When it comes to trying to reduce waste I've learned that it's a lot less about what you buy and a lot more about building better, more sustainable, habits. I've put together a list of some of the habits I've adopted that help reduce waste. Some of these things I even did before going zero waste because they just make sense!
1. Cleaning out the fridge:
I can't be the only one who finds some really gross food in the back of my fridge from time to time! One thing you can do that's actually quite sustainable is making the act of cleaning out your fridge a regular chore for yourself. But also it's important to do it right. By this I mean that when you go through your fridge find things that are close to going bad but aren't bad yet and bring them to the front of the fridge so they get eaten ASAP. And grocery shop around these items so you can make meals with them before they go bad. Doing this once a week before you go grocery shopping will help you save money and reduce food waste, double win!
2. Take Navy Showers:
Did you know that the average American shower uses 17.2 gallons of water? That's a lot of water! I actually learned recently that a lot of European cultures normally shower this way too in what we Americans call a "Navy Shower". This is when you get in the shower and wet yourself down, then turn the water off while you lather up and then turn the water back on to rinse. I know not everyone will be down for this one but you never know until you try it, and think of how much water you'll save. Try it out and see if your water bill goes down too!
3. Using What You Have:
As is often said, the most sustainable thing is the thing you already own. And this is true for everyone! Whenever you're looking at buying something, see if you have an item on hand that will work instead. For example, we make a lot of recipes that have a seasoning mix in them for marinating tofu/vegetables. When we need to make a lot of it I love using an old empty spice jar and mixing together a big batch of the mix! I can then label it with what the mix is and I always have it on hand. I just re-use an empty spice bottle in lieu of going out and buying brand new spice bottles to keep on hand. Think about if there are any areas in your life you can apply this!
4. Turning the Lights Off:
I know I harp on this a lot but when you leave a room simply turning off the lights can be a huge energy saver. And it brings down your electricity bill at the same time so you have no excuses!
"Refuse" is one of those sneaky extra "R's" in the good old saying "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle". What we mean by this is refusing free things just for the sake of getting swag. At the dentist say no to the plastic toothbrush and toothpaste if you have plenty at home. At an event say no to all the swag that you know will just end up in a junk drawer by the end of the year. Say no at the store to getting plastic bags, either bring your own or opt for paper bags! Whatever it is, refusing also goes a long way to reducing our carbon footprint and reducing waste.
When it comes to living a less-wasteful lifestyle I am a huge believer that if having less waste forces you to give up the things you love then it isn't a truly sustainable lifestyle for you. That said, there are often times ways that we can reduce waste and still have the things we love. Take seltzer for instance. Kyle loves seltzer. Before I started on my journey of reducing waste, he used to buy 5-6 plastic bottles of seltzer at the grocery store each week to drink throughout the week. For awhile I had him switch to aluminum cans of seltzer since aluminum is a much more recyclable material than plastic is. But I still really felt the waste adding up.
For his birthday last November I got Kyle a SodaStream machine! This allows you to carbonate your own water and then you can flavor it at home too. The machine comes with a reusable bottle and the carbonation canisters can be sent back to SodaStream to be refilled and reused. I thought this would be the perfect solution to our seltzer-waste problem.
A great thing about the SodaSteam too is that when you bring your empty canister to Bed Bath and Beyond you get half off your purchase of a new canister, that really helps with the overall cost benefits too. And you know your canisters are being refilled and reused.
In addition, the bottles of flavoring you can buy come overwhelmingly in glass, which is again much more recyclable than plastic is. We've really enjoyed trying out different SodaStream flavors to make the perfect at home seltzers. I also love that we don't need to buy 5-6 huge bottles that take up a ton of room in our fridge, we can just have a few small bottles of flavors on the door to make seltzer with whenever we want.
I always like to say that the most sustainable option is the one you already have. And while that's true, sometimes the investment of an at home appliance etc. can really make living with less waste possible, even if they aren't being touted as "zero waste". That's not to say that everyone needs to go out and buy a SodaStream at all. For us, the investment was well worth it and we're coming up on a year of using it and still love it. Let me know in the comments below if you have a SodaStream at home and how you like it!
One of the toughest things about going zero waste is that sometimes you feel like in order to get less waste, you need to create waste. Take my Swiffer for example. This is a cleaning product I bought a year before I decided to go zero waste, but the Swiffer itself is quite wasteful. Between the disposable pads and the disposable cleaning solutions it's far from the best solution when trying to reduce waste. But my dilemma is if I throw out the whole Swiffer and buy a more "zero waste" floor cleaner is that not also creating waste? I could give the Swiffer away but then I know it's also going to someone who will continue to buy disposable pads and solution! It really felt like a lose-lose situation until I figured out that I could make my Swiffer zero waste.
First, when I was shopping in Lowe's one day a wall of floor cleaning products caught my eye. These reusable pads from a brand called Bona were being sold for $7 and I knew I needed to buy one and try it out. They seemed like the perfect solution to the disposable pads from Swiffer. I was right, they work perfectly. And by the way, $7 is the price for a refill of disposable Swiffer pads so after this one purchase I'm saving money! The pad itself is a little bigger than our Swiffer mop head but it sticks right on so it's not an issue. I also tie it up with elastics too to make it fit but it's not necessary at all either. As a side note, you can also use any type of reusable cloth on your Swiffer and you don't need to buy anything to make it work! I just didn't have anything on hand at home that would have worked but definitely take a look through your home and see if you have anything.
With the pads now taken care of I just needed to find a way to make my own floor cleaner at home and get it in the Swiffer bottle. For this I went to the internet! I saw that if you put the top of the bottle face down in extremely hot water for several minutes it will loosen the cap enough allowing you to take it off. I put some water in my tea kettle and took it off before it started making any noise. I then poured the water into a mug and put the Swiffer bottle in it for 5 minutes.
When it came time to twist the cap off though I will say it was not as easy as it was made out to be. I grabbed a towel and tried for several minutes to twist this cap off. That's when Kyle came up with the idea to tie a rubber band around the top and then twist. It worked like magic! With the top taken off, I now could make the floor solution. I found a recipe online as follows:
I didn't use any essential oils because our dish soap is a very pungent peppermint smell. I felt that adding other scents to the mix might make it smell really weird but if you have anything on hand go for it!
My Swiffer bottle is on the small side so I actually ended up with too much, I just put the excess into a jar so next time I need a refill I don't need to make any more cleaner!
In the end, I'm really happy that I'm both able to use what I have from before going zero waste, and making it truly zero waste with a $7 cloth and a DIY floor cleaner. Not to mention the money I save too on both the disposable pads and cleaning solution.
I've tried a few things looking for a zero waste alternative to paper towels, from "unpaper" towels to just standard kitchen dish cloths. And while I liked each item for it's own use, I found they just didn't replace the disposable paper towels. Nothing was quite as absorbent, and to reuse anything I had to go put it through the wash and air dry first. This was just about as convenient as you would expect.
I'd heard a lot of people rave about the Swedish Dish Cloths but I hadn't tried them yet, I just kept putting it off thinking these would be just like the cloth "paper" towels. But last month while I was at my local farmer's market and the refill van I frequent, Ray's Reusables was carrying them. I was already refilling a few things so I thought "Why not?", I bought two.
As a side note, I've seen these dish cloths go for up to $12 each online, and these were only $7 each! I just couldn't resist trying them at that price.
I took them home immediately to try them out and I can officially say I am in love! They dry out really quickly so they can be reused again within an hour. They're soooo absorbent. I can use one to wipe down all my counter tops (granted I don't have a ton of counter space). And I just love that they're reusable. They also clean off really easily. After using to wipe down food or other messes I just rinse it under the sink and then hang it up on my dish rack to dry! Easy as that.
I've only had my dish cloths for a month so far so I can't yet speak to how long they will last, but on the website it says one cloth can last up to 8 or 9 months. Once they've reached their limit you can compost them which I love. I'll update this post here when I finally wear mine out so you can check back and see how long they lasted me for, but so far I'm in love with the cloths and I think these have been one of my best zero-waste swaps to date because I genuinely like these over paper towels, and for $7 you just can't beat the price!
In the US alone 100 billion single-use plastic bags are used each year! That's a lot of plastic bags headed for the landfill every year. But there is one really simple and easy way for us to reduce this waste which is bringing reusable bags to the store! Of course this is going to be the most eco-friendly option, but did you also know that you can get rewarded for doing it? Here's a list of stores that will pay you either with cash or rewards when you bring your own reusable bag!
When you bring your own bags to Target they take $0.05 off your total for every bag brought. While that doesn't seem like much it can definitely add up when you're bringing a bunch of bags to buy groceries! And right now (at least at my local Target), they're giving out free reusable Target tote bags while you check out.
2. Plato's Closet:
Just recently when I was at Plato's Closet they now give you 1 rewards point on top of what you've earned with your purchase when you bring your own bag. Not to mention some Plato's Closet locations don't even have bags anymore and you have to bring your own!
3. MOM's Organic:
I know that MOM's isn't a national chain just yet but for anyone with a location nearby they take $0.10 off your order for each bag you bring to their store.
Like Target, Sprouts will also credit you $0.05 per reusable bag that you bring when you shop with them.
5. Whole Foods:
Whole Foods' discount can vary by location but can be up to $0.10 off for bringing a reusable bag with you to shop.
While these discounts may be small they can add up over time of doing this, and with more and more states charging you money to take a plastic bag the savings could be even more for bringing your own bags!
This list is not exhaustive by any means but these are just the stores that I know and frequent. What stores in your area offer incentives for bringing a reusable bag? Also when you're shopping locally just ask! Our local used bookstore offers 10% off your purchase when you bring their reusable tote to the store (The Book Corner, for anyone in the Philly area wondering).
I know what you're probably thinking from the title "Isn't this plastic free July? Shouldn't we be trying to ditch the plastic?" And you are completely right! We should be working to reduce plastic in as many areas of our lives that we can. However, I think that a lot of times the "zero waste" movement falls flat in setting out realistic expectations. We currently don't live in a society where we can go 100% plastic free, and that isn't our fault as consumers. So even though I've spent the last month writing blogs about all the ways I've eliminated plastic from my life, I wanted to round out July by showing you the areas of my life that still have plastic in them, that I'm not perfect, and that a completely "zero waste" lifestyle doesn't truly exist yet.
So here is my list of things that come packaged in plastic that I am not going to be giving up.
As someone with very acne prone skin I have found Differin to be a game changer! This helped clear my skin up so much, it's prescription strength but you can get it now at CVS, Walmart etc. which was really helpful for me when I was still in college and not living in the same place all the time. In addition, I only go through one tube of this stuff every 18 months, which really is not a lot. You only need a pea sized amount each night. Because I know that these tubes last me a long time and have helped my skin so much, this is one of those items in plastic that I just can't quite give up yet.
More of a general one here but we need food to survive and therefore: groceries! While I do my best to avoid buying things in plastic (check out my blog posts on plastic free grocery shopping here), there are some items you just can't get plastic free yet. Things like strawberries, blueberries, and bread. I often go out of my way to go to the grocery stores I know I can get spinach and lettuce package free at but sometimes that just isn't possible with my schedule. At the end of the day we need to eat and not all food is plastic free yet.
3. Health Items
This one should be obvious to most people but sometimes isn't from what I see in some zero waste communities online. Anything health or medical related should still be used even if it comes in plastic! For me this is Neosporin, Cortizone, and hydrogen peroxide etc. where there aren't plastic free alternatives!
In the same vein as above we need vitamins for our bodies to be healthy! So don't feel bad about getting vitamins. I know there are some plastic free vitamin companies like Care/of, but I can't compost their packaging through my compost company so in the end I would be throwing it away. Not to mention how insanely expensive their vitamins are, I just couldn't justify it!
I know biodegradable floss exists out there but I just can't get behind it for two main reasons. The first being that it comes in little glass jars, which while cute have no reusability in my opinion so they would need to be recycled with each use. And again, I wouldn't be able to compost the floss with my compost service, not to mention the reviews all say how the floss breaks apart between your teeth. I found a great alternative to that which is floss from Quip. It comes in a metal dispenser that you continue to reuse forever and just load more floss into once every 3 months. This way I am not buying plastic floss containers ever but am also still flossing my teeth!
When it comes to things like these I have to give myself a break, we are all trying our best at the end of the day and it's okay to buy some things in plastic if they are important to you or necessary for your health! What things in plastic are you not giving up?
One of the biggest areas I've found that is hard to go plastic-free, especially without breaking the bank, is skincare! While there are a lot of options, many of them are really expensive so I wanted to highlight some of my favorite plastic free skincare swaps.
1. Face Soap:
This Cerave Facial Wash Bar is a game changer for me. This is equivalent to a liquid soap I would have used prior to going zero waste but in bar form. Not to mention it's way cheaper than buying the liquid ($5.99 at Target compared to its $10.99 liquid counterpart)! I bought this bar back in February and I still don't think I've used even a third of it to be honest. This was definitely one of the best zero waste swaps I've made for skincare!
2. Rosehip Oil:
While it's very easy to find essential oils in glass over plastic I do use rosehip oil on my face every night and I just love that I can find it just about anywhere in glass from Amazon to Ulta to even Imperfect Foods for under $10!
3. Face Masks:
One of my favorite things about being zero waste has been making my own face masks! I love using egg whites as a face mask when I only need egg yolks for a meal, and they really help tighten your pores too. I also love using Aloe Vera as a zero waste face mask or honey and some brown sugar to exfoliate. Check out my blog post on zero waste face masks.
4. Cotton Pads:
So I know that the product itself isn't plastic to begin with but before going zero waste I was buying cotton pads in plastic bags every few months! Now I use reusable cotton pads from Monsters by Marley and I love them! I pop them in a mesh bag in the wash and then lay on a table to air dry.
I still have a lot of skincare that I'm working through before I buy replacements but when I do here's my list of what I'll be buying for anyone curious!
Raw Elements SPF
Moisturizer - Imperfect Foods Jojoba Facial Cream
Salicylic Acid BHA Exfoliant
What other zero waste skincare do you use and love? Leave it in the comments below!
Join me as I document my journey to becoming zero-waste through this blog as a resource to others.