I’ve always been surrounded by people that practice at least some form of sustainability. My family was always fastidious with recycling, my schools had afterschool programs that touted the evils of aerosolized anything, and when I got to UC Berkeley, you better believe the first thing I learned was that the tap water is about a million times better than any prepackaged bottle of water could ever be. Still, while I’ve found a few great sustainability hacks over the years (and practice them religiously), I’m still not the poster child for green living. But I’m working on it.
I recently came across the Zero Waste movement (and, of course, its very informative and motivating subreddit, r/ZeroWaste), and I’ve become enamored with the idea of being able to live life in a more thoughtful and less waste-producing way. I don’t expect to become the woman who can live 10 years and produce only a mason jar’s worth of garbage, but I do expect to seriously up the ante on my sustainability — both financially and environmentally.
What Is Zero Waste?
Exactly as it sounds; the goal is to reduce your environmental waste down to zero — or get as close to it as possible. You can go as shallow or as deep with the concept as you like, and the deeper you go, the better for the environment! For some, this can mean not producing physical, tangible garbage throughout your day-to-day. That means replacing any single-use products with reusable alternatives when possible. Any avoidable waste is an absolute no-no, whether poorly planned food waste or simply accepting single-use items instead of being prepared with your own reusable versions.
For some, this can mean not producing intangible wastes as well. Think about the greenhouse gases produced during the transit of your goods, or the waste produced during the production of your food. Suddenly you’re looking at only local and sustainably sourced goods, and your carbon footprint is basically nonexistent. If you can do this, you are a modern-day hero.
Personally, I’m going to aim for somewhere in between.
How I’m Starting
I mentioned one of my goals for 26-year-old me is to reduce my household waste down to just one garbage bin per month. If the past few months are any indication, that was way too achievable of a goal — at least while my roommate/renter is out of town. I’ve been barely filling one bag each week, while translates to maybe 1/8th of the volume of my municipality’s trash bins. Neat.
Where I’m falling short, however, is that recyclable bin goal of two bins per month. It’s all coming down to things that are sent to me, whether the bills for which I’ve already elected paperless options, but still somehow find in the mail, or the local coupon newsletters that flood all of my neighbors’ mailboxes, or packaging from my damn Amazon addiction. Curse you, Bezos!
So now I’m starting to look for the ways that I’m a repeat waste-offender and the alternatives for them. I want to say now that it would be even more wasteful to go out and purchase reusable versions of things I already have, but I’ll be looking for alternatives as I run out of those items.
My Current Problem Areas
The things I’m catching myself on have been:
1. Tea bags — the bane of my existence! These puppies are small but mighty, and at an average 3-5 cups of tea daily, that’s a lot of single-use bags and staples heading towards landfill. Some tea bags are compostable, which is great! I’ll be composting mine for the time being, and once I run out of pre-packaged teas, I’m going loose leaf and finding a reliable tea strainer.
2. Trash bin liners – in the quest to produce less waste, I noticed that I can do better with how I contain that waste in the first place. My parents set a great example recently of lining their indoor recycle bin with a plastic bag, but still taking the whole bin out and dumping it into the outdoor receptacle once full. The bag stays in the indoor bin and is never tossed out or replaced.
Personally, however, I’ve been reusing the paper bags that Amazon has been delivering my Prime Now groceries in, which are recyclable, but it’s still a product that I’m using and disposing of. Parents, you win again. I’ll be taking a cue from you and just dump out the whole bin from now on.
On that note, I’m also collecting my groceries in person. While Amazon Prime Now can mean that there are fewer shoppers on the road (adding to greenhouse gas emissions and fuel waste), which is a win, but because there’s no way to return the bags they use nor control the portions they choose, I’m shopping for myself from here on out.
3. Cotton rounds – how many times have I alluded to my skincare addiction? Well, here’s at least one more! Every night and morning I’ve been using cotton rounds with my toner or makeup remover, and I had bulk orders of single-use cotton rounds coming to my house every 4-6 months.
Cotton rounds can be composted, but why do I need virgin single-use cotton, when I can simply use sewn cotton pieces and toss them into my weekly laundry? Some people use their own scrap flannel for this, or if you prefer, I’m obsessed with these reusable rounds. A word to the wise – it helps to rinse them immediately after use so they don’t stain, especially if you’re particularly dirty or taking off pigmented things like mascara or lipstick.
4. Dryer sheets – until I lived with my ex, I never used dryer sheets. I didn’t understand the point of them. My clothes were going to dry anyway, so what does it matter? Welp, now there’s no going back… but I don’t have to use sheets to achieve that super-fresh, soft, and static-free perfection anymore! As soon as my current pack of dryer sheets runs out, I’ll be getting (or making my own) reusable dryer balls.
That said, I’m finding too many of the replacement products from Amazon, and I’m struggling with…
The Shipping Rabbit Hole
I can’t believe I’m still so damn reliant on Amazon for every little thing, and my preference for online shopping whenever possible is really screwing up my cardboard-prevention game.
Even though I tend to hate going out and shopping in person, the cardboard, and air-filled plastics pile up every time I want to get new toothpaste or cat food is hard to ignore. And my lazy self so badly wants to justify it by saying “it’ll just get shipped to the local stores anyway.” I’m not going to find or purchase locally crafted bulk toilet paper, and that skincare addiction isn’t going to be appeased with homemade honey and lemon scrubs — which are not good for anyone, no matter what the internet says. So what’s a girl to do, short of breeding snails and figuring out how to develop “snail extract” in a local and sustainable way?
many most of the products I rely on are mass-produced and shipped, whether to my doorstep or to my local shops. Amazon has a habit of packaging the bejeezus out of even the smallest things, so the packaging and shipping waste of sending products in bulk to these shops is less than the waste of single-user shipping. But it still isn’t perfect…
The interim solution is to cut down on consuming in general. Fewer purchases mean less shipping materials or packaging materials, and less stuff anyway. Let’s start there.
So, I’m nowhere near perfect yet, but I’m cutting back more and more every opportunity. That said, I’m at the point where I may have to consider Amazon an addiction: I know it’s bad for the environment and for local businesses, but dammit it’s hard to quit. Any and all thoughts or ideas are welcome at this point. The convenience is there, but it’s time to break the habit and reduce my carbon footprint in a serious way.
Tis is a 20-something recruiter, startup enthusiast, finance blogger, and proud feminist-slash-crazy cat lady. Find her on Twitter or check out the blog for lifehacks and musings on personal finance, professional growth, and enjoying the journey to early retirement.
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