It's a beautiful idea, isn't it? To leave behind nothing but footsteps!
I'm one of the people who try to reduce the impact of my behavior as a consumer, but to be honest, when I hear "zero waste, " I feel pressured. I admire families who produce not more than a glass jar of trash within one week and they compost everything else. I know there are options to live like that, but let's face it – how many of us can do that? How many of us are willing to live on potatoes or give up buying a new phone when the old one breaks?
It's not that I wouldn't support the zero waste movement, it's just this name that makes some people give up before they even try.
I would like to talk about some controversies that surround the zero waste movement, but more than that, I would like to mention some great tips on how to reduce your footprint on this planet. I think that every little change that becomes a habit eventually brings another positive change – and I would like to hope that we can change the world this way.
The easy choices
I would like to start with a positive tone. I find that people are especially motivated to reduce their waste when the changes also help them to save money. So I would like to share a few tips of things that felt very easy for me to implement.
Bathroom and hygiene
- switching to soaps and shampoo bars
Honestly, I didn't believe shampoo bars could work for me as I have dry hair. To my surprise, they leave my hair shiny, and I even feel that I need to wash my hair a little less – the good feeling of fresh hair remains longer.
- coconut oil and Shea butter instead of creams and lotions
They can often be bought in big glass jars and good thing is – they can also be used in the kitchen. Coconut oil works well as make-up remover too.
- bamboo toothbrush
I know, bamboo toothbrushes and straws have become a symbol of zero waste and probably you have heard enough of them! I, of course, support this change but beware of greenwashing. Not every bamboo toothbrush is compostable – the bristles are often made from nylon and need to be removed when you put your brush to the biowaste. There are brushes with bamboo bristles too, but from my experience, they don't last very long and aren't so soft for the teeth. Therefore I stick with the ones that contain nylon – not very zero waste, I know, but I found a company that supports planting trees, and that counts too.
- washable baby diapers
Every little baby produces approximately 1 ton of waste when one-way diapers are used. Some of them are bleached and contain chemical substances too – and it takes many years for them to degrade because many of them contain plastic. Even the eco friendly diapers need a few years to degrade. Opting for cloth diapers is therefore the best option for the environment and for the baby too. It saves about half of the costs even if you include the extra energy for washing and investing into eco detergents. I did it for two years and some of the diapers remained in a good condition, so they serve another baby now.
- menstrual cup
Starting to use a menstrual cup was a revolution for me. I thought – why have I waited for so long to try it? Not only are tampons and pads a problematic waste that we produce a lot of, but there is also a controversion related to bleaching and absorption of chemical substances through our tissues. Silicone is considered a safe material. Next to all of this – a menstrual cup creates more comfort for many women.
Kitchen and cleaning
- using worn-out clothes instead of cleaning cloth
Our grandmas wouldn't think of doing anything else, and we often spend extra money on plastic containing cleaning cloths and sponges! If you don't have any worn-out clothes right now, you can buy organic and compostable cleaning brush or compostable cleaning wipes.
- soda bicarbonate, citric acid, and vinegar
If you mix soda bicarbonate with an acidic substance, you will gain a powerful cleaning substance. It works well for old stains from tea or baking, for example. Vinegar can be used for washing your dishes.
I know that you still need to buy these substances in packages, so therefore they aren't indeed zero waste. The waste reduction lies in bigger packages, and lower amounts are required to keep your household clean. I also buy eco washing powder or eco washing machine tabs in a paper package. Making my cleaning and washing powders and liquid is something I want to try too.
Fashion and lifestyle
- second hand & swaps
Reconsidering my needs and not looking for new items anytime I feel that I need something has been a mental change for me above everything else. Often we can borrow tools from a friend, and we can rent sports gear – there are many examples of how to own less and not to be overflowed with material things that we hardly ever use.
When I want to buy clothes, I look into second-hand shops and online markets first. It often happens that we can't wear some clothes anymore or we bought the wrong size. In that case, I try to give my things a second life.
The not so easy choices
There is a field that offers space for waste reduction, and that still is very hard for me – namely grocery shopping.
I find it ironic that if I want to buy organic fruits and vegetables, they are often wrapped in plastic. The reason is that as no chemical substances are used to protect them, they go bad much faster. Some of them wouldn't make it through the transport without any protection.
Sure, local sources are always the best – but how many local farmers can you visit regularly? And if there are some in your area, is a regular trip by a car worth the additional travel footprint?
I don't have a lot of easy tips and easy answers on how to reduce your waste while buying groceries. Carrying your own bags is a self-explanatory one, but how much plastic still ends up in that cotton bag when we go to a supermarket?
Finding a shop that accepts your own containers or a zero waste shop is great, but unfortunately, you won't find such options everywhere.
I try to look for self-service bars – sometimes, you can buy nuts or dry fruit package free even in a supermarket. I look for paper packaging rather than plastic – and I opt for bigger packages or bulks. They offer at least some reduction of the materials used for packaging. Even paper carries a big footprint and demands a lot of energy when being produced, but the advantage is that it degrades fast.
Biodegradable or recycled?
Sadly, I can't give you one definite answer. The way we measure impact is very broad, and as consumers, we cannot always find out what is the footprint of a particular product or packaging.
I would like to mention one recent study about shopping bags done by the Ministry of the Environment of the Czech Republic. It turns out that the best option when it comes to our footprint and shopping bags isn't the ones made from organic cotton, as they don't last that long. The best option, according to this study, is the reusable polyester bags. Paper bags would have the same impact as the reusable polyester bags if they were used at least 7 times - which is probably beyond the technological limit. The worst, without too much surprise, is the soft plastic bags that are used only once.
So how do I personally deal with this issue? I would say my first choice is recycled paper packaging. If I need to buy a product that only comes in plastic, I search for recycled plastic packaging. But I'm not so sure anymore if the newly produced paper is better than recycled plastic. I also think that biodegradable plastic-like materials aren't always the best option. Unless they are made from remainders of organic production, and they require planting, their footprint probably won't be better than any recycled material – and they also potentially contribute to deforestation.
Reduce, reuse & recycle remains the best advice. The progress in this field is really fast, so keep informed about the newest trends and researches and above at all, stay positive.
All the best,
Updated 23 May, 2020