The Zero Waste lifestyle has a reputation for being staunchly minimalistic—no exceptions. People hear the word “zero” and instantly react with all sorts of questions, wondering how in the world my husband and I can possibly operate in the modern world without creating trash.
Going Zero Waste sounds incredibly complicated. In fact, when I first came across the movement, I was very skeptical. “These people must be doing this for attention,” I thought. “There’s just no way this is possible. Do they live self-sustained in a cabin in the woods? Do they ever go shopping?!”
So, I decided to try it.
Truth is, Zero Waste is not nearly as complex as it seems from the outside. I’ve been sincerely amazed by the impact a few simple changes (such as making my own veggie stock, or shopping secondhand) has had on the amount of garbage my household produces. We haven’t yet reached “zero,” but I am confident in what we have accomplished thus far.
The Zero Waste lifestyle has a way of “lightening your load” in innumerable ways. It’s more than just the lifting of that landfill guilt off our shoulders; going Zero Waste is making us healthier, happier, more fulfilled people because it is shifting our mindset from selfishness to a holistic, community way of thinking.
Since we stopped using processed, packaged, plastic-y, toxic products in our home, we both get sick far less than we used to, I spend way less time picking up the clutter in our house and I cook better meals that are seasonal to where we live. We contribute to the “circle of life” by composting, and we spend more quality time with friends. It’s really true!
I am a believer that we don’t all need to go full-on Zero Waste to solve our environmental problems. But can you imagine what could happen if we and our families made the intentional decision to reduce our waste? What about our friends? Our friends’ friends?
Toxic, poorly made single-use plastics (SUPs) would no longer be necessary to us. We could do away with all sorts of product packaging all together. We could use all the money we save on disposables to invest in better, more sustainable materials. We could strengthen local business and local agriculture and become more in touch with the Earth and its seasons. We could significantly reduce the number of people fighting cancers caused by chemical toxins, clean up our cities from garbage and debris, and cultivate endless creativity in our lives.
Lessening your environmental impact and finding better ways to live lightly on the Earth is truly as simple as changing your habits—opting for solutions to your daily challenges that are sustainable and healthful, rather than purely convenient and ultimately damaging.
Ready to get started making a difference? Start with these ten tips! I promise you, this is doable:
1) Start bringing cloth bags to the grocery store.
You’ll never have to answer that pesky “Paper or plastic?” question again. To eliminate all possibility of forgetting your totes, keep one in each of your family vehicles and one at the front door. Make sure you do this several times in a row and before you know it you’ll have established a new, wonderful habit!
2) Go paperless in the kitchen.
Paper towels serve no real purpose once you’ve replaced them with reusable cleaning cloths. In fact, I think cloths work much better to clean surfaces. Keep a drawer or basket in your kitchen nice and full of freshly laundered rags, preferably in a dark color to hide stains. We choose to keep a small laundry basket in our kitchen to collect dirty rags before they make their way to the laundry. It’s very easy to do!
3) Start using a reusable travel mug and water bottle.
I am a big fan of bringing a beautiful, unique travel mug to coffee shops, rather than accepting single use waxed paper cups. Most places will even give you a discount if you bring your own cup for your beverage! I personally choose to keep a ceramic one in my car so that I never forget it. Bonus: These will keep your drink warmer for longer!
4) Get an under-the-sink food waste container and compost.
Food waste is one of America’s greatest faults. Huge amounts of scraps, expired foods and other extras end up in landfills when they could have been used to make delicious soups or to feed our local poor and needy people. Search out recipes that make use of leftovers and scraps (think a breakfast hash made from dinner extras, or a vegetable broth simmered from carrot shavings) and compost anything that serves no future purpose. Keep a small or medium-sized container with a tight-fitting lid underneath your sink to collect these genuine extras and compost in the backyard (if you’re allowed inside city limits) or keep a worm bin in the kitchen or garage.
5) Get aggressive with junk mail.
Just say NO. Grab a cup of coffee and your phone and hunker down on the couch to call as many contributors to the junk mail problem as you can. If you’re happy with your cable provider but you keep getting promotions, get rid of them. If you never use coupons but they just keep getting printed, get rid of them. Never use the phone book? Cancel it. The tail end of what’s left of your junk mail can usually be recycled.
6) Start making some of your own toiletries.
Making your own toothpaste or deodorant might sound ridiculous, but it’s actually a pretty great way to reduce your garbage in the bathroom! For this recipe, all you need is a little coconut oil, baking soda and some peppermint essential oil to form a paste. It’s that simple. I can vouch for this recipe: my teeth have never been whiter and my dentist hasn’t found a single issue!
7) Refuse single-use plastics (SUPs).
Whether you’re out to eat or at a barbecue, stop accepting the use of SUPs like plastic utensils, straws, snack baggies, or garbage bags. There is always an alternative! Keep a set of real or bamboo silverware in your purse or vehicle, wrap your snacks in reusable cloth sacks or tea towels and use leftover newspaper to line your small garbage bins.
8) Start grocery shopping in bulk stores.
Shopping out of bulk bins cuts out a great deal of waste from food packaging. Rather than buying a new unrecyclable bag of kidney beans every week, fill a large pantry jar with beans straight from a bulk bin and refill when you’re finished with it. No waste!
9) Simplify your cleaning products.
You’d be amazed what you can accomplish in your home with white distilled vinegar, baking soda and a little bulk castile soap. There is truly no need for any sort of chemical cleaning product! Stock your pantry with these ingredients and you’ll never need to purchase surface cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, window washing fluid, dish soap, face wash or bleach again.
10) Replace plastics with long-lasting or compostable alternatives.
We are lucky to live in a time in which more and more sustainable alternatives to plastic products are arising. Bamboo and hemp are just a couple of examples that have made this possible! Stop purchasing plastic cleaning utensils and toothbrushes and look for compostable alternatives instead. Great places to do this are with your: dish scrubber, sponges, toilet bowl brush, toothbrush, loofahs, vegetable scrubbers, etc.