It has been said many times over that we only have one planet and we really have to start taking care of it for future generations, here's how.
I get kind of overwhelmed when I go to the grocery store. It’s baffling to think about all of the industries and processes that are in place that can so successfully fill such a giant warehouse. It’s especially overwhelming to walk into the cereal aisle — dozens of options, huge cardboard boxes filled with plastic bags that are 3/4 filled with air.
There is just so much material. And then I start to think about how many groceries there are in just one state. Then I start to think about how many grocery stores there are on the planet — each one with such an over-the-top selection of breakfast cereals.
And then I’m reminded that there are some grocery stores that plastic wrap bananas. Or for whatever reason, will half an avocado then wrap it in plastic. Don’t they know that so many fruits and vegetables already possess their own method of preservation?!
I was curious about the actual amount of waste the world is able to generate. It’s pretty terrifying, so brace yourself.
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This is Why We Have to Try Zero Waste.
The entire planet creates an average of 3.5 million tons of waste EVERY SINGLE DAY. The leading country in waste creation is: you guessed it, the United States. Each person generates an average of 4.4 pounds of trash a day, equalling up to 250 million tons each year. And those numbers are only going up.
These numbers are extremely upsetting! What’s even more upsetting, is that waste portions are this high because we are lazy. I myself constantly forget to bring my reusable coffee cup with me when I head out for the day but simply cannot resist the pull of a fresh cortado.
When it comes to zero waste, it’s common to think that “well that’s just too difficult for me, I couldn’t possibly only shop at bulk stores!” But that is really not what zero waste practices are about. It is called a practice for a reason, and even though the term “practice makes perfect” exists, it is a falsehood. Perfect does not exist. There is only effort.
If every single person tried zero waste practices imperfectly, I’m sure that that truly upsetting 3.5 million tons of waste could be greatly reduced.
My Personal Account
I understand that it takes a lot more conscious thinking when you’re trying to consume more responsibly. But I can confidently say that in my efforts to engage in imperfect zero waste practice, I felt a very deep sense of internal pride. It did take more time out of my day, and sometimes this alternative can be a little bit more expensive upfront… But:
I found that I was making next to no impulse purchases. I dedicated myself to only buying used clothing, and ended up finding super unique and funky pieces I would have never seen otherwise. I donated old clothes that were taking up space to the local woman’s shelter, or I would use a piece as a patch to repair a ripped pair of jeans.
I was eating healthier because oftentimes the healthiest food does not come wrapped in plastic 3 times, I was saving money from not eating out so often, and I experienced far greater joy in cooking. I only went to the farmers market for my groceries and lingered near the bins of bruised produce. It was astonishing! I could fill one of those giant blue Ikea bags with “ugly” produce and spend $30.
I started vermicompost underneath my kitchen sink and was amazed at how little I had to take the trash out. When I really started getting into it, I would even place a bucket in the tub with me while I showered, so that I could use the water to flush the toilet!
There was no sort of plastic in the house, and instead, I wrapped leftovers with mason jars or beeswax wrap that I found at a local farmers’ market. I began hoarding in-season ingredients and going home to experiment with different methods of food preservation. Pickling, fermenting, dehydrating… I was so grateful when February came around and I could experience the taste of tomato and strawberry, knowing it didn’t come from a hothouse.
Say I bought pasta sauce from the grocery store, that jar would be then be used as a plant vase or as a leftover container. Single-use coffee cups would be brought home and fed into the vermicompost. Old linens would be cut up and turned into dishrags.
The 3 Principles of Zero Waste Practices
Consuming is an enormous part of our society as a whole. Left, right, and center we are faced with options of things to have, wear, and eat. It’s important to try and reduce the purchase of items that we don’t absolutely need, or even save purchasing items unless really truly want them. And if we must treat ourselves, trying to support small local businesses.
When you’re out and about living your life and ordering a drink or some food, try to always finish your order by saying “I don’t need that straw/lid/plastic bag/plastic fork”. Refuse to use items that are single-use.
And for the love of God, do not use those ridiculous thin plastic bags intended to put produce in for 15 minutes until you get home and place them in your fridge.
When you’re at the grocery store don’t purchase items that come with a bunch of unnecessary packaging. Opt for shopping at farmers’ markets and bulk stores, and don’t forget to bring your own tote bag!
Today things are made with convenience and cheap prices in mind. Unfortunately, these items usually are not also built to last. Sometimes things stop working, but the vast majority of things can be fixed. Take an old pair of boots to the cobbler, learn how to sew and repair holes.
Try really hard not to leave the house without a tote bag, a reusable water bottle, a reusable coffee cup, and a handkerchief.
The thing that propelled my desire to start practice zero waste, was visiting a website that calculated my carbon footprint. It asks you things like how often you take planes if you use more active or passive transportation, how much you recycle, how long your showers are, that kind of thing.
It’s a great tool, and especially with the current state of affairs, it’s information that each individual should know about themselves.
How much water do I waste?
Are you a person who absent-mindedly leaves the tap running while they’re brushing their teeth? Now is a great time to pay attention to that habit and try to nip it in the bud.
When you do the dishes, do you fill-up the sink or just let the tap run?
Some really dedicated zero waste practitioners actually save old pasta water and use it for their coffee the next morning… This is a serious commitment. But you can apply that same concept to watering plants or flushing the toilet!
It’s astonishing how much water is wasted from toilet flushing. Remember that old saying your grandparents (who lived from a well) used to say to you? “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.”
How do I get around?
Obviously, circumstances will vary depending on where a person lives. If you live in the country and the only way to access anything requires a 20-minute drive, it’s hard to avoid using the car. Although it’s a big investment, it’s worth it to think about switching to an electric vehicle.
If you live in a city, how often are you driving as opposed to taking the bus?
Do you bike? Skateboard? Rollerblade? Keep on doing that!
How much energy does my house use?
Do you leave lights on by accident? Are there loads of appliances constantly plugged in when they’re not being used? What do I use to reheat food?
30 Daily Zero Waste Practice Tasks
There are loads of easy things you can do every single day that will get you status as an imperfect zero-waste practitioner. This one is organized from easiest, to more dedicated tasks.
- NEVER FORGET YOUR TOTE
- Try not to leave the house without a reusable water bottle and coffee cup
- Get a handkerchief as opposed to using single-use tissues
- Tell till workers that you don’t need the receipt before they print it
- Tell food service workers that you don’t need a lid/straw/plastic bag/plastic fork
- Wash your clothes in cold water
- Switch your hand soap to bar soap
- Don’t use those thin single-use plastic bags for produce
- Try to shop in bulk stores and farmers markets
- Reuse glass jars and plastic containers as leftover containers
- Switch to bamboo toothbrushes
- Think about switching from toothpaste tubes to powdered toothpaste
- Unplug electronics when they aren’t in use
- Get more houseplants instead of using a humidifier
- Don’t use q-tips with plastic handles
- Ditch sponges and replace with compostable scrubbers
- Buy used clothing
- Turn old linens into dishrags or aprons
- Switch to LED lightbulbs
- Pack a lunch!!!!!!!!
- Try to stop ordering so much stuff online
- Keep the ends of certain herbs and regrow them in water
- Start preserving food
- Switch from tampons and pads to a menstrual cup
- Invest in reusable diapers
- Make homemade gifts
- Repair disheveled items instead of throwing them away
- “If it’s yellow, let it mellow”
- Invest in a bidet
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