While we definitely jumped right in to attempting a zero waste home, there were a few big steps my family took over the last few years that made the transition to reducing our waste a lot easier. We made a lot of changes in our home when we fully committed to going zero waste in 2016, but we weren’t necessarily starting at “square one.”
Here are the four things we did in the past few years that helped our journey to a zero waste home:
- Focusing on whole foods
My husband and I have always loved food, and while we tried to eat healthy after college (where we were n a steady diet of pizza/beer/stress) and even joined Weight Watchers and tried other calorie-counting apps. Things didn’t really fall into place for us until 2012 when we completed the Whole30 elimination diet. It’s basically an experiment of one that helps you figure out what foods give you energy and what foods don’t. Since then we’ve focused our diet on whole foods and tried to avoid processed food as much as possible. We definitely indulge – nachos are my weakness! as are margaritas – but just not as often. How did this help us go zero waste? Most package-less food is whole food. We buy whole ingredients most often – vegetables, fruits, meat, oils and nuts are all easy for us to buy with our own containers.
- Cooking from scratch
The Whole30 also brought us back to the kitchen.We used to think we cooked a lot but most of our lunches at work we purchased and many dinners after a long day were from the myriad of takeout places in our neighborhood. Years after that first eye opening experience, we still cook most of our meals and only get take out or go out to a restaurant on occasion. Cooking all of your meals and snacks is not necessary when you have a zero waste home, but we’re glad we are used to cooking (and cleaning up after) most of our meals because it’s definitely the easiest and least expensive way to have a low-waste kitchen.
- Eliminating plastics
We’ve been eliminating plastics for the last year or two and choosing durable alternatives instead. Slowly we replaced our food storage and other items with plastic-free (or mostly plastic-free) products. If it seems overwhelming, check out my easy tips on how to go plastic-free. While I don’t think you have to be plastic-free to have a zero waste home, the two really go hand in hand. Most plastics are not durable and at the end of their life need to be thrown away. Plastics are not environmentally friendly to produce or dispose of (even if that disposal is recycling.)
- Ditching the disposables
This was the one thing we thought we’d never do, but it was one of the best decisions we made. Give up paper towels? Never ever! But, inspired by how easy it was for us to use cloth diapers with our newborn daughter, we started to tackle other single-use items in our home. In the last year or so, we stopped using disposable household items like paper towels, ziploc baggies and for me, tampons and pads. It seemed so difficult to undertake before we actually tried to let go of the disposable paper goods. But once we decided to “try it out temporarily” …we never looked back. I cut up an old flannel sheet that had a big tear in it to use as rags or “un-paper towels.” Then I researched Diva or Moon cups (aka menstrual cups) and ordered one on a whim when it went on sale. I’m now a huge advocate for reusable, durable menstrual products.
We also made a few other changes for our health that subsequently affected our use of disposable (or non-recyclable/reusable) items. I started making all of our cleaning products and I switched all of my makeup and personal care items to eco-friendly, non-toxic products.
Choosing reusable items over disposables takes time but once you do it, you’ll start to see a clear pattern. Durable, reusable items are typically more effective and nicer-looking than their single-use counterparts. And I promise they are easier to clean and care for than you might think. Oh and a few other bonuses: you’re saving these items from the landfill, you no longer have to constantly purchase and deal with the trash from these items, and you’ll save money.
I know I’m sick of hearing “small steps add up” but it’s true. Once you commit to changing small things in your life, other things will follow and soon enough you’ll have habits in place that you can’t imagine not doing.