Refillable, Compostable, Zero-Waste Packaging Options

March 21st, 2022


I plan to continue adding to this list. Trying to keep a database of reputable companies with zero-waste, low-waste packaging policies. Leave a comment with your discoveries.

Cleaning Products

Blueland – Surface Cleaners (Multi-Surface, Glass + Mirror, 
Bathroom, Foaming Hand Soap). No Parabens, No Phthalates, No VOCs. $39 Kit comes with 4 plastic bottles and and cleaning tablets (in paper pouches). Can also purchase individual cleaner bottle kits. Refills are $1.55-$2 per tablet. If you already have your own bottles, you could just purchase the refills.

Cleancult – Products: All Purpose Cleaner, Liquid Dish Soap, Liquid Hand Soap, Dishwasher Tablets, Laundry Tablets. Refillable GLASS bottles. Coconut based cleaning formula, also olive oil & zemea propoanediol is vegan, cruelty free, GMO free and made in USA. Refills come in milk cartons (liquids) or paper mailer (powdered tablets). Paper mailers.

Earth Breeze – Laundry Sheets gets lots of kudos from my NextDoor neighbors.

Grove Collaborative – has moved up on my list. They offered many sustainable products but packaging was so-so. They are now offering refills for their home line of soap and detergent products in aluminum cans rather than plastic bottles and new options such as shampoo bars. Full range of cleaning, personal and cosmetic products.

Sheets Laundry Club – My personal favorite laundrysheet is a dissolvable, biodegradeable sheet of detergent. Also offer dryer sheets and laundry booster. All paper packaging. Vegan, gluten-free. $14 for 50 sheets (1 sheet per regular load) with subscription.

Tru Earth – laundry strips, recommended by Geri K. Free of parabens, phosphates, added dyes, chlorine bleach.

Food Storage

Net Zero Co. – Silicon re-usable zip storage bags, beeswax wrappers, metal & glass food storage containers. Also cloth bags, dental & body care products. Compostable mailers. Available for re-sale to vendors.

Blue Avocado/ (re)zip – Food storage, pack & travel. Re-usable plastic storage. Widely available at WalMart, Amazon, BBBY, Whole Foods, online & many other locations. Made in China, no other sustainability creds except re-usability.


Etee – Plastic-free dental (toothbrushes with replaceable heads) & body soap products, food wraps & storage, dish soaps and scrubbers. Most items sold in bulk, most $9 – $20, bundles cost more.

I visited the original Package Free Shop in Brooklyn NY a few years ago (has now expanded to 6 NYC stores) and was jazzed that they also have an online shop. This is probably the widest variety of items offered on one site but might feel too upscale & curated for some.

Grove Collaborative – They are now offering refills for soap products in aluminum cans rather than plastic bottles and now has shampoo bars and full range of bar soaps, cosmetic products, essential oils.

Office Supplies

Wisdom Supply – Binders & Office Supplies


Down to Earth – Plant supplements and Fertilizers. In compostable paper boxes and bags. Available at some plant nurseries

Returnable, Refillable Containers – Grocery, Health, Beauty

Loop – If you prefer well-advertised brands (including Seventh Generation and Nature’s Path), several manufacturers and retailers (Kroger & Walgreens) are teaming up to offer door-to-door drop of products and pickup of containers. Currently it is only available in pilot programs on the east coast but you can sign-up for the waitlist to be informed when it is available in your community.

As of 2/12/2020

ZeroGrocery – If you are fortunate enough to live in the City of Los Angeles, City of San Francisco or these cities in the San Francisco East Bay (Pinole, San Pablo, Richmond, El Cerrito, Albany, Berkeley, Oakland, Alameda, Piedmont, Orinda, Castro Valley) then you can have a true refilable/sustainable packaging grocery experience. Groceries are delivered in thermal bags that you leave on your doorstep, along with refillable containers, to be picked up on the next delivery. Small produce (berries, beans, brussel sprouts) come in cardboard boxes. Meat in wrapped in paper placed in compostable bio-plastic zip bags. I enjoyed their service for over a year but they have recently retrenched and I’m no longer in their service area, for now.

In Defense of Cloth Napkins

February 23rd, 2022

Knowing my love of fabrics, my friend Kelly recently gave me a bag of antique  kitchen and table linens.I soaked the  yellowed & stained items in chlorine bleach for about 15 minutes then put everything (except a few fragile looking items) into a hot wash load with pre-wash. They were hung out to  dry so as not to set any stains. They were still damp this morning, perfect for ironing.

Some are kept for special occasions but we rarely entertain.  The casual, persistent stains and mismatches are folded in baskets around the areas where we eat or snack. The family catches on pretty easily since they are much easier to access than the drawer where the emergency paper napkins are kept.

Paper napkins do find their way in take-out food bags but I mostly use those to wipe out greasy, eggy plates, dishes and take-out food containers. That grease and food quickly clogs up drains in dishwashers and sinks; I have fewer drainage problems now.

San Mateo County Faith-Based Housing Summit – Redwood City Table

February 6th, 2016

San Mateo County Multifaith Housing Summit 
Summary of Redwood City Discussion –
February 5, 2016

Rental evictions (910 Clinton and more) as buildings are purchased & redeveloped, not returning at affordable rates.
Competition for purchased housing is so great.
RUMOR: One company owns 30% of RWC rentals – need verification
Children are impacted by unstable housing (equivalent stress to losing a parent). Communities are also affected as schools lose teachers and parent support groups.
100 homeless students at Sequoia High, many due to families being split up among houses.
Problems at school districts hiring teachers, clerical, bus drivers because no affordable housing.
Long-term homeless have higher bars to jump getting back on their feet.
St. Pius recently had 50 parishioners show up at a meeting on affordable housing, most Hispanic – racial dimensions to housing shortage.

Challenges in other Cities, Statewide, Nationally (these are only the items shared with the large group,  I’m sure each group had more to say):
EPA – Facebook buying up land
HMB – folks living in shipping containers
San Mateo – decrease in economic diversity of residents
Belmont/San Carlos – NIMBYism, opposition to change
Burlingame – very dense, neighbors leaving area so communities disintegrating, schools full.’
Statewide  – 85% Fed restriction on how much RE lending can be done by Credit Unions
Loss of Redevelopment Agencies
No state policies on affordable housing

Successes in RWC (& beyond):
Property on Franklin St. currently up for bid for non-profit development
New Accessory Dwelling Unit law (permanent buildings)
New Developer Housing Impact Fees into fund for affordable housing.
Habitat for Humanity still has some ongoing projects
Match up with individual landlords (rather than multifamily buildings) (Abode Services, through San Mateo Housing Partnership Program).
New $328M State affordable/sustainable housing fund we may be able to access.

Suggested Actions & Opportunities:
Guidelines to allow garage conversions
Guidelines to allow tiny houses
Eliminate Prop 13 for commercial buildings
Extend time frame for evictions
Support SFO PIA ballot measure on Rent Stabilization
Moratorium on rent increases
Shipboard housing
Tax credits or other benefits to landlords for maintaining affordable housing stock

Adjust psychological  barriers to change
Many churches (schools, colleges) are land rich/cash poor – how to leverage land for housing (Barbara Christensen is Community College contact with much experience)
Reach out to landlords to voluntarily be part of solution
Clergy education of congregation at the pulpit of housing as moral issue.

Regulatory & Existing Programs:
Form group to talk to banks about Federal Community Investment Act regulations on affordable housing loans and how/if they are meeting them (Rhonda Coffman). Banks are supposedly rated on this criteria.
Community colleges using land for housing (see Barbara Christensen, above)

There was an awesome Redwood City turnout at this event especially our elected officials (current & former): Ian Bain, John Seybert, Shelly Masur, Barbara Pierce, Diane Howard.
Clergy members: Mother Anna Lange-Soto (El Buen Pastor) and Rev. Katie Goetz (Woodside Rd Methodist)
Government, non-profit and community members at-large: Evie Dwyer (St. Matthias), Jessica Stanfill Mullin (San Mateo County), Joaquin Sanchez (Bay Area Industrial Areas Foundation, St. Pius), Julie Sanchez & Gina Zari (San Mateo County Assn of Realtors), Diane Dittmar (Abode Services), Rhonda Coffman (City of Redwood City), Steven Rozzi (Peninsula Covenant Church), Steven Grabianowski.

Respectfully Submitted,
Claire Felong

Composting without the Mess

May 18th, 2015

Not everyone has the space, time or interest to maintain a compost pile. Even if you do, those of us living in cities don’t add protein based foods (meat, dairy, fish) to our piles because they attract unwanted rodents and other animals (our chocolate lab finds the pile irresistable). Still trying to figure out if the polyesters bits in dryer lint that I throw in my compost are small enough to be of no harm but was interested that scientists feel that compost cannot yet be generated artificially 🙂

If you’re fortunate enough to live in an environmentally aware community, you may be given the option to separate your plant- and animal-based (bio)waste  for  separate recycling/composting. I have designated “garden compost” and “street compost” containers.

IMG_3052In our renovation 17 years ago had a drawer custom made for garden compost into which goes vegetable matter: waste fruit & veggies, tea bags, floor dirt, old pillow feathers, lawnmower clippings and shredded paper, to name a few. That is now goes daily to my “garden compost”. Great for the plants and I don’t have to pay for it. 

About 5 years ago local residents were  given special covered buckets and encouraged to fill them with all food scraps (I keep the veggie matter for my “garden compost” but put the meat, bones, seafood and food-infused paper products for “street compost”.IMG_3050 IMG_3051I soon replaced the bucket with a commercially available container that seals out bugs and smells. We line the container with bio-compostable bags and place the full bags in a designated streeetside rolling bin, along with our garden clippings, that then go to the municipal composting facility that is able to speed-compost with high heat. 

Even tightly sealed lined containers can be both SMELLY and attracts FLIES. Not to be deterred, our local waste management company, Recology, suggests: 

Sprinkle baking soda if it starts to smell.

Deter flies with citrus, lavender, eucalyptus or lemongrass oils by placing a few drops on a cloth and leaving it inside or on top of the pail. 

If your community needs to come up to speed in the composting arena, contact your local elected officials and ask them adress “compostables waste management” in the next waste management contract cycle. Refer them to Recology or other waste management companies with a good track record on how to implement a successful program.

Fair Pay for Restaurant Wait Staff

April 15th, 2015

How much do restaurants pay waiters & waitresses? Minimum tipped wages are currently (4/15/15) $2.13/hr and have been so since 1991.  A few states have higher minimum wages (California $7.25/hr). While a few stellar and fortunate folks can make a living wage from tips, your average waitperson cannot. How can you make a difference?

1) Write your representatives and ask that minimum tipped wage rise yearly at the same rate as as other government COLAs (cost of living adjustments0

2) Be aware of how wait staff are paid at the restaurants you frequent – ask them. If they are not paid fairly, stop giving the restaurant your business and tell the manager or owner the reason. They can make the decision to change or go out of business. Find a restaurant with ethical pay and eat there (& tell your friends to do the same).

In the meantime, I’m starting a list here of wages at restaurants. GlassDoor is a good place to start for Base Salary. Recommend that wait staff start entering their data into Glass Door regardless of how big or small your employer. Information helps us all make ethical decisions.  Feel free to comment and provide info on restaurants that you know wage and benefits (if any) for:

Name                  Hourly    % Above/              Other Benefits

                                              Belo Natl Avg

Big Boy               $2.13        -82%                     None

BJ’s                       $7.00      -44%

Cracker Barrel     $2.84/hr                              Avg tips $17,120. Benes only for full time which most servers are not.

Disney                                                                  Avg ann’l pay $32,951, Health Insurance, Sick Days, wages are union

Hilton                $7.49                                        Bonus, avg tips $18, 852

Hyatt                                                                      Avg ann’l pay $24K, Health Ins, Vacation & Leave

Natural Pesticides, Cleaners & Detergents

April 6th, 2015

If you are reading this you probably don’t need to be convinced that natural pesticides are preferable to toxic ones. Herewith are a variety of solutions:


Homemade boric acid ant stations.  The formula is 1/4 tsp boric acid and 1 tbs sugar to 3 tbs

hot water.  You need to leave this stuff out in jar lids, etc along their trails (but away from  pets).  This will draw them in for awhile, so it will seem worse, but in about 5 days the workers will have taken it home and destroyed the colony.

Wikipedia  cautions that it’s important to avoid spraying them, because that can stimulate increased egg production in the colony, or worse, can cause the production of secondary colonies in your walls, etc..



1     Gal Vinegar
2    C Epsom Salt
1/4 C Dish Soap(Original blue Dawn, recommended)

Mix in your sprayer (add dish detergent last to avoid bubble-over)
Write the recipe on the sprayer or on paper and cover with clear mailing tape so anyone using it know the ingredients. It will kill any plant you spray it on so use carefully.

Spray in the morning after dew has evaporated.

Dishwasher Detergent:

1 1/2 cups food grade  powdered citric acid (available in bulk online or at restaurant supply , home brewing & some natural food stores)
1 1/2 cup washing soda
1/2 cup baking soda
1/2 cup sea salt (but kosher salt works fine)

Combine and mix in a large air right jar (quart Mason-type jar works well)

Use 1 tablespoon per dishwasher load.


Disposal Cleaner

Pour used coffee grounds down the sink or bathtub drain, followed by 3 drops of dish soap and a pot of boiling water. This will clean and clear the drain of clogs and built up grease.


Air Freshener

Easy to make. Thanks to Grist for the recipe

2 ounces of vodka ( cheap stuff works just fine)

  • 20-40 drops of essential oils
  • 6 ounces water
  • an 8-ounce spray bottle


Mix all of the ingredients in the spray bottle and give it a good shake for about 30 seconds … and you’re done! If you want to get extra fancy, you can make a cute label to stick it on the bottle.



Combine in a 16 oz bottle:
15 drops lavender oil
3-4 Tbsp of vanilla extract
1/4 Cup lemon juice.
Fill bottle with water. Shake.Ready to use.




Sustainable Donations

April 8th, 2014

Environmentalists are generous by nature, desiring to share our good fortune with others. Like me, most of you probably make monetary contributions to a number of causes. I suspect that, like me, your mailbox (at your door or post office) is probably overflowing with requests. Sadly, they come monthly or more and with lots of letters, explanations, envelopes that fill up our trash.

Here are some possible solutions:

1) MY  solution,  is in this letter which your are welcome to copy and send to your favorite organizations. If  many of us do this, perhaps these well-meaning organizations will move in the right direction:

Dear ________,

Please help me be a better contributor and supporter by removing me from your mailing list. Huh? You may ask.

I feel overwhelmed to face a mailbox of multiple ‘begging letters’ each and every day (on top of adverts, bills). I have no time to read yours, much less those from the 25 other organizations to which I regularly contribute.

It is now December and I have received XX requests by mail and countless emails from your organizatin. I have been donating since ____  contributing an average of $__ each year.  Endless letters remind me only that the organization has no idea of who I am. Once or twice year I pull out an envelope and payment form and toss the rest of the contents. The rest of the mailings from you go directly to the recycling, what a horrible misuse of time & resources. Most of my friends will not take the time to audit the charitable requests as I do but I know from speaking to them that they feel the same way and become resentful of constant requests, larger trash bills and wasted trees.

I am a busy person, heavily involved in my family, work and community. At some point in my life I decided that your organization was worthwhile and effective in using my funds wisely. I have continued to contribute without reading any of your subsequent nicely-crafted letters whose stories were ingrained over a lifetime – I no longer need to read them.

This is the computer age. You DO have the ability to track which of your contributors donate and how frequently – if you truly value them, you will care about their contribution patterns, ask them how frequently and in what form (paper or electronic) they would like to receive communications and respond appropriately.  Yes, a few very old ladies have endless hours to read every piece of mail but I, and most others like me, am not one of them.

I, as most contributors, have limited financial resources to meet endless requests. I plan & spread my giving throughout the year; I don’t respond to special or year end pleas. I expect that the organizations to which I donate to do the same financial planning for the year. You must  trust that your thoughtful contributors will not give less because they are asked less frequently. Many of us are donating smaller amounts electronically on a monthly basis so that your budgets (and ours) are less lumpy.

BTW, I am not swayed by name stickers, note pads, medals or member cards – I am trying to simplify my life in many ways –  no one has ever asked to see any of my members cards and my wallet is full already.

This is not a negotiable request.  If mail did not decrease to quarterly or less by ____ ( date 1 year in advance)

This also serves as notice that you may not sell my name, address, email  to any organization for any purpose.

(USE WHEN APPROPRIATE) ( You may not split your organization into two parts to collect twice as much. I am not gullible just because I have a heart.  I give to the original organization, not the offshoot.)


Someone who thinks highly of your cause

2) Charity Watch has a simpler notice:


I am sending this note to reduce the waste and invasion of privacy caused by unwanted mail solicitations and telemarketing calls. If you would like me to consider contributing to your organization in the future, please agree to the following checked items:

___ Remove my name and address from your mailing list.

___ Do not sell, rent, exchange, or give my name or contribution history to any other organization or business without first receiving my approval.

___ Do not send me direct mail solicitations more than ___ times a year.

___ Do not telephone me to ask for money, or…

___ Phone me no more than ___ times a year, and only on the following day(s) and times:

Name and address labels from your solicitation(s) to me are enclosed.
Thank you for respecting a donor’s wishes.

3) Sandra Block at USA Today  suggests intent giving sites such as Network for Good and Just Give which allow you to donate anonymously (there is a 3-4.75% processing fees so your charity doesn’t get the full amount) but that won’t get existing requests to stop.

4) Catalog is known as a website that allows you to lower your paper footprint from catalogs but they also work with some of the larger charities to get remove your name from their mailing lists.  It won’t help with smaller and local charities, and not all charities have joined, but it’s a start.

Poop in Your Food? The circle of life

March 12th, 2014

Recently an email came through decrying that produce was grown in human poop and that Chinese suspend chicken wire crates over the fish ponds and the fish with their shit. While this sounds sensational, in truth, human manure was a standard farming nutrient prior to the flush toilet.

I am not overly concerned about chicken poop or people poop – where do people think dirt comes from? it’s worm & bug poop (also known as castings).  The “Circle of Life” is not just a cute song from the Lion King – creatures eat predominantly other creatures – bones, stomachs, poop and all.  Cows & horses poop on the land that grows the grass that they soon graze on.  Human poop starts as food and is simply food that has been burned as fuel or excess nutrients that cannot be fully absorbed at the time.  Allan Savory in his TED presentation establishes how new deserts have been re-established as verdant grasslands by re-introducing traditional cattle herding whereby the droppings both enrich the soil and contain the grass seeds for reseeding.

We need those excess excreted nutrients over and over again each day and they need to return to the food stream through the soil, though a diet entirely of poop is probably not very well balanced and should be mixed with veggie matter for a full-bodied compost.  Composting and percolation through the ground to underground aquifers  (except those exposed to fracking or other underground toxins) exposes excrement to the pro-biotic bacteria necessary to cleanse it for eventual safe reabsorption into plants. The Rich Earth Institute in Vermont does just that with collected urine (rich in nitrogen, phosphorous & potassium) in a [rpcess they  call “peecycling” which is used after it is pasteurized !

That being said,  excrement of sick humans and animals should be contained and kept out of the food stream.

No less an authority than our founding father, George Washington, considered people and horse casting to be more valuable than gold. Though he was many things to our nation, he considered himself, first and foremost a farmer. He studied it, saved seeds, used crop rotations, fertilizers, was intimately knowledgeable about the micro-climates of Mt. Vernon & the 8,000 acres he maintained for his wife’s family around Virginia.  He built lovely “necessaries”, outhouses, throughout his estate from which the proceeds were harvested regularly and encouraged everyone to use them. The farms were extraordinarily prolific and provided all the food for the family and 300 workers.


Amish have been recycling their refuse regularly though some municipalities are now requiring them to put in leach beds. 

Columbus GA will soon be selling human waste biosolids to farmers.


Sew and Sew: Where to Buy Ethically Made Fabrics

February 14th, 2014

As a sewer, quilter and fabric consumer I’ve always paid close attention to waste and using up scraps is part of why I like quilting. Lately I’ve been choosing many organic fabrics because of the many toxic chemicals that go into the farming and production of cotton that affect not only the consumer but the farmers and manufacturers. Likewise, reading about the slavelike conditions & wages in many low wage overseas factories, I’m reluctant to buy a lot of new fabric and am paying attention to where they are made.

Though, not generally a JoAnns fabric shopper, I happily learned that they have just introduced a new MadeInAmerica fabric line from FabricTraditions. Online chatter indicates they have always carried some Made in USA fabrics but you have had to search for them.

Most of Liberty of London fabric is still woven in England as seen in this video.

By my research Japanese prints are indeed made in Japan, they are even milling high quality denim!

FabricWorm carries a large selection of organics and I just discovered Organic Cotton Plus.

Of course there is always repurposing fabric, buying at thrift shops & yard sales and, of course fabric swaps!

Fabric Softeners Toxic Secrets

January 24th, 2014

You’ve probably all read the memes and emails on wonderful things you can use fabric softener sheets for. What the manufacturers would rather you not know are how the ingredients affect our bodies and our central nervous system .

The chemicals go from our clothes to our skin, our largest organ, and are absorbed through our bodies.  Children, pregnant and nursing women are at increased risk.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists only 8 Fabric Softeners that meet their Designed for the Environment criteria and none of them are the better known brands.

The most common chemicals found in  name brand Fabric Softeners and their health risks are listed below:

Alpha-Terpineol – central nervous system disorders, highly irritating to lungs; pneumonitis, fatal edema, ataxia (loss of muscle coordination), headaches, respiratory depression

Benzyl Acetate – pancreatic cancer, irritating to eyes and lungs, respiratory coughs and lung irritation

Benzyl Alcohol – headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drop in blood pressure, upper respiratory tract problems, central nervous system, depression, and death in severe respiratory responses

Camphor – central nervous system disorders, irritates eyes, nose & throat, dizziness, confusion, nausea, twitching muscles & convulsions

Chloroform – headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, irritation of respiratory tract, loss of consciousness, kidney disorders, liver disorders, skin disorders, inhalation can be fatal

Ethyl Acetate – headache, stupor, anemia, leukocytosis, liver damage, kidney damage, irritating to eyes and respiratory tract

Limonene – human carcinogen

Linalool – respiratory disturbances, depression, CNS disorders

Pentane – headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, irritation of respiratory tract, loss of consciousness depression, dermatitis, CNS disorders.