One of my new year's resolutions this year is to start doing things to reduce waste in my day-to-day, or be more 'zero waste'. The changes we want to see in the world have to start with the things that we do in our daily lives. How can we reduce our impact?
I think it's easy to get overwhelmed by big goals or think we have to do it all at once to do it at all. My main tip to overcome this overwhelm is to break apart a big goal like 'be zero waste' into actionable steps you can start crossing off one by one.
I did some research before starting out and love Trash is for Tossers - a great resource for ways to start reducing waste. The thing that stuck with me the most is:
Get to know your trash
What does this mean? Well, we can't possibly know what we need to reduce if we don't know what we're throwing away. Observe what you're throwing away each day, or really go for it and dump out your trash to see what you find (I went with option #1, but you do you).
I've started on this journey and still have a ways to go (aka I have not implemented ALL of these yet, but I'm getting there). Here are 11 realistic ways you can start reducing waste today - and what better way to start than on Earth Day?
1. Get Rid of Paper Towels
I noticed that I would use a million paper towels every time I made something in the kitchen. This one seemed like low hanging fruit, so I stopped buying them, bought a couple packs of microfiber cloths, and feel much better not wasting so many paper towels.
Microfiber cloths are great for countertops, cleaning surfaces, and making mirrors sparkle. I picked up a couple packs at Target (or you can get on Amazon), so I can use one for a day or two then throw it in the wash.
2. Reusable Water Bottle
We really don't need to be buying plastic water bottles if we can help it. Getting a reusable water bottle helps to reduce plastic waste and can serve as a reminder to drink water throughout the day. I have a 25-ounce S'well water bottle, which is great because it keeps cold things cold and hot things hot. I always, always, always carry it with me when I'm traveling. You can bring an empty water bottle with you through TSA at the airport and refill it once you get through security. Most airports now have water bottle filling stations - they're usually found by the bathrooms.
3. Household cleaners
Home cleaning products are filled with toxins that can cause skin irritation, disrupt your endocrine system (mess with your hormones), or even may be carcinogens (cause cancer). So WHY do we want to keep using them? Easy swaps are using Dr. Bronner's castile soap for laundry detergent, Dr. Bronner's Organic Sugar Soap for kitchens and bathrooms, and make a DIY all-purpose cleaner by soaking citrus peels (any will work - lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit) in distilled white vinegar for two weeks to extract the natural essential oils, drain, and use. You can even use straight up white vinegar diluted with filtered water (the smell doesn't linger - don't worry)!
4. Plastic Bags
This can be plastic shopping bags, produce bags, or zip-lock bags. I try to always bring a reusable bag with me when I'm running errands or going to the grocery store. Keep reusable produce bags in your totes for when you go grocery shopping. Also, try to buy as much non-packaged produce as possible. Loose produce like avocados, onions, bananas, etc. do not need to be put into bags. I don't really use zip-lock bags, but a great reusable alternative is Stasher Bags - you can buy them on Amazon!
5. Skincare Products
Toxic products either absorb into our skin or get rinsed down the drain - causing harm to either ourselves or the planet. Try swapping out your skincare products with natural, non-toxic alternatives. I'll have a post up soon on my favorites - but a good starting reference is the Organic Bunny website - an online store for non-toxic skincare and make-up. I love being able to get all my go-to's in one spot - and she has super fast shipping! I always receive my order in about two days.
6. Reusable Cotton Pads
I use cotton pads daily to cleanse my face and remove my make up. This is next on my list to replace with reusable cotton pads. You can toss them into a mesh laundry bag (so they don't get lost or sucked into your washer drain) to wash + reuse.
7. Imperfect Produce / CSA
Why imperfect? There are tons of fruit + veggies that just get tossed bc they don’t meet grocery store standards – they’re too small, have scars, have discoloration, etc., but all of this produce is perfectly good to eat! I love Imperfect Produce because you can play a role in eliminating food waste, choose organic on a discount, and it get delivered right to you each week! And it's fun to see the positive impact you're having in your account:
They're currently in Chicago, LA, the Bay Area, Portland, Seattle, + Indianapolis. If you're in one of those areas sign up here! If Imperfect Produce isn't in your area yet, you can look into joining a CSA, or community supported agriculture. It's a similar concept, where you receive a weekly box of produce from local farmers. Look up one close to you or check out to see what information your local farmer's market has.
This one has been HUGE for reducing how much trash we produce in the kitchen. We've gone from having to take the trash out weekly to every two or three WEEKS. It's insane. You don't realize how much produce waste you throw away until you start saving it in a compost bucket and see it all in one place. Things like stems, cores, skins, and peels can all be composted, along with various other items like paper or compostable plastics.
It took a little bit of research to see what was available in my area (Chicago), but there are companies that will provide you with a compost bucket and pick it up weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. I've been using The Urban Canopy in Chicago and it's been great - they dropped off the first bucket and now come monthly to collect and swap out for a new bucket. We keep it out on the back porch and keep a smaller container in the freezer to dump into the bucket when it gets full.
If you're finding there aren't a lot of options in your area, look and see if there's a compost drop off at your local farmer's market or you can look into DIY composting - great if you have a garden!
Recycle as much glass, plastic, paper, and cardboard as you can. Does your city provide recycling bins? Do you live in an apartment or condo building that provides a recycling bin by the trash? Look into your options and keep a separate bin or box by your trash can to remember to recycle! I use my Imperfect Produce box for all of my recycling each week.
10. Menstrual Cup
This was one that I was super turned off to. If you're not familiar with menstrual cups, they are a natural, reusable, non-toxic alternative to pads + tampons. You fold it and insert it as you would a tampon. When I first heard about them my reaction was 'no thank you', but I figured I'd give it a try and love it. You can keep it in up to 12 hours, it's comfortable + convenient, cost-effective (you save a ton of money not having to buy pads + tampons every month), and really lets you get to know you body more.
Your period really tells you a lot about your hormone + overall health, so getting to know what is actually going on each month allows you to get more in touch with your body. I purchased the Lunette menstrual cup per Lee from America's recommendation - she has a great blog post that is super helpful to answer questions you probably have.
11. Buy BulK
Buying items in bulk reduces the amount of packaging you're consuming. Whether it's dry pantry items, home cleaning products, or skin/haircare staples, look into buying bulk. See what grocery stores in your area have a bulk foods section where you can BYOB (bring your own bags) to combat packaging waste. Buying bulk cleaning or personal care items lowers the amount of packaging you're using because you don't need to purchase as often.
What are some ways you are reducing waste in your day-to-day?
Krista is a Chicago-based registered dietitian nutritionist, certified health coach, and certified personal trainer offering virtual nutrition coaching using a functional and integrative approach to help you feel vibrant, balanced, and confident. Looking to get your body + brain back?