Long gone are the days of pretending our actions don’t have consequences. One of the main reasons I switched from vegetarian to vegan was for the positive impact it had on the environment. The amount of water it saves to not have to feed animals, collect their milk or eggs, and then ship it all over the world is utterly shockingly! Yet I know that there is so much more that we can personally do in order to minimize our waste.
So why zero waste/ what does that even mean?
Zero waste is a philosophy that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused. The goal here is that no trash is being sent to landfills or to incinerators. The trash we send to landfills will unfortunately sit there for generations to come; never truly decomposing and polluting our planet. A large amount of trash ends up in our rivers and oceans each and every day. Plastic bottles break down into ‘microplastics’ that are harmful to our oceans and the aquatic life. Plastic is the most prevalent type of marine debris found in our oceans (https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/microplastics.html). When we take a step back and evaluate our lives we may be surprised at just how much single use plastic we use. Between soap bottles, bags for produce, tea bags, straws, coffee cups, and plastic wrap…the list is endless. But there is HOPE! We all have the power to reduce our amount of waste and it doesn’t have to be difficult. When we purchase something we are essentially voting with our dollar. By buying single use plastic items we are feeding the demand for such products. Instead I believe we should use our dollars to buy simple swaps that will better the oceans, the environment, and our planet for generations to come.
So where to begin? Below I outlined many ways to reduce waste when it comes to food (which is usually the biggest contributing factor to our waste). This includes how to buy your food, store it, transport it, consume it, and dispose of it all while reducing your amount of waste! (A majority of the items that I discuss are available under the "SHOP" tab at the top of your screen).
-Grocery bags: This one may seem like a no brain to most of us but bringing your own grocery bags to the store eliminates the need for plastic bags. But if you’re anything like me you tend to forget these grocery bags whenever you head to the store. Solution? Leave a reusable bag in your car so you’ll always be prepared. If you don’t have a car be sure to leave a bag by your door or where you keep your shoes, that way you’ll be sure to remember it when headed to the store.
-Produce bags: what good is a reusable grocery bag if you just fill it with plastic bags? I recently bought reusable mesh produce bags and love them! I use them for fruits, veggies, or buying bulk items such as oatmeal or peanuts. These bags also allow me to buy loose leaf greens without using plastic. Not all stores offer this but ‘health stores’ often do. And while ‘health stores’ tend to be more expensive, I find that buying my greens in bulk (rather than in a plastic bag) actually makes them cheaper!
-Compost bin: Sweet, smelly, wonderful compost…how I love you so. Composting is a sure way to reduce the amount of trash you produce. Most grocery stores carry small compost bins in the kitchen section (you can also find them on Amazon for about $20). If compost isn’t available in your area, look into starting a small compost in your yard or finding a local drop off location that accepts yard scraps (they will usually accept your food scrapes for no additional cost).
-Tupperware: Tupperware can be a true life saver when it comes to zero waste. Rather than putting items in a disposable plastic bag, store your food in Tupperware containers. This is also a great way to bring food to work, school, on road trips, or adventures. If meal prepping isn’t for you, I encourage you to still bring Tupperware with you to work or school. If you end up getting food ‘to go’ ask if they will be willing to put it in the container you brought. Most places are happy to do so don’t be afraid to ask!
-Carry utensils with you: A spork is a zero-waster’s best friend! Whether I’m hiking, working, or on the go, I always make sure that I have my own utensils with me. Most restaurants that offer to-go items use plastic silverware. By bringing your own (along with a reusable container) you’re able to reduce the amount of plastic necessary to consume your meal.
-Water bottle & thermos: like reusable grocery bags this one may seem like an obvious swap…the problem is remembering to bring them. I personally use Hydro Flask for both my daily water bottle and thermos. These keep my cold drinks cold and my hot drinks hot; truly the best of both worlds. They are so insulated that they are perfect for bringing to work, school, or on a road trip. They allow you to make coffee or tea at home and have it still be warm by the time you get to where you are going. Once again don’t be afraid to bring a reusable cup to get your daily coffee or tea. I recently worked as a barista and it never made me angry when people brought their own cups, it actually made me happy!
-Straw: Metal straws, like utensils, may seem like a small switch. Yet it is usually these small plastic items that are most likely to get caught in the wind and end up in our oceans, thus harming the wildlife. If you enjoy drinking anything through a straw (coffee, smoothies, water, etc.) then getting a reusable straw really adds up. I personally own stainless steel straws but there are plenty of other options including glass, wood, or bio-degradable paper straws which can be put in the compost.
-Re-Use containers: A lot of my bulk foods are stored in reusable plastic or glass containers. Whenever they run out I simply refill the same container that it was previously in. When my items are in glass containers (ex. Peanut butter) I write down the weight of the jar when it is empty; this way when I check out the cashier can subtract the weight of the jar from the total weight. Utilizing the ‘bulk foods’ section of your grocery store is one way to reduce the amount of plastic containers you use and it is often the cheaper way to purchase many of these items.
-Glass bottles when you can: Try and buy condiments that come in glass jars rather than plastic. For nearly every condiment there is a glass jar option. The same goes when you’re buying a drink from the store (juice, kombucha, beer, or wine). And while the lids on these jars may be plastic the overall amount of plastic used is drastically less. Glass is easily recycled and in some states you can get money back when you bring your glass containers to a designated drop off location.
-Loose leaf tea and coffee: Most tea bags are actually lined with plastic, thus making them uncompostable. Making the switch to loose leaf tea eliminates the daily tea bag that you are forced to throw away. For all you coffee loves out there, focus on buying bags of beans that aren’t lined with plastic and using a reusable filter. When your tea or coffee is brewed be sure to dump the tea/coffee grounds into your compost! While Keurig’s are incredibly convenient, they are terrible for the environment. Rather than purchasing the pods to put in your machine, purchase a reusable K-cup that allows you to put your own tea or coffee in each day.
-Make your own snacks: It’s often when we are out and about that we end up buying snacks or food that come wrapped in plastic. To avoid this be sure to always pack snacks. Whether it’s homemade granola bars/energy balls (recipe coming soon), trail mix, fruit, or veggies and hummus, bringing your own snacks eliminates the need to buy something from the store.
I know that moving towards zero waste can seem INCREDIBLY DAUNTING, so start small. Purchase some produce bags and focus on buying as little plastic as possible when at the grocery store. Overtime you will get more creative on ways to reduce your own waste that works with your lifestyle. I also highly suggest you focus on carrying a reusable straw and silverware whenever you are out and about. These may seem like small switches but over time they make an immense difference. Also remember that it’s okay if you forget your thermos and get a coffee to go every now and again. Making a conscious effort to reduce your waste is just the beginning. NEVER underestimate your power to change the world, one reusable straw at a time.
Want to learn more about zero-waste? Check out the links below!
Forks over Knives