Recently our friends and readers have been asking us what steps they can take to “go zero-waste.” Maybe they’ve have read that America alone uses 100 billion plastic bags a year. Possibly they are worried about the impact we’re having on marine life, like the whales that are being found washed-up with their stomachs full of plastic. Maybe they’ve heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that’s now twice the size of Texas. Whatever the reason, they want to know what a single person could possibly do to help!
Living a lifestyle free of needless waste doesn’t have to be hard. With a few simple steps, you can be on your way! It’s important to remember that striving towards a zero-waste lifestyle is NOT an all-or-nothing endeavor. Every little bit helps! Here are five things you can do to start RIGHT NOW!
1. Carry a “Zero-waste kit” in your car, bag, or purse.
My wife and I realized that the three single-use products we used the most were plastic bottles, to-go products and plastic straws. Instead of using these every day, consider making a Zero-Waste kit with things like reusable cutlery, aluminum straws, a collapsible container and of course, a reusable water bottle. Read more details in our Guide to Building a Zero-Waste Kit.
2. Say no to plastic bags
We buy a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables. Here in China, vendors love to bag each item separately. For a while, we were each using up to five plastic bags every single day. That’s thousands of bags a year! Not anymore! Buy yourself a reusable canvas bag, sold at any major grocery store. In my backpack, I always carry a Trader Joe’s bag for fruits, vegetables and anything else I might buy on the way home from work. Why bag everything separately? It’s all going the same place!
Having said this, don’t throw away the precious plastic bags you might still have at home! Feel free to keep using those! Just try not to build up your supply.
3. Buy in bulk and use what you have
Of course, if you want to buy a bunch of oats, seeds, grains or nuts you can’t exactly put it all in one big canvas bag. I know it’s convenient to stop at a bulk shop on your way home and grab the necessities in plastic bags, but consider bringing some containers with you. This can be free! Use anything you have around the house. We buy a lot of Nutritional Yeast and these large containers are fantastic for buying things in bulk and storing them at home. So what if the vendor gives me a weird look when I ask them to weight my cashews in a Nooch jar? We’re trying to save the world here! And guess what, maybe she’ll go out and tell her friends about the (“crazy”) guy who went out of his way not to use plastic. Another great way to spread the word!
4. Always ask for less plastic
We know ordering online is the easiest way to get what you want easily and quickly. Heck, I post links to products all the time! I’m not asking you to stop ordering online, especially if what your ordering is helping you on your way to a zero-waste lifestyle. Just one suggestion: most websites have a “note to seller” option when you’re checking out. Just put a quick note in there requesting less packaging, if possible. Does your new collapsible container need to be bubble wrapped a thousand times? No! Do the two sandwiches you ordered from Subway need to be bagged separately? Of course not! Even if the seller refuses, asking can’t hurt. If enough people start putting notes like this in their purchases, maybe companies will start following the trend! If we keep it up, more eco-friendly packaging options will become available.
5. No one is perfect!
Ok, so you’ve got your zero-waste kit, you’re saying no to plastic bags and straws and you’re asking sellers to use less plastic. One day, you forget to bring your straws and your favorite vendor gives you a plastic one. Another day, you really need to order a breakable item that will come shipped in bubble-wrap. It’s okay! Don’t beat yourself up about it! Striving towards a zero-waste lifestyle is a process and no one is perfect. No one is asking you to abandon all worldly conveniences and go live in the woods. Remember EVERY TIME you make a conscious decision not to use a plastic bag, that’s one less bag that could end up in the ocean. EVERY TIME you do remember your zero waste kit, you’ve won a small victory towards a better future.
Being 100% zero-waste is extremely difficult and sometimes seems impossible. But taking small steps on the way there is easy! You’ll save money, have less junk in your car and home, and most importantly will be a constant voice in the growing choir that’s chanting the same thing: