Lauren Singer, founder and CEO of Package Free Shop and The Simply Co., has popularized the zero-waste movement through her blog Trash is For Tossers. Via her blog and business endeavors, she has introduced to the world simple ways to reduce trash in a hassle-free manner. Singer even went as far as to tell CNN that she is lazy:
“I am incredibly lazy. I would never live a zero waste lifestyle if it meant spending extra time doing things to live this lifestyle. Contrary to what people think or might assume, it’s actually very easy.”
Singer is able to fit her trash from the past five years into a 16-ounce mason jar. One jar, zero waste. More and more people are realizing the impact that their waste has on the planet. This knowledge is powerful, especially when actions follow to reduce waste generation.
The idea of creating “zero waste” can be intimidating when taken literally. Zero-waste living does not necessarily mean learning how to generate zero waste; in today’s world, that is nearly impossible. On the contrary, it means working to reduce the amount of waste that is sent to landfills, while becoming highly conscious of the impact that trash makes on the world.
When beginning this journey, fight the urge to throw away everything that you own. Putting more items in your local landfill is not necessary to “start fresh”. Yes, certain products will need to be swapped for more sustainable versions, but don’t worry about that just yet. When the time does come, you still want to try your best to avoid throwing things away. By creating more trash and contributing to landfills, the cycle of consumption continues. Instead, find reputable shelters or charities in need of your unwanted items.
“The average American produces 4.5 pounds of trash each day.” Trash is a mix of materials, with much of it consisting of plastic. Not only does this fill landfills, sometimes this waste ends up in oceans causing detrimental effects to marine life.
Let’s Talk Numbers
Why does the amount of trash in the world need to be reduced? This is a great question. The answer is simple.
The numbers are high, and climbing. Globally, 500 billion plastic bottles and one trillion plastic bags are used each year. Annually in the U.S. alone, two billion disposable razors, one billion plastic toothbrushes, and 27.4 billion diapers are discarded each year. Not to mention the 550 million plastic straws thrown away in the U.S. and U.K. every day. The average lifespan of plastic? Twelve minutes.
As one might imagine, things like toothbrushes and straws are so heavily incorporated into our day-to-day lives that they are mostly taken for granted, but the amount of trash they create adds up – fast.
As you begin the journey to reduce the amount of waste you generate, it may seem difficult, especially if you are not sure where exactly to start. Here’s what to do – start with the basics. These are the items needed at all times, the ones that will become second nature for you to grab on the way out, or to keep in your car for easy access.
The necessities include a refillable water bottle, a to-go container of some sort, utensils, a reusable straw, and a bag to carry it all in or to fill up when shopping. These items come in many shapes and sizes, and are sold by a multitude of retailers. You can opt to buy your essentials new from an online store where sustainable sourcing and shipping are prioritized, pick them up from a local retailer, or buy used items from a local thrift store. No one purchasing method is better; the important thing is to acquire these items from somewhere and to begin the process of reducing your plastic use.
Remembering that most plastics have an average lifespan of only 12 minutes, a good rule of thumb is to say no to plastic as often as possible. The act of remembering your reusable bags every time you leave home may seem nearly impossible, but after a few times of forgetting your bags, you will get in the habit of grabbing them from your home or car. These reusable bags can be purchased second-hand, at your local retail or grocery store, or online in bulk.
When it comes to grocery shopping specifically, plastic is encountered at every turn. One of the best ways to never have to buy food that comes wrapped in plastic is to shop for whole foods, which typically are not wrapped in plastic when bought from markets or the produce section at a local grocery store. Again, it is nearly impossible to create zero waste, so don’t be too hard on yourself when you want a certain treat that only comes wrapped in plastic. Consider looking for products that come in recyclable or compostable packaging, too. This will help in transitioning away from plastic while still being realistic to the fact that none of us are perfect.
Another tip to follow in the grocery store is to ditch the plastic produce bags. Whether this means not using a bag for your produce altogether, or swapping to reusable ones, you are doing the world a favor by reducing plastic waste.
On the Go
Plastic has a lot of things going against it, but the one thing plastic has on its side is convenience. Using zero waste alternatives does take some getting used to, but it doesn’t have to be inconvenient. The key to maintaining a zero-waste lifestyle is to be prepared.
Traveling is often the time that we abandon our routines, but that doesn’t need to be the case for zero-waste initiatives. When traveling, it is just as easy to carry the essentials as it is when going about a typical day. When traveling via plane, dump your water bottle out, take it through security, and then fill it up on the other side. Not only does this keep the use of plastic bottles to a minimum, but also keeps you from spending a steep amount on said plastic bottles.
Bringing your kit of essentials, you will already have a container, but you may want to pack a few more containers filled with snacks. Again, this keeps you from buying expensive airport food, and you can also say no to the plastic-wrapped snacks offered on the plane. Additionally, coffee lovers should consider bringing a reusable coffee mug for their refills. By being prepared with your own mug, you cut out the need for a cup, lid, sleeve, and maybe a straw, too.
Health & Beauty
When shopping for toiletries, you will often find that these items are packaged in plastic – the bottles of shampoo, bars of soap, toothpaste, everything. Simple swaps can be made to help you transition away from these products using plastic packaging to more sustainable, waste-free options.
Shampoo and conditioner is something that most people use, yet these products are always packaged in plastic bottles. The switch? Shampoo and conditioner bars. Just as you would imagine a bar of soap, there are bars of shampoo and conditioner. These hair care bars are easily bought online and in some stores, and last a significant amount of time. The bars take a little bit of getting used to, but once you do, you will never go back to the plastic bottles.
Many people shave using single-use razors, much like other grooming routines requiring plastic. Not only does buying replacement heads and razors get expensive – the average person spends thousands of dollars in his or her lifetime doing so, contributing a great deal to plastic pollution. The solution? A safety razor. Safety razors typically have a lifetime guarantee, the blades are inexpensive to replace, and they can be recycled at the end of their useful lives. To ditch shaving cream too, just use bars of soap that are not packaged in plastic.
What’s something else that we use every day, twice a day? Toothbrushes! One billion plastic toothbrushes are sent to landfills, or end up in oceans, every year in the U.S. alone. With bamboo toothbrushes, the consumer has the option to compost them once they have reached the end of their useful lives.
That’s a Wrap
Where there’s a will, there’s a way when it comes to reducing the amount of plastic in your life. There are many ways to approach a change in lifestyle, like that of a zero-waste journey, but remember that no one person’s journey will look like any others. Experiment with different zero waste switches, find out what works and what doesn’t, and remember, no one expects you to be perfect. You may see some people making their own zero-waste toothpaste or hosting a zero-waste wedding and think that you need to do similar practices in order to achieve perfection – wrong. Take baby steps and move into it in a sustainable way.
Package Free Shop was linked in this article to give you ideas for the types of zero-waste products available. There are hundreds of stores from which to buy similar products. Find the store that fits your budget and other needs and get started.
For fun tips and tricks about zero-waste living, click here.
Krista is a writer and animal advocate.