Getting Closer to Zero Waste

When Brian was deployed, I challenged myself to be trash free for a month as a means of distraction.  I was surprised at what a big difference a few small changes made, and I didn't have more than a small ziploc of trash in 30 days.

Since then we've tried to be *mostly* trash free, but we haven't been as diligent as we used to and often fall into the trap of choosing convenience over anything else.

Spring weather and the recent Earth Day seem like good reasons to make a renewed effort, so here are a few ideas that can make a big difference in how much waste you'll produce.  Maybe if we put this out there people will hold us accountable... :)

1. Compost.  This was the single change that made the biggest difference for us.  We have this composter on our deck and it's great: It doesn't leak and animals can't get in.  It does smell a bit after you turn it, but we have it tucked on the side of our deck away from where we usually sit (about 15 feet away) and can't smell it from there unless it's freshly spun and there's a strong wind :)  Even with no outdoor space for a composter, NYC has curb compost pickup, and most of the greenmarkets have stands where you can drop off compost.  You can get a countertop compost bin or just keep it in a bag in the freezer, and I bet other cities have pick up/drop off programs too!

2. Don't just compost food - we compost paper/tissues/paper towels/cotton balls/tea bags/coffee grounds and filters etc.  Look at all the things you can compost!

3. Buy the Scott tube free toilet paper.  (People always ask me if it "rolls the same way", which confuses me. Would your life be altered greatly if your toilet paper didn't roll the same way?  For the record, as long as you have a normal toilet-paper-holder-tube-thingy then yes, it still rolls just fine.)

4. Use reusable produce bags like these ones and bring them to the store with the bigger tote/shopping bags. 

5. Whenever possible, buy the package-free version of things. Example - pineapples instead of cans of pineapple, loose produce instead of bagged/packaged produce, tomatoes/peppers/onions instead of a jar of salsa or tomato sauce, bulk bin nuts/rice/pasta instead of boxed.

6. Speaking of bulk - here's a site that helps you find your closest bulk bin location.

7. When we do have to buy food in packages, we try to buy ones in reusable packaging, like zip-top bags and glass jars which we can use instead of ziploc bags and tupperware.  Cleaned plastic yogurt containers can be great for organizing a drawer or closet!

8. We wash and re-use said zip-top bags.

9. I love these.

10. This is one of the easy ones - cloth napkins and old t-shirts or ripped towels for rags instead of paper towels (and when we have to use paper towels we buy the good ones (Bounty!) so you can wring them out and re-use... and/or compost them!).

11. Bring glass jars/tupperware/zip-top bags to the deli counter for meat and cheese instead of buying them packaged.  Sometimes the people working behind the counter give a weird look for handing them tupperware, but at this point our deli guy knows Brian as the "glass jar guy".  Most places don't care and are happy to oblige (except in MA where this is apparently "against health code", but at some stores they're willing to do it anyway...).

12. We have a really small kitchen trash can, which is a nice mental reminder that we shouldn't be producing gigantic buckets of trash.

13. Buy secondhand items in person instead of ordering new ones online.  This is such a hard one because Amazon Prime can be a lifesaver, but we *try* to do this whenever possible (and there's the added bonus of supporting local businesses!).

14. Think of grocery store alternatives.  Instead of buying a bag of chips at the store, ask your favorite Mexican restaurant if you can buy their tortilla chips (and bring your own reusable bag or container for them to put them in!).  Farmers Markets are great obvious options for trash-free purchasing, and many of them will take back the berry containers or egg cartons from previous purchases to reuse.  

15. Don't try to be perfect.  We have some days when we remember our reusable bags and go to the Farmers Markets and buy in bulk and others when we're juggling bags of trash and cardboard recycling from online orders.  Doing any little thing on this list is better than nothing!

Besides the obvious benefits of reducing our footprint and helping the environment, trying to be more trash-free had unexpected consequences too.  For example, buying fewer packaged foods = eating healthier.  Using what you have before immediately buying more = saving money.  Using natural cleaning/cosmetic products so you can compost the tissues/paper towel = having a less toxic body and home.

If you have other trash-free ideas, please share!