Zero-waste or Bust. What’s New in my Zero-waste Lifestyle

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

reusable towels pic
Some of my reusable towel arsenal.

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

old reusable towel
This reusable has been through it but it’s still holding on strong.

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 Miss Meyer’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

IMG_8383 (1)
Ecos dish soap.

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!

ecos soap specs
Ecos uses all plant-based ingredients!

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 castile soap detergentand 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

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Castile soap laundry detergent rocks my socks.

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! 

 

 

How My Zero Waste Life is Coming Along

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.

Work 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.

Personal Life

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.

Cutlery and Water Bottle Pic
No, I’m not a surgeon. But these are still important tools in my (reusable) arsenal. Pictured (from left) are my reusable straw with silicone tip, my stainless steel cutlery set, and my glass water bottle.

Cutlery and Water Bottle Pic II
Sturdy, efficient, and reusable. Aren’t they beautiful?

 

* 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.

^^^ Sources: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/04/plastic-straws-ocean-trash-environment/

http://www.ecocycle.org/bestrawfree/faqs