Last year was the year that I intentionally went cruelty-free in our household. This year, I focused on making swaps geared toward reducing our waste. Here are some of my favorite swaps we made this year. For 2019, the goal is to keep it up and switch our wornout plastic food containers with glass. I worry a lot about the environment and that we are killing the planet. I don’t take it lightly. At a certain point, I realized that my worry does nothing, but my dollars do. I make these changes in order to do what I can to help, out of solidarity for my animal friends and the poor, who will be most effected by climate change, and to appease my angst monster. I am delighted by how much joy and aesthetic improvement has come as a gift with purchase and want to share some of my switches with you.
The Zero Market
I am so thankful that within a short trip of work or home, we have two shops geared for reducing waste. There’s Refill Revolution in Boulder, which I have yet to visit, and The Zero Market in Denver (pictured above), which I love a lot. The Zero Market is a good place to get products to replace single-use options, but it is best for buying household and beauty products in bulk. While not necessarily cheaper than buying soap, etc. in single use packages, the quality of their refills is excellent, and you save those plastic containers. I take my own glass jars and get refills of hand soap, dish soap, air fresheners, tea, dental floss, and rosewater. Their rosewater is the best I’ve ever tried. I got soap dispenser lids for some Ball jars, so I just bring the refill home and transfer the lid and I am ready to go. I take empty spray bottles to refill on household cleaners (theirs smell amazing). Once I use the shampoo I have on hand (which is nearly 32 ozs), I am keen to try their shampoo bars. They smell great. The Zero Market has a rewards program in which you earn a point for every container you save from a landfill, but they also regularly send out coupons, which helps with the cost/benefit equation.
Reusable Cotton Rounds
Last year, I changed up my skincare routine. The changes were great, but I noticed that a byproduct was a lot of waste of single-use cotton rounds. The first zero-waste change I made this year was switching to reusable cotton rounds. I bought my set off of Etsy and I wash them in a lingerie bag that gets tossed in with my other laundry. It’s been a year and they are holding up great! The only downside is that they are not very absorbent, so I have to pause for a moment and run by thumb over the rosewater on the round so it soaks in. If the other option is throwing away a cotton round every day, that difference seems minuscule.
No Paper Towels
I also aimed at reducing our waste by getting rid of paper towels. This was one of the many switches that is an old idea rather than some newfangled thing. Basically, I’m doing what generations back to yore did: using cloths and washing them. I bought a couple packs of cheap washcloths off of Amazon and have been using them, washing in hot water, and reusing them all year. Some of them are kind of stained, largely with the colorful spices I like to use in the kitchen, but they are holding up well. I talked to my friend Cat about her experiences with using rags instead of paper towels and that was the tipping point to me. She said it hadn’t really added laundry, which was my concern, and she was right. I do an extra load every 2-3 weeks and keep the dirty cloths in a little trashpail in the corner of the kitchen in between loads. We do keep a roll of paper towels for emergencies such as dog barfs, but that’s it.
Bamboo Toilet Paper and Toothbrushes
If you read some Zero Waste blogs, there is often something about getting rid of toilet paper and using a bidet or reusable toilet paper. I’m not there and there is zero chance of me convincing Julio, even if I were there. So, I switched to bamboo toilet paper from Brandless. Bamboo is rapidly renewable. The next step is finding it not wrapped in plastic at a price point that works.
We also switched to bamboo, biodegradable toothbrushes. A plastic toothbrush basically lives forever. I have one I reuse for cleaning tight spaces, but I don’t like the idea of our household putting at least 8 in a landfill each year. Not only do these babies take care of that issue, they also look and feel more chic than a plastic toothbrush.
In the same vein, I looked at the pile of floss building in our bathroom wastebasket and didn’t like it. At the Zero Market, I got us each a roll of biodegradable floss. They came in the cutest little glass vials with a screw top lid that makes it easy to replace the roll when it runs out. These switches weren’t cheap, but the biodegradable floss lasted longer than I thought it would, so I felt okay about it in the end. We ran out when I wasn’t planning a trip to the Zero Market soon, so I found a similar product at the grocery store. Reducing waste is getting easier and more popular! I still like the glass vial better though.
Because we’re vegetarian, we eat a lot of beans, lentils, grains, and nuts. We are very smart squirrels. Although these foods carry less of a carbon footprint, we were hauling many, many cans to the recycling bin. For Christmas last year, my mom got us a Soda Stream, so that replaced our multiple-can-a-day fizzy habit, but I still wanted a way to reduce the number of tin cans going out of our home. The obvious choice was cooking my own beans from the dry bulk bins instead of buying cans. This adds some labor to my batch cooking, but it is slightly cheaper and reduces the waste considerably. Also, I personally find the experience of buying bulk really satisfying, because I am a super nerd. I buy mixes of nuts and seeds to go on salads, beans, lentils, grains, and sometimes a sweet treat from the bulk bins at Sprouts. I bought reusable bulk bags so that I wasn’t just replacing cans with bags.
Our Plant-Based Diet
We also made the transition from being mostly vegetarian to being wholly vegetarian and frequently vegan. That, to me, is perhaps the biggest reduction of our footprint as the meat and dairy industries are huge users of resources (which, for the record, is not my biggest beef with them, pun intended). There’s more to this story, but basically at the beginning of the year, I started tracking my meat consumption. We already ate vegetarian at home, so I was seeing just how often I ate meat. By February, I was feeling bad anytime I had to add a tick to my tally. I wasn’t eating meat very often, just as an indulgence, and that didn’t feel worth taking a life. By March, I had decided that after I visited my family that month, I was making the change. No longer a social carnivore, as I was calling it. Going fully veg has been such a joy to me this year. Not to put too fine a point on it, I think it’s a joy that stems from living in harmony with my beliefs. My husband, Julio, made the switch at the end of the summer. The food I cook for us at home is almost entirely plant-based and we have dairy and eggs sometimes. My goal is to consume an animal-based product at most once a day; ideally much less than that.