Book Review – The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less

One of my favorite vendors at the farmers market had a wide selection of goodies this week–plums, cucumbers, soft persimmons, hard persimmons, figs, and more. On the one hand it’s awesome to have so much good food to choose from, and on the other hand it takes me a couple of minutes each time I go just to make a decision. Barry Shwartz’s The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less offers some insights into the problems that can come from having too much choice and some ways that we can simplify our lives reducing the number of choices we have to deal with each day.

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Maximizing

One of the most striking things I learned is that I’m naturally a maximizer:

“Imagine going shopping for a sweater. You go to a couple of department stores or boutiques, and after an hour or so, you find a sweater that you like. The color is striking, the fit is flattering, and the wool feels soft against your skin. The sweater costs $89. You’re all set to take it to the salesperson when you think about the store down the street that has a reputation for low prices. You take the sweater back to its display table, hide it under a pile of other sweaters of a different size (so that no one will buy it out from under you), and leave to check out the other store…. Maximizers need to be assured that every purchase or decision was the best that could be made.”

Ahh, comparison shopping. I have on occasion spent more time researching vacation options than I would spend on the actual vacation. 😦

“Maximizers are more likely to experience regret after a purchase.”

Yup, one of my main reasons for getting involved in the Buy Nothing New project was because I was sick of buyer’s remorse. (Is that really not normal?)

“Maximizers savor positive events less that satisficers and do not cope as well (by their own admission) with negative events.”

Hrm, that sounds really bad. I’ve been working on it already though before even reading this book. Dealing with negative events will always be hard, but with gratitude journaling and enjoying the critters run around the garden it’s a lot easier to be happy.

“[P]erfectionists have very high standards that they don’t expect to meet, whereas maximizers have very high standards that they do expect to meet.”

😦 This is just getting worse, but it’s crazy how well this explains my character. I do have high standards and I really do get disappointed when I fail to meet them.

I have been on my own path to being less of a maximizer and more of a satisficer, though. That is, someone who will take the sweater if it meets all of her requirements and then, not sweat it. No second guessing. I chose the hard persimmons this week. They’re sweet and very refreshing when frozen and sliced. I don’t know how any of the other options would have turned out, but No Regrets.

See? Progress.

Adaptation

Knowing about Maximizers may not be relevant to you, but one thing that is relevant to everyone is adaptation. It could be adapting to positive experiences (like when your office starts providing fresh fruit for employees) or for negative experiences (like visiting a different city where that tap water tastes kind of weird). Whether positive or negative, it gradually becomes a new normal. And that’s worth factoring in when making a big decision worth busting out your pros/cons list.

“In 1973, 13 percent of Americans thought of air-conditioning in their cars as a necessity. Today, 41 percent do. I know the earth is getting warmer, but the climate hasn’t changed that much in thirty years. What has changed is our standard of comfort.”

If you take a job in a different city, sure it’ll be interesting for a while. But crazily enough, eventually you’ll get used to it. And it often doesn’t take as long as you might think.

“Because of adaptation, enthusiasm about positive experiences doesn’t sustain itself.”

When my office runs out of fresh fruit, it’s just *grumble, grumble*. It’s no longer special. It’s something that I expect.

The same is true of folks who upgrade to a larger house with so much space that they think it’ll be the last house they’ll ever need. The empty space even requires buying more things to fill it up. Until at some point the house doesn’t feel so spacious anymore and they start dreaming bigger.

“Factoring in adaptation to the decision-making process may make differences that seem large at the moment of choice feel much smaller. Factoring in adaptation may help us be satisfied with choices that are good enough rather than ‘the best,’ and this in turn will reduce the time and effort that we devote to making those choices.”

Hedonism

What happens when adaptation goes to far? You keep expecting more and more, and you can never find happiness.

“We probably can do more to affect the quality of our lives by controlling our expectations than we can by doing virtually anything else. The blessing of modest expectations is that they leave room for many experiences to be a pleasant surprise, a hedonic plus. The challenge is to find a way to keep expectations modest, even as actual experiences keep getting better…. One way of achieving this goal is by keeping wonderful experiences rare.”

Anchors

Or as I prefer to call them, fake choices.

“One high-end catalog seller of mostly kitchen equipment and gourmet foods offered an automatic bread maker for $279. Sometime later, the catalog began to offer a larger capacity, deluxe version for $429. They didn’t sell too many of these expensive bread makers, but sales of the less expensive one almost doubled!  With the expensive bread maker serving as an anchor, the $279 machine had become a bargain.”

This is ridiculous! But after seeing it, I realize how common it is. It doesn’t always need to be a different product. Sometimes the anchor is the “list” price, which is then slashed by 10% or even steeper to make me think I’m getting such a good deal that I can’t not buy something.

Beware of price comparisons, and think of the true value to you.

Choice Paralysis

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Ketchup or catsup? Which is better?

Someone should have statistics on this but I’m not familiar with any so I’ll just make something up. If you’re anything like the average American, you’ll spend 892 hours in supermarkets during your lifetime just staring at shelves full of soups or something like that and trying to decide which to get.

Schwartz described an experiment done with jam-tastings at a supermarket. In one scenario, shoppers had 24 different choices of jam and after sampling 3% bought some. In the other scenario, shoppers had 6 different choices of jam and 30% of shoppers bought some.

Nope, choice doesn’t always make things better.

How to Deal With Too Much Choice

Almost everyone wants more choice, and in general more choice is a good thing. But just because a choice exists doesn’t mean you need to worry about always making the best choice. Schwartz states that it’s okay to just choose the soup that’s on sale or to choose the one that just happens to be directly in front of you. Hey, you have better things to be making decisions about.

“This is a very good thing. The burden of having every activity be a matter of deliberate and conscious choice would be too much for any of us to bear.”

In Summary

Use your power of choice where it really matters and the rest of the time accept any choice that satisfies your base requirements.

Manage your expectations. It’s natural to want new and shiny things, but take some time to realize that what you have is pretty darn awesome too.

Likewise, factor adaptation into your decisions. Something that seems shiny and new now probably won’t feel that shiny and new for very long. And thought a routine may seem tough now, you can probably get used to it. Recognize those things that will really matter in the long term.

 

And if you’re a little crazy like me, make a decision to not buy new stuff unless you really need it. Or resolve to only make planned purchases and wait a day before making a decision if you get the urge to buy something on impulse. Sure, there are a lot of choices to make besides purchasing decisions, but if you have the option to stop paying attention to advertisements it sure gives your brain a lot of extra space to think.

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Yet Another Way to Prevent Food Waste

At my office, on most days there is some kind of a meeting with leftover food. It usually winds up in one of the kitchen areas for people to randomly find. Some gets eaten, some ends up in the trash. At my office, we also use a chat program for communicating, so I created a chat channel called #free. This has worked great for not just meeting leftovers, but has included some items culled from folks’ pantries at home, personal lunch leftovers, non-food items, and a successful call to eat (or take home for banana bread) the very ripe and spotty bananas in the kitchen one day before they would have been thrown out. This has to be one of the easiest ways to keep food out of the landfill in an office. We’re up to 59 members now who share info on food that needs saving or at least will happily eat some of it. 🙂

Here are just a few of the many recent postings with successfully adopted items:

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Zero Waste Week – Day 5 – Goodwill Tour

Woohoo! It’s the last day of Zero Waste Week and I’ve made it through with, well, minimal waste. Today the Austin Zero Waste Lifecycle Meetup group went on a tour of the Goodwill Resource Center in south-east Austin. If you give something to Goodwill instead of throwing it in the trash, that’s no guarantee that it won’t end up in the landfill but they definitely do a lot working towards zero waste.

It started out with what definitely wasn’t a Zero Waste lunch, but I was prepared for this and had already eaten before arriving.

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Now I really want a Cheeto 😦

A few of the nice folks from this Resource Center and from Goodwill Central Texas shared some more information as other folks finished eating. The mission of Goodwill Central Texas is to empower people through work. That’s not just temporarily working at Goodwill but building the skills and experience to continue on to other opportunities. They’ve even done a ton of advocacy, going so far as to get laws changed, so they can offer the training and GED programs necessary for people to be successful in the workforce. Finding a job isn’t always easy for folks who are trying to make a life for themselves after getting out of prison, who have a disability, and other groups of people, so I’m glad that when I shop at Goodwill any profits are going to a good cause.

Next up, time for the tour! We all put on some orange vests and unfortunately for those of us who weren’t wearing glasses, we had to use some packaged glasses. (They were returned at the end of the tour.)

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I have a pair of lab goggles/glasses. If only I had known I’d need them!

The tour was worth it though. First up we passed through the Goodwill Outlet Store where as much as possible of the goods are sold. And then we passed along through the curtained doorways to where the real magic happens. Here a bin of unsold clothes gets loaded into the baler and ready to ship out to whomever is willing to pay for it.

Next up, we saw the sorting area where tons of hanging signs showed where to put almost every conceivable type of item. Depending on the type of commodity, these boxes and bales can then be sold for anywhere from $0.03 to $0.55 per pound.

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The sorting area has boxes and bins for small toys, luggage, paper, sports balls, vacuums, and so much more

Beyond that there are just boxes and boxes of stuff. All tagged and organized with what they have in them. Some are things that are ready to be sold either at this Outlet Store or shipped to one of the local Goodwill stores to be sold there. But it must be that that type gets disbursed fairly quickly because the majority of labels I saw was stuff that didn’t sell in the stores and is waiting to be sold on the commodity market.

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Computers are a special item because if they’re in working condition, they go to the MacFarlane store to be refurbished and resold. The machines and parts that are hopelessly broken just go to the recyclers.

But wait, that doesn’t look like a computer…

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A bale of stuffed animals hanging out among the electronics

Towards the back there are just stacks and stacks of bales of different materials, but definitely more clothing than anything else.

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Just a few of the clothes bales
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Oh hey, there’s some bales of plastic at the end of a clothing row.

And then of course, there’s the eCommerce department. Jewelry, books, expensive stuff. That all gets sold online so Goodwill can get the most possible value from it to put towards their mission.

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This could be a beautiful library, but they’re all being listed online
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Small items being packed up to ship
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And larger boxes for larger items

It’s not perfect, but Goodwill Central Texas is able to divert about 80% of the resources that come its way away from landfill, which is pretty amazing considering all the crap that people send to Goodwill constantly.

So that’s it, Zero Waste Week is over. I failed a bit at the end just because I missed eating out. Our final meal of ZWW was some fried rice from a chain not far from home. They still have real plates and real silverware, but at some point since my last visit they switched over to disposable cups. I survived without a cup of my own, but my husband’s cup of water tonight knocks off a few points for me. (And probably also his fortune and cookie wrapper, since he wouldn’t have gotten those had I not suggested eating out.) Oh yeah, and the receipt. At least I was prepared with my own containers for the leftovers and those will disappear tomorrow for sure.

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Don’t worry about the chopsticks. They’re from a previous meal that I’ve been reusing.

Zero Waste Week – Day 4 – Blog Bites

We’re almost through Zero Waste Week and I’ve read so many inspirational blogs that for today I just want to share some of my favorites. Enjoy!

Gippsland Unwrapped has a ton of ideas on how to make use of food scraps that would normally go to waste.

Zero Waste Chef shares how to repurpose jars, including removing those labels and some brilliant advice for defunkifying those really strong smelling lids.

Over at gaygeekzero he’s been in the garden but also taking it one step further with some tips on energy waste and repurposing to avoid buying new.

Waste-Free PhD describes her experience that ugly fruit is delicious.

I need to get start growing some lemongrass to try out this awesome zero waste bug repellent idea.

Westywrites gets into food waste prevention with some serious food planning.

As Lard tell us,

Unless you care, no-one else will...

So I hope these inspire you as much as they inspire me to be a better person and to continue striving to enrich this world.

Zero Waste Week – Day 3 – Gratitude Journal

Going zero waste isn’t about denying yourself the good things. In fact, the things that are trying to frustrate me this week don’t have anything to do with zero waste at all…. Well, the soda has been beckoning me and it’s hard to resist and it’s quite wasteful, but I have much better reasons to not drink it than Zero Waste Week.

And I definitely have the things that really matter, so without further ado, here are just a few of the things that I’m grateful for this week….

I’ve said it before, but first and foremost, I’m grateful that we have healthy and inexpensive tap water available so there’s no need to resort to a bottle.

I am grateful that we have a refrigerator and stove, which together make eating leftovers a breeze. (We ate yesterday’s leftover soup for dinner tonight, this time remembering to add the chickpeas and mushrooms.)

I am grateful that one of our local farmers at the market had tons of delicious cucumbers last weekend, and our local grocery sells package-free carrots, cabbage, and salad mix.

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Breakfast salad

I am grateful for working somewhere with a foosball table and plenty of coworkers willing to play a game or two. When your job involves staring at a computer screen all day, getting up, moving around, and maybe letting out a bit of aggression is a very welcome option. And other than the occasional drop of rod grease used, it’s zero waste entertainment.

I am grateful that my husband and I were able to afford this house and that it has a great yard that was (and still is) rich with weeds. There was plenty of clover adding nitrogen to the soil and dandelions loosening up the soil by sending down their long tap roots. Without them, we wouldn’t have these happy cowpea sprouts and squash baby.

I am grateful that even though I didn’t realize until after I picked it that this canary melon wasn’t fully ripe, it turned out to still be sweet, crisp, and satisfying.

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If this melon was ripe, the flesh would be white

I am grateful that although some insects are in the biting mood lately, most of them are totally harmless to me.

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On a melon leaf

What are you grateful for?

Zero Waste Week – Day 2 – What Makes a Soup?

Growing up I only knew one kind of soup. It required chicken, white rice, carrots, celery, corn, cabbage, salt, pepper, comino, garlic powder, and part of a can of tomato sauce. That was the only soup I knew, so if I had planned to make soup for dinner and didn’t have one of those ingredients on hand, I ended up eating something else instead.

Well, that was just silly. Soup can be made from anything, and it’s a perfect way to use up random veg in your fridge.

So today, into a pot half-filled with water I added veggies that I had on hand: carrots, onion, bell pepper, garlic, and corn. At the last minute I also discovered a potato hiding away and threw it into the pot. There’s so much potential for food waste prevention here. I had a couple of bell peppers, so I chose the one that was slightly softer to add. (Sometimes bell pepper seeds add a nice texture, but unfortunately my pepper today was not seed-rich.) Got ugly carrots? Slicing and boiling them makes those cosmetic blemishes totally disappear.

For seasoning, I added the standard salt and pepper. Plus some red pepper flakes (I have a ton of flakes from pizza lunch leftovers at work), comino, coriander, and oregano. If I had other seasonings in my pantry, I’d use those instead. Just don’t add something like cinammon unless you’re really adventurous. We’re trying to keep food out of the trash, remember?

Did I need chicken? Not quite. Strangely, I saw two of them walking through different parts of the neighborhood on my way home from work today, but I wasn’t tempted to slaughter them for dinner.

Of course, if you have a half-eaten chicken leg in the fridge or other random leftovers, throw those in too. It’ll only add value.

Some people use mushrooms as a meat replacement. I had some in the fridge, as well as some chickpeas that were ready to go. I totally forgot about them. Did the soup suffer? Nope, it was still delish. (The shrooms and chickpeas will get eaten later this week, no worries.)

For carbs, I added a bit of everything–brown rice, wild rice blend, and also barley for texture. Every once in a while I’ll throw in a bit of quinoa because my husband loves it. Other times we’ll just throw in some kind of pasta. Pretty much anything will work here. The only thing is if you use something that generally cooks fast, wait a bit longer before throwing it in to keep it from getting too mushy.

That’s it! Water and whatever else you have on hand. That’s what makes a soup.

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So good I ate most of it my bowl before snapping a picture. 🙂

What recipes do you have to help prevent food waste?

 

Zero Waste Week – Day 1

Today was the easiest day of zero waste week because it was a holiday and I wasn’t tempted by the junk food at work. Instead around lunch time I made a huge pot of vegan chili full of various diced veggies. FYI, this is also a great way to use up random veggies that would otherwise go bad. To start out the week, I’ll share the foods I stocked up on this weekend in preparation for this no-fast-food week. Not perfectly zero waste, but fairly close.

I knew I would need plenty of sweet fruits to avoid the week without regressing to soda so I picked up some peaches, pears, and holiday honeydew (maybe?). Plus there are a few canary melons in the backyard which are almost ripe.

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Fresh grub from the farmers market

Likewise, plenty of bread for satiety.

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Package-free bread and bagels

More carbs and plenty of nuts, plus peppercorns for good measure. (I’m already fully stocked on beans).

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No mason jars required!

Extra veggies, with a few stickers just to taunt me. I got these pears before getting the farmers market pears shown above and probably should have skipped these. And I know avocados aren’t the most eco-friendly item to buy these days, but my husband is so happy to eat the occasional avodado.

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Non-local produce
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Mixed greens and garlic that somehow avoided being in the previous photo

Then of course, there are the weekly wasteful things. Milk is a necessity for my husband and he’d be rather upset if I didn’t get him any… and then go out and get it himself. As for the toilet paper, well, at least the wrapper and cardboard core will be composted, and I imagine some of the tissue particles will wind up in Dillo Dirt.

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The wasteful things

To make up for that waste, though, I did something adventurous to make sure the pumkin blooms in my backyard weren’t going to waste. This morning there was both a male and female flower open, so I pulled off the male flower, stripped it down to the stamen, and showed that female flower a good time. I’m usually less concerned about wasting future food, so this is my first lesson learned for Zero Waste Week.

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Well, that’s it! Time to get to sleep early so I’ll be less tempted by the caffeine tomorrow.

Zero Waste Week 2016

The Fall Garden Begins!

It may feel pretty hot again here in Austin, but there’s some hope that we’ll see a little relief not too long from now, like those couple of beautiful weeks that we saw last month where it was a pleasure to be outside. A few weeks ago I described the couple of garden beds I planted during that brief pleasurable time. But now I know that it’s time for fall gardening. And it’s all because of this.

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A carrot!

Normally carrots take forever to germinate. Sometimes it feels like they never will. But one of my Paris Market carrots has already poked its head out of the ground and is telling me that it’s time to go.

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The canary melon vines have come back to life
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The pumpkin vines are also in bloom

I’ve decided to use go without any soil amendments for the fall garden and see what happens. No compost (because none of mine is ready) and no purchased mulch (crumbled leaves and grass clippings will have to do). But some new seeds were a must. As far as my Buy Nothing New project, I count seeds as food and therefore allow myself to buy anything I reasonably believe I can use. Last weekend I visited Shoal Creek Nursery to stock up. Reading about soil health recently, I ended up getting a few different legumes to experiment with, as well as some buckwheat. (Ignore that the buckwheat package says it’s for sprouting. I’m gonna plant it!)

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I intended to buy carrot and onion seeds, but things happened.

I’ve resolved to plant one row or square of something every day. So far it’s been just cowpeas and snap peas, but I have a lot of back lawn left to plant.

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The area chosen for cowpeas turned out to be really rocky. I cleaned out some, but it’s a good thing I wasn’t planning to plant carrots there. It’ll need more work in the future.

This morning I discovered something else wonderous.

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Some of the cowpeas sprouted already!

So today my husband and I went back to the garden center to get some onion seeds and maybe a few more beans to get into the ground while there’s still time. Somehow, with earlier season seeds on sale at 75% off, I ended up with this…

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So many seeds!

At least I’ll have plenty of time to learn about some of these varieties before starting them out in the spring. Other than carrot seeds (because I love carrots) and perennials, that’ll be it for me this year. Including the carrot seeds I bought a couple of weeks ago, I’ve spent altogether just over $20 on seeds and don’t at all doubt that I can grow $20 worth of food with minimal additional input. Well, that’s it, time to get gardening!

And my apologies for all of the exclamation points in this post. I’ve been messing around in the garden regularly for a couple of years now, and this is the most variety of veggie life I’ve ever had thriving at once so it’s pretty awesome. 🙂

You Don’t Need It

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I’ve read that within a given day the average American will see several thousand brand logos and advertisements. And while thinking about how ridiculous that is, I also realized that I was wearing a tshirt with a logo on it. I thought it was awesome to find a shirt with a Wheatsville Co-Op logo on it at the last Really, Really Free Market, but am I actually contributing to the problem of ad fatigue?

Fortunately, using billboards to display art instead of advertising is gaining popularity. And there are even a few instances like this bus stop bench which serve as a good reminder that it’s okay to ignore all of the other advertisements out there. Maybe I could make my own “you don’t need it” shirt and see what happens.

Could you go Zero Waste for one week?

Could you go for one week without disposable cups, straws, napkins, bottles, or other single-use disposables? Well great news! Next week, September 5-9, is Zero Waste Week.  Sign up to participate. Or just try it on your own.

I, uh, drank a can of soda today and also picked up some fast food for lunch with significant packaging so I definitely have some room for improvement. For at least one week I can be prepared with bringing my lunch every single day! I’ll make sure to stock up at the market this weekend so I don’t fall to other temptations later in the week. And who knows, maybe it’ll really stick this time.

Zero Waste Week 2016

Every year they have a theme for those who have already mastered the previous years’ challenges, and this year the special theme is “Use it up!” You may hear a lot about plastic waste, but food waste might just be the worst waste of all. We’re talking about food that uses up good land and water, pollutes other water sources with artificial fertilizers, and so much more. And all that for food that doesn’t even get eaten!

So even if you feel like you can’t get away from disposable napkins for a week, consider some of the other things that you may be able to do to help reduce your food waste:

  • Buy only what you need.
  • Have a no-new-food day or two, and just eat leftovers or whatever other perishables you may find in your fridge. Consider making this a regular thing.
  • Learn a new recipe like how to make older apples into applesauce.
  • When you go grocery shopping and you see a wonky carrot with two legs, buy it instead of letting it get tossed out by the grocer later.

There are more less-waste ideas on the Zero Waste Week website.

So what do you think? Are there any Zero Waste changes you’re interested in trying out for a week?