Home Creativity Zero-Waste Groceries For Sailboat Life

Zero-Waste Groceries For Sailboat Life

by Wayfinders Now

Our journey to reduce our plastic usage and waste footprint continue to involve some highs and unexpected challenges too!

For starters, we’ve thankfully discovered businesses like Earth Fare, Native Sun, and Southern Roots Filling Station that make zero-waste shopping a bit easier by offering bulk sections and they’ll tare your jars!

Bulk section for an Earth Fare location in Jacksonville, Florida.

Why are we doing this zero-waste stuff?

Foremost, we’re reducing our plastic and waste footprint because wasted food is the single largest component in American landfills.

And according to this Scientific American article, here’s what happens when this wasted food gets to our landfills:

…it then generates methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times as potent as carbon dioxide in trapping heat within our atmosphere. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, landfills account for 34 percent of all methane emissions in the U.S….Furthermore,…each year a quarter of U.S. water consumption and over 300 million barrels of oil (four percent of U.S. oil consumption) go into producing and distributing food that ultimately ends up in the landfills.

We’re also going zero-waste because the approach, by nature, involves awesome habits that typically involve eating healthier and it’s also healthier for the environment, especially for ocean conservation.

Some things we’re learning about zero-waste grocery shopping:

*We only share stuff we truly believe in, so if you decide to try out something linked from our posts, it just means we might receive a small kickback but there’s no added cost to you.

1) Asking a grocery store employee about whether they accept tared jars can be subjective so if the answer is “no” or “I don’t know,” asking someone else again has usually resulted in a “yes.” It seems more a matter of finding someone who’s familiar or empathizes with deducting the weight of your jars. 🏋️‍♀️

2) The butcher can be your ally! Ask if what you’re looking for can be wrapped in butcher paper instead of plastic and styrofoam. Note: the butcher paper is compostable if it’s coated with wax vs. plastic, so double check! We wrote to Earth Fare and they confirmed that their paper is coated with wax—whoo hoo!

Or, as one butcher told us recently, a customer brought in an insulated, reusable container to carry their seafood. It was a first-time request for this butcher but they happily obliged! It also occurred to us that we could possibly buy cheese at a deli this way as well by asking it to be wrapped in paper or bringing in our own container, like these organic, reusable beeswax wraps. 🙌

3) At first, we felt slightly self-conscious about using our jars & organic cotton bags, but we’re finding that many people are super supportive. For instance, in the checkout lane one day, I felt nervous as I read aloud the PLU numbers for each item in a jar or bag for the cashier.

I felt sure that the folks in line were feeling super impatient and giving me death glares. Then the woman behind me smiled and said,

You know, I have to say you’re an inspiration. I’ve been wanting to go bagless for a while and I really want to do it.

Her kind words were so encouraging and a good reminder about the positive reasons we’re doing this. And her words also jolted me out of feeling self-conscious. Thanks, kind stranger!

4) Most of the glass jars we’ve collected are ones we’ve kept after buying things like peanut butter and sauces. It’s kind of geeky—and dare I say fun—to keep an eye out to see if items on our list come in more sustainable packaging vs. plastic.

5) Keeping a ready stash of tote bags in the car and at home prevents us from being caught without one.

6) When we can’t find something without plastic packaging, we’ve recently ventured into making our own versions, such as tortillas and egg pasta!

7) Your local CSA (community supported agriculture) may also help make the zero-waste journey easier. We’ve been huge fans of CSAs over the years and started a membership with a Jacksonville-based one called Local Fare Jax. Not only do they deliver their local, organic produce a few steps from our boat, but they kindly said they can forego the plastic packaging for future deliveries too! 😭Here’s how you can find a CSA near you.

8) Don’t forget your smaller local and international grocery markets as they can be another source and ally for buying groceries in bulk and finding potential boat wares too! At Patel Brothers, for instance, I found a great rolling pin, stainless steel cups that are stackable, and essential oils, etc. Kourosh International Market, which specializes in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods, has organic coconut oil and the owner happily obliged about taring my jars! And New World Market has a great selection of rice, cooking oils, and other Korean items!

9) Even though certain products can be more expensive at times than their plastic-packaged counterparts, we’re finding these positive things tend to happen when choosing plastic-free options:

  • As the Zero-Waste Chef wisely puts it: “Reduce your trash and reach all of these goals and more. Because practically every aspect of modern life involves trash, when you attempt to reduce your waste, you examine every aspect of your life—and you live more intentionally.” On that note, we’re gradually becoming more intentional about what we’re buying and how much we’re using. For instance, when I needed shampoo in the past, I used to pour a good bit into my palm without a second thought. Now, I’m way more mindful to not use more than I need and it lasts for months longer! So, it may seemingly cost more up front for certain things, but I’d venture that it evens out (and is cost-saving in the long run, plus way healthier for our bodies and the environment).
  • When we do try to make our own versions of a food item, our appreciation about how it’s actually made and how its tastes noticeably deepen.
  • We’re paying closer attention to what we can repurpose or save when possible, in the hopes of avoiding it automatically heading into the landfill. For instance, we noticed that some produce like broccoli may come with a rubber band around the stalk. But rubber bands are recyclable or compostable, right? According to Sierra Club, the answer to both is no (with exception of using a mail-in service for office supplies). So now, we store those rubber bands in a closed container since they’ll last longer that way, but we’ll consider ways to donate them in the future too.
  • Admittedly, we’re still looking for good solutions for some things like tofu (along with Asian noodles). By the way, why does pasta come with those plastic windows on the boxes? 🤔 Also, we read that folks can sometimes find tofu without plastic at Asian groceries but so far, haven’t gotten lucky yet. Thankfully, there are quite a few homemade tofu recipes online though!

Using food scraps:

In order to convert our food scraps into compost and keep it out of the landfill, we began experimenting with creating our own makeshift Bokashi system several months ago, using a container we already had on board. We go into more detail here, but we’ll share about the latest on this process in an upcoming post or video!

But since we create quite a bit of food scraps in a given week for a modest-sized Bokashi bin, we wanted to see how/where we could cut down by re-using food scraps we normally would have tossed.

For example, citrus peels are so pretty and we love their scent so we dropped them into our jug of vinegar and water to use later for cleaning. Easy!

But they’re also handy as a mosquito repellent since they contain d-limonene (an organic compound produced by many plants that protects them from harmful insects and plant-eating animals).

Citrus peels are good for polishing metal, deterring indoor bugs, as dried/frozen zest in food, and love this one in an article by Carrie Kirby on Wisebread: “Believe it or not, dried-out citrus peels can be used as first starters for your grill, fireplace, or campfire….You can use the peels alone, or incorporate them into a fire starter made of rolled newspaper or pine cones.” My inner 12-yr old pyromaniac loves that one for a campfire! 🔥

Pickled beet stems adapted from the Pickled Chard Stems recipe by Love & Lemons.

Putting these beets into our galley fridge, for instance, would take up quite a bit of valuable space, but I wanted to avoid automatically putting the stems or greens into our Bokashi bin or trash. Instead, adapted a lovely pickled chard stems recipe by Love & Lemons using beet stems, rice wine vinegar, cider vinegar, and turbinado sugar while saving the greens for dinner.

And some fun facts from Just Beet It (best name ever and un-BEET-able recipes…hehe):

High in fiber and minerals, beet stems also contain pigments called betalains, a powerful source of antioxidants, reducing inflammation and preventing heart disease.

As for one of our largest sources of food scraps for us, it’d have to be coffee grounds.

At first, I tried making a face scrub using coffee grounds and while I love it, I just don’t use enough to keep up with the sheer amount of coffee grounds we produce each week. Another potential use for coffee grounds we found, however, is cleaning our cast iron!

After trying to polish some metal on our boat with a metal polishing cleaner and feeling sick afterward, I reached out to a sailing friend who noted that ketchup has worked great for her! She doesn’t eat ketchup but had some on board her boat after relatives had visited, so she brought it by for me to try out.

I was a little skeptical since our turnbuckles looked pretty corroded, but after slathering on some ketchup and leaving them overnight (I did this twice), I was pleasantly surprised by how well it worked!

Ketchup’s acetic acid in vinegar does the trick!

Chronicling our learning process with zero-waste approaches so far has been eye-opening and it’s challenging our assumptions.

Take, for instance, this inspiring and provocative Ted Talk, “Zero Waste is not recycling more, but less” by Bea Johnson.

Often considered one of the pioneers of zero-waste practices and author of the best-selling book, Zero Waste Home, Johnson shares about the 5R’s (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot) and about all the benefits of a Zero Waste lifestyle which she’s experienced for herself and her family of four. Heres’ a teaser quote from her talk:

For my family, zero waste is not about recycling more; it’s actually about recycling less by preventing waste from coming into our home in the first place. Recycling, for us, is a last resort. As a matter of fact, zero recycling is a goal.

Are you looking for bulk and zero-waste stores near you, check out these resources:

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Aarika March 4, 2019 - 3:38 pm

This is such an incredible post! I learned so much from you about sustainable living and creating a less wasteful lifestyle . . . especially aboard a ship. You two are fantastic! How rad that you also love beets. Thanks for the beet lovin’ shoutout. I am super jazzed to follow your adventures and learn more from you. Happy sailing!

Wayfinders Now March 4, 2019 - 9:32 pm

Hey Aarika, thanks so much for reading and for the kind comment! It’s super encouraging and we really appreciate your site as a resource for thinking more imaginatively about food, especially beets. 🙂

Alex March 20, 2019 - 3:37 pm

Thank you for the inspiring post. Next time I grocery shop in Atlanta, I’m going to bring recycled jars and ask about taring. Great idea!

Wayfinders Now April 24, 2019 - 9:48 am

Hey Alex! Thanks for reading. Let us know how it goes with finding places to tare your jars in Atlanta. Also, we realized that many cotton bags come with the tare weight noted on the inside tags, which makes it quick and easy to know the weight. Good luck! 🙂

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