Earth Day: Baby Steps Toward Zero Waste

I've had this post sitting idly in my drafts for months, so in honor of Earth Day I thought I'd share it with you.

There's this new concept around the web called "zero waste". What's funny about zero waste is that it even has a title, when if we look back about 60 years, we'd see zero waste as everyday life; baking, preserving, reusing scraps. Now with a continually growing number of packaged convenience foods, the need for such a movement exists. The name is pretty self explanatory. Zero waste means trying to produce as little waste as possible. I'm big on green, natural/organic products, but only recently have many of my purchases depended on the amount of packaging and if said packaging is recyclable. Of course, I've hit some roadblocks thus far. For example, I asked the woman at the deli to wrap my lunchmeat in butcher paper instead of a plastic bag, but no luck as she had no butcher paper. Clearly she didn't understand that I was trying to decrease my waste because she gave me a 1/2 lb of prosciutto with a piece of deli paper in between every single slice. Sigh.

Although sometimes challenging, there are many ways to decrease our daily waste, so I've compiled a list of baby steps to take on your journey toward zero waste:
  • Compost - According to the EPA, 14.1% of municipal solid waste (MSW) is food scraps. Composting is an easy way to dispose of this waste as well as generate nutrient rich soil for gardening.
  • Recycle - I know, sounds obvious, but there are so many items that get thrown away because people are unaware that a recycling solution exists. It takes some online sleuthing but there are resources for recycling things that can't be tossed into the green bin. Items include: electronics, textiles (even underwear and dust rags), scrap metals (anyone else ruin cast iron?), household chemicals and other hazardous materials, used makeup containers, paint cans, plastic gift cards, batteries, medications, old household fixtures, even styrofoam.
  • Donate - It's heartbreaking to see people throw away perfectly good furniture or clothing because they either don't know how, or don't want to bother donating it. Goodwill and The Salvation Army are good places to start, but there are also homeless shelters that accept things like unused cosmetics, beauty care and hygiene products.
  • Give it Away - I gave 30 plastic hangers to a a friend of mine when she reorganized her closet. I offered extra skeins of yarn to a friend who worked at a day care. Resources such as Freecycle and Craigslist "free" section are great places to unload items that are still in good condition, may not be "donateable", but no longer needed. I got rid of an old satellite dish using the craigslist free section.
  • Buy reusable - Don't get the spray mop that requires you to purchase multiple refills to keep using the product, switch to a reusable and refillable variety, or better yet, a regular broom or mop. Many products come in reusable varieties from coffee filters (even the Keurig) to diapers.
  • Make it from scratch - All bread products from tortillas to pizza dough to pita bread can be made at home with a few ingredients, no packaging, and no preservatives or additives. Salad dressings are quick and easy from scratch. Other from scratch foods include tomato sauce, pickles, mayonnaise, tarter sauce, aioli, ketchup, mustard, cookies and granola bars. I'm not saying you should harvest and mill your own flour, but if you starting taking little steps toward making things at home, you'll find they are often easier than you think, more nutritious and even more delicious.
  • Choose your packaging - Plastic is forever. Sure it may be downcycled into another product, but eventually, it all becomes trash. So when choosing packaging, try looking for things that are in paper or glass. For example, choose dried pasta found in a paper box instead of a plastic bag. The box can be recycled or composted. Glass containers can be recycled indefinitely.
  • Buy in bulk - In certain states bulk stores are not hard to come by and hopefully people don't give you a dirty look when you use your own container (I'm talking to you lady at Whole Foods). However, in many places, bulk stores are not available, so what do you do? For one, I have a Costco membership where I'm able to buy larger quantities of certain foods we eat a lot of, especially cheese. Large containers of feta cheese, tubs of mozzarella and huge wedges of Parmesan are some of our staples. Yes they still come in plastic, but by buying one large wedge of Parm instead of 4 small wedges, we've decreased the packaging by at least half, not to mention saved some cash. Beware of bulk convenience foods however, especially individually packaged snacks that come in a box with four boxes in one larger box (I'm not exaggerating). Stick to the big bag and divide it up into glass storage containers instead. 
There you have it. It's not hard to start taking these baby steps to lead you to a more earth friendly lifestyle.

More ways to reduce waste here and here.

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