Zero waste living

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 supermarket 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 change for me was being aware of every purchase I made and what I already 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. So, before I started my zero waste adventure, I went through my house and took a physical or mental inventory of everything that would potentially end up in the landfill. 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.

Zero waste kitchen
Before going zero waste, most of my meals were brought to life by a microwave. Image Credit: WorldWide / Shutterstock

Food first

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 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. It’s so quick and easy and it diminished my trash by at least half.

By the way, if you are of a gardening bent, 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. YouTube was a great source of information on the beginning steps of how to shop zero waste. The first part of my grocery mission was to shop the outside aisles of the store. Almost all the processed and packaged food is in the store’s inside aisles, 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 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.

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.

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 carry a Mason jar with me, so if I do end up in the Starbucks 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 ordering a drink at Starbucks — or any other shop, for that matter — if I provide my own container.  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 12-ounce size, which is equivalent to a tall Starbucks. If I just tell the barista I want a tall latte, but I have my own 12-ounce 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. 

Zero waste inspired bathroom
After about a month or so of living this beginner zero waste lifestyle, I started to realize my next hurdle – the bathroom. Image Credit: Iriana Shiyan / Shutterstock

Bathroom break

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 is recyclable – but also extremely avoidable. Plastics can only be shredded, melted down, and recycled so many times before they too end up in landfills. 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.

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 make a sustainable switch, you’ll be on the road to zero waste.

Just remember that zero waste is an ongoing process, so don’t feel guilty when you still have trash. 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

By Audrey Holmes

Based in San Diego, Audrey Holmes is on a personal journey toward zero waste. She admits to watching otter videos on YouTube way too much and having an unhealthy obsession with matcha. Speaking of green, read all about her zero-waste journey on her blog, Green Blue Marble.