10 First Steps to Waste Reduction
Welcome! You're probably here because you've jumped on the Zero Waste train and want to know where to start! Or you may have heard about the zero waste movement from a hippie friend of yours and just want to learn more. Well...this blog post is for you! Zero Waste is, in a nut shell, a movement that strives to raise awareness around the production, consumption, and disposal of products. We do this by promoting sustainable alternatives to disposables and encouraging reclaiming the value in products at the end of their lives. The concepts of zero waste and circular mindset can be applied to any aspect of your life but it can be kind of intimidating when you first get started. ZERO after all is a really intimidating number. It's important though to just take the first step and go from there. Usually, the first steps involve changing the habits you have that make a lot of waste.The following are 10 ways to get your feet wet in the area of waste reduction!
1. A reusable water bottle never leaves your side.
This is one of the most basic steps but yet, can have a really huge impact if you are accustomed to drinking bottled water. Both in and outside the home, it is a good idea to use only tap water. You can invest in a filter if the water in your area isn't safe to drink from the tap. Reusable water bottles can be purchased online from companies like Klean Kanteen, Hydroflask, and many others. You can also find ones in great condition (and for a better price!) at local thrift shops like Goodwill. All they need is a little cleaning and then they are good to go! Remember, implementing waste-free practices doesn't mean you have to go out and buy whatever is "trendy" at the moment (and yes, water bottles do have trends!). Use what you have and only purchase what you need!
2. Reusable grocery bags are your new best friend.
The next basic step is to get in the habit of bringing reusable grocery bags to the store with you. Pretty much all grocery stores, big and small, sell reusable bags so it's not hard to get your hands on some. I usually recommend around 5-6 if you shop in big batches like I do. You can get away with only 1 or 2 if you visit the market on more of a daily basis. In order to remember your bags, you're going to have to get creative and just keep trying. I usually place my grocery bags right back in my car so they are ready to go the next time I need them. You can also hang them up on your coat rack so you can't leave the house without seeing them. In terms of a financial incentive for remember them, many stores give a 5 or 10 cent credit for every bag you use, every time! Which means over time, you will have paid off the price of the bag itself!
3. Invest in a reusable coffee cup.
Depending on how much you drink coffee, this one could actually swap out with number one (water bottles) and be targeted first. With 400 million coffee cups thrown out each day, making the switch to a reusable cup can have a big impact! Most coffee shops now-a-days will fill it up, no questions asked. Some even offer a discount similar to the grocery bag one! I personally love my HydroFlask thermos but I've also used a variety of used, knock-off, and I-don't-know-what cups and they all work just fine. And if you are ever stuck without a mug but need a cup of joe, just ask for it for here and enjoy taking a moment to rest while you drink it.
4. Use cloth napkins in your home and on the go.
In order to start tackling waste in your home, napkins are a great place to start! Even though napkins may be compostable (and you should compost them if you use them), most of the time they are just thrown in the trash and continue adding to our waste problem. Switching to cloth napkins is an easy alternative that will add a homey-touch to your house and keep your trash bin a little emptier. In addition, it's a good idea to start packing a cloth napkin in your lunch bag when you head to work or stash one in your purse when you're headed to a restaurant. After using it, just pop it in the wash and it's good as new!
5. Use reusable straws or say no to plastic ones.
500 million plastic straws are thrown out each day in the U.S. which just seems like an impossible number. That's a lot of straws! Instead, make sure to order your drink without a straw by saying simply, "no straw please!". You don't have to go out and buy your own unless you really want to, because a few quick words is all it takes to say no. However, I also have a bamboo straw that I use for smoothies when I really do want a straw to suck on.
6. Bring cloth mesh bags for produce.
It's important to go above and beyond the reusable grocery bags and also bring bags for items like brussel sprouts, spinach, or potatoes. There is nothing wrong with having "naked" produce on the cashier belts but it's just plain mean to dump a pile of blueberries on the counter with nothing containing them. Cloth bags are a great alternative to the plastic produce bags! These can easily be made at home or purchased at most grocery stores. You'll need a few (I recommend around five) to get you started.
7. Use real towels over paper towels.
I know it can be hard to give up those quick and easy paper towels. But switching to a real towel that can be washed afterwards is going to save a lot of trees from being cut down and a lot of water from being wasted during the process. It can take a little while to get used to using real towels to clean up messes because it feels "gross" for some people, but after a while I promise that it will be second nature.
8. Carry your own utensils.
If you haven't heard of a "spork", let me introduce you to them. They're basically a spoon, a knife, and a fork all in one. And best of all, you can get bamboo or metal ones that are reusable over and over again! I know we all have limited space in our purses and backpacks so carrying around three different utensils can take up space. Adding a spork though to your daily items will save you from relying on those disposable ones and keep your bag a little lighter.
9. Buy dry goods in bulk.
Now-a-days just about everything can be found in bulk somewhere. That being said, you may only have access to dry goods at a store near you. Even if you can't buy your olive oil and maple syrup in your own container, buying as much as you can in bulk still makes a difference! Try to find a local store near you that offers a bulk section and talk to them about bringing your own containers. Many stores may actually encourage it and provide a scale for easy weighing! I've created an easy step-by-step guide for buying food in your own jars.
10. Switch to tupperware or beeswax wraps.
Instead of using plastic wrap to cover your leftovers, make sure to use tupperware or beewax wraps instead. Every year in the U.S. we throw out enough plastic wrap to cover the entire state of Texas. Yuck! That's a lot of waste that just doesn't have to happen. Instead, I recommend using LilyBee Wraps or BeeEco Wraps to cover your fridge's contents. Or you can do a quick google search for some glass tupperware to invest in! As long as you are using a sustainable alternative to plastic wrap that doesn't have to be thrown out regularly, any option is a good option.
Feeling ready to start reducing your waste? Before you go, I also want to emphasize that even though the word "zero" is in the title of this movement, there is no expectation that you actually make it to that. I definitely haven't! So don't let people tell you that if you can't do everything, you are better off doing nothing. Every action to reduce waste helps both you and the planet live a better life and I think that counts for a lot! Let me know if you've been implementing any of the above tips and how it has been going!