[This post was written all the way back in 2019 when I was finishing up my undergraduate degree in college, and I never felt inspired to share it until now.]
Last month, I wanted to challenge myself to dive deeper into my personal environmental actions. I was beginning to feel bogged down and hopeless with job searching that produce an environmental career and support my morals as well as dealing with a lot more low blood sugars due to more activity which led to multiple packages of juice boxes and great amounts of non-recyclable waste. I wanted to try a No Waste November.
I could not decide whether I wanted to dive full in or just focus on one area of my life. My partner, Morgan, decided to take the challenge with me and together we focused on no food oriented waste. [Background: I am currently eating plant based with the occasional half dozen eggs bought from my local farmer who is also Type 1 Diabetic and Morgan has no diet limitations but has been very open to learning about new ways to prepare meals and eating plant based with me some nights of the week.]
So what does food oriented waste entail:
-receipts from restaurants and grocery stores
-food packaging: i.e. plastic containers and bags, cardboard boxes, bottles, jars, etc.
-To-Go containers and cups
-drink cans and bottles
No landfill nor recycling!
We did a lot of scouting to find the best ways to implement this lifestyle prior to November. We are fortunate enough to live near an affordable bulk store. As well, there are many local fish markets and delis where Morgan can buy meat in his own container.
For me personally, I did not notice much of a difference. Most things I gave up I either did not need (luxury items like cashew milk, vegan butter, coconut milk ice cream, and kombucha) or did not necessarily crave for a month. We tried out a few new recipes from a vegan cook book Morgan bought at a library book sale which were fantastic! My favorites which we made multiple times were poppy seed polenta and a cheesy sauce made with nutritional yeast.
Things we were able to find in bulk that we normally purchase in packaging:
-seeds: chia, hemp, pumpkin
-oil- olive and sunflower seed
-maple syrup and honey
-coffee beans and loose leaf teas
-flour and sugar
We also chose to purchase certain items at our local co-op rather than our box grocery store in order to find veggies not packaged: spinach, mushrooms, and cranberries. As well, rather than buying veggie broth, we saved our vegetable scraps and simmered them when we wanted broth.
As well, all of our alcoholic purchases had to come in a refillable growler or over tap at a bar. This was fairly easy since we have a brewery in the neighboring town. It was definitely nice to have less alcohol and focus more on herbal teas at night 🙂
Although I cannot go without low snacks, I did make active choices to limit the waste I was producing. When accessible, I tried to eat dates and peanut butter when feeling a low. I also switched from juicy juice disposable juice boxes to small canned pineapple orange juice. Aluminum and paper are able to be recycled as long as I rinse out the can before placing into the recycling bin. The juice boxes are slightly more expensive, but I feel better about my waste and also knowing what ingredients I am putting into my body.
What we learned from this month:
-this lifestyle and choice is only accessible and feasible with a bulk store or bulk options for grains and beans
-even when you ask to use your container, people can be reluctant. But it is also a perfect chance to teach people about the benefits of minimal waste and our environmental impact.
-as long as you are satisfying all your nutrient needs, cravings really go unnoticed. I was super impressed that Morgan only went out for meat a couple of times, but he always said that the beans and cheesy sauce satisfied his cravings and he felt full and happy! Especially only for 1 month, he did not feel like he was ‘giving up’ meat, it was only a break and something he is interested in moving forward- where to purchase un-packaged meats.
-we are privileged to have enough time to cook for ourselves. Beans are super easy to make from scratch, but must simmer for 45 min- 1.5 hours. Many people are not able to be home for that amount of time and would not be able to afford that loss of time from work or family care.
-buying bulk can save a whole lot of money. Nutritional yeast only costs $1.20 to refill a bottle I bought for $6. Chia seeds cost less to buy in bulk. Beans cost a heck of a lot less to buy in bulk. However, there are some exceptions: noodles are more expensive, but our bulk store only sells organic and fair trade items. Peanut butter can be more expensive than many brands, however it is only using peanuts- no preservatives, no palm oil. I am actively choosing to not support the palm oil industry by purchasing this bulk peanut butter.
-although I wanted to do something bigger with No Waste November, it was so much more worthwhile to do it with Morgan. It was a really incredible experience to share with someone so important to me. I am sometimes hesitant to talk about environmentalism and sustainability to him since that has never been a focus of his lifestyle. However, it is very important to me and is something I want to share with him. It is really beautiful how well we are able to discuss different options to lessen our environmental impact and see how excited Morgan is when we do things together. It is better to teach people and actively show people our lifestyles and our morals actively rather than move on without them.
-Morgan’s thoughts: It is nice to feel free from plastic and is amazing how hard it can be to avoid plastic packaging. However, it feels so much better to eat mainly veggies every night for dinner. It is not about giving up your favorite treats to create less waste, but about finding an alternative this satisfies you. For example, it is difficult to make my own ice cream, but we made chocolate chip cookies most nights instead that are super delicious! Overall, it is nice to see from someone who has never focused on limited their waste, that it is a feasible option for people.
Here’s some of the meals we made this month:
I hope this inspires you to take a leap of faith in your actions and to reach out to the people you love. They want to support you and be a part of your life. Do not be hesitant with your morals just because they are different from others’. We all need to learn from and love one another 🙂