After about a month of trying to reduce my waste, I have made progress in some areas and very little in others. It took some trial and error, researching different stores and their stock, and lots of questions to get here. And *here* isn’t really that far. This transition is a long process and it doesn’t happen overnight. There are so many things in our day to day life that we don’t realize are harmful, until you take a hard look around.
Here is the good and the bad of my first zero waste month.
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I started carrying my own silverware in my bag, in a pouch I had lying around. I have to say, this might be the most handy and easy change I have made so far. In this month alone, I have probably saved 50 plastic utensils from going into the landfill. From office parties, to eating takeout, the impact is immediate and much larger than you may think.
My canteen does not EVER leave my side. I have a 40 oz. Takeya and I initially thought it would be way too bulky and heavy to carry around everywhere. But, it has a handle on the lid which makes things easier and it’s so essential to my everyday life that I do not mind carrying it around at all!
Mine is more like a smaller hand towel, but it’s cute and I use it to dry off my dishes at work. I try not to eat out too often, but most of the time I do so on campus. I work on a college campus and the to go containers are nearly all compostable, so I haven’t made a habit of bringing tupperware everywhere I go.
When we moved into our new apartment, we bought a huge set of plastic tupperware from Costco. I have used some of them for non-food storage since transitioning to ZW, but a majority of them are still used for leftovers. I bring lunch and snacks with me to work everyday, so I use the tupperware all the time. I can’t bring myself to throw them all away because 1) it will most likely end up in a landfill and 2) they cost a lot of money. I never heat my food in plastic, and luckily my breakroom at work has a set of bowls and plates to use. In the future, I want to buy glass tupperware when these are used up.
Another bulk item buy from Costco. We have yet to run out of paper towels and toilet paper, so they are still technically around. I have primarily switched using towels and rags for cleaning, but I sometimes will reach for the paper towels because they are there. Old habits die slow deaths.
My apartment has all wood floors, which I thought would require a Swiffer every day, so I bought one with the big pack of disposable pads. If only I had known. Since I switched to trying zero waste alternatives, I figured out my vacuum turned all the way down will pick up the little stuff on the hardwood floor. I know there are easy DIY Swiffer pads, but this is so much easier to get the rugs and floor all in one go.
Again, we bulk bought A LOT of plastic and single-use crap when we moved in, because we started with basically nothing. So I have a tub full of new cleaning products that I will try to use up before making my own, or try to give away to friends.
My hair comes out by the pound, especially in the shower. Plus, our shower drain clogs up really fast. I heard great reviews about the TubShroom, and I decided to go for it. It came in plastic packaging and it’s made out of silicone. It works like a dream and we haven’t had to use harsh chemicals to clear the drain. Considering the long life-span of the product and its effectiveness, I think the small amount of packaging was worth it.
Since I have only been on this zero waste kick for about a month, I haven’t really had the need for clothes shopping. But, I realized I did not have any non-Prom heels to walk around partying on my birthday next week. So, I tried shopping at a thrift store and found boots in the style I wanted and my size! I was definitely happy with the options available and I feel more comfortable thrifting my future clothing purchases.
I bought a cloth bag from a department store because I wanted something quick and easy. Going forward, I will be looking for more sustainable options because I do want some more, but in a different style. Ideas are welcome!
My city passed a law that banned the single-use grocery bags at the beginning of this year. So I was already used to trying to bring my own bags to avoid the 10 cent fee per bag. But, I also forgot them all the time, so the stockpile is now being used for trash bags, since we only need to take out a small bag every week. I now always have 3 totes in my car so I don’t forget.
The dreaded words for any zero waster, in my opinion. While visiting my mom, I forgot my toiletry kit at home. I tried getting by with what my mom had already, but obviously I needed a new toothbrush and other things. It wasn’t so bad, since I was staying with family rather than at a hotel. But the emergency situations cannot be avoided sometimes, and it might mean compromising your ZW practices.
Disposable cotton rounds:
I used these to take off my makeup every night. Once I used all my supply, I cut up an old towel into squares and I keep them in my bathroom cabinet. Now, after I’m done with them, I just put them in the laundry basket. But, I am currently on the lookout for a sustainable mesh bag to wash them in so I don’t have to search for them in the laundry.
Toms was my go to, since I was already trying to go for more natural products pre-ZW. But, now I use LUSH Aromaco which comes naked and I keep it in a metal tin so it won’t dry out. Sometimes, it is a little difficult to apply. But, I found that if I warm it up under my armpit while I do makeup, it goes on without dragging or pulling. I haven’t found it to be any less effective either, but it is winter so maybe summertime will change that.
Also a LUSH product I switched to. They have tooth powder, but I bought the toothy tabs to start out with since I didn’t like the powder flavors they had in stock. All you have to do is chew one up and brush your teeth like normal. They do make a little bit more foam than regular toothpaste, but it hasn’t bothered me. My breath hasn’t suffered either, according to my boyfriend (who I made swear to tell me if I stink using these new products).
Can you guess where I got it? That’s right, another LUSH product! Can you tell I like their stuff? I’ve been using Herbalism and it works great for me. My friend tried it out and it conflicted with her other acne products, so it’s not a one size fits all. I will probably try something with a little more scrub factor next time though.
Loofahs typically need to be changed out every 3 months, or so “they” say. That’s a lot of plastic! I bought a bamboo brush from the regular grocery store. It’s a little too soft for my preference, so I might look into different options when this one is done.
I don’t even want to think about all the chemicals and grossness I was applying directly to my eyelashes every night. After I used all the product I had, I switched to using coconut oil, straight up. I keep a small jar in the bathroom and simply dip my finger in and gently rub the mascara off my eyelashes, then use my cotton squares to wipe it off.
I bought a menstrual cup earlier this week, and I have yet to try it out. But the reviews were great! Click here and here to read Going Zero Waste’s post on the subject. I bought the Blossom cup, because I can return it if I need a different size.
Nearly everything else:
Besides the items I already mentioned, nearly everything else is in a single use container. I usually bought large, bulk items of bathroom and shower products, so it will take a while to go through all of it. But, after those are gone I will be making my own products.
I found that Sprouts and the co-op near me have bulk sections and I can use my own containers. I ask the cashier to weigh the tare before I fill them up, then write the PLU in my phone. I have a bunch of old metal coffee cans I use to store rice, beans, more coffee, oats, and trail mix. Sometimes it feels like this method is a little more expensive than buying the packaged food, but I’m not excited to do the math, and it’s more valuable to me to use the bulk section anyway.
For a few weeks, I have been keeping my food scraps in a paper bag and dropping it off at the compost bins near my work. I work on a college campus with compost trash cans in multiple locations, so luckily this has been an easy change to make. But, I just purchased a compost countertop bin with compostable bags to make the process a little cleaner.
Not all food comes in bulk, especially snacks. And. I. LOVE. Snacks. Going vegan cut down my options severely. So, trying ZW basically brought it down to null. Therefore, I am guilty of buying bags of Fritos on my break because I didn’t have any snack food at home to bring. I am trying to see if any Mexican restaurants in town will give me tortilla chips in my own bag, but no luck so far. Only one restaurant in town has a vegan option that isn’t tofu, which I make at home anyway. They would not allow me to take my to-go order in my own container, so I clean it out and put it in recycling.
Some of the items that can and can’t go in recycling, and what the curbside will dispose of properly, is honestly kind of confusing to me. I am going to try and make a comprehensive list for myself, and share it for the others maybe as confused as I am.
These issues making eating food very stressful for me. I always feel some ounce of guilt when I have to buy food, whether it is not ZW but vegan, or not 100% vegan but ZW. But, with some more research, and a little self-love, I think I can balance an encompassing eco-friendly lifestyle.
What have you been struggling to find zero waste or properly dispose of? What were some challenges you faced transitioning to ZW?