None of us are ever going to be zero-waste. We eat food, which takes energy to produce. We exhale carbon dioxide. We use water to stay clean. Even if you’re living in the woods somewhere, wearing the same clothing every day and washing yourself in the river, you’re creating waste just by virtue of existing.
Nihilist? No! I find this idea encouraging, because it reminds me that I don’t have to be perfect. In pursuit of a “zero-waste” lifestyle, it’s easy to get discouraged when you make a mistake. But this perspective helps me. None of us are going to be truly zero waste. But it we even just cut our waste in half, think of the impact! (By the way, this same motivation works for other life improvements too. Worried you’ll fail at being a vegetarian? Try eating half as much meat. You get the idea.)
If you’re new to reducing your waste, there are a few REALLY easy first steps you can take.
Carry a Reusable Water Bottle with you to Reduce Waste
It’s surprisingly easy to completely stop using plastic bottles if you just decide that you aren’t going to anymore. But, that requires some discomfort! You might feel thirsty and, gasp, have to wait until you get home to have a drink! So the good news is, you can totally give up plastic bottles AND never have to be thirsty on the go.
How? Get a reusable water bottle, and carry it with you all the time. It’s a surprisingly easy habit to build. Not only will you reduce plastic waste, but you’ll save money if you avoid buying bottled drinks, and you might also improve your health by staying more hydrated.
If you already carry a reusable bottle, consider a cute reusable bottle as a gift option for a family member or friend who has a plastic-bottle habit. You can give them something cute that improves their life every day, shares something you care about, and also helps the planet. (Plus, it means you won’t be giving a gift that will end up in a landfill.)
Keep a Reusable Shopping Bag with you to Reduce Waste
As the founder and owner of Bags for the Ocean, I pretty much spend all my time talking to people about reusable bags. But honestly, this one is so easy!
Reusable bags are lightweight and cheap. They’re easy to keep in your purse, backpack, desk, locker, car, or really anywhere. They’re SO useful and will replace the waste created every time you would otherwise take a single-use plastic bags.
Single-use plastic bags don’t biodegrade. They collect in landfills and oceans, and they’re dangerous to wildlife and to the environment as a whole. The good news is that they’re very, very easy to avoid once you get in the habit.
I’m almost sure that you already have a reusable bag in your house. And if you don’t, you can easily make one from an old tee shirt with almost no sewing ability (you can find lots of good tutorials online) or just reuse a plastic bag you have at home until you come across a reusable tote. A backpack or a big purse works just as well too.
But, if you want to use a reusable tote to express your style, or give one as a gift to help your friends embrace a zero-waste life, you can find lots of cute options!
Choose Reusable Takeout Containers to Reduce Waste
If you happen to eat all your meals at home, that’s awesome! But many of us eat lunch or drink coffee at school or work. If you are bringing food or drinks with you each day, replacing single-use containers with reusable containers can really limit your waste.
Remember: eliminating the waste that you create every single day will make the biggest impact on your overall waste. Are you throwing out a coffee cup every day? A take-out container? These really add up over time, and little habits can make a big impact over time.
You may already have a reusable solution in your home, such as a Tupperware box or a travel mug. If you don’t, there are some great silicone options that are easy to clean and aren’t prone to breaking. Plus, having a cute container might motivate you to keep using it!
The Moral of the Story Is…
You don’t have to shell out the big bucks to go “zero waste”. You don’t have to throw out all your stuff and replace it with “fancy” stuff with “eco” in the name. (PS - throwing out your stuff isn’t “zero waste”, okay?) But a few simple products, which you may already have or which you can purchase cheaply, can help reduce the waste you create each day and minimize your environmental footprint. And that’s a step in the right direction!
By Emily Tamkin
Founder of Bags for the Ocean