The first year of this blog, I decided that I would write every single post that I published here myself in order to create a blog I felt was all my own. However, I planned to start accepting a few guest posts after that one year mark, as long as they fell into the same style of what I am publishing here regularly.
When Budget Epicurean approached me about writing a post on her zero waste journey, I jumped at the chance to share her story. Not only do I love her writing (and make meals based on her recipes on a regular basis), but her dive into a more sustainable lifestyle is obviously very near and dear to my heart. As one of my goals for this next year has been to post more regularly on sustainability in general, this post fits in perfectly. I got chills reading this through the first time, and I hope you will enjoy it just as much as I did. And with that, I’m going to let Budget Epicurean take it away.
Budget Epicurean’s Journey To Zero Waste
The sad state of our oceans, the rampant takeover of plastics, and the fast paced everything-is-disposable throwaway lifestyle we have embraced have really been weighing on my mind lately.
Just think about how many single use and disposable items you use or toss in a single month, week, or even a single day.
Non-recyclable toothpaste tube
A plastic cup and plastic straw from an iced coffee
Wrapper from a granola bar
Napkin from a free donut in the break room
Plastic clamshell from a salad
Plastic knife, spoon & fork even though you only used the fork
Plastic wrapping for silverware and teeny packet of salt & pepper
Plastic tiny dressing container
Another plastic or paper cup for drink at lunch
Pod from office Keurig 2pm coffee (& maybe a cup)
Bottle from a soda or water on the drive home
Plastic bags, wrapping, boxes, labels, etc from groceries
Big paper bag, wrappers, napkins from fast food
Synthetic cork from a wine bottle
Carton from a pint of ice cream
And this is a perfectly realistic day.
It should be no surprise how often doing the frugally conscious thing turns out to also be an ecologically conscious choice. Reduce, reuse, recycle keeps you from buying things in the first place, and to give usable items a longer or second lifespan. Good for the planet, good for your wallet.
There are so many benefits to reducing the amount of consumption in our lives. It will save us money, it will cut down on exposure to possibly carcinogenic chemicals from plastics, it will reduce our household clutter and it could save the future of the world as we know it.
I have finally come to a point in my life where I am financially secure. We spend far less than we make, I finally have more than $10 in my checking and savings accounts, I actually have retirement accounts.
I don’t need every single thing that is free, simply because it is free.
And I am so grateful for that.
Now it is time to use the money I do have to make choices that will sit better with my heart and my conscience.
What Is Zero Waste?
I first heard about the Zero Waste movement a few months ago, when I fell down the internet rabbit hole and landed on Bea Johnson’s blog, Zero Waste Home. Bea, her husband, and her 2 children can fit their entire year’s worth of trash into a single 16 oz mason jar.
She is considered the catalyst of a larger zero waste movement, as more and more bloggers are endorsing this way of living.
Each person and blogger and group has a slightly different take on the concept of Zero Waste. As she puts it, “We believe thoughtful choices yield simplified routines, tranquil homes and is the starting point in cultivating healthier lives, communities and planet.”
The basics of Zero Waste can be boiled down to the 5 R’s:
Refuse > Reduce > Reuse > Recycle > Rot
This adds an extra 2 steps to the traditional Reduce, Reuse, Recycle mantra we have all heard. Step one is to first refuse any plastic or single use items. This cuts down on what you bring into your life. Then the 3 Rs follow of course. And finally adding Rot at the end, whereby they rely heavily on composting to keep any and all materials that will naturally rot out of landfills.
The ultimate goal is to reduce one’s consumption and disposal to the point of creating zero waste throughout your life.
This is not meant to be an indictment of your lifestyle and your personal choices. That is for you to decide. This is just me “thinking out loud” and also partially accountability. In my “Weekly Eating” posts, I hope to also report how trying to grocery shop using zero waste principles is going.
I also do not think I can ever realistically get my household trash for a year to fit into a mason jar. But I definitely can be much more mindful of what I use on a day to day basis, and make smarter decisions about my consumption habits.
Here are the basics of my plan of attack.
Success is where preparation meets opportunity
A huge part of succeeding with this plan is preparation. If I am out and about and get hungry, and have no food with me, the only choices are to stay hungry until I can get home or to purchase something. This takes money out of my pocket and also more than likely will involved plastic wrap, a clam shell container, foil, paper wrapping, or more plastic.
If I go to a store and forget my reusable bags, this means having to leave and come back, wasting time and gas emissions, or to give in and use plastic bags. Therefore, a big step will be thinking ahead to what I’m doing that day or what I need done and being ready. Putting bags in all my cars, purses, etc. Bringing a water bottle everywhere. Packing small easy snacks even for short jaunts outside the house.
Just Say No
Step one is stemming the flow of plastic and one-use items that find their way into my life and my house. Learning to say no to plastic straws, plastic take-out utensils, plastic bags at the grocery store. Even if it’s uncomfortable, even if it’s inconvenient, even if I get weird looks.
That means if I go to a festival and someone is handing out free branded sunglasses, I politely decline. I have plenty of functional pairs. If I get a beverage, I will ask for “no straw”. If I order to-go food, I will ask for “just the food“.
Use What I Already Have
There are many times when we purchase something just because we have a momentary need, when we most likely already have something around the house that could do the job.
I’ll use the example of a mason jar, because they are so insanely versatile. If you have a mason jar, know what you don’t have to buy another of? A drinking glass. A flower vase. A candle holder. A button or rubber band collector. And on and on.
Increase Composting / Recycling Efforts
Since I do have a garden, I do already compost my kitchen scraps, in addition to saving select kinds in the freezer to make veggie stock. I can also compost things like egg shells, cardboard egg cartons, coffee grounds and filters, and human and dog hair (yes hair is 100% compostable). But I will be making more of an effort to collect even smaller things I’d normally toss in the trash like tea bags, small paper tags, dryer lint, or paper towels.
For clothing, obviously still in good shape clothing can be donated. But some clothing will have stains, rips, etc that make them un-wearable. I will try some of these other options spelled out by Trash is for Tossers, where companies can recycle fibers into new clothing, insulation, or pillow stuffing.
I’m also so thankful to finally live in a place that collects recycling! Many of my old apartments and rental homes did not have this service. And yes, I know an abysmal amount of recycled materials actually get re-used in the ways we think they do. But it is better than just tossing bottles and cans into the trash destined for the landfill.
I will also be focusing on cutting down plastic purchases in general. Though the cost may be incrementally higher, I will be buying our foods, drinks, and cleaning materials in glass or paper as much as possible in the future.
Get Creative and Brave
Living life more simply, frugally, and Earth-conscious-ly (is that a word? that’s a word.) will require a little bit of creativity and a lot of “I don’t-give-a-damn”.
A good example is getting take-out or to-go food. If I order food to-go, I will pick it up rather than have it delivered, and ask for only food. No plastic silverware, bag, or napkins. If I am going out to eat and it is planned ahead of time, I should start taking a container with me. That way, when I only eat half, as I inevitably do, I can pack it up in my handy sealing glass tupperware rather than styrofoam, plastic, and more plastic.
Creativity is useful in many ways, not the least of which is in reusing and up-cycling. I’m sure I have tons of things just sitting around waiting to become something new and useful. I have a small pile of clothing that survived the initial purge but still is ready to be out of my closet. But maybe not out of my life. I’m thinking I will cut them into rags to use as paper towel replacements.
Most things do not truly last forever. Things like toothbrushes, clothing, shoes, etc will wear out and need to be replaced. Dishes, glass tupperware, coffee mugs, might break and need to be replaced. When things inevitably do run low or run out, I intend to be more thoughtful about whether I need it in my life, and if so, how to responsibly replace it.
Things like materials, lifespan, transport, and manufacturing process will play into these decisions. Just jumping in whole heartedly to a zero waste lifestyle is sort of the opposite of what I’m going for. To immediately purchase a set of stainless steel straws, bamboo utensils, cotton produce bags, and beeswrap cloths would be a big expense and immediately replace many items I already own, which would be tempting to trash due to clutter.
So instead I will use up those things that are already a sunk cost and in my house. This will be a years-long process. And then slowly over time, I can thoughtfully replace them with better choices.
What do you think? Too extreme? Not extreme enough? Tell me about any eco-friendly moves you make in your own life! (Please, I need ideas)
Angela here again. I’m so encouraged by Budget Epicurean‘s zero waste goals for this year and inspired to step up my game as well. We do pretty well (definitely better than average), but there’s a lot more I can do as well. In this disposable culture it’s so easy to make exceptions “just this one time,” but that one time tends to add up more of them than we’d like to admit. I especially love her tip about bringing your own containers for restaurant leftovers – something I have yet to do myself, but that’s going to change now.
If you have more great ideas for her – and me – please share! We can all do our part to do just a little bit better this month.