There isn’t a single living person that couldn’t stand to reduce their waste. My first realization about my waste was the plastic silverware I was using every day at work. I was eating breakfast, lunch, and sometimes a snack at work 5 days a week, and using plastic silverware for every meal. When I think about it now it seems so obscenely wasteful. So, when I packed my lunch for the day I started including silverware with it. Small changes in your daily routine make a huge difference in the course of a week.
As with everything I do, snap judgements and hard-line rules rarely with to keep me focused (I despise being told what to do). I’ve been adapting to reducing my waste slowly over the course of two years. Some of the switches were easy- helloooo loose leaf tea <3- and some have been more difficult. I'm lookin' at you, safety razor.
Here are some of the steps I’ve taken (so far) to reduce the amount of waste I create:
- Know your habits
- BYO Silverware
- Ditch your body wash
- Buy pantry staples in bulk
- Take a few minutes to think through your day before you head out
- Plan out your EDC
- Make it easy for yourself
- Avoid the zero waste craze
This one is probably the most important tip to consider. Before you make a big change in your routine, start to check in and pay attention any time you throw something out. Think about it- what did you just trash? Could it have been swapped out for something durable, or skipped altogether? At the end of the day, how much trash have you generated? Once you start to recognize your own patterns, you’ll know what to substitute and most importantly- how. The draw of the Zero Waste products is real. But if you buy a bunch of zero waste replacements that don’t replace any of the disposable products you use most often, you haven’t made any forward progress.
Like I mentioned earlier, I pack silverware with me when I pack my lunch for work. At first, it was a weird change- kind of like wearing shoes that are just a little too big. What motivated me to stick with it was the guilt I felt when I’d forget to pack my silverware. I’d throw the plastic in the trash and think: “forever.” Way to pack on the drama, huh? After a while, it became a habit. I can’t stand to use flimsy plastic cutlery now that I’m accustomed to a certain lifestyle. I got my husband a small camping silverware set that he could take with him to eliminate his plastic silverware usage, too.
I know, I know. This one stings a little. I love body wash. But throwing out a large bottle of plastic every two months for the rest of my life sounded worse than switching to bar soap. I stopped by our local farmers market, AKA the happiest place on earth, and I bought locally made, cruelty free soap that had very minimal packaging. The beautiful fragrance in my bathroom has made this one kind of a shameless swap, because I would have done it anyway had I smelled this soap! No local farmers market? Try Etsy for hand made products in sustainable or zero waste packaging.
We have not yet made the switch the low waste grocery shopping, so we buy the largest size of something we can find to reduced waste. We buy our rice in 25 pound bags because the packaging can be re-used and hubby and I both love rice. We store it in air tight containers for freshness. Bulk shopping will likely not be feasible for everything on your grocery list, so stick to things that don’t expire, and that you use consistently.
Before I leave the house, especially on the weekend, I pause for just a few seconds to think about where I’m heading and what I should bring. Might I want coffee or a juice while I’m out? If so, I’ll pack a tumbler. Am I stopping for a pedicure? Can’t forget my flip flops and toe spacers. You’ll be so proud of yourself when you hand that barista your reusable cup you will likely gloat- be warned.
EDC = every day carry. I pack my water bottle and stainless steel folding straw with me every day. I also try to bring my own coffee or tea. Depending on the day, I’ll typically have silverware and a plate with me. Knowing what you can and are willing to carry with you daily to help reduce your waste is an important step in changing your own habits.
I keep reusable bags in my trunk at all times. When I’m going shopping at the mall, I throw a compact reusable bag into my purse. I keep loose leaf tea, a tea cup + strainer, a jar of our honey, and a glass at work so I don’t have to remember them daily or use a disposable stand-in. These changes have to work for your lifestyle, and they have to be easy up-keep or you won’t keep going.
When you realize that just about everything you touch on a daily basis is going to wind up in a land fill basically forever, it can be really overwhelming. It’s hard to avoid the temptation of buying that bamboo toothbrush, glass spray bottle, stainless steel cup/tumbler/water bottle- I get it. But you will do yourself a favor by identifying the things you’re running out of, the things that are breaking, or that you’ll need to buy in the near future. By focusing on replacing items in order of scarcity, you allow yourself the time to research, read reviews, and ultimately make a sound decision that will fit into your lifestyle. Remember- it’s still waste even when you mean well.
It’s taken me years to develop these habits. And I’m not perfect. Remember that wonderful soap I mentioned in tip 3? Well I didn’t finish the last remaining drops of my body wash before I bought the bar soap and started using it. It’s important not to be too hard on yourself, or make it too hard for yourself, or you’ll give up and that doesn’t help any of us. Take it at your own pace and make the changes that work for your lifestyle.
Where are you in the process of reducing your waste (there’s no wrong answer!)? What’s the first swap you have already- or plan on- making?