first steps toward zero waste

I first heard about zero waste as a household movement a couple years ago. I was new to Pinterest and found a photo of the prettiest pantry I had ever seen, all white and lined with rows of glass jars. No crinkly chip bags or cereal box advertisements, just jars filled with a variety of bulk dry goods. I thought it was brilliant, if only for its aesthetic value.

Turns out the pantry belonged to Bea Johnson, whose book Zero Waste Home shows her transition from a waste-filled suburban life to a pattern of simple living that has eliminated her family’s need for a trash can. After glancing at her blog, I bought her book and promptly let it sit on a shelf for the past two years. Yeah, I know. :/

The last of those two years has been spent in a lovely little apartment…with no curbside recycling service. I had never been without this convenience in my life, but we soon found ways to get those cans and plastics out of the house by driving to the local transfer station or asking friends to share their precious recycling bin space. Still, it was another chore. One day, staring at our ever-growing pile of recycling that consumed what little extra square footage we had, I decided I was done with it. I picked up Zero Waste Home and started reading. I learned bulk shopping tips, recipes for tooth powder and dishwasher detergent…even how you can use cocoa powder for eye shadow! I was also referred by friends in recent months to several other zero waste blogs: Trash is for Tossers, Zero Waste Chef, and My Plastic Free Life.

All this to say, I’m very excited to embrace a simpler, more earth-conscious lifestyle. I hope you all will join me! I’ve learned that zero waste living doesn’t mean throwing all your plastic into a dumpster and starting over–instead, it simply requires that we take time to think about our purchases. Purchasing food in reusable bags and recyclable containers is a great first step, but there is so much more we can do by just planning ahead. My first step has been to create a “Zero Waste Plan.” My plan follows an easy outline that could be used by anyone.

Things I Can Start Buying in Bulk
My list includes: oats, flour, peanut butter, pasta, beans, sugar, spices, and rice. That’s just what is available at my town’s chain grocery store–next time I travel, I plan to find a co-op or Whole Foods where I can get items like bulk laundry detergent and honey in my own glass jar. My store doesn’t have an option to subtract your container’s weight, so I use gallon-size Zip-Lock baggies that are durable enough to reuse. When I run out of those, I’ll use reusable produce sacks, re-purposed cloth bags, or a lightweight plastic Tupperware. Write PLUs on scrap paper or your phone to read off to the cashier. If you’re not familiar with your local grocery options, ask around to find the best bulk sections. Adapt to the options around you.

Things I Can Make at Home
Realistically, I’m not going to bake bread every single week. But I can start buying it at a local bakery every other week with the money I save by baking bread at home twice a month–or just once and freezing an extra loaf. Other potential homemade items include: yogurt, tortillas, buns/rolls, and almond milk. These items can be made in the time you would have spent binge-watching Netflix or saving dozens of complicated dessert recipes you will never get around to making anyway. 🙂 Stay tuned for my own successes and failures in the upcoming weeks.

Here, I listed staple items I want to find in reusable containers, such as milk in glass bottles, as well as items I’ll likely have to buy online soon, like plastic-free sunscreen. I’ll be browsing shops and websites for options. One great thing about zero waste shopping is that you can trade an overwhelming sea of options and brands for the few that are actually taking steps to respect the earth!

If you’re not sure how to find an item without packaging, I’ve found the blogs listed above to be very helpful in suggesting brands or DIY alternatives. Don’t sweat it if you can’t find every little thing without plastic. Focus on what you can change, like buying in bulk, then tackle the harder items–such as whether or not to ditch your favorite make-up because it comes in a plastic tube.

If you need motivation to get started, just check out The Great Pacific Garbage Patch and then put a sea turtle as your desktop background. Or, go drool over all these beautiful zero-waste kitchens on Pinterest. Remember that your smallest actions can make a difference, and have fun!

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