It is no secret that our current culture of consumption is unsustainable. In the early 1970s, the Global Footprint Network started an initiative called Earth Overshoot Day to measure how quickly we use up more from nature than our planet can renew. It marks the day when humanity has used nature’s budget for the entire year. In 2019, Earth Overshoot Day fell in July — the earliest we’ve ever reached it.
While production practices around the globe are in serious need of change to prevent waste and to protect our natural resources, the zero waste movement has set forth an action plan that we can all take part in to help curb our ecological footprint. From the fundamentals of zero waste to easy zero waste product swaps you can make today, here’s how you can help can save thousands of tons of trash from landfills, improve air and water quality, and even save some money in the process.
What is Zero Waste?
Zero waste is a set of principles that aim to eliminate trash and prevent pollution. The goal is to reuse as much as we can, compost when possible, and send little to be recycled. It’s a philosophy that, when adopted to any degree, has a positive impact on the Earth.
Zero waste products and practices support a circular economy — in other words, they’re designed to mimic nature in that resources used can be resumed fully back into the system. We know that recycling is not a perfect solution. In fact, only 9% of plastic actually gets recycled. So it’s up to us to focus our efforts on reducing and reusing.
The Zero Waste Lifestyle Movement
In 2008, Bea Johnson brought the zero waste movement to life when she decided to apply it to her household. A French American woman living in California, she blogged about her experience and simplified the concept by offering lifestyle tips that are actually doable. Her Zero Waste Home blog and book, Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste, debunk misconceptions people have about going zero waste. They helped nurture a mind shift and continue to inspire others to adopt sustainable everyday practices.
Incorporating Zero Waste Essentials into Your Life
Going zero waste doesn’t necessarily mean you will generate literally no waste at all. It’s all about trying to live less wastefully, in any way you can. A great place to begin your journey is to first establish the areas you produce the most waste. What do you find yourself tossing in the trashcan every day? Every week? Every month? From there, you can identify everyday essentials and start looking for more sustainable options.
Kathryn, author of the Going Zero Waste blog has created an amazing 31-day challenge for those who are ready to dive in. From tips to stopping junk mail to zero waste snack ideas, she’s written comprehensive blog posts to guide you through each day of the challenge.
Easy Zero Waste Swaps to Get You Started
To kickstart your transition to a greener lifestyle, we’ve rounded up some of our own favorite zero waste products and practices that can easily be incorporated into your routine life. Making even one of these zero-waste swaps will have a positive impact on the planet and, more often than not, your pocket.
Zero Waste Cups
The vast majority of disposable coffee cups are made primarily out of cardboard — but, they are also lined with a thin plastic coating made of polyethylene that renders them virtually unrecyclable. Not only do they pollute the land and water, they also require a massive amount of resources and energy to manufacture. Investing in a reusable water bottle and coffee/tea mug is one of the easiest ways to make a big impact. Coffee shops will happily fill your reusable mug, or take it one step further by making a habit of brewing your coffee at home. It’s a great way to save money, plus there are all sorts of things you can do with your coffee grounds, like make a DIY scrub, compost them, or sprinkle them on your plants as a fertilizer.
Zero Waste Cleaning Supplies
Many of us use several different types of cleaners — all of which create waste (aka lots of plastic bottles that go straight to the landfill) when we finish the product. Making your own multipurpose cleaner in a reusable spray bottle is a great zero waste swap that also helps reduce clutter. Combine 1⁄2 cup white distilled vinegar with 1 cup water, and add 10 to 20 drops of your favorite essential oil. Lemon, tea tree, lavender, and eucalyptus all make great choices.*
*While vinegar is tough on bacteria, it is not a disinfectant, and not effective against COVID-19.
If you're not wanting to DIY this category, we looooove Branch Basics. It's one non-toxic concentrate diluted to different levels for nearly all the things.
Zero Waste Make-Up (Our New Lip-to-Lid Balmies are here!)
We’re super excited to have launched our very own 100% zero-waste makeup solution — our new lip-to-lid balmies! These planet-friendly crayon balms can be used on your eyes, cheeks, and lips. They’re packed with oils, butters, and antioxidants such as elderberry, hemp, and plum oil to nourish, heal and moisturize skin. You can easily blend them in with your fingers, eliminating the need for makeup brushes. Tear the recyclable paper as needed and store your Balmie in its red, recyclable box.
Zero Waste Shampoo and Conditioner
The average bathroom is full of single-use plastics. And even when put in the recycling, most of them still end up in a landfill or in our lakes and oceans. In the U.S. alone, the number of shampoo bottles thrown out every year could fill 1,164 football fields.
For those of you who like a traditional shampoo and conditioner sitch, Plaine Products has made it easy to adopt more sustainable haircare habits. They offer a wide variety of yummy smelling shampoo and conditioner products made with natural, environmentally-friendly ingredients that come in reusable aluminum bottles. When your product is running low, order a refill (they also offer a subscription service) and then send back your empty bottle for your next refill.
If you're interested in mixing it up a little, try 100 Senses' The Ultimate Body Bar. What's important about it is it is NOT soap — it's a pH-balanced waterless cleanser that can be used for shampoo, cleansing, and shaving.
Zero Waste Period Products
On average, each woman will produce 2,400 tampons of waste in their lifetime. Not only will these products end up in the landfill — they will also cost you a lot of money. Menstrual cups are a safe and easy alternative. There are many brands you can choose from, but we’re big fans of the Saalt cup. They dedicate 2% of their revenue to improving menstruation for women around the world through initiatives that support menstrual health, education, and sustainability. They also offer all new customers 10% off their first purchase.