Zero Waste vs Minimalism

It’s been slightly more than two years since my first post and I have learnt so much. The main reason why I started looking into the zero waste movement was to figure out how to save money since my job was unstable at the time. If I wasn’t getting paid regularly, I needed to figure out how to reduce my expenses to withstand irregular paychecks and I came across some youtube videos on zero waste. Along the way, I learnt about minimalism.

Sometimes I wish I knew about zero waste and minimalism in my twenties but then again, my experiences in my twenties have allowed me to appreciate zero waste and minimalism more. There are so many similarities between zero waste and minimalism but sometimes I come to a crossroad.

The Chicken Example

Chicken cost $1.29/pound at Costco and it is packaged in plastic but I can get it package free from the butcher at $2.99 / pound. Where should I buy my chicken from? In this example, I’m going to assume that the quality of the chicken is the same at both places. One can argue that it’s worthwhile to spend more at the butcher to reduce your trash because the zero waste lifestyle allows you to save money overall. Since my goal is to save money, I usually choose the money saving option.

Sometimes you should not just pay attention to the packaging but consider the overall environmental impact. For example, if you are already at Costco, it may be better to just buy chicken there instead of driving to the butcher just to buy chicken. In that example, you don’t bring home trash but you had to drive to the butcher. You really cannot blame yourself if companies do not provide you with environmentally friendly options. The alternative is to go without completely but then again, zero waste should not cause you to be deprieved.

Bar Soaps

I’m currently having the same problem with my soap. When I started with bar soap, I did not have any issues at all until six months later when I would break up into rashes all the time. The allergies went away when I moved back to body wash. I did not give up and i still tried looking for the perfect bar soap. Recently, I’ve been traveling and the weather change caused havoc to my skin. It was getting ridiculously dry and I’ve been applying olive oil which would work for a few hours but it would get dry again. My husband reluctantly moved towards bar soap but even he complains about how dry his skin is so instead of us having a bar soap and body wash, I gave in and we bought our first bottle of body wash in two years and I can feel my skin getting better. I did not buy the cheapest body wash but I bought one that has moisturizing qualities and is paraben free, phthalate free, cruelty free and biodegradable.

Shampoo Bar

Next comes the shampoo bar. It took me awhile to condition my hair so I didn’t have to wash it everyday. The transition period took several months and it included many days of greasy, itchy and stinky scalp. I finally got my hair adjusted when I started traveling a lot. This included squeezing every opportunity to swim and the chlorine started messing up my hair and I was back to shampooing my hair after every swim. When I did not have my shampoo bar with me, I would use whatever shampoo was available. Also, the hard water and soft water was messing up my hair. I’m tired of having to go through the transition period again so now I’m considering moving away from shampoo bars. Also, I would prefer if my husband and I could use the same shampoo to minimize the number of items in the bathroom. It would also be helpful for guests who stay with me and are not familiar with shampoo bar.

Beauty Products

As much as I want to go zero waste, I’m not getting any younger and anytime is a good time to start taking care of my skin. Instead of embarking on a 10 step beauty regiment, I have added additional items to my beauty routine. I can no longer get away with just soap and moisturizer. I have to add serum, eye cream and anti-aging moisturizer in an effort to try to look younger longer.  Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find these additional items package free. You can find these items in glass but it can get expensive so I tend to buy what I think is the best value for money. The trick is to stop wasting money by buying useless products and becoming your own pharmacy.

To keep or to throw

Minimalism tells you to keep only what you need. Zero waste tells you to avoid throwing anything in the landfill. If you are a zero waster, you will hoard glass jars which goes against the idea of minimalism. In this case, I go with the konmari method and only keep things that spark joy and that practical things fall into the spark joy category.

How do I decide?

Before I decide to buy anything, I’ll think about whether I really need it or if I can make do with what I have. If I have to buy something, I usually start by considering the zero waste option. If the zero waste option is too expensive or unsuitable, you should not feel bad about not taking the zero waste option. At the end of the day, you should make the best decisions based on your resources and what is available to you. As long as you do the best that you can, you should not feel any guilt.

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Make Your Business Eco-Friendly

Here are some suggestions on how to make your business environmentally friendly:

Office Supplies

  • Before purchasing office supplies, check if you have supplies at home that you can use. Since I started my own business, I bought very few office supplies since I have enough stationaries to last me a long time.
  • Buy paper products that are made from recycled materials and avoid envelopes with windows.
  • Avoid buying stickers and labels whenever possible. Consider printing addresses directly unto the envelope.

Paper

  • Avoid printing on paper whenever possible. For example, I generate invoices and email the invoices to my client instead of printing and mailing them to my clients. This saves me paper, stamp, a trip to the mailbox and my clients get the invoices the same day instead of 2 days later.
  • Set up a system to go paperless. You can either pay a service provider and save everything in the cloud or invest in external hard disk to back up your files. If your company has a few employees, you may want to consider setting up a server as an alternative to the cloud.
  • If you do print, print double sided whenever possible or save paper that has an empty side and print on the empty side. Make double sided printing the default setting.
  • Every time I receive paperwork from my clients, I will scan it and return the hardcopies to them. This allows me to use my filing cabinet for more important things.
  • Sign up for paperless billing whenever possible.
  • Pay your vendors using bill pay. It’s usually free, you will save on stamps and everything will be recorded properly in your bank statements.
  • Consider making payments and filings online instead of using paper.
  • Consider electronic signatures whenever possible.
  • When you purchase anything, choose electronic receipts instead of paper receipts.

Advertising

  • Stop giving out free pens and useless plastic gadgets. Consider giving out eco-friendly and reusable items and educate your customers about it.
  • Consider advertising using materials that are eco-friendly. For example, avoid printing cards and advertisements on glossy paper since it is difficult to recycle.
  • Support eco-friendly and sustainable companies that share the same values.
  • I considered having a simple reminder at the bottom of my email to remind people to print consciously but it’s actually wasteful because it adds data and email signatures replicate itself constantly when the recipient forwards or responds to the email and it takes up unnecessary space in the cloud or your hard disk.
  • When you start your business, you will get a lot of junk mail in your mailbox. Consider unsubscribing from junk mail. When you sign up for business license, bank account or any services, tell the account manager that you do not want your address forwarded to advertisers.

Technology

  • Dispose electronic waste responsibly. Currently, Best Buy accept electronics for recycling including wires and chargers.
  • I’m not sure about using toner refills from third party manufacturers but I buy high yield toner cartridges instead of the regular toner cartridges. I also avoid printing in color whenever possible and if I have to print in color, I will go to a third party provider. When the toner is done, I return the empty cartridges to Staples for recycling.
  • Consider deleting files that are no longer relevant or required. Even though data appears to be invisible, it still takes up space in your server / cloud so make it a point to declutter your data at least once a year.
  • Instead of jotting everything down on paper, consider using an app whenever possible. For example, use TripLog or MileIQ to keep track of your mileage, Quickbooks to keep track of your expenses, Google Keep to keep track of your notes instead of jotting everything down on random pieces of paper. Ideally, get apps that are able to sync with each other to minimize the need to transfer information across different platforms.

Furniture

  • Buy secondhand whenever possible. I am convinced that it is possible furnish the office with secondhand furnitures and still make it look nice.
  • To also consider doing without if possible. For example, there is no reason to invest in so many bookshelves or a filing cabinet system if everything is saved on a server/ cloud.

Resources

  • When doing research, I use online resources or borrow them from my local library. I try to avoid purchasing research materials whenever possible because these materials are expensive and get updated regularly.
  • If you work from home, it’s good idea to place your desk near the window so you can take advantage of natural light.
  • Also consider a second hand desk lamp if you need lighting for the desk to avoid lighting up the entire room just because you are working at your desk.
  • Since I work from home, a lot of my business is conducted by phone or email. Occasionally I have to meet my clients face to face and when I do it, I try to organize all my meetings on the same day to minimize travel whenever possible.

 

I’m Addicted to My Phone

Recently, investors have asked Apple to study the health effects of its products and to make it easier for parents to limit their children’s use of iPhones and iPads. This made me think about how I see children being entertained by some kind of screen in order to get through dinner without a fuss. Then you read about parents who are in the tech industry who do not allow their children to use iPads.

Being addicted to the screen is clearly a growing concern in this day and age and I have to admit that I am addicted to my phone. Sometimes I hear my phone ringing but when I check my phone, there is nothing. No missed call. No ringtone. Nothing. I’m not able to sit still. I have to always check my phone, read the news, play a game or watch a video. At the back of my mind, I know that there are better ways to spend my time.

This week, I resolved that I would do something about my phone addiction and here is what I did:

  1. Notifications – I changed the notification settings so the phone will automatically turn off all notifications from 11pm to 7am. I also changed the notification settings for the various apps so I don’t get buzzed each time there is a news update.
  2. Decluttered my Home Screen – I removed all the apps from my home screen. I only keep tools in my home screen and currently it consist of maps, calendar, notes, calculator, camera, email and messages. I still have other apps on my phone but if I want access to it, I have to intentionally search for it instead of having it at my finger tips.
  3. Uninstalled Apps – I uninstalled apps that I have not used in a while.
  4. Reduce my Social Accounts – I closed my Facebook account because it was a time waster and I did not bother to sign up for a Twitter or Instagram Account. I only keep social accounts which I find useful like Yelp, Open Table, Pinterest. I recently discovered Google Keep and if I like it enough, I may slowly replace Pinterest with Google Keep.
  5. No unlimited data plans. Currently, I have a fixed amount of data on my monthly plan. We usually stay within the data allocation unless we travel. When we are on the road, I get bored easily and I am constantly on my phone. I guess the plan here is to never move to unlimited data plan and find other ways to occupy my time. Maybe read a book or actually enjoy the view.
  6. No phones during meals / family activities. This can be tough especially if your partner is on the phone too. I guess we have to make a pack to only eat at the dining table and no devices during meals. I’m going to try and watch Star Wars without my phone and maybe I can finally understand what the hype is about.

It has been a few days since I started this and it’s getting easier day by day. The world has not ended. My mind is less stressed and I feel like I have a few more hours in the day. Today, I had time to tidy the yard and write this post once I was done with my appointments for the day. If you have other ideas to break my addiction, let me know.

Happy New Year!

Hello 2018. It is time to clear the slate and make it a better year. Instead of coming up with resolutions which I will probably break in a matter of weeks, I decided to get ready for 2018. I started the process last week when everyone started going on vacation and it has kept me pretty busy.

Here are some things that you might want to consider doing:

  1. Speak with your accountant about tax planning. It’s probably better to take care of this before December 31st but there are still some stuff that you can do in January 2018.
  2. Declutter and simplify your life. I managed to come up with a few bags which I donated to charity before December 31. It’s never too late to declutter. In fact, this morning, I spent the time going through old receipts and I scanned the important receipts such as stuff purchased for the house, work related receipts, receipt for my marriage license and wedding dress. Everything else went straight to the bin. Digitize as much as you can.
  3. Deep clean the house. What better way to welcome the new year then with a clean and well-stocked house. There is an Asian superstition that requires a house to have a full bag of rice, sugar, salt, oil and water to ensure good fortune for the new year. Rice represents wealth, sugar represents sweet memories, salt represents experience, oil represents things going smooth sailing and water represents abundance.
  4. Prepare your business / career for 2018. Depending on the nature of your business, there are many ways for you to figure out how to improve/upgrade your business. Here are some personal examples:
    • When I started my business, my office email was free but I had issues with spam and clients not being able to email me because my inbox was constantly full of spam so I eventually signed up with a service provide to manage my office email. I lost at least 2 days of work because it took time to transfer all my work email to the new service provider but since then, my office email works beautifully. Spam emails are under control and there is no delay in receiving and sending emails. Besides privacy and security concerns when using free services, there are also other business applications that I can use when I signed up with a service provider.
    • Another example is my accounting. When I started my business, I keep track of everything using Excel spreadsheets but as my business grow, I realize that it’s becoming more time consuming to keep track of things using Excel spreadsheets so I am looking to sign up for an accounting software to replace my Excel spreadsheets over the next few days. It’s a small price to pay for all the convenience of not having to keep track of all the different Excel spreadsheets.
    • Occasionally, when I am in the middle of a project, I feel overwhelmed by what needs to be done. I wish I can hire an assistant to help me with the workload. In anticipation of having a better year, I spoke to my IT friend to figure out a way to set up my IT system so when I am in a position to hire extra help for my business, I am ready and I am not scrambling to take care of things in the last minute.
  5. If you are an employee, you can think about cleaning up your office / cubicle and figure out what you want to do to improve your professional life whether it means signing up for extra courses to learn / improve your skills or figure out a better way to do your work or signing up for a networking group to expand your network.

It probably sounds like a lot but there is still time to take care of things before work goes in full swing. In the meantime, I wish everyone a happy and successful 2018.

 

 

Stocking Up on Black Friday

I’m a firm believer in writing lists. If I want something, I usually write it in a list. That way, it gives me an opportunity to think about whether I really should get it or find alternatives for it. I have on occasions put something on the list only to delete it later on.

Just because you don’t sign up to the materialistic lifestyle and your goal is to lead a simpler life, you can still take advantage of Black Friday and stock up on your zero waste supplies. This year, I stocked up on bamboo toothbrushes and cloth pads because both items were discounted. I would have stocked up on soap and shampoo bars but I recently purchased enough to last me a few months.

The Package Free Shop is having a “25% off in store all day” in conjunction with Black Friday. Who says you cannot shop without appearing materialistic? The key is to shop responsibly.

 

 

 

15 Minute Pasta Recipe

I usually eat my meals alone so there is no incentive for me to slave all day in the kitchen unless I want to try out a particular recipe or if I am craving for something specific. This recipe takes about 15 minutes from start to finish. The sauce cooks the same time it takes to boil the pasta.

10 Minute Pasta Recipe

Recipe

  • Olive Oil
  • Garlic (As much as you like. I used 4 large cloves because I love things garlicky)
  • Tomatoes (As much as you like. I used about half a bowl of cherry tomatoes)
  • Dried Chilli Flakes (Optional)
  • Basil (Sliced or torn)
  • Pasta
  • Salt
  • Cheese (Optional. Parmigiano Regiano, Pecorino and Mozzarella are safe options)
  1. Put the pasta in boiling water and set the timer to 1 minute prior to when the pasta will be done. If it takes 11 minutes for the pasta to be done, boil it for 10 minutes. Remember to add salt to the boiling water. Make it taste like the ocean.
  2. Slice or dice the garlic and put it in a pan with cold oil. Add dried chili flakes if you like a bit of heat in your pasta.
  3. Chop the tomatoes into halves or quarters (bigger tomatoes) and add it to the pan when the garlic starts to brown. Add some pasta water to stop the garlic from burning.
  4. Add some salt to the tomatoes and let the tomatoes liquify in low heat. If the sauce starts getting too thick, add pasta water to thin out the sauce.
  5. Feel free to mash the tomatoes with the back of your cooking utensil.
  6. When the timer goes off, add the basil and pasta to the sauce and let the pasta cook in the sauce for 1 minute. If the pasta feels a little tight when you try to move it in the pan, add some pasta water to loosen the sauce. Feel free to finish it off with a bit of olive oil.
  7. Also optional, grate some cheese over the pasta but I recommend adding the cheese to your bowl instead of in the pan. I like mine without cheese.

As always, if there are leftovers, I usually pack them in glass containers and it tastes great the next day. You can eat it warm or cold and it’s delicious.

Zero Waste Corporate Gift Ideas

Every business should find some way to market themselves in order to get more customers or keep their existing customers. I like to send something to my clients especially during the holidays either to thank them or to remind them of me. The struggle lies in living the zero waste life and giving customers junk that ends up in the landfill.

Experience is usually the go to zero waste gift but it may not necessarily be appropriate or it can be cost prohibitive. Unless you are gifting a specific person in mind, it’s always a good idea to find something neutral. Here are some zero waste corporate gift ideas.

Zero Waste Gifts that Fit in an Envelope

With Standard Postage

  • Plantable Cards – Cards that you can plant in soil and grow wildflowers.
  • Gift Cards / Gift Certificates – Online stores are the best option or some place you know that they frequent. You don’t necessarily have to buy the card. You can always buy it online and print out the code.
  • Movie Tickets – Think about where your customers are. Pick a movie theatre close to their home / business.
  • Postcard Size Calendar
  • Recipes
  • Tea Bags

Most of these are paper products that can be recycled or composted.

Everything Else

  • Wine
  • Soaps (not the ones wrapped in plastic)
  • Kitchen / Tea Towels
  • Collapsible Cups
  • Box of Baked Goodies
  • Cotton Tote Bag / Foldable Tote Bags – Great for printing your company logo.
  • Potted Plants
  • Scented Candles
  • Stainless Steel Water Bottles / Coffee Mug – Great for printing your company logo. I try to avoid plastic where possible.
  • Hand Towels – Great for embroidering your company logo.
  • Stainless Steel / Glass Containers – Great for engraving your company logo but I suggest filling the container with some goodies.
  • Bamboo Toothbrush – Especially great if you are a dentist.
  • Glass Straws – I think a lot of people will find it novel. If it’s glass, it is easier to see if the straw is cleaned properly. Don’t forget the pipe cleaner for the straw too.

Others Ideas that Didn’t Make the List

There is no point in giving gifts that a customer would not appreciate. Zero waste gifts may still end up in the landfill or become a dust collector at home. Here are some gift ideas that I think non-zero wasters would not appreciate.

  • Reusable produce bags – I’m not sure if a lot of people remember to bring their own bags to the grocery store let alone produce bags.
  • Fruit Basket – Maybe a small amount of fruit because do people seriously eat that much of fruit before it goes bad? It seems like most of the fruit will go to waste.
  • Homemade Beauty Products – Too personal because everyone has their preferences unless you are in the business of selling beauty products but soap is the exception.
  • Magazine Subscription – Not sure how that will remind people of your business.
  • Sandwich / Snack Bags – I don’t know a lot of people who pack their own lunch to work or pack sandwiches.
  • Mugs – There are just way too many mugs that end up in thrift stores.
  • Coasters – There are zero friendly options but chances are, everyone who use coasters have them already.
  • Cotton Napkins – Do people really use napkins at home?
  • Travel Chopsticks – It depends on your customer base. Surprisingly, a lot of people struggle with chopsticks.

It goes without saying that if you are looking for zero waste ideas, make sure that you keep that in mind when wrapping your gifts. Recycled / paper envelopes and cardboard boxes are easily available. Skip the plastic ribbons, shiny confetti and use twine instead.

Pros and Cons to Zero Waste

Pros

  1. It’s good for the environment.
  2. Unpackaged goods should be cheaper because you are not paying for packaging.
  3. There is more time for the more important things when you stop shopping.
  4. It forces you to make healthier choices. It is easier to buy fresh fruits and vegetables without packaging over processed food.
  5. You tend to save money because you buy less stuff, buy second hand stuff, make use of what you have or do without completely.
  6. It forces you to become more resourceful. You will pick up new skills and learn new tricks.
  7. No longer have to worry about taking the trash out because it takes awhile to fill up the trash cans. Also, trash cans don’t smell anymore.
  8. During the time of the month, I never have to worry about not having sufficient supplies.

Cons

  1. It is difficult to shop zero waste. Not all places sell in bulk or telling people that you want the item in your container can be tiresome.
  2. In an effort to go zero waste, we had to give up snacks, packaged food and certain convenience.
  3. Sometimes it is more expensive to buy things without packaging.
  4. You need to plan ahead all the time. It’s difficult to make impromptu trips to the store or restaurants if you are not prepared. My handbag is more than double the size of my previous handbag because I need space for water bottle, container, reusable bags etc.
  5. Your water bill goes up because there is a lot more washing when you avoid disposables. You run the dishwasher and the washing machine more regularly.
  6. Saying no to freebies, free samples and gifts.
  7. Being disappointed when people close to you insist on using single use disposables.

 

Repairing a Suitcase

If you travel a lot, it is important to invest in a good suitcase. A good suitcase, especially one that comes with a lifetime guarantee, can last you a long time.

Buying cheap suitcases that need to be replaced every few years may end up costing the same if not more than a good suitcase. It’s not just to the cost but the general frustration of buying suitcases. I understand that a good suitcase can cost several hundred dollars and not everyone has that kind of money. In that case, my suggestion is to buy the best you can afford. I am not sure how easy it is to buy used suitcases but if you can find a used suitcase from a decent brand, all the more better.

I’ve had this suitcase at least seven years now and it is still going strong. The zips needed to be fixed. I was reluctant to spend the money initially and I tried to fix it myself with paper clips. But after years of struggling with the paper clip, I gave in and got it fixed. Now, the suitcase looks brand new and ready for its next trip.

Minimizing Food Waste When Going Out

Here are some tips on how I minimize my food waste when I go out to eat.

Tip 1: Order Less

The first step to minimizing your food waste is to order less or only order what you can eat. When I enter the restaurant, I will look around and check out the portion size. If I know that the food portions are large, I will try to order something that Husband and I can share. We usually share an entree and probably 1 or 2 appetizers. We rarely order dessert. When you order less, the bill is generally cheaper.

Tip 2: Plan and Be Prepared

There are times when I specifically choose to go to a particular restaurant because I know the portion size is large. The Leftoversidea is to eat half now and save the balance for the next day. It’s like 2 meals for the price of 1. I will then bring my own container and utensils depending on the restaurant. Husband (who is not a zero waster) loves it when I do that. He argues that (1) it makes it easier to heat up his leftover, (2) the garbage does not stink, (3) it’s easier for him to chuck the container in his lunch bag without having to worry about leakage.

Tip 3: Bring Your Own Container

You will notice that most zero wasters tend to have their own containers handy. I tend to have stainless steel containers in my handbag because its lighter than glass. This is handy for when you decide to dine out unexpectedly. Sometimes I forget to bring my own containers because (1) I left the house in a hurry, (2) the container is in the dishwasher or the fridge or (3) I was not planning to eat out so I revert to Tip 1.

Tip 4: Bones and Garnish

Food waste also includes bones and garnish. The other day, I ordered buffalo wings and it came with celery and carrot sticks. I’m not a fan of celery and carrot sticks so I packed all the bones, celery and carrot sticks in my container and brought it home. The contents went into the freezer where I hoard bones and root vegetables to make bone broth.

There are also times when I go to a Japanese restaurant and they would serve a dish over a bed of shredded cabbage. I brought home the garnish and used it in my recipe the next day. Shredded cabbage works great in fried rice and soup.