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Several years ago I watched the documentary “No Impact Man,” and I was intrigued by a zero waste lifestyle, but not intrigued enough to start washing my clothes in the bathtub or giving up my iPhone. It’s a documentary about a man who tries a 1-year experiment to live with little to no environmental impact. He somewhat forces the lifestyle on his family, but since they live in New York City access to things like year-round farmer’s markets make the transition a little easier.
Recently someone brought the zero waste lifestyle back to my attention, and I am mentally revisiting it. My family and I already try to live intentionally in many ways that parallel a zero waste lifestyle – I am a vegetarian because it’s difficult and expensive to source “ethical” meat around here, we aspire to be a chemical-free home, we espouse minimalism and simplicity, etc, etc. so I decided to take another look at zero waste lifestyle.
Zero waste essentially means striving to produce as little waste and garbage as possible. I thought we were doing pretty good to only fill one city garbage bin per week and one recycle bin, while our neighbors fill at least two with only a small recycle basket, but as I started to examine the things I was throwing away, I was pretty shocked.
Getting down to ZERO waste is overwhelming, and not realistic for my lifestyle. But I firmly believe that you should always make the best choice you can in these situations, and there are a TON of changes I can make in my life to reduce the garbage I am generating. While I won’t EVER be eliminating toilet paper, there are a lot of changes I am going to start implementing.
Steps Towards Zero Waste
Buying in bulk. One easy way to eliminate extra packaging is by using reusable bags and buying from bulk bins. These muslin bags work for grains, nuts, etc. I store my dry goods in mason jars with these lids. I store them on open shelving in my kitchen, because it’s not only convenient to see what I have on hand and how much is left, they are kind of pretty.
Reusable shopping bags. Reusable shopping bags aren’t anything new, but if you’re like me, they hang out in your trunk while your groceries come out in plastic bags anyway. This month I am committing to using reusable shopping bags every time! There are also things like reusable sandwich bags, reusable container seals, and tons of options for getting rid of the plastic and disposable storage containers we use to store food.
This morning I paid attention to just how much garbage we generated making one day’s worth of lunches, and I was stunned. The kitchen is such an easy place to make changes!
Shop less. Now, I like to shop. Nothing like an afternoon of retail therapy, right? But one of the most wasteful, damaging habits we participate in is mindless shopping. Not only does it impact the budget, and generate a lot of needless waste in the form of plastic bags, packaging, and energy used to get to the mall. And it’s indicative of a deeper discontent.Why do we like to shop to the point of addiction? It’s a viscous cycle that is rooted in misguided priorities.
Use less water. Time your showers. Turn the faucet off when you are brushing your teeth. Wait til the dishwasher is full to run it. Don’t wash clothes after 1 wearing. Lots of little choices can add up to big water savings, which will also save you money on your water bill.
Make the best choice I can in the situation. Zero waste is a bit of a misnomer in this day and age. Without living a VERY radical lifestyle, it’s going to be impossible to literally generate zero waste. But my personal mantra is making the best decision I can in the situation. I’m not going to give up toilet paper (like ever. You can quote me.) so what is the best choice in this situation? For us, it is buying in bulk to reduce packaging. A large box of toilet paper comes in 100% recyclable materials, and NO plastic. You could also buy recycled toilet paper. Life is full of choices, and you don’t have to be overwhelmed with changing every single thing immediately. Just analyze each choice as it happens, and make the best one you can at the time.
Why should I care about Zero Waste?
And, as is true with SO MANY things in life, find your why! I tend to be pretty environmentally minded anyway, so zero waste is something I am naturally interested in, but if you aren’t “green” this may all seem a bit crazy to you. You can read a full list of facts and statistic here, but let me share a few of the most jaw-dropping:
- Each child that takes a disposable lunch to school creates roughly 65 lbs. of garbage per school year.
- The average family uses 1,000 plastic bags each year.
- 33% of our garbage is made up of packaging that we throw away immediately.
- Glass takes 1 million years to break down naturally, and 8 weeks to be recycled and returned to the store shelf.
- 1 coffee mug in a truckload of glass is enough to contaminate the load and cause it to be rejected from recycling.
The true cost of our convenient lifestyles is staggering. God commands us to be stewards of what we are given, and that includes our planet. But I think the impact is far greater than environmental. We no longer know how to be self-sufficient, or how to repair or make our own things. I want to hand a different lifestyle down to my children.
Working towards zero waste is great based on its own merits, but there are some other positive side affects you will also notice. Saving money will probably be the most noticeable. Sure, it can be more expensive to buy food in the bulk aisle, or buy a reusable bag instead of taking the free plastic ones at the grocery store, but removing yourself from the consumer mindset will drastically change the rest of your budget. Another side effect is less stress. When your priorities shift to the right things, its funny how that stress starts melting away. You may even notice some health benefits from choosing less processed foods, making more from scratch, and spending more time making things than sitting in front of the television.
Obviously this is a pretty complex issue, and I could go on and on (I’m not kidding, I really could), but I hope this scratches the surface and gives you a good idea of why it is so important to be better stewards. Are you willing to commit to reducing your waste? Look for a zero waste challenge coming in April!