So far, going zero waste has been an interesting journey. It’s been a mixture of trying to incorporate new things into my life that I know will bring about small changes, but also trying to adapt my new mindset to my existing life.
That means a lot of different things.
I’ve sort of grouped them into different areas of my life– for example, there’s my “work life” and my “personal life”. Both of these areas require a different amount of adherence to my commitment and sensitivity regarding leading a zero waste life.
I currently work in an industry that can be deemed as somewhat wasteful. Hospitality and food service is not the most eco-friendly area– a lot of food is often thrown out for various reasons, but one of the most common is that people may not finish meals. I’ve also seen guests order food that they don’t even touch. It pains me to throw these things away, but I really have no choice in the matter. There’s also the behind the scenes action. In the kitchen, foods have to be rotated; if all of something hasn’t been used and it’s starting to spoil or isn’t high quality enough to use in dishes, then, of course, they throw those items out. Cringe. If only I could take all of it home and make dump skillet meals for everyone– a girl can dream.*
Aside from the food, kitchens aren’t really designed (yet!) to be filled with less wasteful materials. There’s plastic everywhere. In fact, one of our sous chefs recently made a point to state that it’s impossible for a kitchen to run efficiently without plastic– then he went through the kitchen pointing out all the necessary tools, machines and fixtures of a kitchen that we would not have if we didn’t use plastics. Touché chef.
However, outside of work, there is a stark contrast. I try my hardest to not be wasteful and to not contribute to waste. For the most part, I buy fresh produce in small batches so it doesn’t go bad. Sometimes, life and my schedule get in the way, and that is how I came up with the dump skill meals — because every now and then, before I know it, a week has passed, and I still haven’t used the box of mushrooms I bought and was planning on making several dishes with! I also try to recycle whenever possible and I try not to use a lot of plastic or non-biodegradable materials.
This was difficult at first. Not the idea of course, because things are always ideal in theory. But actually becoming and remaining conscious of how much waste I was creating and how much plastic I used was eye-opening. If I got food on-the-go, I would grab about two handfuls of napkins without even thinking about it. I don’t even wanna think about how many straws I’ve gone through each summer buying cold or frozen drinks. I also sweat a lot in the summer, and I was no stranger to buying the liter bottles of water throughout my busier days if I was running around a lot. One. Two. Three bottles, easily.
How I’m Trying to Make a Change
Understanding all of this was was my first step; I had to assess all the waste I personally created or contributed to. After that is when I started to implement the small steps I could, in the hopes that it would serve as a catalyst for change. Funny enough, I didn’t start taking all of these steps post-vegan. I’ve been utilizing reusable silverware for over a year now, but I didn’t do it to help reduce waste. I bought a random bento-box sidekick set of silverware in a popular chain store one day because it was on sale, looked really cool, and was placed in the impulse-purchase zone while I was waiting on their very long line. I wasn’t aware at the time of how much of an impact utilizing that reusable silverware could really have. The set was also plastic. This wasn’t horrible — I was still cutting down on using plastic overall because I carried that set with me everywhere. But now, I’ve upgraded to a stainless steel set.** Getting the stainless steel silverware was awesome– it was like upgrading from your Fisher-Price playhouse silverware to the silverware you buy when you actually have a house. Now, I was the real-deal. Also, upgrading was actually extremely helpful because it’s kinda difficult to pick up some things with a thick, plastic fork, although I managed to push through it for some time — I don’t know why I didn’t think of getting a stainless steel set earlier!
I also carry a reusable water bottle.^ This is a great way to lessen the amount of waste one produces, and it’s even better if you can spring for a glass or stainless steel one, because again–less plastic! I will warn you that glass bottles can be a little heavier and more bulky, but I guess that’s to be expected. I have a glass bottle but am considering switching to stainless steel, if for no other reason than to have a lighter weight bottle. Anyhow, even if you get a plastic one, there are still less wasteful routes you can take — some bottles use less plastic in their construction. Do some research and see what’s available; there are so many options these days!
Now, don’t get me wrong, I have forgotten my water bottle on more than one occasion– when that happens, I have to buy water because I can’t stand not being hydrated, especially in the summer months! Not to mention it’s dangerous to be dehydrated when it’s really hot outside. In these cases, I try to get an eco-friendly brand of water whenever possible. Two of my favs are Just Water and Boxed Water. Both of these companies have a focus on sustainability — Just Water is sourced ethically, and their bottle construction is paper-based, while the cap is plant-based. Their bottle is also reusable. Boxed Water uses a 100% recyclable bottle, and in 2015, they started a project to plant 1 million trees in U.S National Forests within five years — to help with this goal, subscribe to their new newsletter and they will plant two trees on your behalf!
At the moment, I don’t see these brands everywhere (they’re are much easier to find in the city that in other boroughs which are more residential — it depends on where you are), but I spring for them if I do see them. If you don’t see either of these brands, you can take some comfort in knowing that many water companies are at least making an attempt to construct their bottles with less plastic — this is usually indicated somewhere on the bottle.
And again, focus on small steps and don’t beat yourself up if (and in my case when) you ever do forget your reusable bottle. The first time I forgot mine, I cringed and felt like a failure. How did I buy a reusable water bottle only to leave it at home and then have to spend money on a plastic bottle?! But that’s life, so we have to be adaptable. I doubt I’ll forget it much as it gets warmer outside, but just in case, I plan on putting a reminder on my phone until it becomes a habit that is drilled into my head.
My last and most recent addition to my reusable family of tools is a stainless steel straw– best. purchase. ever.^^ Honestly, everyone should get a reusable straw! It’s one of the quickest and easiest ways to reduce the waste we produce. Every day, Americans use approximately 500 million straws, although that figure is debated as far as accuracy goes.^^^ But honestly, I don’t think it’s far from reality. That’s an insane amount of plastic. So think about it: just by bringing your own straw, you can help reduce the 38,000 straws you will likely use in your life between the ages of 5 and 65, solely through drinking beverages!^^^ It’s also always a good idea to think about paying things forward and realizing the trickle-down effect that our actions have. If everyone brings their own straw, companies will save money on their end because they can purchase less straws. And, when they purchase less straws, they are also helping to create less plastic waste. It’s a win/win for everyone!
So these are some of the steps I’ve been taking to become less wasteful. I hope to continue to incorporate ways into my daily life that are feasible and sustainable. It’s exciting to learn what I can do, and how it can impact the world around me. And it will impact the world around me. You should keep that it mind too! Any steps you take can have a ripple effect on how others view the environment, and this is how change happens. You may inspire others to be less wasteful as well, or bare minimum, you’ll just look really cool whipping out your stainless steel straw and fork.
* And speaking of food waste — please, please check out the awesome documentary Wasted!: The Story of Food Waste. It was made in 2017 and the Executive Producer was the amazing Anthony Bourdain. The world lost this awesome chef and travel extraordinaire on June 8, 2018. If you were a fan of his then you should watch this documentary. But even if you weren’t, it is super relevant to the topics discussed in this post, and it looks at the silver lining of what can be done with food waste as opposed to only looking at the gloomy reality of it’s existence in society.
** I purchased my reusable, stainless steel silverware set from a company called Mizu. You can find it here.
^ I purchased my reusable water bottle on Amazon.com. You can find it here.
^^ I purchased my stainless steel straw from an Etsy shop. You can find the shop and the straws here.