All things considered, the steadily growing movement for a zero-waste life is a huge milestone for humanity.
We’ve become a generation of conscious consumers, aware of how each choice and action can have a lifetime of consequences.
Everything is interconnected. And as we commit to this, we are also learning more about ourselves. But there’s one problem that’s easily overlooked: It’s the impractical and excessive ways that some people get themselves into, by following this trend.
So what do we do? What should we make of all these “trendy” but well-intentioned green advice? How can we make sure we remain true to our intention of reducing waste and ultimately, our carbon footprint?
First of all, maybe we should just take a hard look at what we already have around our homes and making use of them. Try not to be too hasty in buying new products when we can easily recycle off the stuff we already have.
Two, let’s be more mindful of our actions. Yes, if you use a lot of plastic straws, now is the time to switch to reusable ones. But one “green” action isn’t where it should end.
If, for example, aside from your “trendy” metal straw, you’re always blindly buying the latest “hot” smartphone….well, the carbon footprint of your “trendy” phone habit is going to be too large to be offset by your metal straw.
Consumerism already has us always wanting more, but many of us are starting to see the value of living with less waste. So where do we draw the line? When do we decide to buy, or recycle?
We can start by ditching these 8 products and substituting them with zero-waste practical alternatives.
1. Nylon loofah or mesh bath pouf
Not only are these non-biodegradable, they also require more soap than necessary. A practical alternative is using some face cloths you probably already have at home, and lather up guilt-free.
2. Bottled water
Dig through your mom’s kitchen cabinet, and you might just find a glass or plastic water container just waiting to be used.
Note though, that some plastics leach harmful chemicals such as Bisphenol A (BPA) and Bisphenol S (BPS), said to be linked to breast cancer tumors, especially when they’ve been worn out.
For a worry-free alternative, opt for buying/re-using glass (preferably US, EU, or Japan made), stainless steel, or silicone instead.
There’s a growing trend to replace plastic straws with metal and bamboo, and for good reason. Even Starbucks recently announced they will get rid of plastic straws from all of their stores by 2020. But why buy a metal or bamboo straw, when you don’t have to use one at all? Just drink from a glass, cup, or tumbler.
Come to think of it, where do we usually use straws? What are the drinks served with it? Fast food soft drinks, frappes, milk teas, powdered iced tea, etc. These maybe yummy but they are also loaded with simple sugars, such as high-fructose corn syrup. E.g. More fattening than hydrating. . . maybe try to be less waste AND less weight by eliminating them from your diet altogether.
4. Bamboo utensils
Bamboo utensils look really nice. But you can just as easily get one pair of your metal utensils at home. Always choose practicality over that aesthetic, Instagram-worthy, all-bamboo set piece.
5. Takeout food containers
Get inspiration from DIY snack/lunch bags from Pinterest, as well as utensil holders. The better it looks; the more people will notice it and maybe even follow your lead. You can easily wash these. No need to buy new ones.
6. Brand name beauty products
Apple Cider Vinegar, Baking Soda, and Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) are your best friends.
There are lots of tutorials on how to make your own cruelty-free toner, mouthwash, toothpaste, lip balm, and even sunblock, with these three as main ingredients. There’s even the oil-cleansing method that has been proven to thoroughly cleanse your face down to the pores using castor oil, and another carrier oil, such as VCO or olive oil.
As beautifully summed up by the Esquire UK article You Can Live Sustainably Without Being Annoyingly Self-Righteous, “To avoid being an ecological Dorian Gray, your beauty only increasing as the world outside your window decays, look for brands that think green.” If you must buy, look to be sustainable as well as improve the way you look.
6. Recycled paper notebooks/journals/organizers
There’s the great trend of switching from white paper to recycled papers. That’s cool. But, before you buy, why not go through last school year’s notebooks and see if you can still use them.
Back then, at the end of every summer in my high school year, I would pile up unused pages from old notebooks and tie them up with a yarn. The covers were also recycled from last year’s old notebook covers, but this time with DIY artsy designs.
Looking back, I knew we did that mostly to save money, but I was also well aware of the satisfaction that I’m not wasting all those empty pages, and they’ve been put to good use for the next school year. You can do the same with your adulting buddies — journals and organizers.
7. Excessive packaging
This might be one of the biggest challenges in this movement, but people who are truly committed to the zero-waste lifestyle often advise that we buy more local products, so as not to deal with excessive and ‘extra’ packaging. It’s way cheaper and sustainable, too.
8. Brand new products
Hear us out here, we’re not advocating that you NEVER buy anything, just be a bit more mindful about the things you buy.
Ever hear about upcycling? Upcycling takes reusing items to the next level. Old, discarded items are transformed into something more useful and of even higher quality. One award-winning upcycling initiative is this surfboard that’s fully-functioning and is made out of 10,000 cigarette butts.
A life-changing way to be zero-waste
Really want to live more sustainably? Well, here’s a bonus round for you. After ditching those 8 products, declutter and donate.
Decluttering can bring huge positive changes in our lives. This is the reason why Japanese consultant Marie Kondo’s book has been a landslide hit, impacting so many lives around the world.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing can be your guide in slowly living a full, sustainable life. In a nutshell, Kondo advocates removing everything that no longer “sparks joy”.
While decluttering is a great way to reduce the waste in your life, take it a step further and make sure that you donate the stuff you no longer need. You never know, that top you never wear anymore might spark joy in someone else.
All these efforts to live our lives with less waste should not distract us, however, from the true culprits. It is the corporations that are responsible for most of the environmental damage in the first place.
But, thanks to more available information online, people are rallying around corporations’ ‘greenwashing’ campaigns, and calling out those who aren’t even trying a more sustainable approach. There’s power in numbers, and our collective efforts can make a difference.