (across the street from one another…though I don’t know that I’ve ever noticed the names). Yes: understood entirely how the redemption works. The price, alas, still feels prohibitive.

      • Reply Karey February 23, 2016 at 11:05 am

        thanks, Erin for the info and Taru for asking the question, I live in Brooklyn, too, and had the same thing in mind. Going to check these spots out this week.

        • Reply Erin Boyle February 23, 2016 at 11:08 am

          The kind of awesome thing, is that I have a hunch they exist on a lot of street corners around here! Happy searching!

          • Erin Boyle February 23, 2016 at 4:41 pm

            PS: Sahadi’s—in this same block—is the spot that we typically go for olives and nuts and tons of other great things (but they don’t let you fill up your spice jars. You have to hop across the street for that!)

      • Reply Marie February 23, 2016 at 11:54 am

        My sister went to school for nutrition and that really made us want to up the quality of our milk because of how much extra nutrients you get from the higher quality and because I drink a lot of milk. So I’ve kept up the habit of getting the highest quality glass bottle milk for the extra value for my health and the environment.

        • Reply Erin Boyle February 23, 2016 at 12:07 pm

          Wonderful! I’m not concerned about the quality of our milk, but I loved when we lived near an affordable glass bottle option! Will keep searching.

  • Reply Taru February 23, 2016 at 10:46 am

    Hi Erin, I live in Brooklyn as well. Can you share the names of the shops for the spices and tofu? Regarding milk, Trickling Springs milk comes in glass bottles that you can return to the grocery store when empty for a $2 redemption. This helps with the cost and creates zero waste.

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 23, 2016 at 4:42 pm

      Oops: A double post, I think! Response above!

  • Reply Allison February 23, 2016 at 11:06 am

    I’m a fully converted yogurt maker over here in Delhi. I make it the way Kabir’s grandmother does – boil milk in a pot, let it cool until it’s warm but not too hot to stick your finger in, mix some of the milk with a spoonful of the last batch of yogurt, add it back into the pot, cover and let it sit until it’s done. In NYC this time of year you’d probably need to put it in the oven on low to get it to set, but in Delhi we just put it on the counter. Once it’s set it goes in the fridge. xoxo

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 23, 2016 at 11:08 am

      YES!!! This is exactly what I did! Put it on the radiator in a pot to help it set!

    • Reply Annmarie February 24, 2016 at 1:01 pm

      Hi Allison, I have a question if you don’t mind…Melissa Clark just wrote about making yogurt in the New York Times and she mentioned that the starter can get weaker over time so she has been buying yogurt from he store for her starter every 5 batches or so. Is this true for you? Or have you been working off the same starter for longer than that?

  • Reply Sydni February 23, 2016 at 11:09 am

    This is so inspiring! I plan to try to do something like this for a month during April. So glad to have your blog as a reference and encouragement!

  • Reply Emilie February 23, 2016 at 11:17 am

    ….we’re doing the “small stepwise changes” above and slooowly making progress. Fortunately we do have a locally owned
    cooperative that is forward thinking about people bringing their own bottles, having them weighed and then filling them.
    My task this week – will they put the Salmon in my glass container vs. the paper they wrap it in. Also, I’ve been taking my
    basket into any store – not just food – and asking them to put my items in that instead of their bags. I’ve not had any trouble
    so far. And, Erin, I think food cleanliness is something to look out for, and I also think our American style of *cleanliness* has its downsides. I lived in a foreign country for a year. When I returned to the US, and my mother made hamburgers, the meat tasted exactly like the plastic wrap on top of the container it was wrapped in …. aargh!

    I also exchanged emails with Wendi at Stowaway cosmetics. In a nice way I said that recyclable containers in cosmetic products is a priority for me and and that I was choosing to buy from RMS at the moment because I can recycle 100% of their packaging/product container. Wendi was very nice about it and said they are right now looking at options in that direction, and
    soon will announce a recycling program. I also contacted our pharmacy wondering if I could bring a glass container to get my meds. “No.” I’ll keep trying!

    Question: Recently I needed about 200 paper clips. I finally caved and bought some metal ones — does anyone have suggestions for a paper clip substitute?

    • Reply rachael February 23, 2016 at 1:19 pm

      Would a stapleless stapler work? google it!

  • Reply Elizabeth February 23, 2016 at 11:17 am

    Check to see if any local dairies make milk deliveries in your neighborhood. We’re in Boston and get our glass bottled milk once a week. It’s less expensive than any of our grocery stores. No lugging milk home from the store. Plus – my 3 year old loves when the old fashion milk truck pulls up and she gets to go chat with the milkman.

    • Reply Ariana February 23, 2016 at 4:29 pm

      That’s so cool that you have a milkman! I don’t even drink/use milk hardly at all, but I might if it meant I got a milkman! hah.

  • Reply Andrea February 23, 2016 at 11:17 am

    I read with a lot of interest the recommendations of this post – as well as the original January post. I am little by little implementing some of them, in particular buying spices and grains in bulk. However, I am curious by your suggestion of using a charcoal stick to purify water. I am a chemicalengineer, and for a filter to work, water has to be forced through the filtering material to allow contact with the cleaning medium- which is what the regular filters do, by forcing the water down through the filter by gravity. To dip a charcoal stick in a jar of water won’t clean it. It will change the taste of the water – most likely by suspending charcoal particles and minerals, but it won’t clean it, because the water won’t force itself through the cavities of the stick without external force. I would love to see a good alternative for water purification – maybe building our own system would work, as there are plenty of tutorials online

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 23, 2016 at 11:22 am

      Go for it! Would love to hear how that goes for you. (As an addendum, we did get our water tested to lead—a free service the city provides—and we don’t have lead in our water, so we’re not super worried about heavy metals, etc.)

  • Reply caprice February 23, 2016 at 11:21 am

    I love this! I just started reading your blog after reading (and loving) your book. I have always wanted to go a year without generating waste but found it to be too difficult in the past. Thank you for keeping us encouraged! BTW-I made your chocolate pudding last night but did not have any milk. I used unsweetened almond milk which I guess you can make from scratch too and it was delicious! Thank you for posting that recipe!

  • Reply Susana Galli February 23, 2016 at 11:33 am

    In Portugal where people traditionally eat a lot of bread, with hum, every meal (and salad, unless is soup or stew, but bread always) people used bags made of two layers of fabric; which inspired me to open my own shop selling similar. In days gone by, they would use up scraps left from clothes, so in the same way that there is a big American patchwork quilt tradition, we also have patchwork bread bags (or anything bags, seeds, what ever…)

    About the milk, I know is not exactly the same, but could you substitute some cows milk for oat or almond milk? That way you buy almonds and oats in bulk not in bottles/packs. Its quite easy to make, all you have to do is soak either oats or almonds in water overnight and then blend it. I have cows milk sensitivity and I easily substitute in most recipes. In the UK they don’t advice either of these milks to be the main milk for children under 2, I think, but you can “use it as part of a balanced diet”.

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 23, 2016 at 11:38 am

      YES! Just actually bought my very first nut bag and am starting to experiment with that too! More soon!

  • Reply Alie February 23, 2016 at 11:43 am

    Looks like you have a lot of yogurt-making advice already here! I make my own yogurt every week. Once I inoculate it, I put it in Weck jars and just put them in our oven overnight (totally off). Our oven is gas and I think the pilot keeps it slightly warmer than room temps. In the morning, voila, there’s yogurt! I’ve found Weck jars help the yogurt set the best due to the pressure (I think!). I also use White Moustache yogurt from Brooklyn as a starter (we get it at Foragers in Dumbo, not sure if Perelandra carries it), which yields thick yogurt. Good luck!

  • Reply Stacy February 23, 2016 at 11:46 am

    How funny that you posted this today – I just shared a post on my blog about the zero waste life, partly inspired by your posts and also by Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home. Was fascinated to see your progress! It’s really inspiring me to make the effort here in Portland.

  • Reply Julianne February 23, 2016 at 11:47 am

    Hi! I loved your book and your blog inspires me! I enjoy making bread for my family and have had good results with the no knead method. Can you please share your bread recipe?

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 23, 2016 at 11:49 am

      James is the bread maker in our house! He makes the Tartine sourdough recipe. It’s a little complex, but so tasty!

      • Reply Emily March 14, 2016 at 9:10 am

        Ha, my husband is the bread maker, too! He’s adapted the Tartine recipe slightly, basically used that for learning more about how bread baking works, and then made it a little more friendly for baking with work outside the home (instant yeast in addition to sourdough, one-day process instead of multiple days). I very occasionally do the baking – it’s always fun and flour gets everywhere!
        One thing that we’ve done to help with baking costs is buy a giant bag of flour from the bagel bakers nearby – 50 lbs in a food safe bucket is a lot cheaper than individual 5 pound bags, though the bucket does take up some space!

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 23, 2016 at 11:49 am

      James is the bread maker. He makes the Tartine sourdough recipe. It’s a little complex, but so tasty!

    • Reply Sam February 23, 2016 at 1:43 pm

      The Tartine bread book is the most inspiring cookbook I’ve ever read – it’s so lovely. That said I confess I found it than a little complex. I’m an advanced level cook and couldn’t handle the workload with an out of the house full-time+ job. I did it for 4 months and it didn’t really get any easier over time. I’d love a bread making guest post 🙂 I’m especially curious how you handle it in a small kitchen – part of the challenge for me was that I hated scraping flour off various surfaces in my kitchen….

      • Reply Erin Boyle February 23, 2016 at 1:59 pm

        Ha, maybe one day! I admit that part of the reason I haven’t done one is that the process is loooong. I won’t say that flour doesn’t get everywhere when James bakes bread or that it’s always convenient, but it is always yummy!

        • Reply Sam February 23, 2016 at 10:42 pm

          That makes sense – the recipe does take up half the cookbook! It is SO yummy and I keep hoping there’s a learning curve I missed. Maybe the learning curve is that my husband should do it for me 🙂

  • Reply Sarah February 23, 2016 at 11:51 am

    We adopted the charcoal stick for water filtration and we love it! We also got an old-fashioned sponge mop, and started buying our tea and grains from the bulk bin at the local natural foods grocery. All the changes actually feel so much easier than our previous solutions! Thank you for the inspiration both in this series and your book.

  • Reply Diana February 23, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    I’ve been aiming for zero waste ever since I read the book “Zero Waste Home” a few years ago – an inspiring book, by the way! Finding places that will accommodate customers bringing their own containers is key, but the search can definitely be a bit uncomfortable. In case anyone is in the Boston area: when I lived in Cambridge, MA I found out that the Shaw’s in Porter Square (and all of the Whole Foods in the area) carried local milk in glass bottles from western Mass. I also found that the employees at the Whole Foods weren’t willing to explicitly tell me that bringing my own bag for bulk goods was OK or not OK (maybe fearing legal repercussions?), but when I showed up at the register with them they wouldn’t bat an eye. I now live in Ann Arbor, MI, and a store right downtown called By The Pound carries pretty much any dried good (and some non-dried goods, like molasses and olive oil) you might want and actively encourages you to bring in your own containers and mark them with their tare weight. It’s awesome and crazy cheap. I think there might be different food safety state laws at play here – in Michigan bulk is everywhere and lots of people bring their own containers, but in Massachusetts I always felt like I was breaking some rules, even though no one ever told me that I was.

  • Reply Lauren February 23, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    I love this post! So inspiring. We’ve been making small changes this year that I’m very excited about. Fabric napkins instead of paper towels/napkins, reusable bags at every store , I’ve slowly purchased glass jars for bulk items that we stock as well as spices. I’ve been making my own almond milk and nut butters in my food processor which is so perfect! I save money, reduce packaging waste, it tastes better, and it’s healthier (no processing)! I will definitely have to make yogurt my next venture. I’ve also been making my own deodorant that is very similar to Schmidt’s and storing that in a reusable glass jar. Making progress slowly but surely!

  • Reply LITTERLESS February 23, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    Cheers to all you for all this progress – so great! Xoxo.

  • Reply Kim February 23, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    It’s fun (and also frustrating!) to find no packaging solutions. Glad you are looking at it as an adventure! There are a few things I have not been able to find no waste solutions for here in LA – liquid bulk, kombucha, kimchi, meat & fish, and take out. I know I can make my own kombucha and kimchi but I feel like anything fermented I would really mess up and make my whole family sick. Take out places just don’t let you bring your own containers around here! Thankfully, we have some really good, not too expensive, glass bottled milk options here. I get my bulk items from the only place that allows it in the area – Co-opportunity in Santa Monica. Whole Foods allows it but I’ve never met a Whole Foods employee that can figure out tare weight.

    If anyone else lives in LA and knows of any other bulk food options, especially liquid bulk, please please let me know!

    Erin – have you taken steps toward no-waste solutions in areas other than food [and your period 😉 ]?

  • Reply Jill Palumbo February 23, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    Thinking along these lines, what do all use for garbage collection? I used to use the paper bags from the grocer, but now that Sacramento has stopped giving free bags, I’m not sure what to use for daily garbage.

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 23, 2016 at 12:59 pm

      We use the small green composting bags sold at our grocery store.

    • Reply Kim February 23, 2016 at 1:04 pm

      Hi Jill, my family is thinking of moving to Sacramento. I know there is a co-op and a lot of farmers markets there but what is the bulk situation like? How are recycling services? I’m actually heading up there on Wednesday to check out the city while my husband does another round of interviews. Excited to take a look!

      • Reply Jill Palumbo February 23, 2016 at 2:42 pm

        I haven’t visited a lot of the farmer’s markets, I tend to stick to a little vegie stand by my house. I live by myself so I don’t do a lot of bulk. My grocery sells some bulk items and use the plastic bags for them. I haven’t tried to use my own containers. Recycling is hit and miss depending on where in Sacramento you live. Good luck on your search! Our weather is gorgeous right now!

        • Reply LITTERLESS February 24, 2016 at 12:17 pm

          Hi, friends! There are some great bulk stores in and near Sacramento that let you bring your own bags. If you’re curious, listed em here:

          • Kim February 24, 2016 at 12:28 pm

            Thank you! So glad to see the Sacramento Co-op has liquid bulk. It is ridiculous that this is impossible to find in LA, especially considering all of the sustainability talk people espouse. Co-opportunity in SM isn’t a big store and they don’t have a lot of room for it, which I can understand, but I’ve also gotten the reaction from someone there of “uhhh, can you imagine the mess?” Huh?

        • Reply Kim February 29, 2016 at 1:45 pm

          Just wanted to come back post-Sacramento trip to say I was so amazed by the Co-op. So many great bulk options and the place is huge. AND they are moving to a bigger location. I really can’t understand why they don’t have the equivalent in LA. I even found a great place in Oak Park that will refill a kombucha bottle, plus the Old Soul coffee shop does a discount program if you reuse a jar and they take $2 off the price! We are still deciding where to move but I am seriously excited about the possibilities in Sac.

  • Reply Aja Lake February 23, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    Hey, Erin! Which size bento bag do you like for bread?

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 23, 2016 at 12:58 pm

      I got the medium! (Hasn’t arrived yet, but I’m hoping it will work out! Will let you know!)

  • Reply Yael @ Nosherium February 23, 2016 at 1:07 pm

    Hi Erin!

    I have a blog post about my homemade yogurt-making technique. There are lots of tips and tricks, one of the best ones being the use of a water-tight cooler as the incubator. I’ve been making my own yogurt for a while and I love everything about it!

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 23, 2016 at 1:28 pm

      Thank you!

  • Reply Natalie February 23, 2016 at 1:12 pm

    Hi! I know your daughter is young still, but I’m wondering your thoughts (or anyone else’s!) on less waste when doing art projects with kids. Between the glu sticks and the plastic markers and the endless paper being used, it doesn’t feel very good for the planet.

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 23, 2016 at 1:28 pm

      I think going a little old-school helps a bit: colored pencils and crayons instead of markers. Glue in bottles instead of sticks. Recycled paper whenever possible! Little by little!

      • Reply Lissa February 24, 2016 at 11:46 am

        You gals are too young to remember school paste made with flour and water 🙂 I never understood the kids that would eat it.

        • Reply Erin Boyle February 24, 2016 at 11:55 am

          Right! Wheat paste! Love it!

    • Reply Jenn February 23, 2016 at 1:56 pm

      Check for reuse stores- we have one here in Seattle called Recreative for art supplies. Great source for (cheap) eclectic art supplies that might otherwise be tossed. Everything from yarn and fabric to beads to fun paper and bits of tile and wood.

      • Reply Natalie February 23, 2016 at 4:05 pm

        Oh I live in Seattle too! That’s perfect!

      • Reply Lauren February 24, 2016 at 10:39 am

        Reuse art centers are great to keep in mind for donations, too! We don’t have kids, but have a center like this in our neighborhood, and I collect all sorts of bits and bobs that would be good for crafts – ribbon and wrapping paper from gifts, plastic caps from milk jugs, unneeded buttons and notions, wine corks, etc. and drop them off monthly. Our center has a wish list of items they most want – I highly recommend looking into this as part of a zero-waste journey!

        • Reply Erin Boyle February 24, 2016 at 10:40 am

          Thanks for the tip!

  • Reply Janet Z February 23, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    We’ve long since given up drinking milk, opting for healthier and more ecologically sound options like soy milk. Of course, my kids are much older (at 10 1/2 and 12 now!). None of us miss it. One waste problem solved!
    Now trying to tackle the proliferation of plastic containers that supermarket food comes in. Yes, we recycle religiously, but we’d like to avoid all of those little plastic caps and safety seals all together.

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 23, 2016 at 1:40 pm

      Ah, not sure I’ll give up dairy in this lifetime! (But I also feel like it’s a tough thing to claim that soy is drastically more environmentally friendly than dairy production. Complicated for sure.)

      • Reply Rebecca February 24, 2016 at 8:36 am

        Thank you! My husband is a dairy farmer (all of their milk goes into a co-op and mostly to Cabot cheese) and it always rubs me the wrong way when people make the blanket statement that non-dairy milk is drastically better for the environment. Complicated is right!

  • Reply Shelly HW February 23, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    If it makes you feel any better about the plastic milk jugs, there is a mild solution. I hate plastic, so we started finding a way to reuse that container. I cut the container in half and use the bottom to start my seeds and place the top over delicate plants, then throw it in the recycle bin. I have at least 10 ready-to-go-containers right now. It’s not the best solution, but being milk drinkers you either pay the high price, or just make a choice. I did buy the half gallon milks in the paper cartons for awhile and that wasn’t too bad of a blow to my no-plastic-mission, but it still was quite a blow to the wallet over time. If you find a better way for milk drinkers, please share.

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 23, 2016 at 2:08 pm

      Will do! For now I’m sticking with recycling the bottles! Interestingly, the article that I linked to above recommends plastic over the (plastic-coated) cardboard cartons!

      • Reply Shelly HW February 23, 2016 at 3:13 pm

        The paper cartons are coated with plastic too? *cringe*…….I will stick with the plastic ones completely then and just reuse them until a better option comes around. My heart sank when I read they are coated in plastic. I guess it really does come down to doing your homework on what’s a better option.

        • Reply Erin Boyle February 23, 2016 at 3:20 pm

          I know. SIGH.

        • Reply Annabelle February 23, 2016 at 3:47 pm

          Some cartons marked TetraPak are recyclable in certain places. Check with your collection agency!

  • Reply Chelsea February 23, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    This post also had me thinking of Barbara Kingsolver’s year on her farm eating only local in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I love that she makes her own yogurt AND CHEESE! She recommends Ricki Carroll’s approaches and I just bought my first batch of cheese and yogurt making kits. She makes mozzarella in less than an hour! Definitely worth checking out –

  • Reply first milk February 23, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    Second Wecks and White Mustache for yer yoghurt needs. Also, I do use a thermometer because I’ve had it not work a couple of times, but I know lots of folks eschew it. (Homemade yoghurt, you are my BEST FRIEND.)

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 23, 2016 at 3:20 pm

      White Mustache! Haven’t tried it! Started mine with a precious carton of Bellwether Sheep’s Milk yogurt! Hunting down White Mustache for next time! (Also used a thermometer. Tiny kitchen appliance guilt. If you have it, use it.)

  • Reply Risa February 23, 2016 at 3:22 pm

    Most natural food stores have a large bulk sections that include grains, spices, loose teas, etc. Though we don’t drink milk, our local natural foods co-op sells milk in glass bottles that have a deposit, so you return them to the store and they go back to the distributor. We are vegans and eat tons of tofu and tempeh, but have not been able to get these bulk anywhere–always feel so guilty about the plastic wrap it comes with. One of these days we will have to give it a go at making our own!

  • Reply Ellory February 23, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    Re paper clip alternative…. there are clipless paper fasteners (I just did a quick google search since I don’t remember where I got my small plastic device…. and there are models from 1914!!! Talk about Ultimate Recycilng). These devices punch a hole and then fold back the small piece (in the vein of a “hanging chad”). I didn’t know the idea dates back so far, though. What fun it would be to score a vintage device at an antiques fair.

    • Reply Emilie February 23, 2016 at 5:26 pm

      Thanks for the idea, Ellory, I’ll look into it! – Emilie

  • Reply Annabelle February 23, 2016 at 3:56 pm

    Erin, I was completely inspired by the post where you mentioned James taking the glass container for sushi. It gave me the courage to inquire in spots I hadn’t before if I could bring my own containers. Some great results and some less so, but still! Progress!

    For any readers with Earth Fare grocery market access, they are more than willing to tare – just take your jars to the service desk straight away and then head to bulk!

    If any readers have conventional items on their site…try Terracycle. (

  • Reply marire February 23, 2016 at 5:06 pm

    Milk is the only zero waste thing that just ‘happened’ to us: we’re lucky and can refill our own bottles just down the street. It’s great – we drink a lot of milk and the milk is good and fresh and costs just the same as the regular milk in a plastic/paper bottle. But where we live we have the higher price problem with almost everything else. And with rice, lentils and beans I find it especially strange and irritating. I simply can’t put these in the ‘expensive corner’ in my mind. Not yet. So we do buy a lot without packaging but we have our limits. We’re only shopping (mostly) plastic free for some months now (still facing new challenges/empty containers now and then) and I love reading your approach and ideas very much ! Making my own yoghurt is definitively on my wish list !

  • Reply KariM February 23, 2016 at 5:35 pm

    Wow. So much good information. I’ve really been enjoying this series. It’s frustrating, though, to be living in a town with so few options. And I have to drive all over town to take advantage of those few options, which seems to defeat the purpose (no viable public transit). And the cost of milk in bottles is way too high for our budget. Oh well. Baby steps. And I appreciate your candor in terms of what is and is not working for you.

  • Reply amanda February 23, 2016 at 5:41 pm

    This cashew yogurt is absolutely divine. I’ve only made it plain because I like to use it as sour cream, or to mix into other dishes that require dairy yogurt. It’s super easy as well. Another option in case you feel like experimenting!

    • Reply LITTERLESS February 24, 2016 at 12:14 pm

      Ohhhhh, I’m zero waste and vegan and was afraid the yogurt door was closed to me forever. Somehow I never thought about making my own! Can’t wait to try this!

  • Reply Coreen February 23, 2016 at 6:41 pm

    Love this! So glad to hear you’re making progress, it’s encouraging (as I’m still pretty far on the “needs improvement” side of things).

    As one New Yorker to another, if you’re unable to find certain spices/nuts/grains etc and are willing to travel to Manhattan for a few of those things, the 4th St. Food Coop (4th & Bowery) is tiny but super cute (and they usually have red pepper flakes). I get my granola, nuts & dried fruit from there. I also love that they have a “take one – leave one” shelf of recycled containers. There’s also Sullivan Tea & Spices on Bleeker & Sullivan which is really lovely, but I imagine you have no shortage of loose tea shops in Brooklyn. I also realize that inter-borough travel is A Big Thing even without a small human tagging along, so this suggestion may be a little unreasonable. Anyway. Keep on keepin’ on! 🙂

  • Reply K February 23, 2016 at 7:20 pm

    Yogurt making is really easy! I used to blog regularly (sigh – now, not so much) and have a how to post – only difference is I moved on from using a paper towel for straining to a cloth napkin:

  • Reply Theresa February 23, 2016 at 9:26 pm

    Just sewed up 20 reusable “paper” towels today! I’ve been using cloth napkins for a while, but needed something less precious and more plentiful, hence today’s project. (Admittedly, I do have a roll of paper napkins stowed away to deal with the occasional rogue cat turd, but those will last a long time;)

  • Reply Stacie February 23, 2016 at 11:02 pm

    I would like to tell you how much I enjoy your sight. I have been making my own yogurt for over a year now with great success. I am a knitter and found this pattern with a yogurt recipe My starter yogurt came from a local yogurt maker and with very little care it is still going strong. I do keep 4 Tbls stored in the freezer in case of an emergency. I make a 1/2 gallon at a time which has never gone bad, even though I am the only yogurt lover in the family. Since storage is not a problem for me I did eventually buy a yogurt maker as it produces such a consistent flavor and thickness. So now my jar covers are for fun. I have found raw milk only in plastic near my home which is frustrating. I can get organic milk in glass that is returnable, but it is not raw. I look forward to spring and the return of farmers markets. Thank you for sharing your life that is so different from mine as a grandma of 7 and 2/3 grandchildren living in a house with a yard in a housing development. I so enjoy hearing other’s stories.

  • Reply abby February 23, 2016 at 11:46 pm

    A worthy goose chase, I think! Once you discover all the best places for your needs it will be easier. Gosh I imagine you have some pretty great natural foods stores there. My favorite are the mom and pop shops, with the creaky old floors and the permeating smell of herbs. I try to support these older, more grass roots natural foods stores when ever I can, as they seem like a dying era.

    I have just been importing my old blog to my new site, and one of the posts I came across today was one I wrote on my yogurt making method. In case you’re interested –
    Recently I’ve started making my own greek yogurt. It means I make yogurt about twice as often (will be curious if you find a solution to the milk jugs..) but wow, it is so thick and creamy.

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 24, 2016 at 8:10 am

      Those are my favorites, too! There’s a really excellent co-op a few neighborhoods away, but it’s member-only and it feels like a pretty far schlep while also balancing a little kiddo! In other news: so glad for your yogurt post! Thank you!

  • Reply emma February 24, 2016 at 2:05 am

    We just got our first non-packaging-supermarket in our not that big (half a million) city (in Germany) it makes everything a lot easier….I’m surprised it’s not a thing in nyc yet…

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 24, 2016 at 8:02 am

      So great! Would be so thrilled to see that in New York!

  • Reply T February 24, 2016 at 5:19 am

    what do you find works best for labeling jars? is that washi tape above?

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 24, 2016 at 8:01 am

      i only really label spices that can be tricky to tell apart from each other, but yes! i’ve used washi here!

  • Reply Erin February 24, 2016 at 1:06 pm

    A note on the milk jars – we had the same issue for a long time but found that our local co-op (and a few of the chain grocery stores) will switch out the bottles for you. Our first glass bottled milk from very local Jersey cows cost $5 or $6 but the bottle itself was $2.50. Since then, we just bring back the cleaned, used bottle and pay $2.50 for a new bottle. The milk is way tastier, there’s that delicious layer of cream on the top!

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 24, 2016 at 1:08 pm

      Yes: totally. We did that at our old co-op, too. The problem with our local grocery is ~$7/half gallon plus the bottle deposit.

  • Reply Katurah February 24, 2016 at 1:09 pm

    I’ve our yogurt for many years, and one thing that made a huge difference in the process for mw was using our small camping cooler to incubate the yogurt. I placed the jars of yogurt inside, filled the cooler with warm water to reach 2/3 of the way up the jars. and put the lid on. Six hours later, I’d open the cooler to find perfectly set yogurt every single time.

  • Reply Eilis February 24, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    This company delivers milk in glass bottles, then picks them up when you are finished for reuse.
    Might be something to look into.

  • Reply Melissa February 24, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    So jealous of your tofu! That’s one of my biggest “can’t-give-up” plastic sources. We have local tofu here in Colorado, but unfortunately it still comes in plastic. I also can’t seem to quit berries in plastic clam shells. My kids love them and so do I. In the summer I hope to stock up on them at the farmers’ market. I know, I know, we shouldn’t be eating berries in February anyway. The other struggle for me is refusing plastic straws at restaurants. I just feel too annoying. I already have to refuse 2 kids’ cups for my little ones (which btw, they seem to offer kids until they’re 10, so lots of years to get used to that interaction!). But I have been amazed at how many places will fill a container for you if you just ask! Smaller shops often have a “hey, why not?” attitude and big chains like Whole Foods are all about it. And our local milk in a glass bottle at WF is cheaper than the ones in plastic! Score! (It’s bc the farm is still working to get their organic certification…so the milk is organic but they can’t label it as such yet, and therefore they can’t charge as much.) Good work all – let’s keep inspiring each other!

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 24, 2016 at 4:22 pm

      Oh man, the plastic cups at restaurants! I’m finally realizing that I have to preempt them as soon as I sit down. (So awkward, but otherwise a plastic cup, lid, and straw appear from the ether immediately!)

  • Reply Claire February 24, 2016 at 4:34 pm

    You may already be doing this but I recently got “un-paper towels” on Etsy (from this shop – and I am loving them. We rarely have a need for the disposable sort any more! Really enjoying this series – it has inspired me to keep plugging away and minimizing our waste.

  • Reply Courtney February 24, 2016 at 5:32 pm

    Erin, I’ve been making yogurt for years and have used many different methods…from a thermos in a towel in grad school to pots on the stove and radiator, to the crock pot method I use now with my current time and energy constraints. I’ve never used a thermometer, by the way, preferring the “can you stick you finger in for 3 seconds only? it’s scalded” and “can you keep your finger in for 10 seconds? it’s ready for bacteria” method. The crock pot method is unbelievably simple, and I learned it from my local co-op: 8 cups of milk on low for 2.5 hours. unplug and let sit covered for 3 hours. take 2 cups out, add 1/2 cup starter, whisk, add back in, stir. put in warm spot until you’re ready, then into the fridge. my warm spot is my oven with the light on. I always leave to ferment for at least 24 hours because that processes out nearly all the lactose. another tip: buy a good, heirloom strain. cultures for health has a bulgarian strain which makes the most wonderful, thick, sweet yogurt, and you don’t have to replenish–in fact, it gets better with time. I got it from a friend who had been working with it for over a year and my toddler is so obsessed his first word of the day sometimes is yogurt. this friend also says it will keep for a good month in the fridge. good luck, and keep up the good work!

  • Reply Monika J February 26, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    I moved to Canada a few years back and milk comes in bags here. And they sell little jugs you put the bag into and then you just cut a corner. Feels a ton less wasteful. Though not zero waste of course. We have a 19 month milk guzzler here too. 🙂

  • Reply Kristyn Helm March 1, 2016 at 10:33 pm

    Make your own milk! I’d really recommend staying away from animal milk in general, anyway (the genetic makeup of animal milk is detrimental to our health; have you watched Forks Over Knives? Great documentary and entry into the plant-based lifestyle!)

    Nut milks are super easy to make 🙂 I have a homemade coconut milk recipe on my blog:

    • Reply Erin Boyle March 2, 2016 at 7:09 am

      Ha! Nut milks already in full rotation! (See today’s post!)

  • Reply anna b August 24, 2016 at 9:25 pm

    I live in a country where regular milk is hard to come by- powdered milk is the staple here. I have absolutely no problems using it to make yogurt with. Just mix the milk and water before you start heating and then follow your regular yogurt process. I’m guessing you can find a local shop that will sell you powdered milk in bulk for your yogurt needs?

  • Reply Juliana Taylor March 15, 2017 at 8:02 pm

    There is an amazing product called Bee’s Wrap, a sustainable form of food storage.
    Check it out! I think you would like it.
    I’m really enjoying reading…all…of your posts.
    Thank you!

    • Reply Juliana Taylor March 15, 2017 at 8:09 pm

      Oh, and one more!
      Metal straws! Plastic straws and bottle caps are a HUGE ocean pollutant.

  • Reply Kate June 12, 2017 at 9:13 pm

    i love all of this. I try to live a low waste life, but i’ve been struggling to balance a myriad of concerns: plastic waste (bad, but cheap!) too much meat (hard on the environment, but easy low carb meals!) organic vs regular (expensive vs cheap!) and pre-washed/made food (SO convenient, but usually bad for the earth/your body). It’s a hard line to walk, and the guilt is REAL for me. How do you combat that? This week, I couldn’t make it to Whole Foods (the only place near me I can get things in bulk) and ended up with a bunch of plastic in my fridge from Trader Joes. I feel good about the organic food I’m putting in my body, but jeez louise they package the hell out of everything! Thanks for the graciousness of your space. I have to remind myself the little things matter.

  • Reply Sarah December 8, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    I’d love to hear some ways you use tofu, since you mention using it a lot. I’m trying to hard to like it! We never had it growing up, but I need some more diverse protein options (vegan here 🙂 for our family. Maybe you have some recipes or a favorite way to prepare it?

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