I say this all the time, and yes, I am going to say it again. When I started my minimalism journey, I had no clue about all of the things that complemented this lifestyle, such as living zero waste, nomadic living, sustainability, etc. The only thing I knew was that my life needed a new direction.
For today’s post, I have a special guest to share with you her zero waste journey. It is funny how we start something with one intention and find a whole new meaning behind what we uncover. Laura has a story that I can personally relate to, because our husbands don’t always understand why we choose to do things. It takes a bit of convincing through living by example and explaining the benefits.
I am sure you will find her story and tips very helpful in your own journey to simplifying your life!
How I Started My Zero Waste Journey
I’ve always been ‘green’. Nature and protecting the environment was instilled in me from my mom, who learned it from her mom. Back then, I didn’t realize we were being ‘environmentally friendly’, or living ‘sustainably’; it was just part of our lives.
As I grew up, the environment continued to be weaved into my everyday life. I went to an environmentally based high school my junior and senior year, continued to camp, hike, and travel to state and national parks with my friends and boyfriend (now husband), got a B.S. in environmental geography, and then went on to get my masters in natural science and environmental education.
I read about and admired people like Jane Goodall, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and John Muir. I started diving head first into nature photography and even had a nature photography blog for many years. Yep, you could say I was connected to the environment.
Fast forward a few years later when I had my son. After 2.5 months of maternity leave, I went back to work. The time I had with my son became increasingly precious, and I didn’t want to ‘waste’ it on things that didn’t matter as much to me.
Around this same time, minimalism started becoming more mainstream. I didn’t know much about it, but what I did know resonated with me. I started researching more about it and became hooked. I loved the idea of having less ‘stuff’ to be able to do more that I love doing. This meant more time with my son!
Over the course of the past couple of years, my family and I have donated/given away over 100 large boxes of items, and sold countless more. We started becoming really mindful about what we had and brought in to our house, and I found myself wanting to learn more about ways we could reduce.
Enter zero waste.
I honestly don’t remember the first time I heard of zero waste. I can tell you that I felt intimidated by the term. But once I read more about it, I became very interested in how my family and I could apply it to our lives. Not only did it embody the minimalist aspect we were coming to adopt (by refusing and reusing), it also incorporates living sustainably – which has been part of my core since the beginning.
If you’re not familiar with the zero waste movement, it basically involves ways on how you can reduce your waste. Obviously, the term implies producing zero waste, but I will tell you that while my family has greatly reduced our waste, we are nowhere close to producing zero waste. And while we continue to strive to find ways to reduce our waste, I can tell you that at this season in our lives, producing zero waste is not realistic. And I am OK with that.
I am a firm believer that doing whatever you can in the season of life you’re in is the best you can do.
But I digress.
Back to the zero waste.
About a year ago, I was scrolling on Facebook and saw a call for applications through our local county for families to embark on a 9-month zero waste challenge. I read about the challenge, filled out the application, and promptly forgot about it until 2-3 months later when I got an email telling me we had been accepted.
The conversation with my husband went something like this:
Me: So…a while ago I filled out an application for a zero waste challenge through the county, and we got accepted. For the next nine months, we just have to weigh our trash, attend a zero waste workshop or two, work to reduce our waste, and start composting. But, we get a free compost bin, so that’s cool! Thoughts?
Him: I’m sorry. What?
Eventually, he came on board and we were underway on the challenge.
I’ll spare you the details of the last nine months, but I will say that we have reduced our waste by over half (25-30lbs a week) and have made lots of waste reducing changes in our household.
We are just a normal family – a 2.5-year old (still in disposable diapers), a dog, two cats, and my husband and I. And while my husband is ‘green’, he isn’t as much as I am, and more resistant to implementing changes. I like to tell everyone I can that if my family can do it, anyone can.
The best part is that it is super easy to get started! The most important thing we learned is to take it slow. Research different ways to reduce waste, but pick 1-2 things to implement at a time. If you try and do it all at once, you’ll get completely overwhelmed and risk not doing anything at all. Trust me, I was there.
To help, here are 5 super easy ways to get started reducing your waste:
1. Trash audit
One of the most important things we did when we first started our challenge was to do a trash audit. It is hard to know what to work on regarding reducing waste if you don’t even have a clear idea of what is in your trash! After my family did the trash audit, we realized a lot of our trash was recyclable organics. With this knowledge, we made a goal to reduce food waste and to start composting. Knowing what is in your trash is the best step to figuring out ways to reduce it. Oh, and it literally took 10 minutes. Find your own (free, printable) zero waste trash audit here.
2. Slowly replace disposable products
I see a lot of questions from people about what to do with the disposable products they currently have. My response would be to use them! Then, as you slowly use up each product, figure out an alternative that is reusable. For example, once we used up our paper towels, we purchased some bamboo ‘paper’ towels that are washable. We have been using them for almost a year and they are still holding up. If you work to slowly replace items, not only does it give you time to think of an alternative, but you don’t have to worry about becoming overwhelmed.
3. Be creative!
You don’t have to go out and buy a whole bunch of stuff. While we did buy some reusable items, for others we figured out ways to repurpose things we could no longer use (as they were intended, at least). For example, for facial tissues, we now use an old cut up shirt that had holes in it, old burp cloths, and old stained cloth napkins. Look around your house for things you can repurpose before you buy a replacement.
4. Create an ‘eat me now’ section in the fridge
40% of food produced is wasted and most people don’t think they contribute to food waste. This is a pretty intense statistic. After we did our trash audit, we found a lot of the food waste was coming from the fridge. To combat this, we ended up creating an ‘eat me now’ section in our fridge. Any type of leftovers or produce that needs to be eaten goes into that area. It makes it super easy to ensure things don’t get missed and go bad, and has really helped us combat our food waste.
All of the above tips are great at starting to reduce your waste. But one of the biggest things you can do in the first place is refuse. We started exercising this tactic as we were on our journey towards minimalism, but it applies to zero waste too. Really stop and think about what you are bringing into your home. Look at the packaging on products. Think twice before taking freebies. Only buy what you need.
75-80% of the trash from a product is produced during production. That means that the majority of the waste of a product has already occurred by the time you are looking at it. By refusing, you not only are keeping excess waste out of your home, but reducing trash during production.
I’ll be honest, one we started composting, that was a significant chunk of our weekly trash we no longer were throwing away. I was really intimidated by composting, and it required a bit of set-up (and purchasing – which is why I added it as a bonus tip), but it actually is pretty simple. There are tons of resources out there for any of the different types of composting available if you want to learn more. If reducing your waste is something that interests you, I would highly recommend looking into composting.
Remember, start slowly by implementing 1-2 changes at a time. If you do, you can really start to move towards reducing your waste. Every little bit helps!
Laura is a mom, wife, nature photographer, proud Minnesotan, outdoor enthusiast, self-care advocate, blogger, food lover, mantra say-er, cat and dog owner, part minimalist, gardener, pay-it-forward lover, zero waste-r and so much more. Her blog, The Mindful Mom Blographer, aims to help reduce mental clutter through mindfulness, minimalism, and zero waste.