Over the past several years, discussion about individual ecological and carbon footprints has boomed and for good reason. Although we’re seeing a massive change in the health of our planet, it’s something that we as individuals can help to shift in a more positive direction. While climate change largely falls on huge corporations, it’s up to us to make small changes in our lifestyle that can propel us in the right direction. This is because the average American produces over 2,000 pounds of trash per year with only 34% of it being recycled.
We’ve all heard of reduce, reuse, recycle but have you heard of zero waste? Living a zero-waste lifestyle is essentially cutting way back on the amount of trash you produce in favor for reusable and sustainable options. The basis of a zero waste lifestyle fits into the 5 Rs (not just 3)—refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot. These principles are there to remind you to refuse single-use plastics, opt for zero waste swaps, try and reuse items as much as possible, recycle what you can, and ultimately, buy nothing that would end up in a landfill. Keep in mind that to start your zero-waste journey, you don’t need to be perfect right away. It’s fine to start out small and get used to the lifestyle and then commit on a larger scale.
Why go zero waste?
Going zero waste is one of the most sustainable ways of living and has more benefits than you may think. While recycling is a great option, it’s not always feasible because most of our trash is made of mixed materials (i.e. plastic and cardboard). In order for the recycling process to run smoothly, materials need to be separated and sorted properly. Most people don’t know that you have to separate different materials which means a lot of trash being recycled just gets sent to the landfill once it arrives at the recycling center. Also, certain materials such as plastics can only be recycled so many times which means they will ultimately end up in the landfill as well. Once in the landfill, trash can take hundreds of years to decompose and end up leaking harmful chemicals into the ground in the process. This trash can also end up harming wildlife in oceans and other bodies of water. On top of this, the actual production of disposable or single-use items is extremely wasteful. It takes about 22 gallons of water to make a pound of plastic with over 300 million tons of plastics being produced each year—50% of which is used for single-use items.
Not only will our planet thank you for going zero waste, but your bank account will too. This is because you won’t have to repurchase single-use items as often and you’ll be making the swap to shopping second-hand, not eating out as often, and composting.
Zero waste swaps
With zero waste, you are encouraged to cut down your usage of single-use items in favor of products that you are able to safely reuse as much as possible and dispose of properly once they no longer serve their purpose. If you’re still unsure about going zero waste, simply swapping out single-use items that you use daily will put you on the right track.
- Aluminum foil: In order for aluminum foil to be recycled, it needs to be fully cleaned from any food residue or grease. Instead of going through the hassle of cleaning your aluminum foil just to toss it, swap it out for a silicone baking mat instead. Not only can silicone baking mats go in the oven, but they’re also dishwasher safe!
- Coffee cups and plastic water bottles: Did you know that over 100 billion plastic bottles are sold every year? And you guessed it, only about 25% of those bottles are recycled! Buying reusable coffee cups and water bottles will not only help keep plastic out of landfills, but they’re also a much better option to keep your drinks cold/hot longer!
- Cotton swabs: Because they are made with mixed materials, most plastic cottons swabs are not recyclable. Try opting for compostable cotton swabs or even reusable ones that you can clean!
- Paper towels: More often than not, paper towels cannot be recycled because they can’t be cleaned properly. Try using cotton or microfiber towels for cleaning instead of paper towels so you’ll be able to throw them in the washer once they’re dirty.
- Floss: Traditional floss is made out of plastic and has a thick coating that makes it hard to decompose. Nowadays, there are tons of zero waste swaps for floss, like silk floss, that do the same job!
- Plastic toothbrushes: Speaking of teeth, swapping out your toothbrush is one of the easiest steps to becoming zero waste! 1 plastic toothbrush takes about 1,000 years to decompose which means that the first plastic toothbrush from 1938 is still on this earth in a landfill! Switch out your plastic toothbrush for a bamboo one.
- Toilet paper: Okay, this one isn’t as bad as it may seem—AKA we’re not suggesting you stop using toilet paper altogether. Instead of traditional toilet paper rolls, purchase ones that are made from 100% recycled paper and don’t packaged in plastic.
- Plastic straws: Avoiding plastic straws is usually the first step people take to reducing their single-use plastics and that’s because they’re not a necessity. If you’re out and about, just ask for no straw with your drink and if you really want them at home, buy stainless steel, glass, or silicone straws that you can wash and reuse instead!
- Razors: Over 2 billion disposable razors end up in landfills each year…yikes. Safety razors are an amazing zero waste swap for plastic razors not only because the blades are recyclable, but also because they’re much cheaper and give you a better shave overall.
- Plastic bags: The age of Ziploc is over as we know it and we’re making room for zero waste swaps like reusable silicone storage bags. These storage bags are actually better than traditional plastic bags because they’re dishwasher AND microwave safe! Show us a Ziploc bag that can do that.
While these zero waste swaps are great, they’re only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to living zero waste. Make sure to do research on other sustainable swaps that work for you and your lifestyle to get started on your journey!