Can you believe this blog is over a year old?! I started it when I was a new mom and wanted an outlet and a way to express my crunchy lifestyle. Since then, as some of you may know, I’ve decided to become a web developer/designer and have been teaching myself to code. Between that and being a mom, army wife, living with RA and trying for a zero waste home- life can get super busy. But I still do very much care about my followers and the purpose of this blog- to hold myself accountable to being a healthier, more effective human being and also to document my progress along the way. So far in this blog I’ve covered a lot of topics surrounding gentle parenting, veganism, minimalism, saving money and how I’m striving to achieve a zero waste home.
Yesterday I joined the awesome facebook group Zero Waste Vegans and noticed a post from one of the members named Mailyne who is a mom, artist, owns a zero waste shop and blogs about her zero waste home at A Dream Lived Greener. I first saw her talking about her Zero Waste journey a youtube video which was so inspiring. I can’t seem to find it again, but if I do I will definitely update you with the link. Seeing her post made me remember about this blog, and my dream of one day living a Zero Waste Lifestyle. I thought it would be a great start to update you all on my progress thus far, and with what I have left to do to get closer to having a zero waste home and life. I will start with the most major changes I’ve made, followed by the changes that were smaller/easier to accomplish.
1. Buy in Bulk
I’m not talking big box stores: I’m talking bulk bins like you’d find at a health food store. As readers of this blog likely already know I do most of my shopping at in.gredients in Austin. Check out my blog post about why here. If you don’t know where to shop for bulk you can find other stores that are near you that carry bulk with the Bulk app. I must admit that I was nervous the first time I went to buy in bulk- I knew in theory how it was supposed to work but I wasn’t really sure how I would handle all the accessories and the process, plus juggling my daughter in the shopping cart. Check out this video for a great overview from in.gredients to see how it works.
Even though I do buy in bulk for most things, I still buy packaged things like toilet paper and soy/almond/cashew milk. I need to work on making more things from scratch and figuring out where to buy items in bulk that is not wrapped in plastic. I know that Bea Johnson from Zero Waste Home recommends buying toilet paper wrapped in paper from a hotel supply store.
Another thing I’d like to do is make laundry and dish soap, which I have done in the past but not consistently. Bea recommends using citric acid, which can be bought in bulk at a brewery supply store. Going to these specialty stores presents a challenge as I’d probably have to drive a distance, but once I buy these items in bulk I will be set for awhile. It’s definitely something that I need to make time for in the next week.
You certainly don’t need a garden to have a Zero Waste Home, but having a garden certainly cuts back on the cost, and can give you things you couldn’t otherwise find (depending on how robust your local source for bulk and/or farmer’s markets are). I’ve been growing my own herbs growing in containers and raised garden beds which I can harvest continually which is very convenient, easy, delicious and beautiful. Many of the herbs I’ve actually grown from non-GMO seeds that were sent to me in paper packaging which is awesome. The only thing about starting plants from seeds is that you have to have a ton of patience. If it’s wintertime you have to have the ability to tolerate the vision and lack of space that’s a result of soil sitting on your windowsill for months which is not the prettiest or most convenient thing in the world to experience.
Some of my herbs and veggies are plants bought at a nursery, which is nice because you can start harvesting right away. If buying from a nursery, try to get the thicker plastic containers and see if they will take them back for reuse. Unfortunately this doesn’t work too well with the thin plastic containers because they are so fragile and rip very easily. I have some other veggies growing in my garden including tomatoes, peppers, squash, and watermelon, but haven’t yet reaped the fruits of my labors.
3. Line Dry Clothes
A major zero waste home goal is to always look to reduce waste of all kinds, not just physical trash. Drying my clothes outside is pretty simple- just put the wet clothes from the washing machine back into the laundry hamper and bring it outside to hang on a folding rack in the sun. My clothes drying rack looks just like the one in this article that details the benefits of air drying your clothes over using a drying machine as represented by the actual numbers. My drying rack is also still going strong after about 3 years, and is normally stored outside on my porch behind my grill. Another free option is a clothes line, which is simply string tied between two high points such as trees, posts, or a fence. I found using clothing pins on a line to be far more cumbersome than drying on the drying rack because the wind isn’t typically strong enough to blow clothes off of it as they push together when the clothes blow around.
My husband complains that his clothes feel to stiff after being dried outdoors, so with his clothes I just pop them in the dryer for a few minutes to tumble all the creases out (though obviously this is not the best solution for the environment or your wallet). I’ve also found that if you hang the clothes on the drying rack properly, they actually are easier to store as they are kind of pre-folded.
4. Replace Packaged Hygiene Products
This one has been surprisingly easy. I make my own toothpaste powder out of a mixture of baking soda, coconut oil, stevia and peppermint essential oil. I just mix the ingredients with a hand mixer and add the contents to a resealable glass jar. I have found that it’s best to make individual containers of the toothpaste for each individual family member as we do stick our toothbrushes in there. It is so good that my daughter will actually try to eat it if left unchecked. You can make it powdery or more like a paste, but it has the consistency and taste like the inside of a junior mint candy.
For liquid hand soap I use Dr. Bronner’s which I can buy in bulk in several different scents at in.gredients, and for the shower I buy bar soap that’s either handmade (bought as a slice from a slab) or Dr. Bronner’s which is wrapped in paper. Contact solution is something I still buy new (not sure how safe it would be to try to make your own). Glasses would be great except for the fact that I hate the way they feel on my face- like they’re too heavy and cumbersome. I also make my own lotion using this body butter recipe here:
I have yet to try to make my own makeup as I rarely wear it and am still using my stash from bareminerals. It’s amazing how simple it is and how much less chemicals there are hanging around when you replace the beauty products in the bathroom a zero waste home.
5. Buy Clothes Second-Hand
I haven’t actually had to buy many clothes at all in the past year as I already had so many. I still wear the same pink Sac State hoodie I bought when I was a Junior 9 years ago and it looks surprisingly vibrant, as well as the same wool blend jacket which has lost a button that I need to repair. You can find things that are either new or nearly new at the goodwill. I found a pretty dirty pair of converse which looked brand new when I took out the laces and ran them through the wash. They are still in good condition with heavy wear and I bought them six months ago.
As a side note, it’s easy to forget your reusable grocery bags when you go to thrift stores and other non-food outlets, but if you keep them in the car you can always just go back and get them when you forget! I also have a large purse that I carry all the time which I keep pretty empty so I have room to bring stuff home without a bag. Another zero waste home tip is to turn old clothes into new clothes with a sewing machine, or make reusable bags for yourself or a friend. Other creative options for resewing old clothes into fabulous useful items include: wrapping paper/gift bags, doll clothes, bean bags, line, rags, quilts and napkins.
6. Use Reusable Containers
If you buy them from a health food store reusable containers can be super expensive. It’s definitely not the most attractive solution but using washed out pasta sauce, pickle and jam jars has been my go-to source for easy reusable containers. I just soak them in hot water and use coconut oil to rub away the extra stickiness left from the original label. I use these to store leftovers, nuts, dry beans, rice, herbs and other ingredients.
I found out the hard way that it is much easier to use cloth bags for transporting dry goods from the store, and then depositing the contents into the glass jars once I get back home. I used a bunch of old fabric I had lying around and sewed them into different sized bags with drawstrings one afternoon. Bags of varying sizes are great for bulk because you’ll want large bags for flour and tiny bags for expensive spices. I use a big LifeFactory water bottle for myself and keep an also keep an assortment of stainless steel water bottles for when we go out of the house, and make sure to keep clean containers and cloth napkins in the car for when we go out to eat and want to bring home leftovers.
This is a big one. It can be annoying to constantly bring scraps and ends from your produce out to the compost, but it becomes second-nature when you do it over and over again. Another option is to have a compost bin on your counter, but because it attracts flies and gnats I like to keep mine by the back door for when it is raining and I don’t want to go to the compost in the yard. I’ve had a worm bin in the past, but it got knocked over by my toddler and I just never replaced it. It was simple to set up and maintain, and really breaks down your compost fast.
Although you can purchase devices, composting doesn’t have to be complex. It is simply allowing organic matter to rot and all it requires is time and oxygen from the air. I use a bucket, but you could also just have a pile if you have the space. Using free wood pallets is a great way to get a compost going in your yard. Did you know you can also compost things like coffee grounds, bread, eggshells and even hair? Speaking of hair, though this may not be an option if you’re living in an city, I throw my hair out of the bathroom window and it just blows away in the wind. I have learned to save things like apple cores when we go out instead of throwing them away in a public trash can so that they can be composted when I get home. In some cases you don’t actually need a compost to have a zero waste home. Some progressive cities have municipal composting systems so that you can bring your compost there! In this case, freezing your compost until your trip to the city’s compost makes it easy.
8. Shop Craigslist/Ebay
I’ve written before about how to sell on craigslist, but buying stuff on EBay works if you can’t find the item locally. When my Keurig wouldn’t take the reusable cups, I simply searched Craigslist for the older model of Keurig that would take the reusable cups, and then sold my newer model on craigslist. It cost me no money (actually saved me money if you consider I could simply fill the cup with coffee rather than using the expensive and wasteful plastic throw aways), and saved a new Keurig from having to be made for both me and the person who bought my newer Keurig. It was also completely simple and free of packaging.
If you can’t find something locally on Craigslist, EBay is another option. Simply filter your search for used items. There are also Facebook groups that are specifically for buying and reselling items such as Waldorf Tag Sale (for natural children’s toys and books- by the way I think my next post will be about kids stuff in a zero waste home because there’s so much to say on that subject that I’ll save it for it’s very own blog post). There are many categories including ones for clothes, collectibles and local yard sale groups. It is secure if you use PayPal and specify that the payment is for goods/services and the groups are usually closely monitored to prevent members that try and take advantage of buyers. Almost anything you need can be found used online if you are patient, persistent and know where to look.
Where are you on your journey to a zero waste home? Share your story with us in the comments! Thanks for reading!