I can’t remember when it was, exactly, that I was introduced to the effects of global warming on Polar bears. It wasn’t until I learned about this that I started to care about climate change. I don’t think it had as much to do with the Polar bears, themselves, as much as it changed an abstract thought into a concrete fact. It suddenly became clear that what I do every day has an impact on the rest of the world. Because of my anxiety, I have quite literally thought about the Polar bears every single day ever since. When I leave the water running, I see the image of an emaciated bear. Same when I see trees being cut down or when we go on long car trips. It’s just who I am and how my mind works. The Polar Bear has become my symbol of change. However, through all these years I didn’t actually make any significant changes. More images of animals suffering and whales’ stomachs exploding with plastic haunted me but there was so much I needed to do that it became overwhelming and so I didn’t do anything at all. All it took was meeting some like minded friends a couple years ago and maybe one conversation to get the ball rolling and, boy, is it rolling now!
In honor of Earth day I put together a list of the first 15 zero waste changes we made that didn’t break the bank or drastically change our lifestyle but have made a significant difference to the waste we produce in our home. I’m not saying these are absolutely the first things everyone should do but it worked for us and I want to share in case someone is stuck in the same predicament and doesn’t know where to begin….
1. Reusable shopping bags
Have enough to realistically carry all your items and keep some in the car at all times for impromptu shopping.
2. Homemade liquid hand soap
Purchasing these every other week became a huge waste. Homemade is Easy, lasts a long time, works better than store bought, and cheaper. I buy Dr. Bronners pure castille bar soap with Lavender (in paper packaging). Using a cheese grater, grate 8oz- which is about a bar and a half- into a bowl. Meanwhile, bring a gallon of distilled water to a boil (The only way to get distilled water around here is in plastic gallons so I just boil filtered water and it works fine for us but the recipe calls for distilled to be safe). Pour the boiling water onto the grated soap and mix with a whisk until there are no more chunks and the mixture is translucent. Then just let it sit for 12-15 hours mixing once or twice in the first 5 hours. It will look watery at first but suddenly at 12 hours it’s a solid jelly-like consistency. Use a hand mixer to make it smooth and break up the chunks of jelly then pour into dispensers/storage containers (we use mason jars). You’ll have to leave a little space at the top of whatever you’re storing it in so that you can shake It up again before pouring into soap dispensers as it settles back into Jelly after a few days.
3. Cloth Napkins
We purchase ours but you can make them at home if you’re a savvy needle worker!
4. Stainless Steel Straws
Love these!! The goal is to remember to carry them with us when we go out so that we can use instead of plastic when needed.
5. Stainless Steel/Glass water bottles
Single use water bottles are just the worst.
Super moisturizing and plenty of variety so you can find what works best for your body type. We use this with a wash cloth instead of any harsh soaps.
7. Wool dryer balls
Replaces dryer sheets without any problem. Just be sure to not overly dry your clothes as that creates more static!
8. Replace laundry detergent
This took a little getting used to because my husband really enjoys the strong smell of clean laundry and we switched to Crystal Wash reusable balls which leaves the clothes smelling faintly like essential oils. Other options are soap nuts, laundry stick, or homemade powder detergent.
9. Homemade body butter
I’ve made some for family and friends and it has been a huge hit! I use this recipe for whipped body butter but there are a TON of options online and they generally require coconut oil, almond oil (can be replaced with avocado, jojoba, or grapeseed oil), shea butter or cocoa butter- or both! This one is thick and on the greasier side but I like to put it on after a shower and let it sit for 10 minutes then pat dry with a damp towel. My skin has never been softer so it gets the job done and there’s no waste!
10. Opting for glass over plastic
Honey, vinegar, peanut butter, and yogurt all have glass contained options. They’re usually slightly more expensive (sometimes only a few cents) but I had to change my mindset. Plastic is not an option for us anymore so it’s just a matter of choosing between the glass options that are available. A few dollars more, if you can afford it, is worth it. Remember, Plastic NEVER GOES AWAY.
11. Shopping bulk food
Take your mason jars or cloth bags to your local Whole Foods, Sprout, Fresh Thyme, or wherever else has bulk items and fill them up instead of using their plastic bags. Some places allow you to weigh your own tare and write in on a sticker and at others you have to take your jars to a register before filling to get your tare weight so just check with them first. Do it once and you’re already a pro (Tare= weight of the container. When checking out, they subtract tare from total weight so that you’re not paying extra for a heavier container).
12. Reusable produce bags
I HATE plastic produce bags. If I forget my reusable ones at home I just grab what I need without a bag at all. They’re wasteful and truly unnecessary. I’ve gotten so many compliments on these reusable ones! Bonus, they have tare already on the tag!
We switched to bamboo tableware for the kids. It’s sturdy, beautiful, and fully compostable!! We also switched out our Charmin toilet paper for Who Gives Crap bamboo toilet paper because store bought paper is packaged in a ridiculous amount of plastic and detrimental to our tree population. I’m pretty picky about my toilet paper and these work great! I will say, they don’t look as pretty- without pattern and dull in color, but you literally use it to wipe your butt so….
14. MY MOST FAVORITE– Norwex Cloths.
OMG the Norwex cloths. They are amazing! I can go an entire month without using a single paper towel. As a matter of fact, after I purchased them I had run out of paper towels and didn’t buy a new pack for 6 weeks. So a pack of Norwex has taken the place of kitchen cleaner, bathroom cleaner (I still use toilet cleaner but there are people who keep a cloth specifically for toilets so I’m working up to that!), window cleaner/polisher, stainless steel cleaner/polisher. I use it to clean our wood tables too but will use a separate oil/conditioner to keep it looking fresh. I have 4 EnviroCloths with Baclock and 3 window cloths because I like to always have one near by but you only need 2 enviro and 1 window if you’re trying to be minimal.
There are so many things that we get just to get and could easily do without. Being aware, and making intentional choices about what comes home is important. We’ve started making our own granola/protein bars, cookies, and cakes to take the place of store bought snacks that come covered in plastic (and usually preservatives). We still have ways to go in this department but we’re getting there.
Keep in mind that it’s a process. Start with good intentions. Small changes lead to big progress. It took me a full year to start remembering my bags every time I leave the house. Sometimes I would remember them leaving the house but then forget them in the car! Or when I shopped bulk, I wouldn’t bring enough jars so I filled what I had then used plastic for the rest. When it comes to less waste every little bit helps. Would you like to swim in a pool of 10,000 pieces of garbage or 100? Neither sounds great but that’s not where we are right now so we have to do what we can with what he have where we are (Theodore Roosevelt). Happy Zero-Wasting!
p.s. If you have any awesome zero waste recipes, ideas, or blogs please share them with me!