Five Easy Ways to Go Towards Zero Waste

Zero waste is a noble goal for a household.

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However, it's a big deal, in that it requires multiple lifestyle changes. These changes individually might not be difficult but they add up to a lot of energy input and mindset shifts to the way you plan and do the daily tasks that keep your life going. Running a zero waste home requires buy-in from every member of your household (and even friends and relatives so they don't give you items with packaging that has to go into the trash). Zero waste living is easier if you have access to things like bulk-food grocery stores that let you bring in your own containers to carry out the food you purchase. You'll also need a place to compost your food waste.

As with everything, small steps in the right direction are better than no steps. I'm not operating a zero-waste household. Far from it.

However, I feel inspired by the zero waste movement as championed by author and zero-waste maven Bea Johnson (check out her website Zero Waste Home to learn and be inspired). She makes it seem easy and beautiful to go zero waste. Plus, she sums up the “how” with the 5 Rs of the phrase, “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot (and only in that order). “

Today I'm sharing small things I've found, almost accidentally, that have made our home produce less waste while actually saving time and energy, not using more of my precious time.

I love when I can do something healthy for my family and the environment that is also EASY. Here are five easy switches you may not have heard of that will move your home in a zero waste direction and save you time. These five small steps are all things I've done that I can personally confirm are easy and waste-reducing.

The Switch:

  1. Go shopping... but for an experience, not more stuff.

Let's face it. Sometimes we want to go shopping. Maybe it's to bond with a loved one. Maybe it's as a reward. Maybe it's a deeply ingrained habit we feel we can't let go of or we don't want to. But instead of shopping for stuff, go out and shop for an experience. Buy a massage, spa treatment, parasailing adventure, or amusement park pass. Buy a nice meal or spend money on babysitter so you can go get a pedicure.

How it saves time:

When you buy an experience, you don't have to bring anything home except for the good feelings you got from the experience. You don't have to unpack an experience, unwrap it, set it up, clean it, maintain it, store it, organize it, fix it, or dispose of it when you're done with it. You get the high of spending money to feel good without the low of adding to a messy environment.

The Switch:

2. Change out plastic wrap (Cling wrap/Saran wrap) for plates to cover food in the fridge.

Here in Ukraine it's hard to find plastic wrap for food storage. I grew up in the U.S. covering all leftovers with a layer of plastic wrap, but while we're here we don't do that.

What we do is simply put a glass plate over the bowl of leftovers. Plastic wrap's marketing has you thinking that if a little air gets into your food it will taste bad. But I've discovered that's just not true within a few days (maybe longer term, yes). My leftovers taste the same as if they were wrapped up air tight as long as we eat them within a few days which is best in any case.

If you want to store something for a long time in the fridge or freezer, it does need to be airtight or close to it. In that case, I use Pyrex glass containers with BPA-free lids (affiliate link). These are amazing for baking, freezing, microwaving, meal-prep, transporting food, and are dishwasher safe. They’ll cut down on your plastic use which can mess with your health.

However, again, most food that is simply a leftover that will be eaten within the next three days doesn’t anything more than a plate over it to stay fresh and delicious. This is a nice win-- a plastic waste reducer, and time saver when it comes to doing the dishes after each meal.

How it saves time:

Save time (and money) in the grocery store since you don't have to buy plastic wrap since you probably already have a glass plate to cover your leftovers. Save time (and those cuts on your fingers from the box’s blade) not pulling plastic wrap out of the box and struggling to place it over your food.

The Switch:

3. Shop at thrift stores or charity shops that take donations.

Donating clothes and home goods you no longer need is a great way to reduce what you send to the landfill. If you also shop for your own needs second-hand, you're helping someone else reduce their waste too. I love to shop second-hand because it feels like a treasure hunt. One of my favorite seasonal activities when I lived in Los Angeles was to take a bag of give-away clothes to donate to GoodWill and then spend a couple hours shopping right there in the same store I'd just donated to.

How it saves time:

Because you can donate at the same place you shop, saving yourself a trip to a separate location.

The Switch:

4. Rent clothes for special occasions (proms, weddings, parties, galas, anniversaries, dances, your birthday) instead of buying new.

I'm a huge fan of Rent the Runway for renting designer formal wear for special occasions when I'm in the U.S. (Sadly, they are only operating in the USA for now.) Costs for a weekend rental are the same or less than a run to your local mall and the quality (designer) is much higher. You can feel like a million bucks and only spend $50-100 (and up). It's worth the cost because you are unlikely to want to re-wear a splashy special occasion piece. There's really no point in buying something that will just sit in your closet for years until your niece grows up and finds it and wears it to some costume party with a past decade theme.

How it saves time:

You're saving time in a couple of ways here. First, you don't have to leave your house to shop. You can pick something out online and they'll ship it to you in your size and a back up size on your specified date. Second, you don't have to spend time taking it to the dry cleaners after the party. Usually you can put the gown in a postage pre-paid envelope in your mailbox smelling like cake/sweat, and Rent the Runway will take care of the dry cleaning for you.

The Switch:

5. Switch from pet fish to pet worms.

Pet worms will eat your kitchen waste, while pet fish will only make waste and require regular tank-cleaning. When we lived in Los Angeles, we kept a box of Red Wigglers on our patio and my son loved our little pet worm family.

While the set up may seem a bit complicated, it's really not hard or expensive to get started with vermicomposting. I recommend Googling "easy diy vermicomposting box" to see the cheap and easy ways to keep pets that actually help you compost and reduce waste. While I don't have a worm box right now as an overseas nomad, I miss it. They are really fun for kids and parents.

For those of you wondering "what the heck is she talking about?"— Red Wigglers are a type of earthworm that will eat your kitchen leftovers (things you'd compost like apple cores and other plant matter) and turn them into rich fertilizer for your houseplants or garden. If you don't have a big backyard with room for a regular compost bin (or you want to supplement that), they are an easy option for urban homes that otherwise wouldn't be able to compost food waste.

I think everyone should try vermicomposting to see if they like it. Your little pets will eat your trash and poop out gold. You can buy a fancy, smell-free bin that can go right in your kitchen, or a DIY option that is better for the patio (in case a bit of smell or a few worms escape).

How it saves time:

Compared to other pets, worms really don't require much in the way of time or money spent on feeding, exercise, or health care, other than making sure they are not too hot, cold, dry, or wet. They don't mind if you go on vacation and leave them alone for a while.

Take Action

Now it’s your turn to implement one of these easy steps towards the zero waste lifestyle. Have fun with this!

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