“With all this extra time and space at home, this is a great moment to step back and assess our routines, create new habits, and instill new values.”
“You can’t go zero-waste in a week, or even in a month. A zero-waste lifestyle is a process that takes time. I often liken it to losing weight. The average American makes four and a half pounds of trash per day, per person. If you tried to lose four and a half pounds in one day, you would die.”
“When you are looking to lose weight, you might start by cutting out sugar. Once you’ve done that, you might start working out once a week. Then, you might be able to workout twice a week, and eventually every day. It’s a building process, and it’s important that you focus more on your big-picture goal instead of on your daily wins and losses.”
“There is no such thing as ‘messing up’ if you’ve made the commitment to improve. The most important step is becoming aware of your actions and your options; realizing that the ways most people live in the world aren’t the only ways to live.”
Health First, Sustainability Next.
I want to preface this conversation by saying that the number one priority right now is personal health and the health and safety in our communities. There are some trash items that you should not be upset or self-conscious about using right now, like disinfecting wipes for your groceries. I’ve definitely sacrificed a lot of my values during this unprecedented time to ensure that I am being as cautious as possible.
If you are wearing gloves, it’s OK to throw them away right now – but if you can find rubber gloves that are totally natural, those are fully compostable! We are about to start stocking them at Package Free Shop.
STOCKING UP ON FOOD:
That being said, there are definitely ways you can continue your sustainability efforts during this time. Grocery stores are still fully stocked and do have fresh produce, but if you don’t feel comfortable going to the store and you are going to buy packaged food, which more people are doing right now than usual, then the number on the bottom of the packaging is really important to pay attention to.
The number ‘one,’ which is luckily easy to remember, notes the items most likely to get recycled. There is a higher demand for rigid plastic, so those disposables are more likely to get recycled. Look for that number.
NATURAL CLEANING SUPPLIES:
I use white vinegar for pretty much all my home cleaning needs. Right now, I’m using a sanitizing wipe to clean the groceries that just came in, plus the counter or any other surface they have touched, but that’s pretty much it. White vinegar works great for the rest.
Reducing Waste In The Kitchen.
FOOD STORAGE vs. FOOD WASTE:
Buying food that we don’t eat quickly becomes one of the biggest forms of wastes, so it’s important to be diligent and intentional about food storage. If I load up on fresh produce but realize I am not going to eat it all in time, I chop it up and freeze it in these stainless steel containers from Package Free Shop. I’ll store broccoli, spinach, and pre-cut peppers. I'll batch any fruit I have for smoothies.
USE THIS TIME TO LEARN ABOUT COMPOSTING:
Composting is so easy. Of course, depending on where you live, it can be easier or harder. If you have a yard, setting up a compost is a really fun project. If you are in a community like New York or LA, the expansion of the organics program has been really great and you still have access to composting even during social distancing.
I take a brown paper bag – which you can get from your grocery store or recycling room – and put all my food scraps in it. I keep my compost in the freezer and drop it in my composting bin, even though I can no longer take it to the farmer’s market.
SORT YOUR RECYCLING:
I’m cleaning and separating all my recycling so that it’s really easy for the people working in my building to identify and sort it. They are all wearing gloves and going through the items quickly, so I want to be as respectful and helpful as possible.
While people have extra time at home, there are so many easy, fun ways to reduce waste [in your kitchen.] You can buy activated yeast in glass jars – an easy first step to make your own rolls or tortillas and skip the packaging that usually comes with those items. I have a homemade, zero-waste tortilla recipe that is so much more delicious than pre-made tortillas – and quesadillas or tacos are super easy, low-waste foods to make right now.
Reducing Waste in Your WFH Routine.
BE YOUR OWN BARISTA:
In a lot of ways, people are moving towards more sustainable practices naturally. Instead of going out to buy coffee every day, they are making it at home. I use a French press, instead of a method like a pour over where you have to use filters and create waste. You put the coffee directly into the press and then compost the grounds.
SKIP THE DAIRY:
I’ve totally moved away from dairy at this time and will probably stick with it. Dairy usually comes packaged in plastic or a carton. Having your coffee black – or with a non-dairy product that doesn’t go bad, like oat milk – is more sustainable.
FILL THE LOAD BEFORE RUNNING APPLIANCES:
Because we are eating at home more often, we are using more dishes and less disposable to-go containers, which is great, but make sure your dishwasher is totally full before you run it. Same with your laundry. Waiting until those appliances are full before starting a load can save so much water.
BE CONSCIOUS OF YOUR SACRIFICES:
That being said, if you are washing more frequently for health and sanitation right now, that is OK, especially if you are in New York, where water is not a scarce resource. Whereas, in Los Angeles or California, it is. It’s important to be conscious of the sacrifices you are making and to understand how they affect where you live.
Start Shifting Towards Sustainable Self-Care.
FINISH THE PRODUCTS YOU ALREADY HAVE:
We all love finding products and trying new things to improve our beauty and self-care routines, but my first suggestion is to finish what you have and let that cadence of finishing your products be your timeframe for when you will move to a more sustainable item.
FIND SIMPLE, SUSTAINABLE BEAUTY SWAPS:
At Package Free, we have a sustainable swap for pretty much every beauty item. My favorites are our shampoo bars, conditioner bars and facial bars. I don’t use any packaged products, except for my face oil. You can make body butter at home using this recipe. You can purchase washable cotton rounds and reusable ear swabs, instead of using disposable cotton swabs each time. These swaps save you so much money in the long run, too.
Kill Time With Your Kids, While Creating Good Habits.
DIG INTO FUN D.I.Y. ACTIVITIES:
Parents right now need activities for their kids who are spending much more time at home. It’s a great time to instill self-sufficiency and DIY habits in children, plus it’s a great way to kill some time! You can teach them how to make their own body butter, or how to cook for themselves and make fresh items like tortillas or fresh pasta.
TEACH YOUR KIDS SIMPLE, SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES:
Sprouting or grow-your-own-planters are other fun things to do with kids right now. You can monitor and chart the growth, which is exciting for little ones. Composting is also really fun for kids and teaching them these practices early makes it easier for them to integrate into their routines as they get older.
Start Simple. Focus On What Excites You.
START WITH SIMPLE STEPS:
So many of the skills that I’ve learned over the past eight years are recorded on Trash is For Tossers. If you want a DIY activity or a good place to start working towards a zero-waste lifestyle, that’s a great place to start.
DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE DOCUMENTARIES:
A lot of documentaries about climate change are really depressing, so it might not be the best time to watch them right now. You feel charged or challenged to action, but then you ask, Wait, what can I actually do not? On top of the normal pressure that comes from those films, we are confined to our homes right now.
GET CURIOUS ABOUT WHAT YOU CAN DO:
A good alternative – instead of watching depressing documentaries or reading books about how screwed our planet is – is teaching yourself steps that actively remediate the problems we see in the world. Whether that means learning to cook instead of ordering out, or making products instead of buying them.
Even though my company Package Free Shop sells products, I don’t consider that the best option. It’s a bridge that helps people move away from purchasing everything towards making some of those things.
Some people don’t have the time or interest in making these items on their own, which is why Package Free Shop exists, but for all of us who have so much time on our hands right now, making your own DIY products is as much fun as it is sustainable.
When we start understanding that our everyday choices have either a positive or negative impact on the planet, we can ask ourselves, ‘Where's’ one little place that I can start to address this today?’ Right now, especially, is a time to ask those questions, to reflect, and to find the positive steps forward that excite you.
Lauren Singer is Founder and CEO of Package Free, a company on a mission to make the world less trashy by offering products that help you reduce waste daily. She is also the founder of the leading Zero Waste editorial platform Trash is for Tossers which shows that living a low or zero waste lifestyle can be cost effective, accessible, and fun! The amount of trash that Lauren has produced over the past eight years can fit inside of a 16 oz mason jar. Support Lauren: @trashisfortossers @packagefreeshop.
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