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“That’s not yogurt either” and other funny stories from my low-waste life

Updated: Feb 18, 2022

Whenever two cultures collide, there are bound to be some funny and awkward stories and low waste culture and standard American culture are no exceptions. I’ve had some really unpleasant experiences where people were rude, ignorant, or insulting, but for the most part, people are just kind of bewildered and curious about my low-waste lifestyle. Here are some funny stories…

Which one is the SOAP?!

We use bars for everything in our bathroom– soap, shaving cream, shampoo, conditioner, lotion – and, while my family is generally aware of which is which (except when we make a switch), guests are often totally caught unaware when we need to give them the run down: “so, the green bar is the soap, the white heart is the shampoo, the white bar is conditioner…” I’ve never heard of anyone messing up, and I don’t honestly think it probably makes much of a difference, but it’s always a funny conversation.

That’s not yogurt either

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the bulk section of some grocery stories, it is a place where you can fill containers or bags with dry goods like flour, spices, oatmeal, cereals, rice, etc. Great way to avoid packaging and get just the amount you want of something (I’m looking at you, allspice). Anyway, I used to fill cute glass containers in the bulk section, but glass and I just don’t get along (it’s heavy; it breaks), so I switched to plastic yogurt tubs because a) they are light, b) they rarely break, and c) I have a lot of them. So, I fill yogurt containers with everything from nuts and seeds, to coffee, chocolate chips, and sugar. Sometimes I even fill them with hot food from the Concord Coop‘s hot bar.

You can see where this is going, right? First, I have about thirty filled yogurt containers in my house. Some are labeled, but most aren’t (because I reuse them), so every time anyone wants something, they need to open several containers to find the thing they want (I’ve gotten pretty good at telling by sound – cashews and almonds sound totally different, when shaken, but my kids haven’t). Also, the check out people at the Coop struggle too, often ringing up my nuts as yogurt or my yogurt as nuts. It’s a strange problem to have, but there it is. 🙂

You’re such a good host!

A friend and her daughter were using our bathroom when they noticed the jar of white tooth tabs on the counter. “You’re such a good host!” She said, “You even put out mints for your guests”.

Hi, Can you PLEASE help me?!

I had to call the Concord Coop the other day with an embarrassing question. I had filled two identical jars with two identical-looking white powders. I knew one was baking powder and one was baking soda, but because I was in a hurry when I filled them, I didn’t write down which was which. Clearly this is not a common occurrence because when I searched online for: “how to tell the difference between baking soda and baking powder” I got zero helpful results.

However, the helpful person on the other line at the Coop was able to tell me based on the PLU numbers I had written on the jars by cross-referencing their containers. Crisis averted. P.S. What even IS the difference between baking powder and baking soda?!

But, everyone else got their costume at Goodwill!

This Halloween, my daughter was unhappy that her hummingbird costume was not readily identifiable to other kids. Honestly, it’s not easy to make a hummingbird costume using what you have, plus I was in a hurry, so she didn’t really look like a hummingbird, I’ll admit it. The funny thing was, though, that she didn’t know how to express the difference between her costume and everyone else’s. She knew other kids’ parents didn’t make their costumes from scraps, but she didn’t know how they did get them. We try really hard to avoid buying new things and she doesn’t know about stores like Target or Walmart. Finally, she settled on the one store she knows – Goodwill – and decided everyone must have bought their costumes there. “It’s not fair!” She wailed. “Everyone else gets Goodwill costumes and we don’t!” To be fair, though, a hummingbird costume was a tall order. I’m not even sure I would have been able to find one anyway.

What is in that giant bag?

If you are looking into my fridge, which many houseguests and friends end up doing at some point or another, you will inevitably notice that the bottom shelf is almost entirely taken up by a giant blue bag. What’s in it? Why is it there? The answer is, it’s bulk walnuts or almonds and it’s there because nuts need to be refrigerated if you are keeping them for months at a time. How do I have room for that while others don’t, I honestly don’t know. I ask myself that too. Just about as often as someone else asks me, “What is in that giant bag?”

No, it’s okay. I got it.

In my opinion, the most awkward scenario that comes up for a low-waste person is what to do with compost, recycling, and other so-called “trash” when you’re not at home.

We have trained our children and ourselves to put food waste and garden scraps in the compost and have several different recycling receptacles in the house for a wide variety of recyclables aside from the usual cans, bottles, and paper. We have a thin plastic recycling bag. We have a fabric recycling box. We even have a shoe recycling bag. So, when we are out in the world and it comes time to clean up after a meal or a party or whatever, we are often left with our hands full of stuff we would usually recycle or compost.

Now, personally, I’m meek about such things and, unless I can sneak things away without being noticed (I will tuck other people’s plastic water bottles into my own picnic basket, for example), I will just trash things along with everyone else. But my kids didn’t grow up with the throwaway culture like I did and they loudly ask where to put their compost and recycling, often embarrassing people and forcing me to scramble to explain that we are really intense about low waste at home, but it’s okay, really, that others aren’t (I have to say this away from the kids, who will not agree).

And then I am forced to bring home everyone’s recyclables and compost. So, that’s super fun. 🙂

I’d love to hear some of your low-waste adventures and stories. Please share below in the comments!

– Hannah

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