2020 will be my fifth year of being on my zero waste journey. Although "journey" is the word most often used to describe consciously and actively working to reduce your waste I often think of going zero waste as a dance. It's two steps forward, one step back, spinning around for awhile and then moving forward again. Small steps work best and so does forgiveness, you're guaranteed to mess up and feel frustrated but with time, focus and attention you'll be pleasantly surprised how far you've come in a year of consciously using less.
Plastic free is all about limiting your use of plastic to essentials and eliminating single use plastic. Single use plastic is plastic that is used once and then discarded- straws, coffee cups, drink lids, water bottles, grocery bags………. Zero waste is a philosophy that focuses on rethinking how we live in order to produce as little waste as possible.
It also helps to set a big goal for yourself- one that is broader and more global than simply switching to reusable bags. In 2019, my goal was to value items more. One real problem is "things"- just about anything from clothing to electronics doesn't have a true value. If we value our food- we'll waste less. If we think about our purchases- we'll buy better. In 2018 my broad goal was to speak out and I was honored to give talks around the state about my own personal zero waste journey, hopefully inspiring others to begin or to be strengthen in their zero waste journey.
For 2020 my focus is on mending and the problems with fast and disposable fashion. I've also find that the act of mending a sock, a patch on a pair of jeans a few quick stitches to brighten a sweater is very mending to my soul.
Here are 20 tips to help you on your plastic free journey. Mix them up, start with one that is easy for you and save the harder ones for later. I guarantee by this time next year, you will be proud of your new habits and view purchases entirely differently.
- Vote. Yes 2020 is a big national election year but local elections matter. It's at the local level plastic bag, plastic straw and balloon bans all start. Local elections are how wetlands, dog parks and hiking trails all begin. It starts local and moves outward. So vote in every election and if you have a strong constitution run for office.
- Buy less-choose better. Purchase items with less packaging. Support businesses that are working on reducing waste. Shop local, shop small. Invest in quality that will last and stand the test of time rather than a trendy but cheap item. Shop second hand and thrift stores. Vote with your dollars for a better world.
- Pick up trash. There's nothing like picking up a bit of trash to firm your resolve to be plastic free and to embrace the zero waste philosophy. Picking up litter opens your eyes to not only how thoughtless folks are but also how crazy items are packaged.
- Educate yourself. The more you know, the more motivated and committed you will be to keep your resolutions to be plastic free and zero waste.
- Give up plastic grocery bags. Bring your own and if you forget only buy enough to carry easily in your hand. I find it helpful to keep a lightweight bag in my purse.
- Reusable bags for ALL purchases. Once you master reusable grocery bags make it a policy to not use any plastic bags for any purchase. It's easy once you get started.
- Switch to reusable coffee cups. When my life is routine this is easy, when it gets chaotic it's quite a challenge. One tip is to buy more than one reusable cup , that way if one is dirty or lost in the car you can still enjoy a coffee.
- Stop buying plastic water bottles. The first thing you have to do is buy a reusable water container and carry it where ever you go- including airports.
- Straws suck. 500 million straws are used EVERYDAY in the USA- holy moly that is a lot of straws. Many of these straws end up as trash and because of their bright colors get mistaken for food by critters on land and sea. Say "NO" to straws or purchase and use a reusable straw.
- Buy in bulk. This is a critical step in moving towards zero waste. Instead of buying 6 small yogurt containers for the week, buy one large. Before you know it you'll be investigating local farms that sell yogurt in reusable jars.
- Plastic Free Produce. Produce does not need to be wrapped in plastic and often produce is over packaged. I found I needed to support a few stores in order to buy all my produce plastic free and to invest and make some reusable produce/bulk bags. My habits have changed- and yes it does take a bit longer to make a salad than simply opening a plastic package.
- Replace paper napkins and towels with cloth. Your one time purchase of napkins will last for years. Using washable cloths for most clean up jobs and saving paper towels for big messes will help you cut down on waste.
- Rethink soap, shampoos and other personal care items. The personal care aisle in a grocery store is loaded with plastic packaging. Instead of a plastic bottle of liquid soap switch to a bar. Try a shampoo bar instead of a plastic bottle of shampoo and conditioner.
- Zero in on Food Waste. I've read that 40% of food produced never actually gets eaten and a lot of that food is in our fridges. All the moldy leftovers and rotten produce adds up in our landfills. Plus all the energy and packaging involved with foods. Paying attention will save money and create less waste.
- Invest in reusable food containers. Pack lunches, picnics and when ordering take away bring your own container. Sure you might wait a few minutes but it's a great chance to catch up on your social media while you wait.
- Switch to bamboo toothbrushes. Remember plastic never biodegrades because it's not part of Mother Nature's food chain.
- Give up disposable razors. Invest in a razor that will last a life time.
- Switch to glass or metal containers for food storage. When your plastic food storage containers wear out switch to glass or metal. But wait for them to wear out, it's wasteful to simply throw something away. Use it up first and then take it to be recycled.
- Replace plastic wrap and aluminum foil with beeswax or cloth. I often wrap a tea towel around my serving bowl before putting in the fridge. You could also invest in a few glass containers with lids. Glass really helps keep track of your food 'cause you can see what you're saving.
- Compost. Composting your food really helps cut down on unnecessary waste.
Start where you are, be gentle and be OK with being imperfect.