Zero Waste Achievements: One Month In

Transitioning to a new way of living can be challenging sometimes. I wanted to take this blog post to celebrate the successes Brian and I have had in terms of reducing the trash we produce.

I will be upfront about where I am in this right now. I’m still in the “Use what you have” phase. I’m also in the “My husband thinks some of these changes are really extreme because he’s never seen anyone do something like this” phase.

I have a distinct advantage as an alumna of Humboldt State. I was never going to be the extreme one there.

Where was I before? I’ve been carrying a reusable water bottle with me my whole adulthood (13 years). I’ve used reusable shopping bags for almost as long – long before you had to pay for a bag in California. Before moving to Santa Maria (3 years ago) I was a frequenter of grocery store bulk sections. I still used plastic bags for those, but I very often re-used the same plastic bags until I deemed them gross.

Before living in Santa Maria, I frequented the local farmers’ markets. Like, maybe I went 2 or more times per month. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but I supplemented my fruits and veggies with ones from the Co-Op (in Humboldt) and New Frontiers (in Solvang). Those stores both sourced from local organic farmers. There aren’t a lot of stores like that here, but there are farmers’ markets.

Being in a bigger place was new to me and I truly got sucked into the consumer culture. Everything is so easy to come by – especially because my job here pays a lot more than anything else I’d ever known. I literally had more money than I knew what to do with. (I am very, very aware that this is the exception of people my age and not the norm.)

I stopped shopping at thrift stores when I got my current job, because now I could afford new clothes. My good work friends, 10 years older than me, became my shopping buddies with a congruent mission of building a greater professional wardrobe. 2017 was a year of buying lots of pretty pieces for work.

That just about sums up where I was. Now I’m going to discuss the small changes I have made so far.

Groceries

I do not mind using old plastic containers to buy stuff in bulk and to store food. Brian loves peanut butter filled pretzels from Costco, and they come in a giant container. I’ve been filling it with fig bars from the bulk bins. I’ve been filling an old hummus container with beans, and a Trader Joe’s cardboard oatmeal canister with steel cut oats.

With using containers, it’s important to get a weight at the register beforehand. Both times I’ve done this the kids at the registers were unfamiliar with this process. It’s okay, they’ll learn. When I finish at the store, I write down what the weight of the container was so I don’t have to have it weighed a second time.

I also use a pen or Sharpie to scribble out the scan code/ISBN. That way the register doesn’t accidentally mark it.

Brian has a food scale at his parents’ house. We plan to use that to weigh our containers at home.

Instead of getting spinach in a plastic clam shell, we’ve been buying it in tied bunches. This is something that takes a little more work to prepare, but it’s cheaper and you waste so much less. It only takes about 10-15 minutes to wash the whole bunch, tear off the stems, and lay the leaves out to dry. I’ve been saving the stems for other purposes.

I use breathable cloth bags to store my produce as I shop. I might start making more of my bags out of exercise shirts so they don’t add to the weight.

Clothes

One month in, I have succeeded in my goal of not buying any new clothes this year. I’m really still on my surgery T-shirt rotation. I’ve been wearing the same 12 or so shirts on rotation for the past 8 weeks. I typically put jeans or pants in the hamper after about 4 wears. If they don’t smell bad, they’re not dirty yet.

The exception is for workout clothes. It has been quite warm this California winter, with highs around 75-80 nearly every day for several weeks. So if I’m active outside, and start getting sweaty, yes, I’ll put those in the dirty clothes.

On the Go

I went to a thrift store and got 4 spoons, forks, and knives. I wrapped each set with a cloth napkin and now Brian and I each have a pair of reusable silverware sets in our cars.

I love going out to sushi, so I got a set of reusable metal chopsticks for the sushi place we like. They were really nice when we asked for no straw in our water, so I think they’ll understand if we bring our own chopsticks.

Again, I’ve always been pretty good at bringing my water bottle with me, but now I’m a little more diligent.

Household

Our whole garbage story has changed since we got a compost tumbler. One month’s worth of organic scraps doesn’t even fill up half of this thing! I’m looking forward to a very fertile garden this year.

We received two sets of nice, simple cotton napkins as wedding presents. We set up a little wicker basket in the dining room for used napkins.

We’ll use the same napkins for 2 or 3 days. Wiping your face on a piece of cloth once doesn’t make it completely soiled. Those things are big!

I also use (unused) napkins to make cashew cream for my coffee, since I bought a nut milk bag, used it once and misplaced it forever. A napkin is basically the same thing.

I got my bathroom mirror spotless using only a sheet of newspaper and a tiny bit of water.

I un-signed up for junk mail a few weeks ago. I guess it takes awhile to go away. I’m still getting all sorts of stupid stuff every day. I wrote a “No junk mail or coupons” note for my mailbox.

I also unsubscribed to all of my subscription boxes. I felt a little tricked by social media, into thinking those things were cool. In fact, they were all just wasteful. I don’t need a whole box of random stuff every month or every few months.

In that same vein, Brian and I have committed to each only making one Amazon order per month. Whatever thing we might need, we’ll let it sit in the cart until it’s time. I also contacted Amazon customer service and requested they don’t pack the plastic bubbles in my packaging anymore. They happily complied.

It might be because I have more time on disability, but I’m much more inclined lately to keep things tidy. The huge exception to this is my desk, which has just been a giant pile since it was moved last summer. Someday I’ll work on this, and it will take an hour, and I’ll be like, “Why did I procrastinate doing that for so long?”

Pets

This one is really hard. We have two cats and a dog. One cat uses a litter box, and one does not. Our solution at the time was that the other cat would use puppy training pads instead. Those create a huge amount of waste. And I really hate them.

So we are exploring other options. One thing I would like to try is to make reusable pads out of thrift store towels. My challenge has been finding something liquid-proof that can also be tough enough to withstand kitty claws. I’ve been looking for a used shower curtain liner, a vinyl tablecloth or place mats.

For our doggy poo bags, we are still using what we have and probably will be for several more months. I also use these bags to pick up trash as I walk the dog.

I don’t know that we can get good pet food package-free. So we do the Costco thing and buy in large quantities there.

Personal

I’ve had a bad habit in the past few years, and that’s been to give up on a shampoo before I’ve used it all and switch to another shampoo. My bathroom cupboard yielded about 5  shampoo/conditioner sets.

This is stopping this year. I’m not working and my hair is short and untreated – I will use all of this shampoo before going forward with anything else.

I learned that the deodorant I love in bar form also comes in a glass jar! So I don’t have to be a crazy make-your-own-deodorant person.

I did, just today, make my own tooth powder. I used this recipe.

I’m using the face products I have. Honestly, this will take a long time. I have a lot of unused stuff. When it’s used I won’t replace it. Unless it’s sunscreen, I don’t see a huge need.

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