Zero Waste Goals for 2018

Like most people, as the year draws to a close I am reflecting on 2017 and thinking of the things I’d like to change and accomplish in the coming year. Some of my goals for 2018 are personal, others are professional, but most of them are geared specifically towards my zero waste lifestyle. I want to delve even deeper into the zero waste lifestyle next year, here’s how I plan to do so:

1: No Buy January

I started 2017 off with dry January, not because I was concerned about my drinking, I just wanted to see what it was like. (It wasn’t that remarkable and was actually pretty easy). In 2018, I’m going to kick off the year by putting all unnecessary shopping on hold for a month. I plan to only buy groceries, replacements for any personal care items (like toothpaste) I may use up, and experiences (like drinks out with friends). While I’ve greatly reduced my consumerist tendencies since starting this blog, I can definitely do better. I hope that by giving up shopping for a month it will be easier to give it up more regularly throughout the year.

2: Get My Act Together and Compost

At this point, food waste is probably my largest source of trash. I feel particularly guilty when I throw out food because in addition to the waste of money and resources to buy food I throw out, I also work for a nonprofit related to food security. I’ve been hesitant to dive into composting because I’m still not certain I’ve found the best method for apartment composting. I’m not great at DIY projects so making my own worm bin is not a great idea, but I hate the idea of paying for a worm bin if it isn’t going to work for me. Tacoma offers curbside food/yard waste pick-up, but I’m not certain that this is even available to me since I live in an apartment. In the new year, I plan to call my apartment manager to see if this is something that can be made available to everyone in my building.

3: Cook More

The neighborhood I live in has great restaurants but no grocery store, so I end up eating out way more often than I should. This is a habit that is bad for my health, my wallet, and the environment. In the new year, I want to go grocery shopping more regularly, use the food I buy before it goes bad, and compost the scraps. Since I eat a (mostly) vegetarian diet, composting and cooking more are easy ways to reduce my waste. I got a nice knife set for Christmas, so I’m hoping that this will be the catalyst I need to cook meals for myself like a responsible adult.

I think the reason people like Lauren Singer and Bea Johnson have made such waves in the zero waste community and beyond is that they have visual representations of how little trash they produce. Going down to a mason jar of trash isn’t necessarily a goal of mine, but I think doing a trash inventory is a great way for me to see just how wasteful I am (and where I can make changes). Because I throw things away at work, home, and out and about in my daily life, it is easy to lose track of just how much I am throwing away. Once I get my compost situation figured out I want to do some trash inventories where I hold onto everything I need to throw away over the course of a week and see where I can make improvements.

5: Zero Waste Meet-Ups

One of my favorite things about going zero waste has been connecting with the zero waste community online. I haven’t met any current zero waste people in Tacoma, but there is a group up in Seattle that I would very much like to meet up with. I am fortunate to have very supportive friends and family that don’t question my zero waste lifestyle, but I would love to connect with other people that are as committed (if not more committed) than I am to the zero waste lifestyle.

Of course, as I work on all of these goals I will be sure to write about how they go. 2018 will be my first full calendar year in the zero waste community. I am excited to take my zero waste lifestyle further and to continue to document my experience here. Do you have any goals for reducing your waste in 2018? If so, please comment below.

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Reflections on going zero waste

I had originally planned to post a review about my new safety razor today, but being home for the holidays has gotten me into the sentimental spirit and so instead I thought I’d reflect a bit on the last few months.

When I started living a zero waste life and writing this blog, I expected that my life would be more difficult. I expected things to take more work, that I would be giving up things that I loved, and that going zero waste would feel like a chore (albeit a worthwhile chore). I didn’t expect that living a zero waste life would bring me so much joy and radically change my views of consumerism and make it easy for me to give up things I once held dear. I certainly didn’t expect to connect with a community of thoughtful and passionate people online nor did I think my own community would be as supportive of my new lifestyle. The fact that friends go out of their way to tell me that they read my blog or have made changes in their own life means more to me than I think any of them realize. Growing up, I wanted to be an author – to change people’s lives the way writers changed mine by telling fantastical stories that would leave people in awe. Now, my dreams of writing the next big novel have gone away, but I am thankful to have found an outlet that allows me to use my voice in a meaningful way.

It’s Christmas Eve today, the day my family exchanges presents. Looking at the presents under the tree, I am grateful to my parents who are encouraging my zero waste life by wrapping my presents in reusable tote bags and boxes so that I don’t have to generate waste. My family has always indulged my interests (from the time I started a Fair Trade club in high school to when I briefly considered becoming a midwife), but it is particularly exciting to have a passion that they can be included in and can embrace as well.

I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I started my zero waste lifestyle. But looking back on these few short months, I am amazed by how much it has changed me. I no longer feel a rush when I step into Target or the mall to look for material goods that will bring me happiness. Every day is an opportunity to live with intention and think of how my actions can impact the world around me. And by being a little (or a lot) self-indulgent by writing about my experiences, I get to share this journey with friends and people I’ve never met. I hope that all of you have something that gives you these same feelings and that you are able to share that same passion and joy with the people around you. Thank you for being on this journey with me, it’s pretty much the best Christmas present ever.

5 Things I No Longer Buy/Use

A lot of my zero waste posts have focused on things to buy to make a zero waste lifestyle easier, the main R of the zero waste life is to refuse, meaning giving up buying things. Even if you aren’t ready to fully embrace the zero waste lifestyle, just a few simple changes in habit can be a meaningful way to reduce waste and save money. Here are some things I no longer buy.

1: Coffee in disposable cups

I don’t have a 100% perfect track record for this, but I am definitely better than I was before. This change is all about changing how I think and talk about wants versus needs. As much as I love coffee, it is definitely a luxury and not a necessity so if I have to take my coffee to go, I either use a reusable mug or don’t get it at all. It also helps to learn which coffee shops in your area are more zero waste friendly than others. For instance, even if you bring in your own mug at Starbucks, I’ve found they use a coffee sleeve to write down your drink order while local coffee shops usually have mugs to use in house and don’t waste paper by writing down your order. I’ve even been able to get my favorite local shop to put pastries in a cloth sack I have rather than using a paper bag.

I also don’t use the Keurig in my office. While Keurig machines come with pods that you can put your own grounds in, how often do people actually use these. As a big coffee drinker, there were days when I used 3 K-Cups in one day, definitely not zero waste. So ditch the Keurig at home and encourage your office to embrace a less wasteful way to caffeinate the team.

2: Disposable makeup wipes

Makeup removal wipes are both wasteful and, in my experience, not particularly effective. While these wipes are marketed as an easy way to take off makeup, I’ve always found that I needed to wash my face after using them due to the product they left behind on my face. So not only are these products designed to go into the trash, they don’t even facilitate streamlining the toiletries I use each day. I now have a small stash of reusable cotton rounds and just use a little bit of coconut oil (that I already had on hand) if my face soap isn’t doing the trick. If you need any reminder of how wasteful these things are, just watch an empties video produced by any beauty blogger on YouTube and you’re sure to see at least 3 packs of makeup wipes going into the trash.

An easy, zero waste way to remove makeup.

3: Ziploc Bags and Saran Wrap

I’m still not 100% plastic free (mostly because I haven’t kicked the habit of ordering takeout), but I have moved away from using single-use plastic in my kitchen. Buying reusable alternatives to Saran Wrap and Ziploc bags is a great example of how spending a little bit more money upfront will actually save you money in the long run while reducing your carbon footprint. I bought a multipack of Blue Avocado reusable storage bags back in April, before my zero waste journey was even official, and haven’t bought Ziploc bags since. A few of my bags have torn at the seams (but they are still 100% sealable) and I have since seen cloth re-sealable pouches that are even more eco-friendly, but overall I am really happy with the swap.

Food storage is probably one of the easiest zero waste swaps to make.

I own two zero waste options to use in lieu of Saran Wrap. My first purchase was CoverBlubber food covers that can stretch over food directly (like a cut lemon) or cover a bowl. I like these, but they are also not the most convenient since they work best with round things. On my trip home to Sacramento last month, I finally picked up a pack of Bees Wrap. These wraps are covered with beeswax that makes the cloth malleable when it warms in your hands but maintains the shape of whatever it is wrapped around once it cools down. Bees Wrap is sold in a variety of sizes so you can cover anything from a sandwich to a bowl. Bees Wrap also provides a bit of a nostalgic factor for me, reminding me of making beeswax candles as a kid.

4: DVDs

When I moved into the dorms freshman year, I had the perfect ploy to make friends with the people on my floor – have the best nail polish and DVD collection around. Eventually, I found myself buying DVDs for movies I hadn’t even seen just because they were cheap. My DVD collection outgrew multiple DVD cases but went mostly ignored once I jumped on the Netflix bandwagon. As I’ve been embracing a zero waste life, I have been donating a lot of my DVDs and have stopped adding new DVDs to my collection (with the exception of season 3 of The Nanny which is not available on any streaming platform for some strange reason). Now, the next time I move I will have fewer things to lug from one apartment to the next when most of my TV watching consists of binging on The West Wing on Netflix.

5: New Clothing

Fast fashion is probably the best example of how marketing is used to convince us that we need things that were made with the intention of going in the trash. In October, I remember scouring the mall for a dress for a work event because I was still holding on to the belief that I couldn’t wear the same dress to our auction two years in a row. I nearly spent $80 on a dress I only kind of liked that I would really only ever be able to wear to work events. Fortunately, I talked myself out of that purchase.

Ethical fashion is a popular trend at the moment, with designers making clothing out of fabric scraps or being transparent about the working conditions of factory workers. While I love these retailers in theory, my budget cannot justify the high prices associated with ethical clothing, which is where second-hand clothing comes in. Tacoma has plenty thrift stores ranging from Goodwill to more upscale consignment shops that make it easy to find good second-hand clothing. I’ve also become a big fan of ThredUp, an online second-hand store that gives you the online shopping experience without buying brand new items. If you have a specific event coming up and feel the need to add something to your wardrobe, just start your search a little bit earlier and follow social media pages for local thrift stores since they frequently post new additions to their inventory. Or, like me, you could finally accept that no one is really paying attention to how frequently you wear a specific outfit to formal occasions and wear something you love over and over again.

 

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.

 

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.

direct mail.png
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!

Product Review: Uncle Harry’s Brushing Soap

At this point, I’ve tried a few different toothpaste products in the effort to maintain good oral hygiene without throwing plastic tubes of conventional toothpaste. I made my own (which was no good) and also tried the Tooth Fairy tooth powder from LUSH. I didn’t love Tooth Fairy because it was a bit messy to use and didn’t last long enough to be worth the $9.95 price tag. So, on a recent trip to Whole Foods, I picked up the Uncle Harry’s Brushing Soap.

The bottle declares, “wash your mouth out with soap – literally!” True to the product description, the first ingredient in this brushing soap is Castile soap. Because of the Castile soap, the product does suds up quite well (which makes it feel like it works better than my DIY toothpaste, even though I’m sure it’s just the placebo effect).

 

I don’t know who Uncle Harry is, but he makes a good toothpaste.

The Brushing Soap comes in a glass jar (yay!) with a small plastic lid (a bit of a bummer but at better than a tube at least). I’ve repurposed a small plastic cosmetics spatula to scoop the soap onto my bamboo toothbrush, but the bottle says the antiseptic properties of the essential oils make it hygienic to dip your brush directly into the bottle.

 

I think my jar will last quite a long time, so at $6 a jar, I feel pretty good about my purchase. I might try adding some cinnamon essential oil to cut the soap taste, but other than that I’m really enjoying the product. UPDATE: I put a few drops of cinnamon oil on my toothbrush and basically burned my mouth. Probably best if dropped directly into jar then stirred to combine.

Pros: Made in Washington (so local to me), pretty sustainable packaging, feels effective, only need a little at a time, and leaves my mouth feeling clean.
Cons: Tastes like soap.

P.S. Uncle Harry’s has a 30% discount code on their website right now so if you want to try Tooth Soap, or any one of their other products, now is a great time to buy.