Zero Waste Update

I started my blog on August 1, which means I’ve been one my zero waste journey for about three months (though I started the baby steps well before writing here). In that time, I’ve made quite a few life changes, product recommendations, and done some serious downsizing at home. Today I wanted to take a look back at my progress so far to reflect on changes I’ve loved and what I would change if I could do it all again:

 

Spoiler Alert: These bags are a favorite!

1: Always try to refuse 

The first R of zero waste is to refuse. Since starting my blog, I have resisted the urge to buy any clothing brand new, which is a huge deal for me! I’ve gone on many trips to places like Target and Nordstrom to search for new things, but on every trip, I’ve asked myself, “Do I need this article of clothing or do I just want it.” So often, we conflate wanting something with needing something. For example, last weekend my work had our largest fundraising event of the year. Like many women, I have been conditioned to think we should not repeat outfits for formal occasions and so I spent hours at the mall looking for something to wear. The night before the event, I almost dropped $80 on a dress I only kind of liked and would only ever wear to this one event. Instead, I put it back and allowed myself to repeat an outfit, wearing a dress I like infinitely more and saving money, and no one said a thing. I have allowed myself to buy new shoes in these three months but for very specific reasons. One pair was to replace a pair of black booties that broke while I was wearing them, the other two were a pair of oxfords and sneakers that I can wear casually and to work since at some point my shoe collection consisted entirely of boots with heels.

Even if you don’t want to live zero waste, I think this is a great mentality to incorporate into your life. I have saved more money these past three months than ever before because I am not responding to instant gratification. It’s good for the planet and my wallet, which is a win-win in my book!

2: Zero Waste grocery shopping

This may be strange to say, but I actually really enjoy grocery shopping and I think I enjoy it even more now that I am trying to shop zero waste. My reusable produce bags are, without a doubt, one of my top three zero-waste purchases. While I always tried to remember reusable grocery bags, I used produce bags without much thought. Now, I can’t imagine going back to using them. Since my initial post, I’ve switched from washing my bags in the sink to throwing them in the washing machine and hanging them dry. I don’t know why I felt the need to be gentle with my bags earlier, but upkeep is definitely easier when a washing machine is involved. More than any other product I use, these bags are a conversation starter at the store. I now do most of my grocery shopping at Whole Foods because of their bulk bins and local produce. Every week when I check out, I end up having a conversation with the checker about reducing waste. I really hope that these catch on with more people because they really are great!

I’m competitive with myself to come home with as little packaging as possible.

3: T’eo 

My most popular post to date has been about T’eo Deodorant, which I find only a little bit odd. I still adore T’eo and don’t see myself ever switching back to a traditional deodorant. My original bar is pretty much done and I have already purchased a replacement, meaning I spent about $11 for 2 months of use (not a bad deal in my mind). Since my initial post, I have gotten the occasional irritation on my underarms — though I think this also has to do more with razor burn. I may switch it up and try a different LUSH version (or a DIY recipe) in the future, but I’m happy to have found that you can sacrifice packaging without sacrificing quality when it comes to deodorant.

4: Getting a library card

I practically grew up at my neighborhood library, so it’s a bit surprising that for the past few years I haven’t had a library card. I recently got into the library game again and I am so excited to have a new source of movies and books. I still haven’t jumped on the e-reader bandwagon, so I’ve ended up buying and then donating a lot of books. My plan is to buy fewer books and use the library as my main source of new reading materials. I am also planning on ending my Netflix subscription (now that I’ve finished Stranger Things) so it’s nice to know I’ll have a place to go for movies too. I love having books around, but the reality is I’ll only read the majority of my books one time, so there’s no need to waste money or resources just to have a bigger book collection.

5: My compost fail

In September, I picked up a compost pail so that I could keep my food waste out of the dump. Unfortunately, the pail is more of a middle ground to hold scraps until you can transfer them to an actual compost bin. Since I bought my pail on a whim, I did not plan where those scraps would go when that pail filled up. I’ve been researching worm composters and other options, but haven’t actually purchased a compost bin yet. The first few weeks I was great about throwing my scraps in the pail until I realized that things were starting to happen in the pail and I had nowhere to put my scraps — so I just ignored it. I finally worked up the nerve to check my pail a few weeks ago and it was a soupy, smelly mess (not the goal of compost). I ended up throwing out the contents of the pail, which is now sitting unused under my kitchen sink. Through this journey, I need to remind myself to do research and not just buy the first thing I see since it seems sustainable. I want to tackle the compost problem since food waste is probably my largest source of trash at this point, but I’m gonna be honest, I feel a bit discouraged.

These last few months have been absolutely incredible. I feel like I am living my life with more purpose, have a new passion to share with others, and have connected with other zero waste people from around the world. I am excited to see where I am 3, 6, and 9 months from now. Thank you for being a part of my journey!

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You Know You’re A Zero Waster When

1: You leave the house with more necessities than a lot of people

Your daily list probably includes a thermos, a stainless steel water bottle, reusable grocery bag, cutlery, a cloth napkin, and maybe even a Tupperware (or stainless steel) container in case you need to bring home leftovers.

2: You see plastic everywhere!

Plastic is the enemy and it will not leave you alone. From produce wrapped in unnecessary shrink-wrap and plastic straws to the pens at your work desk, you can’t help cringe a little every time you have to use plastic and are constantly searching plastic free-alternatives.

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3: You memorize weird traits about every grocery store

You know which grocery store has the best bulk bins. The grocery store where clerks don’t give you a weird look when you have reusable produce bags. And where you can find kitchen essentials like Bees Wrap and reusable Ziploc bags.

4: You’re your own apothecary 

You have definitely looked up DIY recipes for toothpaste, deodorant, cough drops, and household cleaners. You also know that baking soda, vinegar, and castile soap are the answer to many of life’s problems.

5: You have trash envy

You are in serious awe of people who can fit a year’s worth of trash in a mason jar. As a result, you probably feel guilty every time you blow your nose or when your drink comes with a straw.

6: You’re a little afraid when you run out of conventional products

While the aesthetic of a plastic free kitchen or bathroom is hugely appealing, you dread the day when you run out of conditioner. Because while you know you probably don’t need the product you just ran out of, sometimes convenience is just so tempting.

7: Your friends talk trash to you 

Once friends and family members catch on to what you’re doing, they start to tell you about how they are cutting back on trash. It feels great to know that even though you’re just one person, your actions can have a larger ripple effect.

8: You think recycling is overrated

You’ve memorized the 5 Rs and try to use as few products as possible with a lifecycle that ends at a recycling center.

9: You make semi-odd requests at restaurants and cafes

You always ask for a drink with no straw, bring odd containers for leftovers, or old sacks for pastries, bread, etc. You also know which places are the most accommodating and it often even sparks a great conversation about sustainability.

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10: You feel a little bit better about the world

Even though the news is bleak and things seem out of control, you know that you have immense power in your own personal life. You know every day is an opportunity to make choices that will do as little damage to the environment as possible, and maybe get to leave Earth a little bit better than it was when you got here.

Zero Waste Travel

I have mixed feelings about travel and tourism. I left the country for the first time shortly after graduating college. As a college student, I was ashamed of the fact that I had never left the country. I could feel pity/judgment from my peers when I admitted I had never left the U.S. While traveling may turn you into a better version of yourself, being well-traveled does not make you better than other people. 

The tourism industry provide a great source of GDP for countries, but it can also turn into a system that glorifies poverty and exploits people so that white Westerners can see the “real” [insert developing country here]. I plan to travel abroad again someday, but when I do I want it to be as ethical and environmentally friendly as possible.

Whether you’re traveling within your home country or traveling internationally, here are some ways to make your trip less harmful for the planet.

What to Pack

I haven’t visited home since my zero-waste journey started, but when I fly to California I’ll be bringing along my zero waste essentials. Brining essentials like package-free deodorant, solid shampoo, and bar soap will keep you from using hotel products (and as an added bonus you won’t have to pack as many liquids that could require you to check a bag). I’ll also bring my reusable water bottle and coffee mug, cutlery, and napkins to make snacking on the road zero-waste. You could take it a step further and pack your own meal for the plane if you are traveling internationally. I also plan to politely refuse the peanuts and soda that come complimentary on my flights to California. I can survive the  2-hour flight without stale snacks.

When I traveled to Indonesia, I, unfortunately, went through a TON of bottled water (because the tap water is generally not safe to drink). Looking back, I wish I’d thought to bring a water bottle with a built-in filter because it may have enabled me to skip the plastic bottles (but do some research to see if that’s safe for your travels).

If you have the budget, I’d also recommend investing in higher quality luggage. I’ve purchased cheap luggage when I’m in a bind only to have the bag fall apart within a year. Purchasing a sturdier suitcase will save you money in the long-run and result in less garbage in the trash. If you use the paper name tags for your luggage, opt for one that is reusable and use an electronic boarding pass instead of printing one (way more convenient and green).

Accommodations & Travel

There is no green way to fly, but when you do fly, opt for economy class. First class and business class seats reduce the number of people that can fly in a plane. That extra leg room may be nice, but it also means you are directly responsible for more carbon emissions. Needless to say, private jets are probably one of the worst things that have been created from an environmental standpoint.

As for accommodations, look for somewhere that is close to the places you plan to explore and/or public transit. I’d also recommend staying somewhere that benefits the inhabitants of the city you are visiting, whether it is a locally owned hotel or something like Airbnb that puts money in the hands of people that live in the country.

Homestays are a great way to interact with people that live where you are traveling and support the local economy. Do your research though. In one of my college courses, we read about a homestay village where the people that lived there were not allowed to put glass windows in their homes or buy televisions because tourists wanted a “gritty” experience. Traveling in a developing country should not be a way to play poor or glorify poverty so that you can “get away from it all.”

Souvenirs

Buying souvenirs is almost a given when it comes to travel. I painstakingly picked out gifts for my family, friends, and myself so I could remember my time abroad. Unfortunately, I picked things out that I’ve never really enjoyed after my trip. I brought home batik dresses with the intention of altering them into shirts or skirts (ignoring the fact that I cannot sew) and only recently parted with them. I do however cherish a piece of batik fabric that I purchased directly from the artist that reminds me of one of my favorite days of the trip.

If you have to buy things, look for things that are made by locals, meant to last, and not throwaway tchotchkes. If I were to do it all over again, I would also look for a favorite book published in the country (like the Indonesian version of Harry Potter). I already love decorating with books so it would not stick out from the other decorations in my home and it would be a subtle reminder of my trip.

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While these dresses were fun, they definitely were not a necessary purchase. Side note: the humidity did not agree with my curly hair.

Also, you probably don’t need to buy as many souvenirs as you think. I bought more bracelets from a local artist than I needed. Now, they just sit in a drawer because I can’t bear to throw them out but I also never wear them.

Research local recycling policies

You will probably generate more waste when traveling due to the fact that it will be harder to buy in bulk or keep a well-stocked pantry for zero-waste needs that may arise. If you are traveling somewhere that doesn’t recycle, consider bringing your recyclables home with you so that you can dispose of them there. If you keep in mind the overall 5 R’s of zero waste, you will produce less trash (even when traveling) and may not even encounter this problem.

Carbon Credits?

Carbon credits used to get a lot of attention as the best way address global warming. I remember learning bout Cap N’ Trade and thinking it was the golden ticket for preventing climate change. However, as I’ve been reading This Changes EverythingI have my doubts. Carbon credits operate in the same consumerist system that is making climate change a problem. It also shirks responsibilities and usually places the responsibility of preventing climate change on the people that haven’t contributed to it as much (i.e. people in developing countries). Instead of purchasing a carbon credit that is really just a publicity move for the airline, make a donation of the same amount to an environmental nonprofit that is proactively addressing climate change and is not tied to the fossil fuel industry.

As long as we rely on fossil fuels, travel will never be environmentally friendly, but if you are itching to see the world please make sure to do so in a way that is kind to the planet and the people whose home you are visiting. If you can afford the luxury of travel, you can probably afford to put some serious thought into doing it well.

“Zero-waste” Shopping at Conventional Stores

In the ideal zero-waste world, stores would be package free and sell things in bulk. Unfortunately, package-free shops are not the norm so I still end up shopping at places like Safeway and Target. In addition to the obvious (bringing reusable bags) here are some of the tricks I use to minimize my waste at conventional shops:

1: Know what you need.

And when I say need, I actually mean the item you went to the grocery for. Last week I needed honey for a DIY Cough Drop recipe and didn’t have any at home. I stopped by Target and breezed right past the clothes and makeup (which used to be my first stops on every Target trip) and went straight to the food aisles. They didn’t have what I needed so instead of wandering aisles looking for something to buy, I just left.

2: Pay attention to packaging.

The reason I left Target empty handed was that the only honey they sold came in plastic bottles. We’re told to recycle plastic, but plastic can only be recycled once, something I didn’t know before my zero-waste journey. Glass, on the other hand, can be recycled infinitely, making it a far better alternative. Once my honey is gone, I can keep the glass jar for storage. I also found some cloth napkins at Bed, Bath & Beyond that had a paper tag attached with paper ribbons that I can repurpose later. I look for packaging with minimal plastic or packaging that can be repurposed or recycled. As a rule, I choose plastic as the last resort (or not at all).

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Zero-waste essentials picked up at conventional box stores… because Whole Foods doesn’t always cut it.

3: Be diligent 

Our world is pretty much built around convenience, which is why we have things like disposable cups, paper napkins, and Uber Eats. I went to three different stores to find everything I needed on my failed Target trip. I was tempted to be lazy, but I reminded myself that my actions today have permanent repercussions for the planet. By taking a little extra time to find products with more sustainable packaging you can still get things you want or need without cluttering the landfill.

4: Know that it’s ok not to be perfect

I am not the biggest fan of the term “zero-waste” because it sets unrealistic expectations. As much as I want to reduce my consumption and make choices that don’t harm the planet, I know that I’m going to make choices that aren’t always green. I’m not going to use this as an excuse to buy whatever I want, but by reminding myself that I can’t expect perfection I won’t get overwhelmed by trying to maintain unrealistic self-imposed expectations.

Embracing Hygge

One of the qualities I associate with environmentalism is slowness. Foregoing conveniences, such as K-Cups, fast food, and driving everywhere in favor of those extra steps that are more sustainable are simple changes we can make in our daily lives. I believe that embracing slowness, the process of brewing a pot of coffee in the morning or taking public transit to work, makes environmentalism something that is not only good for the planet but good for individuals at our core. Earlier this year, I read “The Book of Hygge” and I think that the concept of hygge naturally aligns with the zero-waste movement.

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Creating hygge moment in my life by drinking coffee at my favorite coffee shop (obviously in a reusable mug).

Hygge (pronounced hue-guh) is a Danish term that describes a feeling of coziness, contentment, and being present in our daily lives. The concept of hygge is not new to the Danes, but it is gaining popularity around the world and was shortlisted for the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year in 2016. To me, it makes sense that a concept that focuses on slowness is gaining attention in the U.S. American life is marked by an obsession with business and it seems like every day there are articles published with tips about creating a better work-life balance. Our business fetish has created a market for products that make our lives easier, but at a cost to the planet, like all of those meal-delivery kits that give you the ingredients you need for a meal delivered to your doorstep with everything individually packaged in plastic. Taking the time to slow down and prepare a meal from scratch can allow us to pause in our busy lives. The zero-waste movement is often about giving things up, but I don’t believe that means we have to give up joy, we just have to think about how we create joy in our daily lives. Instead of going out to bars with friends, which is bad for my wallet, health, and the environment, I’d like to do more things with friends that turn chores, like cooking or grocery shopping, into a chance to connect with others.

“The Book of Hygge” focuses a lot of attention on the hyggerlig home, because that is where we connect with friends and families and have those little moments of joy. The hyggerlig home has small spaces that invite us to be close together. Brits describes hyggerlig objects as “vintage textiles softened and worn with use, quilts patched with love, a basket of blankets arranged so that anyone can envelop themselves in warmth.” Filling our home with things that are worn with love is not only environmentally friendly, it helps create hygge moments in our lives. I’ve written before about my love for antique furniture and ambition to eventually replace all of my box-store furniture with second-hand pieces. My second-hand pieces have certainly created a cozy atmosphere in my room and I was able to be a more conscious consumer by buying used furniture.

I am happy to live a slow and quiet life. I love that on weekend mornings I can spend a little extra time in bed and appreciate the change in the morning light through the seasons. I didn’t know the name for it before I read “The Book of Hygge”, but there is a hyggerlig feeling when I go to my regular coffee shop and order coffee from baristas that I know and the act of ordering coffee is a mini moment of connection. These little moments may not be exciting stories to tell my coworkers on Monday morning (they frequently ask me if I had an 80-year-old or 20-year-old weekend), but they are the simple things that make me feel like myself.

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I love getting to enjoy slow mornings and natural light in my room on weekends.

The Danes are some of the happiest people on the planet, and while things like universal healthcare, paid family leave, and affordable childcare probably do more to do contribute to this happiness than burning a candle and putting on a wool sweater, I think that embracing hygge can make our lives happier and more environmentally friendly.

 

Five Ways I Suck at Low-Waste Living

 

I’ve been writing about living more sustainably for just over a month now. In that time, I’ve been testing out new products, switched to a vegetarian diet (though the jury’s still out on fish), and have noticed a change in my shopping habits and overall temptation to buy stuff. However, I have a long way to go before I’m anywhere near the zero-waste people I admire. Below are just five of the ways I suck at low-waste living.

1: Buying unnecessary eco-friendly products

There is a great market for sustainable products that are meant to replace single-use items, but the most eco-friendly thing to do would be to repurpose something you already own. While I like the lint-free cloths I mentioned in my post about reducing waste in the kitchen, I should have first looked to my own closet. I’ve found t-shirts laying around that could be repurposed for rags, saving me money, reducing the need to buy more stuff, and adding to the life-cycle of something I already owned. It can be tempting to replace all of our single-use items with new stuff from Etsy and Amazon, but I want to think more critically about what I already own the next time I feel an urge to go shopping for my next low-waste goodie.

2: Opting for reusable plastics instead of more eco-friendly materials

Before I started this blog, I had already picked up some multi-use products meant to cut back on single-use items. I picked up a set of CloverBlubber food/bowl covers on a trip to California, pretty much picking them up on a whim. They can be used to seal food and bowls and are meant to replace plastic wrap, however they are made out of rubber and will have to be trashed when they are no longer usable. I wish I had opted for something like Bee’s Wrap, which would meet a similar need and is compostable. Reusable products still create waste when they are produced and may still end up in the landfill. Not all low-waste products are created equal.

3: Eating out

Living in a neighborhood with extremely limited access to fresh food means that there is plenty of temptation to have lazy eating habits. That, on top of not having a car, means that when I am hungry and don’t have anything fresh on hand it is extremely tempting to go to MSM (my neighborhood deli that makes the best sandwiches EVER) or place an order on UberEATS. Apps have made it all too easy to have any food we want on our doorstep, and I know I have eaten food from a restaurant far more frequently since the launch of the app in Tacoma. Take-out results in food packaged in plastic wrap or Styrofoam, disposable cutlery, and puts a car on the road. Not only does eating out cost me a lot of money, it is definitely not good for the planet. This week I ordered my first CSA box from Terra Organics and I’m hoping that this will help me cook more during the week. I also still let a lot of food go to waste because I eat out instead of cooking when I’m tired or lazy. Food waste is a huge problem that I am ashamed to contribute too, and while now I at least have a compost bin, the most sustainable action would be using food so that it doesn’t have to go to compost.

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I ate out and ordered take-out multiple times this week, so when I got around to using this jalapeno it had gone bad.

4: Going to bars

Going out for drinks can be a huge source of waste. I was at one of my favorite dive bars recently where most of the beer they served is bottled and I generally don’t trust the cleanliness of the taps. By the end of the night, my table had generated about 15 cans of Rainier, all of which I’m sure went into the garbage at the end of the night. I also love gin and tonics, which are typically served with a plastic straw. I am trying to remember to ask bartenders not to give me a straw, but they are usually so busy and have the muscle memory to serve drinks with a straw so most of the time I still end up getting one. I definitely don’t blame my bartenders, but it is really irksome. I also get pretty bad junk food cravings when I’ve had a few drinks, ending up at the local drive-through or buying chips or soda in plastic bags and bottles. I am definitely not giving up on going to the bars, but I want to get more assertive about asking for drinks without straws and limit my post-bar taco runs.

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Evidence of an insatiable craving for junk food when I’ve had a few drinks.

5: Not being politically active

Spreading awareness about sustainability is good and all (I’ve had a number of friends tell me they’ve purchased items I’ve recommended here which I think is awesome) but our ability to impact the environment extends beyond bringing bags to the grocery store. Living in a port city, there are a number of environmental issues that could devastate the local ecosystem, and with local elections later this year I want to use my vote to support candidates that prioritize the environment. I was at an event called Green Drinks earlier this week and was impressed by all the activists in the room that are far more knowledgeable than I am about local issues and that are running for office, organizing protests, and donating to nonprofits with the shared vision for a healthier planet. I already support a nonprofit that I care deeply about, but as I spend less money on single-use products and eating out (as outlined in 3 and 4 above) I can use more of my budget to donate to candidates and agencies that have more influence than I do.

So there’s my dirty laundry, I’d love to hear from others about their own habits that aren’t earth-friendly (I’m sure I’m guilty of them too). The goal in a low-waste lifestyle isn’t perfection, but by being mindful of our actions we can minimize these habits to lessen our negative impact on the planet.

Sustainable Design

One of the things I’ve liked most about the transition from living in college dorms to apartments has been the opportunity to more fully develop my taste in interior decor. College housing was all about what was cheap and easy to move. I had to pack and unpack my belongings frequently. I lived in six different rooms in 4 years of school, which meant packing, unpacking, and moving everything each of those times. And honestly, a lot of times things just got trashed because it was cheaper to buy them all over again the next year. But now, because I move apartments as infrequently as possible, I have the luxury to really cultivate my space. The process has involved slowly collecting pieces  truly love. I’m not there yet, but I look forward to the day when all my of furniture has been purchased from antique shops and second-hand stores instead of buying them from big box stores like IKEA and Target.

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I love looking for furniture, books, and art that create a unique space that reflects my personal taste.

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