By Rachel Aitchison
The term “zero waste” has been tossed around more and more frequently as concerns for our planet grow. It sounds fairly self-explanatory - a lifestyle that, if done correctly, results in zero waste. When I originally heard of people adopting this “zero waste” lifestyle, all kinds of stories came across my social media feed, including one about a woman fit all of her garbage from one whole year into one mason jar. I remember thinking to myself, “there’s no way. I do not have the money, resources, or time to support that kind of lifestyle.” But then I thought, “Okay, what if I just make a conscious effort to significantly reduce the amount of waste I produce?” and thus began my journey to imperfect zero waste.
In January of this year, I decided to start making some significant changes, particularly in the realm of plastics. I sat down one afternoon and thought about my biggest sources of waste. My top two were food, and health and beauty products. I decided to tackle the food issue first. Adopting reusable shopping bags and saying no to plastic straws was a fairly easy switch for me. I had stopped using plastic bags at the store about two years ago and was gifted a collapsible metal straw but if I really wanted to cut down on waste, the way I packaged my food desperately needed to change.
I was a huge advocate for using Ziploc bags - they're relatively affordable, you get so many in one box, and they keep your food fresh. However, they use a LOT of plastic!
On a normal day, I feel hungry about every two hours, so I was notorious for having massive Ziploc snack bags full of snacks that I would throw out after a few days of reuse. I also had a habit of wrapping my sandwich in aluminum foil and throwing that out too. I did some research, read some reviews, and found a solution. I invested in reusable snack bags to eliminate my need for Ziploc bags and a reusable sandwich wrap mat to eliminate the need for aluminum foil. I bought ones that have cute patterns on them and they honestly bring me joy when I unpack my lunch during the day.
Six months after the switch and my plastic free alternatives show no signs of wear and tear and they’re dishwasher safe so cleaning them is a breeze. I’ve also done the math and saved quite a bit by not having to buy Ziploc bags or aluminum foil. I’ve also saved by using a reusable coffee flask at coffee shops and getting a discount for bringing my own container. Now, I’m not perfect. Some days I sleep through my alarm and don’t have time to pack up my lunch and snacks for the day so I’m forced to go out to eat. Getting food to go can really rack up the waste, so I do my best to choose a restaurant that has compostable containers or opt to not get the lid or straw for my drink. It’s still a net loss in waste overall, so I count that as a win.
The real challenge however, came from changing my health and beauty products. It took me a long time (years!) to find a shampoo and conditioner combination that worked for my hair and products that worked for my skin. I was super reluctant to transition away from the products that worked so well, but just had so much plastic waste when I was done. So I took it slow, and the process is still going. As I finished a product in its current plastic container, I would do research and read some reviews. Honestly, it was mildly frustrating at times. A product would have wonderful reviews, come in a recyclable cardboard box and have mostly natural ingredients, but would not agree with my skin. After a few misses, I found some products that do work for me.
I am not perfect in this part of my journey either, but I’m doing everything I can with what I have. Instead of buying completely disposable razors, I bought a razor that only requires me to throw out and replace the blade and its plastic housing every once in a while. It’s not a completely zero waste solution, but it’s certainly a less wasteful and more economical solution. I’m still on the hunt for a suitable shampoo and conditioner replacement, but my overall beauty product waste has definitely decreased.
As many others have said, and I agree,
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
Feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of a zero waste lifestyle is okay. It’s not achievable for everyone! But I do strongly encourage everyone to be stewards of our planet, and try challenging themselves to reducing what waste they can. If the average person produces about 100 pounds of trash a year, just five people reducing their waste by 10% results in a loss of 50 pounds of waste. That’s pretty significant if you ask me.