5 Rituals to Fall for in Autumn

And only one involves pumpkin spice…

by Anne-Marie Bonneau

The cooler weather brings with it many fall rituals. The following five will enrich your life while reducing waste.

Leaving the leaves

Last year, California became the first state to ban the sale of polluting, gas-powered leaf blowers. Hooray! These obnoxious devices emit more pollutants than some trucks. If Californians want to blow their leaves, they’ll have to buy battery-operated leaf blowers to do so.

But why blow the leaves around at all? Gathering up nutrient-rich leaves, bagging them in plastic and sending them off to landfill where, like all organic matter, they emit planet-heating methane gas, only to turn around and spend hard-earned cash on fertilizer and mulch requires way too much work!

When the leaves drop, consider doing nothing, other than watching and perhaps posting a couple of pictures of them on Instagram. The leaves will enrich the soil, provide cover for critters and provide free, water-retaining mulch. If you do rake them up—a thick layer may form on a lawn that you don’t want to kill—consider putting them in a flower bed or save them for the compost pile. Compost bins need lots of dry brown matter.

Buying the first sugar pie pumpkin or kabocha squash of the season

Sugar pie pumpkins and kabocha squash are now back at our farmers’ market! I cook these whole either in my pressure cooker or in the oven. After puréeing the flesh, I put it in pumpkin pie or pumpkin and spice sourdough quickbread or something savory like pumpkin dal. So good! Any leftover purée goes in the freezer in wide-mouth glass jars. Go here for instructions for freezing food in glass jars.

Roasting all the tomatoes

When we broke up with plastic, I had to figure out how to replace canned tomatoes—cans are lined with plastic (the stuff is everywhere!) and although many food manufacturers plaster the claim “Now BPA-Free!” on their packages, the can linings may contain something similar and just as bad. So I started a ritual of buying two or three 20-pound cases in late September or early October, when the prices have plummeted, and roasting them.

I spend a weekend cutting the tomatoes into wedges, spreading them out on baking sheets and roasting them at a very low temperature (275°F) for a couple of hours. Roasting concentrates the flavor and prepares these gems for their next incarnation—in tomato paste or pizza sauce or chana masala or tomato soup or spaghetti sauce or anything else that calls for canned tomatoes. I then pack the tomatoes into wide-mouth glass jars and after they cool, freeze them.

During this ritual, as I chop the 150th tomato, I ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” Then in winter, after thawing out a jar to make a fabulous sauce or other tomato-based dish, with that first taste comes my answer.

Here are more detailed roasting instructions. This year I also made a few jars of tomato purée and am sold. I’ll include those in my yearly squirreling-away-the-tomatoes ritual. Go here for the purée instructions.

Purging stuff

As we move back indoors with the cooler weather, we may need to declutter to make our homes more comfortable. Recent graduates, new parents, growing kids—they all have needs, perhaps for the items you no longer want.

My friends and I haven’t been able to organize a clothing/stuff swap since before Covid. I think it’s about time we did. Go here for info on our first swap from the Before Times and ideas for organizing a swap of your own. Or post your stuff to give away in a Buy Nothing group or on Nextdoor.

A school clothing swap

In 2019, my friend Monique Labelle-Wheeler, a teacher in Ottawa, organized her elementary school’s first clothing swap. It was a great success! Another one is in the works for this year.

I thought that by educating young people, it’s possible to remove the stigma about shopping secondhand and show them something we can all do to help save our planet. I told the kids that wearing secondhand clothes means that these garments won’t get sent to the dump. — Monique Labelle-Wheeler

Imagine if every school in North America hosted a clothing swap at least once a year. Literally tons and tons of clothes would be diverted from landfill.

Go here for Monique’s guest blog post outlining how to organize a clothing swap at your child’s school. Please steal this idea! Or do a costume swap for Halloween!

Hazardous stuff

While you’re purging, you may come across some household hazardous waste that can’t go in the regular trash. Go here for a blog post my daughter, a waste management professional, wrote regarding household hazardous waste. She recently made a small pile of decades-old paint cans she found in our garage. We’ll make an appointment with our city to drop those off.

Emptying the freezer

In fall, I also like to purge the freezer to make room for all the tomatoes and pumpkin purée I’ll stash in there. Although we didn’t buy very much at the farmers’ market this past weekend, we’ve been eating well all week long thanks in part to the food stashed in the freezer. (Did you know, freezing tofu renders a wonderfully chewy, meaty texture?)

Practicing a new or existing skill

The cooler weather is a good time to pick up a skill you can practice indoors—sewing, knitting, woodwork, cooking. As our society went all in on consumer culture, it abandoned many life skills, leaving us helpless and dependent on corporations to fulfill our every need. And as those corporations squeezed more out of their workers and drove down wages, many of us have no time to apply these skills.

One of the many aspects that I love about a low-waste lifestyle is the recovery of some of these hands-on, life skills. My neighbors may be (monetarily) richer than I, but they’re not eating better bread!

My friend Any uses fabric scraps and paper scraps for her hand-stitched English paper piecing

Five Rituals to Fall for in Autumn by Anne-Marie Bonneau originally appeared in The Zero-Waste Chef in September, 2022, and is reprinted with the permission of the author. Read about her new book and other other great ideas on living mindfully and well on the Zero Waste Chef website.