Sunday, July 17, 2011

Low Impact Vacation

We have been out of town. I wanted to write so badly about my preparation for our little trip, but I don't really like to announce to the internet that I'm going to be out of town... so I've held off until our return. But now we are back and oh my, I have so much to share with you!

First off, planning to go on vacation and not create waste is certainly a challenge. There are many factors to consider and much planning to avoid the convenience of disposable products. I started with the shopping and packing before we even left. In the past I would buy easy to cook things that usually come in lots of packaging and are cheap (to save money for other things of course). But this time I shopped just like I would for our home, except that I had to consider what wouldn't be on hand since it wasn't our home. I made sure we had things like oil and tamari and lots of local eggs and milk in glass bottles (yes, it was heavy). I made a lot of granola (finally hit on a recipe that everyone loves!) and made sure we had popcorn and rice and noodles, maple syrup and cheese and juice in glass bottles... all of the basics for an enjoyable trip with a family.
Here is what our fridge looked like when we got to the house in cape cod:
And we of course had all of our coffee making supplies on hand so that we wouldn't have to buy coffee out (luckily there was a coffee maker there!):
When we got to the cape, I went out and bought the fresh stuff to eat. We found a nice veggie stand on the side of the road, which I frequented... however, it brought up another dilemma for me: fresh local produce that required minimal transportation waste but IS NOT organic, or go to the local st*p and sh*p and buy organic, which ONLY came in plastic clamshells or bags, by the way. I went with the local. Because when it comes down to it, I want to support the people around me, the people that I can meet and know are growing the food. Too bad that it wasn't organic though...

Anyhow, I did go to the local natural food store to buy some gluten free bread and some more bug spray, but it was certainly super expensive there. Too bad. I know that most natural food stores that are privately owned are this expensive. I like to support them, but there was no way that I could afford to shop there all week. In the end, we ended up at st*p and sh*p for some of the products that we usually buy at our co-op. It's great that more people can access good products at their supermarket, but it's too bad we had to go into one to buy them. HOLY CRAP those gigantic stores are so overwhelming! How does one shop there on a regular basis?? There is SO MUCH stuff and it's everywhere. And everyone is just wandering up an down isles like there is just too much to choose from. There is something to be said here about simplicity for sure... but I digress.
I put some olives and mozzarella from the olive bar in my jar and grabbed a few other things and headed to the sea of registers. The cashier had no idea what to do with my jar of olives and cheese (I sort of expected this) so she called on another cashier. That cashier was also stumped, so they called over another. With the bagger standing there as well, there were now 4 staff members at the register and no one knew what to do. I explained (again) that the container weighed 1.01lbs, but just call it a pound to make it easy. I pulled out my phone to do the math on a calculator. If the total weight is 2.32 and the container weighs one pound, then the actual weight is 1.32. Multiply that by 7.99 (the cost per pound of the olive bar, but they couldn't figure out where I got that number from) and that is what I need to pay. Finally, I just asked them to open ring $10.54 and just charge me for that. They did, but they were all confused. The bagger, however, thought that it was cool that I brought my own container. She was thinking more about how it wouldn't spill with the tight lid, but I'm still glad I got one person realizing that they can use their own containers...

All in all, we ate really well. We brought our own napkins and dish towels to avoid the disposable options in the house (I'm thinking that the owners are glad we didn't deplete their supply as well). We ate outside for almost every meal, which was great.

Instead of souvenir shops, we hit thrift stores for special cape cod finds. We searched and found some hit or miss style.
Things we found:
- crocs for daughter
- unused coloring books (an awesome Mayan one that I claimed for myself!)
- beautiful dress for daughter
- tennis balls, unused in package, $1 - perfect because we needed new tennis balls to play tennis on our trip and didn't want to buy them from some chain store
- a few other essential clothing items for my boys
- the next size in "skinny" jeans for my already clothing obsessed 4 yr old... I blame his older siblings on this issue, but that's another post
- nice new condition pillows for our sofas, we definitely needed more
- an awesome stainless steal breakfast set with a syrup, milk and sugar container in a cute little wicker serving tray... for $1 total
- much needed shorts for my partner 

We did of course enjoy the local seafood and other delicious treats that are mandatory on vacation. Don't worry, we didn't deprive ourselves of very much at all.

But since this post is going to end up going on forever, I will simplify with photos and a little something about each photo.

Mmmm. These delicious crab cakes and fresh shrimp came from Mac's Seafood, just about the best place to get your fish from on the cape. The people at Macs were awesome - they happily put my crab cakes and shrimp in my own containers. The one guy did admit that he had never been asked to do it before, but he liked the idea.

Mmm. Fresh local donuts from Hole in One  donut shop. We went to their shop in Orleans and they happily put our donuts in our own container. I explained that we were trying to reduce the packaging that we use and the girl who helped me thought that was a cool idea. She did a great job squishing our donuts into the container so they would fit without any issues.

Ah yes, ice cream.  Ice cream cones are a good way to avoid waste (and we ate some), but one night we wanted to go pick some up and bring it back... So we took our containers with us to get ice cream from a local ice cream shop. We were sad that they were all closed but there was one still open and it was a chain: B*n and J*rrys. We decided to do it and went in discussing flavors with the friendly ice cream scooper dude. Before I realized what was happening, he handed us little plastic disposable spoons to taste the flavor we were discussing. Ok ok, it's true that I actually asked for the taste... But I forgot about the spoons! Anyhow, when I asked him if he could put ice cream in my container, he was confused but willing. He said that he could just pack up a pint for me and I wouldn't need my own container, so I explained that we were trying to reduce waste and didn't want the packaging. He immediately got it then and willingly started filling the container, stating that that is just what B&Js likes. (Did he mean reducing packaging? Maybe it's time they are introduced to non single use plastic spoons... I will be emailing them about this).
Anyhow, the guy scooping the ice cream was super interested in what we were doing by the end and was telling us all about the classes he's been taking in college about how people are buying differently now and thinking more about the consequences of their buying habits... Let's hope this becomes more of the norm.

In Povincetown, we opted to eat at this really nice little upstairs farm to table restaurant called tinys. It was a little pricey but the prices made sense and we were happy to support them in exchange for a great meal. I loved how they put their menus on upcycled pieces of wood.

The kids got this amazing french toast, made from Provincetown Portuguese sweet bread and maple butter.

This was what my partner got, a 100% chemical, hormone, antibiotic free pasture raised local beef burger. 

And the cucumber was actually homemade pickles.

I am also not going to lie: we bought some packaged items. Had I been thinking, I would have traveled with a gigantic container and gone to the cape cod potato chip factory and asked them to fill our bucket... but I wasn't thinking. So we bought cape cod potato chips in bags. And they were good.

Ok, enough about food. I wanted to also share that we successfully only filled one trash bag half way for the whole week - there were the 5 of us, plus our dog, plus 3 guests throughout the week. Not bad, even if it is much more than we have been producing at home. The trash and recycling guys tried to come and pick up the trash mid week, but were very confused. They were looking everywhere for our trash but gave up and left. I bet they were REALLY confused when they came yesterday and found almost nothing to take... However, we did have one full trash bag of recycling and one paper bag full of paper recycling (we brought this home because I wasn't sure that they would take everything that we recycled).

And now for some of the fun shots of my family enjoying themselves on the beach:

Conclusion: it is possible to continue living a conscious, low impact lifestyle and take a fun vacation without missing out.
Try it!!


  1. Awesome post! I love how your commitment to using less packaging is making people think about their consumptions. Hope it inspired them to change their ways.

    I have a question. Do you write the weight of the container on the lid or do you find that checkout people want to check the weight themselves first? I've been a little scared to try using my mason jars in the big grocery store for fear of the scenario you encountered. (We go to Giant once a week, which has 4 huge aisles of natural foods and products - it's a like a mini Whole Foods in there.) I've been using the cloth/velcro bags for bulk there and no one every says anything since I have the sticker already printed on there. Wegman's was also cool with it. I would love to not shop at any chain but sadly we don't have many options here.

    And yes, big grocery stores are completely overwhelming and carry an unnecessarily vast offering of products. Ridiculous.

  2. I do write the weight of my containers on the lids (or wherever)... and I used to reweigh them every time before I refilled them, but I use so many now that I just make sure that they have all been weighed once and have a number on them before I fill them. It only gets tricky when I have lids that fit a few different sized bottles, but I just try to pay attention. I've gotten pretty good at guessing the weight of containers.

    But what I should have done this past week is stop by at a register or customer service desk and ask if I should have my container weighed and tared at their registers before I shopped. The reason is that some register systems have a tare chart where they convert the weigh of the containers to a number that helps their system identify that weight. That was why no one knew what to do with me... but they should have all known how to troubleshoot the situation (that is totally me talking as a front end manager).

    I can tell you from working as a cashier, if someone forgets to weigh their container, it's really not the biggest deal. We pretty much have to come up with a weight that cashiers just judge, based on other containers that they have weighed in the past and remember. If someone already has their containers weighed before they come in, it actually helps us out. And the truth is, you can't really hurt the business that much if your container weight is wrong - it usually isn't a huge difference in price.

  3. Awesome post! You guys are doing amazingly well with reducing your packaging!

    You putting all those things in one jar just reminds me of the days of being stumped on how to weigh things at the Co-Op. XD But it looks yummy!