As I mentioned, I’ve recently started to think a lot about the waste I produce and what I can do to minimize this waste. Meg and Marie were truly the catalysts for this – they’ve been talking steps to live a more waste free lifestyle and with their support I’ve realized: it’s not hard and it’s necessary. I need to live my values.
The goal of being ‘zero waste’ isn’t simply to produce no garbage – it’s about a shift to use our resources more effectively, promoting sustainability. Zero waste philosophies remind me a lot of permaculture principles – every output should be looked at as a possible input to be used elsewhere. Ultimately the goal IS to produce as little actual waste – something destined for the landfill, something that can serve no further purpose – as possible but the change in mindset that this lifestyle forces you into is just as important as the waste reduction.
So, what steps can you take to start to become waste free? As a child I recall seeing signs posted in school that stated “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle” – now we’ve got 5 R’s.
The average American creates somewhere around 1,050 lbs of landfill waste each year, the United States had nearly 319 million people as of 2014. That’s over 167 MILLION TONS of waste heading to the landfill each year. Gross. You realize we can’t keep this up, right?
I could rant about this for weeks on end, but I digress.
There are so many resources online about going zero waste and I don’t want to pretend to be anything other than the novice that I am. This is a learning process, one that will likely never stop. So let’s get back to the topic at hand, my personal journey.
Step I’ve Taken
- Reusable grocery bags/skip the bag. This is one that I’ve been doing for quite some time and it’s such an easy first step for anyone who wants to join the zero waste bandwagon. In my bubble (the Boulder Bubble, that is) this one actually saves me money – $0.10 per bag to be exact. The City of Boulder adopted a disposable bag tax back in 2012; nothing like a monetary incentive to encourage people to more green 🙂
- Make sure all recycling is diverted from the landfill. We have a lot of facilities in town that can take hard to recycle materials (literally, the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials) which makes it much easier.
- Bike More. Gas is expensive, biking is exercise. Win win. Plus we have a VERY bike-able community. During rush hour it’s preferable to driving.
- Reusable water bottles. I have four that I use on a regular basis. One larger BPA free Nalgene, a stainless steel Kleen Kanteen that I like to use for biking, an insulated stainless steel Hydro Flask to keep my beverages hot or cold, and a Lifefactory glass water bottle that I keep at work.
- To-go coffee or tea mug. I use both mason jars and this beautiful glass to-go infuser for loose leaf tea (thanks family!) on a daily basis. On the rare occasions that I buy coffee from a shop to go, I bring my jar or mug.
- Participating in a Community Supported Agriculture. When you live in an apartment building and don’t have the space to grow your own but you know you want fresh, in-season food, this is the way to go. As I’ve often expressed, I love the CSA model so very much.
- Cook more and bring lunch to work. Some days I just don’t want to cook, sometimes I just want to go buy greasy food for lunch. But participating in a CSA makes this one necessary if I don’t want my food to go to waste. And you often save money when you cook for yourself. Try cooking a larger portion (or maybe you’re like me, incapable of cooking small portions) and eat the leftovers for lunch the next day and maybe also have another round for dinner on a busy night.
- Composting. I’ve been doing this one since I was a kid – we ALWAYS had a compost pile. My apartment complex has compost bins but before I had that luxury I would just collect several containers worth and bring it to a drop off station. You can always try connecting with a local farm to see if they’re interested in your food scraps!
- Bringing a to go container for restaurant left overs. I nearly always have an empty (or partially empty) mason jar in my book bag. If I know I’m going to have leftovers when I go out to eat, I’ll bring a larger container.
- Decline plastic utensils and straws. I’ve started always carrying some sort of utensil and usually have a stainless steel straw with me.
- Menstrual Cup. I’ve been using one since 2013. I love it. My mother thinks it’s gross. But really… how is it more gross than a chemical-laden, bleached wad of cotton that is a breeding ground of bad bacteria? Yes, it’s weird at first. Yes, you have to get quite comfortable with yourself. But, you’ll quickly get a feel for what works best for you, you’ll become more aware of your flow, you’ll save a shit ton of money, and (best part) you can wear it for 12 HOURS.
- Plastic free razor. For my birthday I got a Merkur straight razor. It’s stainless steel and should last me quite a bit longer than the ‘normal’ plastic razors marketed these days. The straight razor is what people used before plastic razors. It works great and, I must say, I feel very fancy using a metal razor.
- Plastic free toothbrush. There are several companies on the market now selling plastic free toothbrushes. Look for one that uses all compostable (or recyclable) packaging and construction materials – including bristles!
- Buy in bulk (and bring your own containers). In many cases you’ll have to have the store tare the weight of the containers before you fill them, some cloth bags have their tare weight on them. Some stores don’t let you bring your own containers. Call around before you shop!
- Make yogurt, buy milk in deposit bottles. I love yogurt and I drink my coffee and tea with milk. I’ve recently started purchasing milk in reusable containers and I use this milk to make yogurt at home. I have a yogurt incubator but you don’t need one to make your own yogurt!
- Replace plastic products, plastic wrap. I got Bee’s Wrap and I love it!
- Make your own personal care products. Recently I made toothpaste. I like it and it works well but I’m not 100% satisfied so I’ll likely try a different recipe the next time around. I’m going to move into making other products as well.
- Clean with vinegar. Vinegar is good for… everything. If you hate the smell you can add oils, extracts, or fresh herbs/citrus rinds to a base of vinegar and water.
- Hoard glass jars. I save glass jars from anything that seems worth saving. I reuse them for storing food bulk items, saving leftovers, and freezing things.
- Wool Dryer Balls. I do air dry a fair amount of laundry, but not all of it. I haven’t tried dryer balls but I’ve heard great things and I’d love to have some on hand. I certainly feel that they’d be worth the money instead of buying dryer sheets.
- Make my own personal care and cleaning products. I plan to make things as I run out of products that I have on hand. Next up, lotion.
- Go down to one car. Hopefully soon.
- Replace plastic products, kitchen and bathroom. I’ve developed quite a list of products to replace plastic products in my house. This will be ongoing, I’m mostly waiting until I don’t have to share more expensive items like this with a careless roommate.
- Have a garden, bees and chickens. I need a house!
I’m sure I’ve missed things that could relate to this post but this is an ongoing project so that’s okay. Going zero waste is a change in lifestyle, a new way of thinking. I’m looking forward to continuing down this path, figuring out what works best for me and sharing my findings.