A lot of my zero waste posts have focused on things to buy to make a zero waste lifestyle easier, the main R of the zero waste life is to refuse, meaning giving up buying things. Even if you aren’t ready to fully embrace the zero waste lifestyle, just a few simple changes in habit can be a meaningful way to reduce waste and save money. Here are some things I no longer buy.
1: Coffee in disposable cups
I don’t have a 100% perfect track record for this, but I am definitely better than I was before. This change is all about changing how I think and talk about wants versus needs. As much as I love coffee, it is definitely a luxury and not a necessity so if I have to take my coffee to go, I either use a reusable mug or don’t get it at all. It also helps to learn which coffee shops in your area are more zero waste friendly than others. For instance, even if you bring in your own mug at Starbucks, I’ve found they use a coffee sleeve to write down your drink order while local coffee shops usually have mugs to use in house and don’t waste paper by writing down your order. I’ve even been able to get my favorite local shop to put pastries in a cloth sack I have rather than using a paper bag.
I also don’t use the Keurig in my office. While Keurig machines come with pods that you can put your own grounds in, how often do people actually use these. As a big coffee drinker, there were days when I used 3 K-Cups in one day, definitely not zero waste. So ditch the Keurig at home and encourage your office to embrace a less wasteful way to caffeinate the team.
2: Disposable makeup wipes
Makeup removal wipes are both wasteful and, in my experience, not particularly effective. While these wipes are marketed as an easy way to take off makeup, I’ve always found that I needed to wash my face after using them due to the product they left behind on my face. So not only are these products designed to go into the trash, they don’t even facilitate streamlining the toiletries I use each day. I now have a small stash of reusable cotton rounds and just use a little bit of coconut oil (that I already had on hand) if my face soap isn’t doing the trick. If you need any reminder of how wasteful these things are, just watch an empties video produced by any beauty blogger on YouTube and you’re sure to see at least 3 packs of makeup wipes going into the trash.
3: Ziploc Bags and Saran Wrap
I’m still not 100% plastic free (mostly because I haven’t kicked the habit of ordering takeout), but I have moved away from using single-use plastic in my kitchen. Buying reusable alternatives to Saran Wrap and Ziploc bags is a great example of how spending a little bit more money upfront will actually save you money in the long run while reducing your carbon footprint. I bought a multipack of Blue Avocado reusable storage bags back in April, before my zero waste journey was even official, and haven’t bought Ziploc bags since. A few of my bags have torn at the seams (but they are still 100% sealable) and I have since seen cloth re-sealable pouches that are even more eco-friendly, but overall I am really happy with the swap.
I own two zero waste options to use in lieu of Saran Wrap. My first purchase was CoverBlubber food covers that can stretch over food directly (like a cut lemon) or cover a bowl. I like these, but they are also not the most convenient since they work best with round things. On my trip home to Sacramento last month, I finally picked up a pack of Bees Wrap. These wraps are covered with beeswax that makes the cloth malleable when it warms in your hands but maintains the shape of whatever it is wrapped around once it cools down. Bees Wrap is sold in a variety of sizes so you can cover anything from a sandwich to a bowl. Bees Wrap also provides a bit of a nostalgic factor for me, reminding me of making beeswax candles as a kid.
When I moved into the dorms freshman year, I had the perfect ploy to make friends with the people on my floor – have the best nail polish and DVD collection around. Eventually, I found myself buying DVDs for movies I hadn’t even seen just because they were cheap. My DVD collection outgrew multiple DVD cases but went mostly ignored once I jumped on the Netflix bandwagon. As I’ve been embracing a zero waste life, I have been donating a lot of my DVDs and have stopped adding new DVDs to my collection (with the exception of season 3 of The Nanny which is not available on any streaming platform for some strange reason). Now, the next time I move I will have fewer things to lug from one apartment to the next when most of my TV watching consists of binging on The West Wing on Netflix.
5: New Clothing
Fast fashion is probably the best example of how marketing is used to convince us that we need things that were made with the intention of going in the trash. In October, I remember scouring the mall for a dress for a work event because I was still holding on to the belief that I couldn’t wear the same dress to our auction two years in a row. I nearly spent $80 on a dress I only kind of liked that I would really only ever be able to wear to work events. Fortunately, I talked myself out of that purchase.
Ethical fashion is a popular trend at the moment, with designers making clothing out of fabric scraps or being transparent about the working conditions of factory workers. While I love these retailers in theory, my budget cannot justify the high prices associated with ethical clothing, which is where second-hand clothing comes in. Tacoma has plenty thrift stores ranging from Goodwill to more upscale consignment shops that make it easy to find good second-hand clothing. I’ve also become a big fan of ThredUp, an online second-hand store that gives you the online shopping experience without buying brand new items. If you have a specific event coming up and feel the need to add something to your wardrobe, just start your search a little bit earlier and follow social media pages for local thrift stores since they frequently post new additions to their inventory. Or, like me, you could finally accept that no one is really paying attention to how frequently you wear a specific outfit to formal occasions and wear something you love over and over again.