Beginning to go Zero Waste

It’s not as hard as it seems to create less trash in our daily lives. It doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul in one day or week or month. Every little action adds up in the end and will have individual meaning in the bigger picture. ‘Less waste’ is probably a better title for this lifestyle. Nothing in life is absolute like zero. Getting that idea right from the start makes it feel more natural and easier to accept. We have to remember that disposable items haven’t always been a necessity.

  • Composting. I realized how much food waste I produced when it was kept separate from all other trash. In turn I ended up using scraps differently and buying different types of food to help reach my composting goal. For me this began in the middle of winter so I started freezing my food waste and bought an indoor worm compost structure so I could start immediately. I was hesitant about buying more stuff when I was trying to reduce the amount of things in my life, but this compost bin gets rid of at least 10% of my overall waste and creates rich soil to grow more food. The worms consume about half of my food waste per week, the rest I have frozen and am putting in my backyard compost pile as it gets warmer. Yard waste, like leaves, also go into that compost pile outdoors. The scraps are transformed into nutrient rich soil, package free. Anything organic, non-dairy, non-citrus, non-meat can go into a compost system.
  • The Recycling Dilemma. We don’t have recycling or trash pickup at our duplex. It’s been a blessing in disguise lately though. I’m less tempted to throw away things knowing there’s no place for me to take them. Our neighbors do have trash and recycling pickup so I am able to use their bin in case I have recyclables. And my roommate isn’t zero waste so she has a ton of stuff to recycle. Usually these are milk cartons, metal cans and junk mail. Paper products and cardboard can go into the compost, jars I’ll usually reuse for pantry storage. Recycling is not the answer to our trash problem, it only displaces those materials temporarily.
  • Refuse First. If there is less bought and accepted, there will be less to toss later. Many items in my possession never or rarely got used or were kept “just in case”. This is an easy excuse for clothing when I live in a four season environment. Any excuse was used for a shopping trip. I used to love shopping so much that my cure for a hangover was to go to the mall for a couple hours. There was a sensation that happened when shopping that felt almost comforting. Sadly, it would disappear as soon as I realized I wanted something else. Even sadder, I couldn’t afford the habit. Going cold turkey on feel good shopping was surprisingly easy for me. I’d literally only buy items I needed. Writing down a list of things I bought and keeping a receipt collection was helpful at reminding myself how much I was taking in. If it wasn’t seriously justifiable then it didn’t deserve a place in my home.
  • Donate/Sell/Give/Repurpose What’s Already There. Excess clothes, tools, books etc. aren’t put to good use sitting in a closet or box in the basement or the bottom of the junk drawer. Finding new homes for these things can be time consuming, but remembering the resources spent making the item is a great reminder to keep on being thrifty. And if I need a tool or item I know a friend has, I’ll borrow theirs instead of buying my own that I’ll probably rarely use. This concept seems pretty anti-consumerism but it’s the opposite of that. I’m not stopping money spending altogether, I’m making more informed, intentional purchases to companies and organizations I respect. It’s smarter shopping.
  • The Containers. Not everything comes plastic free. Purchasing items depending on their packaging can be tricky. My worm compost bins came in cardboard and plastic. I’ll keep the box to help with moving and storage, the plastic gets recycled and it’s a product that I’ll use for a lifetime. My roommate has yankee candle jars that I’ll use to hold snacks after I’ve cleaned the wax out. Gift bags and tissue paper I can use for future gift giving. When I buy secondhand items online, I’ll reuse the boxes and styrofoam for when I sell my items online. This is the most difficult obstacle in my zero waste journey. Finding items that are not in any disposable packaging, and is nutritious, tastes good, is organic/natural, fair trade, local and decently priced….. It’s not possible for every product type. If I had to rank in importance what I look for when shopping:
    1. Healthy/do I need it
    2. Packaging it comes in
    3. Organic/natural
    4. Fair trade
    5. Tastes good/I’ll use it in many recipes
    6. Decently priced
    7. Local/sustainably sourced
  • If I can check off most of those, it makes creating trash a bit easier knowing it was worth the purchase in the first place. I can only strive to be better, not perfect. 

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