If you are just getting started on your zero waste journey, the idea of reducing your waste can be overwhelming. Let’s address the pressure to be perfect: zero waste is simply impossible with our current economy. We are living in a linear economy, meaning products are designed to be thrown out. True zero waste could only exist in a circular economy where all products are designed to be reused, recycled, or composted. However, this should not discourage you from trying to reduce your waste. I mentioned it to make clear that perfection is not the goal; instead, try to embrace and celebrate any changes you make.
The very first step to going zero waste is to do a trash audit to see what you’re throwing away. Go through your trash, write each item down, and make plans on how to stop those items from finding their way into the trash can again. Below are some suggestions on how to swap out some of the most common disposable household items for reusable counterparts:
1. Reusable Water Bottle
This is by far the easiest swap to make if you have potable water at home. Not only does it save on plastic, but it saves money too, and you probably already have a reusable water bottle. Don’t have a water bottle at home? Prefer stainless steel when you purchase. Stainless steel is more durable and lighter than glass. It’s also recyclable if it gets irreparably damaged and has less toxins than plastic. If your water is safe to drink, but the taste prevents you from drinking it, try using a charcoal filter.
2. Reusable Shopping Bags
Again, I feel like reusable tote bags are a pretty standard thing to have laying around–so start using ’em! If you don’t happen to have any, you can either make some out of an old t-shirt, buy secondhand, or buy new. If you do happen to buy new, prefer organic and natural fibers over synthetic ones. If synthetic is all you can find, no worries. Reusing is ultimately what counts.
3. Reusable Produce Bags
Okay, I ALWAYS get compliments on these. Seriously, the first time I used them, a teenage guy was the cashier and said “Oh my god, these are so adorable.” So, yeah, don’t think you’ll get strange looks for using non-plastic produce bags. People’s responses might surprise you! You can get crafty by making your own out of an old sheet, buy secondhand, or buy new. The cotton ones I have aren’t true “produce” bags, they’re really meant for bulk foods. I like the regular cotton ones because I can use them to hold dry snacks, when I travel, etc when I’m not at the grocery store. Again, it’s your preference–I’ve seen lots of different types. Get something you know you will look forward to using!
4. Travel Mug
Akin to the water bottle, if you regularly get hot drinks out and about, consider getting a travel mug. Paper coffee cups may seem harmless, but they usually have a plastic coating on the inside, which disqualifies them for recycling. Also, the spirit of zero waste includes avoiding disposable products of all types, even if they are biodegradable. A plus is that some places (Starbucks) give you a discount for using your own mug. Woo!
5. Steel Straws
Not a necessity, but a simple way to cut down on plastic while you’re out to eat. Ease into refusing disposables in public with your steel straw. Even if you don’t want to buy any, you can simply drink without one!
6. Bring Your Own Cutlery
Bringing your own cutlery will help reduce the amount of plastic cutlery you use when eating out. BYOC is just too easy, guys! Bring a set to work or leave one in your bag. You won’t regret it. Like everything before, the best idea is to reuse what you already have! You can simply roll your silverware into a cloth napkin (see #7) and you’re good to go. There are a few options, however, if you’d prefer to have a compact set for convenience’s sake. I actually do use a phthalate & BPA-free reusable plastic set, which was gifted to me at the beginning of my zero waste journey. I don’t mind too much because it is reusable and gets the job done. If you’d like to be completely plastic free, I’d recommend this bamboo set. It even comes in its own case!
7. Cloth Napkins
Another super easy swap is replacing paper napkins with cloth napkins. This will save you money in the long run and lots of paper waste. You can buy these at pretty much any department store. Buy enough for 2-3 per family member to make sure your house is well stocked. This will also help you have extras in case you have guests over.
Similar to cloth napkins, rags can help you reduce your paper towel use. Cut up a worn out shirt or sheet, or buy some quality washcloths. Such an easy way to cut down on paper use and save money!
Hopefully this can help jump start your zero waste journey. Turning these simple swaps into habits gave me time to settle into a zero waste mindset and research other swaps. Do you have any easy swaps that beginners could incorporate today? Please leave them in a comment below!