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

Plastic toothbrush

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.

The illustrious Penny was tuning into my frequency when she wrote about why she’s skipping Starbucks. The BitchesGetRiches team highlighted how fast fashion clothing is a huge burden on our world.

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.

Thoughtfully Replace

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.

74 thoughts on “Pursuing A Zero Waste Lifestyle (Guest Post From Budget Epicurean)

  1. That’s an admirable lifestyle. Thanks for helping to save the Earth. We really need to work on reducing our trash. I think the first step is the most important. If you’re more choosy, that’s half the battle already. Good luck! We’ll work on it too.

    1. That is so true! I love that the first R is “refuse.” It doesn’t matter how “green” an object is if it would have been better off not purchased/made in the first place.

    2. Thanks Mr RB40! I definitely agree, if you don’t let clutter in in the first place, you don’t have to “de-clutter” over and over! Something I’m definitely working on.

  2. I really enjoyed this. I’ve learned a lot and been more thoughtful as I’ve followed your blog the last several months. I think what stuck out to me the most was her end comments–this is a process. I’m not going to just go spend a ton of money to replace the things I’ve already spent a ton of money on, but I can make better purchases in the future and use the crap out of what I already have. Loved it 🙂

    1. It is absolutely a process! And it’s hard to think of very many situations where it makes sense to replace a product with a “more sustainable” version if you already own something that works.

  3. Fabulous guest post! The forgetting reusable bags is REAL. I’ve started refusing bags for small purchases and I use reusable water bottles/mugs. My reusable produce bag order was cancled on Amazon so I need to reorder soon, and I need to find a good alternative to baggies for certain snacks…

    1. It is so real! I’ve stashed some in every car, handbag, and coat pocket now. Let’s see how many times I *still* forget… 😉 And agreed on something better than ziplock… someday I may get creative and try my hand at sewing, or bite the bullet and get some reuseable cotton sacks.

    2. Did you look at my original sustainability post? It has a link to some great reusable snack bags 🙂

  4. we tried composting last month. the rats got into the bin which was too soft. we eat at home 99% of the time and that helps. we keep our things a long long long time. i hate buying new stuff or even stuff coming into the house that is free.

    1. ewww… that sounds like a not great intro to composting! we use an old trash can that came with the house, it also has a lid. maybe you could search Freecycle or similar for an old locking rubbermaid tub type thing?

      1. we used a rubbermaid with a cinder block on the lid. we had to drill vent holes as instructed and one day i had to go inside and ask if mrs. drilled any holes the diameter of a rat. we’ll try metal if we do it again.

      2. Look it up… rats can squeeze through ridiculously small spaces 😑

    2. Oh noooo on the rats! That’s the big reason I’ve stuck to the industrial composting that’s available with our curb side pickup instead of doing my own.

  5. Great post! I am also working towards a zero waste lifestyle and it was Bea Johnson that got me started too! I’ve got loads of inspiration from her and actually listened to her at a talk she held in Stockholm. I totally agree that being prepared in key – I always bring a stainless steel water bottle, a spoon, a snack and lunch I packed myself in a glass container, a reusable bag and a travel coffee mug. That usually gets me through most situations 🙂 In the beginning changing your habits takes some mental energy but now it is just second nature to refuse anything plastic. I still have plastic around since I am doing like you and phasing my things out as the wear out so that I don’t throw perfectly functioning stuff out. Good luck with your journey!

    1. Bea is so great! That’s awesome you got to listen to her speak. And I totally agree on the mental energy it takes to start the habit, but then it just gets to be normal.

  6. This is an excellent, thought provoking post. I thought I was doing good with my reusable bags, coffee mug and water canister but I was convicted about buying a bag of plastic straws for smoothies. It just shows me that I can always do better!

    1. You are doing well!! Better than most, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more to do 🙂

  7. This is something I really need to get more into as well. Just doing the little things such as being more mindful about how much plastic you buy and use can help make a big difference in the long run. It’s crazy that someone’s total trash for a year fits into a mason jar!

    1. Yeah I don’t think I’ll ever get my trash down to a single mason jar, but will keep heading in that direction anyway!

  8. What do you do for grocery shopping? We definitely want to move in the direction of zero waste. Do you primarily use fresh produce and and bulk food sections where you can bring your own containers?

    Also, what about pet waste? I’d love to hear some ideas on what to do with used cat litter/filled dog poop bags.

    1. Unfortunately the bulk food section at our grocery store doesn’t allow us to bring our own containers. Fresh foods definitely go a long way, as does shopping at a farmers market or direct from the farm (and growing our own where we can).

      Unfortunately pet waste cannot be composted, and should be thrown in the trash. Not sure if there’s a good solution to that one.

    2. What to do with used cat litter is also one of my questions. My [imperfect] solution is to scoop into newspaper instead of plastic bags. It still has to go into the garbage bin. And I don’t think there is sufficient oxygen in the landfill for it to decompose. But at least I am not adding more plastic.

      1. Our cat is an outdoor “barn” (garage) cat so he goes outside. Not a perfect solution there either, unfortunately. And you aren’t even supposed to flush pet waste, so it really does have to go in the trash can.

    1. Thank you for sharing! And hating to drive is definitely incentive by itself for reducing the number of trips I take that way 😉

  9. When we first moved to the US, the first thing that struck me was the amount of waste here. I guess that things like packaging is so much cheaper compared to the rest.

    We have lost our way, though. We generate a lot of waste – our recycling bins are full every week, and we generate a trash bag worth of waste every week. Need to get better.

    1. It is sooooo hard to ignore the convenience items! You don’t become super wasteful overnight, nor will we become better stewards of our resources overnight. But it is good to keep these things top of mind, and make better choices when we can.

    2. Amazing how quickly and easily you can fall into wasteful habits. This country certainly makes it easy.

  10. I LOVE THIS. So many quotable parts I’m having trouble to decide which quote to use when I share it 😛 And I’m bookmarking it in my browser to come back to as a reference in the future.

    I have been toying with the idea of really tracking my waste for a week and doing a challenge to reduce it, but haven’t gone all-in yet. I have truly become so much more aware though of how much waste there is in the world and more consciously and intentionally reduce my use of disposable products and overall waste. Just going to the grocery store and noticing all the packaging is enough to make me cringe.

    The idea of this lifestyle being a years-long process is fantastic insight. It is so tempting to buy new “eco-friendly” alternatives when we already have things that are perfectly functional. A great reminder that it will take time and that even the pursuit of less waste can become wasteful if you’re not mindful.

    1. The more you pay attention to that sort of thing, the more you realize that waste is EVERYWHERE. Just remember that baby steps are awesome, and you’re doing better than you used to, even if it isn’t perfect.

  11. I love this post. I think it’s wonderful that you are pursuing a zero waste lifestyle. My wife and I do an okay job of reducing our waste, but we know we can do better. We would like to become more zero waste too.

    You highlighted something very important that most people don’t know or realize… the fact that living a zero waste lifestyle is not only healthier for our planet/environment, but it can potentially be a lot healthier for ourselves as well.

    Take for instance drinking hot coffee in styrofoam single-use disposable cups. Yes, the styrofoam does not biodegrade and is terrible for the environment. But most people are also unaware that styrofoam is a toxic petroleum product that contains sytrene. In the 12th edition of its Report on Carcinogens, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) stated that styrene is “reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen,” and the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified styrene as a “possible human carcinogen.” And guess what? This toxic styerene gets leached into the food and drinks that we consume, especially when the contents are hot (such as coffee). And single-serving “paper” cups from places like Starbucks are not much better. They are contain a plastic polyethylene coating inside the inner-lining of the cup… and you guessed it, this too can leach toxic chemicals into your latte (another reason for millennials and others to not to buy that $5 latte… but of course avocado toast is okay, especially if organic, vegan, and sourced locally 😉 ). It’s also sad that most people think it’s okay because they think that these “paper” cups are recyclable (they are not!). Anyways, enough with this rant. I can go on for awhile…

    I think the steps you are taking are fantastic! I especially like your use of mason jars. I love mason jars too! They are so versatile. They are great for storage, they keep food fresher, they are clear so you can see exactly what you have and how much is left, and they are non toxic (as opposed to plastic containers). I don’t know if you can tell, but my wife and I are really into non toxic living.

    In addition to using your own bag at the grocery store (and thus refusing the plastic bags),… you can also refuse the receipt. That’s one suggestion I would make. Most receipts are coated with BPA, which is a carcinogen and endocrine disruptor linked to cancer, diabetes, premature puberty, obesity among many other things. BPA can be transferred to your system through dermal exposure (touching it), so it’s best to avoid it when you can. Probably not a good idea to compost them either because you don’t want BPA in your food (through compost). Best thing to do is refuse the receipt and request the cashier not to print it in the first place. Of course we may need receipts for goods we may end later have to return, but refusing receipts in the grocery store is a start (it’s unlikely that we would need to return food).

    Oh yeah, and up cycling is a lot of fun. My wife made these non-toxic candles from old salsa jars that were laying around in our kitchen cupboard. It was a lot of fun!

    Anyway, I’m happy you’re pursuing a zero waste lifestyle. The planet and your health will thank you!!! 😀

    1. I just wanted to say that your geeky and literature based reply made this science geek all enthusiastic and happy. Keep ’em coming, doc!

      1. Yes!! Time for him to write a follow up post on this – perhaps you’d be interested in writing a guest post for part two of this discussion?? 🙂

      2. Oooooh, do you really want me to get all down and geeky with this one? I’m never quite sure how nitty gritty to write sciency posts!

      3. Okay, maybe I need to start a series of zero waste guest posts 🙌🙌

    2. Wow thanks Doc! This is an amazing response. So much wisdom here, I think you could write your own post! How does the McFrugal family pursue zero waste. I’d love to read it!

    3. Hmmm…. I wonder if maybe we’re missing something here by not focusing on the chemical/health part of zero waste. People may not always care about the environment as a whole, but most people do care quite a bit about themselves personally. And mason jars (and cloth grocery bags) are probably the two most versatile items I have in the house 🙂

      1. Oooh!!! I would love to write a guest post for part two of this discussion! I would be so honored. I would love to write about how we (my wife and I) started pursuing a more zero waste lifestyle, the reasons why we are doing it, and the steps we have taken so far. I have never done a guest post before, so please feel free to email me about the details. drmcfrugal@gmail.com is my email 🙂

      2. Will do! I would absolutely love for you to write that guest post! 🙂

  12. What a great post, I really enjoyed it!

    We have been working on reducing our own waste production, by bringing water bottles and reusable containers, but I feel like we still produce so much waste! This post has definitely inspired me to try to up our game!

    One of our biggest challenges is actually the produce aisle. While apples, oranges, pears and ginger can be bought sans bag (unless you buy organic, which is always wrapped… SIGH), there are just no plastic-free alternatives for things like peppers or cucumbers. It is really frustrating!

    1. Well, I guess that’s one thing the US does better then – most of our grocery stores leave all of the produce unwrapped – except Aldi of course 😉

  13. We are a long way from zero, admittedly! And my husband is a paper towel fiend – but I now compost these after learning that they can be! We definitely still buy more packaged goods than I’d like to admit (muesli bars, pasta, biscuits, etc) but I’m anal about recycling – I’m so glad you now have that option where you live!

    I’m also hoping to do cloth diapering at least part time once this kid arrives 🙂

    1. If you want to talk cloth diapering, let me know! We’ve done it my son’s whole life (though now we’re just down to bedtime diapers thankfully). It really isn’t as hard as people make it out to be.

  14. Well done! We certainly need to up our game in our household. The latest to go is drinking straws for the kids. Despite our discipline with recycling, it’s absolutely crazy how quickly we fill our super large bin, week after week.

    1. Straws are just so great! I’m pretty sure I’d only drink like 1 glass of water a day without them. I will use the plastic ones I have until they’re dead, but then I’m eyeing some glass or stainless steel ones.

    2. Drinking straws!! Oh I hear you – the kiddo absolutely adores them. We did get a fun one from the zoo, so maybe you can convince them with silly straws to go the reusable route?

  15. Love this post! We’ve given up plastic grocery bags by getting our food from a farmers coopc and from Aldi (where they encourage you to bring your own bags). Also, we make our own giant batches of tea in a glass jug, and use reusable glass jars/water bottles.

    The struggle comes from meats and other foods that are plastic wrapped that are hard to find otherwise. Butcher shops usually wrap in paper/plastic too.

    1. The meat is definitely a struggle – even the 1/2 cow we just got last week is packed in freezer bags… hard to get around that one unless you go meat free I think.

  16. Great post. I like to think I’m doing pretty well in this arena but there’s always lots of room for improvement. I got rain barrels for my house years ago and limit my water use. And I get really geeky about reusing plastic bags and even twist-ties. But in other aeas I can improve. For instance I’ve been meaning to start composting for a while now but keeep procastinating. And that’s an easy one, I have no excuse to not do it.

    Great stuff here!

    1. Once you’re doing “pretty well” with something it’s so easy to just settle in and get comfortable in your new normal. So glad for BE’s post to push me to do better!

  17. Love this post so much and not just because it’s thanks to two of my friends 😉 BE, I especially love how you’re not purchasing things immediately to replace what you already have just because what you have isn’t trendily (that’s a word now too haha) sustainable. After all, existing products are much more eco-friendly than new ones.

    I love/am intimidated by Bea Johnson’s lifestyle and am definitely scared to take a serious look at my own waste. I think it’s time to stop being scared of what I’ll find and jump in to make the changes that I can!

    1. Thanks friend 🙂 Yes I thought about going all-in, and realized that literally defeats the purpose. I will use up what I already have, and then be more mindful going forward. We all have to start from where we are.

    2. Yes time to stop being scared!! Just like finances, start with little baby steps and keep going as things start to become habits.

  18. If it were just me, I would be willing to dedicate 2019 to a no waste year. My wife would hate me and my kids would despise me. I might make it one of my personal monthly challenges though. That would be fun, right? I get so motivated to be a better human with these kind of blog posts, our poor planet deserves so much better. I get frustrated and discouraged because it seems like sometimes I am the only one who cares. I was just telling my wife the other day that, “Captialism makes it possible for people to build wealth but will also be responsible for destroying the planet.”

    I’m always curious to know about bringing your own produce bags to the grocery store. How does the clerk zero the bag weight so you don’t end up paying for the weight of the bag each time you buy produce?

    Enough of my rambling. This is a seriously awesome post. I will be posting on my personal Facebook page.

    1. Oh hmmm. I’ve never thought of that, but honestly the mesh bags are so light I honestly don’t think they really make a difference, especially if you compare to the plastic bags you’d put them in otherwise. If you’re worried about the penny cost, just dump them on the scale with no bag I guess 😉 And I hear you about having to scale back about going all in because of the rest of the family – which is usually actually a good thing.

  19. Rain barrels are great! I’m jealous of that for sure. It’s on my long-term goals list, one step at a time. Composting is very very easy, you just need a space large enough for a pile or a container for it.

  20. I bet Mrs. Thrifty would be all over the tupperware idea for restaurants. Styrofoam is one thing we’ve been trying to cut out completely.

    Have you found availability to be a barrier in terms of non-plastic packaging? It’s interesting to me that virtually everything was once packaged in metal or glass, and now it’s almost all plastic.

    1. That’s definitely true, though the more you buy “whole” foods, the less plastic and packaging you get in general.

      1. We try to buy our produce without packaging when possible. Have you seen the new plant-based plastics? There seems to be some promise, but I don’t think the economy of scale is quite there yet for cost-effectiveness vs. petroleum based products.

        I’ll have to ask our grocer if they’re willing to wrap meat in paper. We end up doing that anyway to freeze it.

      2. One grocery store we occasionally visit does wrap their meat in plastic, so SOME still do at least.

  21. Great post! I learned a few things (there’s 5 Rs, not just three?!?), it made me really think about some of the disposable stuff I’m still using on a regular basis, and it motivated me to start composting again. Thanks, Angela and Budget Epicurean!

    1. Go check out her post this week about tracking her trash – she’s a serious inspiration 🙂

  22. These are such great ideas! I seriously never even considered bringing my own containers to take leftovers home from a restaurant!

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