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My favorite tools for zero waste living

My favorite tools for zero waste living

Ok, I say “zero waste” but I’m not perfect! It’s very, very difficult if not impossible to live 100% zero waste in the world at the present time. You can’t, for example, totally avoid plastic. But I do my best, with pleasure. 🙂

I’ve been on this mission for many years now, and my mother before me. I love that so many things I do today remind me of her and my grandmothers, one of whom I never met. But I have a spoon I use for everyday cooking that was hers, and I think of her.

Not everything zero waste has to be new or expensive. 

Without further ado, here are some of my favorite zero waste tools for daily living, in no particular order.


Zero-waste dishwashing

NoTox Life dish block, bamboo soap holder, and agave dish brush

I’ve tried EVERYTHING for plastic-free, zero-waste dishwashing and this is the BEST.

Gentle on the hands (it contains aloe vera), fantastic at cutting oils and cleaning, it even shines stainless steel better than anything!

The bamboo soap holder has little dowels in the bottom to keep the soap drained, extending the life of the bar. The brush does a dandy job washing dishes, glasses, and pans. 5 stars! Ps—the last time the dish block was on sale, I bought LOTS so I can cut down on shipping… until I (hopefully) find a merchant selling them locally.

Earlywood flat saute

Earlywood flat sauté

The greatest cooking invention since fire! Brad Bernhart, a mechanical engineer by training, designed and makes these beautiful wooden utensils (S, M and L) in his studio in Red Lodge, MT. SUCH a pleasure to use, an amazing price, and one of my favorite gifts to give. I love supporting this business!

A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind

After reading Shoukei Matsumoto’s lovely little book A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind, I decided to invest in beautiful daily cleaning tools. 🙂

Berea College handcrafted broom 

For my new home, I’ve ordered a new smaller broom from my favorite source: Berea College in Berea, Kentucky. “Berea College isn’t like most other colleges. It was founded in 1855 by a Presbyterian minister who was an abolitionist. It was the first integrated, co-educational college in the South. And it has not charged students tuition since 1892. Every student on campus works, and its labor program is like work-study on steroids.” —Adam Harris, The Atlantic, The Little College Where Tuition is Free and Every Student is Given a Job

I used the taller, natural brooms from Berea in my big house for years and they are such a pleasure. My new broom hasn’t arrived yet but click on the link above to see the beautiful multi-colored broomcorn I chose this time. 🙂

Japanese RT1 Shuro whisk broom and Harimi dustpan

Japanese RT1 Shuro whisk broom & Harimi dustpan

Made of natural, biodegradable materials, just as effective as they are beautiful. The Harimi dustpan is made of paper, bamboo and persimmon tannin! I’ve been looking at that longingly for years. If not now, when?

Compost bowl

Compost bowl

My building has compost pick up! I used to pay for this myself ($32/month!) because 40% of landfill is comprised of wasted food and I’m not willing to add to that. My food scraps go in this cobalt blue bowl that was my mom’s, covered with a plate. When it gets full-ish, I tip the contents into a compostable bag the company provides and refrigerate until it’s full when I run it down to the collection bin in the basement. Easy peasy! And I’m helping build quality soil instead of clogging landfills.

Pantry jars

Pantry jars

Mason jars are my primary food/smoothie/pantry jars. I recently replaced the lids and rings which are a standard, inexpensive item at local hardware stores. But I also love the tall glass ones with white metal lids, from Sparky’s raw honey my son gets at a farm market in Maine and the short ones with the black lids from Hex Ferments Glow Kraut which I often buy from our local farm market (Whole Foods sells it, too). Buying in bulk reduces packaging and saves money! I’ve owned various sizes of Simple Ecology produce bags for years and Zero Waste Chef has great instructions on how to sew your own produce bags with a video.

Carryout food kit

Carryout food kit 

My basics:

  • Really, really, really old (but still nice!) Nike backpack, which I carry nearly every day and somehow seems to go with everything I own.
  • Hydro Flask thermos, keeps drinks cool or hot. (Thank you, Arran! I still love, love this!)
  • Container Store Stainless Steel ECOLunchbox – I know this sounds expensive, but my son still has the one I bought for him in elementary school (he just turned 29). It’s just big enough to take a little lunch or dinner to the park for an impromptu picnic (see below).
  • Anthropology Nifty Napkins – Shown above is one of many charming assorted colors of these bright, pretty cotton napkins. Always fun to use! I was able to pick these up at an Anthropology near me years ago and they’re still available.

Bambu Spork – I purchased these at a Smithsonian shop (don’t remember which) probably a decade ago. I always have it tucked into a pocket in my backpack, so I’m ready to eat zero waste any time. 🙂

Lastly: picnicking in the park!

Kalorama Park

Bedspread from Indian crafts store

Kalorama Park picnic

Now that Kalorama Park is part of my world (5 minutes from my house) impromptu picnics are an easy option! So I bought a cheerful bedspread at an Indian crafts store up the way. With my other zero-waste to-go items, I’m ready to savor life with friends and family at the drop of a hat. 🙂

I hope you see something inspiring! I’m likely to do at least one more post soon on favorite zero-waste personal care products and DIY recipes. Meanwhile, if you have any questions about this one or zero waste in general, please ask!


The present and the infinite


There is Pain


  1. Melanie Riley

    I love that flat saute tool! I might have to order some for myself and my mom. Where did you get your sandals?

  2. Joetta Lawrence

    Lovely set up! And what is the small rectangle object on your napkin under your your spork? I love the diversity of your weekly Mindful News and share it with many friends! Thank you.

    • Jo

      Joetta, So sorry I missed your comment all this time! I’m glad you like my setup. 🙂 The mysterious rectangle is a cover made of cork that comes with the bamboo spork. I keep it with a napkin in my backpack. Once I’ve used it, I wrap it in the napkin, take it home and wash it then return it to the cover and my backpack, so it’s always at the ready.

      And I’m sooo glad you are enjoying and sharing Mindful News! It’s such a pleasure to create, to hopefully help provide a little nourishment and joy for people…like you! 🙂 Love, Jo

  3. Maryboo

    I really don’t see how buying more stuff is zero waste. Everything we need has already been produced and is either in your house, a friends or at a second hand store. As long as we keep taking natural resources to make things that help us “reduce” we will not diminish our footprint. Love the idea of zero waste but you do not need to buy stuff to do it.

  4. Mary

    PS I am not trying to be negative, I am just truly trying to understand because I see this type of consumerism a lot. Buy stuff to save the world. Am I missing something? I would appreciate some enlightenment as to how this is helpful

    • Jo

      Mary, I totally get it and agree! As I say at the start of the article, “Not everything zero waste has to be new or expensive”—my way of precluding consumerism that can indeed be counterproductive! In fact, most of what I’ve shared here that I use and love are quite old (my grandmother’s spoon, my mother’s bowl, my backpack, reused and old jars). The book is from the library (my go-to!). I suspect we’re on the same page, and I’m really glad you care about this, too. 🙂

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