Organizing Paper (not entirely zero waste)

What do you do when you come across letters that are blank on one side? What about papers which you printed but no longer need? Remember to print on both sides whenever possible but mistakes do happen. I usually save these papers (“rough paper”) and use it to write notes or lists before it goes into the recycle / compost bin. Clearly the zero waste option is to do everything digitally but sometimes it works better when you write it down.

I use to  pile the rough paper using a clipboard that I had lying around but the paper would constantly roll up and it would get messy when I tried to pull one sheet from the pile. The clipboard was not ideal to keep track of invites, bills, appointments etc. Subsequently, I compiled my paper using a binder but that didn’t work for me because the binder was bulky, takes up a lot of space and did not work well with smaller sized paper. I then tried making my own notebook using cardboard and binder rings that I found around the house but it was flimsy, the pages did not flip over well and started falling apart in no time.

After several years of trying to organize all the paper that comes through the door, I finally found a system that I love. The dilemma was finding a zero waste option and setting up a system that makes me happy which subsequently motivates me to keep using the system. I tried the zero waste options and it didn’t work so I moved to the new system.

Now, I organize rough paper using the arc system by Staples. Instead of buying the entire notebook which includes paper that I do not need, I bought the arc puncher, arc rings and a set of hardcover. The rings and hardcover had plastic in the packaging so it was not a zero waste option and I wasn’t able to find these items second hand. I avoided buying the hardcover and made my own using cardboard but the cardboard was not thick enough to handle the weight of all the paper and something about the color turquoise makes me happy.

I’ve been using this system for months now and it’s the best system for me. Each time I get a letter, junk mail, receipts or whatever paper that comes my way, I scan the important papers and then punch holes and add it to the notebook. If it is a reminder about an event or an appointment, I would punch it and file it by month so when the month arrives, I’m reminded of the event or appointment. This system works on all sizes of papers and it helps me keep track of coupons, bills, appointments and various reminders. It’s also easy to flip from page to page and it’s easy for me to reorganize things.

Instead of having stacks of paper sitting in piles or hiding these piles in boxes, I now organize my paper into 2 piles. One as a notebook and another as a reminder. When the reminder is done, I move it to the notebook. Once I’m done with the note, it goes into the recycle / compost bin. It’s not an entirely zero waste option but this option prolongs the life of papers with blank sides before it goes into the recycle / compost bin.

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Fixing My Sunglasses

I find it helpful to have sunglasses especially in sunny California. I’ve had this pair of sunglasses for more than 8 years and it is still going strong save for the fact that the tint from the original lenses is starting to peel off.

Instead of buying a new pair of sunglasses which can be time consuming and expensive, I decided to fix mine by replacing the lenses. It turns out that the replacement lenses cost a fraction of what I paid for my sunglasses. Depending on the brand of sunglasses that you have, you will be amazed at the options available out there. The replacement lenses are not exactly the same as the original lenses but I had the option of picking polarized lenses and I think the new lenses work for my purpose.

Sunglasses

 

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.

Save the Soap

What do you do with small slivers of soap? It’s too small to really do anything. It keeps falling from your hands and it is a pain to pick it up when it falls to the floor.

Here is how I save my soap slivers. When I shower, I would use a new bar soap and when I’m done using the new bar of soap, I put the small slivers of soap on top of the new bar soap.

The next time you shower, the bar soap would have hardened and the slivers of soap will be part of the new bar soap. Tada… no waste.

Soap
Small white soap became part of the current black soap. This is after a few days of using the soap.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Bought too many tomatoes for a recipe and it was starting to get mushy. So, I turned it into basic tomato sauce.

Recipe

  • Diced Tomatoes
  • Sliced Garlic (however much you like)
  • Herbs / Seasoning (whatever you like)
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  1. Slice the garlic thinly and put it in the pan with some olive oil. Turn on the stove and let the garlic infuse into the olive oil. Do it until the garlic starts to brown.
  2. When the garlic starts to brown, add in the diced tomatoes. I chopped up the tomatoes with the skin to eliminate food waste.
  3. Bring the tomatoes to a boil and reduce to simmer.
  4. Add in salt, herbs and whatever seasoning you like. Sometimes it’s just salt. Sometimes I like it spicy so I add red pepper flakes. Sometimes I add dried oregano because that’s what I have. Add whatever you like. It is your tomato sauce.
  5. Let it simmer for about 15 minutes and taste it. If it is too tangy, add a little bit of sugar until it is to your satisfaction.
  6. If you like your tomato sauce smooth, feel free to blend it in a food processor or with a stick blender. I’m too lazy so I leave it chunky sometimes.
  7. After 15 minutes, the sauce would have thickened a little and all the tomatoes would have liquified. Pour into glass jars and let it cool.

What now?

Tomato SauceTomato sauce is not just for pasta. You can use it to make so many things such as:

  • chicken cacciatore
  • steamed / baked fish with tomato sauce
  • shakshouka (eggs poached in tomato sauce)
  • tomato rice
  • meat sauce or ragu
  • omelette topped in tomato sauce
  • dipping sauce
  • lentil curry
  • chicken / fish curry
  • baked / steamed shellfish with tomato sauce

 

 

 

Shopping For Clothes

The general rule for shopping for clothes zero waste is to buy second hand and ideally organic. Lately, the weather has been super hot and I decided that I needed to get some short sleeved tops especially when meeting clients. I cannot remember when was the last time I bought new clothes.

Previously, I worked in the comforts of an air-conditioned office so I would wear long sleeve shirts and jackets but not anymore. I also take the view that it is unprofessional for me to meet my clients with sleeveless tops and shoes that shows your toes.

I am fascinated at how people can find amazing stuff at thrift stores because I tried and I cannot find anything. Maybe it’s just the particular store near my home. I considered buying brand new clothes and then I remembered ThredUp.

ThredUp organizes the inventory based on type, brands, price, condition etc. I found some branded tops which were in excellent condition. There was a 40% discount for first time buyers. I know I was shopping for short sleeve blouse but I couldn’t ignore the green silk top from Diane von Furstenberg for $11. Looks like this will be what I’m wearing this summer and probably next summer.

ThredUp

Homemade Apricot Jam

A friend gave me a bag of apricots. Since it was getting too ripe, I decided to make apricot jam with it. All you need is apricot, sugar and some lemon / lime juice. The ratio of apricot to sugar is a minimum of 3:2. This means for every 3 portions of apricot, you need 2 portions of sugar. I read somewhere there it does not qualify as jam unless 50% or more of it consist of sugar.

Method

Apricot Jam

  1. Cut the apricots into small chucks and remove the seed.
  2. Put the apricot and white granulated sugar in a heavy bottomed pot and bring to a boil.
  3. Once it is boiling, reduce it to a simmer on medium to low heat. If you see foam, remove the foam.
  4. Let is simmer for about 30 minutes and make sure that you stir occasionally to avoid it from burning at the bottom.
  5. Take a spoonful of the liquid jam and set aside to cool. When it cools, test if the consistency is to your satisfaction. If so, the jam is done.
  6. Turn off the heat and add about 1 tablespoon of lemon and mix it into the liquid jam. Pour into glass jars and let it cool.

Tips

  1. There is no need to add water to the apricot and sugar because the apricot will liquify.
  2. If the apricot is bruised, it is important to remove the bruised portions so you can maintain the color of the final product.
  3. Taste the liquid from time to time to make sure it is the sweetness is to your satisfaction.
  4. It is important to let the concoction simmer for at least 30 minutes so that it thickens into jam consistency when it cools down. I tried being lazy and let it simmer for a few minutes and when the concoction cooled down, it had a runny consistency. When that happens, transfer it to the pot and let it simmer for about 30 minutes.
  5. If the liquid gets burnt at the bottom, don’t scrape the bottom. Instead, transfer it to a new pot and continue the process.

 

Bone Broth in Slow Cooker

What do you do with the roasted chicken carcass when dinner is done? What about the chicken wings that nobody wants? I usually save all the bones and freeze them until I have a container full of bones. Sometimes I freeze carrot, celery and mushroom bits too. I don’t eat as much meat as I used to so it usually takes a few months for me fill up the container with bones.

Bone Broth 1
You can see some from frozen bones and celery sticks in the slow cooker.

Recipe

  1. Dump all the bones and frozen vegetables in a slow cooker and cover it with water and a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar.
  2. Add seasoning such as salt, bay leaves, peppercorn, garlic, herbs and whatever you like.
  3. Let it cook on low for about 24 hours.
  4. Sieve the contents and store them in different sized glass jars.

Bone Broth 3

Tips

  • If you use raw bones, blanche the bones first before roasting the bones. Blanching the bones will remove impurities and make the broth clearer. Roasting the bones before adding it to the slow cooker will give it better flavor.
  • I accept all bones. I don’t discriminate.
  • I prefer to cook my bone broth in a slow cooker so I don’t have to watch the fire over the stove.
  • Adding a tablespoon of vinegar (any type) is suppose to help breakdown the bones to extract more flavor from the bones.
  • You don’t need as much vegetables as you typically would use when making a stock. The broth is more concentrated than a stock.
  • Use the largest stockpot or slow cooker that you possibly have because the bones takes up a lot volume. You will be surprised with how little bone broth you will get from such a large stockpot but then again, the flavor is much concentrated.
  • When the bone broth becomes gelatinous at room temperature, you know you did it right.
  • It’s good to store the bone broth in different size jars because some recipes requires less or more bone broth.
  • When you are done, bury the discarded bones so it becomes compost.

How to Use Bone Broth

  • Drink it as is.
  • Use it when cooking quinoa, grains and rice.
  • Use it as the soup base for noodles and congee.
  • Use it in place of stock.

 

Vermicompost

I give up! I bought a worm bin. I was trying to save money by making my own worm bin but eventually the plastic cracked and I found it difficult to separate the compost from the worms. I’m lazy and it got too stressful so after a year of experimenting, I bought a worm bin.

Attempt #1
Compost Bin

When I started composting about a year ago, I started with this. I found this bin lying around so I cleaned it, drilled holes and filled it with dried leaves, twigs, dirt and food waste. It didn’t take long to fill up the bin especially in the fall. I even watered it every once in a while but I was not seeing any results.

Turning the stuff around in the bin was a bit problematic. After a few months I decided to find another way to compost because this was taking too long. I now use this bin to store leaves collected in the fall. It’s my storage bin for brown stuff. When you start composting, you will know that it is important to have a balance of green and brown stuff.

Attempt #2

Worm Bin 1

My second attempt was to use a different type of plastic bin. When decluttering, I found two opaque plastic bins and I decided to make this one instead. Eventually the bottom bin collapsed when the plastic became brittle and it could not handle the weight of the top bin.

Problems:

  • The plastic bin is relatively deep so there is a tendency to overfill the bin which may be a problem for the worms.
  • I find it difficult to separate the compost from the bin.
    • One method is to transfer everything into piles and slowly remove the top of the pile as the worms move to the bottom of the pile. It takes a while for the worms to move to the bottom of the pile and it can get pretty messy.
    • Another method is divide the bin into two sides. Bury the food waste on one side of the bin. Leave it for a few weeks so the worms migrate to the other side and you can harvest the compost from the opposite side. It’s not as simple as that because some of the worms in the opposite side were still not done eating food waste from several months ago.
    • Another method is to sieve the compost from the worms and the eggs. That’s too much equipment and I’m too lazy to bother with this.
  • Forget about installing a spigot. I don’t have the equipment, skill or energy to do it.

Introducing, my latest attempt.

Worm Bin 2

I wish I bought this sooner. This is the Worm Factory 360. I bought this because it was the largest capacity and it gives me the ability to expand up to eight trays.

The tray is of the right height so it is unlikely for you to overfill the tray. The design of the trays makes it easier for me to sift the compost from the worms. It comes with a thermometer to gauge whether the worm bin is too wet or dry.

I’ve since transferred the contents of my previous worm bin into this worm bin and I’m looking forward to harvesting compost without any fuss.

If you live in Los Angeles County, you can buy cheaper worm bins at their Smart Gardening Workshop. I decided on this model because it was easier to buy extra trays or parts if I ever need it. Also, I scored an Amazon gift card which helped me purchase this.

Zero Waste Alternatives to Aluminum Foil

Curbside recycling services rarely accept aluminum foil (or aluminium in other countries) for recycling because it is usually contaminated. Here are some uses for aluminum foil and the zero waste alternatives.

1. Food Cover

Aluminum Option: I’ve seen people use aluminum foil to cover plates and bowls.

ZeCover Bowlro Waste Option 1: I use a container or even another plate or bowl to cover the bowl.

Zero Waste Option 2: Use beeswax wrap to wrap leftovers. I don’t use beeswax wrap because it has a life span and will need to be replaced at some point. I’ve managed to survive without beeswax wrap for now and hope to stay that way.

2. Lining Cookie Sheets to Reduce Mess

Aluminum Option: Cleaning up a cookie sheet can be a pain especially when it is covered with fats, oil or burnt residue. It’s common to line cookie sheets with aluminum foil to make the clean up easier.

Zero Waste Option 1: If I know that the cookie sheet is going to get messed up when I roast my vegetables or chicken, I use Pyrex baking dish. When you are done, soak the baking dish in some water and dish soap and the grime will come right off.

The downside to Pyrex is that it cannot be recycled because its composition is different from regular glass. However, it is indestructible and it lasts forever. Pyrex baking dish is easily available at thrift stores. I inherited all my Pyrex baking dish from my friends when they left the country. The benefit of using a Pyrex baking dish is that it can go from oven to table. You can also get a lid if you need to transport the item elsewhere.

Zero Waste Option 2: Another alternative is to use a silicone baking mat. Silicone is not really a zero waste option but at least it has a longer life span than aluminum foil.

3. Covering a Roasted Turkey

Aluminum Option: It’s common to use aluminum foil when roasting turkey or any bird for that matter to avoid it from getting dry or burnt.

Zero Waste Option: Here is the recipe that I use when roasting turkey for Thanksgiving. No aluminum required and the turkey was still moist and delicious thanks to tons of butter and bacon.

4. Roasting Beets

Aluminum Option: In order to roast beets, season and wrap beets (without the greens) in aluminum foil and stick it in the oven for about 40 minutes at 400F until it is soft.

Zero Waste Option: Put the seasoned beets in an ovenproof container with an ovenproof lid and stick it in the oven and follow the same instructions as above. A covered casserole would work too.

5. Baking / Steaming Fish

Aluminum Option: I use to bake / steam fish with aluminum. I would wrap the fish with herbs and condiments in aluminum foil and leave it in the oven for about 20 minutes at 350F until the fish is done.

Zero Waste Option 1: Now, I lay out the fish and the condiments in a Pyrex baking dish and bake as normal. Make sure there is sufficient liquid so that the fish does not dry out.

Zero Waste Option 2: You can also wrap the fish and condiments with banana leaf and the banana leaf will infuse added flavor to the dish.

Zero Waste Option 3: Steam your dish over the stove. Put a bowl in the stock pot with the bottom of the bowl facing up. Fill the stock pot with an inch of water. Put your dish over the bottom of the bowl and cover the stock pot. Water should not be touching the dish. Turn the stove on medium / low. When the water boils, it will release steam which will in turn steam the dish. The lid will trap the stream so it does not escape. The water should be boiling gently and not a rolling boil because water will then get into the dish.

6. Soften Brown Sugar

Aluminum Option: Wrap hardened brown sugar in foil and stick it in the oven at 300F for 5 to 10 minutes.

Zero Waste Option: Put a piece of bread or a slice of apple in the container with brown sugar and leave it overnight.

7. Prevent Edges of Pie from Burning

Aluminum Option: Wrap the sides of a pie to prevent it from burning.

Zero Waste Option: Use a metal pie crust shield. You can also get a silicone pie crust shield but silicone is not entirely a zero waste option because it cannot be recycled but at least it has a longer lifespan.

8. Sharpen Scissors

Aluminum Option: Use a dull pair of scissors and cut through 6 to 8 layers of aluminum.

Zero Waste Option: The aluminum option doesn’t make the scissors sharp so just take it to someone who sharpens knives and scissors. It’s not that expensive and your scissors will actually stay sharp for a while.

9. Clean the Barbecue Grill

Aluminum Option: Ball up some foil and use it to remove gunk from the barbecue.

Zero Waste Option: Get a barbecue grill brush. This one is made from wood and stainless steel.

10. Scrub Dishes

Aluminum Option: Ball up some foil and use it to clean cast iron pans.

Zero Waste Option: Check out the video below and use salt. Instead of using a kitchen towel, I would use a rag.

11. Makeshift Bowl

Aluminum Option: Pour the bacon fat into a make shift bowl made from aluminum. When the bacon fat hardens, wrap the bacon fat for disposal. You can also use the make shift bowl to grill vegetables on the barbecue.

Zero Waste Option 1: Do not throw away bacon fat. Save bacon fat and pour it into a glass container. Add a tablespoon of bacon fat when you cook and it takes your dish to the next level.

Zero Waste Option 2: Use a stainless steel barbecue grill tray to grill vegetables and meat. There is less risk that the tray will collapse because of the weight of the ingredients.

12. Gas Stove Protector

Aluminum Option: Cover the gas stove top with aluminum and replace it once in a while. It keeps the gas stove top clean but it can look tacky.

Zero Waste Option 1: Get a stainless steel drip pan. Buy the right size for your stove.

Zero Waste Option 2: Wipe down the gas stove every time you are done cooking and you don’t have to deal with a dirty gunky stove top at the end of the month.

13. Polish Silver

Aluminum Option: Leave foil at the bottom of the bowl. Add 2 teaspoon of salt and baking soda with hot water. Dip the silver in the bowl and leave it for 5 minutes before removing it from the bowl.

Zero Waste Option: Here are 13 ways to polish silver without aluminum foil. Use whatever you have. It could be vinegar and baking soda, ketchup and maybe even toothpaste.

***

Aluminum foil can get pretty expensive especially if you get the good quality ones. Imagine how much money you can save if you eliminate it from your home. It would also mean less aluminum foils headed to the landfill.

If you still have aluminum foil at home, you may want to save it for when you absolutely need it and reuse the aluminum foil as much as possible before disposing it. If you are lucky, your curbside recycling service may accept it for recycling because mine don’t.