A Zero Waste Project: Ditching wrappers with homemade granola bars

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A great alternative to reduce dozens of waste caused by store-bought granola bar wrappers is to make granola bars at home. Photo by Annelies Brouw from Pexels.

One of my biggest weaknesses: Fiber One Oats and Chocolate Chewy granola bars. I normally eat one daily, before I work out in the morning, or on my way out of the house in a rush, or late at night when I’m not really hungry but want something with a bit of chocolate. I buy them in big 30-packs from BJs (or rather my Mom buys them for me). But within a few weeks of moving into my apartment up near Storrs, I looked down into my trash can to see nothing but dozens upon dozens of granola bar wrappers. This visual, combined with my recent interest in zero waste, led me to wonder if there wasn’t anything I could do to decrease my specifically granola-bar-related waste. 

Why make this swap?  

Aside from the same-old fact that less packaging means less water and energy wasted during production, according to EcoEnclose, an eco-friendly packaging company, lots of energy bar wrappers are made of two layers of plastic with aluminum squished in the middle. Even if people thought to recycle these kinds of flexible plastic, it often doesn’t really work and ends up causing more problems for the recycling systems. By eliminating granola bar wrappers from my life, I am one step closer to zero waste. 

What I decided to do about it 

Alex Houdeshell’s process of making homemade granola: a great alternative to reduce waste at home. Photo courtesy of Alex Houdeshell.

Granola bars aren’t something I want to cut out of my life. They’re convenient. They’re quick. They’re the perfect size. They have chocolate and still don’t feel unhealthy. So instead of just removing them from my life altogether, I decided to make my own granola bars.  

I started by searching online for the perfect recipe, primarily on Pinterest. There are tons of options, whether you want granola bars that are quick, easy, healthy, no-bake, fruit-based or anything else.  

I ultimately landed on a recipe from a blog called Pick Up Your Craft that seemed easy, with few enough ingredients that I didn’t think it would make too much of a dent in my wallet.   

The recipe used a base of quick oats, old fashioned oats, nut butter and honey. Depending on your taste, you could add other nuts and bits to that mixture, so I added almond flakes and chocolate chips. Essentially, you just mix all these ingredients together in a rimmed baking pan, and then put it in the freezer to set. I also tried to melt some chocolate to drizzle over the top, but I didn’t realize you’re supposed to double-boil chocolate, meaning you melt it in a bowl over boiling water, so I sort of just ended up with a weird chocolate coating over the top. After leaving it in the freezer for about an hour, I tried to cut it into bar-shaped, but it was really thin and crumbly, so eventually I gave up on that and sort of just let it break into irregularly-shaped pieces.  

They definitely don’t taste the same as my old Fiber One bars, and are definitely a little messier. I’m also still trying to figure out the best way to package them to take them out and about with me. But, there are two convincing pros: less plastic packaging and ultimately a lower cost (roughly $20 for the ingredients to make dozens of batches versus a $10 box of 30). It was also a really easy process, so hopefully if I meddle with the recipe a little to fit my preferences better, it can become a habit. 

What this can mean for you 

Alex Houdeshell’s process of making homemade granola: a great alternative to reduce waste at home. Photo courtesy of Alex Houdeshell.

Maybe for you, granola bars aren’t a vice. Maybe it’s individually-wrapped slices of cheese, or yogurt cups, or sliced bread. But like me, you can start considering if you can find an alternative for these things, or make them yourself. Obviously, DIY isn’t a solution for every need, or you’d spend all your time baking. It’s just a matter of finding low-maintenance strategies that are still effective and convenient.  

And for some of you, maybe you’re in a dorm, and so you don’t have access to a kitchen and you can’t really DIY your own snacks. In that case, maybe try being more conscientious about which kinds of snacks you buy. Instead of buying a bunch of grab-n-go bags of chips or crackers, buy a larger container and split it up into reusable tupperware for when you’re on the go, and just pour yourself a bowl when you’re staying in. These are small steps, but if I keep up with my homemade granola bars, at the pace I eat them, I could save over a hundred wrappers from the trash. What small steps can you take to do something similar? 

Coming up next week: Composting from your apartment 

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