waste free dishsoap!

At the close of Operation Zero-Waste-Kitchen’s first week, we found ourselves with a meandering stack of unwashed dishes stretching onto the stovetop, and a sadly empty plastic bottle of dishsoap with which to tackle the chore of washing them (there are still various odds and ends being used up from our pre-waste-free existence and our bottle of Dawn had seen it’s last day). So on Saturday morning, with Cassandra engaged in her usual whirlwind of weekend activities, I found myself undertaking the task of calling into existence some zero-waste dishwashing liquid.

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A little bit of Googling helped me find a few different recipes for homemade dishsoap, and I combined what I found into a full procedure that will be given below. Those of you who just want the juicy bits can skip to the end, but if you want the story of how it all unfolded… Read on!

I started off with a trip to Bulk Barn (which is like 4 blocks from our house) where I picked up a big bag of baking soda and a couple of bars of vegetable glycerine based hand/body soap. The procedure ended up using just a little bit of each of them, but we use baking soda for pretty much everything (teeth brushing, hair washing, bathtub scrubbing, etc.) and I’ll use the rest of the bar soap once my last bar of Ivory is gone. As mentioned last week, I used their proprietary bags in the store but transferred everything into our own containers when I got home so I could save the bags and re-use them.

Once home I took about a cup of baking soda and baked it on a cookie sheet in the oven at 400F for 45 minutes to convert it into washing soda (something something, carbon bonds, something something, chemical reaction… you get the picture). Washing soda – I learned – is kind of like baking soda’s more baddass big brother. Our familiar friend baking soda has a PH of 8 and you can use it in all kinds of household applications, from making cakes rise to scrubbing your linoleum. Whereas washing soda has a PH of 11 and thus is fairly caustic. It would be closer to a household cleanser like Comet, not the kind of thing that you’d ever put in your blueberry scones, for instance. I did a whole cup, even though the procedure only calls for a teaspoon because I’ll want to make a batch of laundry soap later on. I stored the leftover washing soda in a clearly marked glass jar next to the laundry soap. You’ll want one with an airtight lid, because exposure to oxygen will let it convert back into plain old baking soda.

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After that I grated about 80ml of the bar soap into 2 cups of boiling water and used a whisk to stir until it dissolved. Once the bar soap was dissolved, I took it off the heat and stirred in a teaspoon of the newly minted washing soda. Nothing special happened immediately, but after sitting for a couple of hours the mixture had gelled into a milky goo somewhat resembling congealed semen.

photo 2After scratching my head about how to get it into a squeeze bottle, I decided to just glorp it into one of our plentiful cottage cheese containers and store it next to the sink. Next time maybe I’ll try pouring the mixture into the squeeze bottle before it congeals, but for now this solution works.

Several dish loads later we can safely say that the zero-waste soap is cleaning effectively. It doesn’t bubble the way you might expect it to, but according to my research this is because commercially produced soaps contain unnecessary foaming agents which are designed to give a good impression rather than actually contribute to the cleaning of your dishes.

Both Cass and I have found our hands a little dry after using the soap, which right now I’m attributing to the washing soda. In future we’ll likely reduce the ratio of washing soda to the other ingredients and see how that effects things. A couple of the recipes that I found included essential oils which might also help to keep your skin moisturized, although then you run the risk of smelling like a hippy.

So! For everyone who wanted to skip the parts about congealed semen and get straight to the actual soap recipe, here you go! I’ll also include links to the sites that I gleaned various bits of information from. Enjoy!

WASTE NOT YXE’s Zero-Waste-Dishsoap (Prototype #001)

Bar soap (3 tbsps grated)
Baking Soda (1 tsp)
Water (2 cups)
Essential Oil (a few drops, optional)

Convert the baking soda to washing soda by baking it on a cookie sheet for 45 minutes at 400F (you might like to do a full cup of baking soda instead of just one teaspoon. You can store the leftovers in a sealed and marked jar to use later. REMEMBER: the washing soda is now much more potent than baking soda and should be handled like a household cleanser such as Comet. ie, don’t get it on your skin and definitely don’t put it in your carrot muffins).

Bring the water to a boil in a pot and add the grated soap. Stir with a whisk until the soap dissolves.

Remove from heat and stir in the one teaspoon of washing soda.

Allow to sit for 2-4 hours until the mixture has gelled and is opaque.

Transfer to whatever container you want to store it in.

Wash those dishes!

Zero Waste Chef – DIY Dishsoap
Nature’s Nuture – Turn Baking Soda into Washing Soda














round 1: groceries

This weekend we began putting our no kitchen waste adventures into practice by grocery shopping! We had already developed into fastidious recyclers and composters over the course of the summer, which means that groceries are the area that really needs attention if we are going to eliminate garbage. We have also decided to prioritize re-using or refusing rather than recycling; rather than buying things that have recyclable packaging, we were opting for zero packaging, period.

We started our trip at the Bulk Barn over in Blairmore. Armed with old ziploc bags that have survived many washes, and a few empty bread and oatmeal bags, we wandered the aisles, quite pleased with the number of staples and novelty items (although slightly taken aback by the multiple aisles of gummy candies). There were plenty of interesting rice and grain blends, some of our favourites like oatmeal and quinoa, packaging-free dog treats, protein powder for me (definitely a staple for a vegetarian weight lifter), spices, tea, and the list went on.

We decided to use our own bags without asking if it was OK first, figuring that it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission in this case. Once we  hit the huge vats of peanut butter, however, we knew we’d have to ask someone to weigh our glass jar so we wouldn’t have to pay extra for it. Once the cat was out of the (re-purposed) bag, of course we were informed that store policy directs us to use the containers provided (apparently due to health codes). In the end we managed to make puppy eyes at them and they let us get away with using our own bags this time because we didn’t know (we did however forgo the peanut butter to search out better options). When we stealthily suggested that the stores own bags could be surreptitiously re-used the teenager behind the counter gave us a wink and said that probably no-one would notice.

We then trekked over to Co-op, where the experience at the checkout was much better. We loaded up our cotton produce bags with a variety of fruits and veggies, and loaded two reusable shopping bags with an obscene amount of tomatoes and apples to turn into sauces later. The cashier didn’t even bat an eyelash at our collection of fabric bags and bulk veggies, and rang us through happily.

We wrapped up our excursion with a trip to the Night Oven Bakery over on 1st Ave. It’s attached to the Academy, so I’m in there almost daily for my coffee fix, but this time I was happy to be purchasing bread! We opted for the sesame loaf, and again had no difficulty in being allowed to transport that in our own reusable bag. We also grabbed a coffee and looseleaf tea to go (both in our travel thermoses), because seriously – you have to try the Night Oven. So good.

The situation at the Bulk Barn was not surprising – we had definitely expected to encounter difficulties, or businesses that would be leery of customers using their own bags. I understand completely that it can be a question of liability; if I scoop a bunch of trail mix into a bag that I washed myself, it’s hard to argue later about where I picked up Salmonella from. That said, we are all adults! Simply post some disclaimers around the building, or better yet, provide customers with access to reusable containers to purchase with. Being told “for your health, we cannot allow you to put our product into your bag” is pretty ludicrous, when you think about it. Rather than accumulating more plastic bags by shopping at Bulk Barn, we will continue to hunt for smaller, local businesses that offer bulk, package-free purchasing options. Bulk Barn can be our backup plan!


A Few Notes

All said and done, the experience was definitely positive overall, and we’re excited to continue shopping in new locations to provide some feedback about the yxe options out there! We definitely could have used more produce bags; we only had 6 with us, and had to make a few decisions based around what we could carry. An important element of this exercise is simply preparing for shopping: if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail. 

I also feel that it’s worth mentioning, there are a few things that made this shopping trip feel very easy. I am fully vegetarian, and Jesse generally eats vegetarian at home. We are already by and large healthy, whole food eaters (no processed foods, no refined sugars, etc), and have a fairly long track record of being conscious of what we choose to put in our bodies. I can definitely acknowledge that this would have been a more challenging shopping trip for someone who is attached to chips, pizza pops, etc.

That kind of approach to food, really helped with not necessarily having every craving of ours make it to the shopping cart. In the end, we still need to sort out our hookup for cheese and eggs, as well as peanut butter. We elected to (for now at least) give up milk and butter, and as our last few pantry items run low we’ll likely end up making some decisions on things like coconut oil based on whether we can find a place that will allow us to refill our own containers. We are allowing ourselves cottage cheese as the only “in plastic” purchase because we reuse the containers for almost all of our food storage and transport, and because it’s a necessary staple in our diets. If we can find a local source, we definitely will switch to that!

The rest of our weekend was punctuated with a couple fun bulk cooking adventures, which we’ll post about later!


it begins

Be it resolved that from December 1st – 31st, we will reduce our kitchen waste to zero. 

How can we live and function in our culture and still be environmentally conscious? It’s a challenging question, and even just considering all of the ways our North American lifestyles aren’t very earth-friendly can be enough to cause us to dismiss the idea altogether.

After reading the book “No Impact Man” by Colin Beaven, we were inspired to start making some (admittedly small at first) changes to our consumption-heavy lifestyle. We, like most people, create a LOT of waste in our day-to-day existence. Without consciously thinking about it, it’s all too easy to just take garbage creation as a fact of North American life. While Beaven began his no impact adventures by cutting out all garbage production, we decided to start in the kitchen because a) that’s where most of our waste is produced and b) we wanted our first few steps to be manageable and successful. We’ll talk a little bit more about the bigger reasons why we want to make these changes, and our differing individual motivations in our upcoming posts.

That brings us to where we are now, as we begin!

We were already using reusable grocery shopping bags (though we were occasionally letting ourselves off the hook if we forgot them – no longer!), as well as saving our dairy containers and old ziploc bags to re-use as food storage. Our tea ball and strainers are a kitchen staple as well, and now we have a concrete reason to stick with bulk loose leaf teas. One of our major grocery store lamentations has been the plastic produce bags, which we were able to replace with the cotton ones pictured above, thanks to The Better Good. They also had all manner of other exciting organic/environmentally friendly/sustainable products that I’m sure we’ll explore over the upcoming months. We included a picture of Basil our basil plant, mostly because we love him, but also because he represents one of our kitchen goals – growing more of our own food!


Here’s our little compost bin! This is another practice we adopted over the summer which has cut down substantially on the amount of garbage that exits our kitchen.

Our first waste-free grocery excursion will be this weekend, and we’re stoked to put ourselves to the test. No packaging will be admitted into our shopping cart, which means that this weekend will also be our first bulk cooking session to round out our fridge for the week. Some of our favourites, like apple sauce, hummus, and pizza crusts are on the idealized menu, and we’re excited to develop some specialized recipes to share here.

Our hope with this blog is to document our path from a very humble beginning, to share our experience as Saskatoonites moving in a more sustainable direction, and to invite others to share their own ecologically-minded journeys.