So, you want to join the Zero Waste Movement? Me too! It feels like an overwhelming and expensive project to take on though. It seems like you’ll never get there. The more you do and change the more aware you are of the things you still need to work on. What if it was cheap and easy to join the zero waste movement?
Because it’s such a huge project I didn’t know where to begin. So, I started following a bunch of IG accounts hoping to find information and cool ideas. I was able to find that. But what I also discovered were a whole lot of “you’re not doing enough” people. That just made it even more stressful. I was starting at square one and people were outraged by posts about reusing cardboard egg cartons. UGH!!!
Finally, I came across several posts saying that no one would ever get to zero waste. But if everyone just did a little bit we could make a HUGE difference. This really touched me. I’ve always deeply believed this. In my lifetime I’ve seen it time and time again. So many people think “I’m only one person” and give up. If every one of them did something they would be unstoppable. This made me think… what’s a blog for if not to unite people behind a great cause. So, I felt inspired to share some ideas that are inexpensive and have been simple for me to implement.
1. Use it up
First of all, it isn’t sustainable to throw away everything you already have and replace it with something new. Not to mention that this is very expensive! Use up what you already have! If you would love to try a bar shampoo or homemade ACV conditioning spray, that’s great. But use up what you have first. If you really prefer not to use it then find someone to give it to. Whatever you do, don’t toss it.
Once you’ve used it up, reuse, repurpose or recycle the containers. Be responsible with the things you already have!
2. Don’t waste it
You might be thinking, “how is this different from ‘use it up?'” Here’s how. This is specifically about food. The average American household produces about 30% food waste. If I told you you could cut your grocery bill by 30% you’d be all over it. So, get on board with this. Use up what’s in your pantry or fridge. Shop more frequently if you need to. Make a meal plan and grocery list and stick to it. STOP wasting food!
Food that is thrown in the trash does not decompose in landfills. Since it gets burried under other trash it isn’t able to. What it does is produce a whole lot of methane which is worse for the environment than CO2.
If you must toss your food and when getting rid of food scraps, compost it. It is amazing for the soil and you can sometimes even sell it. If you don’t feel you produce enough food waste to start composting (or you just don’t want to) you can donate your waste. Check out Share Waste to see if you can get matched with someone who composts in your area. You may also have a friend or family member who composts or gardens. So ask around to see if anyone is happy to take your scraps. You might be surprised how eager people are to get this kind of donation. Really, someone WANTS your trash!
To make it easy to collect (and donate if that’s your choice) consider investing in a compost bin and bags. I like these ones because they are convenient to use and environmentally friendly. Compost bins and bags can be kept on your counter top or in a cabinet. They are designed not to smell or attract pests. They also aren’t that expensive and make composting a lot easier.
3. Mend it
This goes hand in hand with being responsible with the things you already have. Get a sewing kit and consider buying a few cute patches and either patch or mend your clothes. Fast fashion is one of the top 3 poluters in the world. So, stop buying new clothes all of the time and fix what you have.
If it can’t be fixed repurpose it. You can cut it and use it as rags. T-shirts are particularly great for this. If you have a sewing machine you can even transform items into different styles or even different things all together. You can create scarves, children’s clothes, hot and cold packs or even shopping and produce bags. Don’t forget the super cool sentimental t-shirt quilts that were going around the internet a few years back. There are a ton of DIY tutorials to simplify the task and give you some amazing ideas.
If you’re just tired of it and it’s still in good condition, sell or donate it. Also, for future purchases consider buying second hand. My favorite way to donate, sell and buy second hand is through Thred Up. They are the largest online consignment and resale shop. Shopping is super simple, they are great with returns and easy to work with to donate or sell your clothes. They have a variety of brands, including high end designer goodies at reasonable prices and they have many sort options. They even have super deeply discounted rescue boxes and stylist picked mystery boxes.
4. Upcycle it
So, we’ve already touched on reusing and repurposing clothes but what about other items in your house? You can reuse or upcycle many of the things you would otherwise toss. You can also donate many of these items to a friend or a local charity. Empty and clean food containers can be great for storing craft supplies. Cardboard egg cartons can be used as seedling planters.
And, I can’t forget my personal favorite… JARS! My husband has taken to calling me “the crazy jar lady”. I can’t get enough! I intentionally purchase items that come in jars rather than plastic and will sometimes even switch brands if I prefer the jar. They are great for organizing small items (I have one filled with safety pins for example). I love using them to send left overs home with guests or to taking people soup or other treats. If they don’t get returned, I don’t mind. I also use them to store homemade bath salts and body butter and for creating homemade cleaning products (citrus infused vinegar, anyone!) Jars can be used for so many awesome things and there are so many DIY crafts you can make with them (snow globes, candle holders & more).
Clearly many of these things can be recycled but when you reuse or upcycle them you also prevent yourself from having to buy new. This saves you money and keeps you from supporting the never ending cycle of consumerism and waste.
5. Refuse it
So, If you bring a box of jars to my house I will NOT refuse it! I can always use them for something! There are a million other things I will refuse to take though. Stop taking “free” samples of things you’ll never use. Those things aren’t actually free! They are a burden on the environment to create and come at a cost, sometimes a high one! You don’t need the fliers or pamphlets you see at rest stops or that get handed to you on the street. Don’t feel bad telling people “no” when you know you aren’t going to use what they are offering. Do a self check before accepting things from companies or individuals. Don’t just automatically accept it.
What about the stuff that comes right to you? You know… the piles you find in your mailbox. You have every right to refuse that too! I found this awesome article about how to stop junk mail on ecocycle.org. This is a simple 6 step process that should have your mailbox minimized in no time!
6. Swap it
There are some swaps that are much easier than others and it’s different for all of us. For example, I found it very easy to switch to reusable beverage containers.
It was simple for me to use glass, stainless or ceramic containers. I often take drinks with me when I head out for the day so I always have travel mugs. Taking them into places when I purchase drinks isn’t tough at all when I already have it sitting in my cup holder. Plus, I’m pretty freaked out by BPA’s & stuff so I prefer my own non-leaching containers. I am also blessed to live in a place with good drinking water so I can simply fill by reusable water bottle with filtered tap water. This might be a good place for you to start as well. You can even use a JAR with a few rubber bands around it as a to-go drink container (pro-tip: reuse the rubber bands from your produce).
Think about what swaps would be simple for you. What wouldn’t you miss? What might actually be easier if you made the swap? Maybe you already swapped something without even noticing. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Use that momentum as motivation to swap something else!
7. Let your money talk
You get to choose where you spend your hard earned dollars. You also have access to instant information. Think about where you are spending your money. Be a conscious consumer! If you care about sustainability and other environmental issues than patronize companies who share your values. Buy from companies that are making strides toward improved working conditions, less waste and environmental safety. It doesn’t take long to google the company you’re considering buying from.
You will also find that some businesses are more accommodating to your low waste choices. Make sure that you are valued as a customer in this way. If I take my reusable travel coffee mug into a coffee shop I want them to fill it. I don’t want them to insist on filling their own cup then handing it to me to dump into my cup and throwing it in the trash. Your wishes regarding minimizing waste should be respected. It also saves the business money. That disposable stuff costs them money. I am a huge fan of places that give you a discount if you bring your own reusable container (looking at you Starbucks!) I will patronize these businesses above all others and I recommend you do too.
Just do it
Whatever your goals are regarding minimizing waste you need to get started. You don’t have to have it all figured out right now. Pick one of the suggestions in this post and apply it to your life. The thing about the zero waste lifestyle is that you will never be done. There will never be zero waste or zero room for improvement. But every little bit that each of us does matters. Every bit we keep from the landfill or out of the ocean and every accommodation that is made by companies because of consumer pressure is a step in the right direction! You don’t have to be a tree hugger who has nighmares about climate change to care about the kind of world you are leaving to future generations. The most important and impactful way you can join the zero waste movement is to get started! Right now!
Share your experiences, what have you been really sucessful with or found very challenging? Share your sustainable swaps and strategies to encourage all of us!
I challenge you to share this post with friends and family and get them on board! My daughter just started college and is majoring in sustainability. She’s been a HUGE inspiration to me and to our family. Include your loved ones in this journey for a bigger impact and for accountability and encouragement. Maybe they don’t know how easy and inexpensive it can be (it will actually save money in the long run) so share this post far and wide and lets get everyone we know to take the first step!
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I’m beginning a garden to upscycle my water bottles. The men in my house insist on buying 32packs of water at the store. The trash it produces literally jolted my decision to start reducing my waste production. I can’t stop them from buying the water, I’ve tried, so using the bottles for plants will produce something beautiful from trash.
Love that! You make a great point. You can’t make other’s change their habits just because you are. Hopefully your choices will inspire them but even if they don’t you know that you are doing your best and reducing waste. Every bit helps. I love the idea of upcycleing trash into beautiful treasure! YAY YOU!!!