A lot of zero waste swaps are pretty straightforward and focused on food and coffee (travel thermos, no straws, etc. etc.) but there are plenty of other ways to ditch waste, with varying degrees of planning required. These changes aren’t the end all be all of going zero waste, but they are easy to do and over time the small impact will add up.
1: Ditch paper tickets
As a teenager, I would hold onto tickets to movies I saw with my friends (like the ticket from when I saw Twilight and could drive my friends for the very first time). These tickets and boarding passes were nostalgic for me at first, but eventually, they were just clutter. While a portion of my boarding pass for my flight to Indonesia is safely secured in the journal I kept from the trip, now when I fly I take advantage of the ease of electronic boarding passes. It’s one less thing I have to print, pack, and toss. Anything from coupons, transit passes, and concert tickets can be used electronically so think before you print.
2: Meatless Monday
Ok, so this one is about food but it’s pretty important. Since adopting my zero waste lifestyle, I’ve adopted a mostly vegetarian diet (though I have slipped and eaten meat a few times and I still eat fish). Short of hunting and gathering your own food, the “best” diet for the planet would be a local, seasonal, vegan diet, but I recognize that this is not attractive to everyone. It is clear, however, that the current meat industry is a major source of CO2 emissions. You don’t have to forgo meat completely to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Consider Meatless Mondays, or only eating meat on the weekends, or giving up beef, whatever you think will be sustainable for your income, culture, and food preferences in the long-run.
3: Bar Soap
I don’t know why, but people seem to be really grossed out by bar soap (CBS even blamed millennials for its demise in a 2016 news report). Unless you live in a really zero-waste friendly city, you’re not likely to find liquid body wash in bulk, so you’re going to end up with a plastic bottle (and most likely a loofah that you should be throwing out every 2 months). While I did buy a bar of soap from LUSH a few months back, at this point I just buy my soap from Walgreens or Bartell. I buy bars individually, to avoid plastic packaging, and try to discretely open the box to make sure that there isn’t plastic packaging around the soap inside of the cardboard box. Bar soap doesn’t last quite as long as a liquid body wash, but it’s worth it to not have more plastic bottles cluttering my bathroom.
4: Join “Free or For Sale” or “Buy Nothing” groups on your community
For me, a natural part of going zero waste has been downsizing in my home. I recently went through my makeup and nail polish collections to weed out anything I could no longer see myself using. The products were in good shape and I didn’t want to toss them, so I offered them up on the “Buy Nothing” group on Facebook for my neighborhood. These pages are becoming increasingly popular, with the dual purpose of connecting neighbors and providing an alternative to buying things from stores. I’ve seen people offer everything from Tupperware, clothes, home décor, and extra food on these pages. I’ve only ever used these pages to get rid of things I no longer want but that would not make a good donation to a thrift store (like used nail polish or opened craft supplies), but it is a great way to find a new home for a product that you may otherwise just have to toss. You can also keep a running list of household goods you need and check these pages in addition to checking your local second-hand shop.
5: Put an end to junk mail
Junk mail and credit card offers are one of the more annoying realities of adult life that clutter your mailbox and usually go straight to the recycling bin. Obviously, we do not choose to receive these mailings, but there is a way to reduce them. Shortly before my trip to Sacramento, I signed up for the Do Not Mail list on DirectMail.com. Signing up for the registry takes your name off of marketing lists that companies buy in order to send out advertisements for their goods. I learned about this trick from Bea Johnson and while I wasn’t sure how well it would work, I have noticed a significant drop in the amount of junk that finds its way to my mailbox each day.
I also just used a service that will opt me out of prescreened credit card offers for the next five years (those particularly annoying envelopes that come with a fake credit card as if you didn’t know what those looked like already). This won’t impact my credit, and I’ll still be able to sign up for a new credit card in the next five years if I need to do so, but it will be on my own terms rather than responding to an offer in the mail. I just signed up yesterday, so I can’t speak to its effectiveness yet, but if it’s anything like the Do Not Mail list I am excited to see my junk mail dwindle even further.
This tip is my favorite because A) it is free to anyone so finances are not an issue B) It is easy and you only have to do it one time but the change is semi-permanent and C) It sends a message to direct mail marketers and credit card companies. If more and more people opt out of these lists and offers, it may no longer worthwhile for companies to send out offers in this way, which could put an end to these wastes of paper.
I’d love to hear if you use any of these tricks, and if you have any tricks to add please share them here!