I have always been a lover of the Earth—in fact, Earth Day is one of my favorite holidays. One year, my elementary school gave out tree saplings for Earth Day and asked us to go home and plant them. I asked my dad for help choosing a space to plant the tree and we decided we should put it in a bare spot in our backyard. I am proud to say that the tree I planted over 20 years ago is still thriving in my parents’ yard and has turned into a giant pine tree.
As I grew up and started managing my own household, I knew I wanted to continue to find ways to do more to protect the Earth, so I decided to start the journey of reducing my waste. As an Earth-conscious herbalist, I knew I wanted to live, shop, and work as sustainably as possible. I began to research and follow waste-free social media accounts to try and get as much information and inspiration as I could.
As I dug deeper, it seemed that going waste-free was pretty expensive. It was ironic that some of the information out there wanted you to buy all of the new stuff in order to go waste-free. To me, it just didn’t make sense.
I was discouraged, but I didn’t believe that it was necessary to throw away everything I was already using just so I could be waste-free. I was more determined than ever to figure out a way to reduce my waste—and I’ve figured out a few ways to make it happen.
1. Take note of your daily habits
When you are trying to reduce your waste, there might already be routines and habits you are doing that support your goals. I find it’s best to notice what’s working and where changes can be made. Maybe you’ve already got your recycling habits figured out, or maybe you’re throwing your food scraps into a compost bin. Celebrate what’s working and give yourself the option to develop new habits when you are ready.
2. Set boundaries
If you dig deep enough into all of the information on reducing waste, there are tips from food storage to feminine hygiene and everything in between. Look at your budget (the list of items you “need” can get very long and very expensive), your time, and your comfort level when you are beginning to reduce your waste. Doing this will allow you to clearly see what you will actually be able to achieve.
Paying attention to my budget and setting a boundary on how much I was willing to spend when going waste-free was very important to me. It didn’t make sense for me to spend hundreds of dollars on new items just so I could be waste-free. The list of items recommended for a waste-free lifestyle can overwhelming look a little something like this:
- Masons Jars of all sizes
- Metal straws and straw cleaners
- Reusable utensals
- Toothpaste pellets
- Silicone lids
- Cloth napkins
- Unpaper towels
- Metal razor
- Reusable produce bags
- Reusable water bottles
- Silicone sponges
- Period cups
- Reusable grocery bags
- Reusable coffee mugs
- Bamboo toothbrushes
- Biodegradable floss
The list above is just the beginning of some of the items suggested to start a waste-free lifestyle, and the further you go in the lifestyle, the longer the list becomes.
For me, I noticed that the biggest impact would come from my kitchen, but some of my easiest changes could come from my bathroom habits. Right now, I don’t have the courage to try reusable pantyliners, but I loved swapping out my tampons for a reusable menstrual cup! Setting boundaries like this allowed me to feel empowered and successful in my choices instead of feeling like I needed to do it all. Get honest with yourself and set some clear boundaries based on what best supports you and your household. As you get comfortable in this lifestyle, your boundaries may change. Keep an open mind and let the rest flow.
3. Save, save, save
The next time you head to the grocery store, see how many items you can purchase that are in glass jars. Items like spaghetti sauce, salsa, olives, and mayo usually have a glass jar option. If it doesn’t up your grocery bill too much, see if you can grab some of those glass items.
Buying glass jars will allow you to get multiple uses out of them, because now you have reusable storage. No need to run out and buy tons of mason jars, just repurpose those saved jars to store leftovers and more. Mayo jars are great for your lunchtime salad in a jar, and yogurt jars on your nightstand are great to hold small items like rings and earrings. Glass jars come in all shapes and sizes and are great for so many uses. You are already heading to the grocery store—why not get your money’s worth and get multiple uses out of those jars?
4. Buy it once, use it twice
When I began to take stock of where I could make changes, I realized that I could make improvements in my food waste. I love cooking and noticed that when I was prepping my meals, I continued to throw out a lot of food scraps that I could’ve reused into stock instead. It’s so easy and takes minimal effort. Here’s what you do:
- Keep a container (any size) in your freezer
- Pull out your container whenever you are cooking.
- Add your veggie scraps (onion peels, garlic, carrot shavings, herbs, celery ends, etc.). Get as creative as you want.
- Continue to fill your container each time you cook.
- Once the container is full, add your scraps to a slow cooker. Cover with water. Add some salt. Cook eight hours on low, four hours on high. Set it and walk away. The slow cooker will do the work.
- Strain the scraps from the liquid and store in the fridge or freezer depending on how quickly you will use the stock.
Honestly, the stocks I’ve made from my food scraps have had way more flavor than the store-bought varieties. Last year, I was able to make my entire Friendsgiving from my food scrap stock! The “buy it once, use it twice” motto can be applied all over your house. Get creative, you’ll be surprised at how much you can reduce your waste by using items again and again.
5. Is there a swap here?
As I began settling into a reduced-waste lifestyle, I began to look at items in my house a little differently. I wasn’t going to throw out perfectly good stuff just because it wasn’t the most eco-friendly item. However, when that item was completely used, I asked myself, “is there a swap here?” If I had to buy something new anyway, why not swap it out with a more eco-friendly option that would help me reduce my waste?
Here are some easy swaps that you can make the next time you are shopping:
- Switch your body wash for bar soap
- Ditch those single-use face wipes for reusable cotton rounds
- Swap your loofah for an organic cotton washcloth
At some point, we will have to buy new things and this is your opportunity to see if there is a swap that makes sense for you. It might not be the right time, and that’s OK. These tips are not to add stress to your life. Just asking “is there a swap for this?” and building awareness is moving in the right direction. Try and let these swaps happen naturally and enjoy the journey.
6. Sell or donate what you can
I love getting rid of stuff! There’s something about letting go of things I’m no longer using that feels therapeutic. Whether it’s a few items or a large overhaul, I try and donate or sell as much as I can. Just because I no longer wear high heels doesn’t mean someone else can enjoy them. Why throw away perfectly good shoes?
Does throwing stuff out stress you out? I get it, my husband also struggles with this. If you have trouble getting rid of stuff ask yourself the same questions I ask my husband:
- Have you used it in the last year?
- Does this item have purpose in your life now?
- If you got rid of this item today, would you even notice?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then it might be time to either sell or donate some items in your house. It’s OK to get rid of things that you aren’t using. Trust me, there is someone out there who will absolutely take it off of your hands and put it to good use.
The next time you are doing a cleanout, keep one container for donation and another one with items you will sell. Not only do you get to keep the landfills empty of items that are difficult to break down, but you have also given your items the opportunity to have a second purpose.
Reducing your waste is a practice that happens gradually. Start with one change at a time. Once you feel settled in that new habit, then maybe add one more. Resist the urge to throw out everything that doesn’t fit your reducing waste mindset. Grant yourself permission to celebrate what you are already doing, while exploring ways to take the next step. Have fun and remember that even one action to reduce your waste is a step in the right direction.