I have been on a journey towards a zero-waste lifestyle since the beginning of this year. What began as an item on my New Year’s Resolutions list sandwiched in between ‘lose weight’ and ‘leave China’ actually ended up changing the way I live and see the world.
Living in a rural area of Shanghai has really opened my eyes to the wasteful habits that plague the world we live in. It’s hard to describe the amount of single-use plastic I see littering the streets when I walk to and from work every day. Big cities on the other hand, especially in the West, produce more waste than you can possibly imagine, but it’s all very well hidden.
Until recently, most plastic produced by the USA was shipped to China and the responsibly to deal with it was shifted. But handing your trash to someone else to deal with is not the way to go. Just like simply throwing your recyclables into the allotted containers is not actually the best things you can do for the environment, despite it feeling like a good and productive thing to do.
Recycling is the last option on the “R” list that we had drilled into our heads from a young age. Recently, the list has grown to include even more “R”s that come ahead of recycling.
- And finally, if all else fails, after you’ve re-used THEN re-purposed THEN repaired, THEN you should RECYCLE.
I have learned a lot about sustainability during my journey. Although I’ve been posting tips and updates on social media, a friend pointed out the other day that I haven’t been writing much about it on my blog… and that’s about to change!
After several people have asked me for tips on how to be less wasteful, I’ve decided to share what I’ve learned on my blog in the hopes that others will be inspired to make the world a better place.
One big obstacle that everyone needs to overcome to begin this journey is actually extremely simple and happens to be a good life lesson as well. Everyone needs to realize that ONE PERSON CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!
Sure, when you see the careless wastefulness going on around you, it can be extremely discouraging. Living in China, where the entire population is addicted to plastic has made me question if what I am doing actually matters. They literally buy drinks in plastic-lined cups camouflaged as paper (#sneakystyrene), with plastic lids and plastic straws that they carry in a disposable PLASTIC BAG. But I had a long-term zero-waste friend knock some sense into me.
– “How many bags and bottles do you refuse every day?” She asked me.
– “At least 10,” I told her after doing the math. “But everyone else uses up to 20!”
– “But if you save 10 bags a day, how much is that in a year?”
3,650 bags that would end up in oceans, landfills or incinerated and turned into air pollution. Does that really sound like not making a difference?
Other than refusing plastic, one of the biggest differences I make when it comes to sustainability is being vegan. Don’t panic! I’m not going to tell you that you HAVE to become vegan to save the planet. Simply skipping one meat-meal can apparently save thousands of gallons of water so it doesn’t have to be all or nothing! There are many ways that you can change your diet to make a difference without doing anything “extreme”.
SHOP LOCALLY! If you eat meat, find a local butcher, preferably working with a smaller farm. Not only will your purchases directly help a hard-working family instead of a greedy corporation, but smaller farms tend to treat the animals slightly better plus you minimize the waste that comes from shipping the meat across the country or even from abroad.
I can’t emphasize this point enough: EVERY single seemingly minuscule decision that you make every day can make a HUGE impact – never forget that.
You shouldn’t limit shopping locally to animal products. Find local farmers markets for fruit and vegetables as opposed to stale, plastic-wrapped vegetables full of preservatives in large shopping centers. You can also find a local producer of handmade beauty and cleaning supplies. Not only will it benefit the local economy, but they will be a healthier alternative for you and the world around you.
For example, I buy all natural cleaning supplies made by an Australian couple living in Shanghai. Although they come in plastic bottles, the store offers a discount if you come with an empty bottle for a refill. If you find a similar store in your area, you will only ever need ONE bottle of laundry detergent, window/mirror cleaner, etc.
Of course you can also buy your ingredients in bulk and create your own cleaning supplies. It’s much easier that you would expect, but I’ll share recipes and tips in another blog post. If you’re just beginning your journey towards sustainability, there are many other things to start doing before you become obsessed with everything DIY (like I am).
There’s one more important thing to know about pursuing a zero-waste lifestyle. It may not be the most CONVENIENT way to live, but it definitely is CHEAPER. Yes, you read that right, it is much cheaper to avoid single-use plastic! Warning: you might have to occasionally sacrifice your comfort and immediate needs. But ONLY until you get the hang of it – once you’re properly equipped with your canvas bag, collapsable food container (affiliate link), aluminum straw and re-usable water waterbottle. Again, I’ll write more about this at a later time, but a quick example is buying a safety razor.
In China, a SAFETY RAZOR only costs $10 but in the USA or Europe they can cost up to $100. It can be overwhelming to spend $100 when a disposable razor is so cheap. But unless you lose it, one of these $100 razors is FOR LIFE. I cringe when I think about the countless Venus razors I’ve bought over the years… All you need to buy for a safety razor are blades, that come packaged in paper and cost close to nothing.
If you’re interested in learning more about a zero-waste lifestyle (which I still haven’t fully achieved, and probably never will because I will never stop using toilet paper), follow my blog and subscribe to my YouTube channel! I can’t wait to share my tips and stories about my journey to zero-waste travel as well as all of my successes and hilarious failures.
Have you made any positive changes towards a zero-waste lifestyle? Feel free to share in the comments below!