Zero Waste Wedding

By Nina Bhattacharyya

Nina Bhattacharyya and Bryan Eastman  Photo Credit: Tyler Jones

Nina Bhattacharyya and Bryan Eastman

Photo Credit: Tyler Jones

Gainesville is an ideal place to plan a zero waste wedding. Our town is surrounded by natural beauty, we have thrift stores galore, and business owners are open and willing to work with customers that are looking for the sustainable option. I will be going over our experience planning a zero waste wedding and provide tips that are not only applicable to weddings, but events in general (because wedding planning is event planning!). We kept in mind the elements of zero waste: refuse, reuse, re-purpose, recycle and rot when we were planning the details. Many items used for the ceremony and reception were from our house, some borrowed from friends, and we scoured thrift stores and consignment stores for the remaining decorations. When we purchased things, we did so knowing that they would find a special place in our home.

I will start off by saying that there were two unexpected outcomes of a zero waste wedding - it cost far less than the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. and it was a very personal affair for our families. We have memories that go far beyond the big day; I will always remember sewing tablecloths with my mom, potting plants with a friend, and painting yard signs with my husband. For that alone, I encourage people to think outside the box when planning a party, business event, or wedding and find creative ways to reduce waste.

Location

Paynes Prairie Amphitheater.

Paynes Prairie Amphitheater.

My husband and I have always loved Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. We spent one of our first dates hiking Bolen Bluff trail and when we learned they had an amphitheater looking over Lake Wauburg, we knew that was where we wanted the ceremony to be located. The area is naturally beautiful and as a result it meant that our decorations could be very simple. There are a lot of great spaces in our city so consider planning your next event in a location that highlights the natural environment or historic character of our area. In addition to Paynes Prairie, there are many state parks with spaces you can rent for events, like O’Leno State Park or Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park. The city of Gainesville also has facilities and spaces both indoor and outdoor that work well for gatherings.

Invitations and RSVPs

Invitations and RSVPs make up a lot of waste for weddings and events, not only when it comes to the paper but also the carbon emissions used to mail them to guests. We used Mailchimp to email invites to our guests. This is a free service for up to 2,000 recipients. They have great templates available for use or you can also design your own. My husband designs websites and we used Wordpress for our wedding website. There are simpler templates available like Squarespace (used for zerowastegainesville.com!) or Wix. By setting up a website, we could ask guests to RSVP directly on our site and we received an email notification.

Ceremony

The ceremony area consisted of a console table from our dining room, and a runner and candlesticks borrowed from friends. It was important to me to incorporate a special tradition from India and we decided to use my family’s Pancha Pradeep which is used in times of celebration in India, including weddings and Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.

Photo Credit: Tyler Jones

Photo Credit: Tyler Jones

We opted to forego the traditional flower arrangements and contacted Mariana Riehm at Ladybug Blooms to see what options were available. I let her know we didn’t want the traditional cut flowers, but rather something natural with local grasses, evergreens and herbs. She created a truly beautiful bouquet and boutonniere which also had the added bonus of smelling amazing!! She foraged for plants, choosing native plants commonly found in the area, and also (importantly) worked with us within our budget. We wanted greenery for the back drop to the ceremony, and she suggested a DIY greenery bucket which was the perfect addition. Ladybug Blooms will also compost any leftover flower or greenery arrangements!

Pine Cone Bouquet

Pine Cone Bouquet

Table Decorations and Linens

We knew early on that we wanted to make our own table decorations. Weddings typically have a color scheme, and we opted to let availability of material dictate our decorations and colors. We found beautiful fabric from the Repurpose Project that we sewed into tablecloths (and plan to make into reusable bags). The rest of the decorations consisted of doilies borrowed from friends and found in consignment shops in High Springs and pine cone flower bouquets made by my mom (with pine cones gathered by friends and family). We purchased fresh herbs from Garden Gate Nursery to intersperse with the pine cone bouquets, and brought back the plant containers to the nursery to be reused again. We decided not to have wedding favors and instead guests took herbs and pine cone flower bouquets home with them. There are a lot of great ideas for DIY table decorations and many of the items needed may be around your house or outside (just google pine cone decorations for a bunch of ideas - some easy, some more involved). In terms of linens for an event, there is always the option of renting through a local company or asking the caterer to provide them. For smaller functions, there may be people attending who can bring tablecloths and napkins.

Food

There can be a lot of waste associated with food at an event, whether it be leftover scraps or the disposable plates and utensils often used for serving. We considered a few things when choosing a caterer. In addition to having delicious food, a priority for us was to find a caterer who would be able to supply reusable dishes, servingware, and utensils. We had attended events catered by Elegant Events Catering and got in touch with Sandra Carlisi, the owner. Sandra was great to work with - she understood what we were looking for, worked with us to build the menu to fit our needs, and once we finalized details we did not have to worry about the food portion of the event. There are a lot of great restaurants and caterers in the area, and it’s important to start the conversation early about reducing waste so that you can work out the details.

Photo Credit: Tyler Jones

Photo Credit: Tyler Jones

For our wedding cake, my husband and I have always loved the tres leches at Emiliano’s Cafe. They sell it in sheet cakes, and we contacted Wanda DePaz to see if it would be possible for them to bake the cakes in reusable metal cake pans. Wanda was great communicating about cake pan sizes and logistics. We delivered the metal pans to the restaurant before the event and the cakes turned out wonderfully.

Finally, we made sure to provide recycling and compost containers to the caterer to gather any food scraps and recyclables during the reception. We also brought containers to store the leftovers and re-served them at brunch the next day.

There are other options available for events to reduce the amount of waste associated with food. Consider having guests bring their own plates and silverware for smaller functions, or find an event space that supplies dishes and has a dishwasher. If you do not have an active compost, Beaten Path Compost will take your food scraps. Their drop off locations are the Union Street Farmers Market or their garden at the corner of SW 4th Ave. and SW 3rd St., next to Humble Wood Fire and Opus Coffee.

Other Touches

Photo Credit: Tyler Jones

Photo Credit: Tyler Jones

One of our favorite hobbies is to go birding, and we decided to incorporate our love for birds in the reception. We printed Audubon’s high resolution Birds of America prints for our table assignments, which were displayed on a cork board we had on hand. The cards were set in plants on each table using a wooden stick. The paper was recycled after the event and the sticks were composted. We placed our bird ID books and binoculars in locations for people to make use of during the reception.

We also displayed pictures of my husband and I through the years - with friends and family, and then photos of us from the start of our relationship. We now have those photos in an album to always reflect on, and it added a personal touch that guests really enjoyed.

Whether it be a birthday party, work function, or community event, think about ways to incorporate something personal. There may be a creative way to highlight an organization mission, work product, or individual that reuses or re-purposes material around you.

Honeymoon Registry and Carbon Offsets

The last items I wanted to touch on are the wedding registry and carbon offsets. A big part of zero waste is refusing what you don’t need - we took that to heart in planning our wedding and decided to forego the traditional registry for a honeymoon registry. We went through Traveler’s Joy and guests gifted us special experiences for our journey. We also decided to purchase carbon offsets for the wedding and honeymoon through We Are Neutral. The organization’s carbon offsets currently support native tree plantings on conservation lands, energy-efficient upgrades for low-income residents, and methane capture at our local landfill. As you are budgeting for an event or trip, consider including an amount to reduce your carbon footprint.

I hope sharing our story gave you some new ideas for planning your wedding or next event. We would love to hear from you! Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.

Photo Credit: Tyler Jones

Photo Credit: Tyler Jones

Smog of the Sea

By Amanda Waddle

Zero Waste Gainesville (ZWG) and UF/IFAS Extension - Florida Sea Grant/Nature Coast Biological Station hosted a screening of The Smog of the Sea followed by a panel discussion at First Magnitude Brewing Company in Gainesville, FL. The goal of this film screening and panel discussion was to bring awareness of the problem of plastic pollution in oceans for World Oceans Day which is June 8th. The Repurpose Project and Sea Turtle Conservancy, both nonprofits in Gainesville, shared their knowledge on waste reduction and paper straws at this event.

The Smog of the Sea is a 30 minute documentary produced by musician Jack Johnson about a 5 Gyres ocean expedition on Mystic. A group of scientists, activists, surfers and artists traveled from the Bahamas to Bermuda along the North Atlantic ocean gyre to raise awareness that there is no floating land mass of trash on our oceans, but instead it’s a smog of small plastic pieces intertwined with plant material like sargassum that floats on the surface. The group examined samples collected in trawls they deployed. They divided the plastic pieces they found into greater than 5mm and 5mm or less in size. Plastic 5 millimeter or less in size are considered microplastics.

The beauty of the ocean from the boat and from under water is captured magnificently in this documentary and at first glance there is no evidence that plastic is in our oceans. A closer look shows a great amount of small pieces of plastic swirling and churning in our oceans along with the plants and animals.

Scientists estimate that 80% of plastic in the oceans is from land based sources (see "Plastics in the Marine Environment" and "Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean"). Plastic in our oceans come from everyday items such as bottles, straws, bags and containers (often referred to as single-use items) along with derelict or discarded fishing gear. Many of these items sink to the seafloor and remain intact due to the cold temperature and lack of sunlight. The plastic that remains at the top or close to the top of the ocean will break down into smaller pieces (photodegrade) due to salt water movement and sunlight.

Smog of the Sea attendees signed the pledge to live plastic-free.  TAKE THE PLEDGE TODAY  and learn more about the important work of the  Florida Microplastic Awareness Project .

Smog of the Sea attendees signed the pledge to live plastic-free. TAKE THE PLEDGE TODAY and learn more about the important work of the Florida Microplastic Awareness Project.

We all have the power to help the oceans. A combined approach of picking up litter while you are at the beach or shoreline coupled with avoiding single-use plastic items such as straws, bags, clamshell containers, cups, utensils, and bottles is the best action to take. A step further would be to share this message of avoiding single-use plastics with friends, family, city/county/state officials and even the manufacturers of these items.

Great panel discussion featuring Rob Greenfield, Christine Denny, Matt Williams, and Joy Hughes (left to right). Moderated by Savanna Barry.

Great panel discussion featuring Rob Greenfield, Christine Denny, Matt Williams, and Joy Hughes (left to right). Moderated by Savanna Barry.

Our event to raise awareness of the millions of microplastics floating in our oceans was replicated in 8 other locations throughout Florida in honor of World Oceans Day. The panelists in Gainesville discussed global plastic pollution issues along with local issues such as how local restaurants are affected by the movement to avoid expanded polystyrene (plastic #6) and straws, which are either made of polypropylene (#5) or polyethylene (#2) . Local business owners, Joy Hughes (Loosey’s) and Christine Denny (First Magnitude Brewing Company) talked about the challenges of  avoiding single-use plastics. They were joined by the University of Florida’s Director of the Office of Sustainability, Matt Williams and Rob Greenfield who talked about the challenges of educating the public on plastic pollution and the challenges of recycling plastics. Recycling plastic is very difficult because much of the plastic in use isn’t recyclable such as clamshells that are often used for to-go food and as containers for various berries in grocery stores. America’s plastic recycling used to be shipped to China but now China isn’t buying our plastic adding to the complexity of plastic recycling.

Amanda Waddle and Nina Bhattacharyya of Zero Waste Gainesville

Amanda Waddle and Nina Bhattacharyya of Zero Waste Gainesville

The takeaway of this event is that there is no “away.” Our trash has to go somewhere and often that somewhere is in our environment including our oceans. The best way to deal with this is to avoid single-use plastics and advocate for a zero waste lifestyle and for your city to work towards zero waste. A zero waste lifestyle is incompatible with single-use plastics and giving up single-use items for reusable/durable/washable items is the first and easiest thing you can do. The only peer reviewed definition of zero waste is here and a past blog on zero waste is here.

If you would like to view The Smog of the Sea click here, then click on screening kit. You will see a link and password to download the film to watch on your computer or share during an event.   

Reducing Waste in the Laundry Room

Working toward a zero waste lifestyle doesn’t happen suddenly. One way to make consistent progress towards zero waste is to go room by room. In this blog, we’ll try to zero waste the laundry room or area. In the process, you’ll also eliminate chemicals and synthetic fragrances.

There are three areas to limit plastic and waste: washing products, drying products, and the process of drying clothes.

A great way to limit laundry waste is to buy detergent in bulk using your own container. We have a local store in Gainesville called Life Unplastic that sells ingredients to make your own laundry detergent and also pre-made detergent for those who do not want to make their own. Below are a couple photos from the shop of items available.

Concentrated Citrus Laundry Powder

Concentrated Citrus Laundry Powder

Ingredients and Recipe for Laundry Detergent

Ingredients and Recipe for Laundry Detergent

I haven’t found a solid fabric softener available without plastic (have you? Let me know!) however, having moved from Michigan to Florida, I rarely use liquid fabric softener here. When I do use it, I use a fraction of what is recommended. With humidity levels in this part of the country so much higher than elsewhere, static and static cling have never been much of a problem. White vinegar can also be used to soften fabrics, and you can find that in a glass bottle. If you are accustomed to using lots of fabric softener, start to cut down on the amount to see how little you can use. I bet in the rainy season, you’ll need very little or none.

To zero waste laundry drying, an easy swap is a set of dryer balls. They come in plastic or wool, and I chose wool. Instead of fabric softener sheets, you keep these in your dryer. Instead of a product to make your laundry softer, the wool balls bounce around with your laundry, softening the fabric and cuts drying time by creating space and moving the fabrics around.  

In making the change to dryer balls and cutting out name-brand fabric softeners, you are reducing your chemical exposure. Fragrance sensitivities are becoming more common, and fabric softeners can be a major trigger. When I walk my dog in the evening, I can smell the houses with laundry drying--that’s a lot of fragrance in those dryer sheets, making it all the way to the streets.

And this brings us to the topic that makes me pile up those laundry soap boxes before I recycle them, stand on them and say: My fellow Americans--why are we ashamed of our laundry??

Air-drying laundry between Lisbon and Sintra, Portugal.

Air-drying laundry between Lisbon and Sintra, Portugal.

If you’ve traveled, well, anywhere outside the US, you know that nowhere else are tumble dryers a given and a necessity. Houses and apartments all over the world will have a washer and no dryer. Less than 5% of Italian households own a dryer. Catch any episode of House Hunters International, and you’ll see Americans wandering in confusion, looking for a dryer as a patient real estate agents explains that people use laundry lines or drying racks. My sister-in-law visiting from Australia wasn’t sure why we had two washing machines in our laundry room until we explained it. The picture here is from my trip last month to Portugal, seeing people in apartment buildings hanging laundry out windows. Compare that to the US, where apartment buildings and HOAs ban line-drying clothes. Why would you do that?  Technically, our right to solar energy, which includes air-drying laundry, is protected by Florida statute.

Here’s how to take back the power of the air to dry laundry for free. And I hear the objections--but, I have allergies!  But, if I work, how do I dry my laundry? I can’t leave it outside all day. Just give it a try, for six weeks, and see how it goes.

Why would I want to do this?

Outdoor umbrella dryer

Outdoor umbrella dryer

  1. It’s cheaper--Your dryer uses 3 times the energy your washing machine does. An estimate of how much you’ll save is individual, depending on whether your dryer is gas or electric, how many loads you do, how efficient your dryer is, etc. Some say that you can save about $25 a month on your electric bill. Americans are 5% of the world population but use 24% of the world’s energy.  

  2. Running a dryer is adding heat that your air conditioning then has to cool. So in addition to that extra energy expense, now your AC is running more to counter that heat.  For example, when I lived in Michigan I capped the end of the dryer vent with a filter and let the warm, humid dryer air empty into the house, to help heat it. But most of the year in Florida we DON’T need more moisture or heat in the air.

  3. It’s better for your clothes.They will shrink less and line drying is much gentler, especially for sweaters and delicates.

  4. I don’t have scientific proof, but so many people swear that the sun brightens whites.

Here are some tips on how to line dry your clothes. There are lots of options out there! The price ranges from dollar store laundry line and clothespins to an umbrella clothesline or retractable multi-line indoor drying line.  So what are the options?

  1. Permanent laundry line outside, either parallel lines or an umbrella style that collapses down. Check HOA covenants before putting in the work.

  2. Drying racks you put up as needed, but fold flat and are portable. These bypass HOA covenants (not permanent!). The wooden ones sold to college students are notoriously short-lived. I have all metal ones from Ikea, one of which is over 7 years old and still going strong. They fold out for lots of space and two levels of drying space, and fold flat so you can stand them on a porch or by the washing machine.

  3. Retractable lines inside or out that give temporary drying space. I’ve used these on porches, decks and laundry rooms.

  4. Indoor lines that go over the shower/in the bathroom or laundry room. You can get anywhere from a single line, the open-out circular kind with built-in clothespins (great for delicates) to a four-line retractable option.

  5. Over-the-door options for college students or those in smaller spaces.

A few weeks ago a friend and I were commiserating about how easy it is to have musty, stinky clothes if you line dry here in the swamp. I also know that, like many things our grandmothers did, many haven’t had first-hand experience air drying laundry. So, I thought I’d share some of my workarounds and tips to keep clothes fresh and fully dry here in the swamp.

  1. Put them directly in the sun. Many days we don’t have breezes or dry air, so the sun is drying the clothes with no air movement to help out. If you are putting them outside, opt for any sun you can find instead of shade if at all possible.

  2. Spread them out. I purchased two laundry drying racks so I could leave space for circulation.  

  3. Turn pockets out so they dry quicker, and for boys/men’s underwear, put the fronts up to the sun so the extra seams dry quicker. Hanging on a laundry line, I pin the bottom seam of a t-shirt to the line, but on a drying rack I put the sleeves on top to get the most surface area in the sun’s direct rays.

  4. During the rainy season, clothes will dry quicker over concrete or stone pavers than grass or plants. It is also worth it to make room for the drying rack or laundry line inside during the rainy season. I use the dining room or bedroom where there’s space that doesn’t see a lot of traffic.

  5. If you have outdoor allergies, then use one of the indoor options.

  6. Don’t leave them out overnight. Once you’ve lost the sunlight, bring them in so the dew can’t make them wet again.

  7. Often I can get my clothes about 90% dry, but pockets or waistbands are still damp. I put them in the dryer for a few minutes. Use the sensory setting on your dryer or limit it to five minutes, just to make sure clothes are 100% dry and don’t mold or get musty.  Clothes can feel different after being line-dried, so a few minutes in the dryer can help them feel the same.

  8. Turn dark colors inside out to prevent fading.  

  9. Business casual shirts with buttons and collars: I like to dry these on the hanger, inside out. Why inside out?  You don’t want bumps from the hanger drying into your shirt. I also like to iron while they are still damp, which finishes drying them and helps with wrinkles.

Links

Loving the Shampoo Bar

By Carrie Chauhan

*Updated to include local shops now carrying shampoo bars: Life Unplastic and Buffalo Girls Soaps

Today, I walked into my hair stylist’s for an appointment, filled with trepidation for what I had to explain to her.  

I no longer use bottle shampoo, and while I love that she washes my hair to start the appointment, she couldn’t this time! I had a bar sample in my purse for her to see (and use if she wanted), but I had ditched bottled shampoo. But, really, how much of some crazy hippie chick was she going to think I was? Luckily, my hair stylist is awesome, and was interested in hearing the story. I found a cool company called Chagrin Valley Soap Company, but I would imagine there are other great companies out there selling bar shampoo. (Do you love yours? Let me know in the comments!! )

So why bother giving up shampoo? Partly due to the harsh chemicals found in shampoo, and partly due to the fact that a bottle of shampoo is plastic and filled with a lot of water. That plastic bottle of water and chemicals I don’t really want on me every day takes a lot of energy to ship and transport all around the country, and then I’m left with plastic to recycle, and let’s face it--the world doesn’t need any more plastic. Last year NPR reported that China was no longer buying our plastic recycling, so...now what?  

A shampoo bar is concentrated, will be fully used and often comes only in paper packaging which can be recycled.

There are other benefits to go along with eliminating harsh chemicals and plastic bottles. My hair is softer now, despite not using conditioner. (Never, not once!) You don’t need it! If you aren’t using harsh chemicals to strip your hair of the good stuff, then you don’t need a bottle of conditioner to add good stuff back in. My hair also dries in a fraction of the time. Apparently things like wax are added into shampoos and conditioners to replace the natural oils that they strip off, and this makes your hair harder to get dry.

One new thing I’ve added is rinsing my hair, either with an apple cider vinegar rinse or an herbal rinse. I know of a growing group of people who don’t shampoo their hair--they only rinse with herbal rinses. I may try that in the future, but for now, living in a damp humid climate, I need the shampoo bar. This makes my hair shinier and gets any shampoo bar residue out naturally. It doesn’t take much apple cider vinegar, and I buy that in glass bottles. I’m weaning my hair off of this, I’ve gone from 2 tbsp per rinse to 1, and hopefully once my hair fully adjusts I won’t need it every day.

A side note, I also switched my son's shampoo, who has short hair. Shampoo bars are gentler than baby shampoo and without as much foam, I found less of a chance to get soap in the eyes. Switch your kids, too :) You’ll spare them chemicals AND give them healthy hair!

This is a big transition for a lot of us--our hair is something we invest time and money in.  Here are my thoughts for easing this transition.

  1. Know your hair type. Some will know this, but also get feedback from your hair stylist--dry, mixed, fine, coarse?  

  2. Read descriptions and reviews of various kinds of soaps and companies. I found not only the company’s descriptions, but the feedback in customer reviews, helpful in deciding.

  3. Read the ingredients of each bar--I found olive oil too heavy for my hair, but coconut oil was best. For my darker-haired family members I got a bar with henna added.  

  4. Most sources of bar shampoo advise rinsing with apple cider vinegar, at least at the beginning. I’ve ‘weaned’ my hair down to half the amount of vinegar. When I ran out of acv over the holidays, I also found that my hair liked regular vinegar better than apple cider vinegar. No way to explain this, perhaps because my hair isn’t dry and can be greasy (at least in Florida. When visiting Ireland, with lovely sea breezes and less of a swampy environment, I could easily go 2-3 days without washing my hair. In Florida, I have to wash daily, no matter if it’s bottle or bar shampoo.)

  5. Be patient and persistent.  

  6. Educate everyone in the house about which is the shampoo bar, and which is the soap. Seriously, they look similar, and it can be helpful to say “my shampoo bar is white, the soap is green.”

  7. While you’re at it, switch to all-natural soaps for the rest of your sudsing needs. Who needs liquid soap when you can get yummy smelling chamomile calendula bars? And the kiddos adjust--my son was iffy with liquid soap, and he loves washing his hands with bar soap.  He thinks it’s a game.

Your hair is going to freak out a little at first--you’ve totally changed the rules. You are going to have a few bad hair days. Start this on a vacation or over a weekend so you have time to experiment and get the hang of it. It will take a little more time at first, as you learn how to do it. Don’t get scared off by this--it’s your hair getting used to the absence of all those chemicals and detergents, and realizing this shampoo is a kinder, gentler world.

So if lessening the amount of plastic you use is a New Year’s Resolution, or if you’ve been worried (as I have) about reports that the US is losing the buyers for the plastic it recycles, give a bar of shampoo a chance.  

**update** I’m about two months in, and our family has used one full-size shampoo bar and is on to a second. (That’s about $9 for the two months.) I’ve seen my hair stylist a second time, and she again said my hair was so soft and smelled great. My hair was acting differently--it’s poofier-- so we altered my cut just a little. I also went on a weekend to Disney world and ended up using hotel shampoo. It. Was. Awful. I’ve tended to have heavy, thick hair that would get really flat, something that is less of a problem with bar shampoo. Two days of hotel shampoo and my hair was flat on my head again. I’m still using a tbsp or so of vinegar each day to rinse to keep it tangle free, but I’ve been able to skip a day here or there and it's been fine.

I’m loving the bar shampoo.

Local shops with shampoo bars:  Life Unplastic  (bars in picture) and  Buffalo Girls Soaps

Local shops with shampoo bars: Life Unplastic (bars in picture) and Buffalo Girls Soaps

Breaking Your Bag Habit

By Carrie Chauhan

Talking about a plastic bag ban can make many feel a little nervous or unsure, because plastic bags have been a part of the American shopping experience for decades. But our addiction to plastic bags weighs in to the tune of 12 million barrels of oil, and they are a major source of pollution: one EPA report said that only 8% of plastic bags are recycled. And this is just plastic shopping bags--these numbers aren’t accounting for any other plastic waste. The Zero Waste Gainesville team has come up with some suggestions and problem-solving for daily living without single-use plastic bags. And, stay tuned for Boomerang Bags! coming soon to Gainesville.

The first question I usually hear is “but what about my bathroom trash can? I use store bags to line the bin in the bathroom.” My first response is, do you HAVE to line that bin? Or can it be emptied into the kitchen trash can? I haven’t lined my bathroom bins in years. If they do get messy, it’s easy enough to wash them out. Currently, I use plastic trash bags in my kitchen. Our family of three uses one bag a week. When you are composting organic material and recycling everything that can be recycled, it’s much easier to have less trash. Right now, trash pick-up asks that everything be in a plastic trash bag when it’s at the curb, but a new year’s goal for me is to look into a kitchen trash bag that contains more recycled plastic.

If you need to line a trash can or bin, you can use paper to line the bin. I put any paper I’m going to compost as a liner for my compost holder, to take out to the compost bin easily and with less mess. This could work easily for a bathroom trash can as well. If you want to learn how, here’s an excellent tutorial from GreenBin Ottawa on how to fold a few sheets of newspaper into a bin liner:

Other questions I’ve gotten have been about cleaning up messes from babies or animals--in a word, poop. In the past, a lot of people have reused store bags as doggie poop bags, or used them to wrap up dirty disposable diapers. There are quite a few options out there for compostable, biodegradable vegetable-based poop bags. Another way to dispose of dog poop in an environmentally friendly way is to have an animal waste compost system. As with everything, you can buy a system to put in the ground, or Google and YouTube can show you dozens of ways to make your own.

Just because those doggie poop bags are marketed for dog waste specifically doesn’t mean they couldn’t be perfect for cat litter or disposable diapers. An option for diapers, both baby and adult, is a washable liner. I used BumGenius baby diapers with a reusable liner that held the dirty ones and could be washed and dried with the diapers, then put back to hold more diapers. While researching this blog, I found out that they now make reusable adult diapers, so the washable liner is great for that scenario as well.

Plastic produce bags are another area with some interesting solutions. I took the easy route and purchased a set of 6 cloth drawstring produce bags, made of a thin muslin/cotton material that doesn’t weigh enough to make a difference with weighed purchases. They are also useful for bulk items, as they are sturdier than plastic when holding a few pounds of beans or lentils. They can be easily washed. If you’re creative and can sew, I learned from the Boomerang Bags community that thin curtains (like a sheer or lace curtain) can be remade into these produce bags.  

A last thought is on how, when taking home leftovers from a restaurant, we are often given a styrofoam container AND a plastic bag to put it in. The plastic bag has some merit, because the food could potentially spill on the way home. My personal solution for this is a tiffin--a stainless steel food container that seals well and has a handle, eliminating the need for the styrofoam AND the plastic bag. It doesn’t weigh a lot, can go through the dishwasher, and has the added bonus of having multiple tiers to keep your take-out or leftovers from running together. Today, as my son and I headed out to lunch, I took a reusable cup with lid and straw for him, and the tiffin. He had some leftovers that I scooped into our tiffin--no styrofoam or plastic bag needed.  

We’re in good company, those of us post-breakup with the bag. Many countries have banned bags, including Belgium, Germany, Italy, Kenya, China, Taiwan, Japan, Botswana, Sweden, Bangladesh, Australia. In the US, California, Hawaii and many cities (Austin, Cambridge, Chicago) have all banned plastic bags. The LA Times recently wrote a piece on the ban in California, and how it was easier than many anticipated. Their finding?  “In the end, this momentous change was not a big deal.” (find it on our Facebook feed!)

There are lots of options out there to ease you through your break-up with the plastic bag. Change is always messy at first, but seeing it through is well worth the effort.

Skip the Packaging: Zero Waste Grocery Shopping

By Nina Bhattacharyya

A great place to start incorporating zero waste into your life is at the grocery store. Many of us realize the environmental benefit of bringing reusable bags to the store, but another aspect of shopping that is often overlooked is the amount of packaging and containers used for the items we purchase. All this packaging adds up. According to the EPA, containers and packaging make up over 23% of the waste in U.S. landfills (EPA 16); it is also the most common litter found along roads, in our springs and rivers, and at the beach. Beyond the environment, there is also an economic impact. For every $11 spent on food items, $1 goes to packaging (Humes 106). Think of how much money that amounts to over the course of the year! 

Honey at Lucky's

Honey at Lucky's

The good news is that with a little extra planning, you can shop at the grocery store package free. The first step is to remember your reusable bags! In addition to bringing grocery bags, take it one step further and bring along some extra cloth or mesh bags for produce. Think of all the plastic you can avoid when transporting fruit and veggies from the store to your home. 

Another essential part of zero waste shopping is to buy in bulk. We are fortunate in Gainesville to have a number of stores with a range of bulk food items. But before you start filling a container, you need to calculate the tare weight (this is a fancy way of saying the weight of the empty container). I found each store does it a little differently:

Lucky's instructions for bring your own container.

Lucky's instructions for bring your own container.

  • Lucky's has signs around the bulk items that tell you how to use your own container. To start, bring the container to the cashier and ask them to calculate the tare weight, then write it on the container (I used a permanent marker). Now you are ready to fill the container with the bulk item you wish to purchase. Once you checkout, the cashier will subtract the tare weight from the total weight of the item. The nice thing about this process is you only have to calculate the tare weight once and you are good to use that container for any product. I have used my own container for many items at Lucky's including honey, peanut butter, lentils, rice, flour, and so on. I have even used my own container for the salad and olive bar.

Bulk items at Ward's Supermarket.

Bulk items at Ward's Supermarket.

  • Ward's Supermarket is another option for bulk food shopping, however, they have a slightly different process. First, bring the empty container along with the PLU number to the cashier by the exit (this is the cashier located behind the counter and closest to the bulk items). They weigh it using the PLU number to calculate the ‘price’ of the empty container. The price is provided to you in a minus dollar figure format (e.g. -$5.00). I record the price in my phone to avoid using a label sticker. Once you checkout, they will subtract the container ‘price’ from the total price of the container with the goods you are purchasing.

While Earth Fare does have bulk items, I discovered not all employees are familiar with calculating the tare weight of the container or know how to charge for an item less the container. This may have been a one-time issue with a cashier, but I ended up leaving without the items I wished to purchase.

We would love to hear from you! What other ideas do you have for zero waste shopping in Gainesville? Email us at info@zerowastegainesville.com

Sources:

Humes, Edward. Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash. Avery, 2013.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. Reducing Wasted Food & Packaging: A Guide for Food Services and Restaurants. 2015,  https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-08/documents/reducing_wasted_food_pkg_tool.pdf

 

Straws of Steel

By Carrie Chauhan

208,000: the estimated number of plastic straws we use in Gainesville every day. That’s a lot of little plastic straws. In a year, that puts Gainesville at 75,920,000 straws, give or take. Almost 76 million! That only includes the city, not all of Alachua county, and it doesn’t take into account events like football games.

The good news is there are some pretty easy, inexpensive alternatives. This is still new to people, servers and waitstaff especially, and you’ll get some looks at times. Just consider yourself a trendsetter :).

Drink directly out of the cup. There are a lot of reasons you may not want to do this, but it’s an easy, zero cost solution. In sit-down restaurants, servers may give you straws as they take your drink order. Hand them back with a smile because if the paper wrapper gets wet or dirty, they’ll get thrown away.  

Bring your own straw. And you have choices:  paper, stainless steel, plastic or bendable silicone. My favorite is stainless steel.  

Stainless Steel Straws

With young kids, having a proper lid on a drink is the only sane way to dine. I purchased a four-pack of stainless steel straws on Amazon, two for home while 1-2 travel in my purse. I keep them in a small bag so they don’t get dirty. Almost all stainless steel straws are sold with a brush to clean them, and after that you can also put them in the dishwasher. Only once have I left a straw in a restaurant, and it was unusual enough that they held it for me and I came back for it. They are heavy and a different color than plastic straws, so it makes them a little harder to forget.

There are also silicone reusable straws, but I prefer the durability and cleanliness of the stainless steel. If you have a toddler who likes to chew on straws, silicone might be a good investment until they’re ready for stainless steel. Silicone are often a wider diameter and can work better for thick drinks like smoothies.

Silicone Straws

Paper straws are another option, and I do keep some at home for emergencies or parties. Most likely single use, they are often not recyclable in your orange bin. Look for brands that are compostable and biodegradable.  

Bring your own reusable cup with a straw. This is even better in places where you would get a plastic or styrofoam cup and plastic lid. At sit-down restaurants this is challenging, but for restaurants where you are getting your own drink anyway, keeping a cup or two in the car can help with not just straws, but single use cups and plastic lids. Some restaurants like Zoe’s will give a discounted drink price for bringing their cup.

And while these things are changes we have to work into our daily lives, it’s like taking reusable grocery bags to the store. I had trouble remembering at first, but now it’s a habit and I rarely forget them. Replacing plastic straws can be the same way.

Source for average rate of straw usage in the U.S.: NPS Commercial Services


Take Action

Now that you know your options, be part of the movement to reduce the use and waste of disposable plastic straws. Join the Be Straw Free campaign and take the pledge to go strawless!

 

Zero Waste 101

By Nina Bhattacharyya

Zero waste is getting a lot of traction these days. Cities across the world are committing to zero waste goals. Lifestyle blogs are popping up at such a rate we will never need another recipe for homemade toothpaste. The questions you may be asking yourself though are what does zero waste mean and why should we care?

What is Zero Waste?

Zero waste is a philosophy that promotes reuse, recycling, and protection of resources, but also, and more importantly, it emphasizes sustainability by considering the entire life-cycle of products, processes and systems. The main goal is not only to recycle more, but rather to reduce consumption and ensure that materials are made to be reused, repaired and re-imagined again and again.

Why go Zero Waste?

Zero waste provides multiple benefits to the community.

landfill

First, it benefits the environment by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, improving air and water quality, and protecting habitat and open space. By diverting waste from landfills, we reduce two of their main byproducts: landfill gas and leachate. Landfill gas is comprised mostly of carbon dioxide and methane, the latter being a potent GHG that results from the breakdown of organic waste (which includes food waste). According to the Alachua County Department of Solid Waste, 18% of the material we send to the landfill are organics. Leachate is produced when rainwater percolates through a landfill; when water comes in contact with waste, it is contaminated with pollutants (e.g. organic compounds, heavy metals, ammonium, bacteria, and so on). Modern landfills are much better at containing leachate than older ones, but even the best liners will deteriorate over time. It only takes a small amount of leachate to contaminate large volumes of groundwater. Finally, when one landfill reaches capacity, another one must be created or expanded. Adopting zero waste practices and goals prevents Florida’s habitat and open space from being lost to yet another disposal area for trash.

Second, zero waste benefits the health and well-being of community residents by reducing pollution and minimizing the use of toxic materials in the products we use. We all know that clean air and water are essential to a healthy population. By diverting waste from landfills, we reduce the amount of gas and leachate that can have a negative impact on public health.

Micro-Plastics in the Ocean

Micro-Plastics in the Ocean

One issue that has garnered a lot of attention is the amount of plastic waste in the ocean and its effect on marine life and humans. A recent study highlighted by the New York Times looks into the impacts caused by plastic material breaking down into tiny particles as they are exposed to saltwater, sun and surf. Those particles become coated with toxic substances, such as PCBs and other pollutants. The research suggests when fish eat those particles, they may reabsorb toxins. This can pose a health threat to the animals and humans that eat the contaminated fish. Many organizations are focusing their efforts on removing plastics from the ocean, but it comes with a price. The collection systems have to be fine enough to capture tiny pieces of plastic, but as a result they also capture a lot of marine life. That’s why it is critically important, especially in Florida, to improve waste management onshore by eliminating the use of plastic where we can and recycle the rest.

Plastic Bottle Bales

Plastic Bottle Bales

Third, zero waste benefits the economy by creating jobs. The EPA’s Recycling Economic Information Report quantifies the economic value of recycling and reuse. They found in 2007 that recycling and reuse activities produced 757,000 jobs and $36.6 billion in wages. This equates to 1.57 jobs for every 1,000 tons of materials recycled. The report cites jobs in the following areas: “(i) material collection; (ii) separation, cleaning and/or other processing (e.g. baling plastic bottles); (iii) transformation of recyclable materials into marketable products; (iv) distribution, storage and service delivery (e.g., distribution of food to and from food banks); and (v) transportation between each stage.”

Let this be a challenge to the innovative residents of Gainesville to embrace no waste, and start businesses that ensure food does not end up in the landfill (inspiration: Copia) or create entirely new products using recyclables (check out Bionic Yarn).

This gets you up to speed on the basics of zero waste and some of its benefits, but we've only scratched the surface. Stay tuned for the next blog entry: Straws of Steel.

References:

*Environmental Protection Agency. "Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Commercial and Residential Sector Emissions".

*Alachua County Department of Solid Waste and Resource Recovery. "Solid Waste and Resource Recovery Business Plan 2016-2017".

*Mukherjee, Sumona & Mukhopadhyay, Soumyadeep & Hashim, Mohd & Gupta B., Sen & = Faculty of Engineering University of Malaya, Address. "Contemporary Environmental Issues of Landfill Leachate: Assessment and Remedies". Critical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology. vol. 45, 2015, pp. 472-590.

*Schwartz, John. "Study Finds Rising Levels of Plastics in Oceans", John Schwartz, New York Times, 2015.

*Environmental Protection Agency. "Recycling Economic Information (REI) Report".