Written by Brittany Shenk

Five Easy Swaps for a Lower Waste Lifestyle

The idea of going zero-waste can be pretty intimidating, after all, it takes a pretty severe lifestyle shift to be 100% waste-free. The transition cannot be accomplished overnight, but takes time and dedication. And then there are all those questions about how to keep your lifestyle comforts, and still try to be waste-free:

What do I do with the bag inside the cereal box? Can I recycle my floss boxes? How do I compost when I live in an apartment building? What about buying almond or other nut milks? What do I do with the cartons? I really needed those green beans for dinner, but they’re packaged in a plastic bag… can I substitute something else for the recipe? I wonder if I can send my facewash bottle back to the company and have it refilled, rather than buying a new one? Can I recycle this produce clamshell? Why is the cookie I want wrapped in plastic? Do I have time to eat my food here and use a plate, rather than put it in a plastic one-time use container?

Over the past year, I’ve asked myself all these questions, and a hundred more! Switching from auto-pilot to conscious-waste-warrior is a process, so I thought I’d share with you some of the easier, not so intimidating swaps I’ve made over the past year, to lessen my impact on the planet.

1. Use a French press. Coffee pots, Keurig cups, and instant coffee packets all create waste. Yes, there are compostable coffee filters, but they come in packaging. Yes, there are refillable, single-serving Keurig cups, but most Keurig machine-owners seem to prefer the single-use plastic Keurig cups. That’s a lot of plastic for one cup of coffee. A French-press simply requires hot water and coffee grounds. It is, essentially, a zero-waste system, if you reuse the same coffee bag to purchase your bulk coffee beans and compost the used grounds. You may be able to find a used French press at your local thrift store, but they are fairly inexpensive, and do brew some pretty awesome coffee.

2. Bring your own utensil kit and straw. My old co-op sold To-Go bamboo utensil sets that included a fork, spoon, knife, and a set of chopsticks. This is probably the most-used product I’ve ever purchased for myself. I cannot count the number of times I’ve pulled this little pack out of my purse and refused a plastic fork, spoon, or set of disposable chopsticks. I love having this set with me everywhere I go. It’s easy to wash, light, and comes in a little fabric pouch.

I also purchased a stainless steel reusable straw, which I highly highly recommend doing, and added it to my reusable utensil set. I never have to relive the thought of my plastic straws ending up in the nostrils of sea turtles, or floating around in the ocean for other marine life to choke on. Also, keep an eye out for LOLIWARE‘s soon-to-be-released LOLISTRAW, which is an edible straw that comes in flavors like “Sparkling Ocean”, “Rose Quartz”, “Citrus”, and other unique options that are sure to surprise your taste buds.

3. Ditch the bottle, try a shampoo bar. I recently learned about shampoo bars, while doing research about zero-waste beauty products. So, of course, I had to try one. I went to a local shop here in Oregon and found a Booda Body Bar, which is a shampoo and body wash combined.

If you’re not sure about a shampoo bar, you can also decrease your waste by using Plaine Products refillable shampoo, conditioner, and body wash bottles. They use reusable aluminum bottles for their products. When you’re close to the end of the bottle, request a refill, and they’ll send you another bottle, and they pay for shipping when you send your empty bottles back to them! No recycling necessary.

4. Buy the unwrapped produce vs. the plastic-wrapped one. Pretty simple, always try to buy the produce that’s not wrapped in plastic. I’ll often see a bag of chopped kale next to a bunch of kale, or bagged baby carrots sitting next to individual, free carrots. If the vegetable or fruit you want is in a plastic bag, ask yourself if you really need that item, or if there’s a plastic-free option you can substitute instead.  The farmer’s market is a great resource as well. The produce there is rarely packaged and you’ll be supporting your local farmers. Truly a win-win.

5. Make your own tortillas. If you’re like me and LOVE Mexican food, specifically tacos, learn to make your own tortillas instead of purchasing them in a plastic zip-lock bag. Making your own tortillas requires only a handful of ingredients, reduces plastic waste, tastes exponentially better, and is way more fun than purchasing pre-made ones. If the fourth-grade students I taught cooking lessons to can successfully make corn tortillas, you can, too. Another perk of learning to make your own tortillas means you’ll also be able to make your own tortilla chips, which are of course another weakness of mine, but are held hostage inside of wasteful chip bags. Once you know how to make your own, you’ll never have to feel guilty about buying chip bags again!

You can use wheat flour, masa harina (corn flour), quinoa flour, or a mixture of flours to make your tortillas. Or if you’d like to try something different, I’ve recently switched to cassava tortillas, and I don’t think I’ll ever go back to corn. Cassava is a root vegetable, and cassava flour has a great texture and flavor, and is gluten-free. Reminder: try to buy flour from the bulk section of your grocery store, or if that’s not an option, look for flour packaged in paper bags, rather than plastic.

I hope these swaps help make living lighter a little bit easier! Keep on fighting, Earth Warriors.