Happy Earth Day guys! Today is the perfect day to reflect on how you can be more zero waste in your life.
Many of you who follow me on Instagram know that I try to incorporate different ways to reduce waste in my life. I learned about the zero waste movement three years ago when Lauren Singer, owner of the blog Trash is for Tossers, Founder and CEO of the Simplii Co. and owner of Package Free Shop in New York City, popularized the idea on social media. Since then I’ve replaced plastic bags, I started composting, and avoid single-use coffee cups.
So, when Taylor, a zero waste advocate and writer for PFORWORDS.com, agreed to an interview I jumped at the opportunity to ask her questions about her zero waste lifestyle and blog.
Growing up in Colorado, Taylor participated in many outdoor activities without giving nature’s fragility much thought. It was after moving to Boston, to attend university, that she began to think about her environmental footprint and how the decisions she made impacted the planet. After hours of research, she made the decision to drastically reduce the waste she produced. As a result of these changes she realized how this lifestyle affected her wallet – she was saving more money than before! That’s how PFORWORDS.com was conceived and Taylor continues to share her experience and educate her readers today.
Taylor, I want to thank you for sharing your experience with us. Your blog posts and Instagram photographs are so informative and inspiring I have been recommending it to everyone interested in learning.
1. Thinking back to when you made the decision to reduce your waste, how easy was it for you to make the changes? What advice would you give to someone making the transition?
Don’t be intimidated or overwhelmed by thinking you need to undergo a drastic lifestyle shift to be zero waste. While I love and found inspiration in more notable zero wasters like Lauren Singer and Bea Johnson, I hope the idealism of their ‘trash jars’ doesn’t intimidate people to start.
You don’t need to snap your fingers and be able to fit all your trash into a little jar. I feel like I often say on my blog and Instagram that this is a journey. No one is going to be perfect, but I think there’s a common misconception that you need to be to consider yourself zero waste.
Zero waste doesn’t mean complete zero waste. Our economy doesn’t support that right now. Right now, we live in a linear economy, meaning that the norm is to send any given product directly into the trash (and to the landfill) after its initial use.
Trash will happen. Plastic will happen. The goal is to try to lessen your consumption of it in any way you can. Baby steps over time will lead to a massive positive outcome in the long run.
For example, get comfortable using canvas grocery bags and produce bags, then start saying no to straws when ordering drinks; make sure you’re bringing a reusable water bottle with you. After a while, it all adds up.
2. How can somebody living in a small city that does not offer a lot of sustainable options (such as a green bin program) make better decisions?
Even if you don’t live in an area that supports compost pick-up or has a recycling program, there are still ways you can lessen your footprint (which I believe is incorporated into this no-trash lifestyle).
For example, you can:
-Cut down on food waste (buy only what you need and use all of it)
-invest in reusables (water bottle, canvas bags, thermos)
-Conserve water (take shorter showers, save the water from when you’re heating up your shower and use it to water household plants)
-Don’t support fast fashion, shop at thrift stores instead. Fast fashion (e.g., H&M, Forever 21) exploit overseas workers and produce an enormous, negative impact on the environment.
-Make your own cleaning products (this will cut down on the environmentally toxic ingredients in conventional cleaners and lessen your dependence on plastic)
-Say no to single-use straws (they really are the worst)
-Vote with your dollar and support ethical companies whenever possible
What’s awesome is that it’s very likely that you will influence others around you, which might then influence the services around you (with increased demand, the supply of sustainable good and services will go up)!
3. The zero waste and vegan lifestyle seem to go hand-in-hand. Have you made changes in your diet as a result of reducing your carbon footprint?
There have been a plethora of reports that have come out that show that a vegan diet is better for the environment. It takes less space on earth to cultivate, fewer carbon emissions, and lower water usage to supply a vegan diet than a carnivorous one (plus, cows make a crap ton of carbon dioxide and methane – pun intended).
With that, I do try to eat a plant-based diet. However, I will occasionally eat a bite of my boyfriend’s chicken sandwich or get a slice of cheese pizza.
I’m not perfect and don’t want to pretend to be. Carnivorous occurrences are rare, but they do happen.
That also being said, I strive to eat a vegan diet. I have hated milk since long before I was a vegetarian or zero waste, but I occasionally indulge in a piece of good cheese.
I have drastically cut down on my cheese intake since going zero waste, as I struggle to find cheese without plastic wrapping. And even when I can (e.g. if I get it at a restaurant or bring a container to the dairy counter), I often feel guilty afterward.
I think an important (and sometimes overlooked) aspect of this lifestyle is eating local to cut down on the carbon emissions created from shipping food across the globe. Shipping bananas from Ecuador to the Northeast creates a lot of C02. When possible, I try to buy local fruits and veggies, as this will also support small farms and the local economy. Eating local also means that I’m helping conserve land, as successful farmers are less likely to sell their land to developers; and I’m helping preserve food security by incentivizing these farmers to stay in my area.
4. It is a common misconception that trending lifestyle changes are expensive. Your blog tries to change the assumption that the zero waste lifestyle means spending more money. How has it reduced your expenses?
I think you’re completely right that there is a misconception that trending lifestyles are expensive (although I’d like to argue that a trend implies it will die, I believe that this lifestyle will grow in numbers and is here to stay). Being zero waste has indeed saved me a ton of money.
I believe a major component of living a zero waste lifestyle is re-evaluating your needs to see if you can lessen your impact on the environment as a consumer. Less consumption means less energy needed to extract resources, manufacture and transport goods, etc.
For me, this was a slow transition that coincided with my interest in minimalism. I am not a traditional minimalist that might have one suitcase of clothes and have their bed on the ground, but I’ve now taken aspects of that system and applied some of those principles to my life.
I realize I don’t need as much to be happy, which has decreased my desire to keep as much stuff around (and I don’t feel like I’m depriving myself).
For example, I’ve cut down on my food waste. Before, I was spending $120 a week willy-nilly on random grocery items. At the end of the week, I would end up finding most of my produce had gone bad and needed to be thrown out. Now, I mealplan before I approach the grocery store; I have two recipes I make for the week – one for my lunches and one for dinners, and I only buy the items needed for that (mainly produce, and grains that I can buy in bulk). Of course, I might sneak in a pastry or some kombucha, but sticking to my list, buying from the bulk section, and cooking only vegetarian meals has cut my grocery bill in half. On average, I spend $60 a week on groceries now.
One other way I’ve saved money from this lifestyle is by making my own products. While you might spend more money up front to buy all the items, the unit cost in the long run is a lot less.
For example, I make my own eyebrow powder: I bought activated charcoal and raw cocoa powder in bulk and will mix the two together to get my hair color. I spend pennies on this product, whereas I used to spend lots of money on manufactured beauty items that didn’t have environmentally-safe ingredients.
5. What is the most difficult part of reducing your waste?
For me, the hardest part of reducing my waste is actually coming to terms that I will never actually produce zero trash. Our current economic system and consumer society just aren’t equipped for it (our linear versus an ideal circular economy). Although this movement is called zero waste, it will never be truly zero, and I know that that’s been an issue for some in the community. That disconnect has motivated others to create a new name for this lifestyle, called the Low Impact Movement. I personally love this name and idea too, as the zero waste movement means (to me) trying to reduce my own emissions and leave as little an impact on the environment as humanly possible.
In terms of an actual physical area of my life, I’m still getting used to a stainless steel razor for shaving. I just need to make sure I work up a thick lather, apply the right angle with the blade, and slather on my homemade lotion afterward.
6. What is your favourite zero waste product that you would recommend?
I’m going to say drink containers: water bottles and thermoses.
1 million single-use plastic water bottles are used every minute (that’s about 20,000 per second) across the world. Less than half of these are even attempted to be recycled, meaning the majority end up polluting our landfills and oceans.
The US alone uses 50 billion single-use cups a year. And despite the little recyclable sign on the side of the cup, the majority (if not all) of these cups can’t be properly recycled. This is due to the fact that these cups have a thin layer of plastic on the inside in order to keep the paper from disintegrating. And right now, our recycling machines aren’t sophisticated enough to separate that plastic from the rest of the cup, so instead, the cups end up in the trash (even if you put it in the recycling bin).
An easy solution to both these issues is to simply bring your own containers. I personally have a double-insulated water bottle that keeps my water cold for hours, and a thermos that has a secure lid that ensures my coffee is piping hot for from morning to afternoon. I’m ok with toting those two things around with me everywhere, but if you’re looking to consolidate your stuff I suggest using a mason jar. You can use the mason jar to drink your coffee (just wrap a cloth or sock around it to keep your fingers safe from getting burned), and then rinse and it’s a great water bottle!
And a bigger win for this is all the money you’ll save by not spending $2 on water (which you can get for free from the tap), and avoid the $4 coffee to-go by either making your own cup at home or getting a thermos-discount at fast food chains, like Starbucks.
7. Any zero waste fails or funny stories you could share with us?
This happened just recently, actually: I was out at the bar with some friends, and I was ordering drinks for all of us. I told the bartender that we didn’t want or need straws in our drinks. Unfortunately, a mix-up occurred and all our drinks came with straws in them; my friends (who have taken my new lifestyle to heart) immediately balk at the idea of using straws and take them out of their drinks and put them in the trash. While I appreciate their well-intentioned support for my plastic-free lifestyle, the damage was done. So throwing them out, while it was a kind-hearted gesture, made no difference and we could’ve at least used the straws for their intended purpose before they ended up in the landfill regardless.
Thank you so much, Taylor, for taking the time to answer my questions and I look forward to reading more zero waste tips on your blog!
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