Going Zero-Waste: 5 Things You Can Do RIGHT NOW!

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. Deos 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 they 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:

“I can make a difference!”

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Creating a Zero-Waste Kit: It’s Easy and Cheap!

In the morning, you stop at Starbucks for an iced coffee. You like it sweet, so your stir in some sugar. You’re late, so you grab a quick bagel off the street for breakfast. Next you stop at the local deli to grab a sandwich and a bottle of water to have later for lunch, plus a couple mustard packets to spice it up. By the time you get to work, you’ve inadvertently used a paper cup (lined with plastic), a plastic lid, a straw, a plastic stirrer, two sugar packets, a plastic bottle, a plastic bag and packaging for your bagel, plastic wrapping and a plastic bag for you sandwich, plus two plastic mustard packets. Statistically, 10% of that will end up in the ocean.

Am I asking you to give you your coffee and street food in the morning? No! Am I asking you not to get your favorite sandwich for lunch? Absolutely not! Can you enjoy all these things without single use plastic? The answer is a resounding YES! You might even save some money. Here’s how to create a zero waste kit that’ll fit in any bag or purse.

-Water bottle – By far the most important thing to have on you at all times. Why pay money for a single-use bottle when you can bring your own? I tend to prefer drinking from glass bottles like these but you can carry a BPA-free plastic one if that’s too heavy for you.

  • Coffee Cup: Whether you like it hot or iced, it’s easy to carry a cup for your coffee. Some places, like Starbucks, even offer a discount! Try this one for iced or this one for hot.
  • Cutlery Kit: Instead of using plastic knives and forks, carry around a portable cutlery kit like this one. This kit is less than 150 grams, making it easy to carry around in any purse or bag!
  • Collapsible container: Fan of street food? Like to order take-out? Carry around one of these silicone collapsible containers. They’re BPA free, can withstand very hot and very cold temperatures and can be thrown in the dishwasher after use. They’re great to use at home too!
  • Aluminum straws: If you’re a fan of smoothies, juice, cola or iced coffee, you no doubt use a lot of plastic straws. Not anymore! Just grab a set of reusable aluminum straws! Just remember to remind your server that you brought your own!

Now, let’s go back to your morning commute:

You stop in at Starbucks and hand them your cup. You get a 10 cent discount on your coffee, which will add up to $20 a year in savings. You kindly ask the barista to add some sugar for you, which they do from a glass jar. You stir the iced coffee with a spoon from your cutlery kit and pop in your aluminum straw. Now you’re headed to the bagel shop, where you kindly ask them to hand it to you without any packaging. You eat your bagel on the way to the deli, where you order your sandwich for lunch. They know you by now, so they accept your reusable container with a smile and even offer to wash it for you. They know you like it spicy, so they add some mustard from the deli counter. You put your boxed sandwich in your bag or purse and head to work, having used ZERO single-uses products. No new waste will end up in the ocean, and at lunch you’ll be a constant advocate for your new lifestyle as your friends and colleagues watch you take out your container for lunch and fill your water bottle from the tap.

Global Warming by Singapore’s Super Tree Grove

Our recent travel adventures took us to Singapore! A city known for it’s cleanliness, passion for sustainability and of course, the Super Tree Grove at the Gardens by the Bay. Although Singapore was beautiful and I could spend weeks exploring it, I was a little disappointed by it’s hypocrisy when it comes to protecting the environment.

Yes, the Gardens by the Bay are an amazing green initiative that uses waste from the city and turns it into energy to power the entire park. Then there’s the tap water, that is cleaned using reverse osmosis which turns sewage into safe drinking water. It’s absolutely genius and the epitome of zero-waste.

Although on a grand scale, Singapore is doing a lot when it comes to sustainability, they don’t focus enough on changing the habits of their people or businesses. Example: When you arrive extra early for your flight at the Changi airport because you want to see why it’s considered the world’s best airport, you may run into a cool wall displaying information about Singapore and local customs…

One of these is the “correct way to drink kopi (traditional Singaporean coffee) where they tell you to do as the locals do and order it in a plastic bag and drink it with a plastic straw. Facepalming did not suffice, I wanted to headtable when I read this…

During my visit to Singapore, I got to meet up with an old friend who I hadn’t seen for years. I told her all about my new zero-waste lifestyle and vegan diet, telling her how amazing it is that Singapore is doing so much to promote sustainability. She smiled and nodded but even she agreed that unfortunately, Singapore focuses too much on the details instead of the big picture.

Visiting the Gardens by the Bay was one of the highlights of my trip. But I was immediately disappointed by what I saw happening in the park. Restaurants, fast food places and other vendors selling food and items unnecessarily wrapped in plastic with no biodegradable or re-usable alternatives. I’m shocked at the slap in the face that these places are to all the efforts made to create this environmentally-friendly place.

Once I get the chance and find the right people to contact, I will issue a complaint to the Gardens of the Bay. They put so much effort into educating visitors and making a step forward but then you can’t even eat there without creating waste.

  • Is it really that hard to at least use paper instead of plastic?
  • Or how about creating a deposit system for nice re-usable containers to eat from?
  • Perhaps with a logo of the place, that can be bought as a souvenir or returned after use? If they can do this with beer cups at festivals in Europe, why not do it at a place that literally exists to promote sustainability and ways to save the planet?

Okay, rant over. Here’s one of the videos that you can watch at the Super Tree Grove about global warming and how we can still prevent the destruction of our beloved Earth.

Block Island is going green: So can you

Roosa catalogued shocking amounts of pollution, previously reported in The Block Island Times: a total of 12,500 pounds of debris that included 57 tires, 7,000 aluminum cans, 8,500 plastic bottles, 2,000 glass bottles, thousands of plastic bags and balloons as well as 200 pounds of clothes…

With all of Block Island’s power coming from the first offshore windfarm in the Unites States, many Islanders may wonder how they can contribute to a greener lifestyle in their daily lives. Since only five percent of all plastic gets recycled, many of the items that you put into the blue recycle bin will still end up in the ocean. What about reduce? What about reuse? There’s more to being green than tossing plastics in a bin.

Island resident David Roosa has been cleaning the Island’s beaches for as long as he can remember. In September 2008, he finished his first cleanup of the entire island’s perimeter. This was a 29-mile project that covered the outer edges of Block Island and the Great Salt Pond. Roosa catalogued shocking amounts of pollution, previously reported in The Block Island Times: a total of 12,500 pounds of debris that included 57 tires, 7,000 aluminum cans, 8,500 plastic bottles, 2,000 glass bottles, thousands of plastic bags and balloons as well as 200 pounds of clothes…

Read the full article on the Block Island Times: https://www.blockislandtimes.com/article/block-island-going-green-so-can-you/51675