I realize that I’ve been on this road to sustainability much of my life and have had years and years to slowly adjust myself toward a zero waste lifestyle, but not everyone lives and breathes it the way I have. As much as I hope I can be an inspiration, I know that just like with most things it can be a bit daunting to read about someone who seems to do things so much more effortlessly than you do (how I feel reading about people’s $200 grocery budgets or their intricate investing strategies).
I will continue to write about what my life looks like and my struggle to get closer to true zero waste, but there is also a lot of value in sharing stories of people who have come more recently to this kind of life and are perhaps more relatable to anyone who is just starting down their own journey to sustainability and zero waste.
At one point Moriah Joy from Our Table For Two made a comment on Twitter about the beginnings of her sustainability journey, and I reached out to her to see if she’d write a guest post for me just on that topic. Happily, she agreed, and wrote the following walking through her steps to a more sustainable lifestyle. Just like me, it’s a work in progress, but every step is so important and makes a difference in the long run. And with that, I’ll turn the rest of this post over to her to walk through the simple steps she’s taken to live a more environmentally friendly life.
Simple Steps To A More Sustainable Life
In college, my friend and I tracked our trash while also doing a report on sustainable living practices. Ironically, we both noticed that we were holding a disposable coffee cup in our hand. It made sense then to go and buy reusable coffee cups.
That was my first foray into sustainable living. I wish I could say that, boom, it was super easy for me to transition into a zero waste lifestyle, but that has not been the case.
However, I’ve come a long way since then. Here are the changes I’ve made to create a more sustainable lifestyle for myself.
Steps to Sustainability: Coffee
Since it was the first place I noticed how much waste I was generating, my coffee habit was also the first place I severely cut back on waste. Coffee and I are probably best friends. My husband laughs at me for saying this, but it’s true. It’s also true that our current consumption of coffee causes quite a landfill disaster (disposable cups, K-cup pods, filters, etc.).
Thankfully, I’m a bit of a coffee snob, which means I brew my own in the morning. We have this really, REALLY cheap espresso maker and I would love to upgrade, but it does the job. And it doesn’t need filters, so it doesn’t generate any waste. At work, if I need a second cup, I have a french press and coffee grounds that I store in the fridge, which is also waste free.
We buy local coffee, but since it’s from a chain grocer, the coffee comes in non-recyclable bags. I’m working on finding a different supplier where I can buy in bulk and forgo packaging, but at the moment, a bag every three to four months is the only trash my daily habit produces.
Steps to Sustainability: Storage
The next biggest area that I tackled was food storage. I don’t buy ziplock bags. Or plastic Tupperware. My mother-in-law gifted me with a bunch of wonderful storage containers and we use them for everything: cheese, butter, half chopped onions, leftovers. You name it, we store it.
The decision to not buy ziplocs came when we moved a few months ago. We gave the ones we had away because I didn’t feel like packing and unpacking them, and then we just never replaced them. It’s been a little different, and I’m not a fan of living without them, so we just bought reusable, dishwasher safe ones, and if we like them, we’ll buy more. On a similar vein to ziplocs, I stopped buying paper towels when we moved. Now we have rags that we use for cleaning.
Steps to Sustainability: Shopping
We live in California, which means that anytime we go to the store, if we forgo bring our own bags, we’re charged with a 10 cent tax on each bag. This means we’ve gotten really good about bringing our own grocery bags to the store. This is a huge incentive to do the environmentally friendly thing and bring our own bags, which I do. Plus, it’s easier to carry a backpack a mile back from the store than grocery bags, and since I walk, it’s a sensible thing to do.
We also try to avoid packaging when we grocery shop. Well, at least I’m starting to think about it more. As part of 2019, I’ve started to cook more (2018 me was a huge fan of processed foods), and this change has cut down on packaging. We also have reusable produce bags that we use to carry stray onions and things, and we stay away from the single use plastic bags in those isles. One thing I’ve considered doing is buying more things from the bulk section to cut down on packaging, like we do with our cereal, but I haven’t figured out the best way to do that. It’s a work in progress.
Steps to Sustainability: Work
This seems like it would be an easy one, but a lot of times it depends on the office you’re at as to how set up to be zero waste you are. At my previous office, they had a dishwasher and selection of glass cups and coffee mugs you could use. They also had metal silverware. When you were done, you just popped it into the dishwasher and bada bing, bada boom, no waste.
My new office has many more disposable products, and I’m learning to remember silverware with my lunch. I don’t always succeed, but progress is key. I do, however, keep an office mug and an office water bottle handy. And eventually, I will remember to bring a spare plate to keep in a drawer.
Steps to Sustainability: Daily Living
A lot of our changes were small ones that are fairly easy to adopt. This last one, not so much. About a month ago, we decided to move. We lived thirty minutes outside the city, and while the space was wonderful (we had about 1200 sq feet in a loft above the barn), the lifestyle killed. Any time we wanted to do anything, we had to plan for an hour in the car, and then however long it took us to actually do the thing. Grocery store shopping was a pain, and I hated how much gas we were using (my husband was going through a tank a week, and I was going through two to three).
So we decided to move into an apartment walking distance from everything but my job. The store, the library, several parks, the church that I work at part time and the parish we attend. My husband walks to work about 75% of the time, and when the summer months come, I’ll be able to bike to and from work.
This one change really affected in a positive way how much time we spend in our cars. It’s better for the budget (rent is $43 more expensive, but we’re saving several hundred in gas and we’ve shaved hours off of my weekly commute) and our overall environmental footprint. Plus, I love being able to walk anywhere I need to go. Or bike, if I’m in a time crunch.
Overall, it wasn’t hard for us to switch to a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. It took some conscious changes, and we’ve run into a few hiccups, but it’s been a positive change. Some switches were easy, like cloth rags as opposed to paper towels, but others I’ve struggled with slightly more, like remembering to bring — and store — dishes at the office.
It’s also a work in progress, we’re not nearly as waste free as we could be, and I’m doing small things this year to help with that. For example, we have plans to grow a tomato bush and an herb garden in the balcony of our apartment. We can’t do much more than that as space is limited but it will cut down on the packaging of herbs and spices I use to cook with on a routine basis.
I‘ve appreciated the challenge, and I’m a far cry off from where I started — researching sustainability with a disposable coffee cup in my hand.
-Moriah Joy, Our Table For Two
41 thoughts on “Simple Steps To A More Sustainable Life (Guest Post From Our Table For Two)”
On the rare occasions I use ziploc bags, I wash them out for reuse. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s at least more sustainable than tossing them. Luckily, I don’t like coffee so I spare a lot of waste that way. Unfortunately, I never remember to bring bags with me to the grocery store, so I have a (deep) cupboard full of bags. My new goal is to always bring bags with me. I think I need to start just keeping them in the car to make sure I always have them on hand.
It’s amazing how long it takes to get into the habit of bringing bags to the grocery store. Another idea is to get one of those keychain bags that gets stuffed into a tiny bag and then you have at least that one on you at all times.
Learning to bring bags was so hard for me too! I didn’t get good at it until I spent a few months in Europe and carried a backpack around with me EVERYWHERE. Now, I keep a few in my purse and in my car, which is super helpful. I also don’t use a grocery cart. I just fill up the bag, and that way I always remember them. Even if I have to run out to the car really quickly to go grab one if I’ve left it.
We normally walk to the grocery store now, so it’s habit to take them as I walk out the door. On the occasion we stop unexpectedly when we’re driving are the days I’m somewhat likely to forget. At this point I have a pretty decent track record though.
Great stuff. I would also say it’s important to focus on the big stuff, like a smaller house that uses less energy and a reasonable vehicle that gets good gas mileage. Ford F-series trucks are the most popular vehicles in America and they get horrible gas mileage.
That’s very true! And once you set yourself up with the big stuff it’s something that’s continually sustainable without even having to think about it.
Yes! So true. The husband and I aren’t there yet with the house (we’re saving for a down payment but the purchasing is still a bit away), and I drive a Smart Car (and we’re hoping our next car is a Prius), so those are super easy for us to make sure that we simply start out on the right foot instead of having to change our lifestyles later. We also make sure we walk / bike to places and we’re not 100% reliable on our cars.
We installed 2 air source heat pumps that have displaced 1/4 to 1/3 of our heating oil usage depending on the year. Its cheaper to run and cleaner when its warm enough (about 40F). They will pay for themselves in a few years and provide cooling in the summer. They are cheaper and more efficient to run than our through the wall units.
Our town uses single stream recycling and it’s still a bit annoying to me. Mind you sticking all that trash in my garbage can is equally annoying. But having to stack and clean all that trash for recycling is what motivates me to be more packaging efficient. Its funny how that irritation has a positive effect.
Very nice! Heat pumps can be a really good deal in the right situation. And good point on positive irritation!
My little sister just got several of those produce bags and grocery bags from her job and wasn’t planning on using them, so she gave them to me. Those produce bags are awesome! I’m finally getting into a good habit of remembering to bring my grocery bags. I love how much easier it is to load my groceries and bring them in. Plus, I’m a lot less terrified of something rolling over onto my eggs haha
I LOVE the mesh produce bags! A million times better than plastic even without thinking about the sustainability aspect of them.
Yes! they’re amazing! My husband has a bunch of them he keeps in his car that we use all the time.
The plastic bag tax that Moriah wrote about reminds me of when I lived in Montreal, QC. They have a $0.05 tax on plastic bags at virtually all stores, including groceries, to encourage people to use recycling bags. I completely support initiatives like this. This post reminds me that I can do better at home such as reusing some items like rags/old clothing instead of paper towels to clean. We recently bought a home in a new state and we asked the association board to institute recycling pickup…beats me why they haven’t done this yet!
We have something similar locally, though instead of the $0.05 tax on plastic bags they are paper bags (you literally can’t get plastic now). People may grouch about it some but I do believe it’s made a significant impact.
I love the initiative. It’s really not that hard to learn to bring bags to the store. And $.10 a great motivator. I’ll admit, I’ve forgotten my bags before, and had to buy the plastic ones (we still haven’t gotten to the point in CA where it’s only paper bags yet), but for the most part, I’m pretty good about it. And the plastic bags the store provides are reusable, and we end up keeping them in our car, too.
Rags and old clothes are AMAZING cleaners. I haven’t bought paper towels in over a year, and honestly, I don’t miss them at all. It was such an easy way for be to produce less trash.
What do you do for bacon grease?
Well, for starters, I don’t like bacon so we don’t really cook it… But for seconds, that’s a really good question. We have a dedicated towel for our cast iron pans (since they take a lot of seasoning work), so I think I’d use that and then hand wash it so the excess grease didn’t get into the clothes? Or, I might buy one roll of paper towels for that specific purpose.
Don’t… like… bacon….
I know… It does not compute. I SHOULD, I do afterall hail from the bacon loving state of Texas… And yet, here we are.
If it makes you feel better, there is a slight caveat to my nonbacon loving self. BLTs with avacado are my fav sandwich.
I enjoyed reading your reflection on sustainability. I am subbed to https://www.reddit.com/r/zerowaste and I get a lot of little tips and inspiration from there.
Good to know! I’ve yet to go down the Reddit rabbit hole but that sounds like a good spot 🙂
Great efforts to improve your simple life choices Moriah, that changing of your home was a massive improvement on your environmental footprint. We are in a place of environmental code red and must act now, it is almost too late. I want to refer to Dave @ Accidental Fire and his recent post on GRS…..
“By depriving yourself of things you want, you can protect yourself from a life of deprivation, a life where you lack the things you need. A little self-sacrifice in the short term can lead to prosperity in the long term.”
So not only do you prosper financially from these choices but the environment prospers as well. Keep up the great work and thank-you for sharing her guest post Angela.
Love quoting Accidental Fire! Good stuff.
Yup, and the best part is, I don’t really feel deprived with the choices I’m making. My life hasn’t really changed. I’m just more conscious about the things I use (and don’t use).
I live in California as well and know about bringing your own bag to the store. At home we have a whole bunch of reusable bags and a few in our car so there’s no excuse to not have one when we’re grocery shopping. Just feels weird not having one when I’m at Trader Joe’s or Safeway.
Funny how suddenly not bringing your own bag feels so weird once you get used to it 😉 They do such a better job carrying groceries too.
We get charged for plastic bag use too and I make sure to bring my own bag. These are great steps in increasing sustainability and reducing the carbon/ trash footprint 🙂
Yes! The plastic bag ban seriously has been a good one I think.
Fantastic advice. We get charged for plastic bags here no matter what, so I always bring my reusable bags with me. If I forget them, then I go without the plastic bags, it can be a challenge if it means putting groceries in the truck without bags, but that’s what I do. This year I want to switch to cloth napkins as well, because spending money on paper towels doesn’t make sense 99% of the time.
I know the juggle of trying to get too much stuff home without a bag all too well 😂😂 Helped me to get the habit of bringing bags to finally stick though!
I love my cloth napkins. They’re so pretty and match my kitchen aesthetic pretty well. People know I use them, so they always pawn their old ones off to me. Any extra I have, I throw into my sewing corner and they’ll be used for baby blankets and other crafty projects. ^_^
Man, no one has ever pawned off their old napkins on me.
That is the saddest. 😭😭
Great article. I liked where you discussed moving to a smaller apartment, even though the rent was more expensive. I see that too often, people compare rent prices only and don’t factor in differences in travel costs, reduced utility bills, time savings or hard-to-quantify mental energy preservation. Sounds like it was a solidly considered move for you and is paying off in ways that you prioritise.
It’s amazing how even the people talking broadly about housing affordability don’t often take into consideration all the other expenses that change based on where you live (it’s like I live and breathe this every day for work or something… 😂)
That move was definitely the best financial / mental / emotional decision my husband and I have made since we got married. I love our new space, and it really does give us so much more to offer, even if we’re paying a little more. We’re not spending $500/month in gas anymore. And there’s a LOT to be said for that!