Zero Waste Cleaning

Maintaining a clean, zero waste home is a pretty easy thing to do. If you are shopping for cleaning supplies, it seems like there is a different product for every surface and room imaginable, resulting in a cluttered mess of plastic bottles. I’m still making my way through some of my Swifter cleaning products, but in the meantime, I have streamlined the products I need to use to clean my apartment. You’ll notice that I don’t use any specific measurements for these recipes, but there are plenty of YouTube videos and recipes on the web if you want a little more guidance.

As much as I hate fear mongering, I think that the household cleaners stashed under our sinks need to be scrutinized. My apartment isn’t particularly well ventilated, and I’ve definitely gotten headaches from cleaning before, which is a good sign that these cleaning agents are neither good for me nor the environment. My friend recently shared this great guide highlighting some of the concerns linked to conventional cleaners and why we should be wary of what we bring into our homes. DIY cleaners will keep these products out of your home and minimize waste.

The stars of my zero waste cleaning kit: baking soda, vinegar, and a spray bottle I had on hand.
1: Multipurpose Cleaner

My multipurpose cleaner of choice is now a simple mixture of distilled white vinegar, water, and some sort of agent to make it smell nice. You can add some drops of your favorite essential oils (I like tea tree oil because if its purported anti-bacterial properties), or you can soak citrus fruit in a jar of vinegar and use the solution for the base of your multipurpose cleaner. I just mix up the cleaner as needed and use it on my sinks, countertops, toilet, and shower. At first I did about half-and-half water and vinegar because of the smell, but now I use primarily vinegar in the solution.

If you are looking for something a little bit stronger, you can also make a bleach-water solution. Bleach is a bit of a sticky point in the zero waste community (since people don’t like those “harsh chemicals”) but since you probably already have it in your home already, you might as well be using it. And because bleach is so strong, you’re going to get a lot more uses out of a bottle of bleach than store-bought cleaners.

2: Baking Soda

While I love my homemade multipurpose cleaner, it doesn’t pack quite the same kick as conventional products for more serious stains on the countertop (like curry powder). To deal with these spots, I spray down the area with my multipurpose cleaner and wipe away the excess. Then, I sprinkle on a little (or a lot) of baking soda and apply vinegar on top. I scrub the surface as the fizzy, elementary school science project works its magic on the counter. Finally, I’ll wipe down the area once more with my multipurpose cleaner to make sure no baking soda residue is left behind. I’ve also used this method in my shower to get at some pretty nasty soap scum that even my conventional shower cleaner wasn’t tackling properly.

3: Fighting Clogged Sinks

I have a lot of hair and it sheds pretty much everywhere I go. One of the best additions to my zero waste life was the purchase of a reusable drain snake so that I can stop throwing out single-use snakes whenever there’s a clog (saving me money and trips to the drug store). The snake I bought is a little tricky to clean (and you’re going to have to be ok with pulling off the hair that was clogging your drain), but I think by snaking my sink more regularly the overall process will be less gross because there won’t be month’s worth of hair on the snake after it’s used. The final step is to pour some baking soda down the drain, followed by vinegar and then flush the product down with warm water.

4: Tools

My main go-to tool is a spray bottle I had on hand before going zero waste (if I were to purchase today I’d look for a metal bottle). I’ve also abandoned single-use paper towels and now opt for reusable cloths and rags. My personal favorite is the Swedish Dish Cloth. They’re machine washable and great at wiping up messes. I simply run it under warm water and add either dish soap or multipurpose cleaner when I need to wipe down my counters. I keep mine behind my kitchen sink, draping them over the faucet to dry after I’ve used them, which keeps them handy for any messes that may arise. They also come in really cute designs so you can personalize them to your home in a way that isn’t possible with paper towels. I also bought microfiber towels, but now I keep reading how tiny particles from the towels end up in our water ways and in the bellies of fish (which I’d like to prevent if possible). You can also cut up old t-shirts to use as rags since there is an abundance of t-shirts in the second-hand world. I just keep separate rags for the bathroom and kitchen to avoid any cross contamination and wash my rags fairly regularly to keep everything clean. I sometimes miss the convenience of single-use Clorox wipes, but I do not miss buying them nor will they be missed in the landfill. 

This single dish cloth will keep hundreds of sheets of paper towels out of the landfill! 
Since I still have conventional glass, carpet, and floor cleaners on hand I haven’t made the zero waste switch for those yet. But when I do I’ll be sure to share what works (and what doesn’t). I think the main trick when it comes to zero waste cleaning is to clean more frequently so as to avoid and really tough to clean stains. If I learned anything from years of watching Alton Brown as a kid, it’s that uni-taskers have no place in the home. Streamlining your cleaning supplies will save you time, space, and money and get you to a less wasteful (and less toxic) home.

 

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Zero Waste at Conventional Stores (pt. 2)

A lot of posts about Zero Waste goods (including mine) will direct you to places like Whole Foods, co-ops, and thrift stores. These are great options because their products may use minimal packaging, the store is likely to be locally owned (aside from Whole Foods), and focus on extending the life-cycle of a product instead of buying new. But whether it’s due to affordability or access, these kinds of shops may not always be an option.

My first couple of months going Zero Waste I avoided big box stores like Target because I knew they would be a source of temptation. But now that I have gotten frivolous shopping out of my system, I can avoid the vortex of Target and get in and out with just a few Zero Waste essentials. Zero waste can be found anywhere if you just take a little time to look. I wrote about some more broad advice for this earlier this year, but here is a list of some surprisingly good places to go (and places to avoid).

Target: Target has a very limited package-free produce selection, but you can still find things like cucumbers, bananas, and potatoes with no packaging. The place to check out though is the home goods section. I found my kitchen compost pail at Target, and on recent trips, I have seen bamboo cooking utensils and even packs of reusable produce bags. Target has also been making some additions to their skincare aisles recently too, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find products packaged at least mostly in glass.

Bed, Bath, and Beyond: A magical land of all things for the bed, bath….and beyond (please don’t hate me). Back in September I ventured into BB&B and found a veggie sack (to keep produce from going bad in the fridge), a dish brush made from bamboo and recycled plastic (but now I’m seeing fully compostable brushes in stores), and 100% cotton napkins in a color other than white (which were surprisingly difficult for me to find). BB&B is also notorious for sending out coupon around the time universities start up so look for those if you’re trying to make zero waste swaps on a limited budget.

Marshall’s/Home Goods/TJ Maxx: These have got to be my favorite unexpected places to find zero waste goods. Because these stores have a rotating stock of goods, you never know quite what you’ll find. I’ve been able to find things like honey in a glass jar, bar soap, and bath salts in a giant mason jar with absolutely no plastic in the packaging (I know baths are not zero waste, but sometimes a girl just has to indulge). Maybe the most exciting thing I’ve found is Nellie’s All-Natural Laundry Soda, a powdered laundry detergent sold in metal packaging. I still love my soap nuts, but this option is way cheaper per load. The container does have a plastic liner in it, but I’m still happy to have it as a middle-ground between DIY laundry soap and conventionally packaged liquid detergents.

(Mostly) Zero Waste detergent from a conventional store!

Safeway/Fred Meyer etc.: When doing your grocery shopping at a conventional store, my best tips are to pay attention to packaging (glass and aluminum are better than plastic) and country of origin (local produce=less transportation). And as with any grocery trip, buy only what you need. I tend to get over-excited in the produce aisle and end up buying too many veggies I won’t be able to use.

And one to avoid:

Trader Joe’s: Like any millennial, I used to love Trader Joe’s. But ever since my zero waste transition I think I’ve been there once. Trader Joe’s loves to package EVERYTHING, even two bell peppers. They also specialize in yummy easy meals packaged in plastic. I loved to go there for the convenience, but now I just can’t justify that. You can do better TJ’s!

Through this process, I want to find a happy balance between investing in zero waste products that will really cut back on my waste without taking a huge hit to my wallet. Living sustainably is not something that is exclusive to people that can afford to drive hybrid cars and buy only local, organic products. Even box stores have options if you know where to look, just don’t forget to bring your own bag!

Zero Waste Tricks (that have nothing to do with coffee)

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.

Bar soap I picked up at a drug store with zero plastic!

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.

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Signing up for the “Do Not Mail” and “PreScreen OptOut” takes less than 5 minutes and will dramatically reduce the amount of paper you get in the mail.

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!

Zero Waste Laundry

Laundry is a reality of life for all of us, especially when you are living Zero Waste and have cloth napkins and reusable cotton rounds and paper towels that also need cleaning. I’ve recently delved into the world of zero waste laundry care and, like with many other zero waste alternatives, I’ve found that switching to a zero waste alternative does not mean you have to compromise on quality. There are also plenty of options online and at stores like Whole Foods, so there are plenty of options depending on your laundry preference.

1: Soap Nuts

Soap nuts (or soap berries) are a member of the Lychee that contains saponins, a handy chemical compound that lower surface tension (which is just what your typical laundry detergent does to get clothes clean). Soap nuts are by no means new, having been used by washing for Native Americans long before the invention of Tide.

 

Old soap nuts ready to make their way to the compost bin.

To use soap nuts, you simply place a handful of the berries into a cloth drawstring pouch and toss it into your washing machine. You can reuse the same bag for 5-7 washes and then simply compost the nuts when they’re brittle and no longer usable. I found my soap nuts at a local shop that sells them by the pouch, but you can also easily find them online. I’m glad I initially bought mine in a smaller quantity (in case I didn’t like them), but plan to buy them by the pound in the future since it is cheaper per load.

 

2: The Simply Co. Laundry Detergent 

Lauren Singer started making The Simply Co. detergent when she transitioned into the zero waste lifestyle, now selling her detergent and a number of other items in her Brooklyn shop and on her website. I haven’t used The Simply Co. detergent, but I think it would be a great option for people that want to transition away from traditionally packaged goods and don’t want to make their own detergent or don’t want to use soap nuts. My one gripe with The Simply Co., is that they use the “eek chemicals” line very heavily in their marketing. But since Lauren Singer is a member of the Zero Wast Community, you have the added bonus of knowing the packaging will be sustainable. The detergent is sold in a glass jar and on their website they say that they ship everything in recycled cardboard using paper tape.

3: DIY

I haven’t attempted a DIY detergent yet, but there are plenty of recipes, like this one,  online. The standard ingredients I’ve seen in DIY recipes are solid castille soap, washing soda, and Borax. I haven’t made the DIY plunge because I am 1) lazy and 2) don’t like to buy products for a DIY project if I will only use it for one purpose.

4: Better packaged, conventional detergents

On a recent grocery trip, I spotted a bottle of Seventh Generation detergent that is sold in a compostable bottle with a recyclable spout. I’m glad that a company that claims to be earth-friendly is offering better options when it comes to packaging since most of their products come in plastic. I haven’t used this version yet, but I think it would be appealing for people that don’t want to live a “granola” lifestyle but still care about excess plastic.

A good laundry routine is important not only because it keeps your clothes clean, it can extender their life cycle so you can shop less frequently. I hang dry a good chunk of my clothes (which is how I’ve managed to make shirts from Forever 21 last for 4+ years) but I’m not a fan of letting jeans air-dry so I still embrace clothes dryers. Until recently, I wasn’t using fabric softeners in my laundry routine, because they seemed like a waste of money for a product I wasn’t entirely sure I needed. But then, I spotted these wool fabric softener balls at my local drug store. They claim to cut down on dry time (a claim I haven’t scientifically tested) while reducing static and wrinkles (a claim I do find to be true). You simply toss the three wool balls into your dryer and let them do their thing (the only drawback is a slightly noisier load of laundry). For my dry clean only clothes, I use the Dryel system, which is relatively low-waste, effective at cleaning, and way cheaper and easier than going to a dry cleaner.

 

The two key players in my (mostly) zero waste laundry routine.

I love that I have plenty of options for zero waste laundry that keep my clothes and the planet clean and happy, I hope you will check some out too!

 

Zero Waste Holidays

It’s November, which means that the holiday season is upon us. The holiday season usually brings with it parties, gift giving, travel, and lots of food. I am sentimental and don’t get to see my family often, so I definitely get into the holiday spirit. This year, I want to celebrate consciously so that I can enjoy my time with loved ones without doing too much damage to the earth. Here are some of the things I will be considering over the coming months.

1: Travel

I live in Washington but my family is in California, so I usually fly home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. According to this website, each of my round-trip flights produces .14 metric tons of carbon emissions. According to this post on the Sierra Club website, emissions per person need to drop to 3.2 tons per person to avoid drastic overheating (Americans generate an incredible 23 tons per capita). Fortunately, I can fly nonstop between California and Washington, but if I lived further away from home it would be worth considering consolidating trips home to one holiday per year (from both a cost and environmental perspective). Rather than purchasing a carbon offset, I plan to make a donation of $10 per trip to an environmental nonprofit (on top of my monthly contribution to the NRDC). I’ve also gotten in the habit of taking public transit to and from SeaTac airport. It’s cheaper than a shuttle and a better use of natural resources.

2: Gifts

Gift giving is a huge part of the holiday season, and in recent years it seems like I am wracking my brain before Christmas trying to think of things to give my family members or to ask for in return. I plan on putting together a gift guide as it gets closer to Christmas (and Hanukah and other gift-giving holidays). But as I consider what to request for Christmas, I will be asking for experiences (like concert tickets) or home goods (like a good quality knife set) that will either give me a memory or add to my quality of life.

 

Concert tickets are a great zero-waste present, no concert in particular you’re looking forward to, ask for an “IOU” coupon to cover a certain amount for tickets in the coming year.

I’m hoping to avoid buying any plastic wrapped or disposable presents this year, with one notable exception. I am very involved with the local YWCA and each year, they do a holiday gift center for the families they serve. I will be buying toys for kids at their shelter and don’t plan to adhere to my zero-waste goals. I have chosen this lifestyle for myself; it would be unfair to force my lifestyle on a child I don’t even know.

3: Parties

Last year, my roommate and I hosted a Christmas party that was a lot of fun, but also very wasteful. We did a white elephant gift exchange which, while fun, also means people are giving and getting things that no one wants (like a contraption to make a spiral hot dog, still sitting unopened in our cupboard). We also used plastic cups and bought snacks that came wrapped in plastic. If we host another soiree, I’ll plan ahead so that I can bake and cook desserts and snacks from scratch. For a small gathering, you could also get beer in a growler to reduce packaging (though this may not be economical for a larger gathering). I also plan to say no to plastic cutlery, non-recyclable decorations, and, of course, plastic straws.

Just some of the disposables that ended up at our last Christmas party, including a disgusting cake that we only had one slice of before throwing away.

4: Food

It will be interesting to go home as a vegetarian since I came from a family where meat is incorporated into most meals. Fortunately, I’ll only have to pass on a few items (unfortunately also some of my favorite foods like carnitas and Yorkshire pudding), but this will also influence the amount of meat my parents have to buy to prepare holiday meals since one less person will be consuming it. Food is central to the holiday season (Americans found a way to have one holiday dedicated only to eating) and it is honestly unnecessarily extravagant. From appetizers before meals, dinners with a main course, four sides, and desserts, these meals are expensive, stressful to prepare, and wasteful. I plan to talk to my parents before these holidays (or they can make a note now while they read this) to see if we can cut back on any of the foods we normally eat. I’d rather spend time with my loved ones, rather than all of us stressing about how to time the preparation of the meal just right.

5: Avoid the sales

Sales are great on one hand, they can help us save money on things we need. Unfortunately, they also trick us into buying things we would never buy full-price. I’ve shared before that I went through a period where I bought makeup when I was sad (to avoid my feelings) or celebrate when I had a big success at work. As a result, I hit VIB Rouge status at Sephora in 2016 (meaning I spent $1,000 in a year). The VIB Rouge sale is happening right now, a lure that offers VIB Rouge members 20% off purchases. While I could use this as a chance to stock up on my most-used items, the reality is it ends up being an excuse to try new things. When sales like Black Friday and Cyber Monday hit, don’t use sales as an excuse to buy things you don’t need. Instead, make a list of things you genuinely need (in my case a new raincoat), and use sales as a way to save money on something you would buy anyway.

How do you celebrate the holidays? Are you planning how to make them zero waste?

Zero Waste Bathroom

A few weeks ago, I wrote about some of the ways that I am reducing waste in my kitchen. The other focal point in my zero-waste journey has been in my bathroom. I’ve been guilty in the past of being a bathroom product junkie, testing out different face masks, shampoos, and liquid body soaps in the hopes of finding the best in each category. I’ve also had a bad habit of not recycling in the bathroom. When bottles ran out I would simply toss them because I was too lazy to rinse them out and place them in the recycling bin mere feet away in the kitchen. I still have quite a few swaps to make in the bathroom (and one swap I will not be making) before I reach my desired goal, but I’m really happy with most of the swaps and they are easy enough for anyone to make.

1: Reusable cotton wipes

I wear makeup pretty much every day, including waterproof mascara, so it’s important that I am able to remove my makeup every night before bed. In the past, I’ve used cotton rounds you can buy at the drug store to take off my makeup, using multiple per day and going through many packs per year. I have a couple of reusable products in my collection, including some terrycloth face towels that remove makeup with only warm water (mine are a knockoff of the Makeup Eraser that I found at TJ Maxx) and a pack of microfiber squares. I don’t think both are necessary (I prefer the microfiber squares). Both options are machine washable and are going to be far more affordable in the long run over disposable cotton rounds.

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I’m still working through some single-use products (anyone know a good Q-tip alternative?) but these reusable cloths have been a great swap!

The one problem I foresee is when I want to remove nail polish. I can’t imagine nail polish remover would be gentle on my reusables, which is probably why I never see pictures of zero-wasters wearing nail polish.

2: Solid Everything!

I’ve already declared my love for solid deodorant but I found other solid products to love on that same LUSH trip. Solids are great since they’re often sold package-free or at least in cardboard that can be recycled more sustainably than plastic.

I picked up a bar of Fresh Farmacy, which has been a lovely solid face wash that is gentle on my skin. It doesn’t leave my skin as soft as my previous cleansing milk, but it works for my skin so I can’t complain. I’ve been using the Lullaby shampoo for a few months now (one bonus about solid shampoo, it lasts forever). I also made the switch back to solid soap a few months ago. I had been buying bar soap at Walgreens but recently picked up Sexy Peel from LUSH. I go through solid soap more quickly than liquid soap, but I’m happy to make the swap in order to reduce my waste. To avoid plastic packaging I buy the bars of soap individually so I don’t have to buy them all wrapped together in plastic.

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My trusty bar of T’eo and a face soap that will probably last long than the current President.

3: Bamboo Toothbrush

Oral hygiene is one area where I absolutely do not want to make sacrifices in order to be more environmentally friendly. Fortunately, I’ve found that the bamboo toothbrushes from Mother’s Vault have not been a compromise when it comes to keeping my teeth clean. The bristles are firmer than my previous toothbrush and my gums were a bit sensitive at first, but that has passed. The handle is compostable (though I believe I will need to use pliers to remove and recycle the bristles) so I can just toss it in my food waste bin once it’s done. I haven’t swapped floss, tooth paste, or mouth wash yet since I have all of those in stock, but I’d love to hear any zero-waste option other people use.

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I clearly buy toothpaste more often than needed. I’m planning on switching to a DIY alternative when these tubes are empty.

4: Menstrual Cup

I have been a menstrual cup convert for going on 4 years now and I can safely say I will never go back to conventional menstrual products. If you have a period, you know how frustrating it is to a) pay money to manage a biological process that isn’t pleasant and b) throw away menstrual products every month. Since switching to the Diva Cup, I have purchased exactly 3 boxes of tampons (all to donate to my local domestic violence shelter) meaning I have spent $0 on my own period since December of 2013. There are plenty of other sustainable options including menstrual underwear and reusable pads if a menstrual cup isn’t your thing.

The average period-haver uses 10,000 tampons in their life, that is a HUGE amount of waste and a TON of money. I think reusable menstrual products have an added bonus of encouraging us to talk about periods and removes some of the stigma around them. This is easily the swap I would reccommend the most.

One Swap I will not be making: Toilet Paper

I’ve had quite a few friends jokingly ask me if I’m going to keep using toilet paper, the answer is yes. I know that some zero-waste people use bidets, but this is an change I am just not interested in. I have a roommate that is supportive of my zero-waste goals, but going toilet paper free is a huge thing to ask of someone (especially since I don’t want to do it myself). Going toilet paper free would also be a huge inconvenience to any guests I may have. While I want to influence other people to use less waste, I am not going to force my choices on anyone.

I still haven’t found a perfect toilet paper option. There is a great looking company online that makes bamboo toilet paper, but since I don’t have secure package delivery at home I get packages delivered to work. I’m not sure I want to have a box of 48 rolls of toilet paper delivered to work that I then have to take home on the bus. I’m going to try buying more individual rolls and look to see what other options I may have online.

How do you reduce waste in your bathroom? And if you end up trying any of these swaps (or products I’ve mentioned in earlier posts) I’d love to know how they work for you!

Sustainability at Work

I spend 8+ hours a day, 5 days a week at my office, so when I consider making eco-conscious life changes, it’s important that I make changes at work as well as at home. It can be hard to influence changes at work. You may be able to convince a roommate or partner why you need to stop buying paper towels, but you might not have as much luck with an office of 20 people. Even if you can’t change your whole office culture, I hope that you can use some (or all) of these tips to make your work-life more environmentally friendly.

1: Green your commute

I currently don’t have a car, which means I take the bus to work. Commuting is an unfortunate reality of work life for most of us that is not only a source of pollution, it also directly contributes to discontent in our life. If you can, take public transit, bike, or carpool to work. Commuting by bus does take more time than driving, but it also gives me an opportunity to read, listen to music, or catch up on the news while I make my way to and from work. And think critically before you write off transit or biking as being an impossible option for your commute. Cars have made our lives easier, so much so that I see people driving places that are less than a 15-minute walk away.

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My commute gives me plenty of time to read, which is a great way to ease in and out of the work day.

If you do live too far away from work to use public transit, consider telecommuting. Telecommuting means less traffic and stress. If your employer doesn’t currently offer telecommuting as an option, ask why it isn’t currently available or negotiate for it in your next review. Obviously, this won’t work in many aspects of the service sector (though I wish I could have worked remotely when I was a barista), but many desk jobs don’t need you to be sitting in the same room as your coworkers every day to be productive.

2: Ditch the K-Cup! (& other disposables)

Single-cup coffee machines have got to be one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to laziness creating a less sustainable world (except for maybe a now obsolete $400 juicer that squeezed individually packed juice pouches). Keurig machines make pretty terrible coffee and in 2014, over 9 billion cups were sold — all of which ended up in the trash. One of my coworkers has a Keurig in her office, but we also have a perfectly good coffee pot in our kitchen. I have gotten myself in the habit of brewing a pot of coffee (that can be enjoyed by multiple coworkers) over the habit of brewing one k-cup at a time. You could also keep a french press at your desk and use hot water from a water cooler if you want coffee at your desk but don’t have a conventional coffee pot at work.

I’m also conspiring with a coworker to put up a sign in our kitchen encouraging people to use washable cups, forks etc. We have a sink that is fully capable of washing our many dishes (shocking I know) and yet people reach for plastic cutlery and paper cups simply because they want the convenience of a disposable item. It may not seem like one spoon is a big deal, but if you work for 45 years for approximately 260 days a year, that one habit could result in 11,745 plastic spoons in the landfill. A friendly poster in the kitchen showing how long it takes for a paper cup to decompose, or placing them less conveniently than washable dishes, may be the only push your office needs to use fewer disposable products. If you work somewhere where disposables are an essential (like straws at a coffee shop) see if your employer would be willing to look into a more environmentally friendly option (like paper).

3: Use technology efficiently 

If you work in an office, the last thing you should do at the end of the work day is power down your devices and turn off your monitors. It’s probably the easiest thing you can do, it will save your employer money, and it is good for the environment. Many of our appliances use more “vampire power” when they are not in use than in the time we use them.

Other easy tricks are to run meetings with a projector and writing notes on a whiteboard or typing them on a laptop instead of printing agendas, setting printers to default to double-sided, and installing motion sensor lights. Also, if you’re the last person in the office make sure lights in offices are turned off and that appliances have not been left on. There’s no need to keep the lights on in a bathroom that no one will use from 5:01 PM Friday to 8:00 AM on Monday.

4: Swap surplus with your coworkers

Every few months it seems my boss goes through her closet and brings in a bag of goodies for the team to go through. My coworkers have also brought in pillows and books, and I recently scored a great spice collection since one of my coworkers is moving in with their partner and they already had a spice collection. Talk to your team and see if they’d be interested in exchanging things people no longer need. You can downsize things you no longer need and maybe get something you truly need, without spending any money. Adding on to the lifecycle of a product is a core tenet of a zero-waste lifestyle. Finding a way to extend the life of a good by giving it to someone who can use it instead means your item doesn’t go in the trash and they don’t have to create waste by buying something new.

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A basically full spice rack that I got for free from a coworker!

5: Pack your lunch 

Neglecting to pack a lunch is a great way to spend a ton of money on food, eat unhealthy meals, and end up buying plastic or Styrofoam packaging. There are very few fresh or unpackaged options at the 7-11 by my work (bananas and pears are pretty much the only options) and the vegetarian options are extremely limited. Cooking in bulk and packing leftovers is a great way to keep a smaller food budget and go waste-free at work.Before I was a vegetarian, I would often buy 7-11 sausage breakfast sandwiches when I didn’t have a chance to eat in the morning. Now, I keep a big bag of oats on hand too so that I can just bring some oats to work in a Tupperware container and microwave them when I get to the office.

Another trick I learned from my mom is to poke some holes in a yam and pop it in the microwave for a few minutes on both sides for an easy meal. I try to keep a few yams on hand at all times, especially on busy weeks, so that I don’t have to eat out at work when I haven’t meal prepped properly. I’m also rethinking the way I view my coffee habit. I love stopping by my local shop before I start my commute, but I’m not always perfect about bringing my thermos to and from work. Reframing my trip as a treat that I should only take advantage of when I actually have my mug, instead of pretending it is a necessity, is shifting my habit in a more sustainable direction (though I’m still not perfect at this). Now that I have a kitchen compost bin, I’m also putting my food scraps in my Tupperware container so that I can avoid throwing them out at work.

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I try to pack things like fruit that don’t need wrapping or multi-use coffee mugs, sandwich bags, and Tupperware to cut down on waste in my lunch bag.

Do you see any of these tips being possible in your work life? If you have any green workplace ideas for other work spaces (or ones I’m missing for an office environment) I’d love to see them in the comments!