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zero waste

Want to go "zero waste?" Start by assessing what you currently use. Do you really NEED to take that plastic bag, plastic fork, paper napkin, packaged food, etc.? NOPE! The first step in living or striving for a zero waste lifestyle is to simply use LESS. Reduce consumption across the board! We (me included!) can all do a better job at living with and using less "stuff."


Then, reuse what you already have and upcycle everything. Our society has a STUFF crisis in a world of finite resources that is, sadly, designed for the dump. We cannot shop our way out of this problem, so let's learn to make far better use of what exists already.


Still, we are all consumers. So when you buy, buy better and buy smarter. Equip yourself with truly sustainable, zero waste tools so that you do NOT have to take pesky, disposable, single-use items. Bring these staples EVERYWHERE. I always have my mason jar, reusable bag, bamboo utensils, straw, and more IN my bag with me — prepared to say NO to disposables. Yes, I am that crazy who struggles to carry goods, if they cannot fit in my reusable tote or if I have somehow forgotten it along the way. I wait to eat food if I don't have utensils nearby. I air dry my hands instead of taking a paper towel. I know the tare weights of my jars, so I can refill in bulk sections without problem. I never take straws. And I always use these opportunities to teach others about WHY I take certain actions.


Consider the entire life cycle of a product: what happens when you are "done" with any given item? Because "away" is never really "away." Donate things to give them new life! Recycle, if need be; whatever you do, ensure that goods don't end up in landfill. As my friend says, "an end is but a new beginning" and "waste is only waste if it's wasted." Let's work to make sure that is a truth we embody and live by!


Purchase wisely; buy quality that lasts. Stainless steel, glass and wood are far superior to plastic. One of the reasons I love purchasing vintage (and do so often) is because they are well made and already stood the test of time, whether clothes or furniture or home goods. 

Zero Waste Alternatives

Looking for specifics swaps in your journey to zero waste living? Wondering how to "zero wastify" (my latest verb!) a certain item or action? Look no further! I am in the process of developing a comprehensive guide… but in the interim, please check tried and tested alternatives from my dear friend and zero waste guru, Lauren Singer, as excerpted from her brilliant blog Trash is for Tossers!



The Waste Problem: Disposable Plastic Bags

Why:  Go straight to landfill, very infrequently recycled, wasteful

The Alternative: Organic Cotton Tote 


The Waste Problem: Plastic Water Bottles

Why: Not often recycled (<20%), end up in landfill, avoidable

The Alternative: Reusable water bottle


The Waste Problem: Plastic Straw

Why: End up in landfill, completely avoidable

The Alternative: Stainless Steel Straw


The Waste Problem: Wrapping Paper on Birthdays and Holidays

Why:  It goes straight to the landfill and is infrequently reused

The Alternative: Re-Use Newspaper and biodegradable twine from a hardware store



The Waste Problem: Individually portioned coffee and tea and disposable coffee filters

Why: They produce a lot of unnecessary waste, uses plastic, and are not recyclable 

The Alternative: A French Press - the coffee tastes better, easy to clean, no plastic, no waste!


The Waste Problem: Plastic Cutting Boards

Why:  You can not recycle them and it is said that these boards develop nicks which foster bacteria

The Alternative: Wooden Cutting Boards 

The Waste Problem: Plastic Utensils 

Why:  They can not be recycled and there is really no use for them

The Alternative: Stainless Steel Silverware 

The Waste Problem: Plastic Cooking Utensils 

Why:  They tend to melt and could leach toxins into your food

The Alternative: Bamboo utensils: are naturally antibacterial, absorb little moisture and regenerate fast


The Waste Problem: Plastic Ice Trays

Why:   Most likely not recyclable and could leach toxins

The Alternative: Stainless Steel Ice Tray


The Waste Problem: Conventional Dish Soap

Why:  They have a high concern for cancer, high levels of preservatives and other problems 

The Alternative: Bulk Castile Soap


The Waste Problem: Sponge

Why:  Not recyclable, compostable

The Alternative: Compostable and reusable dish brush 


The Waste Problem: Plastic Dish Dryers 

Why:  They can not be recycled 

The Alternative: Lay your dishes out on a reusable towel to dry


The Waste Problem: Plastic Tupperware

Why:  It poses possible toxicity risks and can leach chemicals into your food

The Alternative: Mason Jars


The Waste Problem: Nonstick Pan

Why:  A slew of health problems associated with nonstick coating

The Alternative: Cast Iron Pan




The Waste Problem: Disposable Razors

Why:  Non-recyclable, expensive, wasteful

The Alternative: Safety Razor or laser hair removal


The Waste Problem: Plastic Toothbrush

Why:  Non-recyclable, wasteful

The Alternative: Bamboo compostable and sustainable toothbrushes 


The Waste Problem: Disposable Makeup Remover Wipes

Why:  They are wasteful, expensive, unnecessary, and often have toxic chemicals

The Alternative: Organic Coconut Oil and Reusable Cotton Rounds


The Waste Problem: Cotton Balls

Why:  Cotton is very pesticide and water intensive and they are not recyclable 

The Alternative: Reusable Cotton Rounds


The Waste Problem: Body Wash in Packaging

Why:  It is wasteful, not recyclable everywhere, and contains chemicals

The Alternative: Unwrapped Bulk Soap


The Waste Problem: Bleached toilet paper

Why:  Dangerous chemicals, non-recycled, wasteful 

The Alternative: Recycled Natural Unbleached Toilet Paper


The Waste Problem: Plastic Tampon Applicator and Non Organic Tampon

Why:  Conventional cotton is pesticide-laden and I don't want plastic in my life, especially near my...

The Alternative: Menstrual cup or Organic Cotton Tampons




The Waste Problem: Paper Towels

Why:  Non-recyclable, wasteful

The Alternative: Reusable towels 


The Waste Problem: Dryer Sheets

Why:  Synthetic, non-recyclable, unnecessary

The Alternative: Organic Dryer Balls- cut drying time, prevent static 


The Waste Problem: A slew of cleaning products 

Why:  They contain chemicals and are unnecessary

The Alternative:White Vinegar used as a counter or mirror cleaner, presoak for laundry


The Waste Problem: Dry Cleaning

Why:  Environmentally Unfriendly, unregulated (yes even the "green" cleaning), global warming

The Alternative: Hand washing, steaming, ironing, and line drying



Zero Waste challenge

Look at our Zero Waste challenge from Project Green Challenge for more inspiration and actionable steps to kick start or continue your zero waste journey at a very practical, tangible level!


“I only feel angry when I see waste. When I see people throwing away things we could use." ~ Mother Teresa


When was the last time you touched something made of plastic? An hour ago? A minute ago? Every piece of plastic ever created still exists. Plastic may leave your home when you take out the trash but once it’s out of sight, it doesn’t just disappear. All of that trash ends up in landfills, and every year this pile of plastic grows more and more massive. In 2012, 32 million tons of plastic waste ended up in the U.S. municipal solid waste stream; only 9% was actually recovered for recycling in the end, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. And that is only the beginning... EcoWatch has many more startling facts about plastic pollution.


To the average consumer, trash can seem like a fact of life. But you do not have to contribute to our global waste crisis. For the next two days, you will become acquainted with the Zero Waste lifestyle and develop tools to add to your arsenal in your battle against trash.


Zero Waste living involves three main components:


– First, try not to create non-recyclable waste in your daily life. Drink from reusable water bottles like those made by Klean Kanteen! Buy your food at farmer’s markets or in the bulk section of the grocery store. It’s easier (and less expensive) than you might think!


– Choose products that repurpose waste. Think products made from post-consumer recycled waste, as well as upcycled or repurposed items.


– Finally, recycle or repurpose any waste that you must create so it doesn’t end up in a landfill! We’ve all heard the mantra “Recycle, Reduce, Reuse.”


Well, here are a few more R’s to add to your life:


– Refuse! Refuse all disposables you can live without.

– Rot! By keeping food waste and other biodegradable materials out of the landfill you can create rich compost that will feed your plants or those on your campus!


– Rethink! What can you do differently to cut down on waste? The options are endless. 5 Gyres has endless information about understanding plastic pollution through exploration, education, and action. Let's learn how to manifest a planet free of plastic pollution!


Take on specific zero waste challenges, if you so desire! The four below are excerpted from our annual Turning Green eco lifestyle challenge each October. Find out more at Project Green Challenge.

Green challenge


Transitioning to a low (or zero) waste lifestyle might seem impossible, but you don’t have to do it alone. Many people are already blazing a zero waste trail, like Lauren at Trash is for Tossers and Bea of Zero Waste Home. Start with small steps – something as simple as eliminating plastic bags, for example, can set you on the path to transform daily life!


Look at the Zero Waste resource page or elsewhere to find a blog or video about a person that has transitioned to a zero waste lifestyle.

– Share the link to the blog or resource that you found.

– What about this person’s journey or method resonates with you?

– What makes the blog or video so inspiring?

– Tell us three things you learned and will apply to your own life.


Greener challenge


Waste is a huge part of our consumer culture. We buy, we consume, we toss. And since landfills are hidden from view, it’s easy to overlook how much waste we produce.


It’s time to get an accurate perspective on waste! For 24 hours, take a bag everywhere you go and put everything you would otherwise dispose of into that bag. Don’t hide it! Carry your bag proudly and welcome conversations with classmates and community members.

– Take a photo of everything you collect!

– Separate the waste into recyclables and non-recyclables (if you can compost, that is GREAT!)

– Brainstorm reusable options for each of your non-recyclable / non-compostable items.

– Share three quotes from people you interacted with during the day.

– Tell us what specific zero waste options you could use in the future.

Greenest challenge


You’ve learned a lot about your own waste habits and started to conceptualize how to minimize your impact. Here’s your chance to broaden the scope and bring the zero waste mindset to your campus.



Find one practice at your school that creates a significant amount of waste.

– Research the issue. Are other schools doing a better job?

– Brainstorm a Zero Waste solution to this problem, focusing on the details that would allow it to succeed on your campus.

– Interview at least two community members (friends, faculty, staff) on camera (if possible) to discuss the problem.

– Outline your solution for them and tell us (or show us!) how they respond.

Extra credit


Can you form a habit in two weeks? Are you ready to take the plunge and make zero waste a part of your life?


Make a commitment to transition three aspects of your life from a disposable option to a zero waste one. A few ideas:

– Stop drinking bottled water/soda

– Use a reusable coffee cup instead of single-use option

– Cut out all paper and plastic bags Once you’ve settled on three changes, live with them for the next two weeks! At the end, write a blog post about your experience, aiming to make your story an inspiration to others. Make sure to address the following questions:

– Were the changes easier or more difficult than you expected?

– Did you notice any unexpected outcomes?

– Will you keep these new habits now that the challenge is complete?

– Get friends or family to make that commitment with you!

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