Thanks for your questions and comments this year; it’s been a tremendous pleasure to connect with people over sustainable living, but this is my last Green Prescription column. I’ve been awarded a Fulbright to teach in Lisbon, Portugal, next semester, where I’ve already mapped out the bulk stores.

Yours in zero waste, Lisa

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ll miss your sound advice.


I’m feeling grouchy about consumerism and waste these days. Perhaps you can help my mood with some of your favorite tips for not going overboard during the holidays?

Green Grinch


An oft-cited (now considered low-ball) statistic is that Americans generate at least 25 percent more waste between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day than at other times of the year, tallying up to about one million extra tons of garbage each week. That might add some motivation to do something more drastic than usual. Perhaps it won’t seem quite so grinchy if you disseminate this data before suggesting that your community forgo a gift exchange this year. If this feels too extreme, try deploying some of the usual zero-waste suggestions, such as giving experiences over objects; and, if giving objects, making or recycling them over buying; and, if buying, procuring used, upcycled, bulk, and/or sustainably made items. These, of course, should be wrapped in a reusable cloth, preferably employing the furoshiki method of Japanese fabric folding favored by zero-wasters. If, like me, you cannot figure out how to make beautiful packages out of tea towels, however, your giftee will surely appreciate reused wrapping paper or no wrapping at all, especially in light of the no-gift alternative.

Also, try the very fun Guest-imator tool at to help calculate how to make the right amount of holiday repast and avoid post-feast waste. You can even factor in the quantity of leftovers you desire!


How do I find a balance between being “zero-waste assertive” and being a nuisance to others? I don’t want to become a burden to under-appreciated store clerks, for example.

In pursuit of eco-etiquette


There are many ways to mitigate a potentially uncomfortable situation arising at a zero-waste point of sale.

First, prepare the ground: be friendly, be prepared to educate, and, if necessary, accept defeat graciously.

Second, make sure that your own bulk containers, produce bags, and shopping bags are super clean: this helps maintain the mutual support between sustainable shoppers and the shops we patronize.

Third, exuberantly thank and praise clerks who and markets that support zero-waste efforts.

By the way, zero-wasters are allowed to be slightly annoying. How else will we get everyone’s attention?

Lisa Botshon is a professor of English and women’s and gender studies at the University of Maine at Augusta. She is currently researching back-to-the-land memoirs written by Maine women.

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