Every now and again I think back to our days before we adopted a zero-waste lifestyle. I would be mortified if I told you how quickly our trash can used to fill up. With packaging wrapped around everything from produce to single serving sizes, our planet doesn’t stand a chance if all 7.5 billion of us continued to toss everything out. I completely understand if a zero-waste home feels unachievable after all, very few things are actually 100% zero-waste. But, there are a few things that I learned early on that helped me tremendously to ease into it. Even if you never get to the point where you feel as though you want to call yourself a zero-waster or zero-waste family (some prefer to use low waste or waste-conscious) these tips make it ridiculously easy to reduce our carbon footprint and the amount of rubbish in landfills.
Bring your own
Bring your own reusable coffee cup, straw, silverware, cloth napkins, and food container for takeaways. Since I have a little one, I can easily pack these in our backpack (no diaper bag for us anymore) but it may be easier to keep a few extra in the car. This is not only an easy way to reduce trash but a great conversation starter and a wonderful way to spread awareness.
This was a little harder in the beginning. I sooo badly wanted that sample from Whole Foods. But, in the end, I had to make the decision to either say no or bring the plastic cup home to recycle. It is important to remember that you do have options. While recycling only partially helps to reduce waste in landfills, there will be things that you cannot refuse, like gifts, band-aids (the box not the actual bandage), and special items that are needed. If we are conscious about our consumption, then it will make it easier to decide what is worth recycling, refusing or finding package free.
Know your local recycling program
Not every state, county, or town will have the same recycling system and guidelines. Some areas have multiple facilities and some only have a few. Some facilities take one set of recyclable, while the others can only process a different set of items. These guidelines will vary depending on where you live. The recyclable symbol is only printed on packaging if it is universally recyclable. I have found that most facilities can recycle so much more than we think. Check out this website to see what is available in your area. You can also call your local sanitation dept. And don’t forget to learn what can’t be recycled. This is just as important since a huge percentage of recyclables are tossed when they become contaminated by another packaging. For example, if you toss a greasy pizza box into the bin then some facilities will toss everything that the box touched. Check out my post, Recycling Without Losing Your Mind.
Buy in bulk
Oh, be still my heart! There is nothing prettier than a pantry full of glass jars filled with healthy and colorful foods. Many grocery stores have bulk bins that you can get all kinds of rice, pasta, dried beans, nuts, seeds, and even candy. Remember to follow tip #1 and bring your own reusable bags or jars. If you bring a jar, just ask someone to figure the tar weight before you fill it. I like to bring cloth bags (repurposed from old sheets or clothes) or even brown paper bags. I use the paper bags a few times before composting them. It is a great way to reuse a smaller paper bag that might have gotten past you at check out or was part of gift wrapping. I prefer bags because it makes the process easier and faster. for me. Feel free to do what works for your family. At a minimum try to avoid individual serving sizes and buy the largest container and divided it into reusable containers instead. That way there is only one package for multiple servings.
Go paperless in the kitchen
It’s so funny when this topic is brought up. I almost always hear that the husband has a harder time doing without paper towels than the wife. I’m not sure why maybe because lifestyle changes are almost always the wife’s idea. I know that is true in our case. But, try using rags and dish towels in place of paper towels. You can totally have a backup roll for the things that you just can’t into the washer (I know I have a roll hiding somewhere). I also have a mason jar full of old t-shirt rags that work great for smaller cleaning jobs. While you are at it, try to avoid disposable plates, bowls, napkins (thrifted cloth napkins are the best!) silverware, straws, and sponges. Using a dish rag and an all natural brush to clean dishes is what we do. But, even trying biodegradable sponges will help to reduce waste.
Avoid plastic bags
Although most plastic bags can be recycled, the downside is that plastic items have a limited number of times that they can be recycled. Inevitably almost all plastic ends up in a landfill. Bring your own cloth grocery bags, produce bags (or skip them altogether), and a reusable dry cleaning bag. Again you may need to keep these in the car until you make a habit of bringing them with you. If you’re feeling really inspired, then bring your own jars for the butcher counter or bags for bulk items.
Only three percent of food waste is composted in the U.S. That means that we are tossing over 40% of our food supply every year. When food waste is sent to landfill it gradually breaks down to form methane, a greenhouse gas that’s said to be 25 times more harmful to our planet than carbon dioxide. In the US, an average family of four wastes 1,160 pounds of food annually, costing them about $1,365 to $2,275 per year. That is an average of 20 pounds of food wasted that adds up to $28-$48 every month. Composting saves money, saves resources, improves the soil and reduces our impact on the environment. It can also conserve our natural resources as one year of food loss equals about 3000 million barrels of oil. Regardless of our reasons, composting is good for us and good for the environment. Adding compost to your garden will not only fertilize, but it nourishes the soil with a diversity of nutrients and microorganisms that improve plant growth.
Ready to take the next step? Read my Ultimate Guide to Zero Waste: Beginner to Pro post.
What things do you do at home to remain conscious about your footprint on the planet? Let me know in the comments.