The end of yet another month, and I get to share with you all another fabulous guest post about a fellow blogger’s journey toward zero waste and a more sustainable lifestyle. While at first blush, personal finance, financial independence, ad sustainability don’t seem to have that much in common, I’m finding that again and again, I’m not alone in my pursuit of both. For me, and for those who have been featured in this series, the attempt to live more intentionally cannot separate money from the environment.

When I first started blogging, it felt like I was all alone when it came to putting the environment first in my pursuit of financial independence. As I’ve found my community with personal finance bloggers, I’ve loved reading all of the ways some of them have found sustainability to be just as important as straight finances. And when I read The Frugal Fellow’s post on 5 Ways To Be Frugal While Saving The Environment, I knew I’d found someone I needed to have write up a guest post for this series.

Living an intentional life means spending money and time on what matters. And what ultimately matters is this one Earth, as it’s all we’ve got. And with that, I’m going to have The Frugal Fellow take over and explore what that journey has looked like for him so far.

Zero Waste: Gradual Changes For The Better

Much like Frugasaurus, I too was intimidated when Angela reached out to me. That said, after reading Kristine’s post, I would definitely say she is miles ahead of me in terms of limiting waste. Both she and Budget Epicurean are tough acts to follow. Still, as I do feel strongly about this topic, and I would be hard-pressed to turn down the idea.

I will say that while I am also nowhere near zero waste, in my defense, I only started working toward it recently. It’s similar to financial independence in that it can be a gradual process. You don’t just flip a switch one day and suddenly you aren’t producing any waste.

Plastic bottles washed up on shore.

Not only that, but American culture doesn’t exactly make zero waste easy. Take a quick walk down the aisles of a typical grocery store here and you will quickly see what I mean: hundreds, if not thousands of products, all of which come in small quantities and packaged in plastic.

But I’m trying. I continue to make small optimizations here and there which will eventually add up to a big reduction in my environmental footprint. As I often say, doing something is always better than doing nothing.

Reduce and Refuse

Reducing and refusing can overlap quite a bit, so I am lumping them together here. That said, these account for one of the biggest shifts in my life as of late. Love it or hate it, the no (plastic) straws movement is here, and hopefully not going anywhere.

Yes, I am very much participating in this movement. But while home cooking tends to create less waste than eating out, I haven’t ditched restaurants completely. However, nowadays when I go to a restaurant, I will use reusable plates, utensils, etc. whenever I can. If reusable cups/glasses aren’t an option, I will still use a paper cup, but I won’t use a lid or a straw. (Note from Angela: again, like with water bottles, there are examples of why not everyone can – or should – avoid straws, though for most of us, it’s definitely the right idea)

Also, if a restaurant hands out Styrofoam cups, I try to avoid the place altogether. Sorry, but Styrofoam is one of the worst things you can possibly offer. Thanks but no thanks.

I bring my lunch to work when possible since that allows me to avoid disposable containers altogether. Sometimes I’m in a rush though. When that happens, I might eat in the cafeteria instead of taking food “to go” since they have reusable plates and utensils. Taking it to go really just means taking your food upstairs to our team area. What a waste of a disposable container that is. Worse still, most of them are Styrofoam. Again, no thanks!

One last thing here: while I haven’t yet tried it, I am considering a bidet. I would use one that is a toilet attachment and not a separate fixture. Now, many Americans might consider this an “icky” topic that they don’t want to discuss. But that fact remains that bidets can cut down a huge amount of paper waste.

Oh, and did I mention being cheaper? They must certainly are cheaper than buying toilet paper every month. The more basic attachment bidets cost $20-$40. And, of course, I can always keep some TP around to accommodate any potential guests who may be less open to the idea. I’m not going to try to force anyone else to make a change.

By the way, trees also must be cut down to make toilet paper – not necessary when using a bidet. Yes, using a bidet means using extra water. But according to The Scientific American, we use 473 BILLION gallons of water every year to produce toilet paper. That is absolutely absurd.

This might be a controversial topic for many, especially in America – but let’s just say I’m one who isn’t afraid to be different. Especially if being different can help our environment.

Reuse

Of course, reusing is also one of the most important things you can do along your journey to less waste. When it comes to reusing, there are several reusable items I have adopted over to past few years:

• Reusable water bottle

• Travel coffee mug

• Reusable coffee filter

• Reusable grocery bags

• Cloth napkins

Carbonation maker (no more soda cans!)

• Growler (for beer, of course)

Most of these are pretty self-explanatory but allow me to go into more detail about a few of them.

Bottled Water

I have written about it on my own blog, and so has Budget Epicurean, actually. (Angela here: so has Young FIRE Knight and me of course!) I don’t want to harp on this one too long here, though. To quickly make this case, let’s look at a snippet from Ban the Bottle:

“Americans used about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year. However, the U.S.’s recycling rate for plastic is only 23 percent, which means 38 billion water bottles – more than $1 billion worth of plastic – are wasted each year.” 

There are two takeaways here. The first one is waste. Numbers don’t lie.

The second one is cost. Although it can be difficult to decipher what $1 billion means for most of us, all I can say is that tap water is extremely cheap here in the US. And although there may be some groups whose water supply has been deemed unsafe, that is a minority of people.

For most of us, tap water (plus a filter if you so choose) is not only much cheaper, but also far better for the environment.

Single-Use Grocery Bags

This one really pains me. Yes, this is only one item in a sea of pollution – literally – that doesn’t mean we should dismiss it. Another snippet from Conserving Now says that 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used each year. Imagine how much it would help in cutting down on all that plastic.

No, buying reusable grocery bags won’t save you money, unlike a reusable water bottle. Perhaps that’s why many people buy cheap ones, as some people have pointed out to me. (Angela here again – my area charges 5¢ per paper bag and doesn’t allow the sale of plastic, so over the long run you’ll save a tiny tiny bit. But the bags are also just way nicer for carrying groceries and everything else as well, regardless of monetary and environmental cost)

Not only that but if you buy cheap bags that fall apart after only a few uses, they could actually be worse for the environment than the disposable ones. Plus, the cost isn’t that much. Even the more expensive bags are less than $10 each, and you don’t really need to spend that much. Just not the cheapest ones, preferably.

Growler

This turned out to be a last-minute add to the list. I’m actually not a huge beer drinker – or alcohol in general, really – but every now and then I go for a local brew. And NC has a TON of those, by the way.

Actual photo of my growler!

Because I don’t drink a ton of beer, I didn’t initially think about this being a zero-waste option. But since the idea is to reuse these things and get them filled directly from the tap, it indeed avoids waste.

Lowering My Emissions

Although this is technically not related to waste, I still wanted to mention it. After all, emissions have a huge impact on the environment just as waste does. In order to reduce my emissions, I made the somewhat uncharacteristic decision to lease a new Chevy Volt back in March. Normally I would enthusiastically recommend buying used cars with cash, but I made an exception this time.

My reason for doing so was twofold; one, EVs are still a developing technology and I did not want to commit to something longer term, and two, the Volt is a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) which is basically just a stopgap on the way to fully-electric vehicles.

In any case, the good thing about PHEVs is that as long as you keep them charged, they can be driven without using any gas. My car gets an estimated 53 miles of electric range, which can be stretched further by regenerative braking. As of right now, it has been about three months since I put gas in it. Personally, I am very happy about that.

Of course, electric cars are not the only way to reduce your emissions. Public transportation, walking, and biking are all helpful. I wish I could use public transit more, but unfortunately, my area is a bit lacking in that regard. But if you have the option, it can be a big help.

Improving, but Still Not Perfect

I want to keep myself honest by saying that no, I am still not zero waste. In fact, I still have quite a bit to change if I want to have any chance of getting there. It’s not easy, though.

Probably more of the food items I buy are still packaged in something disposable, be it paper, plastic, or both. But the reality is that it’s very difficult to avoid these things – at least in the US. I know I have seen others echo this concern.

Yes, there are stores around here that have bulk bins. The problem is that when I say “around here” I actually mean they are a 20+ minute drive. Not that close. And while technically I could probably get there and back without using gas, I still have to use electricity to charge my car. And unfortunately, I live in a state that still uses non-renewable energy sources for most of its energy. So driving extra far could be a wash in terms of environmental impact when you really think about it.

Time for a Change (or Numerous Changes)

That said, I would like to see changes. What I’ve realized is that a lot of people never even think about their environmental impact because of the whole “Freedom! America!” thing. Because if you have to have discipline, that isn’t freedom, right?

But here’s the real problem: because our whole culture is set up this way, it can be very difficult for any one person to make a change. Because, like I said, so many things are packaged in plastic with no alternative option.

My hope is that people start to slowly realize the importance of zero waste. It may take decades, but that is still better than nothing – which I’ve realized is the exact amount that most people have changed their habits so far.

It is largely not their fault, though. Our culture is just kind of set up that way. I’m just hoping it won’t stay that way forever. The well-being of future generations depends on it.

-Bob, The Frugal Fellow

He’s put it perfectly at the end here – sustainability and zero waste isn’t just about us. With a three year old at home, part of my focus on the environment is now about what kind of world we will be leaving him with in the future. We can stick our heads in the sand, but climate change is already starting to rear it’s ugly head. How far will we let it get before it completely rages out of control?

Our parents may be able to avoid the worst of it, but our children and grandchildren, and the children and grandchildren of our peers, will be smack in the middle of it. We are past time to sit idly by and hope someone else will take care of things.

If you’re looking for inspiration in your own life for small and large ways in which you can make a difference, here are the other guest posts in this series on sustainability and zero waste:

19 thoughts on “Zero Waste: Gradual Changes For The Better (Guest Post From The Frugal Fellow)

  1. YASSSSSS! I totally have a bidet attachment on my Christmas list this year, much to The Boy’s chagrin. 😀 I found a great answer to reusable bags too: pillow cases! You can get them super cheap a thrift stores, they are usually thick, mostly natural materials, and they will hold your apples / kale / barley / pinto beans just fine, then you can wash them in the laundry! On my to-do list. Oh oh oh, where did you get your growler?? My FAVE place stopped selling them, just before I found them 🙁 Super jealous of the Volt! I wanna ride in it! I’m sorry you don’t have bulk stores closer to you. I’m spoiled now that I found the Co-op.

    1. Ahh, that is an excellent (and creative!) way to get more reusable containers cheaply. Not to mention using secondhand material, which is always a win.

      I got the growler where I lived previously – Greenville, SC. I would think they can be found around us though? I guess I haven’t looked.

      And let me know if you ever want a “test ride” in the Volt. I don’t mind!

      1. I didn’t realize you lived in Greenville! I’m bummed I never made it up there to explore while we were in South Carolina.

    2. Pillow cases (especially holiday print) can be a great no-sew option for gift bags too!

  2. By the way, Angela, regarding your note on straws – I fully support that. I didn’t mention in the post, but I think a possible solution would be to keep straws “in the back” if someone needs one. That is a different situation than having them readily available in the front of the restaurant.

    That said, I wonder if the power of habit would be great enough to make people who don’t have special needs just ask for a straw anyway. Denying that request would be dangerous from a legal standpoint even if you think the person is lying, so the odds are not in zero waste’s favor.

    I feel like this could make for an interesting experiment!

    1. I think the idea of keeping them “in the back” is a great idea. Even if people take them that don’t “need” them, it would be a HUGE reduction over where we are at now. And someone like my grandmother doesn’t need one in the immuno-compromises sense, but it makes it a lot easier/more enjoyable for her to drink water.

  3. No one can be perfect in this arena, especially living in the west. We can all just try to do the best we can, and make improvements. And let’s hope technology, including recycling technologies and others keep advancing. We should support them whenever possible

    1. And making sure that what is recyclable actually gets in the right bin! Few things drive me crazier than a plastic bottle in the trash.

  4. I’ve loved all these posts and Bob’s is no exception. I have a lot of room to improve when it comes to reducing my waste but am making changes for the better.

    There are lots of tips here that are easy and painless to start following. And I’m team growler all the way!

    1. Well, if you ever want to write a guest post of your own for this series, I’d love to have you! 😄

  5. Great post! I’ve really been trying to do little things to reduce my footprint. Many were mentioned above such as limiting use of plastic water bottles, reusable grocery bags, using metal straws, walking to places within a mile of my house, and so forth. I’m not perfect at any of these and don’t go to the extreme, but have tried to make small improvements.

    The information around becoming more environmentally friendly can be overwhelming, much like nutrition and finances. In your opinion, if there is one single thing the average American can do to reduce their footprint, what would that be?

    1. Not perfect, but getting better! That’s what I’d ask of everyone. And if you ever want to write a guest post about how this is going for you, let me know! I’d love to have you 😄

    2. And one single thing… hmm. That’s hard. But doing away with plastic water bottles is probably pretty high up on the list, or perhaps switching out your plumbing / electrical fixtures because those require no behavioral change on your part once the switch has been made.

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