Waste-Less Wednesday

It has been one week since I started my waste-less journey and I will be adding an additional type of waste to the challenge on Wednesdays!  One week ago, I started my training to be a “zero-waste warrior” focusing on eliminating the use of plastic straws.  With my metal straw in tow, I set out to share the work of FRN and zero -waste food systems. Any time that I used a disposable straw, I had to pay $1.00 into my FRN jar.  As of yesterday, the jar has  $3.00 in it and I have some experience combatting disposable straws. Here are my lessons learned:  

On the road last week with my straw and even brought one for my friend

On the road last week with my straw and even brought one for my friend

Courtesy of facebook memories, here I am (on the left) enjoying a wine slushie with my best friend. The picture from 2 years ago made me smile this morning. Except… now I see the glaring yellow straws! Cringe!  My goal is that two years from now, you can’t spot a disposable item in my happy moments.

Courtesy of facebook memories, here I am (on the left) enjoying a wine slushie with my best friend. The picture from 2 years ago made me smile this morning. Except… now I see the glaring yellow straws! Cringe!  My goal is that two years from now, you can’t spot a disposable item in my happy moments.

1. People have not always used straws -- this I know-- but I like using a straw.  One friend asked me why I did not give up the habit all together but as I making less waste challenges that suit my lifestyle (and hope you will do the same), I am keeping the straw habit. I don’t like ice clinking onto my teeth nor do I want to risk a $8.00 organic green smoothie dumping all over me as I try to shake the slushy consistency out of the cup. I tend to use the straw with colder drinks so perhaps the winter will be a better time to re-evaluate the straw habit.  But it is hot here in DC and I want a cool drink.

2. Yes, yes---  I hear your thoughts.  But what about the disposable cup that you are using?  I am getting there but in order to make lasting change, habit gurus suggest small, consistent change. Trust me, the disposable cups/bowls/utensils are in their last days. You can donate  $15.00 to FRN now and I will add another type of waste to my challenge and you can see me address disposables faster.  

3. Like all warriors-- I must be prepared.  I think the biggest lesson learned this week is that I have to think about bringing the straw with me.  Two of the three dollars in the jar ended up there simply because I forgot to put the straws in my bag. And as you join me in your journey, a waste warrior also thinks about how to deal with the straw once it is used. Admittedly, I did not think it through and kind-hearted baristas rinsed the straw for me and lent me wax paper so I could put it in my purse as I didn’t want to put it wet in my bag. Obviously, drying the straw with a paper towel isn’t ideal.  I purchased bent metal straws but if you buy a straight one, it seems like it would fit into a travel toothbrush holder and solve this problem! I will let you know once I test it out.  

Next up:  This week I am going to say no to napkins and coasters  I noticed during the straw week that little cocktail napkins  or coaster usually accompany a drink and I started proactively saying no-thank you. I will add all other napkins to the challenge. Follow me on instagram at @zamaka7  and through the FRN facebook community.

A Not So ZERO Waste Challenge

31 days of striving for zero waste and not once did I go a day without creating a piece of trash, womp womp. In fact, in the last 10 days I lost count. And it was not for lack of trying, I kept steady track of each item of trash but I’ll let you in on a little secret: there’s actually no such thing as “zero waste”.

The term zero waste is referring to an industrial model of design and manufacturing called a circular economy (zero waste). This is where we design products from the very beginning without waste as an end product. Currently, we live in a linear economy, where we design, manufacture and consume with waste as an end product.
— BeZero
  1. We live in a linear economy, where products are designed and consumed with waste as an end product. Unless I decided to go off the grid (which would never happen, I love pizza too much), I am participating in a world that is literally DESIGNED to create waste.

  2. We generate trash without even trying. Trash hides in the weirdest of places, here are some examples of places I created garbage without even realizing it…

    • Our clothes. On average, synthetic fleece jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibers each wash but it’s not just limited to fleece, these microscopic plastic fibers can be found in most sweat wicking athletic ware and yoga pants.

    • All the disposables used to create a meal at a restaurant such as plastic gloves, plastic wrap, twist ties…even if I ordered my meal “for here” there are countless disposable products that go into the growing, transport, and production of food.

  3. The recyclability and compostability (I think I just made that word up?) of products are not fixed. They are dependent on a number of conditions such as whether the waste treatment facility in your region has the mechanisms to breakdown and repurpose the products, the condition they are recycled or composted in (i.e. if your recyclable clamshell is filled with food, it’s not likely to be recycled), and it’s dependent on others properly sorting their waste (i.e. if enough of the wrong type of product ends up in a recycling or composting load, it can result in the entire load being rejected and sent to a landfill).

Then why do a zero waste challenge? Because reducing my personal garbage footprint is still going to have a significant environmental impact, and if each of us took this kind of action we could create a monumental improvement for our communities and our planet. And it’s okay if life just sometimes gets in the way. When I started this journey I wasn’t planning to have surgery and while it definitely set me back that doesn’t negate the fact that I produced very little trash the first 21 days of the challenge. We can’t let perfect be the enemy of good. And while my challenge is technically over, this is just the beginning to a lifelong journey of striving for less waste.

If you started a zero waste challenge of your own, where would you begin? Consider picking one item to start reducing today (disposable coffee cups, paper towels, straws) and see where it gets you. My fellow board member Jessica Felix-Romero has decided to do just that, she’s taking on the torch of the zero waste challenge and tackling a different disposable item each week to prevent and reduce. So stay tuned, follow along, and find inspiration to join us in the crusade against waste!

Gleaning! An Interview With California State University - Fresno

As we say goodbye to the last few cold days of the year, it’s time to turn our attention to gleaning.  If you haven’t heard, gleaning is the act of collecting excess fresh foods from farms, gardens, farmers markets, grocers, restaurants, state and county fairs and other food-based institutions and businesses for distribution to the poor and hungry. While some chapters have been gleaning for years now and use it as their primary source of recovered food, other chapters are just getting their footing.  We talked to one school that’s been successfully gleaning on a small scale for awhile now, but just bravely tackled one of their largest recoveries.  California State University, Fresno, led by their Vice President Dalia Dull, successfully managed to recover 3,157 pounds of citrus fruit!  Dalia explains their secrets to success in the following interview.


Describe the location you gleaned from.  How did you find out that this location needed gleaning services?

The location that we gleaned from this time was a private home with a citrus orchard.  It wasn't a commercial farm, but the owner had 170 orange and pomelo trees that he was unable to get harvested and sold this season.  The President of our college met the owner at an event and forwarded the request for gleaning services to our club adviser.

This is what a successful (and dare we say “fruitful”) day of gleaning looks like!

This is what a successful (and dare we say “fruitful”) day of gleaning looks like!


What steps did you take to get ready for the event? How early did you start planning it?

We found out about the event only about two weeks before it was scheduled.  We needed to hold the event as soon as possible due to the condition of the fruit and the weather, so the planning was pretty rushed.  Our adviser contacted our Community Food Bank to orchestrate pickup services.  We knew we would be gleaning hundreds of pounds of fruit, and the food bank was able to deliver large bins on palettes, pick them up, transport, and disperse the fruit. Marian (FRN Fresno State’s current President) and I worked to gather volunteers by emailing almost all campus organizations and clubs, including the sororities, fraternities, and our Honors College. These were the main steps to planning the event:

  1. Contacting the owner of the orchard.
  2. Contacting and arranging the logistics between us and Community Food Bank.
  3. Recruiting volunteers.


What were some challenges you faced during the day of the event?

The biggest challenges we faced with this event were getting it organized in time, and recruiting enough volunteers.


Searching for any leftovers

Searching for any leftovers

Are there any advantages/disadvantages when it comes to doing these large events versus the smaller, more regular ones your chapter does?

Everyone enjoying the “fruits” of their labor

Everyone enjoying the “fruits” of their labor

I have now organized both this large scale gleaning, and several smaller ones, and there are definite advantages and disadvantages to both.  With the large gleanings, much more planning is involved because you need many volunteers and it is more complicated to transport the fruit.  We probably wouldn't have been able to accomplish what we did without the Community Food Bank's help.  However, you get many more people involved, and they always love gleaning after they do it once. You also recover significantly more fruit, and our efforts will improve the next crop for the homeowner.

With small scale gleanings, it is easier to plan on shorter notice because you really only need a few volunteers (depending on how many pickers you have).  We have three pickers, so we usually aim for 4 volunteers. The fruit can be transported in our cars and it is easier to find recipients for the fruit because there simply isn't as much.  In addition, you spread the word about FRN very quickly because homeowners share our information with neighbors and friends.  The homeowners are always so excited for us to come and do something beneficial with their fruit trees, and we do meet such interesting and kind people! You can also reach multiple locations in a day when each home has only one or two trees.


Is there any advice you'd give to chapters looking to start gleaning?

For new chapters just starting out with gleaning, I would suggest making a little card with the chapter's contact info and a brief explanation of their services that they can give out to homeowners.  We go door-to-door in neighborhoods with a lot of trees and leave our card so they can contact us and we can schedule a day.  Also, it is important to decide beforehand where the fruit will go, and make sure there is a location available to donate the fruit.  Bins or buckets are important, too.  Gleaning is an awesome experience, and most people truly find it fun.  When the weather is nice, and you have some music playing, everyone has a great time and the outcome is so rewarding!



Thanks for your hard work, Fresno State!

gleaning 5.JPG

FRN Invests in Strongest Asset: People!

Food Recovery Network is pleased to announce the recent promotion of two national staff members to the position of manager. Hannah Cather has been promoted to Program Manager, and Danielle King has been promoted to Finance and Operations Manager.


Hannah Cather (hc, as we call her in the office) joined the FRN National team in August 2015 as a member of FRN’s third class of Fellows. hc first learned of FRN while she was a student at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, where she volunteered with her chapter, and on a whim decided to attend a national conference co-hosted by FRN. After her first year as a Fellow, hc was hired full-time as FRN’s first-ever Program Associate where she flourished. While an Associate, hc took on a leadership role to train the incoming class of Fellows to learn how to support FRN chapters across the country and build new resources for chapters. It was during her time as Associate that hc also began to represent FRN externally at events such as the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, FRN’s partner Post-Landfill Action Network and other externally facing events. Of her commitment to FRN, hc notes, "Every day I come to the office and am reminded of the power student leaders possess. They constantly impact change in their communities through their passion and hard work; they make me proud of the work I do."


As Program Manager, hc is responsible for training and managing Fellows and interns--a responsibility she has taken on with natural ability combined with a desire for ongoing managerial learning. hc understands that the FRN program model demands innovation and scaling to succeed. She works closely with the Executive Director, Regina Northouse, to design and implement programmatic improvements. Look to this fall to see some of these strength-based improvements roll out across the Network.




Danielle King joined the FRN team August, 2016 as FRN’s first-ever Office Coordinator. Danielle drew from her administrative experience working at U-Haul and her managerial experience working at Friendship Hospital to support immediate operational improvements to FRN. As Office Coordinator, Danielle took on the mammoth project of bringing FRN’s bookkeeping in-house, saving FRN money that can now be applied to expanding our network. Danielle also improved FRN systems to be more efficient such as merchandise ordering placed directly to National. The time Danielle has saved the office means we can spend that time connecting with students. Danielle is also FRN’s direct contact for all of FRN’s vendors and has strengthened our connection to these vital relationships.


As Finance and Operations Manager, Danielle will take on more financial responsibilities such as overseeing FRN’s 990 filing and audit. Danielle is also managing the relaunch of Food Recovery Verified (FRV), the program that recognizes food businesses and events for recovering and donating surplus food. Danielle is working closely with Regina to develop a year-long strategy of the program to increase the value-add businesses receive from joining FRV. Danielle will also manage Fellows and interns at FRN, including FRN’s Food Recovery Verified Vista. Danielle noted,  "I love working at FRN because we can deliver on our mission in so many different ways. I am so proud to work for an organization that touches on so many issues. I feel I'm not only making a positive impact at my organization, but also in my community and in some ways the world."


When hc first joined FRN in August 2015, there were 125 FRN chapters across the country. A year later, when Danielle joined FRN in August 2016, FRN had expanded to 187 chapters. Today, because of their work to grow the movement, FRN has 219 chapters across the country in 44 states and we are moments away from recovering our two millionth pound of food--FRN’s biggest milestone since we first began recovering in 2011. FRN’s 2017-2019 strategic plan has the ambitious goal of expanding to 350 chapters across the country and that will only happen with talented individuals like hc and Danielle applying their skills, passion and commitment to the movement.


Please join us in congratulating hc and Danielle in their next step at Food Recovery Network! FRN headquarters always wants to hear from you — if you would like to personally congratulate hc and Danielle, or share your ideas for our programming, please do! Email us at info@foodrecoverynetwork.org

Zero Waste May, Week 2

The cocktail napkin has been the birthing place of some of the most successful businesses, beloved stories, and brilliant ideas but it’s about time we ditched it. When I walk into a restaurant and I order a glass of wine the cocktail napkin is the first thing I refuse. If I’m getting a drink then “no straw”, if I’m getting food then it better be on a plate with silverware and a cloth napkin or I’m refusing that too.

I’m the living, breathing embodiment of this emoji...  

And we all should be. Saying no isn’t easy but it’s an important first step towards a waste-free world. It can be intimidating to defy social norms and rock the boat by doing something different...but this boat really needs to be rocked and by boldly taking charge of the changes we can make in our own lives we pave the way for others to follow more freely in our footsteps and we let businesses know what matters to their customers, influencing change on a much broader scale.

Here are some tips on saying no and influencing change:

  • Break the cycle by sharing your intentions. When trying to dine out zero waste instead of asking to be served “for here” take the time to explain why and you won’t run the risk of accidentally being served disposables. I have found time and time again that if I say “I’m watching my waste and trying not to use any disposable products” the servers get it right every time. Have your elevator pitch ready to go!

  • Be intentional and thoughtful. There is a fine line between expressing a need and being rude and the last thing you want to do is alienate people from the zero waste movement by creating guilt or shame. Remember that a lot of trash is created from well-intentioned actions, many disposables exist purely for the sake of convenience or to make you feel taken care of. Share with friends and family what you’re trying to do, set clear boundaries for yourself, and be patient when people slip up or forget.


"Planes are a great place to refuse single-use disposables. Make sure to think ahead and bring your own snacks with your own utensils, I always have a handkerchief on hand so I don't need any napkins or tissues, and I carry on my own beverage in my own container."

"If the a business won't put your food to-go in your own container then order it for here and then put it in your own containers yourself. Easy way to work around it and while it's not ideal that those dishes have to be washed there is significantly more water wasted when you use a plastic container once and then throw it away than washing a couple extra plates in a dishwasher."

But you can’t just get comfortable with saying no...you also need to accept people saying no to you. I’m constantly fending off single-use disposables but I’m also regularly making requests to use alternative reusable products and sometimes I get turned down. One week I went into my local grocery store and asked if they could sell me fish in my own pyrex and the fishmonger was more than happy to oblige. Later that week I walked into the same grocery store to get some ground turkey and made the same request and was given a firm no. Sometimes you lose the zero waste battle but it never hurts to ask.

I’m sure you’ve seen this video of the solo dancer at Sasquatch who started a movement (if not, go watch it now). I love this video because it reminds me that it only takes one person to start doing something differently to effect change. We can all be this guy dancing our way through life a little differently than the rest, defying norms and opting for zero waste. It won’t take long before others catch on that dancing is so much better than sitting

Pledge to waste less this month...be the change in this world that we so desperately need...but most of all...will you dance with me ?