*This article was written 20.05.20 when the COVID-19 related lockdown was just beginning to ease in Toronto/Canada. Please excuse any reference that is no longer applicable.
Since I’ve gone vegan, it’s opened me up to this whole world of research, and in my research, I somehow keep stumbling upon things that bring me closer to that old ‘hippie’ cliché.
I don’t know why, but the more I learn about alternatives to the 9-5 path, the deeper I’ve been falling in love with it. I mean, if the goal of life is to be happy, that’s what I should be focusing on, right?
With that in mind, let me tell you about something new I’ve discovered: zero waste living!(By ‘new’, I mean I just discovered this way of life only a few months ago) This is a way of life I would love to try to adapt, because well… who doesn’t want to help save the planet?
I’m currently nowhere near a zero waste expert, but I am determined to integrate it into my lifestyle until I could be considered an expert. (Or at least… someone who actually remembers to bring their reusable bags to the store)
While I’d like to say that I’ve changed a lot of my lifestyle since discovering this way of life, I actually haven’t. But I think that’s okay! Because I’m still a newb, I can share my experiences with other newbs (or people who are maybe scared to try) and hopefully help you to take the plunge.
So: where the heck do you even start?
I understand how overwhelming overhauling your lifestyle can be, especially because I’ve already done it once. But, the great news is that you don’t have to go zero waste over night. In fact, if you were to toss all your plastic stuff and buy brand new ‘zero waste aesthetic’ things it would actually be more wasteful of you.
So, as the same with going vegan (or any other major life change): go slow.
One of the easiest things to switch that I’ve seen a few people in the zero waste movement talk about are The Big 4. These are the 4 most used non-reusable things most people use without even thinking about it, but if they were to change just these four things, it would have a massive impact on how much personal trash you make.
- Water bottles
- Plastic bags
- Straws and
- Coffee cups
Now, I’m sure you’ve seen some recent campaigns calling for the banning of plastic straws, or that gross video of somebody pulling a straw out of a turtle’s nose, but straws are actually not that big a deal, in the grand scheme of things. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying switching to reusable straws are pointless, I’m just saying there are other, bigger impact swaps I think you could personally make to help the environment.
The number one best thing you can do to help the environment is to adopt a vegan diet. I know, I know, I’m starting to sound preachy, eh? Well, it’s for a good reason! There have been multiple studies that show veganism is the best diet in terms of planet-saving.
Just look at the stats from my 4th Year Veganversary post:
I’ve saved 1.6 million gallons of water and 29 thousand pounds of CO2 since I’ve stopped eating animals. That’s insane!
To put these numbers into perspective for you: 1.6 million gallons of water is the equivalent of taking 93,023 showers, which is triple the amount of showers 1 person takes in their entire lifetime!
So you can either not shower for literally the rest of your life, or you can go vegan. Seriously, guys, it shouldn’t even be a debate at this point.
I won’t go too much further down that rabbit hole, since I did cover those specs in my 4th Year Veganversary post, but I thought I should at least reiterate the water and CO2 stats here, because those relate to saving the planet, and that’s the goal of zero waste. (… Right?)
I will say though, that perhaps the best part of the above, is that I was able to save so much and help in a very easy, passive way. I’ll admit I’m not exactly ‘active’ in the activism scene, (which I’ve been feeling kind of guilty about) but I love knowing that basically without even trying I’m saving the planet every single day! It feels really awesome to say, because seriously, what is easier/more passive than just not eating animals? It’s not hard, I promise! (Also, for those of you who may be concerned about nutrient requirements, I’ll point you to my Nutrient Collage series. But also note I have been vegan for 4 years now and I’m still not dead so…)
Okay, sorry, I know I got a bit off topic. Which isn’t hard to do, because see how all these things are basically interconnected to saving the planet?
… Anyway, I think that everyone could be doing more to help save the planet, (some more than others) and I love that there are so many passive ways for us to help in this day and age.
Let’s say you’re already vegan (or don’t want to go vegan) and you’re looking for some other things you can do to save the world. I think the best way to go about getting into sustainable living (in a way that will form habits that stick) is to start small. As with anything, uprooting your usual routines are not easy, so you can’t exactly quit trash cold turkey.
Okay, so with not being able to just suddenly stop producing trash, you’re gonna need some help, right? I mean, that is why you clicked on this article… right?
Right. So let me get into the specifics: where to start your zero waste journey.
Unfortunately, this isn’t going to be a one size fits all starting point, because I don’t know your lifestyle, what your current trash is like, or your situation. Also, as I said above, I’m not an expert! (Yet 😉 ) So keeping that in mind, I think that a good place to start would be The Big 4. I mean, they got the name ‘big’ for a reason. Most people use these things every day without thinking about it. And if that’s you, I’d recommend you start there.
Maybe instead of buying a Tim Horton’s (or Starbucks, calm down US) coffee in a paper cup, you try to remember to bring a reusable cup. Or, ask for no straw. And start trying to keep reusable tote bags for groceries in your car (or back pack or whatever you use for grocery shopping).
Now, for me personally, I wasn’t ever the person to go to Tim Horton’s every single day for a coffee (yay being broke! Lol), but I still have a reusable coffee cup. While that wasn’t really a ‘big’ thing I was changing, I felt good that in the once-in-a-blue-moon time I wanted a coffee (usually a mocha [decaf, with coconut milk and no whip] in winter because fuck it gets cold up here!) I could give them my reusable cup, instead of just making trash for a momentary pleasure. (Which again, is kind of how I view veganism. Someone had to give up their entire life for 5 minutes of pleasure? Uuuhm, no.)
Also, my vegan research has led me to uncover that plastic bags contain bone char, so I’ve tried to stay away from those as well. I fortunately have a few tote bags already, so that’s another part of the Big 4 that I personally don’t have to worry about. (As much as other things)
I’ve actually always been at least a somewhat conscious person, or at least… I like to think so. I know as a fact though through my own life experience of visiting other people’s houses that I don’t make nearly as much garbage as the ‘average’ person. Even looking into the stats of it, the average Canadian produces 2.7kg (5.9lbs) of trash every day. (US citizens average 4.4lbs per day)
And, maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but if you take into account that this is strictly for trash and not recycling (cardboard, glass, paper, etc.) it’s actually a lot. Our society has become very focused on disposables for some reason, and I think it’s time we change that.
I mean, think about it. Like, really sit and think about it: if you buy paper towels (or a plastic cup or any other single use plastic) you just spent money on something that you’re going to immediately throw out.
As my mom would say, ‘you might as well just light your money on fire’. Cause seriously, that’s crazy!
‘But it isn’t very expensive!’ Alright, well, let’s do some quick math. Let’s say you’re buying a cup of disposable coffee every morning. And let’s pretend the coffee is $5. You just threw $35 in the trash at the end of the week. Times that by 4 weeks, and at the end of 1 month, you’ll have spent $140 on an item you just threw away!
As I said above, I don’t know your situation – maybe you happen to have millions where you can afford to throw out $140 each month – but if you’re a normal person, I’m sure you could think of a lot more uses for that $140!
Now, let’s do another hypothetical: you spend maybe $15-20 on a reusable coffee cup. It’s a little bit more up front, but in the long run it will save you immensely.
I realize the above example isn’t too accurate, because you would still have to pay for the coffee inside the reusable cup, but if you have a reusable cup at home, you may also be more likely to just make coffee at home, and avoid that expense all together. Also, I think you understand the point I was making.
Actually, let’s go with another example: napkins. Everybody needs napkins to use when they eat, right? And they’re relatively inexpensive?
Well, let me break it down:
At Loblaws, a 4-pack of Bounty Paper Towels are $11.49.
It’s estimated that 1 paper towel roll lasts about 2 weeks on average. So, with that in mind, you would have to buy this particular pack every 2 months (b/c there’s [roughly] 4 weeks per month).
We can times that by the 6 months a year you need to buy them, and that would amount to $68.94.
$68.94 you’re spending on trash. (Although, as long as paper towels don’t have meat fat on them, they can be composted, but still…)
Buying something just to throw it out is genuinely insane, and the fact that it’s so normalized in our culture is weird. Why did we all just agree with that being the new normal when companies started doing that?
And now it’s considered weird for people not to buy things just so they can throw them out – what?!
Why that’s considered weird is actually really odd if you think about it for longer than .2 seconds. When I stopped to think about it, it definitely didn’t make sense, which is why I’m taking steps now to remedy that!
Cause why are you gonna do something if it doesn’t make sense?
As said above, I think I personally have a pretty good handle on the Big 4 already, so my personal zero waste goals won’t focus as much on those. I actually find it easier for me to achieve things if I set myself goals, so I’m going to be doing that with this, so that I give myself the best shot at success!
So, for right now, my end of the year 2020 zero waste goals are:
1. Switch over 100% to reusable pads. (I’ll be making a dedicated article about this, don’t worry!)
2. Buy new metal or silicone reusable travel size body wash/shampoo containers. (I have some plastic ones I had received as a gift back in 2014, and they’re finally breaking, so those will be some of the first plastic things I’m switching out for reusables!)
3. Get some glass food containers, or those silicone reusable Ziplock bags.
4. If I get take-out or snacks, see if I can use my own container, get them in bulk (the snacks) or ask if they have non-plastic options.
Considering we’re already almost half done this year (actually, when this article comes out it will be over half the year is gone), I think it will be really interesting to see what on this list I’ll be able to cross off, and what I’ll still have to work on come the end of December.
I think probably the hardest thing on this list to achieve will be #4. Since the COVID-19 lockdown is just beginning to ease it’s restrictions here in Toronto, I’m not sure how far we’ll get before the end of the year. They may not allow customer containers or bulk food buying until later, when things have really cooled down.
The good news though is that I can focus on the snack aspect more. While I don’t know if they’ll allow people to buy snacks in bulk any time soon, one thing I can try to control is picking snacks that come in a paper bag, or metal or glass, so that I can at least recycle them, instead of throwing them out.
#4 will also be especially interesting during the upcoming holiday season, when we can (hopefully) get together with friends and family.
The use of reusable pads is definitely #1 because it’s one of the only things I have 100% control over during this uncertain time. And, since I’ve been stuck at home, I’ve actually begun to make some reusable pads out of old towels and a fleece blanket. Also there isn’t ever been really a better time to test them to see if they work.
If nothing else, I at least hope to be able to use only reusable pads at the end of the year. I do still have some disposable pads now, but I thiiiink I’ll be able to use them for the next few cycles while I continue to make reusable pads, and should be able to be completely switched over before the end of the year.
That’s actually one thing I’m the most excited about, because even though I started using all natural cotton pads, I still feel bad that I’m throwing them out. I haven’t done a calculation, but I’m like… 90% sure that pads are my biggest cause of trash.
Anyways, I hope you were able to get some good starting points or tips for beginning your zero waste journey. This is going to be the only post for this year specifically talking about zero waste. Since this is my first year starting, I thought it best if I leave the articles for next year, and the following years, since I’ll be gaining experience and then can share what I learn.
I will however be talking about the above zero waste goals in my annual End of Year post, to see if I achieved what I set out to, and kind of do a year in review type thing, along with teasing some upcoming projects. So be sure to keep your eye out for that! Also, keep an eye out on my Twitter and Instagram, where I’ll most likely post day-to-day things I discover or frustrations I have.
Also: if you’re starting your zero waste journey, do you have any questions you’d like to see me answer? And, if you’re a zero waste veteran, do you have any tips and tricks to help out us newbs? Let me know in the comments below!
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