How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries

How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries // Mono+Co

If you asked me what shifted my lifestyle to go eco-friendly, I would tell you about “TRASHED“, a documentary film released in 2012 that greatly influenced my plastic-free habits today.  The scenes where an endless trail of toxic plastic waste piled up in the landfills or washed ashore will make one wonder how much single-use plastics everyone in the world goes through every day to create such a big environmental mess.  It didn’t take me long to raise the sustainable flag and begin my zero waste journey after watching the film.

How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries // Mono+Co

Determined to weed out all single-use disposables and unnecessary (or unavoidable, in some cases) packaging waste, I turned to the family-run provision stores, traditional medical halls and wet markets in the neighbourhood as my less trendy solution to zero waste grocery stores, think bulk food stores minus the neat transparent dispensers, stylish canisters, and minimalistic decor.

Utility comes first.  An array of food items is displayed in the bags or cartons that they are delivered in.  Canned food and bottled sauces are stacked up to fill any space left on the shelves or walls.

How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries // Mono+Co

Besides getting my regular supply of fresh produce and dry foodstuff from these stores, I also made friends with a seamstress (who has helped mend countless seams and replaced worn-out elastic bands) and a hardware store owner (who finds my love for old-school enamel wares and natural bristle brushes amusing,) What a vast ecosystem that supports a waste-less lifestyle!

How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries // Mono+Co

These stores are only as zero waste as you allow them to be.  These small business owners have also kept up with Marketing101, packaging their products in clear shiny plastic bags to attract customers.  But there are still plenty of choices that don’t come prepacked or sealed, these are what I usually go for.

Not all stallholders are prepped for zero waste shoppers though, but thankfully the ones that I patronised are patient enough to accede to requests for purchases packed in my own containers or bags.  To save the stallholders’ time so that they can attend to more customers, I usually make my zero waste check out system as less hassle as possible for them, I can do the organising when I reach home.

Here are some of the packing habits I have adopted over years of shopping at traditional wet markets:

How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries // Mono+Co

1. Put all purchase on the table.  Stand back and admire the produce at their prettiest, sans plastic wrappers.

// I usually buy just enough groceries to cook about four meals, so that I don’t overpack my fridge and end up blocking the much-needed air circulation to keep the air cold.

How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries // Mono+Co

2. Remove these rubber bands before wrapping the vegetables with newspapers and storing them inside the fridge.

// I always stop the stallholder from packing the greens in plastic bags, they usually loosely cover the roots with newspaper to preventing soiling my shopping bag.

How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries // Mono+Co

3. Wrap hardy vegetables like bitter gourd, carrot, lettuce, broccoli or cauliflower in homemade beeswax wraps or newspapers.  Store in the fridge.

// I notice that produce kept in beeswax wraps stay fresh longer, but I don’t recommend buying and keeping vegetables for more than two weeks just because they are wrapped in beeswax wrap!

How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries // Mono+Co

5. Store vegetables that need not be stored inside the fridge in a breathable paper sack on the kitchen counter.

// Includes garlic, onions, tomato, potato, and today, I also bought monk fruit aka Luo Han Guo to make cooling tea.

How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries // Mono+Co

6. Rinse to wash firm tofu, add water to cover tofu, store in a container and keep in the fridge.

// Wet market sells firm tofu and regular tofu without plastic packaging.  Just bring a container of the right size.  I love tofu, explore tofu recipes here and here, differentiate different types of tofu here and here!

How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries // Mono+Co

7.  Button mushrooms are almost always sold in cling wrapped plastic boxes.  On occasions when I see them in paper box, I will grab enough to make a meal.  I will place the whole box inside the fridge.  They brown fast, so best kept in its original packaging with enough space to breath.  This site suggests storing in a paper bag.

How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries // Mono+Co

8. Rinse and hang dry produce bags and shopping bags immediately, ready for the next grocery shopping trip.

// Why buy when there are free ones?  I asked for these mesh bags which the stalls discard.  Useful for buying fruits.

How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries // Mono+Co

There you go, all nicely wrapped and organised.  The next step is to start cooking and use up the groceries!

Simple Pleasures

// unlimited supply of sweet basil at home, it’s that simple.

// found a random encouragement note in a library book.  I am not alone.

// removing labels from jars and containers without leaving any adhesive residue behind should be this easy to encourage reusing and recycling.  Refilling these emptied detergent bottles with DIY citrus infused vinegar cleaner.

// mom couldn’t resist buying a box of unbelievably-cheap-but-expiring-really-really-soon Betty Crocker pancake mix from the discount store but needed help to finish.  That’s how I ended up having pancakes AND waffles for breakfast.

// gave my favourite good morning towel a make-over using natural food dye: turmeric, a shade that I really love after using it for my DIY beeswax food wrap.

// using food dye means I can use my cooking pot for the project.

// because every drop counts.  Transferring cooking oil to a repurposed glass bottle.

Post-CNY Stuff : Five More Get Upcycled

First five here, this post shares mostly what I do with empty CNY goodie containers.

++006 P.E.T Containers, Large ++

// for infusing cheap artificial vinegar with orange peels to make great smelling all-purpose cleaner.  Compared to the dispensing spout from original vinegar bottle, the large larger mouth makes it easy to drop citrus peels into the container.  Right bottle with vinegar that has gone through just one day of rest with peels.


++ 007 P.E.T Containers, Small ++

// three of these fit the depth nicely in my pantry drawer where I keep the dry goods.

// bonus: they weigh 50 grams each without its red lid, useful for bulk grocery shopping where stall holders can do mental calculations faster without taring their weighing scales.


++ 008 Ferrero Roche Clear Box ++

// it’s too pretty, too functional to be thrown into the recycling bin,  I am sure there are areas at home or office that could do with one or two frill-less clear box like this.  If you’re crafty, you might like these ideas:  this herb planter, and this trinket box, this mini greenhouse, and this tiny aquarium.


++ 009 Tin Box No.1 ++

// Another airtight container great for buying/storing biscuits and crackers bought from the bulk snack shops at wet markets.  No: bulk shops are not limited to upscale shopping centres, and  yes: wet market in the heartlands carry many items in bulk sans packaging.  All we need to do is bring our own bags/containers and ask nicely for no plastic bags.


++ 010 Tin Box No. 2 ++

tin box recycling

//  I have no plans yet for this beautiful gift box that came with yummy pineapple tart.  When there is a creative block, I will turn to short-term hoarding as a solution.  A week of displaying this on the wall and if there are still no ideas, recycle it.  It’s progressing as you can see, the magnetic buttons were added to spur more ideas.

Post-CNY Stuff

Five upcycling ideas.

++ 001 Hamper Basket ++

// adding a very nice touch to my bike.


++ 002 Cookie Tins ++

// looking pretty AND the perfect airtight containers for ground coffee and tea dust.


++ 003 (Another) Hamper Basket ++

// as hamper packaging gets exquisite, so do my upcycled storage boxes.


++ 004 Mandarin orange gift box ++

// for storing knick-knacks.


++ 005 (yup, one more) Hamper Basket ++

// as an iron holder.

Tea Seed Powder, Again

I am a guest author this week at Secondguru, one of my favorite local eco-lifestyle website for green and sustainable living ideas.  Pop by and read me wax lyrical about the amazing tea seed powder.

I mentioned that I am always looking for more ways to use tea seed powder, sometimes also known as Camelia seed powder.  The multi-use eco-cleaning product that I originally sourced from Taiwan to replace commercial dish detergent (no more dry hands from daily dishwashing chore!) has since become a must-have item around my house.

This is one of those days when the sun is bright and laundry dry so fast that I start looking around the house for more things to wash, with tea seed powder of course.

And this is how I hang my makeup brushes to dry, clutched along my window grilles with stainless steel laundry pegs.

If you have not discover this wonderful natural cleaning product, it is pretty worth a try considering it’s really affordable at SGD4.90/kg.  I have shared more tips on teaseed powder uses and where to buy on Secondsguru!

Zero Waste Decor for Chinese New Year 2018

Today is the second day of Chinese New Year.  I can already forsee that there will hardly be much decoration waste to discard when the celebration is over.  We are happily reusing most of the decorative items from previous years and I use a lot of tassels like these to inject a Chinese new year feel into almost anything around the house.  Everything gets stowed away rather than being thrown away, and since they are not that elaborated, they don’t take up much space in the store room either.  As long as I can practice self-control when it comes to pretty wicker hamper baskets!

Zero Waste Decor for Chinese New Year 2018 // Mono + Co

// reused : vase, tassel, mini wooden peg with bird motif, grey jute string, patterned origami paper.
// new : baby’s breath in pink, to be dried and added to my dry flower collection.

Zero Waste Decor for Chinese New Year 2018 // Mono + Co

// reused : hamper basket, artificial peach blossom from hamper deco, tassel, red packets
// new : mandarin oranges.  When all the exchanges are done after the new year visits, the fruits will be eaten, the peels to be soaked in white vinegar to make an citrus infused all-purpose cleaner.

Zero Waste Decor for Chinese New Year 2018 // Mono + Co

// reused : a pair of door couplets and 3 “福” wall decorative images, since I refrain from buying zodiac specific ones.

Zero Waste Decor for Chinese New Year 2018 // Mono + Co

// reused : red packets from last year turned into lanterns this year, and tassels.

Zero Waste Decor for Chinese New Year 2018 // Mono + Co

// reused : umeshu glass bottle-turned-vase for a bouquet of artificial flowers, also pre-loved.

On Free Gifts

Not all free gifts with purchases are created equal; there are those that are stowed away in the cupboard for months and end up taking up space.

Then there are those that keep appearing on the kitchen counter every other day.  Here are 8 free items that I’ll absolutely use over and over again:

++ oo1 lasagna ceramic dish ++
On Free Gifts // Mono + Co

// for baking brownies,

On Free Gifts // Mono + Co

// and honey granola.


++ 002 stainless steel spoon ++
On Free Gifts // Mono + Co

// bundled free with condiment, fits nicely in my zero-waste takeaway lunchbox.


++ 003 porcelain spoon ++
On Free Gifts // Mono + Co

//  originally for jams, now for scooping everything delicious.


++004 cotton dish towel ++
On Free Gifts // Mono + Co

// workhorse in the kitchen, extra brownie points for the hanging loop.


++005 mug ++
On Free Gifts // Mono + Co

// that have been around for a long long time.


++ 006 4pc cutlery ++
On Free Gifts // Mono + Co

// because I never own a branded one before, not that the logo matters. The point is it’s free AND useful.


++ 007 plastic container ++
On Free Gifts // Mono + CoOn Free Gifts // Mono + Co

// the handle on the cover made it a handy snack carrier, minus the need for plastic bags.


++ 008 tote bag ++
On Free Gifts // Mono + Co

// simply useful, for avoiding plastic bags.


Are you equally choosy about accepting the free gifts into your house?
Have you ever ended up NOT buying something because the bundled gift was not desirable?

Green Monday : Reusing Used Candles

Green Monday : Reusing Used Candles

I collect these used candles in blue, yellow, and red from parties as they are a waste to throw away after just 1-2 minutes of use.

Since most DIY candle tutorials online like this and this are all about simply melting the wax followed by adding colour or scent to the end product, I thought I could do the same with the discards I gathered.

Green Monday : Reusing Used Candles

This tutorial that melts the wax directly inside mason jars hits the right note with me: messy wax residues in pots and utensils are a pain to clean up.  I separated the candles from their wicks, placed them in a glass jar and proceeded to melt them in a water bath.

The colours from the candles combined to produce a purple shade end product, to which I added lavender essential oil as a scent to match its appearance.

Green Monday : Reusing Used Candles

After trying out the method with a portion of the candles that led to a successful light-up session, I am ready to use up all my stash to fill the jar.

Green Monday : Reusing Used Candles

I also reused a wick from one of the candles.  Once I have too many used candles, now I have too many wicks.

Green Monday : Reusing Used Candles

Hopefully, this little one will bring some cosy feel to my home.  I am extremely late on this Danish Hygge concept since I have only very recently read the 2 little books of “Hygge” and “Lykke”, back to back, by The Happiness Research Institute.  I can’t be more inspired to add elements of fun/warmth/togetherness/cosiness/happiness to my everyday life!

Green Monday : Reusing Used Candles

Simple Pleasures

over new year’s eve & new year’s day

// reusing this holder with a new calendar.

// and the metal tearing guide component from the new calendar becomes a binder for unused sheets from kids’ school exercise books.

// washed and ironed these square tenugui for wrapping lunch boxes or packing finger food takeaways without disposables etc.

// rinsed and air-dried tiny honey jars that came with our tea order, too wasteful to be recyled or discarded.  Think lipbalm containers.

// scent of the month : lime.  Infused white vinegar with leftover lime peels to make a safer all-purpose cleaner.

// 2.5 cups of rolled-oats-turned-honey-granola fit a reused 680ml pasta bottle nicely.

// stowing away this handmade Xmas wreath away with recycled log cake toppers and hamper ornaments.  Green CNY decorating ideas up soon.