How I Started My Low Waste Journey (and How You Can Too!)
I did sign up for this question when I started a refillery, but I always find it hard to answer: How do I go zero waste?
The issue isn't in the question itself, but that there are SO MANY ways to start living a more sustainable lifestyle and, in my humble opinion, the only way to make it stick is to find the way that fits your lifestyle.
So, instead of telling you how to reduce waste in your life I'll talk about what I did when I first started out! Maybe some of it will resonate with you, maybe some of it will seem too advanced for where you are in your low-waste journey. That's okay! No one is perfectly eco-friendly, and big change doesn't happen overnight.
My hope with this article is simply that you will find one strategy. One place to start. That's it! Often that first step is what leads you to the next, and the next, and the next...
*a quick note on the term "zero waste": How do I say this...I really dislike this term. I find that the absolute nature of this term is daunting and unrealistic. Instead of making your transition to a sustainable lifestyle an all or nothing endeavor where you are either wasteful or zero waste, I prefer to use comparative terms. So, beyond this point I will largely be using terms like 'low waste' or 'waste reduction'.
The first step for me was to familiarize myself with what I was actually throwing away!
We've been raised in a throw-away culture, so sometimes we can take for granted what we are throwing away. Cultivating a mindfulness around what we are throwing away empowers us to make the changes that are most relevant in our lives.
Here are some exercises that can help you get acquainted with what exactly makes up the waste in your bin:
- Have a notepad near your trash can where you can jot down what is going in the bin before you throw it in
- Take a photo of everything you throw away/recycle before you toss it (this can be especially helpful if you find yourself frequently throwing things away while you are out)
- The day before trash day take the contents of your trash can and lay them out on your deck/floor and take a picture (This one definitely works better for some than others. If you are throwing food into the bin, or pet waste, or diapers, etc...you might be better served by another strategy!)
- Look at an area in your home (bathroom, kitchen, laundry room, etc...) and take note of everything that you see that will end up in the trash or recycling
Once I had a better idea of what I was throwing away I chose an area of focus; for me that was cutlery and a reusable coffee mug. Getting a latte is one of my absolute favorite things to do, so it felt really great to be able to bring my mug with me and not think about the cup that I was going to throw away.
Looking at your own waste, where do you want to start? Is it cooking one more meal a week at home if you are noticing a lot of take-out containers in your audit? Is it finding plastic-free alternatives for your dental routine or deodorant? Figure out what feels like a good starting point for you, and dive in there!
I'm a proponent of slow, incremental, but lasting change rather than trying to do everything at once. You don't have to figure out how to swap everything over in your house all at once, just pick one place to start!
This part was a fun one for me. Once I knew the problem (the plastic I didn't want in my house) I was able to dig in and look for how to solve it!
There are a lot more options out there now than there were when I started, mainly that there are refillery stores popping up all over! If you aren't familiar with what a refillery is: it's a shop that is dedicated to providing bring-your-own container style fill ups on anything from body care, to cleaning, to food in some cases. Usually they also have a commitment to plastic-free packaging and have high standards for ingredient quality and safety in their products.
If you have a refillery near you they can act as a great resource for you. If you are not someone who loves research, these shops can be a great place to see some of the plastic-free options out there and ask people who are passionate about reducing waste the questions that you have.
If you don't have a refillery near you, you might need to get a bit more creative. Ordering solid and powdered products online is a great option, and many times refilleries will have these products available online. Local co-ops, natural grocers, and even bulk buying places like Costco can be options for if not eliminating plastic, then at least reducing it by buying in larger format.
Below are some of the ways that I found most helpful for searching out eco-friendly and sustainable options near me. These are all examples of a few of the things that I've typed into a search engine to find sustainable businesses around me (using Philadelphia as an example since that's where we are!):
- zero waste Philadelphia
- refillery Philadelphia
- co-op Philadelphia (often they've got great bulk food options, and sometimes bulk cleaning products)
- farmers market Philadelphia
- bulk store Philadelphia
- sustainable Philadelphia
- plastic free + whatever product you are researching
This step can be the hardest. Once I started looking for areas where I could make sustainable swaps, I started finding all of these super cool products that I couldn't wait to try!
It can be really tempting to go on an eco-friendly shopping spree, especially since we are constantly bombarded with messaging about buying more and more and more! But a big part of learning to reduce your waste is learning to say no to things you don't need (or at least to say not yet!)
One strategy for deciding the path of your waste reduction journey is to see what is going to run out of first and make a plan for replacing those things with reusable or refillable alternatives as you finish them.
This strategy is also helpful in making sure that you spread out the cost of investing in reusable products over time.
Give Yourself Grace
As you start making these changes you might stumble. Actually, you'll probably stumble. It's totally normal, and I've totally been there too!
What is more important than being perfectly 'zero waste' is taking consistent action towards more eco friendly options. Just do your best, and when you get knocked off the path, its okay to give yourself a minute to dust yourself off before you keep going.
If you need help figuring out your personal low waste journey, shoot us an email! We're happy to help :)