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Merging Zero Waste goals, mindfulness, and “leaning in” can lead us on the path to change our trashy ways.
By now, most of us have seen the teeny, tiny, cute glass jar with a few scraps of garbage and the owner of said jar proudly declaring, “this is my garbage for the entire year!” While that is a goal, and a worthy goal at that, it doesn’t seem like a practical one.
A few years ago we were also introduced to the concept of “leaning in.” This term has been used in many ways, but here we’ll use it as a way of saying, “it’s better to make small changes, then add on more small changes as you continue to lean further in—rather than quitting or changing a habit ‘cold turkey.'” With this way of making small changes, we’re able to build the habits we need to reach our goals.
With mindfulness added to the equation, here are my top tips for leaning into your Zero Waste goals:
Please keep in mind that this is a journey, and every drop helps to fill the bucket. The goals here are awareness and change—not guilt and shame.
1. The first step many on the Zero Waste path take is to reduce their use of single-use plastics.
We’ve all seen the heartbreaking videos of dead whales, birds, fish, and sea turtles with stomachs full of plastic bags (Google it if you haven’t—or let your imagination fill in the visuals).
With single-use plastic bags, the saying “there is no away” is absolutely true.
Even the biodegradable ones are not healthy for the environment. Most biodegradable plastics require sunlight to break down, yet the majority of our garbage ends up in landfills with no access to sun. Also, the production of recycled and biodegradable plastics is not healthy for the environment.
The best options for single-use plastic bags are: Reuse. Repurpose. Refuse.
Lean in: Bring your own shopping bag and net bags for produce. These can be easily made with basic sewing skills or purchased. They fold up to fit in your pocket and can be used for years.
Lean further in: Repurpose the single-use plastic bags by fusing them into material or making “plarn”—literally plastic yarn. By layering plastic bags and fusing the layers together, a tough, waterproof material can be made. This is perfect for garden use as a tarp, cute shower curtain, or sew into shopping bags. Plarn is made by cutting and looping the plastic bags into “yarn” and then knitting bowls, mats, or bags. These beautiful ladies are making plarn mats for the homeless.
“And that is how change happens. One gesture. One person. One moment at a time.” ~
2. Plastic straws suck. And so does plastic cutlery.
With the exception of those who need the bendy nature of the plastic straw, the rest of us should be able to get by with the eco bamboo or metal straws seen everywhere. Or refuse straws altogether. The production of plastic straws, forks, knives, spoons, and those horrid little stirry sticks—that are used for less than five seconds then tossed “away,” is a plight on our society. It truly is. What does it say about our priorities when we use oil (yep!) to produce some plastics that are shipped around the world, only to be used for a few seconds—they then take decades to breakdown, if ever. Okay, I said no shame, but knowledge is power here. And knowledge goes along with awareness. Since many of our wars are fought on and over lands rich in oil, do we really want to support oil-based products?
Lean in: Carry your bamboo or metal reusable straws with you and tell your server, “no plastic straw, please” when placing your order. Camping cutlery comes in sets that clip together for storage and are perfect for those takeaway meals (bring your own dish for that too, of course). By the way, those bamboo straws can be made at home with a small knife and some sandpaper.
Lean further in: Educate and organize local (and national chain) restaurants to do away with plastic straws completely. Join online groups and research who in your area is already working toward this goal. Use your social media network to spread unbiased, factual knowledge along with ideas and ways to change.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead
3. Now that we’ve discussed #1 and #2 on my list, let’s discuss “family cloth” or the Zero Waste way of cleaning up “number one” and “number two.”
Yep, I know. Ewww. But hear me out. Single-use paper products are also a product of our wasteful society. Paper towels, tissues, napkins, and toilet paper are manufactured for a few moments of use and that’s it. Getting some old-school cloth hankies, reusable cleaning cloths, and cloth napkins just feels right. And feeling just right brings me to family cloth.
Many toilets around the world are equipped with a bidet system for cleaning. Oddly, in North America that doesn’t seem to be the case. Thankfully there are really easy fixes for this. And there’s no (or just a wee…erm…a bit) of the “ewww” factor. Family cloth is basically scraps of washable cloth that can be reused. Personally, I cut up squares of an old, thin flannel shirt (about eight inches square) and most importantly —it’s soft. Added bonus, no sewing is required as the flannel doesn’t fray.
I know what you’re thinking, and I was making that same face the first time I heard about family cloth—but no, the family cloth is only used to dry yourself off after you’re already clean by using water. You can get an affordable bidet attachment that installs in seconds, use a “peri bottle” with an angled nozzle, or repurpose your sports drink bottle and let your arched back and gravity do the work for you.
Lean in: And use the family cloth for number one…and let toilet paper handle the doodie duties. This cuts the single-use toilet paper down considerably, especially for women.
Lean further in: And discover the art of the Tabo.
“It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform.” ~
4. Reach out and help build the Zero Waste community.
There are many websites, Instagram pages, and Facebook groups that offer excellent resources to increase and share knowledge on ways to walk the Zero Waste path.
Lean in: Join a group like Journey to Zero Waste on Facebook. With 90,000 members, this active group also offers subgroups that specialize in topics such as beginners, homeschooling, new parents, and local chapters for your area.
Lean further in: Bring Zero Waste education and awareness to local community centers and schools. In my experience, most people want to do something but they don’t have the awareness or the practical ideas to make changes. Use your social media network to get the knowledge out there. Organize local plogging events, especially when the first rays of sun start to feel warm where you live. It’s the perfect time to get out in the fresh air—and see what plastics and trash were hidden by the snow and winter grime.
Where I lived a few years ago, a small group of local citizens got together for a plogging day and reached out to the schools, local restaurants, and transportation companies. What resulted was a community day of hiking, while picking up trash along the way. The local transport company picked up the bags of trash set aside by the hikers, and the restaurant provided lunch for everyone at the end of the trail. Just a handful of people organized the first one—and now it’s sponsored by the local municipality and officially part of the school program. A wonderful way to bond with the community and bring awareness to the ugly trash problem that plagues many neighborhoods.
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” ~
5. Buy nothing new.
Our consumer-driven society and constant advertising make us think that we must buy, we need, and we want. But do we really? And if we do—does it have to be new?
Lean in: Try to go for one month without buying anything new. Check out your local thrift stores before buying that new winter coat or a new book. Search on Facebook for any local buy and sell groups. A friend of mine in Boston has a network in her neighborhood and they post whenever they have something they don’t need or want—or she can post if she’s looking for something. I was recently visiting her, and after posting that she wanted to make candles for Christmas gifts, a bag of candle wax was dropped off at her front door. Free of charge. Evidently someone had it just “sitting around,” and they probably bought it with the goal of one day making candles too.
Lean further in: Try to go for three months or a half year without buying something new. Organize your friends or community to have a “swap party” and bring unwanted and unused clothing, accessories, shoes, and household items to one location for a “bring and take” day. Find or organize a Repair Cafe for your area.
“And that is how change happens. One gesture. One person. One moment at a time.” ~
6. Now that you’re on your Zero Waste path, what to do about birthday parties and houseguests?
Once you start ridding your home of unwanted items, it’s more than a little painful when someone barges in with plastic everything. I always try to remember that I now stand on the shoulders of those who Zero Wasted before me, and there was a time when I also wasn’t aware of my ugly plastic ways.
Lean in: For birthday parties or holiday gifts, it is perfectly acceptable to announce (with kindness and grace) your desires not to have excess plastic and waste brought into your home. I’ve found this type of message usually works: “We are on a Zero Waste journey now and are working toward not bringing excess plastic or paper into our home. For Josie’s first birthday, she loves (pre-loved or new) books or a donation in her name to a local animal rescue center. And since wrapping paper is expensive and only used once, please consider using a paper bag, small cloth, or wrapping in newsprint.”
Lean further in: Offer your houseguests a Zero Waste gift basket when they stay over. Include a reusable water bottle (Shameless plug: check out the new Klean Kanteen eco mug with Waylon Lewis’ “Mindful Manifesto” printed on the back), a bamboo straw and cutlery set, new cloth hankies—and the option for family cloth or regular toilet paper.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” ~
There are many additional ways to walk on this Zero Waste journey. Please leave some comments below with ideas that work for you. This is the beginning of a discussion, one that needs to grow and evolve constantly.
I’ve only been on my own Zero Waste path for a few years, and part of that was not in a forward movement. Over the past year I’ve been on more the “one step forward, two steps back” bunny hop method when it comes to not bringing plastics into my home. Mostly that is due to the lack of planning on my part—and laziness. Too much laziness.
Please remember when you see someone who is not as far along as you are on your own Zero Waste journey to be kind. We were all born without this knowledge, and if they don’t know better, lead by example—not shame and blame.
Recycle. Reuse. Repair. Reduce. Refuse.
“The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.” ~