yby Laila DeMartino
How many things do you throw away each day? If you are like most Americans, the answer is about 4.5 pounds of solid waste. That adds up to a startling total of 1,606 pounds per year. Even worse is the fact that much of this garbage doesn’t even end up in the landfill, but goes on to pollute oceans and spread toxic chemicals. The good news is that we as consumers wield the power to promote change by pursuing a zero waste lifestyle. We can choose to swap out the disposable plastics that pile up in our trash bins each week for quality, reusable items which rarely need replacing. After all, the plastic and chemicals that we regularly come into contact with are also harmful to human bodies.
The thing is, implementing a zero-waste lifestyle is not something that can be accomplished in a day or even a week. All of the planning, sacrifices, and willpower needed to avoid filling up that dumpster can be intimidating, and it’s often hard to know where to begin. That is why I have compiled a list of simple zero waste swaps to start with. Once you declutter and rid yourself of this toxic cycle of trash, you’ll feel a newfound sense of self-sufficiency, rebellion, and purpose.
1. Reusable Shopping Bags over Plastic & Paper
Ditching the lethal plastic bag that results in the death of over ten thousand marine animals annually is a basic step for any conscious consumer, but don’t stop there! While using and recycling paper bags is an improvement, it’s not an effective solution to the problem. When we use paper bags, we are still wasting the earth’s resources and indirectly supporting deforestation. So why have that weigh down your conscience (and your recycling bin) when you can simply bring some old totes from home, or invest in reusable bags sold right in the supermarket.
2. Reusable Water Bottle over Bottled Water
It is key that our bodies stay hydrated and healthy, so make sure to always carry a reusable bottle to avoid using disposable plastic for your drinks throughout the day. Keep in mind that you don’t need to go out and purchase a brand-new, expensive thermos. If you want to save money and make less of an impact on the environment, try re-using any airtight jars or containers that are lying around your home. You can also bring this reusable vessel with you on all of your coffee shop excursions; people are usually happy to fill up a travel mug!
3. Tupperware and Containers over Takeout Boxes
Lugging around containers of food instead of going out for lunch may seem like an inconvenience at first, but it actually ends up saving money and improving your overall diet. Packing a Tupperware each day forces you to prepare healthier homemade food, and not constantly blow your cash on the convenience of a cafeteria, cafe or street vendor.
4. Washable Cloths over Paper Towels and Napkins
Contrary to popular belief, most paper towels are actually NOT recyclable on account of being bleached with harmful chemicals. Even if they were, using and washing your own cloth rags and napkins is much more eco-friendly, and will be more efficient at decluttering that trash can. This zero waste swap is also probably the easiest because you can get away with simply cutting out fresh new rags from old, unusable clothing and sheets.
5. Biodegradable Toothbrush over Plastic Toothbrush
Many people don’t realize how wasteful dental hygiene can be, but the US actually adds 50 million pounds of toothbrush waste to landfills annually. The biodegradable toothbrush has a wooden handle made from organic wild bamboo and is, therefore, an acceptable addition to your compost bin. Sadly, unlike most of the swaps on this list, a biodegradable toothbrush will only serve for you for the same amount of time as it’s a plastic alternative. However, I have found that you can always get more use out of the toothbrush by using it to clean and scrub the small unreachable spaces of your home.
6. Bars of Soap & Shampoo over Bottles
For those of you that currently have bars of soap in your home, you may not realize that you are already using a zero waste alternative! It is always better to find soap bars with light packaging (or, better yet, none at all) before buying bottled handsoaps and body washes. You can go even further and try shampoo in bar-form, which in my experience works just as well, and often lasts much longer.
7. Menstrual Cup over Disposable Period Products
Before I discovered the menstrual cup, it seemed as though finding a zero waste solution to periods was impossible. People with periods use a staggering 45 billion pads and tampons a year, resulting in over 7 million pounds of waste.
In my personal experience, the menstrual cup is an efficient, convenient, and surprisingly clean alternative to disposable products, regardless of the environmental benefits. Also, since you rarely need to replace it, the cup ends up saving a TON of money. (Tampon users will spend about 1,700 dollars on periods in their lifetime)
Of course, every person with a cycle should use what makes them feel comfortable without guilt, and if menstrual cups just aren’t cutting it for you, then that’s fine! You can still go green by purchasing organic cotton products, which are actually healthier than most mainstream brands.
8. Metal Straw over Plastic Straws
Plastic straws are some of the most frustrating pieces of trash because they really don’t serve much of a purpose besides putting a few inches of space between your lips and the rim of a cup. In fact, you don’t really need to swap in anything for a plastic straw, when you can just say no. Practicing polite refusals can be a huge confidence boost, and anyone trying to go zero-waste will need to get comfortable turning down the free disposable plastics that are offered to us on a daily basis. Of course, if you don’t want to abandon the pleasures of straw sipping, then stainless steel straws offer a stylish alternative.
9. Safety Razor over Plastic Razors
How many plastic razors do you go through each month? If you own a reusable stainless steel safety razor, then the answer is a nice clean zero. For those of you that choose to shave, investing in one of these will declutter and simplify your experience. You probably won’t ever need to buy a razor again, and you’ll only have to replace the recyclable metal blade once a week. If you want to go the extra mile in greening your shaving routine, then swap out those chemically saturated cans of shaving cream for coconut oil or bar soap. Make sure that if you use bar soap it contains a rich blend of oils ( e.g shea, coconut or avocado) so that you get a close shave that moisturizes and protects the skin.
10. Bees Wax Wrap over Saran & Foil
Last but certainly not least, anyone in pursuit of a greener lifestyle probably already knows that saran is a big no-no, and tin foil is not much better. The problem is these materials are extremely convenient. It can be hard to imagine a life without plastic wrap always at the ready when you need to pack away all that leftover food. Fortunately, Bees Wrap is a natural a zero waste swap that you won’t need to throw away and buy all over again. Beeswax is much more durable than flimsy foils and plastics, and it’s very convenient for food transportation.
Now that you know some basic swaps for getting started on the right track with sustainability, it’s time to start using them! Just don’t feel the need to immediately go on a zero waste shopping spree, or throw out every piece of plastic you own. Changing your lifestyle takes time, as you gradually adopt new habits, become more mindful, and witness that trash can slowly become obsolete.