My zero-waste journey began as a broke college kid with an allergy to the one-time-use plastic in grocery store bags and very few possessions, over a decade before the idea of sustainability even became popular. The developed world is filled with stuff, often more stuff than we really need. In my mind, zero-waste comes down to an intentionally around the acquisition and disposal of items, as well as the habits around the use of these items.
Whether you are interested in reducing your exposure to plastic toxins, saving money in the long run, or doing your part to save the plant, the below list may be a good place to start. I’ve included links to some of my favorite products within the points below. None are affiliate, but simply brands and products I’ve had success with and would recommend.
- Refuse. Turn down anything that you don’t need and develop a habit of slowing down before impulse purchases. You can say no to the plastic silverware if you’re heading home. You can take your reusable thermos to your favorite coffee shop rather than use a paper cup. Around holidays, let people know exactly what you want so you’re not left with excess. When you’re tempted to purchase something, ask yourself whether you need it and whether you might be able to find it used instead.
- Ditch plastic bags. Unless you are reusing plastic grocery bags for trash bin liners at home, consider an alternative like natural canvas or durable ripstop nylon. I was gifted a fold-up reusable bag eight years ago, which lived in my handbag and has used it hundred of times My huge “Buy Local” canvas tote that has been venturing to the farmer’s market weekly for over ten years with minimal sign of wear and this smaller market tote is perfect for quick trips to the store. There are so many fun options available at every price point when it comes to reusable bags.
- Buy in bulk and skip the packaging. Check out out local farmer’s market and load your produce right into your own tote bag, where cauliflower need not be individually shrink-wrapped. Use the self-serve kiosks at your local grocery store to refill jars of nuts or laundry detergent. If you love cooking, buy 16oz bags of spices to refill your jars. Join a wholesale club like Costco to take advantage of fairly-priced items with a long shelf life, such a chicken broth, lentils, and sugar. If you are a singleton or small family, consider joining or creating a co-op with your friends to share bulk purchases, such as spices, canned good, or toilet paper.
- Replace plastic food storage containers. Switch out the old Tupperwear, used takeout containers, and Ziploc bags for glass containers with snap-on lids, silicone storage bags, and beeswax wrap (it’s cheap and easy to make your own). Our household made the switch away from plastics four years ago and it’s ultimately been good for our health, our wallet, and the planet.
- Bring your own reusable bottle. Instead of buying plastic water bottles, pick up a trendy stainless steel bottle or a reusable plastic bottle and cover with your favorite vinyl stickers. If you’re concerned about filtration, pick up a simple Brita filter or a heavy-duty Berkey system.
- Say no to disposables. Pass on disposable utensils if you have or will soon have access to reusable silverware, straws, or napkin. Some people choose to carry a travel cutlery set, so that’s an option to consider if you eat out a lot. Ladies may consider replacing personal care products with a reusable menstrual cup or period panties.
- Borrow books from the library. If you’re the type to finish a book in one sitting or are considering testing out a new diet, the library is a great place to start. Most libraries now offer digital audio books and eBooks, which can be accessed without visiting the library. Some libraries offer additional services, such as workshop, video game system rentals, and a native seed library.
- Repair. If it’s broken, fix it. This is a great opportunity to learn a new skills, and the internet is filled with instructional videos and articles. If it can be repaired easily, pay someone knowledgeable to do the job. Consider the Japanese concept of kintsugi, which treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. Embroider over the hole in your favorite jeans, mix gold lacquer into the glue holding a a broken vase together, and celebrate the past and future lives of your most well-loved objects.
- Reuse. Identify any item you need and then locate it at the local thrift store or a swap group in your area. Before discarding an item, consider whether it could be repurposed. Glass food jars can be great for storage and worn out jean can be cut down to short.
- Recycle. Recycle any household glass, plastic or cardboard. Discover where to recycle electronics, chemicals, and construction materials on Earth911.com.
What zero-waste tips would you add to this list? Is there anything you disagree with?