Easing into Less Waste
I hate the word “journey” as it applies to life events, but here we are. I feel like it’s pretty applicable, so I have to use it. But we’ve been on a going-more-natural, less-waste journey for the past year-ish. I’ve always had the urge to try it, but after watching some documentaries and just really opening my eyes to the climate crisis happening, I found my true motivation.
It kind of started with just wanting to make a few cleaner choices. With time and research, though, I’ve become incredibly passionate about the zero waste movement (I like referring to it as the low waste movement because let’s be real, zero waste is not attainable for me right now!). The state of our world can really overwhelm and depress me, so I love the idea that I can do something. It just makes me excited and eager to improve certain areas of our life.
I do want to note- I do not believe that me using a stainless steel straw is going to save the environment singlehandedly. But I do believe that me + the millions of other people doing it will cause change. I also truly think our society will wake up to the crisis eventually and this change will be the new standard. I can’t control what other people do, but if there’s something I’m able to do, I want to do it.
It had been on my mind to do this long before I started, but a discourager for me has always been cost. We live on a tight budget, and most of the time, greener and more natural alternatives are always more expensive. However, because most of the stuff lasts longer, I’ve been able to view it as an investment and realize it typically saves me money in the long run.
In order to make this change in our home, I knew it was going to take some time and patience. Over a full year in and we still aren’t even halfway where I want to be in terms of less waste. But we’re on our way, and we’re doing our best, which is about all I can ask.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an expert. Most of the time I feel like I’m not even part of this “movement” because we’ve done so little compared to some. But I’ve also done so much compared to some, so I’m excited to share how we did and are doing this transition to more natural products while creating less waste. I wanted to share some suggestions if you’re interested in reducing your waste!
Like I said, to make this happen for us, we have to go slow! This means I didn’t go buy all natural, green, low waste everything right away. When I run out of something, I replace it with a more natural/green option. For instance, I’d been wanting reusable, silicone ziplocs to replace plastic baggies for a long time. At the time, though, we had a whole box of plastic baggies. The whole purpose behind zero waste is sustainability. Throwing away a whole box of baggies is not sustainable. When we eventually ran out, I hopped on Amazon and finally ordered the reusable silicone ones. Same with dryer sheets. When we ran out, I replaced with the wool dryer balls. I hate wasting what we already have, and I find it way more sustainable to finish using what you have. I tend to be allll in when I start something new. This can make it a challenge to go slow, but it also fosters deeper commitment.
Start small! I have a ton of reusable shopping bags, but the only time I used to use them was Aldi. So my first step was being intentional with what I already had. I made it a goal to go a week without using any plastic bags, which meant remembering my reusable bags and taking them into every store with me. Something helpful with this was keeping some in my car at all times (more about this here), so when I leave my house and forget but get to the store and remember, I still have them with me! Once I made it a week, my goal was two weeks. It was really just getting into a new habit. Now it feels weird to go to a store without them, and I refuse plastic bags even if I forget mine. Anyway, point is, when I start reading about going greener, I got an Amazon and added #allofthethings to my list, but then I’d get overwhelmed and stop. So start small, with manageable things, until those became habit. Chances are, you already have small things like this in your home, so #free.
Let’s just be honest. Green and natural things tend to be more expensive. Rarely is a green alternative cheaper than its worse counterpart. This has been and continues to be one of the biggest obstacles when it comes to going fully green and natural. As a result, we really have to create room in our budget for it. This means I try really hard to not spend more than I have to at the grocery store. We try to keep it under $80, $90 on bigger trip. We try not to eat out a ton or buy much extra stuff. This gives us a tiny bit more margin to buy more natural products.
We only replace an item with its green/natural counterpart when it needs replaced. I mentioned this above because it helps me space out the purchases, but it also doesn’t hurt our budget quite as much. When it came time to replace our plastic baggies, I bought the reusable ones. While I would never spend $12 on plastic baggies, I was going to have to go spend $5 on them. I’d rather put that $5 towards a better option. At this point, I haven’t bought plastic baggies in at least 8 months. So my $12 purchase has actually saved me about $20 so far. Looking at this way can help it hurt your wallet a little less.
Ordering online or through a place like Thrive Market can also help you not look at similar but worse products. Because honestly, looking at a $12 product next to a $3 product can really make you start wondering if it’s actually worth it (it is, but it’s harder when you’re looking at a lower price right beside it).
And I’ll be honest. One of my future goals is to be able to buy things from small companies, zero waste packaging, all the cool things. I know Amazon is not the best company in the world. But again, those are always more expensive. I get why, but still not affordable. But for now, I’m able to find a lot of affordable, greener options that aren’t too bad compared to what we used to buy.
Take Stock of Where You Create the Most Waste
After we stopped using paper towels and paper products and alll the things, I still felt like we were creating a ton of waste. So I started really analyzing what areas of our life were creating the most waste. I very quickly realized it was food. Everything was wrapped and packaged and sealed. This had me start really thinking about ways that we could cut down on waste in food.
Enter- DIY’ing a lot of stuff. Listen, I am not betty homemaker. But I feel like it’s all a rabbit hole, like as soon as I started looking up ways to have less waste in food, I start realizing how bad processed food is for you. And it’s not like I didn’t know that before, it was just being put right in my face.
So I determined to make what I could. Granola bars we bought every week. All of them are individually wrapped, not to mention the box they come in that our county doesn’t recycle. So I hopped on Pinterest and within minutes, I had a recipe for homemade granola bars that took 5 minutes and used ingredients I already had. Same with gummies. Same with speciality breads (granted these take more than 5 minutes). I also started composting, which is for another post. We still have a looong way to go here, but start analyzing where you create the most waste, and research what you can do about it. Chances are it’ll be healthier and also save you money.
Focus on Sustainability
I feel like the less waste/going greener movement is super trendy. So I see people throwing out all their plasticware and buying glassware. Tossing out clothes to buy from small shops only. Ditching full products to make way for cleaner options.
And listen. I get it. I feel like once you know how to do better, you want to do better right away. And I totally get it when it comes to chemicals. But I want to focus on sustainability, which is getting as much use out of items for as long as possible. We still use plastic tubberware. When I find I need new tubberware, I do buy glass. But it’s not at all sustainable to go dump plastic in the landfill in the name of being eco-friendly. It makes no sense to throw your clothes away to get new small shop clothes- get the most use you can out of the items you have. That’s true sustainability (again, not relevant to items with chemicals).
People want the insta-worthy homes of all natural products in beautiful glass and neutral, wood items, which are fine goals. But when you throw sustainability out of the window to get it, it stops making sense to me. Zero waste kind of goes hand in hand with less consumerism, in my mind, so don’t buy into a new market of consumerism. Use what’s in your home, and replace it as you go.
Start With What You Have
Know what I use everyday? My Yeti coffee mug. Love that thing so much. Know what I buy a few times a week? Coffee. So I started taking my Yeti with me to the coffee shop and asking for my drink in there (did you know to-go coffee cups are not recyclable?! The inside coating makes them impossible to recycle.). Everyone has been accommodating, and some places give me a discount! This was completely free but has made a significant difference in creating waste when I go to a coffee shop. BONUS- keeps my coffee hot or cold forever. There are so many little things like this that you can implement in your life that are totally free and just require pre-planning. I’m really trying to cut soda out, but I also bring my cup with me if I know I’m going to be getting food to-go from anywhere and get a drink. Those places tend to give me a funnier look, but maybe I’m just inspiring them to thing a little different.
Also- reuse your glass! You don’t need to go buy brand new glassware for the beautiful glass pantry or to have glass to take to a bulk store. It’s a waste of money and resources. Chances are, you buy a lot that comes in glass containers. Clean them out, take off the label, and there ya go.
Find People With the Same Goals
This one is pretty important. Find people who share common goals. This is relatively easy these days thanks to the good ole internet. It’s easy to connect with like minded people and find inspiration, especially on Instagram. But I think it’s really important to have these people in your life as motivation and support. Most people don’t think about using less waste in your life, and many of them won’t even understand your desire to change anything. It can be hard to feel like you’re not the only one or the weird one or like your actions won’t matter. My personality is one that doesn’t really want to stand out. I don’t want to be different, and I’m aware that can be a bad thing. I’ve made leaps in trying not to care what people think about me, but it can be a lot easier to make some of these changes if you are with like-minded people.
Find Your Why
I’m a small business owner, and, as such, I hear this phrase way more than I’d like to. But I think it’s really important here, because this is your motivation. As much as I don’t like the word, this is a journey. It can be hard at times, it can be frustrating, it can feel overwhelming. If you don’t have family or friends who are supportive and understanding, it can feel pointless. So in those moments, what’s going to keep you going? What’s going to keep you working towards your lower waste goal? If it’s because it’s trendy and pretty and you feel like you should…try to dig a little deeper. Is it because you’re truly bothered by the environmental crisis? Is it to teach habits to your kids? Is it to push back against our consumerist culture? Whatever it is, remember it and come back to it often.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
I was about a week into trying to reduce our waste when I started following accounts like Lauren Singer who have been completely zero waste for 8+ years. And I started wanting to change everything and anything and feeling like I was doing nothing. I hate to say a cliche, I truly do. But everyone starts somewhere. Buy those reusable baggies. Go to the farmers market for fresh, local, plastic-free produce. Use a reusable bag. However little and seemingly insignificant- just start. It creates habits, and it snowballs. I still feel like we have done nothing. But when I sit back and actually take stock of our home- we’ve done so much. Stay in your lane. Let other people inspire you and give you ideas. But the minute you start comparing, unfollow and let them live their life. Commit to your own journey, and just do the thing.
Don’t Judge Others
Once you start looking into zero waste, you see waste EVERYWHERE. I mean, everywhere. Don’t judge other people. I know this one is like, meh. But I don’t like to thing of myself as a judgy person, and I had a hard time with this one. Like I was super aware all of a sudden, and I expected everyone else to be, too. Being judgy and preachy and annoying won’t make anyone want to learn more. I’m not saying don’t share and don’t be passionate, but don’t be in-your-face. Not gunna lie, a huge reason I’ve never thought about becoming a vegan is because of all the preachy vegans who call you a murderer. Educate, share, converse with people- but people have to have their own realizations, discover their own why, before they’ll take a journey that challenges their lifestyle. Don’t judge them for that, because someone else was probably waiting for you to wake up, too.
Trying to reduce your waste can be overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be hard. Just start. (It’s really hard to not just have a post of cliches right now.) Any little thing you do is helpful, for the environment and your mindset. It starts with the smallest action, and that’ll motivate you to keep it up!
Is there anything you’ve done that’s made it easier to get into going low waste?!