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.

 

Advertisements

Zero Waste in Sacramento

This week, I returned to my hometown of Sacramento, California for the Thanksgiving holiday and a much-needed break from work. I’ve been enjoying the opportunity to walk outside without a jacket (I forgot places could be sunny and warm in November) and catch up with friends and family members. I also saw Lady Bird, an incredible film made by a Sacramentan, filmed in Sacramento, about growing up in Sacramento that I would highly recommend.

This was my first trip since starting to live zero waste. In addition to the typical clothes and electronics, I packed some zero waste essentials (cloth napkin, cutlery, water bottle, thermos, and Baggu) so that I could minimize my waste on the trip. All of these supplies have been extremely helpful at keeping my waste down, particularly the coffee mug since my mom and I like to go on walks in the morning that usually involve swinging by a coffee shop.

As much as I love Tacoma, my time in Sacramento has made me realize how much easier it would be to live zero waste in California. My drink of choice is a gin and tonic, and every single time I have ordered a drink from a bar in Sacramento it has come sans straw. I don’t know if the bartenders in California are more used to people requesting drinks without a straw or if I just got lucky, but hopefully, more bars will be as good about going strawless in the future.

One of the highlights of my zero waste trip was visiting the new Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. I stopped by to see what their zero waste offerings are and (if you watched my Instagram stories) you already know that I found everything a zero waster would need, from the usuals (bulk grains, glass straws, and Bee’s Wrap) to some of the harder to find goods like bulk shampoo and conditioner, olive oil, laundry detergent, and dish soap. I didn’t have any jars on hand, but luckily they had plenty for sale so I jumped at the opportunity to buy bulk conditioner. The Tacoma Co-op shut down last year, but I already submitted a suggestion urging them to stock a similar selection of bulk goods when they re-open in 2018.

I never thought I would be so excited about conditioner, but finding zero waste conditioner has been surprisingly difficult!

I did a bit of second-hand shopping in town. First I went to Article Consignment Boutique and picked up some practically new J. Crew shirts that will be great for work (and successfully avoided purchasing another Dooney & Bourke bag). I also visited the Thrift Town featured in Lady Bird and purchased a sweater for $1.07 (including tax). I liked the Thrift Town, but it also made me excited to get back to Tacoma so I can visit some of my favorite places on 6th Ave.

One of my main topic of conversations with many of my friends and family members was zero waste living. I’ve received mostly positive support, though one family member did accuse me of being a Scrooge when I told everyone that I would prefer any Christmas presents be wrapped in reusable bags, paper grocery bags, or newspaper instead of Christmas wrapping paper. I don’t think that any of my friends or family members are considering embracing a zero waste life, but it has been encouraging to hear that people are making small changes in their life because of what I write about here. It’s why I think the Zero Waste movement is so powerful, not only are we reducing our trash by embracing a more extreme lifestyle, but every time we influence people to forgo a straw or bring their own bag, we are helping to make the world a more sustainable place.

New personal care products to test out so I can stock up on them when I’m back in December if I end up liking them.

It has been great being back in Sacramento. Much like Lady Bird, in my adulthood, I am realizing what a special place Sacramento is and that it really is a great town to grow up in. I have a couple of trips I would like to make in 2018, and I look forward to seeing what the world of zero waste looks like outside of the Pacific Northwest.

 

Zero Waste Gift Guide Pt. 2

Black Friday is in two days, which means the season of wasteful giving is upon us. I’m in my hometown of Sacramento right now and have already used the trip as an opportunity to talk with my parents about celebrating the holidays in a way that allows me to stay true to my new lifestyle. We’ll still be exchanging presents, but I am hoping to do so more thoughtfully. I already shared my first five tips, but here are 5 more in case you’re still looking for some gift ideas.

1: Etsy 

Etsy is a great place to find jewelry, clothing, makeup and more made by people around the world. One of my favorite things about Etsy is that you can narrow your search to shops that are in your area, meaning you can support small businesses in your own community while reducing shipping. By visiting an Etsy shop, like the one run by my coworker, you can be assured that the gift you are giving is unique and supports the creative passions of others.

2: Netflix/Spotify/Hulu/Amazon Prime

Approximately three times a year I tell myself I’m going to cancel my digital subscription services so that I can save money and waste less time watching TV, but then they make shows like Stranger Things and The Handmaid’s Tale, which convince me to pay for the service for another month. Having so many TV shows and movies at my disposal has also allowed me to buy fewer DVDs because I can generally find what I want to watch online. It may not be the biggest package under the tree, but who doesn’t want to save money while watching Parks and Recreation for three solid hours?

3: Anything from BuyMeOnce

In my Zero Waste research, I’ve learned about the website BuyMeOnce, a site that features Zero Waste tips and shopping guides. Going Zero Waste doesn’t mean you can stop buying things completely, but buying things that are well-made and will last a lifetime(or that come with an offer for aftercare from the manufacturer) can reduce the number of things that we send to the landfill. These might not be the best options for a shopper on a budget, but you can also use it as a guide for something to save up for that will be a quality investment.

4: A Zero Waste starter kit

So this may be something you want to bring up with the giftee before you do your shopping, but for the right person, this is the perfect gift to bring them into the Zero Waste fold. Put together a few of your favorite zero waste things (I won’t list mine here so as not to spoil the surprise for one of my favorite readers) and tell them how you like to use the item. Not only do you get to share something that matters to you, you’ll also probably end up saving them a lot of money.

 

Guilt your loved ones into going Zero Waste with their very own copy of Zero Waste Home


5: Buy gifts for someone else

 

One of my favorite holiday centered childhood memories is participating in something called ToyBox with my family’s church. Each year, we would buy toys and set up a one-day toyshop in an underserved community. Now, I participate in my local YWCA’s holiday gift center and buy presents for families living in their shelter. Now that I am in a position where I can meet my own basic needs, it feels good to be able to make the holidays a little bit better for others. It also gives me an excuse to buy things from big box stores without a sense of guilt. If your family is in a position where your needs are met and you can’t think of anything you actually want to ask for, why not use that as an opportunity to buy gifts for others (or make a donation to your favorite nonprofit)?

Once all your gifts are purchased, don’t forget to wrap them sustainably (brown paper, reusable gift bags, etc.). This year, I’ve also told my parents to pass on the stocking since that’s usually full of plastic-wrapped candies and other filler items I don’t really need. Now that I’ve been able to talk about the holidays with my parents, I feel confident that I’ll be able to celebrate the holidays without all the waste. What’s on your Zero Waste wish-list this holiday season?

Zero Waste Gift Guide Pt. 1

While our holiday traditions may differ between religions, cultures, and countries, one common factor for most of us, is gift giving. Giving gifts can be stressful, expensive, and extremely wasteful. But it is also a way to show people we care about them, especially for people who’s love language is gift giving. The holidays are a great time to talk about zero waste with your loved ones, tell them you’d rather not receive wasteful items or plastic and instead give them ideas of things that you would be grateful to receive without guilt. I’ve come up with 10 things (or categories of things) that you can give your loved ones without straying too far from your zero waste values.

1: Shop at nonprofit holiday events 

Many nonprofit organizations rely on the holiday season for the majority of their annual fundraising, which means a lot of them hold events to sell goods and raise funds. Look at events hosted by nonprofits in your area and stock up on presents that benefit a great cause. Empty Bowls is a charitable event hosted by nonprofits around the world (including the one I work at). While each event is different, the general structure involves purchasing a bowl and receiving a bowl of soup. You could also look for Holiday Markets, like the one hosted by my local YWCA, where you buy directly from local artists but a portion of the proceeds benefit the nonprofit.

2: Quality time

Now that I live far away from home, I particularly appreciate the time I get to spend with my parents and childhood friends. These gifts could range from buying plane tickets for someone, cooking them a nice dinner, concert tickets, or a class. If you’re having trouble coming up with an idea, check sites like Groupon to see if there are any classes you could take together (or to get a good deal on tickets for venues in your town). You could even do a throwback to DIY gifts from childhood and make a coupon book of things to do together, like a dinner out, a movie of their choice or other activities they enjoy. As a kid, I equated the quality of my Christmas presents with the number of boxes under the tree. But now, I would rather get to do something meaningful with someone.

3: Gently used items for their favorite activities 

Ok, so buying a used item for someone could definitely offend some people, but in so many cases gently used items are just as good as the stuff you can get brand new. Ever since I got my record player, my dad has been sending me used records to add to my collection. It is meaningful to me because I know that he is putting time into considering his favorite records and sharing them with me. Now, when I see those records I think of my dad and the conversations we’ve had about music over the years. If there is a chef or baker in your life, check your local thrift or consignment shop for vintage Pyrex mixing bowls or Fiestaware. Because vintage products were built to last (unlike most of the things you’d find at Target today), you can find a present that the recipient can use for years and that will be a unique addition to their home.

 

Some of the used records my dad has gifted me. They’re not only great because I get to enjoy the music and bond with my dad over music we both love.

 

4: Practical items they would not buy themselves 

Now that I’ve moved out and moved in and out of a few apartments, I appreciate all of the cooking gadgets and home goods that my parents have available in their home. Like many of us, moving into my current apartment meant a trip to IKEA where I bought the cheapest mixing bowls, knives, and measuring cups that they had available. All of these things still function, but it is pretty obvious that I am using a $7 knife set. Giving someone a quality knife set, bag for work, or nice coat is a great way to treat them to something they may not treat themselves to but will use more than a DVD.

5: Consumables

Treat someone to things like a nice bottle of wine or their favorite liquor, or coffee beans from your favorite roaster. This type of gift would be particularly appropriate for any minimalists in your life as it doesn’t leave them with an item they may not want to add to their home. Pinterest is full of recipes for soup and baked goods in a jar, just layer the dry ingredients in a mason jar (packaging zero wasters will love to receive). Or give them the mixings for their favorite cocktail with some thrifted bar cart accessories (a cool cocktail shaker, strainer, and bar spoon that they can use for a special occasion.

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 Pet Peeves

I think that when you are a part of a group or movement, it is just as important to be aware of its shortcomings as it is to celebrate its greatness. Through my experience in the zero-waste community, I have noticed a few things that are mildly irritating and one thing that has been gnawing at me that I think is a bigger problem in the zero waste community. None of these comments are meant to insult any particular person, instead, I think we could all do a little bit better to make our community more scientific and more inclusive.

1: The term “Zero Waste”

I use the term zero waste because it connects me with a larger community, but the reality is that none of us can ever be zero waste. Even if I managed to produce just one jar of trash per year, there would be all sorts of waste I’ve generated that I am able to ignore, such as food waste at restaurants I eat at. The term zero waste is splashy and definitely easier to say than “living intentionally so as to generate less waste by changing personal consumption habits.” It’s easy to feel a bit of imposter syndrome in this community, every time I eat an individually wrapped candy bar at work I think “Does this mean I’m not zero waste?” The answer is yes, and no. I’ll never be zero waste, but because I am changing my personal consumption habits to produce less waste I am a part of this community.

2: Natural Vs. Chemicals

In case you didn’t know, literally everything is made up of chemicals. But watching a lot of zero waste videos, you would think that all chemicals are toxic and going to kill us. Zero wasters to go on an on about cleaning products that “don’t have chemicals in them.” I know what they mean; they are talking about synthetic chemicals that are derided by alternative cultures. But why is natural by default good and synthetic bad? Natural has become a marketing tool exploited by corporations knowing that yuppies like me will fall for the trick, but the term natural is not regulated so it means nothing. Sure, some synthetic chemicals are toxic for us and should not be used, but natural chemicals can be toxic too.

This brings me to my absolute biggest pet peeve in this category, the statement “so many chemicals I can’t pronounce.” Here’s the thing, your ignorance does not make something good or bad. I’m sure that I could not pronounce or recognize half of the chemicals in my father’s chemotherapy treatment, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t use them. In an episode of Pen & Teller: Bullshit!, well-intentioned attendees of a “World Fest” signed a petition to ban water, when an actress told them all the bad things dihyrdrogen monoxide is involved with. As a member of the zero-waste community, I end up embracing what we consider “natural” products because they are often easier to DIY or get package free. I can get vinegar for cleaning solutions from a bulk shop and go package-free, I have yet to find package-free Tide. Want to avoid toxic chemicals? Great, do some research, but don’t just assume every chemical you don’t recognize is bad for you.

3: Privilege

The online zero waste community is white, really white. And most of those people are white, middle or upper middle class people that joined the zero waste community after an ah-ha moment that their trips, things, or huge homes were not making them happier. I ran into a friend the other day and we talked about representation in the zero waste community and I could not think of a single POC zero waster that I follow online (with the exception of a few sustainable-fashion bloggers). I went home and Googled “zero waste POC” and found this great post from 2014 that speaks to the whiteness in the zero waste community.

There is a lot of privilege with the zero waste community. It may seem counterintuitive to think of living with less as being a sign of privilege, but just take a look at the tips and tricks zero wasters like to recommend. The first is almost always a reusable coffee cup for the ubiquitous trip to the coffee shop. This assumes that everyone is already buying coffee all the time, when coffee, is in reality, a luxury. It’s like those annoying budgeting videos that tell you to just stop buying a $5 latte every day and you’ll save $1,825 a year, it’s not exactly helpful for the person that can’t afford to spend $5 on coffee in the first place. I have yet to see a zero waste post about living zero waste under the poverty line, because when your main priority is just to get by living zero waste really is a luxury.

I’ve talked before about living in a food desert and the way that it can be challenging to reduce waste and eat fresh fruits and vegetables when I don’t have a car and the closest grocery store is a mile away. Lately, I have been borrowing my roommate’s car to go to Whole Foods to shop the bulk bins, but the Whole Foods is almost 4 miles and two bus routes away from me, this would not be a realistic option sans car. My neighborhood has become even trickier to live in as a vegetarian, not that the cheapest and closest options (fast food) are pretty much off the table. So many of the “tricks” that I see, and contribute too, are inaccessible to people that are poor, lack adequate transportation, or do not have the time to cook meals from scratch.

Then, of course, there is the trend of shopping second-hand. I absolutely believe that shopping second-hand is better than buying new since it extends the life-cycle of a product that is already in the waste stream. The part that makes me uneasy however is how this becomes almost a fetishization of being poor. People have been buying used clothes for years, not because it was trendy or environmentally friendly, but because they had no other option. I don’t think this means we have to stop shopping second-hand, there is so much excess clothing in the United States that it’s not like you walk into a thrift shop and they only have one pair of jeans and two sweaters. Buying a pair of jeans at Goodwill does not mean that a person with less than myself will not be able to find jeans (though if all of us changed our consumption habits this could definitely be the case). So keep shopping second-hand, but don’t act like you are the first person to do so.

I really do love being a part of the zero waste community, but we can always be better. Do you have any zero waste pet peeves? If so, I’d love to hear them!

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?