Have you ever stumbled upon one of the many Instagram zero-waste accounts dedicated to photos of DIY soaps, fruit-based masks, and mason jars fitting an impossibly tiny amount of trash collected in one month or year? Maybe you thought to yourself, “I wish I could be like that.” An average American reportedly produces about 4.6 pounds of waste daily, which equates to 1,679 pounds per year. If that is not terrifying enough, on average, New York City accumulates 14 millions tons of trash per year, making it one of the most wasteful cities in the world.
With more awareness of what’s going into your trash, you can be conscious of how to lower that amount. Just because you dispose of your garbage bags from your home, it definitely doesn’t mean that they are really gone. While living with absolutely zero waste is nearly impossible for most people, there are some simple changes you can make in your everyday life to get you started in the right direction. In honor of Earth Day, here are five ways to live a lower-waste lifestyle.
1. Look for alternatives to disposable kitchen products.
Generally, the kitchen is where people produce the most waste, including take-out containers, leftover food, and one-time use products. First, identify which products you are going through the fastest throughout the week and search for substitutes. Instead of paper towels, you can use kitchen or “unpaper” towels like these. If you must go for paper, look for perforated paper towels in smaller sheet sizes. This will help you portion out just enough to get the job done. And instead of plastic wrap, consider switching to a simple piece of cloth, soy-derived wax paper, or, if you are feeling extra ambitious, beeswax wrap. Beeswax has antibacterial properties and is ideal for molding around bowls of various shapes and sizes.
2. Commit to reusable beverage containers and straws.
Plastic products are a serious issue for marine life because garbage floating in the ocean will often be mistaken for food or even physically constrict a creature that gets caught in it. In fact, straws are one of the most popular items found in beach clean-ups. Because of this, more people have been opting for metal, glass or silicone straws—there are even extra-wide ones for boba tea!
Additionally, many places like Starbucks, Target and Whole Foods encourage customers to bring their own drink cups and shopping bags by offering a discount on your purchase. If you are a caffeine addict like me, chances are you’ve been eyeing a reusable tumbler if you haven’t got one already. Go for it! There’s something empowering about using your own bottle because it puts you in control of what you put inside your body. Whether it’s your morning coffee, protein shake, or just water, having your own reusable bottle brings more awareness to both the quantity and quality of what you’re drinking.
3. Make your own beauty products.
Part of the zero-waste lifestyle is optimizing and reinventing products. Skincare is the perfect opportunity to get creative with sustainable ingredients. While there are plenty of brands that provide organic, cruelty-free products, these often come at a hefty price, both financially and environmentally. Luckily, you can make beauty and health products with ingredients easily found in your refrigerator or at the local grocery store. For starters, you can take the rice water that you were about to pour down the drain and use it as a refreshing toner or mask instead. Check out more DIY face mask recipes (using egg whites, avocado, yogurt and more) here! As the weather is slowly transitioning from the cold, dry winter to the warm, humid spring, now is the perfect time to give your skin (and the environment) some love and attention.
4. Plan your meals ahead of time.
While you are enjoying your evening with a moisturizing avocado face mask, why not take some time to begin meal prepping for the week? Meal prepping has several benefits, including saving money and time during the week, ensuring that your diet is nutritionally balanced, and, of course, minimizing waste. While pre-made food in disposable packaging makes eating more convenient and portable, it falls into the category of preventable waste. Cooking ahead of time allows you to use all of your food, including extra ingredients, instead of cooking or buying single meals and ultimately throwing away leftovers.
5. Clean up your closet.
Lastly, take a look at your closet and sort out clothes to donate or recycle. Zero waste is essentially about making the most out of your trash and thereby reducing the amount produced. On average, the clothing industry produce 1.2 billion tons of carbon emissions each year. As you sort through your clothes, think about what you really wear on a regular basis and, the next time you shop, be mindful of how a new piece might fit into your wardrobe. When you’re done with a piece, many clothing brands including H&M, Madewell and Levi’s are encouraging customers to recycle their unwanted clothes back to the store for a discount on their next purchase. Research which of your favorite brands are already taking action to reduce the fashion industry’s carbon footprint, so you can shop sustainably without putting your monthly retail therapy in jeopardy. Shopping at thrift stores is also a great way to get good bargains and to keep perfectly usable clothing out of landfills.
Whether you are striving for the Instagram-perfect kitchen or just want to do your part for the environment, there are many ways you can move closer to a zero-waste lifestyle. Ultimately, it’s about being aware of your habits and finding alternative ways to get the job done. Be creative and reimagine how products can be used in various ways. Who knew your breakfast eggs and avocado toast could double as your nightly skincare routine?