Have you heard of Bea Johnson from Zero Waste Home ? Or Ariana from Paris-to-go ? Or Lauren from Trash is for tossers ? While slow living has become the most coveted lifestyle and minimalism is currently trending, Zero Waste lifestyle is the one I admire the most. While some of us talk about sustainability and minimalism, they decided to live it. I decided to try it – take some baby steps. One trash can a month. Our trash can is a tiny 5 liter bathroom can. We take our trash out once a month. We sort it out into recycle and landfill when we do. So far, it feels doable ! This is my part 1 of this series. I have done the easiest things first. If I can do this, anyone can* ! The harder things are the ones I am still working on.
* Greener industry, greener homes, trees saved = greener planet
Myth 1 : You have to make everything yourself
My Take : Most Zero waste blogs are basically recipe blogs. How to make deodorant, toothpaste, make your own clothes, etc. But I think most of us can do a lot without living like a farmer.
Myth 2 : You have to be a minimalist to try this lifestyle
My Take : I am not one. While I constantly make an effort to simplify my life, I am really not one. But I can still make a change. Although, I do think being a minimalist tackles the underlying cause of it all.
Myth 3 : You have to be Vegan
My Take: I learnt that beef consumption accounts for ~10 times the resources taken and trash produced when compared to what we can save by lessening household consumption. I did give up eating red meat and still eat chicken and fish. I am not aiming for zero carbon footprint. But minimize what I can.
Myth 4 : Its time consuming.
My Take : Yes it is. But its like budgeting money. You do some ground work but its enriching. And it becomes easier going forward.
Myth 5: Its more expensive.
My Take : You can not save at the expense of someone else or the planet. Yes, I save less because I shop at certain places. But I believe it’s good for me. I have a niece and nephew that I love to bits. I would like to adopt a child in the future. This is my inheritance to them – a cleaner planet.
Myth 6: You will look shabby.
My Take: When I started my research, I saw things that scared me. Folks wearing second hand H&M clothes that looked frumpy – found in the thrift stores for 2$ and talked about not washing hair with shampoo. The emphasis should be on quality products and quality life without drowning in plastic and other toxic crap.
Myth 7: It will save me money.
My take : I do not spend money on disposables like fast fashion, kitchen towels, plastic razors, etc which cut my household budget by a lot. But I do buy better quality products and long wearing reusables. Since I am on year one, I dont see any major savings. I will report back if it will save me money in the long run.
Myth 8: It’s all or nothing
My take : Bloggers and environmentalists go the all in route. I have not. But if all of us took the little steps, we could still do a lot ! I always found excuses for not giving it a try because I didnt want to do everything that is advocated. But doing whatever I can is much more pleasurable than doing nothing ! It will not earn me the title of “zero-waste” but that is fine by me.
*loose tea over tea bags
STEP 1 : COMPOST
This is that one thing well done that solves half the problem. We cook. We eat. How can I not produce trash ? The solution : Compost. I save a large ziplock bag in my freezer. I use it as my trash can to collect the vegetable peels and food scraps. And shove it back in the freezer. I looked up compost drop offs in the Phoenix area. There were none. I asked at my local whole foods about what I could do. They suggested a farm in my town that will take my compost on Saturdays. Problem solved ! Some cities have farmers markets with composting facilities. There are paid compost collection agencies like RecycleCity for homeowners. I wish my city makes it easier to compost.
* Avoid items destined for the landfill and even the recyclable plastics.
STEP 2: “HIDE THE TRASH CAN”
I did not remove it. Just hid it. Created an inconvenience. You develop zero waste goggles ! This made me start noticing the incoming and outgoing items. It will train the mind to get annoyed when an apple comes wrapped in single use plastic. I never realized how much take out food I got untill I did this exercise. Why did I buy that bar of soap that came wrapped in a cardboard box and then in another plastic wrapper ? Why does every store insist on giving me a bag and paper wrap for everything ? If I online shop, they comes in cardboard boxes and possibly plastic wrap. I want to shop less anyways. Train the eye to notice. Years of mindless habits have taken its toll on me.
* Vintage Nat Geo magazine, what a pioneering vision !
STEP 3 : CHOOSE WISELY
I don’t want to smear olive oil on my face as moisturizer. And never wear mascara again. Or never buy products created by the experts. Or DIY every damn thing. I believe we all have our expertise. And I want to support fair trade. But choose very wisely. I make my own face wash, scrub and body oil. But buy sunscreen, serum and face oil. I use Laundress laundry products because they are amaaazing ! I make my own house cleaning supplies out of baking soda and vinegar. But buy shampoo. I stopped using hair conditioner a while ago and use oil. …. Along the way, I got told I needed all these products for a clean home or healthy body. Question everything, experiment and choose wisely. I make a few, forgo a few and buy a few.
*washable cloth bags for bulk bin shopping
STEP 4: BULK BIN SHOPPING
I used to get my spices from India, all wrapped in plastic. I now found a bulk bin that has really fresh spices that I can purchase in quantities I choose. My Sprouts and Whole Foods has bulk bins for rice, oats, shredded coconut, nuts, beans and pulses I need in the best quality possible. It’s a tad more expensive. Just a little. It also means that I carry my own cloth bags to fill. I was shy and embarrassed the first time I did it. “What is THAT?!!!!“, I keep getting asked in an incredulous tone when I am at the checkout counter. I got used to it and my grocers know me, which is nice. My butcher knows me. I ask him to save me a big bone for my bone broth. He sometimes gives it to me for free. I need to be planned and take my containers. It takes 5 extra minutes to sit down and do this exercise. Time I can certainly allocate.
* Twine can be glamorous !
STEP 5 : Kitchen towels, cloth bags, handkerchiefs, twine, ebooks
I never saw a roll of Bounty kitchen paper till I landed in America. I realized America was a wealthy country and it can afford to throw paper at all its problems. Now I think otherwise. We have grown insensitive to the origin / lifecycle of everything and hence the choices. Buy/make/thrift shop some kitchen towels and hand towels. Carry a handkerchief instead of reaching for a one time use tissue paper. Carry a cloth bag folded in your handbag and have one dedicated for groceries. If everyone did this, a million trees would be saved per day. Use recycled toilet paper. Forgo those baby soft bum sort of speciality kinds. Buy ebooks. The trees are our cousins and their life is worth much more.
*I do acknowledge that location plays a big role in achieving these goals. I live in student town that is a very low income locality where most folks just get by life somehow. Most of my students live in tiny dorms and on extreme tight budgets. Biking miles with glass jars/cloth bags for bulk shopping after a tiring day when you are broke is tiring compared to taking the easier way out. I know. I was that person not too long ago. But if enough of us care, we can lay the foundations for change. Do what we can, for now. And take it from there.