How to decide when to invest in zero waste products, and more importantly, when you should not. Zero waste has this mythos around it, where it needs to be really pretty, it needs to be ready to go onto Instagram or Pinterest or out into the world to show, “Hey, we are zero waste.” And that is not the core of the movement. We need to use what we have in order to reduce the amount that we consume. It doesn’t have to, and it most definitely should not break the bank.
We’re not looking for perfect zero wasters. In fact, perfect zero waste does not exist, and having to go out and buy five things that are like a hundred bucks each Is not something that is A) sustainable in any sense of the word, but B) even realistic. I got into zero waste back in 2016 when I wanted to not only reduce my waste, but save the money that it was taking on disposables every month because they cost a lot.
But I did not start doing that by just going out and buying the most eco-friendly trending item. What I did is I looked at what is going to make the biggest difference in mine and Mr. Grizzly’s life when it comes to disposable.
The biggest thing when it comes to going zero waste is that you need to come at it with a zero waste mindset.
Now, a zero waste mindset:
- Hey, it’s free!
- But two, it’s something that when you look at anything, whether that is a piece of plastic, a glass bottle or aluminum or glass, and think, Hey, what is going to make the absolute most amount of sense and the most amount of use Out of this particular thing?
You don’t have to buy a billion different things in order to go zero waste, and that is absolutely true, but things will vary from house to house and even person to person as to where you can make the biggest impact in terms of reducing your disposable waste.
But how do you figure out where to invest your money and where to invest your time?
Top 10 Wishlist
The first thing that I would suggest you do is make a list of the top 10 things that you’d like for your eco-friendly life. Now, this isn’t just, “Hey, I’m going to think about this abstractly and never put any of this into action.”
No, I want you to go and actually physically write down or type out or put it down somewhere. Put it down, so that you see what are the top 10 things that you’d like for your eco-friendly life that would make things easier for you.
Once you have those 10 down, I want you to order from one to 10, what you think that you need the most.
Now, once you have that done, I want you to set that aside for a moment, and we’re going to talk about trash audits. Now this is something that you may have heard of if you’ve been in the space for a while, or you may have even done one.
For those who don’t know a trash audit is literally what it sounds like you were going in and looking at the stuff that you are throwing away. That is not only literally throwing in the trash. But also, what are you putting in the compost? What are you putting in the recycling? What are you throwing away the most of? Because this is going to dictate where you might want to focus your energies.
Now, why do a trash audit?
It seems real gross. You don’t want to go digging through your trash, especially if you aren’t able to compost that requires digging through some, maybe not so great food. That’s fine. You don’t have to do the trash that you have already created. There is an alternative option, but the reason why we want to do a trash audit is because knowing is half the battle.
The same reason why when you’re trying to figure out how to budget and what you’re actually spending your money on, you write down all of your expenses, writing down all of the things that you’re throwing away makes it a lot easier to be aware of where those money sucks or those waste sucks are coming in your life.
There are a couple of different ways that you can do your audit. The first way you grab a pair of gloves, a second trash bag, and either a partner or a voice command app on your phone. So you’re going to go through all your trash. That means the bathroom, the living room, the dining room, the kitchen bedroom, all of these things.
You’re going to go through all of the trashes, and you are going to figure out what you are throwing away, you are going to list out all of the things you are seeing. If you see something being thrown away multiple times, put a check mark next to it. You are going to start seeing patterns in your trash.
If you’re less than inclined to go digging through the trash. And that is a-ok instead, grab a notebook, open a note on your phone (whatever’s most convenient for you), and every time that you go through and go to throw something away, No, this takes a little bit more mental energy to remember to do all of this.
And I know it’s really, really tempting to just be like, “I’ll throw this away in the work bin so that I don’t have to worry about writing it down.” No, I want everywhere that you are throwing stuff away to write that down because we want to get an honest look at what we are doing and what we are producing, in order to have a solid view of how to move forward.
So is it food waste? Is it cotton rounds? Is it wrapping from new purchases, packaging that the new purchases come with? Once you have all of this done, now you’re going to make changes to reduce the trash that you found.
This is where the list that you made earlier comes in? Is it something that is the same, are the things that you thought that you had the most issue with the same things that are bearing out in your trash audit? Are those the same? If not, then that might be something that you need to reconsider in terms of reprioritizing what you want to reduce.
For example, when I did my first trash and recycling audit. I was going through a ton of individual single serve yogurt cups. I love Greek yogurt. It is creamy. It’s rich in probiotics. It’s just fantastic and a great snack. But when I was going through like 10 to 12, little individual yogurt cups every week, that adds up to a lot.
So I made the commitment to go over to the bigger container, yogurt instead of the single serves, then I could separate them out into smaller containers.
I’d still get my yogurt fix, but I wasn’t creating as much plastic as I was before that. Now, if this is something that you really loved and did, like this was part of your routine every single day, every morning, you had yogurt with insert mix-in here. You could even start making your own yogurt. That is something that is do-able, ou could buy a yogurt maker yourself, DIY it, and that is a way to bypass the plastic altogether. Especially if you’re using milk from a local source that’s sold in glass.
One last thing that you need to do before you really sit down and determine what is our next sustainable buy is, you need to do a product audit.
Now I started my zero waste journey back in 2016, and I didn’t really make a huge commitment to it until after Mr. Grizzly and I had moved into our house in 2017. Over that time, I accumulated a lot of hair care products.
I was 100% the person who would go into Walmart during the after Christmas sale when they had their jumbo containers of shampoo and conditioner for half off—I was getting all of that for $5. I was like, sign me up. I will get this and this and this. And so.
So while I definitely wanted to switch over to a zero waste hair care product earlier than I currently am. I am just now 3.5-4 years later, just getting through the end of my unsustainable shampoo and conditioner, and I’m very close to being out of my body wash. So now I can make those sustainable swaps. So what is it for you? Is it your makeup? Is it your containers for your food? Is it your lunch box? Whatever it is, you are looking for. What do you already have to use up before you go and make those sustainable swaps?
Because the most sustainable thing is the thing you already have. This is really, really important. Because it is so easy to fall into the trap when you’re trying to go zero waste to looking at what people who are much further along their journey are doing and be like, okay, in order to be like that, “I need to buy X, Y, and Z,” and that’s just not true. What are the things that you can repurpose? What can we reuse? Can you cut your things up in order to extend the life of that? Before I switched to toothpaste bites, I collected all of the tubes that I had in a little container. One day I just sat down, cut them open and scraped all of the toothpaste out of those two.
And it lasted me another three months because you just, it’s impossible to get everything out. If you don’t just open it up and go, go for it.
Putting it all together
Now, once you have all of these done, then you are ready to make your actual list of where are you going to invest?
You are going to compare these three lists. You have your wishlist, which is that first list you made. You are going to look at your trash audit, and you are going to look at your product audit.
Based on those, what is it that you really need to look into? What is the thing that is most necessary for you to reduce your waste moving forward? I can promise you, it’s not likely going to be the glitziest, shiniest thing, like a new water bottle or a tiffin or a reusable straw. Zero waste is not glitz and glam.
Zero waste is making do, it is working with what you have. And if you find that there’s something that you do need to find an alternative for. Is there something that you are going to be able to MacGyver and figure out a way to reuse in order to avoid having to go buy a new thing?
For example, if you use a lot of paper towels, because that’s what you grew up doing. Is there something that you can do in order to reduce those paper towels? Can you cut up old t-shirts in, into rags and put those on the, put those on the counter while putting the paper towels out of reach? It’s changing those small habits that’s going to lead to long-term change.