Zero Waste can be SO daunting. I admired all the people with their estheticly pleasing no-plastic lives and then took a look around my own house. O.m.G. Where did I even begin? Tossing away plastic was the opposite of zero waste (imo). I was just so confused and lost with no idea how to start. Eventually, I got it. Not without tons of stressed out moments for no good reason.
So, I created this easy, month by month, process for others to follow with some encouraging words. Each month, just make it your goal, the best you can. Baby steps are steps in the right direction to helping create better world. We, the ones who work so hard, are helping all the people of the world. Even if our efforts seem small, I won't tell my grandchildren that I didn't try.
Also! Do this at YOUR OWN PACE! It does NOT take a year to get all of these in check but if you want to go slow and take your time, do it. No rush! Let's begin!
My links below are provided from an affiliated source. If you choose to make a purchase using one of the links provided, I will receive a small commission via that sale. I posted these only to help you, trusting the product and company myself and with the best hopes that it would be a product that would help you.
Month One: Ditch plastic bags.
Did you notice I said this TWICE?! It's that important and that easy.
This is probably the hardest thing. Everything is wrapped in plastic! Every time you go to the store, plastic bags. Pick up some fruit? We are compelled to grab a plastic bag! Why... I always took the produce out of the plastic bags anyway! So just stop. No more. That's all. It's not even an option. Bring reusable shopping bags, reusable produce bags and try to avoid buying anything wrapped in plastic. It's just not available this month.
I know you will say 'But my favorite food is in plastic...' Fine. You don't have to never get it again, just not this month. Try it cold turkey. After this month, you will be prepared to either get the item or be over it. You can do this.
This does NOT mean you have to fork out tons of money on bags either. Buy the expensive burlap bags if you want. If you can't, don't stress. Zero waste is NOT about buying things. It's about not being wasteful. Any bag you can get your hands on. Even reusing plastic bags you have until you can buy the ones you want. Heck! I have just put my groceries in a cart and told the cashier to play basketball with my stuff, no bags please. It's not that bad and it's a whole lot better than wasting.
If there is anything you NEED that comes in plastic, search for a more earth friendly option. Can you get it in a paper bag? Cardboard? No packaging? If it's a need, get it and reuse or recycle it. The goal is to refuse as much plastic as we can.
Just imagine every single trip to the store you take. How many bags is that? Imagine EVERY trip you have taken or will take. Now, imagine EVERY HUMAN DOING THAT. Those bags will live LONGER THAN WE DO.
Not just plastic shopping bags but that's a great place to start! One-time-use plastic snack bags too! Just like above, I have a blog on VERY homemade fabric bags! It's been such a great asset in the Smart Pants lunches, I even use them! I'm the queen of jar lunches, I didn't think I would like these but LO! I do.
Month Two: Replace plastic containers.
This one was easy for me. Grabbed up a ton of stainless steel water bottles from the thrift shop (at .50cents a piece!) and slowly went from there. I donated what I didn't want to use anymore and used what I had. In reality, I had WAY too many dishes, containers and whatever else. Now, I hope someone else can use them until they pass them on. Stainless steel and glass mixing bowls, cups, straws. You name it. This was the fun and easy part. I save glass jars like they are going out of style and use them as storage containers and cups!
I never liked filling up plastic containers full of left overs. I hated those damn storage container lids, with a PASSION. This was a joy to watch those EXIT MY LIFE.
Now I store left overs in the original pan it was cooked in, with fabric wax wrap made with renewable, vegetable wax and fabric. Lunches are either in reusable lunch boxes, jars, reusable lunch bags or recycled brown paper bags.
Now, that being said, prescriptions and other necessary things that come in plastic HAVE TO BE USED. They are reusable, recyclable, and if you have no other option, you can donate them. Just be sure to remove your labels!
Also, just tossing plastic is not Zero Waste. Tossing things because they HAVE plastic, is not Zero Waste. If you are done with it, it no longer serves a purpose or brings you joy, then yes. Recycle it, donate it, reuse it, swap it with someone. So many options BEFORE you toss it just because it's not the right material.
Month Three: Replace paper products.
Again, another tough one. See? I alternate best I can for you! When you can, choose reusable items. Dry erase boards, electronic notes (email, texts, calendar, etc.) for all your writing needs. When all else fails, recycled products for the win. I have an artistic journal which really helps me with mental sorts. It's made of recycled paper, fits two years worth of weekly planning +tons of other pages and STILL room for more. I also plan to keep this forever, so I and the fam can look back at it.
As far as paper kitchen and bathroom products, STOP USING PAPER TOWELS. Wash cloths at Walmart come in packs of 24 for $8. If that's STILL too high, there are $1-$3 towels. That would make at least 8-12 wash cloths. Having been a cloth diaper momma, I know the value of ditching one time use in these areas. Even a days worth of cloth diapers didn't add too much laundry! Don't tell me reusable wash cloths would be 'too much'. I use maybe two a day when I clean, on average.
The bathroom, well, toilet paper is an obvious. Buying recycled is definitely a doable option. There are some who use washable toilet paper as well. Kinda the same idea as the cloth diapers and wash cloths, use and wash. If you are interested in that, we can explore. Pretty sure it's cut and dry (pun intended).
Also, go with paperless billing! We save so much money going paperless, as in our companies give us DISCOUNTS. Win. Also, get off the junk mail and sample listings!
Tree waste is at an all time high. This may not effect the trees in your back yard but the rain forest and other 'up for grab' areas are being destroyed daily. For what? A post-it note?
Month Four: Revamp Take-Out
Eating out is awesome. Who doesn't love a night off?! Only issue: Left overs. Some people take them home, some people just toss it. I always take home leftovers. If not for eating later, then the Smart Pups will eat it. I bring stainless steel and glass containers. Doesn't matter one bit to the staff, less work for them going and getting a box for us. I have had people ask why we brought containers and I would tell them I was practicing less wasteful living! They either love it or roll their eyes, get ready for those people... few and far between for me but I also avoid people like the plague. INFJ problems.
As for drive through... best you can do is ask for NO STRAWS or PLASTIC UTENSILS. Most of the other stuff is wasteful, sure, but it won't outlive us in a land fill. Compost cardboard, recycle. Avoid the plastic stuff. . Some cups are even styrofoam. Barf. Skip the drinks or be brave and ask if they will just fill your cup. Imagine how rushed they are, though. Maybe going inside and using your cup would be a bit easier on them. Don't be one of those demanding folks, imo that makes questions into commands and you into not nice. We are all just people!
Month Five: Making your own cleaning products.
Again, another easy one! There are so so so many recipes online for DIY cleaning products BUT know your stuff. Mixing vinegar and baking soda makes both inert. Dumping peroxide into anything makes it inert very quickly. Essential oils can be photosensitizing and can cause damage to people, pets and things. Know your stuff.
Here is my ride or ride cleaning product. I love it! It is concentrated, so this one recipe lasts me a YEAR and I use it for everything. Now THAT is zero waste. Phase out plastic spray bottles and switch to glass as they break. The sprayers will be plastic so you can always do what I do, glass jar and dump-clean. Really. It works, obviously. I don't always need a spray bottle. I have a wash cloth. I have cleanser. I cleanse. Ta-freaking-da. You also do not need expensive zero waste brushes right out of the gate either. Just stop buying new plastic and plastic based products. I use crochet scrubbers that I make plus stainless steel and copper metal scrubbers. That and a wash cloth is all you need to have a nice clean home.
There are tons of DIY laundry detergent as well. I just use washing soda, baking soda, two types of grated soap and vinegar or Kombucha as a fabric softener, with essential oils added in for scent. I brew my own Kombucha, so feel free to read up on those here as well! Kombucha is the new apple cider vinegar, y'all. I also use Kombucha in my linen/air freshener!
I use a glass nebulizing diffuser for my essential oils. I NEVER understood how essential oils can disintegrate plastic BUT almost all the diffusers are... you guessed it... plastic. Cool, hard pass for me. This helps me feel like the air is clean and smelling fresh with no added waxes or plug ins. Not to mention help moods in The Smart Pants home!
Month 6: Refuse Wasteful Items.
People will probably try to give you things. Things are nice. People are nice. This can be really difficult to tell someone that what they just gave you is something that you don't want/need it. Material things can begin to pile up! So you need to be proactive to not only save relationships (because surely, pointing out how their gift was horrid isn't going to keep people loving ya) but to keep the things you don't appreciate from being bought in your honor.
If it is around the holidays or your birthday, let the people around you know! No one knows unless you tell them and I don't know about you, but there are very few strangers giving me things on the daily. Most incoming wasteful gifts are from people I love with the best of intentions! I just let people know that if they HAVE to get me something, no plastic please. No extra wrap. Something I can USE Or experience! Experiences take up NO space and create memories!
If it is too late and the gift is staring at you, regift. This may be a bit on the sly side but you can't just toss it, that's wasteful! If you can't use it or don't love it, send it to someone who will. Another friend or donate it! Just because you don't enjoy it, doesn't mean someone else won't Treasure it. Also, anything that doesn't make you happy is just clutter.
Also, remember to GIVE zero Waste! It Can be elaborate or a simple DIY!
Month Seven: Buy less wasteful groceries.
This won't make people happy but meats and animal products are very wasteful, so much more than most know. This was the reason The Smart Guy came over to the V side. Of course for animal welfare as well but the waste is so astounding. Many documentaries explain it so much better than I can in a short blip so check some out. One day a week! That would save hundreds of gallons of water, resources and lives. That's just for one person being vegan for one day. Plus, There are vegan subs for EVERYTHING. I make a radical vegan bacon and lunch meat! I call them better-than-(insert food name here). If you can pick days of the week you shop vegan, do. It will make a huge difference just doing that. Thinking one day or a vegan option every so often won't matter is like thinking one person going Zero Waste doesn't matter. It does, so much for the environment and you.
As for all the other shopping needs, bulk bins, butcher counters, local sellers and farmers markets are fantastic! You can bring your own containers and if you talk to the employees BEFORE you fill your jars and bags (salsa, sauce and pickle jars all cleaned up work AMAZING), they will often help you subtract the weight of your things from the purchase price! Just be kind when you ask! Even if you do not want to be vegan, butchers counters are often eager to help!
Avoid buying things wrapped in plastic! Cardboard, paper, glass bottles. Those can be either reused, recycled or rot in a compost. Go for those! Of course, most zero wasters scoff at recycling but the main goal is to ease into no longer being dependent on plastic items. Not to scare you off with too much at once.
Buying less wasteful also means don't waste what you have. Food waste is crazy where I live. People have made documentaries about being able to live off the good food people just throw away! Literally throwing away their money, the resources used to grow that and something edible!
Month Eight: Reuse what you have.
This, I believe, is the ultimate zero waste. It's not about the esthetics of zero waste. It's not about tons fancy jars or brushes for cleaning. It's not about the most expensive reusable coffee cup! It's all about not being wasteful. It's that simple and just seems to get complicated. Some of my most treasured jars are upcycled. I do not care, they are amazing.
I understand, a great way to get people interested is in the esthetic and excitement about buying new things. Those new things, no matter how reusable they are, used resources to be created. The factories produce pollution. It's just not the right angle to push if we are truly explaining what it means to embrace a zero waste life. Buying zero waste is, of course, awesome but think about it before you toss or donate all you own. That plastic mixing bowl with a superficial crack that you use on the daily is some thing a thrift store would just toss.
Start by Reusing everything you can instead of tossing it. Using ugly towels to make wash cloths. Using jars that came free with food. Not tossing every plastic thing you own just for the correct 'look'. If it has a purpose, use it. There is nothing more wasteful than giving away or tossing something of use just because it's made of something you don't like. It's already existing. It's here. I understand many are worried about plastic touching food, and rightly so. There are OTHER ways to use it if that makes you uncomfortable.
This pressure to buy all new things can be so stressful and make going Zero Waste seem so impossible. Do not let the sales people push you. Don't let a relaxing, zen anything make you say 'When I have the money...I can be just like her.'. No. It doesn't take that to help the planet. Just replace things and get things at your own pace.
Month 9: Monitor Utilities.
High resource consumption is in the utilities we use. Electricity, water, petroleum, propane, natural gas and more. Those aren't just created from thin air. They either have to be sourced and collected or using of the formentioned to use as fuel to create it. That means pollution, labor (possibly unfair), and disturbing our environment. Once we destroy something, it's hard to get back. It's easier to go forward then backwards. What took hundreds or thousands of years to exist, gone in the snap to make room to keep up with the demands.
So, you see, it's incredibly important to use as little as possible and help our planet out. Keeping your appliances in clean, working order is a great way to keep them working at their best. Not to mention avoiding possible damages or hazards. Keeping your tires aired up to proper pressure, tune ups, oil changes and making sure your exhaust system isn't throwing codes or clogged will help reduce mileage in your vehicle, control emissions and prolong the life of your vehicle. Keeping your home at a less exhaustive tempurature when you are not home, making sure your home is properly winterized (which can help with summer bills as well), not leaving anything plugged in, being aware of water usage and leaks, begining a solar program can help tremendously.
Keeping your bills low and helping the planet. Darn us hippies for saving ourselves money.
Month 10: Supoort Zero Waste Cosmetic Companies.
I will not tell you to forget your skin care. Nope. As I said in this post:
Skin care is self care. Your skin is your largest organ. If one believes skin can absorb toxins from the environment around us, why wouldn't you do what you can to protect it and help it out? That's not vain, that's self care. We wouldn't feed our inner self just bread and expect it to work correctly, savvy?
I design almost all my own products BUT I have education in dermatological, naturopathic and homeopathic subjects. For someone who doesn't know where to start, always check with your doctor. No matter what anyone says. I even ask! It's always smart to get a second opinion!
What I do not make, I find sustainable companies. There are many but I have to insist on checking your labels or asking a trained dermatologist who really cares. These products span from makeup to sunscreens! Bottles and containers can be reused. I even ask my suppliers to send my bulk supplies with as little waste as possible. Granted, some of my things may get a bit more banged up but so far nothing bad has happened.
As for the shaving topic, see my post here.
I have started using my epilator again as well. It just saves me time in the long run (no shaving DAILY, I usually get a solid 6-8 weeks).
And feel free to browse my blog for similar posts on the subject, including a popular item I will never use and also common mistakes.
DIY What you feel comfortable doing, researching as much as you can. You do NOT want breakouts, clogged or damaged skin from a pore clogging ingredient, products that weren't properly preserved or food on your face growing it's own ecosystem. We are trying to save Earth, not start a new one.
Making your own products can be as simple or as intense as you, your skin care pro and your skin enjoy with no shame. It's not about how little care you give to your skin that makes you zero waste, it's how you work with what you got to make a real change.
If you love your own brands, simply go to TerraCycle to learn how to recycle your containers after you are done!
Teeth are another thing to be thinking about! We swap tooth brushes so often, may as well try out a vegan, wooden brush!
Shower things we use wash cloths, handmade scrubbers (mine are cotton yarn with some hemp) and DIY products for us. My hair is short so I have no issue with my homemade, PH balanced shampoo bars. Even in my longer hair days I used them. Imo, skip the baking soda. It is way different from the PH of our hair and a vinegar rinse would be hard pressed to fix that. Many sellers offer PH balanced shampoo bars and wouldn't mind shipping with less waste! Otherwise, you can recycle your bottles!
I personally gave up hair dye, says the girl who rocked teal hair for years. I was just sick of the upkeep. Over it. That doesn't even have anything to do with zero waste, I was just sick of doing it! I made my own hair dye with plant based stains, it was awesome but time consuming. I have a hair care post and I was so proud of my salon girl. Most salons buy in bulk, which means less waste. It's not zero waste but for goodness sakes, we are all just human. If you enjoy dying your hair, go for it. No judgement from this Smart Girl.
Aunt Flo come to visit? I loved reusable pads and the Luna cup! They worked so well, I actually *kinda* enjoyed my periods to experiment. I even made my own reusable pads!
Month 11: Grow your Own
This sounds so scary to some, I understand. I swear the love of gardening skipped a few generations in my family so I learnt some of what I could from those who knew. The rest? Through mistakes. Many, many mistakes.
Gardening can be taxing but so rewarding at the same time. Plants aren't evil and out to die on you. I don't believe in black thumbs. Plants thrive to survive, just need a bit of attention. Plants create fruit to spread seeds, they WANT their produce to be eaten and spread their seeds so the next generation lives on in the next growing season. Knowing that, you can stop worrying you will kill all the things. Just some care, planning and attention.
Starting simple and small is not as amazing as Pinterest worthy gardens but it can help you get into the groove. One or two plants to
begin. Easy, big producers like green beans, zucchini, tomatoes. Lavender absolutely hates attention or too much water. Chamomile and mints of all kinds are like weeds in my garden, even in containers they STILL spread! Something you love and know you will use research how to care for it. Getting into the habit of watering and weeding is important. Too many and a person may avoid it at all costs due to it being labor intensive or exhausting. Plus, this works for small spaces as well!
Grow as you feel comfortable. Many friends and family would love to get involved in a seed share with you! This is where you send seeds and they send you some! There are also tons of farm supply stores that sell bulk seeds and most seeds some in paper!
Imagine not having to buy veggies for dinner! Here's a blog on how to keep your garden going, for FREE.
Grow your own also means MAKE your own food! From sour dough starters to Kombucha! Check these out!
Month 12: Compost
There are steps to zero waste. Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rehome, replant and rot. Also to help you reach those goals: Use what you have, borrow, swap, thrift, make and buy.
Composting is letting some garbage to rot in a compost bin to be later used as garden fertilizer. There are so many resources online from kitchen scraps to trash and things you wouldn't even imagine. Depending on your areas zoning and regulations is the only real limit on what you can or can not compost. Cities tend to be very differing on what they will or will not allow, so be sure to check before you start. Local garden centers, community gardens and even gardening friends would more than likely love free compost! Ask them if you don't garden!
Remember some scraps can be regrown and reused! I bought leeks once and they have lived through several winters. I reuse pineapple and apple peels to flavor Kombucha! If I have scraps I know I will use but not at this moment, I'll freeze them until I need them! Generally, if I know I have something, I use it pretty quickly.
Also, do not throw any other compostable trash in the trash can! Hair, scraps from the garden and more can be healthily composed instead of throwing it in the trash. Anything we can do to create less waste, let's!
Zero Waste is such an amazing movement but there are still sales people, still competition, still so much going on that distracts and misinformation, even with the best of intentions. It is not about who lives on the least and how much better they are. It's about being real, as real and raw as it gets. Admitting we all make mistakes. Realizing we are either the problem or part of the solution. It is simply the goal of creating less waste as we live our lives.
Unrealistic or rushed goals will not inspire everyone. Quite the opposite, it may scare, annoy or stress others out. Being so far out of reach that to anyone living the 'normal' life would deem unrealistic or too much work. People may aspire to that but never take the first step for fear of failing or not being waste free enough. The only way to fail is to not take that first step.
Take that first step!
The Smart Girl in Pants
The Smart Girl in Pants