At first glance, it seems that the zero waste movement is hyper-focused on plastic and personal trash. For most of us though, fitting a year’s worth of trash into a mason jar is simply unattainable for so many reasons. While food packaging is a huge contributor to overall household waste, being unable to avoid it is not a personal failing – especially now. Access to bulk and refill stores, package-free produce, farmers markets and the like are not possible in many areas, and how food shopping looks during Covid-19 means more plastics bags and single-use plastics than ever. But as the brilliant Polly Barks says, zero waste is more than a plastic bag.
There has been a lot discussion lately as to whether or not Covid-19 restrictions on reusables mean the end of the zero waste movement. Although I began my low waste journey about 20 years ago, quarantine has thrown some thoughts about living “zero waste” into sharp relief for me. To be honest, I struggle with…
For me, “zero waste” is a mindset, not a goal for how much trash I produce. Choices are made with creating as little waste as possible in mind, but also with the understanding that what goes into my trash can is not the whole story. I must also consider how and where resources are sourced, labour practices, shipping, the end of life of the product, and turn a critical eye to my own wants and needs before purchases are even made. These will vary in cost and affordability according to your access to products and budget. That said, this mindset is *still* quite focussed on products and packaging. There are so many things you can do that have nothing to do with packaging, ranging from free to a long-term investment.
- Walk wherever you can.
- Drive less.
- Ride your bike.
- Use the public library – they have so much more than books!
- Adjust your thermostat 1-2° down in the winter and put on a cozy sweater and thick socks.
- Turn off the A/C and open your windows.
- Pick up litter.
- Compost in your yard or take advantage of town pickup. See if your farmer’s market or community garden has a drop off or look into a pickup service (which will likely have small fee).
- Recycle properly. Check your municipality website often for the rules, and make good use of an app if available.
- Make veggie broth with food scraps.
- Attend a town council meeting.
- Contact your local, provincial/state, and federal reps about issues that matter to you.
- Join a local eco group, either online or in person.
- Post a NO JUNK MAIL sign on your mailbox.
- Unsubscribe from store emails.
- Delete old photos from the cloud.
- Start or join a Buy Nothing Group.
- Connect with nature – go hiking, foraging, or swimming in a lake.
- Sell or give away items you are no longer using.
- Take shorter, colder showers.
- Reuse ziploc bags.
- Make an “Eat Next” area in your fridge to reduce food waste – store leftovers at eye level, put cut produce on a plate, etc.
Making vegetable broth from scraps is an easy low waste swap and a great way to reduce food waste! Click through for stove top and Instant Pot direction to make this liquid gold.
- Take transit.
- Grow a veggie garden, even on a balcony or windowsill.
- Download “Flashfood” or similar apps to rescue produce (at a discounted price) before it is thrown away.
- Host a clothing swap. Check out this post for tips!
- Put together a “Zero Waste Kit” (water bottle, mug, cutlery, napkin, container etc) using what you already own wherever possible.
- Bring your own shopping bags to the store.
- Mend your clothing and try to repair items before discarding them.
- Stop buying paper towels, napkins, and tissues. Replace them with old towels, cut up sheets, etc.
- Use wax wraps instead of cling wrap.
- Give canning a try! Equipment is fairly minimal and can often be found secondhand. We found our whole outdoor setup this way! Canning, pickling, and freezer jams are a great way to preserve the local harvest.
- Eat more plant-based meals.
- Shop at your local farmer’s market. Depending on where you live, this may be less expensive than the grocery store. Regardless, supporting local farms is an investment in your community food system.
- Avoid Amazon. Shop local, independent shops wherever possible.
- Choose locally-made, ethically-sourced, sustainable-produced, cruelty-free, woman-owned etc. products according to your values. Vote with your dollar.
- Shop secondhand first. Pretty much anything you could need or want has already been made.
- Give eco-friendly gifts. Check out this guide, including ideas that are free and not more stuff.
- Meal plan and batch cook for the week.
- Switch to eco-friendly bathroom products.
- Put up solar panels.
- Get a rainwater barrel – some towns offer them up in the spring!
- Install a grey water collection system.
- Tear out your lawn and build raised garden beds. Make the extra food you grow available to neighbours and community groups.
- Invest in reusable menstrual products.
- Create a “party” kit (plates, cutlery, glasses, napkins, etc) with your extras or thrift store items for family and friends. You can also open it up to the community on Buy Nothing or Plate Share. Reusables are a big part of a zero waste party!
- Buy carbon offsets for your travel or regular transportation output.
I could go on forever with these, but please share any that I missed in the comments! Our habits and behaviours can be tweaked to be more eco-friendly, all without having to touch a single mason jar. Some zero waste habits may be the right fit for you, and others may not. That’s okay! There is more than one way to be sustainable.