14 Small Ways to Start Going Waste-Free
I’m not going to lie— going entirely waste-free can feel pretty overwhelming. When so much of what we have come to rely on in our daily lives, from our disposable morning coffee cups to the plastic utensils we mindlessly grab with our plastic-encased salads, from the packaging of our groceries and favorite beauty products to the garbage bags we use to throw it all away, the prospect of going waste-free feels like rejecting society as we know it. Not only that, it feels like yet another thing to think about on top of an already-packed lifestyle.
Of course, then we factor in our efforts to make more health-conscious choices and there’s suddenly a whole other layer of complexity to this. We’re told to opt for organic produce, yet the organic ones come wrapped in plastic (??) and apparently our daily green juice is killing turtles with every straw -_-
I know. This feels like a trick…
But rather than say “to hell with it, it’s too complicated, it’s not for me, what difference will I make as one tiny human, I can’t produce THAT much waste…” let’s take a gander at how even the smallest changes can have a huge, like HUGE, impact.
First off, we have to honor that, like any lifestyle change, going waste-free is not something we can do overnight or we are basically guaranteed to give up on it after a week and lose enthusiasm behind our efforts.
Also, it’s important to understand that no one is asking us to be perfect. It’s not like choosing to value waste-free practices means never ever throwing something away or else you’re a failure and why even bother. Rather, it’s little efforts on the behalf of many that add up overtime to bring about change, rather than a few people doing things to a sustainably-sourced organic cotton T.
I love the infograph here, as it really puts things into perspective. You can see how much impact you alone can have over the course of a year of tiny swaps, and how this compounds exponentially when we make a collective effort of tiny swaps!
I myself cannot say that I am entirely waste-free, but I’m trying and am eagerly learning about new ways I can continue to shift towards an increasingly waste-free lifestyle, both while traveling and once I settle in a new home!
Below I share 14 small ways to start going waste-free that I have personally adopted that truly haven’t changed my life much, and yet over time, if we all start to embrace them, will add up to massive change for our dear mumma earth.
Titanium and/or Glass water bottle - I love my 9 fl oz Swell bottle, as it’s the perfect size to keep me hydrated but not so large that it weighs down my bag when its full. The insulation keeps things hot, cold, or (my fave) room temp for hours! I also have a glass bottle with a tea infuser that I love using at home in the colder months!
Keep-Cup or Stojo - I am low key obsessed with my Stojo cup. It’s a collapsable silicon to-go cup that folds up into the size of a hockey puck and I bring it EVERYWHERE. Perfect for coffee, matcha lattes, tea, or even just water. They also make great gifts! I also have friends who love their glass Keep-Cups.
Metal/Bamboo straws - Swapping to a reusable straw was one of the first things I did in my efforts to minimize waste, and it’s also such a fun conversation starter! My roommate gifted me a collapsible straw keychain, so I never left the house without it! I never realized how often I used a straw until I had this bad boy, and it’s so fun to whip out out of nowhere— everyone is like “oooh I want one!” I then also got a full set of metal straws to keep at home. But if you’re sensitive to metal, silicon-tipped or bamboo straws are also a good choice (see below!)
Bamboo utensils - It didn’t take long to get used to bringing my own straw around, but a full set of utensils was a little more of an adjustment. But the little rollup case it comes in is so cute and honestly, I love the sturdiness and hyevibe feeling of using wooden utensils when I’m eating on the go (and I swear it makes the food taste better!). Sometimes I even use them at home instead of metal cutlery. Most sets also come with a straw and even a bamboo toothbrush (#3 and #7 on this list, so 3 wins in one!)
Shampoo bars - I first discovered the magic of shampoo bars when byHumanKind reached out to me to try their products. I love this brand and their mission to deliver waste-free, all natural bath products (shampoo, deodorant, mouth wash, cotton swabs and more to come!) in a subscription-style format to make these eco-friendly swaps totally mindless. Since then, I’ve been seeing shampoo bars everywhere in health stores, especially in Europe but even in Whole Foods!, and I’m totally converted. The best part is their multi-purposefulness while traveling. A shampoo bar also triples as a body wash, shaving bar, and even a face wash since they are void of any harsh chemicals! Can’t recommend enough. I even think my hair has gotten healthier and cleaner since I stopped using conditioner (you don’t really have to, as natural shampoos still preserve your natural oils!)
Bulk-fill jars - A surefire way to cut back on waste and also make your home immediately more instagrammable is to start collecting glass jars of various sizes to use at bulk stores. These are great not only for keeping your pantry essentials, like grains, nuts, pastas, dry legumes and spices, but also for bath products. More and more bulk-fill shops are also providing fill-up stations for soap, detergents, and shampoo and conditioners (incase you’re not yet ready to rub a shampoo bar on your head). The best and most cost-effective way to do this is simply saving all your glass jars when you finish their contents. Suddenly, your purchase of coconut oil and pickles have a whole new benefit.
Soap nuts for laundry - I had no idea soap nuts were a thing until I stayed for a week at my friend Victoria’s cozy waste-free home in Lausanne. She solely used soap nuts instead of any detergents or other laundry products, and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy and lovely they are to use! Simply toss a few soap nuts in a cotton pouch and toss into your washing machine with your laundry. That’s literally it! Then you hang the bag to dry afterwards and the same soap nuts can be reused for several washes before composting. You can also really easily hand-wash with soap nuts, and without harming the skin on your hands with toxic chemicals!
Composting - You already throw away all your cooking scraps, your orange peels, your apple cores, so why not throw them into a compost instead? Instead of dropping your organic waste into the trash, simply drop them into a separate bin that you can either keep securely covered or keep it outside if you have that ability (don’t keep it outside your apartment door unless you want pissed neighbors and rats). Then, simply look up how your town, city or neighborhood supports composting. Typically there will be a local farmers market or waste center that you can bring your compost to each week. Some buildings may be way ahead of the game and have their own system for taking care of this for you, so just do your research!
Multi-purpose glass containers - similar to using bulk jars, investing in glass containers for the kitchen that can double as cookware and containers make cooking at home super simple and less messy.
Parchment paper - Parchment paper can be composted! It’s also much healthier (no heating of oils necessary!) and safer (no leaking metals!) to cook with than aluminum foil.
Making the most of your cooking scraps (broth, burgers, crackers, desserts) - A lot of what we consider to be scraps of foods actually have a lot more value than we give them credit for. The roots and tips of things like carrots, zucchini, beets, and potatoes can actually totally be cooked and eaten like the rest of it. Otherwise, you can use any discarded bits to make a broth! When it comes to juicing, I love to use the pulp to make veggie burgers, and I’ve even seen them turned into crackers. If you make your own nut milk, the pulp is the perfect thing to make protein-packed baked goods or power bites!
Cotton shopping totes + produce bags - The simplest way to immediately save some trees and spare the world of more plastic use is to bring your own shopping bags with you. It’s simple enough to do when you are deliberately going to the store, but what about when you’re making an unpredictable stop? I love to keep one of these mesh totes or a foldable tote on me so I’m always prepared. And they’re cute! When I’m doing a real grocery stock up, I’ll bring produce bags as well, but when I know I’m only grabbing a few essentials, I’ll skip the plastic bags and just throw the loose apples/lemons/potatoes/etc right into my tote.
Washable Cotton Pads - When I discovered reusable cotton pads were a thing, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it sooner. It’s nicer for the environment and your wallet! Plus you’ll never have to find yourself without cotton pads again. I will handwash them after each use a few times before putting them all in a cotton drawstring pouch and tossing the pouch right into the laundry (just like the soapnuts!)
Shop thift/second hand/vintage stores - Sometimes going the eco-conscious route in terms of our closets can be even more overwhelming, so rather than go cold turkey and swear off all your usual favorite brands, try to find them second-hand! Thrifting is seriously such a win-win-win because you are always guaranteed to get a good deal on whatever you find while also decreasing your carbon footprint (because let’s be real, the world doesn’t need more brand new clothes…). As someone who used to work in fashion and will forever have it running in her veins, I always get an adrenaline boost when I hit the jackpot. Even just recently I needed a few fall-weather pieces and I got an unworn Maje sweater for $30 (retail $250)… $30!! And then when you feel that you’re ready to part with the item, you can gauge it’s resale value and the cycle continues! Perhaps a HYE Life thrift shop is in the near future… ;D
*PS- All products that I’ve linked to here can also be shopped directly from my Amazon shop!