Sustainable living doesn’t come in one shape or color. There isn’t one way to “be sustainable.” I personally have chosen to live a zero waste life. The term zero waste seems incredibly daunting and pretty much improbable, but it’s easily attainable. The first step in understanding a zero waste lifestyle is to accept that the title doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t allowed to create trash. For instance, the bulk beans that I’m buying at the super market had to come in some sort of container, and who’s to say that container is reusable. Am I allowed to buy those bulk beans with all my containers if those beans did in fact come in a paper bag that was thrown in the trash? YES. Being sustainable and more importantly, zero waste, is all about the bigger picture and understanding your personal impact on the volume at the landfills.
Zero waste audit
The biggest lifestyle change I started with was being aware of every purchase I made and what I currently had in my house. Think about it, I know you have that one canned food item in the back of the cabinet that you’re not too sure if it’s even edible at this point. I went through my house and took a physical or mental inventory of everything that would potentially end up in the landfill. Before I went on a zero waste adventure, I tried to go through everything in the house. I felt there was no point in starting a clean lifestyle if that one can of garbanzo beans was still staring at me from the back of the pantry cabinet.
After I had a rough idea of everything I had in my house, I kept track of my trash for a week. I wanted to know what I was throwing into the landfill on a regular basis. For me, it was mostly Starbucks cups, plastic from anything I bought at the supermarket, and food scraps.
Food scraps were the easiest to address with this solution – compost! I have literally killed a cactus before, so to say I have a black thumb would be an understatement. When it came to compost I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep everything perfectly in order to create moist soil for plant life. Also, seeing as I have no garden and don’t plan on getting one any time soon, I didn’t know what I would do with the compost after I was done with it.
I luckily found a local Nashville company that picks up your food scraps once a week for a small monthly fee. I love it so so much. They provided an eight-gallon paint bucket that I put all my food scraps in and keep outside to avoid any smell or ants inside the house. I found this amazing blessing just by googling what I needed. So quick and easy and it diminished my trash by at least half. By the way, if you are of the garden variety there are so many vegetables and fruits I didn’t know you could grow at home from the original produce. The most popular among my friends is definitely romaine lettuce and celery.
The grocery store plastic and trash was my next hurdle. How in the world was I going to be able to eat real food, no offense kale salad with no dressing, without creating any trash?
Before going zero waste, most of my meals were brought to life by a microwave. I was extremely nervous to have to make meals from scratch, myself. YouTube was a great source of information on beginning steps of how to shop zero waste. The first part of my grocery mission was to stay on the outside of the store. Almost all the processed and packaged food is on the shelves on the inside of the store, and the fresh produce, deli, and bakery are all along the rim of the store.
But speaking of bread and deli meats and cheeses, where do I put them if I purchase them without trash? In my own container. Yes, I know it sounds weird, but its super normal and I’ve yet to receive a bad reaction to asking people to use my containers. If anything people ask questions about it or want to thank me for saving a tree. Shout-out to trees.
Grocery shopping is definitely more of an event when you go zero waste. I rarely can stop by real quick to pick up a few things without my bags or containers. I also can’t tell you how many times I made a shopping list on my phone, wrote down all the tares for the containers, and wound up in the parking lot of Kroger without any bags or containers. But after a while it became second nature and I’m proud to say I now only forget stuff on a rare occasion. Proud moment.
At this point in my journey I am creating no food waste, thanks to my compost bucket, and bringing in no trash from the grocery store. To say my trash can was light would be an understatement. The main obstacle left was impulse purchases, like my beloved Starbucks. I now always have a mason jar on my person, so if I do drive by Starbucks and accidentally end up in the drive-thru, and accidentally order an overpriced yet delicious matcha latte, I still don’t create any trash.
A lot of my friends are confused by the fact of ordering Starbucks, or any other coffee or tea for that matter, if it’s not a cup from the actual company. How do I know what size to order and how does the employee know how to make my beverage in my jar? My mason jar is a 12oz mason jar, which is equivalent to a tall Starbucks size. If I just tell the barista I want a tall latte, but I have my own jar – it’s super simple. Besides not creating waste, I also love the fact that it forces me to get a small size because my waist line and my wallet were never appreciative of a venti latte. Get it together, Audrey.
After about a month or so of living this beginner zero waste lifestyle, I started to realize my next hurdle – the bathroom.
Yes, a lot of products’ packaging are recyclable – but also extremely avoidable. Plastics can only be shredded, melted down, and recycled so many times before they too end up in landfill. Instead of recycling bathroom products, I wanted to eliminate them. Let me tell you too, my bathroom is so much cleaner and organized looking without any labels or bottles around. To achieve a package free bathroom I ventured over to Lush. They were very accommodating and explained that they as a store also try and practice zero waste, to the point that they have a “trash weigh” every quarter to pay attention to how much as a store they are responsible for. Amazing.
Right now I currently use a shampoo bar, a conditioner bar, a facewash bar, toothy tabs instead of toothpaste, and some deep conditioner in a little pot you can give back to the store for store credit. This also made me realize how many products I didn’t need.
Why do I need a deep conditioner, hairspray, frizz control, detangler, and a heat protectant? I don’t. You don’t. So much unnecessary trash. My hair doesn’t feel any different after taking away all those products, if anything it feels nicer and definitely has more shine. My teeth actually feel better as well. Since the toothy tabs’ main ingredient is baking soda, I feel like my teeth are being scrubbed, rather than just whitened.
Mind your month
Although this whole process seems like 5,000 steps and way too much effort, it’s really not.
This all didn’t happen in a second, and to this day I still replace one single use item in my house with a reusable item each month. If every week you switch something about your life to be sustainable, you’ll be living zero waste in no time.
Just remember that zero waste isn’t about creating any trash, don’t feel guilty if you have trash. Just know that you’re making a difference by slowly changing your habits and being aware of your impact on our landfills. I too, have caved and bought a Reeses. It happens to the best of us.
Feature image credit: Photographee.eu / Shutterstock