Monday, July 25, 2016

(Closer to) Zero Waste - Five things you can do right now


(Closer to) Zero Waste - Five things you can do right now to cut your expenses, increase your self-sufficiency, and make the world a better place for all of us.

What is  "Zero Waste"?

From the wiki page:

Zero Waste is a philosophy that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused. No trash is sent to landfills or incinerators. The process recommended is one similar to the way that resources are reused in nature.

Instead of just throwing stuff in the trash, what do we do?

Bea Johnson, author of bestselling Zero Waste Home, whose family generates just one small jar of trash per year, talks about the five Rs:

and Rot (compost) 

What are the benefits of going (closer to) Zero Waste? 

Ecological: less waste, less going to a landfill to just sit there, and more efficient use of resources

Financial: you're paying for everything you throw away, you pay to buy it, you pay to throw it away, you even pay, in your taxes, to have it managed for years to come.

More Freedom: everything you must rely on others to do for you (manage your trash, make plastic items, etc) the more you usually pay and less you're able to do for yourself. 

and so much more

Five things you can do right now: 

1.) Stop buying or accepting plastic bottles of water.

The Problem:

According to the NRDC, an estimated 25%+ of bottled water isn't cleaner than tap water, and in many cases IS actually just tap water.

The production of water bottles uses 17 million barrels of oil a year, and it takes three times the water to make the bottle as it does to fill it. (Business Insider article

In times of drought such as these, it's even more important not to waste water. The water coming out of your tap, even if you filter it yourself, is better drinking, safer to consume (no plastic leaching into your water, even glass bottles usually have plastic or plastic-lined caps), and far less wasteful.

But what about recycling them? The majority of plastic bottles wind up in landfills or the ocean (I've seen statistics from 55 to 85%.) Even bottles that are properly recycled, use up an exorbitant amount of resources (more fossil fuels, and even more water) to recycle. Plastic bottles only can be recycled once, after that they're just trash. Glass and metal, on the other hand, have unlimited ability to be recycled

The Solution: 

Use a refillable bottle. 

Fill it at home. Refill it at a drinking water fountain, or even from a tap. 
Many people love stainless steel bottles, personally, I prefer glass. There are many brands available, see what you like best!

2.) Refuse plastic bags.

The Problem: 

Plastic bags are ubiquitous - almost every store has them at the ready to be used for seconds to help you carry your items, and then pollute our streets, water systems, leach into our soil, and even kill animals. 

Even though they're "free," you pay for them. Stores build the cost of these supplies into the cost of the products that you purchase. The fewer you accept, the fewer they will have to buy, the fewer will end up clogging the arteries of our planet for thousands of years, just to help you get your items home.

Only 1 to 3% of plastic bags are recycled worldwide. (this and other facts about plastic bags)

The Solution:

Bring your own reusable bags

Yes, I know. It's another thing to remember. Keep extra in your car, in your purse, on your bike, or even by the door to grab as you go out. 

If you only purchase a few items, do you really even need a bag? Do you need a bag for that pepper? Those two apples? 

Easy, packable bags can even be made out of an old t-shirt. Cut off the sleeves and the shoulder seams. Cut out the collar and its seam. Sew across the bottom. Boom! 

Personally, we have a few sturdy canvas bags, some muslin produce bags, and a collection of insulated cooler bags that we've used for years. Every bag you reuse is one more bag not being produced or discarded.

3.) Reduce your food waste.

The Problem:

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, approximately 40 percent of food in the U.S. goes to waste. 

We have people who don't get enough to eat. We have people who are full but malnourished. We have overflowing landfills. 

And no, food in landfills doesn't compost. It's often surrounded by plastic and isn't in the conditions required for food to turn back into soil (humus) and not simply methane. 

Every bite of food you throw out, instead of use in some way, is money you're throwing in the trash and then paying someone to take from you. 

The Solution:

Use as much of what you buy as you can. 

Stale bread makes great croutons, breadcrumbs, french toast, stuffing, bread pudding, and so much more.

Ends of celery, carrot ends, onion ends, and pretty much any vegetable scraps can be stored and used to make your own broth. 

Meat bones and extra bits make amazing stock. 

Leftovers make great, budget-friendly lunches. 

Compost what you can't use, or get chickens! 

Chickens will eat just about anything - no they're not vegetarians. Ever seen a chicken hunting a bug? It was actually an important job for children of yesteryear to trap rodents in the winter to feed the chickens and keep the rodents out of food storage. The rodents were important to supplement an otherwise vegetarian diet. 

If you can't compost at your own home, consider vermicomposting (smells like good fresh dirt), join together with a neighbor, or even see if your town or a local farm has a place you can donate your food scraps. 

It's better for everyone if you don't put your food waste in the trash.

A local farm keeps tens of thousands of pounds of food "waste" out of the landfill (not "pretty enough") by donating it to the local food bank.  (Video by my marvelous husband)

Food doesn't have to be pretty to be delicious and nutritious!

4.) Make Your Own.

There are many things that are easy, cheaper, and better when you make them yourself. 

Salad dressings, bread, cleaners, laundry detergent, water kefir (probiotic soda), cleaning cloths, gardening trellises, vegetable and herb gardening, and so much more. 

Making your own cuts down on packaging waste, transportation costs and pollution, and cost of living. 

 Do you have a friend that is really good at making something? Cookies? Jam? Bread? Hats? See if you could trade for one of your own specialties. 

Many skills are easily learned if you're willing to stick with them.

Canning, knitting/crocheting, sewing, baking, gardening, cooking, etc.

Chances are you know someone who has done these things, someone who loves doing these things, someone who would love to teach you how! 

Heck! I'll even teach you how! Just ask! Offer to trade for something you love to make! 

5.) Opt for natural (biodegradable) and reusable over synthetic and disposable.

Reuse glass jars (salsa jars make great containers for lunches!) rather than buying plastic containers. 

Choose the products with less packaging, or reusable packaging. 

Refill your own containers from bulk bins. Buy a larger container and repackage it into smaller containers - many things freeze well, many others will stay fresh if you repack it into jars. The big bag can be divided into smaller jars, staying fresh for longer. Better yet, make your own popcorn and dry can it.

Many natural fibers have properties that people relied on in yesteryear but have been mostly forgotten in favor of "cheap" synthetic goods. 

Linen and wool, for example, have antimicrobial properties, making them naturally less smelly than synthetics. 

Hate that plastic sponge smell? Try a linen dishcloth. Even a cotton dishcloth you can throw in the washing machine and reuse. 

The founder of Wool & Prince wore one of their merino (wool) dress shirts for 100 days straight without washing or ironing it. No, his coworkers couldn't smell any difference. Many of you may remember wool as "itchy" or "scratchy" but many wool items are surprisingly soft, fine merino wool fibers are much more pleasant. Give them a try!

Many natural and reusable items have a higher up-front cost. You pay more the first time. But each reuse is free! An item that costs twice as much but lasts more than twice as long saves you money in the long run. 

If you had to buy a fork every time you ate it would certainly add up, even if every fork was only pennies. Any idea how many times you've used each piece of your regular cutlery? 

Think long-term across your life and you'll fill your life with quality items that will serve you for years and help preserve this lovely place for all of us.

I've barely scratched the surface of all the things you can do, right now, at your next grocery shop, on your next adventure, and from things you already have in your home that can make a difference. 



  1. Great tips! I just found out about your blog and look forward to reading more. I don't know how to sew but would like to learn; meanwhile, I've come across instructions for making no-sew t-shirt bags.

    1. Making things out of old t-shirts is so great! The edge of the knit fabric just rolls slightly and doesn't unravel the way you'd think it would. Plus you can be really hard on them and not have to worry! Good find!