Beginning March 1, 2020, the Bag Waste Reduction law went into affect in NYC. Although I’d been following the law as it went through it’s early stages in the legislation process, so much had been going on in the past couple of weeks that it completely slipped my mind when March 1st actually rolled around.
But once all the craziness was subdued, it took actually seeing this legislation in action in two stores for me to realize the amazingness that had finally taken place:
NO MORE PLASTIC BAGS IN NEW YORK CITY!
This new law doesn’t only affect those in the five boroughs, it applies to any retailer that collects New York State taxes.
And so, W O W.
I’m so exited and happy to be living during a time where veganism is bursting through the seams of major corporations and where taking care of our ecosystem is becoming part of the law.
However, this thought was also accompanied by the horrific realization that the massive amount of destruction we’ve done to our home has also taken place in my lifetime, and we are now in the early stages of damage control.
But I won’t linger on the bad news…
This is a truly gratifying time to be alive and I can’t wait to see the stats that will undoubtedly pop-up after this new law has been in place for awhile, regarding how much less plastic waste is in our city. No more gross bags hanging high in tree branches, or floating in our natural waterways or in the parks. So much less waste in landfills. And realistically, I think a lot of people may simply not purchase as much as they were before because they don’t have the ease of plastic bags.
However, that last one could be a blessing and a curse— without as many purchases, there could be something in store to try to lure people into opening up their wallets as much as they previously did. But let’s look on the bright side— maybe another stimulus package is on the way? 🙂
Another benefit that is admittedly quite personal, but still great nonetheless, will be not feeling slightly weird when bringing all my reusables to the grocery store. Although it didn’t bother that much, I would feel slightly weird and as if all eyes were on me when I’d take extra time packing my own groceries into bags instead of letting the store staff pack the stuff for me quickly and swiftly into plastic bags. Not anymore!
And finally, another eco friendly tip for all the folks out there, but especially my fellow NYC dwellers— while you’re stocking up on reusable bags, purchase some reusable produce bags as well! I’ve had my produce bags for some time now, and have barely used them (eeek!), but now? It’s gonna be a fruit and veggie bonanza in here!
Not only are reusable produce bags another great way to reduce plastic, they also help solve a problem that hasn’t yet found a solution in all groceries and markets because in-store (plastic!) produce bags are still-a-go. Additionally, there are many types of plastic bags that are exempt from the new law. Boo. But baby steps are better than no steps.
While briefly discussing the new “no plastic” policy with my mom, she mentioned that using good old paper bags is how they used to carry groceries “back in the day”. I excitedly exclaimed “I know!” A bit later, it truly sank in— although there are many things I wouldn’t want to bring back from past decades, the simpler, cleaner ways that some tasks were carried out are certainly welcome back.
I can’t wait to see what other eco friendly things the city will come up with!
This post has been a long time coming. I’ve been wanting to write about my period for quite some time. The ups, the downs, and everything in-between. So, here it goes– my journey to trying to make my period more eco-friendly.
But, before I begin, I’ll start with a disclaimer:
I won’t cover absolutely everything about the history of my period in this post. Honestly, I could write an entire thesis on what I’ve been through with my cycle— but I will touch on most of the major stuff that’s happened in the past several years. I also included a random af but pretty encompassing summary in the last paragraph in case you don’t want to read an entire blog post about my menstrual cycle. Feel free to email me through this blog or message me on Instagram if you’d like more info about my period.
Whoa… that sounded kinda creepy, but you know what I mean 🙂
A (not so) Brief Period History.
I’ll start by acknowledging that all these issues may have been condensed into a smaller time-frame if it weren’t for my overall laziness and lack of taking immediate action whenever something happens with my health. For the most part, I’ve learned my lesson when it comes to this, but in the past, I was definitely the type to “wait and see what happens”, no matter what happened.
For years I had really heavy periods that slowly got progressively heavier, accompanied by really crappy pain — as in, picture really horrible cramps, then, turn the dial up another notch or two. I would go through overnight pads in a matter of hours — not overnight. When I finally did see a gynecologist, I ended up on birth control and was diagnosed with menorrhagia — a fancy name for bleeding waaay too much when you’re on your period. I was also informed that I had both ovarian cysts and uterine fibroids.
You can imagine how much fun I was having at this appointment.
Ovarian cysts are common among many child-bearing aged woman, but the fibroids— which are actually benign tumors (that also appear during child-bearing years), are way more common among African-American women. I have no idea why and I don’t think the medical community does either. But I digress.
In the land of birth control, all was well. I had really clear skin and much lighter periods. I had to set about 100 alarms to remind myself to take it at the same time everyday, but once I got the hang of that, it was all good. Or so I thought…
… One day a few years ago, around the time I started trying to take control of my health, I was on my period and I decided to look up the side effects of birth control. It was horrifying. Now, the internet has the power to make anyone think they’re dying for any reason, but the stuff I was reading just wasn’t sitting well with me, especially not at this point in my life and health journey. Something inside just told me that I didn’t wanna be on birth control anymore.
Also, at this point in the aforementioned journey, I’d already decided that if one takes control of their diet and lifestyle, they have more control over certain health issues than they may think. So, although I wasn’t vegan yet, I felt I could maybe deal with a heavy period sans medication.
Not so coincidentally, at my next gyno visit, the results of my ultrasound showed something amazing: my fibroids had shrunk significantly and my cysts were now completely gone.
You may be thinking … “Wtf?” Or “that’s amazing!” Either one would be applicable and totally understandable.
I definitely believe that my changes in lifestyle and diet played a role in here somewhere— I ate horribly before getting healthy, and who knows what kinds of hormones and chemicals were affecting my poor uterus. But personally, I also believe in higher powers, so I gave a heartfelt shoutout to the universe on this miraculous occurrence as well. From there, I listened to my intuition and told my gyno I wanted off birth control for good. She obliged, but my heavy period journey was far from over.
No More Meds, and I Went Vegan… but the Heavy Bleeding Continued
As time went on, my periods were still heavy. I no longer experienced horrible cramps and pain as badly as I did before, but I was still going through pads more often than I felt I should. My thoughts were “oh crap, nothing has changed– what do I do now?” Even after going vegan, I didn’t notice immediate changes in my cycle.
Making My Period Eco-Friendly (and Later, Low-Waste)
Nonetheless, I started slowly trying to change everything I used for health, beauty and otherwise over to more eco-friendly options (hence the existence of this section of my blog). I think part of my thought process with my period products was that I really had to try everything I could think of to fix the heavy bleeding issue. If I had already changed my diet and was more physically active, I guess now I had to focus on the products I was using. I started buying eco-friendly pads and tampons around last winter. I was amazed to see that the price was the same as regular sanitary products– which frankly, contain stuff I do not want in my vagina.
I felt content that I’d made an eco-friendly switch, but I wanted to do more. So, several months ago, as I was scrolling through vegan Instagram, I came across an ad for a free menstrual cup. I thought “this is it! This is my chance to try a menstrual cup!”
I’d heard about the cup years ago when the famous Diva brand made the menstrual cup a household normality, but I had all sorts of reservations about using one— but still, I got the cup and tried it out on my next period. I chronicled the journey in my Instagram stories and highlights. The first cycle using it wasn’t too bad. Aside from the annoyance of getting used to putting the actual cup inside of me— and taking it out for that matter, when it was in place, it worked well. But sometimes it would move around, and that was a little uncomfortable.
Then, one day… it flipped. Both literally and figuratively.
The cup turned sideways inside of me. I was home when it happened which was a huge relief— I also had a pad on as a safety net. This very inconvenient occurrence shook me a bit. I envisioned every possible worse case scenario:
What if this had happened while I was on the train?
Or at work and on my feet?
Or I was nowhere near a bathroom?
What if I hadn’t been wearing a pad? (highly unlikely but still within the realm of possibility)
It freaked me out so much that I didn’t use the cup for the rest of that day. Or the rest of that cycle. I finished out that period with my eco-friendly pads and tampons. By the time my next cycle arrived, I tried the cup once more. I used it on my heaviest day, hoping for the best. But I could tell the spark was gone. I just wasn’t feeling it anymore. I used it for a few hours at most that day and that was the end of the cup and I’s short-lived relationship. I know there are tons of shapes and sizes available for menstrual cups, but I just didn’t feel enough motivation to try cup after cup.
However, this mishap contributed to zero discouragement in my period journey. I knew there was a chance I might not like the cup, and the fact that I got to try it for free calmed my nerves even more.
What was more concerning was wondering what my next step was. I really wanted to conquer having a low-waste, eco-friendly period; yes, I was using non-chemically treated, cotton products — but I felt like that just wasn’t enough, mainly because it was far from low-waste.
More time passed, and a page I follow on Instagram that makes reusable pads ended up having a huge flash sale.
Perhaps you’ve noticed a pattern of me trying to acquire products for cheap and/or free? 😀
This was yet another option I’d been aware of, but had been waiting for the right time to try it. Or maybe more like, had been too lazy to getting around to try it? Either way, a 50% off flash sale definitely seemed like the right time.
I was eager to see how the reusable pads would go over— I had a bunch of questions like: how would I store a soiled pad when I was in public and needed to change it? Were they truly absorbent? How long could I wear one before I had to change it? And so many more…
When they finally arrived, I was immediately obsessed. Mainly because I was in love with the prints! But I didn’t buy them to have cute pads… okay, having cute pads did factor in a bit, but the point was low-waste, eco-friendly periods… period.
Too Many Variables— but they Happened at the Right Time.
Now, I’ve gotta back track a bit, because this part is kinda crucial to the story. In May of this year, I turned 32. Why is that relevant? Well, as you may (or may not) know, as women get older, their periods will often get lighter. You may not (or may) notice drastically lighter periods overnight, but this is relevant for my story because as mentioned, I had a history of ridiculously heavy periods. But a couple of months before I turned 32, my periods were noticeably lighter. I couldn’t say with 100% certainty that it was only the age factor because there were just way too many variables:
I’d been eating about an 80% whole foods, plant-based diet for several months at this point (so very little processed foods and practically no mock meat at all… like, I stopped buying it completely)
I had become very physically active— I even took up running before I suffered an injury last winter.
I’d been vegan for a year and a half, so for all I knew, my body could have decided to just start adjusting to my new vegan lifestyle via my cycle (this one is actually very plausible because I know and have read stories from so many women who claim their periods got lighter after going vegan).
The entire paragraph above was written for the purpose of me saying this:
I don’t know if I would be as happy as I am with reusable pads if my period were still as heavy as it was in the past. But I love them now. They’re absorbent af and they work amazingly. So, my period journey has a happy ending. I’m still working out a few kinks like: changing and storing the reusables in public and washing and drying them as soon as possible, but overall they’re great. I’m thrilled that I found a low-waste solution for my period. I’m supplementing the use of the cotton pads with tampons, but cutting my waste in half makes me very proud, and I am constantly reminding myself that this is a baby-step journey, as it should be.
Here’s a Final Recap — or a Summary for the Slackers…
Super heavy periods > Menorrhagia nightmare > birth control saved me, but the chemicals had to go > I started trying to find natural ways to lighten my period and eventually I ended up also trying to make my period more eco-friendly and low-waste.
My first route was changing over to chemical-free, natural, cotton sanitary products > I felt great because I knew I was immediately eliminating placing chemicals inside my body, which I had apparently been doing for almost two decades— ew.
Next, I focused on low-waste > I tried the menstrual cup and it was unsuccessful for me; there were too many grey areas.
Then, I tried reusable pads and I loved them > I settled on a combo of the reusable pads and chemical-free, cotton tampons.
And that’s it! That’s my journey so far. Oh, and PS – full disclosure: I’m a visual person, so going in to change my pad and seeing a bloody Jaws kinda gives me a much needed chuckle when I have cramps and am bleeding from my uterus.
* Menstrual products image courtesy of Vanessa Ramirez via Pexels.com
Okay. I am going to preface this post by saying that I am single. That may seem irrelevant for the topic of eco-friendly cleaning products, but it’s actually very relevant when it comes to some of the measures I’ve been taking as I attempt to continue to lower my carbon footprint on my zero-waste journey. As I mentioned in my last zero waste post, I’ve started making my own cleaning supplies and I decided that I would no longer use products that contained chemicals or ingredients that weren’t friendly to the earth or plant-derived (except for bleach, which I still use to clean and do my laundry with). That plan has been working so far.
I created two homemade cleansers and they both work well— actually, surprisingly well, when it comes to keeping things clean. I use them for general purpose cleaning, so stuff like countertops but also to clean the less grungy stuff in the bathroom (sinks and what not). One is citrus-based and the other is soap-based. The citrus-based cleanser is better for cutting through grease because citrus oil is great for greasy and grimey stuff.
I’ve been using the citrus cleanser for several months now. I started experimenting with the recipe just a few months after I went vegan. The other solution I only started using in the past few months, after I discovered the wonders of castile soap. Here’s the recipe for each cleanser:
Citrus cleaning solution:
1:1 ratio of citrus solution* to warm or room temperature water. I use my own amber spray bottles and they hold 16 oz. of liquid, so that’s about 8 oz. (or 1 cup) of solution and 8 oz. of water.
Castile cleaning solution:
2-3 tablespoons of castile soap (I use Dr. Bonner’s hemp almond castile soap)
about 1/2 cup white vinegar
the rest of the bottle is filled with warm water
You might want to adjust these ratios and amounts depending on the size of bottle you’re using, but these are pretty good general measurements.
I’ve also switched to using homemade, natural stuff to clean my laundry. The result of this was probably the biggest surprise because I’ve been washing with this solution for almost two months now and I’m being 100% honest when I say that my clothes are actually coming out cleaner and fresher with this new type of detergent. What’s in it you’re wondering? Well, it’s essentially the same mixture as the castile soap cleaning solution described above, except I add about 2-3 tbsp. of baking soda to the mix. Here’s the full recipe:
Castile laundry soap:
In a 32 oz. mason jar I combine:
2-3 tablespoons baking soda
2 cups warm water
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup castile soap… then close the jar and shake!
Like I said, I love this mixture for doing laundry. My clothes smell fresh. And not the way they smell when you use those popular name brand detergents. Those smell like scented
chemicals — fake floral scents and mock lavender. No, my clothes actually smell clean— like this is what clean is supposed to smell like! I may sound a little obsessive but this is what happens when you start opening your mind to what can be done with natural products and not the chemical filled stuff we’ve been conditioned to use through the use of advertising and societal influences.
Keeping my home and clothes clean with no chemicals is truly refreshing. Even though they aren’t things that we notice on a daily basis, I know big changes like better air quality are occurring with the use of less chemicals. This is, of course, important for personal health, but it’s also a big deal for me because I don’t want Atreyu (my cat!) breathing in a bunch of chemicals either.
But, there’s a small catch…
… everything hasn’t been entirely lavender and roses (cleaning and natural product pun completely intended).
Another major concern when it comes to my new vegan lifestyle is affordability— and that’s been the case from the beginning. I’ve always been more of a
budget girl, and that hasn’t changed since going vegan. I know I’m saving money when it comes to cleaning supplies— I mean, I could buy an entire barrel of oranges to make a billion batches of my citrus cleanser and it probably wouldn’t at all compare to the amount of money I might spend buying a bunch of bottles of a packaged, chemical cleansers over time. But even still, my other new cleaning innovations were signaling some red flags.
So, this is where me being single finally becomes relevant. I know, you probably forgot about that important little tidbit but I told you it’d be back. Currently, I’m doing a few loads of laundry as a single person. And cleaning as a single person. And cooking as a single person. Yes, I’m doing everything as a single person. So quantities haven’t been a huge problem so far. But, castile soap isn’t cheap. And using all that good soap for cleaning solutions and laundry was starting to add up.
So, I started researching cruelty-free and vegan detergents. As of the publishing of this blog post, I’ve narrowed it down to two brands that are ethical, contain vegan ingredients and are cruelty-free. I’ll post what they are and what I decided to go with in another blog post. I figure now is the best time to make the switch so I can start saving more money but I’m also thinking practically for the future. When I have a family, what will be more likely to stick? I don’t wanna start doing things that get me closer to a zero-waste lifestyle now, then fall back a few steps— or a bunch of steps— or several staircases worth of steps because I made a few changes as a single gal that I couldn’t keep up with once more people were in the picture. I’m still using my castile detergent for now, but I’ll be switching over to a bulk detergent shortly. I hope my clothes will smell as clean as they have been while using the castile soap. The fact that the ingredients will be natural gives me some hope that they might. And anyhow, I thought of an idea; I can mix some of the castile soap (and maybe vinegar?) in with the bulk detergent to make it a “super-detergent”, able to rip through dirt in the blink of eye and tear apart soil particles with the snap of a finger! As for my cleaning solutions, those are actually doable labor and price-wise, and I’m 100% gonna keep making them to clean with. And finally, I don’t think I’m gonna give up bleach anytime soon, but as with everything else on this journey— baby steps.
So that’s where I’m at when it comes to cleaning my space and my clothes. It hasn’t all been easy-peasy, but then again, nothing that truly matters ever is. In fact, I remember the first time I heard about the “cheap, fast, good” diagram. It was on a t.v show, and although the show isn’t at all relevant, the purpose of that lil’ venn diagram remained with me for years and still resonates with me when I think of everything in life, because it’s truly applicable to everything in life.
If we want something to be cheap and fast, it ain’t gonna be the best quality. If we want something to be fast and good quality, it ain’t gonna be cheap, and if we want something to be cheap and good quality, it definitely ain’t gonna happen overnight. The point is, you can’t have all three; only two of those amazing things are achievable at one time and so there will always be some form of work required on our end— either patience, funds (monetary or otherwise), or acceptance. That’s how I’m approaching my zero-waste journey. I’ve invested in a few items like hand towels, and bottles of castile soap, knowing that in the long run these changes will reap great (quality) benefits when it comes to my health, my zero-waste goals and my overall moral feels. I’m already spending less money on things like paper towels (a product I believe is one of the biggest kept secrets as a “big money waster”) and cleaning products, and I know I’m making progress as I try to head into more of a zero-waste life for my current situation and my future, unknown life. I’m very proud of myself and I know future Tiffany is waiting to pat me on my low carbon footprint back too.
* To make the citrus solution: In a 32 oz. mason jar, I combine the peels of 5-6 medium to large sized oranges with vinegar. Make sure that the peels are free of any fruit, or that will make the solution sticky. You only want pure orange peel because it has the citrus oil in it. Once the peels are in the jar, fill the jar almost to the top with white vinegar. This mixture will yield you four cups of citrus solution, but as you use it you can add more vinegar and let the mixture become stronger over time. The same peels should last for a few months before you need to replace them. With a new batch, I let the solution sit for at least 24 hours before using it for cleaning. It should reach maximum potency after about a week.
[Edit:] As of January 21, 2019, I have decided to use detergent and other products from the Seventh Generation brand. This line of products is entirely vegan and cruelty-free. The parent company of Seventh Generation, Unilever, was at one point known for its animal testing. However, as of 2019, the company is pioneering the global ban on animal testing, and PETA has now classified them as a company that is “working for regulatory change”. The company will only perform animal testing where required by law.
Please don’t take my lack of zero-waste posts as a sign that I’ve been slacking on trying to become one with Mother Earth. On the contrary, I’ve still been doing what I can to cut down my carbon footprint and even save a few bucks in the process.
So, just how have I been keeping up my zero-waste lifestyle? Well, I’ve made the usual tasks such as recycling part of my everyday life. I recycle at home, and when I’m out, I try to recycle whenever and wherever possible. If you read my last zero waste post, I don’t use plastic utensils or straws anymore– I bring my own now 🙂 And I always make it a point to specify that I don’t need utensils or a straw to whoever is helping me if I’m dining out or getting a drink that requires a straw. Don’t be afraid to speak up about these things! Sometimes I would notice that people would seem annoyed when I would mention it and I didn’t get it. I’d be thinking: “hey, I’m saving you money by not using your stuff and bringing my own! But I can sometimes personalize things, and so I had to realize that it may have had nothing to do with me, and even if it did — who cares! The purpose of me forgoing plastic serves a much greater purpose than worrying about a 5-minute interaction. My point is that once we start becoming more vocal about things and take charge of our user experiences when dining out or getting food, if this is something you’re not use to doing, the slightest sense of resistance can feel uncomfortable or discouraging but don’t let it distract you!
I also still bring my reusable bags with me when I get groceries. This has actually been great because I added a couple of more bags to my arsenal, starting out with two and now owning four. These bags not only help with cutting down on plastic, but they truly are useful! If you pack them correctly, you can carry so much more stuff in them than plastic bags! In one of my reusable canvas bags, I can fit about as many groceries as would probably fit into three to four doubled plastic bags. And the even weight distribution coupled with the sturdy strap of the canvas bag makes carrying it way more comfty and easy than the plastic bags, which usually start slicing into my hands after only a minute or two.
Other than the stuff I started doing when I first determined I was gonna try going zero-waste, here are a few newer things I’ve started incorporating into my life to help me get there:
I Got Reusable Towels
To cut down on my paper towel use, I started using reusable towels. I bought a pack of
about 10-12 plain, white cloth towels, and I use them to wipe up spills and clean general things like kitchen counters. Honestly, this has been one of the more difficult things for me to do. Why? Well, everyone has their weaknesses right? For me, I used to be a HUGE germaphobe. It was bad. I was that person who would literally use an entire roll of paper towels to clean up a smaller spill if it was something gross because I didn’t want anything to get on my hands. My naturally evolving self has calmed down from such extremes, and that was the case even before I went vegan. But starting a zero waste venture did help with my germaphobe ways even more. But using the towels for really gross stuff is still not an option. If I ever have to clean up vomit or bodily fluids, I don’t think I’ll be using these towels. I mean, it took some– okay, a lot of getting used to when I would clean my very dirty, greasy stove and then told myself I was gonna wash that towel with my only semi-dirty clothes. I envisioned stove grease penetrating every piece of clothing I owned. An irrational thought I’m sure, but I was so tempted to grab for paper towels! That’s why I haven’t stopped purchasing disposable towels completely. And there’s another reason. I have no problem using a towel if I am eating certain foods with my hands– even the messy foods (yum). But if I have guests or family over, I don’t want to force them to use towels over paper towels. although the intention may be pure, it just doesn’t seem fair or right. But remembering and reminding myself that this is a journey and a marathon not a sprint has helped. And when looking at the bigger picture, I’ve still made vast improvements in my own usage of the disposable stuff. I’ve gone from using an entire roll of paper towels to clean up one spill and wipe down the kitchen counters, to using about 1 roll of paper towels per month. That’s pretty freakin’ good if I do say so
myself! And also, keep in mind that trying to reduce waste kind of flows naturally into a vegan lifestyle when it comes to some things. For example, if the bulk of your diet is fruits, veggies, and grains, you’re not gonna have as much mess to clean up in your kitchen anyway! So you’ll naturally use less disposable paper towels and will likely not mind using a reusable towel to clean up the minor messes you create. And even if you fry, saute, roast, or do whatever else to tofu, seitan, tempeh, etc. you’ll probably still create less mess than when cleaning, prepping and cooking with meats. Just sayin’
I Started Making My Own Cleaning Supplies
I decided to go all-natural with my cleaning supplies as well. That goes for hand-soaps, household cleaning supplies, and everything else. If I do purchase something, it has to be made by a brand that is known for having all-natural products with non-toxic ingredients like MissMeyer’s, or a brand I found out about more recently, Ecos. But cleaning supplies are one of the areas you can cut down on buying and start saving some extra
cash too. That’s because it’s pretty simple to make your own cleansers. I use two different cleansers that are both homemade. I use them when cleaning the kitchen, stove tops and all. It’s also great because I have a cat (Atreyu <3), and I love knowing that as she’s walking around the kitchen while I’m cleaning, she isn’t breathing in any toxic fumes– and neither am I for that matter! But I do still use bleach to clean with and that is definitely a toxic product. I mostly use it only when cleaning the bathroom and definitely the toilet! I feel like bleach just can’t be beat when it comes to super-duper cleaning power. I usually dilute it and don’t use it for much else (except on my white clothes when doing the laundry), but eventually I would like to ease into using it even less than I do now. As far as my natural, homemade cleansers, one is citrus oil-based and the other is vinegar based. If I want a stronger cleanser, I’ll combine the two for ultimate cleaning power. Vinegar is great for cutting through grease and cleaning things. I’m going to write a separate post about these two cleansers, exactly what I put in them, and more on how I use them to clean so stay tuned!
I Also Started Making My Own Laundry Detergent
I discovered the beauty of castile soap! This is a hemp and coconut oil-based cleanser and it’s one of the most versatile products I’ve ever seen in my life! It’s also the main ingredient in my homemade laundry detergent. I mix the soap with water, white vinegar and apple cider vinegar to create an amazing detergent. I package it all in a mason jar and bring it with me to wash. Now I will say this– it took some getting used to using this as my detergent. When I first used this instead of store-bought detergent, it was weird because there were no frothy bubbles coming up in the machine window. I was skeptical that my clothes were actually being cleaned. But they were! And the funny part is, some of the clothes actually felt cleaner and a few things even smelled cleaner than they did when I would use store-bought detergent! This is one of those things that may take some getting use to for others also. Additionally, taking into account how much to use to feel like your stuff is clean can take some time. I am currently one single adult, so the amounts I use are also easier to figure out because I’m not washing a massive amount of laundry. Not to mention, some people may just have that psychological hold of feeling like their clothes are only being cleaned when they use store-bought detergents filled with a lot of fragrance. But fragrance isn’t what cleans your clothes. And frothy bubbles aren’t what clean your clothes. So, keep that in mind and consider giving castile soap a try! As mentioned above, for my whites I use the castile soap detergent in addition to bleach. I
don’t know if I’ll ever stop using bleach for my laundry because of my white clothes. But that may be another psychological hold I’ll have to work on getting rid of. And if I can find another method to get white clothes super white other than bleach, I’d certainly be willing to give it a try.
So that’s it. At this point of my zero waste journey, I’ve started using reusable bags for groceries, cutting down on my plastic use with metal utensils and straws, continuing to recycle whenever possible, cleaning with reusable towels, and making my own household cleaning supplies and laundry detergent. Slowly but surely I’ll keep at it, trying to get as close as I comfortably can to a zero waste life that works for me. And I say “comfortably” because at this point, I’m unsure if everything that can be done to live a zero waste life is something I would do. And I’m okay with that. It goes hand-in-hand with not judging others for the type of vegan lifestyle they choose to live. We are all trying to live our best lives in the vegan community, and doing anything at all is going toward the bigger and greater cause. That logic applies here also. Similar to how I don’t think I would stop purchasing paper towels completely but have made major waves in the amount I use on a daily and monthly basis, I will try new things and begin new things in my zero-waste life too. Some things may stick and some may not. But I’ll keep trying and I’ll keep sharing them with you all in the hopes that you’ll try them too. Maybe some of the things that don’t last with me will last with you and that’s another way we can all help each other. By picking up the slack where our fellow zero-wasters may have fallen. Good luck on your zero-waste journeys and stay tuned for my next update!
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.
One of the first things people start doing when they want to become more Earth-conscious is bringing their own bags to the supermarket. Although this isn’t a new concept by far, when you go from not really caring to caring a lot, it’s a small step that can feel like a major difference.
And it is major. If you figure that most markets double-bag your groceries, and then you figure that you make anywhere from 2-4 trips to the supermarket each week (at least I do because I don’t get things in large quantities, especially produce) you could be saving hundreds of plastic bags from ending up in a landfill each month! Go you 🙂
Not to mention all the other benefits that go along with bringing your own bags. Here are just a few:
You save unnecessary plastic from being used — yes, I know I just said that but it will always bear repeating.
You’re forced to only get the essentials — depending on how many bags you’re using, bringing reusable bags helps cut down on getting junk you don’t need. The larger bags can fit a lot, but if you make sure that you only bring a certain number of bags, you ensure that you won’t buy an excessive amount of anything. Then, factor in the walking part — I live in walking distance from a supermarket. I bring two bags with me when I go grocery shopping, and once they’re full, it’s already a workout carrying one bag on either shoulder, so I make sure I am only getting the important stuff. But I do it because Mother Earth is awesome.
You save the supermarket money — who doesn’t love a gesture that automatically pays itself forward? When you bring your own bags, you don’t have to use the bags at the market. As we just established, with all that double and sometimes triple-bagging, that’s a lot of bags you’ll be saving them! Maybe plastic bags are super cheap when markets buy them in bulk, who knows. But any savings for a business is still a savings, so the manager will probably think happy thoughts about you.
You become a walking advertisement for the cause — Whenever someone does something that is not very common, they are noticed. People look at them more. Although it is a lot more common to bring your own bag to the supermarket these days, especially if you’re at a more progressive, earthy market like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, or anyplace in California for that matter, it still isn’t extremely common to see everyone bringing bags in there on the daily. So if it isn’t a common thing to do where you live, then you should definitely do it! Bring your own bags! Be a cheerleader for the cause simply by living your life and getting groceries! It’s like wearing a giant sign that says “I LOVE EARTH” or better yet: “I HATE PLASTIC BAGS”.
You won’t collect that enormous stash of plastic bags that inevitably take up a kitchen drawer which could be put to better use. And I know that some people prefer to keep those bags to reuse as liners for mini-garbage cans, but why not instead consider purchasing biodegradable bags like the ones here?
And finally, if you must use a bag other than your reusable one, consider using a paper bag whenever possible!
So the next time you head out to the supermarket, consider it a BYOB trip and bring your own bag!
2 of my prized possessions — the Trader Joe’s bags I take with me to the supermarket!
If you’re interested in going zero waste, this is a great place to start! Try doing one, two, three or all of the things on this list– everything is completely free and it’s a start toward creating less waste and lowering your carbon footprint!
Donate all of your gently worn and used clothes and shoes to charity (or a thrift store, or a drop-bin for used clothes).
Get more wear out of your clothes! Only wash them when they are actually dirty. Heavier items like denim do not need to be washed after every wear. You can also usually get more than one wear out of sweatshirts and sweaters, especially if you wear an undershirt with them.
If you can, don’t get a receipt after you make a purchase or tell the cashier “no” when they ask if you would like one.
Walk, use public transportation, or carpool whenever possible.
Sign-up for digital billing and have all of your monthly bills sent to your email instead of having paper bills mailed to you.
Unplug non-essential items when not in use (hairdryer, toaster, microwave, blender, nightlamp)
If it isn’t really saturated or gross (or even if it is, extra brownie points for you!) pick up trash you see in your daily life—old food container on a bench? Toss it in the trash, or even better, a recycling bin if possible!
Turn off the water when you’re not using it while you’re brushing your teeth, shaving or washing your face.
Avoid plastic bags whenever possible – if you’re just getting one or a few items, toss them in your bag or book bag (in this case, maybe you’ll want to get a receipt so it doesn’t seem as if you stole the items, lol).
When you go out to eat, bring your own to-go containers with you for any leftovers!
** BONUS: Carry a set of reusable utensils with you! I carry a set that includes a fork, spoon, knife and chopsticks. I plan to upgrade to a stainless steel set in the future, because the one I currently have is plastic and I’m trying to slowly eliminate my use of plastics (baby steps!)
So there you have it. Ten ways you can start going zero waste TODAY.
Remember, Don’t be overwhelmed! It’s a marathon not a sprint. It’s hard to try to go completely zero waste overnight — but small changes over a longer period of time often make the biggest difference and leave the greatest impact!