Submitted Date 02/02/2019

Zero Waste Living, ever heard of it?

Both a phrase and lifestyle that had inspired and intimidated me.

I silently applauded and stared in awe at the people who lived this way; plastic free, waste-free, virtually trash free. I also stared in awe at the price tags of items such as silicone sandwich/freezer bags, beeswax wraps, unpackaged foods, and some bulk items, etc., etc. (At least for the quality ones! You always want to buy quality if you want it to last and you know...not be thrown away).

It may seem intimidating and heartbreaking as a college student or someone on a tight budget to want to help save the planet, but also save money buying cheaper items that don't always come plastic-free, I've heard this claim a lot: "it's just too expensive." However, as someone who has lived to tell the tale of going zero waste as a broke post-college student, living in a 200 square foot tiny 1950s built studio, I'm here to tell you how much going zero waste has actually helped me a lot with saving money, and living in small confined places. Stick with me.

Let's start small.

There so many things I'd want to tell you about that have transformed my life and spending habits immensely, but these are some small things that got me on track to the path I am now, and I'll try not to be too cliche in the usual (but still important) things that are talked about (reusable straws, cups, grocery bags).

Here's the thing... reusable grocery bags, portable coffee cups, reusable water bottles and straws are the best things to start with, they are the baby steps to reducing. What I've found is that not a lot of people know where to go after making the change with these things. The first thing to know is that everyone is different: the next step is to assess yourself. Take a look in that lovely trash bag of yours!

Do you buy too many packaged foods? Use a lot of plastic silverware for lunch? Are you overflowing in makeup products or containers, maybe even sitting there unused?

One thing I told myself while reducing was that it would also lead me to minimalism with my items, and I would be a lot more comfortable in a cramped apartment. Which is true, but I treated it as a goal with gains for myself, too. Some people can't be bothered with "saving the planet", and while that sucks, maybe if it helps, make the task all about you, and make it fun! Know that living zero waste also involves making a lot of your own products, which is so much fun! (I can touch on my own recipes in a different article).

After the essentials, I'd start with the intention of buying less plastic packaged products. Yes, this means go ahead, accumulate all the glass jars your heart desires. My preference is from thrift stores (bulk jars are sold in plastic!) Also, bulk jars are all the same size. I like mine with personality.

ESSENTIAL: don't throw things away while switching over! Yes, maybe you want to switch all your storage to jars, but don't throw away a box of unused Ziploc bags, use them up, and don't buy them again, you can even reuse those bags. I still reuse some baggies to store my frozen fruit.

Science goggles: start with buying bulk products that you can use to make other things, too. For example: baking soda. I have found so many uses for this underappreciated white powder since making my own products; toothpaste, mouthwash, cleaning solution, yummy desserts. You will definitely be needing baking soda. You can buy dry ingredients like legumes, oats, and pasta. Depending on the ingredients, bulk should not be more expensive than packaged. Some ingredients, yes, but for the most part, no. When I first started buying oats (at Whole Foods!) I realized how much money I was wasting on extra packaging! Also, I have the right amount of everything because I control that, which is such a perk.

Bulk stores are unfortunately not so abundant depending on where you live. You can try buying things in glass like peanut butter, or going to farmers markets (with your reusable grocery bag, heh heh), and buy more fresh produce. Committing myself to saying no to plastic packed food made me have to be healthier.

I eliminated disposable plastic products, no longer swimming amongst plastic in my apartment, and have minimal pots and pans along with bamboo cutlery and no longer any paper towels, but cotton rags for cleaning. I also make my own cleaning product, which I only need one of, when I used to need an array of products designed for different things (what lies). I use my citrus food scraps to put in a big ol glass jar filled with vinegar to make my solution, wait two weeks, dilute with water, and voila, cleaning solution. I also love bulk buying because (although it's called bulk) I buy small amounts of things and am not overflowing in product or potential food waste.

Makeup and beauty products were also something that took up too much space for me. I now make as much of my own products as possible, which I'd love to talk about later. But I use charcoal for eyeliner and a mixture for mascara, I use spices of cinnamon and nutmeg with arrowroot powder for face 'foundation', I mean, if I can make my own products from my kitchen cabinet, count me in.

Living zero waste turned me towards not just minimizing plastic, but everything, really, and it's been freeing. And I wanted to start this first article off with (trying not ramble on-and-on) the rainbow of things and positives reducing can do!

The most important thing, I have to say, is to know that everyone is different, as stated before. Starting slow is ok. It's a process. But it's worth it. And it should never feel like it is eating away at your wallet, I've saved a lot of money from buying bulk (something I've heard many people say is too expensive to do). I've also saved a lot of money from not buying coffee when I forget to bring my own cup (ha). My life is simplified with minimal things in every aspect, even in the shower, just a shampoo bar, soap, and straight edge razor.

Maybe, we can start by tackling rooms. Maybe I'll talk about zero waste bathrooms or kitchens or bedrooms next. I do very much believe, the change starts within the home. On the side you can slowly buy bulk and jars and products you know you'll need to help minimize waste in certain rooms like bathroom products (baking soda woot woot). I think it's a journey worth looking skeptically at and trying out slowly. Lets goo!




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  • Andrea Hope 7 months, 1 week ago

    Thanks, Melanie. I am in the same position as you were being intrigued and intimidated. I was wondering about buying bulk, how does payment go? I want to buy fruits, vegetables, nuts, etc in bulk with reusable containers but I'm wondering how that works with the cashier because usually at stores where I live you weigh the products and put the sticker on the bag. Do stores let you put things in your own containers and then what about the weight?

    • Melanie Sue 7 months, 1 week ago

      Hi Andrea! :) I've been to two bulk stores: Whole Foods and a local Co-Op. For both, you can go to the cashier to have them weigh your jars for you, however I just use the weigh provided in the bulk section which works just fine. I bring my chalk marker or dry erase marker and write on my jar the tare (the weight of the jar when it's empty) and then I fill it up, weigh again, and write the product number (PLU: price look-up) on it. (this way you also don't have to use those plastic tags or stickers, just be careful not to wipe the writing off!) If you're not sure if a store allows you to bring your own containers, I would double-check at the front, and if they do they could weigh them for you before you fill them up, too :) It was intimidating to do at first, but now it's definitely my preferred way!

  • Sarah Urbanic 6 months, 3 weeks ago

    Thank you for this, Melanie. I've always been interested in zero-waste, but it seems so intimidating. Now that you've broken in down into sections, I think I'm ready to take some small steps that will help me get there! This really inspired me to make a real effort to reduce waste in my life :)

  • Kristy P Podruchny 6 months, 3 weeks ago

    Love this! Thank you for sharing such an important topic. I'm on my zero waste journey as well and many of these suggestions will help.

  • Jared Clawson 5 months, 1 week ago

    I applaud and admire your decision to do this and share it! You're making the world a better place!

  • Barbi Green 3 weeks ago

    Thank you for writing about zero-waste living and how making positive changes in our lives is part of the journey! So often, reading other's inspiration on the same journey helps us to reset. I am currently on a journey of becoming "unstuffed" - eliminating the unessential and living a more organized life. I appreciate the encouragement you offer in your blog post!