We’re not a totally zero-waste household—something to strive for!—, but James and I have adopted a number of habits that have us reducing the amount of waste that we produce and this year we’re striving to do even better. Because, we can do better. And while we might not all have the power to reverse climate change and stop the oceans from rising, we can definitely take steps to living more lightly and being less wasteful.
In case saving the one precious habitable planet in the solar system isn’t incentive enough, consider this: all of these resolutions have a ripple effect on the environment within our homes. Less plastic, less garbage, less packaging means a home that feels lighter, brighter, and, I’m going there: way prettier. Here goes:
1. Buy in bulk.
I try my best to buy as many of our weekly groceries in bulk as possible, but there are always the errant cans of beans I need because I haven’t planned ahead enough to get those suckers soaking in time for dinner. This year I’m resolving to soak a weekly pot of beans so that I’m not left guiltily carrying home my weight in canned goods. On the stove today: garbanzos.
2. Refuse disposable cups.
Otherwise known as, bring your water bottle everywhere. Any bottle will do but I really love my Klean Kanteen insulated 12-ounce bottle because it keeps water cool and coffee hot and it’s small enough to pop into a bag without feeling too weighed down. Easy to wash, easy to carry. The hardest part is opting to go without when I’ve forgotten my bottle at home. Especially in the middle of along wintry walk. To work on: never forgetting.
3. Compost food scraps.
We save our scraps in a large plastic bucket that we keep in our freezer. On Saturdays we bring them to the farmer’s market for composting. Some weeks more neglected and shriveled pieces of kale go into the bucket than I’d care to admit. To work on: reducing our food waste.
4. Bring a bag.
Big bags, small bags, any bag you can bring, do. I have a habit of keeping my market basket by the door (or, with a curious toddler now, just outside of it) for filling up with recycling. On my way downstairs, I bring it with me, unload the recycling and fill it back up with groceries. I admit I’m less good about remembering to bring a selection of smaller bags to the store for bringing home bulk items like dried beans and nuts and granola. To work on: Putting a few of them into a pouch and having them ready to go for my next trip to the bulk section.
5. Fill your own container.
Peanut butter, dish soap, and maple syrup are all things that I can fill up a jar with at our grocery store. I never hesitate to hand over my empty peanut butter jar to get the tare at the front counter, or to give my water bottle to the barista, but there are other local shops and takeout restaurants where I’m more shy about bringing my own rinsed-out containers for filling. Fear of seeming like a weirdo, I guess. Or slowing down the line. To work on: #gettingoverit it the new year. I’m saving two bulk containers from the local market where I get my olive and cornichon fix and bringing them back with me. Reusing the container that they provide means I won’t have to slow down the line and I can feel much better about not sending the tub 0ut for immediate recycling.
6. Say no to disposable household products.
We haven’t bought paper towels or paper plates or plastic cups or utensils for our house, well, ever. By the time James and I moved into an apartment together at 23 and 25, we were both pretty firmly onboard with an eco-friendlier approach to making a home. We keep a bag of rags in the closet for cleaning (since we don’t have a washing machine, they get rinsed and air dried before going into the hamper with the rest of the laundry). We bring lightweight washable plates and cups with us on picnics. We have a basketful of rumply linen napkins for mealtimes. To work on: Weaning myself off of sponges for counter wipe-downs. (PS. A little update to clarify that the sponges that we do use are pop-up vegetable cellulose variety. So while not perfect, they *are* a significant improvement over other synthetic sponge options with dyes and plastics, etc. And I’m still looking into it, but some folks even claim these guys are compostable. For heavy-duty scrubbing we use coir brushes and stiff-bristled vegetable brushes!)
7. Find re-usable alternatives for food storage.
This goes hand-in-hand with number 6! I’ve realized that questions about food storage are a major hangup for folks hoping to reduce their reliance on disposables. But once you get in the habit, disposables like plastic wrap and tin foil are actually pretty easy to avoid. We have a few glass containers with lids that we use for packing up leftover dinner portions and a set of three stainless steel bowls with lids have been a game-changer for us in terms of keeping larger things fresh (a bowl of grapes, washed kale ready for a salad, the ever-necessary batch of cookie dough in the fridge…). And we’ve had great luck with the reusable beeswax coated Beeswrap sheets shown here. For things that really benefit from it, we do use the occasional sheet of parchment paper, which feels like a less-bad disposable alternative to the others.
8. Purify, purely.
This one’s a little specific, but we’ve been using charcoal sticks to purify our tap water for the past two years and we’re total converts. A stick of binchotan charcoal does effectively the same work as the charcoal that’s used in a Brita filter (or similar filtration device) and doesn’t come with the inherent waste of a spent filter. (The charcoal can be broken up and added to garden soil after you’re finished with it!) (Bonus points: terrific dinner guest talking point! Also: neat looking!)
Now your turn! Any zero-waste initiatives you guys are taking this year (or always?).
In case you missed it: decluttering resolutions.