As the climate crisis looms heavily in our awareness, more and more people are becoming curious about living a zero waste lifestyle. This movement has been getting a lot more attention and understandably so. Zero Waste is defined by the Zero Waste International Alliance as, “Conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health”. That’s something I think we can all get behind- but what about the term “zero waste”? The name itself is often misleading and misunderstood as the intention to be truly zero waste is a nearly impossible feat to achieve. Here, I am offering the suggestion to approach a zero waste lifestyle with a side of self compassion and a whole lot of patience. I would like to banish those images of people holding up a mason jar containing a year’s worth of their trash. Instead let’s consider how simple changes in our daily lives can help lower our environmental impact, bring us closer into alignment with our spirit and relationship to nature, and even teach us a few things about humility along the way.
One of the first thing I noticed when researching all things zero waste was the array of aesthetically pleasing items composed of natural materials: wood, cork, organic cotton, and glass. It was beautiful. I was nearly tempted to dump every plastic item in my home and replace it with something sustainable. I didn’t want to use one more plastic item. Then I paused-wouldn’t that be the opposite of what this movement is all about? So I started slowly and wanted to share my exploration here.
If you’re considering a zero waste lifestyle, here’s a great place to begin
- Take a fridge inventory. Do you have a lot of takeout containers? Food rotting and forgotten in the back? An excess of packaged and processed items? A foundational part of being zero waste is reducing our food waste. Consider how you could cook at home more often. Research plant based meals which are inherently produced with a smaller carbon footprint than animal products. Go simple and make extra portions for the freezer. Look at creative ways to make meals with leftovers and recipes with “scraps”. All of these efforts will not only bring you closer to your zero waste goals, but also to an overall healthier and thriftier lifestyle.
- Consider prepping your own DIY cleaners. Find simple recipes for homemade cleaners and have the ingredients at the ready for when you run out of your conventional cleaner. Start with one item at a time and find a recipe that works best for your lifestyle. You can re-use the plastic spray bottles from your old cleaners or store the new concoctions in jars. Once you find a good DIY replacement, move on to another cleaning product.
- Use the personal care products you have completely before buying a “zero waste” replacement. You can still use your toothpaste, shaving cream, shampoo etc. Just have a new replacement at the ready for when they are finished. I’m reminded of the saying, “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” here.
- Peek in your recycling bin. Are there items you can take out to be repurposed or reused? Can someone else use it? ( think about your local “Buy Nothing” group). Are you seeing a lot of the same type of packaging? Where can you cut back on plastic? Just start becoming aware…and creative.
- Observe your daily habits. What disposables could you replace with reusables? This is very personal and specific. If you never use straws, it wouldn’t make sense to purchase a stainless steel straw. That said, if you buy coffee everyday, buying a reusable coffee mug is a practical and easy swap. Start with what works for you and your comfort level.
- Begin building your stash of reusables. Everyday items make easy swaps. A great example of this is repurposing old T shirts, cotton burp cloths, and flannel to replace paper towels for cleaning. It is also much cheaper and less wasteful than purchasing a new item, such as un-paper towels, even if it is zero waste. Re-use containers, jars, plastic packaging rather than buying reusable ziploc bags or a matching set of mason jars.
- Re-think new items coming into your home. Is it necessary? Could you find a diy alternative? Is it made sustainably? Is it fair trade? Will it last a long time? Is it in alignment with your philosophy?
Taking time for reflection, focusing on a clear intention and being thoughtful about taking steps is all part of this process. It is a way to deepen our connection to ourselves, build community, engage in a larger world issue and enact real change. Keep striving for self improvement and for a better world-we will get there.
And remember, small steps are still steps.