A little more than a year ago, I began my zero waste journey. It has been a wonderful tip, with many ups and downs, and I have settled into a few habits that are second nature now. I thought I would share a list of those things I have changed that I hope you will also consider changing in order to take steps towards cleaning up our wonderful Earth. For a more extensive explanation of how and why I began to go zero waste, visit the link above.
Note: I have been working on this post for awhile, and I found this the other day, which has very similar ideas. It’s good to know that so many people are embracing the zero waste journey! My favorite part of this author’s list is the last–Refuse–in which she talks about gifting experiences instead of things. This is something that Sean and I are trying very hard to embrace. I have expanded on this below.
5 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Waste, Look Out for the Environment, and Feel Better About Yourself
In parenthesis are the tenets of zero waste (refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and my proposed addition, repair).
1. Stop buying bottled water and choose not to take free bottled water (refuse, reduce, reuse). Instead, purchase a stainless steel water bottle or BPA-free Nalgene and re-fill it from your sink, water fountains, or water refill stations. Since many people cite the quality of their town’s water as a reason for purchasing bottled water, it is important to note that if you live in the US, your water is regulated with very stringent standards. I have had the fortune of visiting several water treatment plants, and they are very dedicated to delivering quality water to your doorstep. Incidences of contamination are few and far between, and result in extremely costly litigation that all water treatment plants want to avoid. In contrast, bottled water is regulated by the creating corporation only, and many of these corporations purchase water in areas where water is scarce, taking the source away from the locals, who need it and can’t afford the corporations’ prices.
2. Use microfiber cloths and hand towels instead of paper towels (reduce, reuse). You can simply chuck them in the wash when you are done. These can be used for cleaning up spills, wiping down counters, wrapping your lettuce, wiping up cat puke, scrubbing the tub, etc. The germophobe in me still cringes mightily sometimes, particularly with the cat puke, but I rationally know that germophobia is a product of our bleach-filled, superbug-burgeoning time, and I am working on it.
3. Use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins and real silverware rather than plastic utensils (reduce, reuse). You can find every day cloth napkins that you don’t mind getting dirty at a dollar store or similar — I use some old ones that my mom made. I also have a set of “it’s okay if I lose these” silverware. Granted, I never have huge parties that my plates, napkins, and silverware cannot accommodate, but there are many non-wasteful options that you can find for parties. Bring these for your lunches, even if you don’t have time to make your own lunch, to save the plastic fork or spoon that you might take from a restaurant or cafeteria.
4. Donate still-wearable-but-unwanted clothing to places such as Goodwill or the Salvation Army, repair old favorites instead of seeking replacements, and be aware of where you are purchasing your clothing (reduce, repair). This is the one that I have had the most trouble with, because I am, as my mom would put it, a clothes horse. I love fashion (although many people wouldn’t suspect so, because I rarely am, um, fashionable), especially dresses and skirts, but I don’t have the money to shop at better-quality places, such as Anthropologie, so more often than not I end up at Target. Sure, the clothing is cheap…but it’s also cheap. In quality. And inexpensive clothing is particularly suspect — what practices were used to manufacture it? Am I wearing the blood of children? Okay, so this is all a little melodramatic, but reducing your clothing consumption will ultimately be better for the world.
The repair aspect of this is something that I learned from Sean. Sean is someone who has a very minimal selection of clothing (mostly t-shirts with a very small collection of pants), and when he finds something that fits and that he likes, he will hold onto it until it disintegrates. And I mean that seriously — he once had a t-shirt with a hole the size of a pregnant watermelon in it, and he still wore it until it tore in half. He has a favorite pair of Carhartt’s that we have patched countless times, and when my quick patch job didn’t work, he sat down and sewed them on by hand. Nowadays, caring for your clothing in this way is seen as a sign of not having any money. But I see it as a sign that you care for what you have instead of what you could have. This may also mean investing in nicer clothing in the long run. Buy the better-quality pair of trousers and repair them rather than buying a new pair of cruddy trousers each year. And the next time you put your toe through the tip of your worn-out sock, consider darning it instead of sending it along to a landfill where it will wait for Wall-E to come along and scoop it into a cube.
5. Have the awkward conversation about gifts (refuse, reduce). Gifts are wonderful. I love giving ones that mean something, like a handmade stuffed cat for our friends’ daughter’s second birthday, or Alexis’s tardis blanket. But when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, some gift giving seems perfunctory and unnecessary. Have you ever felt guilty that you couldn’t afford to buy presents for everybody you know during the holidays? Have you ever had to grin and say thank you for a gift that you know you don’t need? I think it’s time we had a gift-giving revolution. Let people close to you know that you don’t expect anything except their company for the holidays. Make it clear that you are trying to downsize your possessions, rather than find room for more things. Start a trend of giving the gift of dinner and a movie, a trip to the zoo, a small set of handmade cloth napkins, instead of a new iPod, a dashboard trinket, a plastic toy. You’ll find that you’re enjoying the experience of being with your family rather than focusing on “stuff” and shopping.
This is just a short list of ways that you can begin to lessen your impact on the environment. The most important theme of this is BE AWARE. Consider every purchase carefully. Examine every part of your daily routine for ways to cut out waste, and soon you will be living less wastefully without even thinking about it. Please add to this with questions, comments, and critiques by commenting below. I would love this to be a dialogue instead of me sitting on my soapbox.