Lucas and I began our transition into a "zero-waste" lifestyle in January of this year. It has been an incredibly slow journey for us and we are continually humbled by how difficult it is. Like - nearly impossible.
In case you're not familiar with the concept, the idea behind "zero waste" living is to produce zero landfill waste and lesson your individual environmental impact. In practice, this essentially means composting all food scraps, recycling everything else, and sending nothing to the landfill. There are touted zero waste bloggers online who can fit 7 years worth of trash into one tiny jar. I mean - I want you to stop and consider how crazy that is! 7 years worth of trash in one tiny jar! It's incredible.
We got behind the lifestyle because we believe at our core that individual action DOES make a difference. The way you live makes a difference. The food you eat makes a difference. The things you buy make a difference. Consumers drive culture, and in effect, drive social, political, and environmental change with something as simple as a purchase or lifestyle shift. The concept is incredibly simple and it is easy to get lost in romanticized possibilities. How amazing would it be if everyone adopted a low waste mentality and we never had to build another landfill?
Lucas and I dove in with excitment, prematurely believing that we too could put years worth of trash in a jar. We put a jar on our counter and within a day it was overflowing. One day.
We quickly realized that it would take a little more effort than mere enthusisam. That first "failure" taught us the type of intention and focus we would need if we really wanted to eliminate our landfill waste and create a less polluted world. We now produce about one jar of trash a month for the two of us. We are nowhere close to 7 years worth of trash in the jar... but it's improvement. The transformation is really exciting to watch and we are incredibly proud of the progress we've made.
It is my intention to supply people with some helpful and easy ways they can join the movement. And while I am here, I want to encourage people not to get stuck in the sticky web of perfectionism. There is no such thing. Zero waste is not a great name for this lifestyle because thruthfully, unless you live isolated on a mountain and grow all your own food, you will produce waste. We want to encourage people to pursue "low waste" lives where the mantra is a constant pursuit of "better"... not "perfect."
Another thing I want to adress is the inherent inequality that comes with promoting a "zero waste" lifestyle. We know that it requires an immense amount of privledge to pursue this path. It takes time. It takes resources. It takes money. It also helps if you live in an area that gives you access to bulk stores, local produce, and farmers markets. This series is not meant to ostricize anyone who may come to realize that between work, bills, taking care of kids, taking care of their health, and enjoying their life... there is just not a feasible way to absorb or put into action everything this series is going to cover. Again, this is not about pursing perfectionism, it is about pursuing "better." What that means to you in your life is truly unique to you and I want to encourage you to celebrate the small victories and subtle changes. What feels subtle to you in one moment, can be huge for the tragectory of climate change on a large scale... so keep on keeping on!
Another thing I want to adress is this: individual action does make a difference. It does. But we also need systematic change. The reason all of our garbage cans are full of plastic is because our government allows companies to continue ecologically unsound ways of packaging consumer goods. If more cities banned plastic bags (Like NY and LA!) or banned single use plastics all together - we would be in a much better place. We also need to encourage local governments to give people the tools to reduce their waste. We need local governments to require local companies, businesses, and restaurants to use more eco-friendly products. It is hard to compost if you live in a city and there is no where to take your food scraps. The reason compost is easy for Lucas and I is due to local programs. There is a compost bin at our apartment that is picked up weekly and taken to regulated facilities. Systematic change will not happen over night and it will take individuals like you and me to spark the progress we want to see. As part of this series, I will try and supply you with resources you can go to or environmental policies you can be apart of to continue systematic and governmental change.
Today I want to give you the 10 most important things we've learned since starting this journey. I hope these tips will help you begin your own journey and make it feel less daunting. I will be doing more in-depth posts with specific zero waste lifestyle hacks, recipes, and how-to guides. (If there is anything you want me to cover -- send me an email and let me know!)
1. Use What You Already Have
OK- if you follow any zero waste bloggers on instagram, you have likely been inundated with products that you "need" if you are going to go zero waste. I am here to eliminate the consumer anxiety and let you know it's simply not true! You don't need any material item to go zero waste successfully. There are so many amazing companies out there making incredible eco-consciouss products, but if you don't actully have a need for it you're just adding to the consumer culture that led to overflowing landfills in the first place. The truth is, all products, even biodegradable or compostable ones, used precious energy and resources to be produced in the first place. Shop your house first, and get creative with what you already have! If you still don't have something adequate then by all means choose the most eco-conscious and responsible product that you can.
2. Finish Using What You Currently Have In Your Arsenal
Similar to the tip above - it is so important to finish using the products you have already purchased to their full life cycle before investing in the zero waste alternative. Think shampoo bars are the coolest thing to ever be invented but have two more bottles of shampoo to use before you actually need one? Please use what you have first. It is equally as crucial to use up what we have (and then properly disposing of it) as it is to choose the more sustainable option on our next go around.
3. A "Zero Waste" Home Doesn't Happen Overnight
Most of what fills our monthly trash jar right now is plastic from products we bought months ago and are just now finishing up. You can't get angry at yourself for the pace that your journey will naturally proceed at. Take your time. There is no rush. I really believe that if you try and change too much too fast, none of it will stick. Pick one area of the house to focus on and try and improve in that one area until you feel you can move on. Lucas and I began with the kitchen because it was the source of almost all our trash. We started using cloth produce bags and grocery bags, stopped eating meat, found a local grocery store that doesn't wrap any produce in plastic, began making our own hummus, bread, and granola, and started composting!
4. Say NO To Plastic
Single-use plastics, such as take out containers, cutlery, straws, or cups, are filling our landfills. The busier we get, the more we reach for these conveniences. I know it is hard to always be prepared, but the reality is single-use plastics are unnecessary and are killing our beauitful planet. Bring you own re-usable water bottle, straw, to-go container, and bags. The sad reality is, even if you put plastic in the recycling bin there is no guarantee that it will actually be recycled. (But more on the problem with recycling later!)
5. Bring Your Own... Everything!
This one is simple. Bring your own. Use it again and again and again. And... again.
6. Compost, Compost, Compost!
I will do a more in depth post on the importance of composting later, but I had to put this on the list because I can't say enough how important it is. When food scraps go into our landfills they get trapped and are unable to break down properly. Instead of decomposing, they release noxious gasses and put more carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. Composting is so easy and is accessible to anyone. Lucas and I live in a tiny apartment and have found a way to compost. I know that you can too! If you don't think its possible for you or are overwhelmed with where to start, send me an email and I will help you get started or find you a drop box in your area.
7. Make Your Own... Everything!
You can make almost anything yourself: cleaning spray, detergent, toothpaste, veggie rinse, and yummy foods such as hummus, pitta, or protein bars that usually come packaged. Not only is this better for the environment - it is better for your wallet and for your health!
8. Make The Bulk Section Your Go-To
The bulk section in the grocery store is the best. It has all the building blocks for an amazing pantry- and you can buy anything in it with your own bags to eliminate packaging. Lucas and I buy nuts, dates, grains, beans, flour, dried fruit, nutritional yeast, spices, and museli from the bulk section and it has become a staple in our grocery hauls!
9. Utilize Public Transportation, Ride Your Bike, or Walk
This is so dependent on where you live and the situation you're in... but as much as possible try and take public transportation, carpool, ride your bike, or simply walk.
10. Take Inventory Each Month of Your Trash - and Make Small Reachable Goals!
This has been SO helpful for Lucas and I. Keeping a trash jar on the counter makes us aware of what is inside of it and gives us an idea of what we could be doing better. We have an excel spread sheet where we track what went into the jar and then find an alternative or make a plan of how we will do better next time. We make small goals based off of what we found in our jar so that we know where our trouble spots are and work hard to try and reach them the next month. Having a trash jar is not necessary, but we have found it is so helpful and keeps us accountable. We encourage you to find what works for you!
Comment below or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and tell me what you're doing to protect mama earth- or let me know any questions you have/ topics you want me to cover!