When you live in New York City, trash is everywhere. Mountains of black garbage bags pile up on the sidewalk, plastic bottles and food scraps are tossed on subway tracks, and household junk overflow into the streets. According to the NYC Department of Environmental Conservation, New York City produces 11,000 tons of household trash on a daily basis. On a global level, nations collectively generate 1.3 billion tons of waste. That number is expected to climb to 4 billion tons by 2100.
But let’s not freak out just yet. There are heroes out there fighting the evils of mass consumption and waste! Cities are banning plastic bags. Farmer’s markets and food cooperatives are eliminating all packaged foods. Eco villages are popping up all over the world. Fashion designers are finding innovative ways to turn waste into apparel. Millennials are finding ways to fit a year’s worth of trash in a mason jar. People are waking up and taking action. It’s awesome.
So how can YOU contribute to this global revolution? The best way to fight the global waste epidemic is to go zero waste. It is nearly impossible to be 100% zero waste, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. We should strive for progress, not perfection!
Here are a few tips to kickstart your zero waste journey:
1. Look at your trash.
In college, we did a zero waste challenge where we were asked to bring a week’s worth of our own personal trash. We had to examine our trash, take notes, and then find alternatives for the following week. This was super helpful as we got face-to-face with our trash. We consume and waste so unconsciously because it is such a societal norm. Most of us did not realize half of the trash we were making until we had to examine it. The following week, we cut down our trash by half. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty here, you will be grateful you did!
We consume and waste so unconsciously because it is such a societal norm.
2. Do your research.
Find blogs or books that will inspire your zero waste journey. Trash Is For Tossers is a great place to start. There are also eco-conscious bloggers on Instagram that share their personal zero waste hacks. Here is a list of bloggers, documentaries and other resources you can check out:
3. Get rid of disposables.
This should be the easiest transition. All you are doing is replacing what was used previously with a sustainable option! Here is a starter list to make the process even easier:
– Mable Toothbrush, a bamboo self-standing toothbrush that supports kids education across the United States.
– Tote bags for grocery shopping (you can find them almost anywhere!).
– Bye bye, plastic water bottles. Get a Klean Kanteen! This one has a bamboo cap instead of the usual silicone caps.
– Who needs a Swiffer when you’re new best friend could be the Norwex mop? You won’t have to buy another mop OR cleaning solution again. All it needs is a little water and you are good to go.
– Calling all coffee addicts! Ditch the automatic coffee maker (so terrible for the environment) and use an Aeropress with this reusable stainless steel filter. A non-plastic french press works great, too!
– For soap, I buy naturally made, unpackaged bar soap from Soaps of 7 Flowers. You can also buy unpackaged bar soap at your local health food store.
– Female Hygiene is a big one. The DivaCup is praised in reviews, as it can last up to 12 years if properly taken care of. However, if you have an IUD, a reusable menstrual cup is NOT for you. They’ve been known to accidentally remove IUD’s! Some women are not comfortable with the idea of sticking something up there, so here is a solution: THINX undies. You will never have to buy a tampon or pad again with these period-proof panties.
4. Shop in bulk.
If you have a Food Co-op in your neighborhood, then you are in luck. They make grocery shopping easy because everything is in bulk! Mason jars will be your new best friend. You can fill up your mason jars with granola, quinoa, nuts, liquid dish soap, the list can go on!
Whole Foods has bulk options too, but like most grocery stores, everything is packaged. To avoid packaged produce, hit up your local farmer’s market and buy directly from the farmer. It can cut your costs in half, and you get to see exactly where your food comes from and connect with local farms in the area.
5. Buy second hand or borrow.
We have been told by the fast fashion industry to consume all of these things that we really do not need. Fast fashion is the second biggest polluter in the world, next to oil. No shade to sustainable businesses that are creating eco-friendly, locally-made clothing. But if you can find what you need in a thrift store, why buy new? The less we consume, the less waste we make.
Borrowing seems outdated, but it might just be the solution to our shopping woes. For example, take Berlin’s Leila, a borrowing shop that has brought it back to modern times. We already share cars thanks to apps like as Lyft, and homes with AirBnB. We can share much more. Maybe you’ll make a new friend in the process!
This is where it gets FUN! There are loads of DIY recipes for almond milk, makeup remover (literally, just use coconut oil), cleaning sprays, and toothpaste on eco blogs. Start with those basic recipes, then you can take it up a notch. Make your own soap and/or coffee body scrub. Learn how to knit your own scarf. Grow your own herbs! Whatever your DIY heart desires.
7. Strive for progress, not perfection.
This is a big one. When I started my zero waste journey, I would get so frustrated when I accidentally made trash. I would forget to tell the bartender to not give me a straw, or I’d forget my reusable shopping bag. I used to beat myself up for it, but I realized it’s a work in progress.
It’s completely ok to forget to bring your own bag. If you forgot your Klean Kanteen and you’re thirsty, get a bottle of water! This is not a competition to see who has the least waste. As long as you are being mindful of your waste, and you’re trying, that’s truly what matters.
Do you strive to be zero waste?
Feature Image via Chloe Rey