Zero Waste: Getting Started

Maybe you’ve heard of Zero Waste. Maybe you haven’t, but you’ve heard of at least one of those incredible (or crazy, depending on your perspective) people who can fit a year’s worth of trash in a mason jar. Or maybe you just read that and thought, “What??? There are people who do that???”

Yes. There are.

No, I am not one of them. Yet.


If you’re now expecting me to declare some great bloggy mission to the tune of, “hence forth, I decree that I shall never send anything to a landfill again and will regale the great, wide Internet of all I have accomplished”… well, you wouldn’t be wrong. Not completely.

But here’s the thing. Part of me loves hearing those stories of the rare, amazing people who immediately adopt a drastic new lifestyle and promptly change the world (or at least a small corner of it). Those stories are inspiring, and inspiration is good. But I have to be honest, there’s no way in heck that’s ever going to work out for me, and it always saddens me to see other people give up before they start simply because the task appears too daunting.

So no, I’m not going to trade in my trash can for a mason jar right this second, but I am going to work on reducing waste, little by little. Maybe not all of us can cease sending anything to the landfill, but even if we throw away one less thing per day, think about how many things that is  over a lifetime. What if we even manage TWO fewer things? It all adds up. Maybe you can’t fit all your trash in a jar (or even several jars) but that one, small change can still have an impact, and it doesn’t have that much of an effect on how you go about your life.

It’s with that in mind that I have decided to work toward Zero Waste. Am I committing to never creating any garbage ever again? No, because quite frankly, I’m not there yet. But I can take steps toward getting there. In fact, I’ve already taken a few without even intending to take it this far. I’m sharing a few of those steps with you, dear Internet, in the hopes that you might consider joining me on the journey.

What I’m Already Doing

  1. I use a reusable glass water bottle. This is something I’ve been doing since high school, long before I even heard the words “zero” and “waste” put together. I started out with a stainless steel bottle and used that fairly religiously for years. Still, I found stainless steel could often give a slight metallic taste to the water, and more than that my favorite bottle had a silicone bit on the top that would not stop growing mold no matter how carefully I cleaned it. It began to bother me that I couldn’t really see how clean the bottle was, and since glass didn’t give me a metallic taste the switch seemed like a no brainier. There are a growing variety of reusable options out there using different designs and materials, so the odds are good that you’ll be able to find something that works well for you.
  2. I bring my own bags to the grocery store. Another one I’ve been doing for years, and honestly it requires minimal effort. I keep the bags in my car so I don’t forget them, and from there I only have to grab them out of my trunk on the way into the store and return them to the car once I’ve unpacked everything at home.
  3. I make things from scratch. What things, you ask? Well, anything, really. I won’t say everything because that would be untrue. But just about everything I use on a regular basis is something I can make from scratch even if I don’t always do so. Everything from bread and tomato sauce to lipstick and conditioner, I can and do make myself from raw ingredients, which reduces the amount of packaging that comes into my house. (It also tends to be healthier!)
  4. I use cloth napkins. This may seem very minuscule to some, but for those who don’t already do it, cloth napkins can be one of those shockingly easy switches that will take that much more out of the landfill. And they really don’t require any more work; when you think about it, you’re doing laundry either way, and throwing a couple extra bits of fabric into your usual load really won’t make much difference in your usual habits.
  5. I use (mostly) loose leaf tea. My family has had an embarrassingly large tea collection for quite awhile now. About two years ago I finally put a moratorium on bringing any more tea into the house until we had used what we already had. My plan from there was to switch to loose leaf only. The waste from tea bags may seem minimal, but again, these things add up, and many tea bags can’t even be composted. On top of that, loose leaf tea tends to be better quality, and tea strainers really aren’t that hard to figure out.
  6. I have a reusable coffee filter. In a similar vein, I no longer buy disposable coffee filters. We have a reusable one that is easily washed by hand or thrown in the dishwasher. They are more expensive up front, of course, but they work just as well and you will never have to buy one again. You can also go for a French press of course, if that’s a method you prefer.
  7. I use reusable cloth sanitary napkins. If these are not a thing you need, feel free to skip ahead. For the ladies, it’s estimated that each of us will use an average of 17,000 disposable sanitary products over a lifetime. 17,000. That’s a lot. And even without landfills to consider, that stuff gets expensive. There are a lot of cleaner, greener alternatives, including cups, cloth pads, and sea sponge tampons. All of them are cheaper in the long run and far less wasteful. Personally, I use organic cotton pads from Party in My Pants. They’re insanely comfortable, shockingly leak-proof, and I wouldn’t go back to the disposable ones if you paid me. You’ll probably feel the same once you give them a try.

Things I Want to Work Toward

  1. Using cloth produce bags and food wrap. When I look at the trash I tend to create, most of it comes from food. When you think about it, food is probably the thing we use the most as we go through life. So with that in mind, I want to start minimizing waste from food packaging. I generally eat a modified paleo diet, which already helps since I avoid processed foods. Usually it’s the plastic produce bags and the meat packaging that get me. The latter is harder to deal with for me (I don’t quite have the guts to walk up to my local butcher with my own container. Yet. Like I said, it’s a journey.) but in the meantime, I can at least use cloth to corral my vegetables.
  2. Knitting my own socks. This may seem like a bit of an odd one. It’s certainly not one I see on most people’s lists of zero waste strategies. I, however, am sick of buying socks that get holes in them far too easily, only to find that the gauge is so fine that they cannot be repaired. (Not by anyone human sized, anyway. Part of me is still hoping for a friendly ant to come my way.) So I will slowly transition to knitting my own, and darning them as needed. I’m somewhat of a compulsive knitter anyway, so another part of my zero waste resolution is that my mindless knitting habit must be turned toward things that are actually useful, and not just there to occupy my hands while I watch TV.
  3. Conquering my fear of bulk bins. I love the idea of bulk. Really I do. And I want to love it in practice. But I can’t quite manage. I’ve been hurt, you see. I have spent the last few years battling a moth infestation that came home in some bulk purchased arborio rice. I know this fear shouldn’t stop me. Years before this infestation began I endured another one that came with very carefully packaged couscous. I shouldn’t blame it on bulk. And yet that fear gets reaffirmed. Just yesterday I found my local market had bulk rose hips. Rose hips! How often do you find that??  I thought, if there’s ever a time to get back on my bulk bin horse, this is it! I bought them with glee, got them home, and promptly found they were full of moths. Those rose hips have now been evicted from my house. But even with my terrible luck regarding moths, I’m still determined. The one upside to having fought this war is that I know how to fight it. If I keep everything in well sealed glass containers, hopefully I’ll be able to spot an infestation before it escapes the jar.Which is certainly more than I can say for most things that have been commercially packaged.
  4. Using rags instead of paper towels. I partially do this already, but not with as much consistency as I should. Like the cloth napkins mentioned above, it really doesn’t add much extra work to my standard routine, and cleaning rags are a great way to repurpose old clothes or sheets that are too worn out to use for their original purpose.
  5. Make my own yogurt. This is one I’ve dabbled in before, but never truly mastered. My yogurt was inconsistent at best, but since getting out of the habit of trying I’ve learned more about how to do it well. And when I make it myself, I can control exactly what’s in it and keep it in reusable glass containers. Sounds like a good deal to me.

So that’s my current list. How about you? What do you do to reduce waste in your life?

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