Getting to “zero waste” may prove to be impossible, but every swap you make gets you closer to the goal. Consider that just by switching to a reusable water bottle saves an average of 156 plastic bottles per year. If you’re thinking “Yeah but I recycle all my plastic containers”, you can read my article that explains how recyclable plastics is mostly a myth created to alleviate consumer guilt.
That being said, let’s go over all the swaps I had done over previous years:
- Stepped up my composting game: This is the BIGGEST thing you can do to reduce your waste. If you only make one zero waste swap, do this one. If you’re already composting, read my article that shows you how you can step up your composting game as well.
- Use canvas shopping bags and always have a spare tucked into my purse: I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. A couple years ago they banned single-use plastic bags in Massachusetts. Hopefully the rest of the country will follow.
- Water bottles and reusable coffee cups when we buy a latte or whatever: This is another one we’ve been doing for years. Especially if you’re someone that buys a coffee every day, this will save a lot of waste.
- I got my shopping compulsion under control: This meant deleting Amazon prime, and unsubscribing from any kind of shopping emails or blogs that promote buying. I look back and it honestly makes me feel sick to think of all the money I wasted on clothes and what-not. This was one of those where I didn’t realize how much I was spending until I stopped. Honestly, just deleting Amazon Prime gave me an immediate boost to my bank account.
- I embraced minimalism: Less consuming = less waste. A lot of my purchases were duplicates of things that I couldn’t find in my cluttered house. Now I know where everything is and I don’t buy a replacement until I actually need it.
- I stopped “stocking up” on things: This might seem like a strange one, since in theory it shouldn’t generate any waste to buy bulk of things you use often. My problem is that I found I often discovered a better product or better way of doing something before I had used up all of it. When I was getting ready to move, I realized just how much of this stuff I had in my house. Fortunately, I had a year to stop buying, but I still couldn’t use it all up before I moved. There are many zero waste swaps I would have made this year but I’m still using up my “stock” from years past.
- When I do make “fun purchases” they tend to be from antique stores, vintage markets, craft fairs, Craigslist, Etsy etc: This is the “reuse” in “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”. Vintage items also tend to be higher quality and longer-lasting.
So as you can see, there were a lot of “big picture” changes that happened in previous years, but this year I got down to the nitty gritty with purposeful swaps. I’m probably forgetting a bunch of things, but here we go:
- Decreased my trash down to 2 bags per month: Consider that the average American household generates roughly 21 bags of trash per month. The average American household only consists of 2.5 people. I’ve noticed that as my trash has decreased, my recycling has also decreased. The amount of plastics I generate to be recycled is very miniscule these days.
- Switched to dental tabs toothpaste: I’m going to say what brands I use just because that might be helpful to someone. I get zero money from these endorsements. I use Dentabs toothpaste because they seem to be the only tablet toothpaste that comes with fluoride and has fully compostable packaging.
- Stopped regularly buying cans of seltzer or bottled drinks: Now I just make my own iced tea in the refrigerator and that seems to scratch the itch for a special drink. I’m not going to lie and tell you I never buy a bottle of kombucha, but I DEFINITELY never buy drinks in plastic bottles anymore.
- I switched from Method laundry detergent to Tru Earth laundry sheets: It’s fully compostable from start to finish. I tried other laundry sheets but found they didn’t get my clothes clean. Tru Earth works as well as normal detergent. I’ve heard good things about Drops but haven’t tried them.
- I use Method Dryer Sheets: The dryer sheets as well as all packaging are fully compostable.
- I use a bar of soap and cotton washcloth to wash my dishes: This one is probably going to sound crazy to some people, but it works just as well as plastic sponges and liquid soap.
- I switched to bar soap in the shower: No more plastic bottles of body wash!
- Bathroom soap replaced with bar soap: I’ve learned that guests feel weird about using bar soap after they use your bathroom. My feeling is “oh well”. Bar soap lasts longer and if you get the bars that are wrapped in paper, it’s zero waste.
- Bringing my own tupperware for takeout: Styrofoam takeout containers have been banned in Virginia, but you’ll still get plastic containers and a plastic bag if you do takeout or have restaurant leftovers to take home. This one took some getting use to, but I’m now in the practice of bringing my own containers. No one thinks it’s weird and no one cares.
- I swapped chapstick for paper tube lipbalm: I may have technically started this one in 2020 when I switched to zero-plastic deodorant as well. I get my lip balm, deodorant and bar soap from Booda Organics. Unearth Malee also sells paper tube lip balm and I like her stuff as well.
- Using a shampoo bar: I still haven’t swapped out my conditioner, but this may happen in 2022.
- Goodbye tissues, hello hankies! I often have a runny nose so this one was a huge swap. But you know what? After trying it for a couple of months, I decided I like the hankies better! I’m still debating if we should keep a tissue box around for guests.
- I make my own bathroom and all-purpose cleaners: I’m just doing a simple vinegar and water cleaner, but am shocked by how well it cleans! There’s still waste from the vinegar bottle, but it still ends up being better than buying all those cleaner bottles. If anyone knows a zero waste swap for wood polish and granite countertop cleaner, let me know!
- Greatly decreased my online shopping: I still buy from a few trusted brands online, but basically I got tired of being scammed and buying something just to have it go straight to a landfill. If I buy things in-person, I can accurately judge the quality and I’m not going to have all the packaging waste.
- Buy fewer but higher quality things: Here’s how I think of it; if you have a hundred dollars in your budget for fun money, you could buy 100 things at $1 each or you could buy one high quality item for $100. The cheap purchases will inevitably get thrown out in your Spring decluttering, but the $100 item will probably be kept and cherished for many years. I don’t think shopping is the enemy, but I do think it’s important to be intentional and ethical with our purchases. I don’t buy anything “made in China” unless I absolutely have to.
- No more plastic bottles of body lotion: Ethique sells concentrated lotion tabs that you mix with water. As far as I can tell, it is no different from regular body lotion sold in bottles. Unearth Malee sells vegan lotion bars that are good if you’re looking for a more “intensive lotion”.
- Buy as much of my groceries at the farmers market as I can: Those people you see on youtube that have 5 years of their trash fit into a mason jar, they do it by buying all of their groceries at farmers markets and the “bulk section” at Whole Foods. Unfortunately I don’t have access to a grocery store with a bulk section here in Appalachia.
- Started homesteading: This will probably be the swap that ends up getting my trash close to zero. Obviously, this is not a realistic swap for everyone. It started as a dream and a necessary lifestyle change to lower my stress after years of living in the city. It’s not something we think about, but most of our trash is from food packaging at the grocery store. Most of it can’t be recycled either. It just goes straight in the trash. If homesteading is a dream of yours as well, I’ll say that so far I’ve learned that you don’t need as much land as you would think, and it also doesn’t take as much time as people say. Last season I only averaged 8 hours a week, and most of the work was due to the fact that this land had never been cultivated before. I plan on doubling my operation in 2022, which may take me to a self-sufficiency level. We’ll see.
Some may read this and think I’ve taken this to an insane level. Others may scoff at how little I’m doing. If you’ve decided you want to start doing zero waste, my advice is to do one or two swaps at a time. Wait until you get used to the changes, and then add in another one. This is what I’ve been doing and I managed to change a lot over a year. Use up old products first before swapping them out. Just do a little at a time and you’re more likely to stick with it and not get overwhelmed in the process.