I've been really irked as of late. The post-Christmas packaging that accumulated from gifts and extra entertaining added up, yet again, to overflowing trash and recycling bins. What a terrible waste. It's frustrating that everything from tools to toys to toothbrushes comes in that tough plastic packaging that you can barely cut through, and sometimes even have another cardboard or plastic layer inside of that! Even the food products we purchase consist of cans within boxes and plastic bags within bigger plastic bags.
It's got to stop, frankly. Our planet can't sustain this kind of waste any longer. We've been shirking our responsibility to Mother Earth for a long time now because it's inconvenient, as Al Gore pointed out 11 years ago. But that procrastination is catching up to us, and we're seeing the results play out in front of us in the form of severe weather events, war and displacement over land, food, and resources, sea levels rising, and our oceans being choked literally to death with garbage.
So what can any of us regular folks living our simple little lives do to help? Among other things, we can use our consumer power to drive change. When we consume things for our lifestyle and our homes in a sustainable way, we are not just saving a plastic package from going to the landfill, we're stopping it from being made in the first place. We have the power to force companies to change how they operate, make, and deliver goods by speaking with our wallets. Consuming fewer products and way less packaging is a deliberate and effective way to cut down on waste both in our own homes and in the marketplace.
Look, I get it. It's not easy to change our ways. We've grown accustomed to easy and fast consumption of the products we need, and we don't have a lot of time to figure out how to live more sustainably. Plus we have kids and spouses and parents and pets that require and deserve feeding and grooming and comfortable living, and gifts from time to time.
Fortunately, simplifying our homes and lives also puts sustainable living within reach. With strategic tweaks to our spaces and our habits, we can learn to consume less and live better, all while doing our part to protect the planet.
Admittedly, it's hard for the average person to get to a completely zero waste home, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't strive to get as close as possible. So I've vowed to reduce my packaging consumption by 80% by the end of 2017. It will be a process, to be sure, and it will require me to rethink what I buy, from food to toiletries to gifts. But little by little I can make changes that I believe will not only help me be more environmentally friendly but also live even more simply and happily.
Want to join me?
Here are 18 relatively simple ideas to cut down on packaging and get closer to a zero-waste home. I'll continue to write about more ways I've been able to cut consumption and waste as I progress throughout the year.
1. Avoid plastic shopping bags.
This one is obvious, and yet I still find myself with plastic bags in my recycle bin, ones from a clothing store or pharmacy or hardware store when I made a purchase and didn't think to bring in my reusable bags from the car. No more. If I forget the bags, I need to go out and get them.
2. Carry a reusable cup for coffee and tea.
No more throw away cups from the coffee place. I'll have them fill my own or use their mug if I'm staying there to drink it.
3. Carry a nice reusable bottle for water.
I don't often buy bottled water but this will get me to drink more water through the day and eliminate even one single water bottle being consumed by me this year.
4. Buy more food from the bulk bins and use my own containers.
I'm making a long list of everything from flour to oats to raisins to peanut butter to coconut oil to spices to tea bags to pasta to purchase from the bulk store with reusable containers. Many local natural food stores will let you bring in your own bags and glass jars to refill with their bulk goods. Here in Canada, the Bulk Barn, which is in most cities now, is bringing in this program in February. I'll label the bags I re-use and keep them in a cloth shopping bag in my car so I'll always have them with me. Easy.
5. Use mesh bags (or none at all) for produce.
There's no need to use those flimsy little plastic bags in the grocery store for my apples and oranges or even lettuce. I'll put them loose into my cart or when needed use a mesh bag like these.
6. Shop from the Farmer's Market, CSA or Local Food Box Club.
Purchasing direct from local farmers means no waste in packaging or in transportation, plus you get local and sometimes organic goodness. During the winter months when there's perhaps not as much choice at the market I'm going to check into the local food box program.
7. Buy other goods locally as well.
Things like natural bars of soap, hand-knit socks, home decor, and fresh baked bread can all be purchased at small markets and shops from local artisans and makers and they usually come without packaging, or at least very little.
8. Make more food at home.
No more buying processed foods, even the healthier stuff that I keep on hand like granola bars and soup. I can make these things at home, which cuts way down on packaging and also on ingredients that I don't want in my body anyway.
9. Grow more veggies and herbs, then freeze and can them.
My Mom's always had a big garden and still does, so I eat well. But I want to help her do more this summer and take the time to not only freeze veggies and herbs but can tomatoes and maybe some other things. I will try making my own tomato sauce to can and pesto to freeze for pizzas and pasta.
10. Make DIY natural cleaners and air fresheners.
This one I've already been doing for a few years to keep toxins out of my by opting for natural cleaning agents like vinegar and essential oils. You can see my homemade cleaning formulas here.
11. Use no plastic wrap or plastic sandwich/freezer bags.
I don't want plastic leeching into my food anyway, and so I'm making a concerted effort to have my Mom get rid of using plastic in her kitchen. I ditched the plastic wrap and bags a few years back, but my Mom still uses a lot. Instead of plastic wrap on leftovers, simply use a plate to cover the bowl, or order reusable beeswax wrap. And put sandwiches and other lunches and snacks in stainless steel containers instead of bags.
12. Get rid of paper towel.
I haven't had paper towel in my home for years, but it's something I'm going to get my Mom to give up. Not only does it cut down on paper waste, it cuts out the plastic packaging waste that the rolls come in. Instead, just keep a stack of microfibre cloths or cotton rags under the sink in the kitchen and bathroom for instant clean up when needed.
13. Use repurposed paper for gift wrapping.
If you're still buying commercial gift wrap or bags, stop now. It cannot be recycled or burned, so it's 100% wasteful. Instead, wrap gifts in saved paper bags or newspaper or get creative with old book pages, material or even an old t-shirt. Better yet, give gifts of experiences that don't need to be packaged and wrapped at all.
14. Buy secondhand.
Toys, tools and home decorations, among other things, all come in a massive amount of wasteful plastic packaging. Instead of buying new, I'm going to be mindful of the things that I would normally go to a store to purchase and instead buy second hand at flea markets, antique stores, consignment shops and sites like Kijijji and eBay if at all possible.
15. Find better options.
I'm going to deliberately seek out options with less or no packaging for things like makeup, toiletries, and even pencils and other supplies. Sites like Etsy as well as natural product shops offer goods that come with minimal packaging. Some of these I've already found - like this awesome lip balm from Fable Naturals that is in a cardboard tube instead of plastic. I'll continue to share more as I find them.
16. Mend and make do.
Let's all stop throwing away furniture, clothing, and electronics just because a newer, trendier version has come out. I'm not saying we need to give up the things we love, but cutting back and making do with what we have for longer would be a huge win. I'm going to take care of my stuff and fix it when it needs fixing instead of tossing it because it's more convenient to buy another.
17. Organize everything.
Having a designated spot for everything in your home and keeping it organized will eliminate the need to buy something you already own because you can't find it. That camera battery charger I just bought could have been avoided had I not misplaced the old one. Yikes.
18. Make recycling and composting easier.
When we set up our home to make it easier to recycle and compost, less will end up in the trash can. Simple as that. Check out this post for ideas on how to do that.
I'm not putting off stewarding and sustaining my home - Earth - for another year. I'm making another leap on my simple living journey by drastically reducing waste. And therefore reducing worry and guilt as well. Keep checking back for updates as I progress through 2017. Are you ready to leap with me?