An effective way I’ve found to curb shopping impulses is by creating a “Do Not Buy” list. This is a list of things that I’ve bought that have gone to waste or went unenjoyed for various reasons. Reminding myself of what these items are and, more importantly, why they didn’t work out (whether it be a certain type of clothing or food) keeps me from accumulating unwanted items. Truly the first step to reducing waste is by purchasing fewer items to begin with.
Dark chocolate: I have a sweet tooth and as much as I try — I find dark chocolate far too bitter… these usually end up accumulating in the pantry until my husband eats them all. Excessively flavored tea: I love tea but am mostly drawn to black, builder tea — the stronger, the better. I’ll occasionally do a light herbal blend or an Earl Grey. But outside of that, I don’t need to get too fancy with it. Flavored balsamic vinaigrettes: While I love flavored balsamics, they usually come in a massive bottle that I struggle to use up. Non vanilla-based ice cream: I’m a vanilla girl. Sure, I’ll get crazy flavors when out and about, but, at home, there’s no way I’ll finish a pint of something purely chocolate. Most cookies: Give me all the cakes and pies — cookies I can pass on.
Hairspray: I’ve had the same bottle for years — I have incredibly thick, mostly hard to control hair. No amount of hairspray can change that. Conditioner: For every conditioner bottle I use up, I’ve probably gone through 4-5 shampoo bars. I don’t use enough of it to justify the purchase. I think coconut oil pre-shampooing should be enough. Nail polish: I love having my nails done. I suck at doing them myself. And, no matter how much I practice, it never looks as good as when I get it done at the salon. I’ll leave it to the professionals.
Boat neck shirts: Doesn’t look good on me. Empire waisted dresses: Doesn’t work on my petite frame. Shirts/dresses with halter straps: Makes me self conscious about my shoulders. Jeans without stretch: Not comfortable. Trench coats: Looks cool. Completely impractical in the Texas weather. Tight shorts: Too old to feel comfortable in these. Fancy compression workout leggings: I love my Nike Leg-a-see Leggings and gravitate towards them. Everything else feels too tight. Black loungewear: Three cream/golden dogs who love to shed. Don’t wear black in my home. Expensive shoes: I have flat feet and do a number on my shoes — doesn’t matter how expensive they were. There are plenty of affordable options out there. Non black/grey/nude undergarments: I see all these cute colors and prints but they just aren’t practical! Dress socks: I work from home. I have no need for these… no matter how adorable they are. Bracelets/watches: I hate anything on my wrist.
Beachy or linen scented items: I prefer warmer, sweeter scents. I don’t like to feel like I’m inside a washing machine. Blankets or pillows with poms on them: Three dogs and poms do not mix. Non-cotton blankets: My cotton blankets have outlasted every other material and are so much more comfortable (and compostable!). Pure white bedding: These end up looking grimey and yellow pretty quickly in our home. Only gray bedding moving forward.
Bar soaps are a holy grail product for low-wasters. You can often find them without any packaging and once they are used up, they’re done. No bottles or pumps or lids to recycle or trash. No waste. It’s awesome. However, these wonderful creations do require a little bit of care to get the most use out of them.
First up, soap dishes. My view: the best soap dish is one you already have. You don’t have one lying around? This is the perfect time to use unused jewelry dishes, a small fancy plate, empty candle jars, empty jam jars, Altoid tins… any jar/plate/trinket dish that is shallow and wide. I personally use an old candle jar + a trinket dish at home and a Lush tin + a random old gum tin when traveling.
But what’s more important than where you place your soap? It’s how you keep your soap dry when not in use… a constantly wet soap bar that doesn’t have time to dry out is a soap bar that becomes mushy and dies in a week. Enter the soap lift or soap saver (examples here and here). In addition, I use a sisal soap saver (like this one) for my body soap bar to help exfoliate my skin, keep my bar hung up and dry between use, and to corral small soap slivers together.
And, a final tip: if you get your hands on a large bar of soap, use a knife and cut the large bar in to smaller pieces. This way, you aren’t getting a massive bar of soap constantly wet (and, therefore, wasting a large amount of it).
The early part of my year consists of a LOT of birthdays… every member of my family was born in either January or April. This ends up meaning lots of entertaining and gatherings. Party throwing, however, is not the most eco-friendly activity. With all the paper cups and plates, plastic forks and spoons, balloons, and take out boxes — waste can really add up. However, there are some alternatives to making things a bit more eco-friendly and not becoming a party pooper.
My favorite way to avoid any waste at all is using real dishes, cutlery, and glasses (and just dishwashing everything at the end). However, this works best if a. you’re having a smaller party at home with enough dishes for everyone or b. you’re having a large party at a venue where you can rent dinnerware. Sometimes though, you’re having a large party at home or a casual outdoor event that makes real dinnerware inconvenient/not possible. Good news — these days, there are SO MANY biodegradable + compostable options at affordable prices. You can get whole sets on Amazon or Party City.
If you’re making everything yourself or having a potluck, it’s pretty easy to have everything served in reusable containers. If you’re catering, find out if the restaurant will provide food in stainless steel food pans that you can then return back to the restaurant.
Either buy your beverages in the largest possible plastic containers to reduce the amount of plastic you recycle. Or, get drinks in cans or glasses — the two best items to recycle. For alcoholic beverages, see if you can get your beer to go in a growler from a local brewery or even certain Whole Foods.
Buy high quality candles that don’t melt in 5 seconds. I have some beautiful candles that I’ve been able to reuse for years and they barely look used! Go one step further and get pure beeswax birthday candles.
Avoid balloons and single-use throw away items. Borrow decor from friends when needed or make DIY banners with recyclable paper. Even better, use natural items like flowers and beeswax candles to set the mood.
DIY kefir: My husband drinks kefir every single morning. Sure, the kefir container is a highly recyclable plastic #2 but I do try and minimize plastic use (since plastics are downcycled). So. I decided to try and make kefir. And, yeah. Nope. My project lasted 2 months but it was. SO. MUCH. WORK. Taking care of kefir grains was like having an additional pet in the house. And the resulting kefir tasted nowhere near as good as what my husband drank every morning. Alas. The homemade kefir had to go.
Bulk rice: This one was an easy decision. Rice from the bulk section was SIGNIFICANTLY more expensive than the huge bags you can find at any Asian grocery store. To the point that it was absolutely not worth it to buy in the bulk section. I learned this the hard way when I needed just a bit of rice, didn’t look at the price (because how expensive could it be?!), and ended up paying a whopping $8 for a tiny bag. Nowadays, I just pop in to my parents’ place (where they are always getting huge bags of rice) and refilling my small rice container.
Home grown herbs: Obviously, this is easy to find at the grocery store and stick in my own bag — but I wanted to go one step further and grow herbs at home, reducing the need to pop in to the store every time I wanted a little something-something for my meals + drinks (since herbs really do taste best when fresh). Unfortunately, this didn’t work out for me (because I’m a terrible plant mom). But really, there wasn’t a great lighting spot (that my dogs couldn’t get to) to grow herbs indoor. I experimented with a grow light but the results were mediocre. For now, buying herbs at the store and drying/freezing what I don’t use shall suffice.
Natural deodorant: You know, the ones that come in lovely recyclable glass jars. The Meow Meow Tweet one (without baking soda) actually worked incredibly well for me UNTIL I started a SSRI. A lovely side effect for me was sweat. The stinky kind. Therefore, for the good of society, I had to switch back to a regular deodorant. The empty tubes go to TerraCycle.
Store bought flowers: I’m a sucker for making floral arrangements using various inexpensive bundles from Trader Joe’s. Unfortunately, these are always wrapped in wasteful plastic. And I have yet to find a floral market nearby. This is definitely a “luxury item” for me these days.
There you have it. What are your zero waste fails?
The business card. Useful but wasteful. Those tiny cards add up in piles around your home, wallet, car, and office — sometimes used, sometimes forgotten. Why don’t we move on from this somewhat antiquated (and wasteful) form of exchanging information?
I know some fancy paid apps exist where you can create/share/collect specialized digital business cards. But I prefer to keep it a bit simpler than that. I used Canva (feel free to use your editor of choice) to create a super basic image with my contact information. Then, I keep the image on my phone and backed up in my email. And that’s it. When anyone asks me for my information at a networking event, I’ll either quickly text or email them my business card image file or, (in a pinch), let them take a photo of the picture.
Similarly, I also decline other peoples’ business cards and opt to take a photo of their card instead. So. There you have it. An easy way to avoid accruing tiny pieces of papers with peoples’ emails listed.