When going zero waste or looking to be more eco-friendly, my first suggestion is always to start with the Big Four! The Big Four are four simple, easy swaps popularized by Plastic Free July. These four items are easy to avoid and make-up a huge portion of waste in landfills and the ocean. All of them are easy to avoid, and I’ll show you how.
1. Plastic Bags
The U.S. uses 100 billion plastic shopping bags each year, and it takes 12 million barrels of oil to make them.
Bringing your own bags to the grocery store is a no-brainer, but the tricky part is actually remembering them. I remember the first time I went to the grocery store after deciding to go zero waste, and I forgot my reusable bags. I had two options, I could either go home and get them or I could justify using plastic bags. I decided if I justified using the plastic bags, I would justify it in the future. I decided to go home and get them. I created a pain point, and I have to say I’ve never forgotten my bags since.
If you forget your bags try and think through your patterns. Are there certain days you tend to go to the grocery store? Do you get groceries on foot? Could you buy bags that attach to your key ring? Could you keep bags in your trunk? Just get in the habit of putting them back in your trunk after you take them out. If you forget, you can always ask for a box from the store.
2. Reusable Water Bottle
Plastic water bottles are great for times of crisis. They’re not so great if you have access to clean drinking water. 50 Billion plastic water bottles are consumed and disposed of each year. Since China’s plastic recycling ban, none of these water bottles can be recycled. Plastic in the ocean is piling up. 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into the ocean annually.
If you’re always running late, and want to grab a bottle and go, buy a set of water bottles and keep them in the fridge. You’ll always have cold, filtered water ready to go. My favorite reusable bottles are glass and stainless steel because they both have 100% recycle rate without loss of quality. If I have a small handbag, I like to slip in a stainless flask full of water. However, you might get some funny looks.
Say no to single-use plastic straws! When you’re out at a restaurant or bar ask for no straw in your drink order. If you like straws or drink a lot of smoothies that are difficult to drink from the rim of the glass, go for a reusable straw.
There are a lot of different types of reusable straws bamboo, glass, stainless, and silicone. They even have bendable ones!
4. Takeaway Coffee
There are so many alternatives to takeaway coffee cups, like sitting in the cafe and asking for it in a mug, and it’s completely free! If you’re in a rush, you can always ask for your coffee at a more drinkable temperature. If you want to grab your coffee to-go, think about bringing along a thermos. A lot of coffee shops will even give you a discount for BYO.
Since I carry a reusable water bottle with me most days, I like to carry a double insulated bottle, which helps keep hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold. This way, I can grab a hot coffee or an iced coffee while out. I just pour out my water, typically in a nearby plant, and get my coffee to-go! Once I’ve consumed my coffee, I rinse my bottle out in a sink and then fill it with water.
If you’re looking for more beginners tips make sure to check out these posts!
The Ultimate Step by Step Guide to Going Zero Waste
The Ultimate Guide for Zero Waste Swaps
I don’t drive (public transportation is one element of my zero waste lifestyle) so I don’t have a trunk for storing bags. I’ve found that simply hanging a bag on the front doorknob works great for me. The bag is filled with neatly folded bags so all I do is pull out as many as I need for the errand and I’m on my way.
I also enjoy turning old t-shirts into bags. It’s easy to just cut away the sleeves and the collar, sew the bottom closed and voila! you have another bag. I’ve made so many of these I’ve started using them for wrapping presents. The recipient is always delighted (2 presents in 1!) and it inevitably leads to a conversation about zero waste. Once I explain how easy it is to make minor changes (and tell them about Imperfect Produce, of course) they often promise to at least consider changing their own lifestyles.
For me, zero waste is a positive way to push back against not just the pain we humans are causing the planet but also against the thoughtless consumerism so many of us are addicted to. The zero waste lifestyle is my way of living a mindful life. -PEACE-
Thanks for sharing these thoughtful no-waste ideas, Lori. You’ve inspired our team at the Imperfect office! Way to bring creativity and compassion to your day-to-day life. We appreciate your support!