Blogger Cait Flanders is challenging herself to become less wasteful—her goal is to create no waste at all. Here’s how she plans to do it.
I consider myself a relatively conscious consumer. After doing a shopping ban for close to two years now, I’ve learned how little I need to be happy. Soap, toothpaste, and groceries? Yes. New clothes, accessories, and candles? Not so much. While I initially challenged myself not to shop for a year to save money, another benefit was the ban forced me to become more resourceful—and now I love learning how to fix and make things myself.
My next step is to become more conscious about how much waste I’m producing and try to reduce it. While I don’t shop frivolously, I do still buy things like soap, toothpaste, and groceries—and what can’t be used, composted, or recycled is thrown out. As it stands, I would estimate I throw out two to three small bags of garbage every month, but I want to challenge myself to cut that down to zero.
Yes, you read that right. I want to attempt to create zero waste.
The zero waste movement started decades ago, but gained serious momentum in recent years alongside minimalism and the tiny house movement. Some trailblazers manage to fit an entire year’s worth of garbage inside just one jar. One jar of waste per year! I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do that, but I’m going to see what I can accomplish in 30 days.
Here’s my plan:
Track Waste for One Week Before
The week before I start the challenge, I’m going to live my normal life and keep track of how much waste I produce. Since I already compost and recycle everything I possibly can, I’ll only keep track of the items that go into the garbage can itself. Similar to how tracking spending can show where my money is going, tracking both what I use and throw out will show me which products I should replace with more sustainable options or stop using altogether.
Transition to Reusable Containers
The zero waste movement requires a small investment in reusable containers. I already own a water bottle and travel coffee mug, but I’ll need a few jars to store all the bulk food products I’ll be buying. I will also need cloth bags to take shopping, rather than using plastic bags. (And I’d buy milk in refillable glass bottles—but I don’t drink milk!)
Find Alternative Ways to Shop
To live a zero waste life, you can’t buy anything other than produce, bulk products, and meat (which you’d have to ask the butcher to put into a glass jar of your own)–and that’s just the challenges of buying groceries, not toiletries or anything else. I’ll need to find alternative places to pick up bulk products for all my needs. (Note: If you’re in the U.S., Zero Waste Nerd has a list of zero waste stores in all states.)
Say No to Restaurants
While going to a restaurant wouldn’t necessarily result in creating any waste, I’m known for not being able to finish all my food and needing to take some home with me. Unless I brought a takeout container from home, I would need a container from the restaurant—and most are made with materials that can’t be fully recycled. Instead, I’ll save more time, money, and potential waste by making all my food at home for 30 days.
Welcome Natural Cleaning Products
In my opinion, an important part of going zero waste is making the switch from toxic chemicals to natural products. Not only do I plan on creating more cleaning products from essential household items, such as baking soda, lemon, and vinegar, I also want to figure out what kinds of cosmetics and toiletries (such as shampoo and conditioner) I can make from similar items. The fewer chemicals I’m putting on my skin and down my drain, the better.
In the end, I don’t think this challenge will be easy, but I do believe it’ll be the most important one I tackle yet. I look forward to becoming an even more conscious consumer, eliminating one piece of waste at a time.
Cait Flanders is a freelance writer and editor in Canada.
She is passionate about helping others align their budgets with
their goals and values, and overcome consumerism tendencies
—all of which she writes about on her blog Blonde on a Budget.