Zero waste living is centered on the 5 R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot (in that order!).
Refusing what you do not need and reducing what you do need is essential for decreasing the amount of trash you create. Going zero-waste does not mean you need to go on a shopping spree to buy a bunch of “zero-waste swaps.” That being said, sometimes you do need to buy things (like food!). This post is a work-in-progress guide on how to shop without creating waste (or at least greatly reducing it!). If you have suggestions to add, please contact me.
This isn’t quite alphabetical, so use the CTL+F function if you are looking for something specific.
Check out my post on detoxing cleaning supplies here. The ingredients you need to clean your house are not that complicated. Most things can be cleaned with either baking soda (buy in a cardboard box), vinegar (buy in a glass bottle, the lid will end up as trash), liquid castile soap (fill a mason jar at EarthFare), a bar of soap (so many local choices for unpackaged soap at the Chattanooga Market!) and a few lemons. Good Fortune Soap makes laundry soap in a refillable container. There are also some brands of laundry and dishwasher soap in cardboard boxes that are recyclable.
The first step towards reducing waste in the closet is to simplify your clothing. I recommend reading the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
Did you know many of your clothes are made out of plastic?! One area of waste to think about with clothing is what goes down the drain when you wash your clothes. Check out this video on microfibers for more info. We now try to only buy clothes made from natural fibers.
As far as local resources for zero-waste clothing, the best options I have found have been thrift stores. I particularly recommend Cause Cloth downtown for up-scale women’s clothing. It tends to have more natural based fibers instead of polyester clothing that will shed more microplastics into the Tennessee River. Every spring and fall, there are also 3-4 different one-week long consignment sales in Chattanooga.
Home Goods and repairs
Again, thrift stores are often a great option for buying furniture that isn’t padded in styrofoam.
The ReStore thrift store benefits Habitat for Humanity and is a great place for finding building supplies. They even have things like screws and paint. If you are doing a home remodel, it is definitely worth checking out what they have before buying anything new.
This gets its own category since I love candles so much 🙂 I have to give a shout-out here to Full Circle Candles. The owner, Debbie, hand makes all her candles with soy or beeswax in glass jars. When the candle is finished, she accepts back the jar to be cleaned and refilled–and gives you a discount on your next candle! You can find her at the Chattanooga Market each Sunday.
Second only to refusing single-use plastics, reducing our food packaging has had a huge impact in reducing our overall trash. Here are some resources for reducing your food packaging.
My go-to stores are the bulk bins at Whole Food and EarthFare (we have 2 locations, one in Hixson and one on Gunbarrel road). Between the two, we are able to find 80-90% of our pantry items without packaging. I know that sounds expensive, but if you stick to the bulk bins I promise it isn’t more expensive than Walmart–especially comparing organic to organic. They both also have non-organic options, which are even cheaper. If you live in Ootewah/Collegedale, the Village Market has bulk bins as well.
I recommend you do an “investigation trip” to a store with bulk bins with a few mason jars as well as a pencil and paper (or your phone) and take notes on the selections offered. See this video on how I zero-waste shop in the bulk bins.
EarthFare has a great liquid department. I made this video showing how to do it. For some items, such as white vinegar, there aren’t completely zero-waste options and the best you can do is buy the largest container you can afford.
Produce can get more expensive at EarthFare and Whole Foods, so I mostly shop their sales (except bananas, the cheapest bananas in Chattanooga are at Whole Foods. Who knew?). Once a week I stop by Linda’s Produce (which has 2 locations) to load up on fruits and veggies. Even Walmart has quite a few unpackaged fruit and veggie selections. Just bring your own bags so you don’t have to use the plastic produce bags.
There are also many local farms that provide a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). This not only gives you a deal on fresh organic local fruits and veggies, but it also helps out the farmer by giving them some financial security knowing that they have a market for their goods. They also greatly reduce the packaging waste. Most have a box or bag that you swap your empty container for a full one each week. I return all rubber bands, twist ties, and berry boxes for reuse as well. You can find a list of local CSAs on Localharvest.org.
Pretty much every coffee place in Chattanooga will put your latte or chia tea in your own thermos (and let me know if one doesn’t and I’ll organize a letter writing campaign!). For buying beans to grind at home, you can buy from the bulk bins at EarthFare and WholeFoods. We also love the coffee from Goodman’s Coffee. We appreciate how the owner is committed to buying ethically grown beans, plus it is supporting a local business. Goodman Coffee will allow you to refill your own container at their roaster in St Elmo. Facebook message them to let them know you are coming.
For loose leaf tea, check out Wildflower Tea Shop. They will let you bring your own container to refill. It is also a good place to get medicinal herbs. They also stock certified free-trade teas as much as is possible.
It seems like there is always new news about how some crop is destroying our environment. It can get overwhelming, but one thing that will never be wrong is buying fresh, organic, locally grown produce directly from a local farmer! Chattanooga is blessed with many farmer’s markets, including the Chattanooga Market, the Main street market, and the Brainerd market. There is also the Ootewah Farmer’s Market. Bring your own bags and it is easily a zero-waste trip.
Meat is one area where we really need to think about the “upstream” waste produced, as well as its general effect on the planet. When you do eat meat, getting it from a local, organic, small-farm source is probably much more important than whether it is wrapped in plastic. 98% of all animals raised for meat in the USA are on factory farms! Whole Foods rates how their animals are raised on a scale of 1-5. Level 5 is what you want, and they don’t always have level 5 rated meats available. If they do, they will happily put your meat selection into your own container.
Some other options in Chattanooga are: Main Street Meats (The most zero-waste option because you can bring your own container to be filled), Eden Thistle (They deliver to your door in a cooler that you then return with your next order, all meat is shrink wrapped), Sequachie Cove Farm (Order online and then pick it up at the Main Street Farmers market, all meat is shrink wrapped) and Farm Fifty Eight (They have a meat CSA as well as the option to buy at the farm, not sure how it is packaged). Of course these will all be more expensive. Perhaps start by taking what you currently spend on meat, and continue to spend that amount at one of the above places. You won’t be spending any extra money on meat but will be eating a smaller volume. This means you can fill out your meals with more vegetables and beans.
Many of the new plant-based proteins (think Beyond Burger and the Impossible Burger) are packaged in plastic, but since many people eat plant-proteins out of concern for the environment, I’ve found most of them at least have less plastic than their animal-based counterpart. One awesome resource in Chattanooga is Your Local Seitanist, the owner herself leads a zero-waste lifestyle and will package her goods in compostable packaging. Check out her website to see where she will be selling her plant-based proteins (including awesome cheeses!). Let her know you want your order in compostable packaging and she is happy to comply. No Evil Foods is also changing their whole line of foods to 100% backyard compostable packaging. Right now they have the first ever-in-the-USA jerky (for either animal or plant based) in compostable packaging!
Again considering the upstream effects is important! Cage free isn’t enough–Hens that are allowed access to each other will peck brutally if they aren’t also given enough nesting and roaming space. Most farmers markets in Chattanooga have several egg sellers. Simply return your egg cartoons to the farmer. Both Eden Thistle and Farm Fifty Eight also have egg CSAs. For baking, you could also use a flax egg, which is 3 TB of ground flax (from a bulk bin) and 3 TB of water.
When my dad was a kid growing up in Vermont, the milkman would come with a full bottle of fresh milk and put it directly into their refrigerator, taking out the empty glass bottle to be cleaned and refilled! Gone are the days of trusting our neighbors with an unlocked house, and the days of storing milk in glass. Instead we have plastic containers that leaches into the high fat content of milk. You have 3 options for zero-waste milk in Chattanooga. 1) Buy Homestead Creamery brand from EarthFare. It is the only mainstream milk that I have found in glass. You pay a $2 deposit on the bottle and get it back when you return it. They clean and reuse the bottle. The only trash you are left with is the lid. One problem is that the milk isn’t organic, and since pesticides concentrate in the milk of mammals, this is a pretty big deal. 2) Cloudcrest Farm. It is about a 20 minute drive from downtown and is truly old-fashion organic milk. You swap out an empty jar for a fresh jar of milk each week (a large pickle jar works well). 3) Go for a plant-based milk like almond, soy, or oat milk. Almond and oat milk are very easy to make at home, both can be made by blending either almond butter or oats with water in a high-speed blender (I add a date and some cinnamon or vanilla if it is for straight drinking). Soy has one extra step, but isn’t too difficult either, just google it. All the ingredients for plant milks are easily bought from the bulk bins.
Bread and baked goods
There are lots of small bakeries in Chattanooga. If you bring your own bag (a pillowcase works great!), they are all fine putting one of their freshly baked loaves into your bag for you. Most also have items like dinner rolls, buns, and muffins as well. Some places to check out: Neidloves, Bread and Butter, Jackson bakery, Koch’s bakery, and Bluff View Bakery. Even Panera allows people to put their bread in their own containers.
Bread machines are easy to come by at thrift stores and making your own is an inexpensive way to make high quality bread with no waste. We simply dump in all the ingredients before going to bed and wake up to a loaf of freshly baked bread!
For specialty spreads, Bread and Butter is a local company that sells their butter spreads in a reusable glass jar with a mason-jar-type lid. Hands down a great zero-waste choice. For a plant-based butter, CrumbleBerry Market has a great line of cashew cheese also in a reusable glass jar.
For butter to bake with, there are not as many choices. One option is an Amish butter sold in 5 pound rolls at Linda’s Produce. It isn’t zero-waste, but the package-to-product ration is much better. However, it isn’t organic and since pesticides concentrate in the milk of mammals, and especially in the milk fat, this makes it not a great option. Look for butters that are packaged in paper coated with vegetable wax and then compost them after use. Contact the company to see if they use petroleum wax or a vegetable based wax. Plant-based butters are usually packaged in either not-recyclable paper or plastic.
Coconut oil or applesauce or a mashed banana can often be substituted for butter in baked recipes, which may at least cut back on this butter-related trash in your life. I reserve butter for pie crusts and cake frosting only.
Filtration is sometimes a problem for being zero-waste, since many filtration cartridges are not recyclable. After reviewing the Chattanooga water quality report, my husband and I chose not to do any additional filtering on our water. If you don’t like the taste or feel that you do need more filtration, I suggest trying a charcoal stick filter. Charcoal is the main component in most filtration systems, but it is usually in a plastic case of some kind. This simply skips the plastic and puts the charcoal directly in the water (in the form of a stick, so it’s easy to remove). Berkey Filters are also an option since the filter cartridges are washable.
Chances are, you already have a stainless steel water bottle sitting around. If so, don’t buy a new one! If you do need a new one, Kleen Kanteen is a favorite brand and has one of the only completely plastic-free water bottles on the market.
Eating on the go
The best way to avoid single use plastic is to be prepared beforehand. I wrap a spoon and fork in a cloth napkin and pretty much always have it in my purse. If we are going to eat at any event where there might be plastic ware, I also throw in a plate (and enough for each person in my family). We use the picnic plates from Re-Play because they are lightweight and are made out of recycled milk jugs. The first conference I went to and brought my own plate I was super embarrassed–but it turned out not to be a big deal, fewer people notice you than you think :). If going to a restaurant, be sure to bring a container with a lid as your own to-go box. And of course always bring your own water bottle when on the go!
When we first started this journey, our youngest daughter was almost 1 years old. We tried doing elimination communication, but I think we didn’t try hard enough plus she was pretty old. We made the switch to cloth diapers and found it worked well for us. Fortunately, there is a great resource in Chattanooga in the company Wee Care Diaper Service. They offer a diaper service if you aren’t up for doing the washing or if you don’t want to buy a bunch of cloth diapers. They also offer a free in-home consultations as families consider the service. They bring samples of diapers and products, demo how prefold diapers work, and talk more about the service to make sure they are the best fit for your family. There is no charge for a consultation and no requirement to sign up for service! Their website is here.
Most cuts do not actually need a bandaid. In fact, bandaids can block proper airflow to the cut and make it more likely to get infected! However, if a cut is in a location that is difficult to keep clean (like on a foot), then a bandaid might be needed just for the first 24 hours before a scab forms. Wild Minimalist makes this biodegradable bandage. You could also us the old-fashion method of wrapping a cut in a strip of cotton cloth. Use an iron to sterilize before using.
Again, no local Chattanooga resources I have found, but there is a great company called Wisdom Supply Company that has you covered for all your school supply needs. They have creative zero waste replacements for pencils (regular pencils are dipped in paint that make the shavings not compostable), pencil sharpeners, dry erase markers, regular markers, post-its, tissue paper, pens, binders, pretty much anything your kiddos need for school. Thrift stores can also be good places to find school supplies.
Chattanooga has an awesome kids consignment scene. There are several large consignment events that happen twice a year, in the spring and then again in the fall. Some of the larger ones have almost the same selection as a department store! If you google “Chattanooga consignment sales” you can find a website that lists all of their dates in one spot. I try to do all my shopping (including birthday gifts) for the kids at these sales alone–that way I don’t feel like I constantly need to be shopping throughout the year. Some of my favorite sales are Just Between Friends, Duck Duck Goose, and Sweet Repeats.
Recipes abound on making your own stuff on the internet, so when you run out of something, give a try on googling how to make your own before buying new. My own posts about lotion and diaper cream is here and hair mousse/spray/style holder is here.
Good Fortune Soap is one of the best resources I’ve found for personal care. Literally everything in the store is refillable (and you get a 10% discount when you refill!). They have lotion, shaving cream bars, laundry soap, shampoo, conditioner, hand soap, bug spray, shea butter, beard oil, and much more in refillable containers. I have even brought my own mason jars to be filled and they still gave me the 10% discount.
Again, Good Fortune Soap is your friend! All of their many essential oils are refillable. You can even make your own custom blend. They order their stock in large metal containers which they recycle when empty. So grateful for this resource in Chattanooga!
Ella Blake is a local makeup creator who will allow you to put their mineral foundation in your own container. They will also match you to mix up a color that fits you exactly. Another option is Keeping it Natural on Etsy, which is makeup made by a woman in Ohio who ships all her makeup in refillable containers. I use her mascara cake and love it.
I haven’t found locally made compostable toothbrushes or floss, so we buy tooth brushes from Brush With Bamboo and buy bamboo floss that comes in a refillable glass jar. The refills come in compostable packaging. We use a small amount of baking soda as toothpaste (hey, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!). If you want a minty taste to your paste, mix in a little coconut oil and a few drops of peppermint oil to your baking soda. After a year of being free from commercial toothpaste, our dentist told us our teeth look great and to “keep doing what you’re doing.” I even had some gum sensitivity that went away once I stopped using comercial toothpaste. According to our dentist, sodium lauryl sulfate is a common ingredient in toothpaste which actually removes a layer of healthy cells off your gums. No such issues with baking soda!
We buy this paper on Amazon and it is made from 100% post-consumer recycled fibers by the company Marcal. It is also processed without chlorine and comes without the plastic bag in which most toilet paper is packaged. It also doesn’t cost any more than other medium-grade TP and gets the job done. If you prefer high-quality TP and are used to paying for it, Who Gives a Crap is a higher-end option.