HOW TO REDUCE YOUR WASTE
Going zero waste has become quite the movement on social media as it is good for the environment and your wallet. However, for some it is simply unrealistic. I read a quote once “We don’t need 10% of people doing zero waste perfectly, we need 100% of people doing it imperfectly.” This resonated with me because while not everyone will be able to completely reduce their waste to a tiny jar, if everyone made a conscious effort to reduce their waste in small ways we could make a greater change!
Food is one of peoples main sources of plastic, as just about everything these days comes in a plastic wrapper. The way I try to avoid this is to buy food in it’s most whole form. This includes loose produce- that I put in my own net bag, and bulk goods, that I put in more bags or jars. If I am going to put my lemons in my bag to take home, why do they need a separate plastic bag? I also try to make those minimally processed things that I do enjoy that come in packaging from scratch; such as hummus, plant milks, and bread. Granted my brother does the majority of the bread making and I do still buy some soy milk in the store, they are no longer my only sources of these items. Instead of buying 2 cartons of plant milks a week I am only buying 1 every 2 weeks. Another way to avoid plastic in food is to freeze your own produce. Get it while it is fresh from a local farmers market or produce section and cut it up then freeze in Tupperware or jars to avoid extra plastic bags.
Food waste is another common issue in today’s day as nearly a quarter of all food in the United States is wasted! Isn’t that unbelievable! To correct this issue in your own home practice taking small amounts of food on your plate then going back for seconds if you want more. This also goes for buffet style eating at dining halls in schools. You can always take more but cannot put back. If you do find yourself having food scraps the best thing you can do is compost! If you have a yard and garden you can start creating a pile and turning it once a week. Eventually it will decompose into a perfect fertilizer! If you don’t have a yard you can do what I did in my college house! Take your daily compost and put in a bag in the freezer (this stops the smell). Get it picked up weekly by a larger plant that takes care of composting! Growing your own food also greatly helps reduce waste as you don’t have to go to the store and purchase anything!
Being prepared is one of the best ways to reduce your waste when you are on the go. In my tote bag I almost always have another canvas bag rolled up, a silverware set, a reusable coffee tumbler, and a water bottle. I am guilty of always thinking I need a coffee or snack if I am out and about and don’t want to use the extra plastic. This allows me to indulge without waste! Or what if you find yourself near the grocery store and you end up getting a few things- having that extra bag always comes in handy.
Water waste is another common issue that we face today that need not be taken lightly. There are popular ways to reduce your water such as shorter showers and flushing the toilet less, but have you ever thought of the food you eat? What choices you make in the kitchen can greatly affect the water use to produce those foods. The Institution of Medical Engineers states that producing 1kg of meat requires between 5,000 and 20,000 liters of water whereas producing 1kg of wheat requires between 500 and 4,000 liters of water. If you consume a majority of low water use produce then you can conserve more water in a week than you can in a lifetime of shorter showers! There are also many methods nowadays for catching rain water and filtering it if you are interested in taking any further steps. Something I personally like doing to help limit my water use is to take my workout clothes into the shower with me and scrub them in there to avoid excess laundry as I would need to wash them nearly every day. Then I let them air dry on my shower rod!
Clothing is something I am very interested in as I used to fall victim to the fast fashion craze. Over the past four years I have become much more aware of what the fashion industries are doing and who I want to support with my dollar. I frequent thrift stores and actually work part time at an upscale consignment store in New Hampshire called Urban Exchange. Purchasing second hand, using what you have, borrowing, and trading are some of the best ways that you can build up a sustainable closet. My best tip is to actually look for high quality basics that will last as those are what you will be wearing most often. My sustainable basics include one of each of the following: jeans, a white t-shirt, leggings (a few pairs), a nice jacket, a black turtleneck, a sweater, and a white button up. With those pieces I can mix and match more in-style or statement pieces that I find second hand. If you are looking to buy new I recommend doing a bit of research on the company you are interested in to see how sustainable they really are. A good way to make your clothes last longer is to pay attention to how they are supposed to be washed and dried as well!
I have already talked about purchasing in terms of food and clothing, but something I haven’t mentioned is with household items. When looking to buy a new couch, rug, or desk, think about what is timeless and practical. You may want that zebra printed velvet couch now because it’s so chic and in style, but when you are 40 are you still going to like it? Go more neutral and get a zebra throw blanket instead. Keep your big purchases basic so they will last you a lifetime instead of a few years. Buying local also applies to your furniture. Why order something from China or across the country when you can drive down the street to your local thrift store and see if they have something first. A vintage piece can be more unique, cost effective, and sustainable! Remember these items you order from far away need to be transported all the way to you, creating pollution, and unnecessary plastic.
The next topic may be forgotten by some but is just as important as the others, energy. Even if you have an unlimited electricity bill it is so vital to shut off the lights, fans, air conditioners, and chargers whenever possible. Why leave your computer charging all night when it only needs an hour to fully charge? Why leave the lights on when you leave the house? Why leave that fan running all night when you simply need it for 5 minutes to fall asleep? Why run the dryer when you can hang your clothes (this is better for your clothes too)? Don’t waste this energy because you can, it may come at a flat rate to you but it does not come at a flat rate to the environment.
Now I know you may be tempted to go out and buy a bunch of zero waste products for yourself, but one of the key aspects to reducing your waste is to use what you have! If you have plastic wrap, use it up, just don’t buy it again and make the switch to glass Tupperware. If you have a plastic toothbrush, use it till it’s time to switch, then purchase some bamboo ones that come in paper packaging. Throwing out what you have to purchase new things is so much waste within itself. Take inventory of what you have, then when you run out purchase those more sustainable options. Even if you can only make a few of the changes I mentioned above, you are making a difference! Start small and do what works best for you.