Four years ago I discovered the transformative lifestyle of zero waste living. I found myself down a rabbit hole of fast fashion and landed in the land of zero waste where my entire mindset around consumption metamorphosized overnight.
According to the 2019 Global Waste Index, humans produce 2 billion tons of waste per year, with the United States being the biggest contributor of waste per capita. Recycling programs may sound like the answer, but less than 10% of plastic is actually recycled.
Zero waste is a mindful movement to prevent waste. Some in the movement have minimized their waste to down to a single mason jar of trash per year. While this is a bit extreme and promotes a hypercompetitive mindset in my opinion, I commend those on the jar challenge journey.
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”Anne Marie Bonneau, The Zero Waste Chef
Zero waste is about living more intentionally and being mindful of the things you purchase, while being creative with that you already have. Our modern lifestyles of comfort and convenience have created a world of extremely wasteful mindsets. Single waste products fill the cabinets of our homes and cheaply made fast fashion leaves our closets engorged. Most of us overconsume to find fulfillment of some sort, but personally I’ve found a more fulfilling life lies in the act of mindful consumption.
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BYOB: Bring Your Own Bag
In this day and age everyone knows the negative impact of plastic grocery bags, so why exactly are so many still using them? It’s just laziness… sorry, not sorry. Chances are you already have a few reusable bags laying around your house just collecting dust. In the rare chance that you don’t already have a reusable bag I recommend getting a couple of cotton mesh bags and at least one cotton tote for heavier items. Keep them in your car at all times so you never forget to bring them.
Micro Fiber is Your Friend
Paper towels are such a waste of money and produce a ridiculous amount of waste. I think this swap is particularly hard for people because they think, what am I going to use for cleaning up messes? Microfiber cloths my friend! Microfiber is much more absorbent than even the most expensive paper towel brand and removes 99% of bacteria with water alone. Yes, they are magic. We keep about 24 in our home total (12 in the kitchen & 12 in the bathroom) for cleaning and everyday messes. Just toss them into your towel hamper and wash for reuse.
Plastic Water Bottles are Obsolete
Single use water bottles are extremely wasteful and can increase toxins in the body from chemicals used to make the plastic. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area with clean high quality tap water use the tap like our household does. If not, invest in a home water filter with all the money you save not buying cases of bottled water. I personally like to use glass or metal reusable bottles to reduce exposure to toxins sometimes found in plastic.
Produce Bags Are Useless
Why are we putting a single onion or two potatoes in a produce bag? I used to be concerned that the checkout attendant would be annoyed that my produce wasn’t bagged, but in the four years of not using a single produce bag I’ve yet to encounter any negative feedback from this practice. If you’re someone who’s vegan or juices and buys lots of bulk produce I would probably invest in some reusable produce bags.
Ditch the Plastic Food Storage
Plastic zip bags and plastic wrap are two other expensive single use items that can easily be replaced. A few dollars each month on these items may seem cheap, but they add up after a while. These items generally aren’t able to be recycled by many facilities so they will end up in a landfill. Choosing silicon zip bags and beeswax wraps are great alternatives.
Ditch Processed Foods
Processed foods tend to have the most packaging. If you’re shopping list contains lots of premade meals and snacks you’re going to produce a lot more waste. Many premade meals and snacks contain single use packaging where as meals made from fresh produce, pasta, dried beans, and uncooked rice can create multiple meals. Your body will also thank you for ditching the processed foods as they generally cause inflammation and lack key nutrients.
Buy in Bulk
Buying in bulk can save you some serious cash and reduce your waste production by so much. Instead of buying a pound of rice every week buy a 10 pound bag. The same with sugar, flour, and dried beans. So many things can be bought in bulk to reduce waste. We apply this not only to food, but also household items like laundry detergent and dishwashing powder.
Cook More Meals at Home
Cooking more meals at home is a great way to lower your monthly food costs while minimizing waste. Fast food and take-out produce so much waste with much of it being styrofoam. Not to mention the amount of straws, single use utensils, and single use condiment packets. Did you know styrofoam takes over 500 years to decompose and in the process leaks harmful chemicals into the air and soil?
Make Your Own Cleaners
This is another money saver! Most cleaners on the market are filled with harmful chemicals. Making your own cleaners and storing them in glass spray bottles is an easy zero waste swap. Single use cleaning wipes are just as wasteful as paper towels and can easily be replaced with micro fiber cloths. Read my post on How I Clean My House With Non-Toxic & Sustainable Cleaners For a Safer Home to get my cleaning recipes.
Start a Garden
Gardening is an incredible hobby that’s not only fulfilling, but also very grounding. There’s something about growing your own fruits and vegetables that makes them taste even more delicious. If you live in an apartment or have limited space try hydroponic and microgreen gardening. Herbs can also be easily grown from a sun filled windowsill.
Support Your Local Farmers Market
Some things aren’t the easiest to grow or require much more space than we may have. This is where your local farmers market comes in handy. Supporting your local farmers market is a great way to connect with your food. As someone who consumes meat, but also takes great consideration into the treatment of the animal products I consume, this is important. Meeting the family who raised the animal or grew the produce I consume gives me a chance to form a connection that grocery stores don’t offer. I can ask questions about their growing practices, and often times they are more than happy to bring out their phone and show a few pictures of their farm.
Start a Compost Pile
Composting is the most environmentally friendly way to get rid of waste. A compost is comprised of organic materials that quickly and easily break down to create soil. You can then use this compost matter as a fertilizer for your garden or houseplants. Compost piles are easy to build with old wood or palettes, and they are even easier to maintain. We built our pile from left over landscaping bricks and made a top closure from wood scrapes we already had. I keep a small kitchen compost bin indoors and once it’s full, empty it into our outdoor compost. A premade compost bin on a spinner is one of the easiest ways to compost, especially if you are limited to space or don’t like getting your hands dirty. This article from Project Eden is a fantastic reference for learning more about building a healthy compost.
Wash Clothes in Cold Water
Appliances tend to use up the most energy in our homes. Using hot water to wash clothes not only takes up an incredible amount of energy, but it also breaks down clothing articles much faster than cold water. Increasing the longevity of your clothes is important for a zero waste lifestyle and how you care for them plays a huge role.
Minimize Laundry Days
This one goes hand in hand with our last tip. To increase the longevity of your clothes and save on energy in your home try minimizing how often you do laundry. Certain garments don’t have to be washed after a single use. Make sure you’re doing a full load when doing laundry and try hand washing delicates instead of using the cycle.
Minimize Hair Washing
A healthy scalp does not need to be washed every day (yes, even if you have oily skin). Washing your hair everyday strips your scalp of it’s natural oils which can result in dry damaged hair and an over production of oil on the scalp (extra greasy). If you’ve washed your hair daily for years and consider yourself to have greasy hair it’s more than likely from years of over washing. Try starting out with every other day then gradually decreasing to twice a week. There will probably be a detox period with a few bad hair days, but it won’t last forever.
Use Bar Soap
Using bars of soap that are packaged in compostable paper are an easy way to cut down on plastic consumption. Most body washes and hand soaps are packaged in hard plastics that take over 400 years to decompose. To increase the longevity of your bar make sure to use a self draining soap dish. You can often find handmade botanical bars of soap at your local farmers market.
Use Essential Oils vs. Plugins
We all love for our homes to smell good, but those plugin air fresheners are so wasteful and incredibly toxic to the air in our homes. Using essential oils in a diffuser produces less waste and creates a safer environment for your family. I burn oils daily and an ounce of oil will last me at least three months. Make sure you’re using high quality sustainably sourced oils. The only brand I trust for affordable oils is Eden’s Garden.
Utilize Natural light
Why turn your lights on during the day when there is beautiful natural light seeping though windows? Open your blinds and take advantage of the free lighting mother nature provides. When the sun goes down use lamps with energy efficient bulbs instead of turning on overhead lights in every room. These bulbs will last so much longer than regular bulbs. We replaced all of ours four years ago and have yet to had one go out. Using ambient lighting like lamps at night also helps to calm your system in preparation for sleep.
Conserve on Heating/ Cooling
During Fall and Spring we barely even turn on our unit. We use these seasons as an opportunity to open the windows and save money on our utility bill. Opening the windows in your homes is also a great way to purify the air in your space. During the summer and winter months keep your thermostat temp at a reasonable setting when you’re away from home to ensure it’s not continually running.
Create a Capsule Wardrobe
According to the Center for Ecotechnology, fast fashion contributes to over 30 billion pounds of waste each year. Fast fashion is cheaply and unethically made clothing that often doesn’t last for more than a year. Trendy clothing has caused a repulsive epidemic of mass consumption. A capsule wardrobe is compromised of quality, timeless pieces that generally match together with anything in your closet. The EveryGirl blog has a great how-to post on building a capsule wardrobe.
Learn to Sew
When you buy quality made garments they tend to last you for years, but accidents happen. Learning to mend clothes like sewing on patches, reapplying buttons and fixing rips can help lengthen the life of your wardrobe. Ask your grandmother for a tutorial or search for local sewing classes in your area for a fun weekend experience.
Buy Vintage or Thrifted Decor
I have two passions in life- Holistic health and interior design. Just because you’re choosing to live a zero waste life does not mean you have to live in a bland space. Buying vintage and thrifted décor is a great way to add personalized touches to your home without being wasteful. Exploring flea markets and antique stores is a fulfilling way to give new life to someone else’s once loved items.
Learn to DIY
Try your had at some dyi projects for anything that’s hard to find or out of your price range. You can literally learn to make anything on YouTube or Pinterest these days.
Decorate with Plants
Instead of filling the empty spaces in your home with more things, try using plants. They are a great way to increase the air quality in your home and support mental health. If you’re new to houseplants be sure to read my post Low Maintenance Houseplants for a Healthier Home for tips on how to get started.
Utilize Your Local Library
I think a lot of us forget about the FREE benefits of supporting local libraries. First of all, books are so expensive these days and they take up a lot of space in your home. Visiting your local library instead of buying books helps cut down on paper waste. If you really enjoy a book after renting from the library buy yourself a copy. How many times have you bought a book and it was just okay? You’ll probably never read it again so now you’re out money and space for storing that book at the back of a closet somewhere.
Indulge in Waste Free Entertainment
We often use shopping or eating out as a past time entertainment to combat boredom. This is a very mass consumerism mindset and can get pretty expensive. Instead of wasteful entertainment try experimenting with activities that revolve more around experiences. Go for a hike or bike ride. Pack a lunch and have a picnic in the park. For a zero waste date night support the local arts by seeing a play, ballet, or orchestra show. Take an adult field trip to the art museum on a Saturday. We often talk about how there is nothing to do, but all it takes is a little creative thinking.
Cultivating a zero waste lifestyle is all about getting out of the everyday machine of consumerism and being a little more mindful. I’m sure there are a few things you already do that coincide with a more eco-friendly life. Try focusing on a few simple thing you can implement today and slowly progress from there.