Here are my Top 10 tips in eight categories to help you lower your waste at home. Each section is a condensed version of a posting on the subject, so please follow title links for more information on each section. For product recommendations, please visit the store or follow the links.
Before you start:
- Arm yourself with a reusable water bottle, a couple of grocery totes, a few cloth bags, and reusable jars and bottles.
- Get your 5Rs right: Refuse what you do not need, Reduce what you do need, Reuse what you consume, Recycle what you cannot. Refuse, Reduce or Reuse, and Rot (Compost) the rest.
- Welcome alternatives to disposables (paper towels, garbage liners, wax paper, aluminum sheets, disposable plates, cups, etc....): Swap paper towels for reusable rags, swap sandwich baggies for kitchen towels or stainless containers, drop garbage liners all together (wet waste is mostly compostable anyways).
- Buy in bulk or at the counter (see Zero Waste Grocery Shopping), bring reusable bags (dry goods), jars (wet items such as meat, deli, fish, cheese, oil, peanut butter) and bottles (liquids: oil, soy sauce, shampoo, conditioner).
- If you cannot find it in bulk, find a supplier (bring your jar to the ice cream shop, a pillow case to the bakery for your bread, or your bottles to the winery/brewery)... or make it (mustard, salad dressing, hot sauce, jams, OJ, hummus, cookies, canned tomatoes).
- Shop the farmer's market: They'll take the egg carton and the berry baskets back for reuse. Your veggies will also most likely be free of plastic and stickers.
- Learn to love your tap water.
- Use bulk liquid castile soap as a dish/hand cleaner, baking soda as a scrubber (in a stainless Parmesan dispenser) with a compostable cleaning brush (a wooden one with natural hair). Purchase dishwasher detergent in bulk.
- Turn your trash can into a big compost keeper. Use your tiny compost keeper as a trash can (on the market, the sizes for these seem to be reversed).
- Reinvent your leftovers before they go bad. Go thru your recipe binder/box and only keep the recipes that can be achieved with zero waste in mind.
- Invest in a pressure cooker (halves the cooking time).
- YOU CAN ALSO... Reuse single-side printed paper for grocery shopping and errands list, use your lettuce cleaning water to water plants, open your oven after baking in the winter (cool your oven, warm your house).
- Use 100% recycled and unbleached toilet paper individually wrapped in paper (if you have solar you could install an electrical washlet to your toilet seat).
- Use an alum stone or straight baking soda as antiperspirant.
- For shaving, (re)use a safety razor and shaving soap (any rich soap, such as Aleppo soap will do).
- Refill your bottles with bulk shampoo and conditioner. If your hair is short, you also have the "no-poo" option: rinse your hair, massage baking soda in, then rinse with vinegar for shine. Or use a shampoo bar. Instead of hairspray, switch to lemon water in a spray bottle (see Recipes). To go longer between washes, substitute dry shampoo for cornstarch (in bulk).
- For body/face soap, find a package-free solid soap. To exfoliate, use bulk baking soda. For a mask, use bulk clays (French, Kaolin, Bentonite, etc...), mixed with water or apple cider vinegar.
- Switch from toothpaste to homemade tooth powder (see Recipes), in a glass parmesan dispenser. Use a wooden compostable toothbrush.
- Reduce your cosmetics and consider homemade substitutes such as cocoa powder as bronzer and homemade balm that works on eyes, lips, hair, and nails (see Recipes) and in lieu of disposable feminine products, invest in menstrual cup and reusable liners.
- All you need for your nails is a nail clipper, stainless steel file, and the homemade balm for moisture and shine.
- Forget about Q-tips, they are not good for you anyways. Do your research.
- YOU CAN ALSO... compost hair and nail clippings, put a brick in your toilet tank, collect water in a bucket while your shower heats and water your plants with it, and use zero waste cleaning: microfiber cloths for mirrors, vinegar for mold, baking soda as scrub, and a mix of baking soda and vinegar as drain cleaner (see Cleaning and Recipes).
LAUNDRY AND CLEANING
- Welcome natural cleaning alternatives: Castile soap on floors and sinks, homemade all purpose cleaner (see Recipes), baking soda for scrubbing jobs, and vinegar for mildew.
- Welcome alternative house cleaning tools: a metal scourer on stainless, a wooden brush for light scrubbing, an old toothbrush for hard to reach places, and microfiber cloths for everything else (counters, floor, fridge, etc… for mirrors and windows, just add water… no window cleaner needed).
- Sweep your floors with a boar bristle or silk broom, wash with a wet microfiber mop, and a few drops of castile soap.
- Use worn-out clothing items made into rags on your un-washable messes (wax/auto grease/glue/caulk).
- Buy dishwasher detergent in bulk and use white vinegar as a rinsing aid.
- Let houseplants absorb toxins and clean your air. Open a window instead of plugging in an air freshener.
- Laundry washing once a week saves time and dryer energy costs, use a laundry detergent sold in bulk, full loads, and cold water cycles as much as possible. Savon de Marseille, dishwasher detergent, chalk, lemon, or vinegar work great on stains.
- Dry on a line when possible.
- Iron fewer things and use a homemade starch in a stainless spray bottle (see Recipes).
- YOU CAN ALSO... find a sustainable dry cleaner (one that offers a reusable garment bag and non-toxic cleaners), compost dryer lint and dust bunnies.
DINING AND ENTERTAINING
- Remember to bring extra jars to the grocery store when shopping for company (including take-out).
- Make finger foods for larger parties and consider serving tap water with lemon slices instead of fizzy water.
- Use ceramic dishes and cloth napkins at all times.
- Avoid the use of serving platters/dishes: When serving straight onto dinner plates, it simplifies, saves water from extra cleaning, and it allows for a plate presentation.
- Find creative ways to decorate your table with few napkin folding tricks, discarded leaves/branches from the yard, or just seasonal fruit.
- Reuse empty votive tins (and the wick base) to make new votive candles for company with bulk beeswax and lead-free wick.
- Stop buying CD and DVD's – download music and videos online.
- Bring a jar of a homemade consumable or your favorite bulk item wrapped in Furoshiki as a hostess gift. Give the gift of an experience as a birthday present.
- Educate your friends about your zero waste efforts (so they don't bring waste into your home)
- YOU CAN ALSO... bring your own container for leftovers when dining out, use rechargeable batteries for those remote controls, and try living without TV for a while.
- Refuse, and therefore help, stop the madness of the free-pen/free-pencil giveaways.
- Use refillable pens, piston fountain pens, mechanical pencils, refillable white board markers, and donate extra office material (paper, pencils) to your public school's art program.
- Start your personal junk mail war, cancel your phone directories, and sign up for electronic bills and statements.
- Reuse single-side printed paper for printing or making notepads held by a metal clip, reuse junk mail response envelopes and when buying new paper, choose recycled and packaged in paper.
- Ditch the trash can. Strive to use your compost and recycling bins exclusively.
- Use, Reuse, and Request recyclable paper packing material when shipping (incl. paper tape), print postage and addresses directly on your envelopes, use surface mail, use a return address stamp instead of stickers.
- Reuse paper clips (available in bulk) instead of staples or a staple-free stapler.
- Use your library to read business magazines and books and sell your books or donate them to your library for other people to enjoy.
- Use memory sticks and external drives instead of CD's.
- YOU CAN ALSO... use a power strip on your equipment, refill your printer cartridges, make paper with double-side printed paper, and take packing material that you receive to your local shipping center for reuse.
- Stick to minimal wardrobes, shoes, and purses.
- Only shop a couple times a year to avoid compulsive buys.
- Buy second-hand clothing.
- If you must buy new, buy quality with minimal tags (leave the shoe box at the store).
- Be ruthless on fit. If it fits well, you're most likely to wear it.
- Bring a reusable bag for your purchases.
- Donate unworn pieces.
- Keep some of your worn-out clothes for rags and label the rest as "rags" for Goodwill to recycle.
- Learn a few sewing tricks (like shortening a hem or darning).
- YOU CAN ALSO... take it to the tailor for a better fit so you'll actually wear it and keep a handkerchief in your purse/bag.
- Keep only a minimal supply, so you can see what you have.
- Ask your pharmacy to reuse your prescription jar. It's illegal for pharmacies to refill them in CA, but your state might allow it.
- Choose tablets (pain reliever, for example) in a glass or a default plastic jar (usually a recyclable #2), instead of the tablets individually wrapped in aluminum/plastic.
- Do not buy jumbo size medication jars. They expire way before you can finish them.
- Choose metal tubes instead of plastic.
- Invest in a Neti pot: Great to clear out your sinuses with just water and sea salt.
- Consider a few natural alternatives: a corn silk tea for prostate relief, a senna leaf tea for constipation relief, or an oatmeal bath for skin relief.
- Clean cuts and scrapes with soap and water, forgo the plastic band-aids and let air-dry.
- Do not use everyday antibacterial products, they make bad bacteria stronger.
- YOU CAN ALSO... reconsider your true need for vitamins (as opposed to a healthy varied diet) and use sunscreen moderately (you don't want skin cancer or vitamin D deficiency).
- Use drought tolerant and native plants, replace your lawn with short native grasses.
- Make room for compost. Pee in your citrus and compost. Consider a worm composter for liquid fertilizer, a separate pet composter for your dog's feces.
- Return plastic containers to the nursery.
- Find bulk seeds.
- Give away plants (also, landscaping rocks, fencing, irrigation piping, etc…) that you do not want anymore. Post them on the free section of Craigslist.
- Find a bulk garden center and refill reusable sand bags with dirt, rocks, compost, etc.
- Consider investing in an irrigation controller with a rainwater sensor.
- Install rainwater and gray water catchments (check your city ordinances for the latter).
- YOU CAN ALSO... Keep a minimal and quality tool selection made of metal and wood (which can be repaired more easily).
Bea Johnson is the author of "Zero Waste Home." You can visit her at zerowastehome.blogspot.com for more information.