My journey towards a zero-waste home wasn’t triggered by thinking about it myself. Nope, the idea came to me after reading an article someone posted on Facebook. It hadn’t occurred to me that there are so many little things I do and use each day that can be done a little differently to reduce or eliminate my waste. It was really just a matter of re-framing the way I view consumption.
If you’re just beginning to think about waste reduction, you might feel like the extra steps are burdensome or more trouble than they’re worth. But seriously, trust me: it gets easier and becomes second nature once you have a handle on what to do. Just do your best and don’t worry if it doesn’t come together all at once.
Here are a few things to get you started:
1. Re-fill a growler instead of buying a 6-pack
I never even considered this until I realized that a lot of my waste was in the recycling bin. Recycling is awesome, and you should do it! However, it is not a perfect process and it’s even better to not use extra packaging if you can help it. Picking up a growler is easy–buy them at grocery stores, bars, beer & wine stores, or online. If you live in the Pacific Northwest like I do there are places to re-fill growlers on every other corner. If you live in a less hop-crazy place though, fear not! Almost all bars will fill up growlers, as well as beer shops and even some grocery stores. Just ask.
2. Store veggie scraps in the freezer, then boil them into veggie broth
This is my absolute favorite tip. Designate a large tub for veggie scraps that you store in the freezer. As you chop veggies, throw the onion skins, carrot peelings, and even veggies that are going over the hill, into the tub. Store it in the freezer. Once the tub is full, fill a big pot with the veggie scraps, water, and salt. Let the broth simmer for a few hours and voila! Wholesome vegetable broth. I keep some broth in the fridge to make grains and soups with, and store the rest in the freezer.
3. Keep re-usable bags in your car
This one is easy and a lot of folks already do this. However, when I go to the store most people are still using So. Many. Plastic. Bags. Let me say this once: plastic is forever. Our dependence on plastics is killing the Earth. The minor convenience of plastic is not worth a dead Earth. If we just re-frame our shopping process, the fight is won.
4. Use rags instead of paper towels
You’d be surprised how many paper towels a household can go through when they’re readily available. You’d be even more surprised that once you stop using them, you won’t miss them at all. I keep a stack of rags in a kitchen drawer, and whenever there is a spill I wipe up and throw the rag into the washing machine. That’s really it! I use rags instead of sponges to do dishes, too. Since these are not nice rags, go ahead and cut them into any size that you need.
5. Shop the outer aisles and skip the inner aisles at the grocery store
Most trash is food packaging. The food with minimal to no packaging lives in the outer aisles of the grocery store: bulk foods, vegetables, fruits, olive bars, bulk spices, etc. Use re-usable produce bags to store vegetables and fruits. To get grains (rice, quinoa, oats, etc.), nuts, dry fruit, snacks, spices, coffee, and baking supplies, use the bulk section. Bring glass jars or other containers and fill them directly with bulk foods at the store. Just make sure you get the tare weight (weight of the container) before you fill up on your bulk supplies! The tare weight can be taken at the scale in the bulk section, or a cashier can weigh them for you.
When you do purchase items that are packaged, the key is to avoid individually packaged items…you know what I mean: a bag full of individually bagged things. Skip that and individually portion your food at home (this’ll save you money, too).
Some folks transition to this process easily, and some find it a little intimidating. My best advice is to start with just a couple of items and see what you think!
6. Use recycled toilet paper
What is the point of recycling if we don’t buy back products that actually use recycled materials? Buy 100% recycled TP! Who needs to wipe their bum with bleached white tissue anyways?
7. Purchase bulk soaps and bar soaps
I know that liquid body wash is easy, but a bar of soap is really just as easy! Skip the bottle waste. There are a lot of stores that sell bulk soap without packaging, or individual soap bars wrapped in a bit of paper. The small paper wrapper is much better than the plastic bottle. I also purchase bulk shampoo and conditioner buy re-filling bottles. This option is available at many stores, but especially food co-ops.
8. Bring a container with you when you go out to eat
I know this probably sounds like a weird thing to do, but those Styrofoam takeout containers are the worst! Bring a small container with you when you go out to eat if you don’t usually finish your meal. It’s really not so bad.
9. Start to love flour sack towels
I don’t know what I would do without my little stack of white flour sack towels. They’re thin, washable, and have so many uses. If I’m going to buy bread, I go to the bakery and put the loaf directly into the towel to avoid packaging.
I also store produce in them. I take them to the grocery store and farmer’s markets as an easy way to hold my veggies. Bulk carrots, beets, you name it. Great storage without plastic bags.
Flour sack towels are also great for covering food sitting out on the counter or in the fridge. Simply drape the towel over your bowl and tie some string around the rim,–no need for plastic wrap or tin foil.
10. Buy only what you need
I know….this one sounds like a given. Of course you should only buy what you need. We all know that. In all honesty though, I bet most of us buy way more than we need, especially where food is concerned. Let this be a reminder to you next time you get in the checkout line. Practice being fully conscious when making a purchase, and asking yourself if you can truly eat everything in the cart, or if you can put back a few things and still have enough.