Food with a Side of Plastic

I have been fascinated with the idea of waste ever since I started the UNM Sustainability Studies Program. I think it is incredible that we throw out 40% of our food in the United States and that we have things like this that exist. Every thing we own is waste at one point or another and it is enough to make you crazy. Once you begin to notice, you’ll wonder why we are wasting so much effort and money and time on packaging products instead of the products themselves. And that is exactly what sustainability champions like Lauren Singer and Collin Beavan have noticed as well.

Although I care immensely about this planet, I really enjoy the occasional hamburger with green chile and a fried egg, I buy the occasional to-go coffee, probably eat out too much and have definitely overindulged in things that are bad for the planet—but hey, I’m a college student. And any student understands that 24 hours in a day are not enough: how am I supposed to “adult” as in eat healthy, get enough sleep, exercise, see friends, build a resume, keep up with the news, pay rent and bills, read, travel, etc with full time school and a part time job? Is it possible to live sustainably when we can barely survive as it is sometimes? Is it possible to live and eat well affordably without wasting so much? I believe that with an adventurous attitude, an emphasis on DIY, buying in bulk, small changes like composting and repurposing, providing 100% of my own storage, and by thinking with a thrifty mindset this is definitely an attainable goal.

So here are the rules: for three weeks I will produce no waste (from food or packaging) or as close as I can get, which means: No packaging of any kind—no packaged cereals, milk, cheese, vegetables, fruits, or candy (it’s going to be a rough month). This also applies to drinks: no lattes to-go, no sodas, packaged teas, no alcohol (unless it is from a growler that can be refilled—so a quick thank you ‘Burque for being so full of breweries!).

All food scraps will be composted and anything that cannot be composted must be repurposed in some way. I already have some worm friends living next to my kitchen.


Photo credit: Keara

Eating out is allowed, however this is by no means more “sustainable”. It is also important to note the waste produced by single use napkins, sugar packets, etc. when dining out.

I will complete this in phases and try to determine how to live with as little waste and little impact as possible, here are the phases.

Phase 1: Think, shop, and DIY
Evaluate what I am eating, how it is packaged, and what I already own. Next I will determine how to avoid this packaging all together.

So as it turns out, my kitchen is filled with all kinds waste. I have a variety of spices, oils, and things like berries that come in small plastic tubs.

One of the focuses will be DIY almond milk and peanut butter, and completely eliminating packaging of fresh fruits and veggies.

Here are some tools I will need throughout my project.


Cloth bags used to purchase things in bulk and for produce, a growler, lots of Tupperware, and lots of jars. Photo credit: Keara

Peanut Butter
One thing I should mention is that my roommate LOVES peanut butter. I have bought a 16z jar and it is gone in 3 days. I have never met someone so passionate about peanuts, peanut oil and salt—which are the ingredients to peanut butter. So with that in mind I bought 3 pounds of peanuts at $3.50 a pound, put the ingredients in a food processor and am now licking fresh homemade peanut butter off a spoon as I type.

This was incredibly easy. I think it took me five minutes in total. It saved money and I’ll definitely do this again.

Almond Milk
I’ve actually never been partial to dairy milk, but I have purchased prepackaged almond milk multiple times. Using the same bulk supply of nuts I was also able to make a little less than a liter using a cup of almonds. I most definitely will be making this from scratch again; it has a really nice almond flavor that I’ve never tasted from a store brand.

Corrales Growers’ Market
I feel that our culture may be centered around plastic, even in Corrales’ adorable little winter market—vendors need to supply plastic because of, well, demand for it. That is why individual choices matter so much. I came to the market with my cloth bags in tow and was actually able to save vendors money by bringing my own bag. More money in New Mexico! In trying to live zero waste, local food may potentially be the best option. Vendors encourage you to bring back their containers like a 10oz jar for honey or an egg carton. Technically this isn’t zero waste but it does allow for re-use and re-purposing, which is much better than recycling.  Also, as far as growers’ markets go, where else in the world can you go grocery shopping, see local products and people, and pet 12 dogs? (That happened.)

Phase 2-Becoming more independent
If you want to live zero waste, you have to cook your own food, which means owning spices and oils to do so. Spices and oils can be bought in bulk, but if this isn’t available you have to buy them in their packaging. More importantly it is important to plan meals with zero waste in mind. In eating package free for three weeks I essentially adopted an [almost] vegan diet without even realizing. Some of my favorite no waste recipes that I survived off of were things like black bean burgers, vegetable hash, and kale chips.

I also thought about how I buy spices in bulk but this does not eliminate waste all together. One way to eliminate waste from spices is to grow your own! Over the course of this project I planted basil, chamomile, cilantro, sage, and oregano.

I’m still waiting on them to sprout but hopefully I will have fresh zero waste spices in no time!

Phase 3-What next?
Throughout this project I learned a few things:

A zero waste diet takes planning: when you shop, eat out or go out for drinks—all of it takes thought on where your product and packaging is going.

A zero waste diet is mostly vegan but as a result you eliminate processed food from your life. For me this resulted in several instances where I caved and purchased candy (oops).

A zero waste diet opens your eyes to the incredible amount of packaging that surrounds us. Every time I went to the super market I thought, “I can make that” and it allowed me to adopt a thrifty mindset into aspects of my life other than food.

For example,  look at this citrus and clove oil infused vinegar I made as cleaning product. I found a way to reuse citrus peels and create an all natural cleaner that smells amazing and that I can technically eat.


Photo credit: Keara

Overall I believe that it is possible to live sustainably and “waste free” even as a broke college student. Even though waste is technically always present there are steps we can take to avoid it or drastically decrease it. Whether it is making things from scratch or simply bringing reusable shopping bags—there are all steps we can take to understand and decrease packaging and food waste from our lives. And in a world where you can Google and learn how to do basically anything, there is no reason not to give it a shot.

-Posted by Keara


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1 Response to Food with a Side of Plastic

  1. Tushar says:

    An endeavour worth praise! Way to go!!

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