Back in episode 360 of The Vegetarian Zen podcast we spoke to Callee Ackland, owner of Hippie Haven, the first “zero-waste” store in South Dakota.
Back then, Larissa and I didn’t know a lot about zero waste stores. We loved having Callee as our guest so that she could explain to us the concept of zero waste and zero waste stores.
In this article you’ll learn:
- What zero waste is
- Why zero waste is even better for the planet than recycling
- Some of our favorite zero waste swaps
- Where you can buy sustainable and zero waste products
What is Zero Waste?
The “zero waste” philosophy encourages the reuse of all products. The goal of zero waste is that no trash is sent to landfills or incinerators. It’s a way of thinking about waste reduction that can be applied to both individual lifestyles and large-scale systems such as cities and businesses.
According to the Zero Waste International Alliance zero waste is:
“The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.”
The zero waste movement has been around for more than 20 years but has gained renewed popularity recently because people are becoming more aware of the problems with traditional waste management systems. These systems rely on disposable products and single-use materials, which create a lot of waste and pollution.
Zero waste isn’t easy but there are some ways you can reduce your carbon footprint.
Why is Zero Waste Better than Recycling?
Back in episode 351 of the podcast we discussed 5 Awesome Benefits of the 3rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. “Reducing” and “Reusing” are the concepts that are at the heart of the zero waste movement.
“Reducing” waste means finding ways to use less materials and energy in order to minimize waste and consume fewer natural resources.
“Reusing” refers to using an item again, whether for its original purpose or a new one. This is the second “R” in the hierarchy because with little or no processing, reusing items can help keep waste out of waste systems.
I think most of us can agree that recycling is something good we do for the environment. The problem with recycling, however, is that it doesn’t prevent the creation of waste in the first place. The majority of materials that we recycle are only recycled once. This means that they go right back into the same system that created them in the first place.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t recycle! Something is better than nothing; however, making sure we’re doing our best to keep products out of landfills altogether is ideal.
What Are Zero Waste Swaps?
Zero waste swaps are a way to reduce your carbon footprint by swapping out a typically “one-use” product for one you can use over and over.
We’ll be sharing 15 of our favorite swaps that tend to be easy for beginners. We’ll link to some sites with more ideas and some more “pro swaps” you might aspire to incorporate into your lifestyle.
15 Zero Waste Swaps
1. Water Bottles
Switching from plastic water bottles to a quality reusable water bottle was one of the first zero waste swaps made when we started paying attention to our carbon footprint.
Investing in a good quality reusable water bottle can definitely save you money in the long run and, of course, greatly benefit the planet. According to earthday.org, Americans purchase about 50 billion water bottles per year. That averages out to 13 bottles per month for every person in the US! By using a reusable water bottle, you could save an average of 156 plastic bottles annually.
Our current favorite water bottles are the Yeti water bottles. They are sturdy but can be a bit heavy (which is why they’re so sturdy!).
2. Drinking Straws
We don’t really use straws in the house but when we go out we usually ask not to be given a straw. If you love straws but want to replace your typical plastic straw with a reusable straw, there are some eco-friendly alternatives, such as:
3. Coffee Supplies
A long time ago, before we thought much about our plastic use, we used the traditional K-Cups for our Keurig coffee machine. I also used to take my coffee in a styrofoam to-go cup. Ack!
Now that we’re a bit more in tune with our carbon footprint, our coffee maker has a reusable coffee filter. I’ve also stopped using single-use coffee cups.
If you still love to get that cup of coffee from a Keurig coffee maker, never fear! There are reusable K-Cups you can purchase.
4. Aluminum Foil
Aluminum foil is one of those things I’ve used FOREVER without thinking much about it. However, as you can probably imagine, it’s not great for the planet. Luckily there are some great zero waste swaps for baking. A silicone baking mat and and a silicone liner are the perfect replacements.
There are even silicone cupcake liners that can replace the traditional ones. I actually first heard about these in our closed Facebook group, The Peas and Carrots Society.
5. Produce Bags
Several years ago we noticed that there were an awful lot of plastic bags in our grocery cart. The culprits? Our fruits and veggies! We made the decision to replace our plastic produce bags with reusable produce bags. The cool thing is that we had quite a few people come up to us asking where we purchased them.
Many grocery stores now carry them, but in case you can’t find any here are the ones we use.
6. Grocery Bags
When I was a young grocery store bagger, we used paper bags. At least they weren’t plastic grocery bags; however, they still weren’t the greatest choice.
One sustainable alternative is to purchase your own cloth bags. Many stores now sell their own reusable shopping bags. Bye bye plastic grocery bags and plastic waste!
Want to add some style to your reusable grocery bags? You can purchase them with the designs of your choice in The Vegetarian Zen Swag Shop.
7. Glass Jars and Glass Containers for Food Storage
Replacing plastic containers and plastic wrap with glass jars and glass reusable containers is one of the easier zero waste swaps we’ve made.
We typically use mason jars for dried food storage like beans. We also love our Pyrex glass dishes for pantry storage and for leftovers.
We also rarely need to use plastic wrap or plastic baggies for anything. We have a few “stasher” bags, which are reusable baggies for sandwiches and snacks. Ours are silicone stasher bags but there are some also made from PEVA, which is another alternative.
8. Paper Cups and Plates
Some folks might be thinking, “Wait, aren’t paper plates and paper cups okay because they’re biodegradable?”
As mentioned earlier, the main idea of “zero waste” is to keep items out of landfills or keep them from having to be processed if recycled.
Larissa and I use regular dishes at home, but I realized that when I was in an office environment I wasn’t quite as aware of what paper and plastic I was using. I started taking my own dishes to work and would wash them when I used them.
9. Plastic Utensils
Plastic utensils are usually abundant at picnics and cookouts (and at fast food restaurants). One thing you can do is carry your own utensils to avoid having to use plastic.
You can purchase travel kits with stainless steel or bamboo utensils.
10. Paper Napkins, Paper Towels, and Toilet Paper
Americans use TONS of toilet paper. In fact, we are the world’s leader in toilet paper consumption. Every year, the average American uses over 140 rolls of toilet paper. That equates to 28 pounds, which is twice as much as someone in France or Italy.
Paper napkins and paper towels are a bit easier to replace with cotton towels or cloth napkins. Toilet paper can be a bit trickier.
While we still use “paper” in the restroom, we recently tried Repurpose brand products and really liked them.
We were sent some toilet paper, trash bags, and paper towels to try.
Repurpose products are:
- Made from upcycled and renewable materials wherever possible
Repurpose also calculates the environmental impact for every order, which shows that this is something that is top of mind for them.
Use Coupon Code ZEN15 for 15% Off
11. Zero Waste Bar Soaps
I’ve never been a fan of body washes. I’ve always used a good ol’ bar of soap to shower. In addition to cutting out the plastic packaging, there are a wide variety of bar soaps that are also cruelty-free. Two of my favorites are Lush and Mrs. Meyers.
12. DIY Cleaning Products
It’s no surprise that many off-the-shelf cleaning products contain harmful chemicals and are really bad for the environment. Luckily, these days there are plenty of eco-friendly options out there. You can also make your own cleaning products (there are tons of “recipes” available online).
A couple of our favorite cruelty-free off the shelf products are:
If you’re interested in making your own, here’s a video of Larissa making her own all-purpose cleaner. It’s a great way to avoid all of those toxic ingredients!
Zero waste dental hygiene is an area that we’re starting to look into but haven’t made the transition yet. I hadn’t really thought about the plastic in toothbrushes and toothbrush heads, but researching this article has definitely made me more aware.
One highly recommended alternative to traditional plastic toothbrushes are bamboo toothbrushes such as those made by The Humble Co.
14. Dental Floss
Flossing is one of those things that people either love or hate doing. I’m definitely in the “love it” camp. It’s not only great for your teeth but it’s also a great way to clean your gums and remove any food particles stuck between your teeth.
But not all dental floss is great for the planet.
One way you can eliminate floss all together is to use a Water Pik. If you’d rather use floss, there are several eco-friendly brands such as Me Mother Earth.
Looking for something to replace your disposable razor? While there are some great recycled plastic and biodegradable razors, another option to replace your disposable plastic razor is a “safety razor.” If you’re not familiar with safety razors, these are typically made from materials such as brass or stainless steel. The only removable part is the blade.
Where To Buy Your Sustainable and Zero Waste Products
While we haven’t purchased directly from a zero waste store at the time of this writing, we are in the process of researching some. Here is an article from Earth Friendly Tips that can help get you started. And don’t forget about our friend Callee at Hippie Haven!
We hope these zero waste swaps have given you an idea of some simple changes you can make to help out the planet. One other important point we’d like to make is that many of these products we’ve discussed eventually pay for themselves in the long-run, thereby saving you money!
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