Global waste is out of control. But if you’re here, you A. already know that and B. want to minimize your environmental impact.
It also means that you’re likely considering adopting the principles of a zero-waste lifestyle.
For those who don’t know, zero-waste is a philosophy oriented around the goal of sending nothing to the landfill, instead using only that which is reusable, biodegradable, or compostable. Check out this Ted Talk by Lauren Singer for more info.
While zero-waste is an amazing idea, we believe it’s important to know that “zero waste” is an ideal. Which also means that we’re unlikely to achieve that ultimate goal, completely (none of us are!). But just because perfection is out of reach doesn’t mean you can’t make a big difference.
Implementing small changes matters tremendously. But sometimes you need the tools or a toolkit to help you be as effective as you can be. We like to call it the zero-waste kit.
Think of it as a survival kit of sorts, the stuff you really can’t do without when trying to go zero-waste. It is, by no means, everything you need to be fully prepared for this lifestyle, but it’s a great way to get into it. To help build the habit.
When we first made the switch, these were the things we found invaluable to make the transition, things we use on a daily basis. So without further ado, here’s what’s in our zero-waste kit (or at least what we’re working towards!).
Zero-waste containers of all shapes and sizes are super important. Especially for drinks. Let’s stop with the single use coffee cups and plastic bottles already! This is the easiest sustainable living swap to make, if you haven’t already.
Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, whatever your poison, this is a must-have item (for anyone, not just zero-wasters). It also makes a lot of financial cents (excuse the pun). Think about it: really good ground coffee costs about $7 per week. Buying coffee out every day, alternatively, would be roughly $30 per week at least. Over a year, that’s like a $5,000 saving! Zero-waste pays, as it turns out.
We recommend a stainless steel insulated cup because it keeps your drink HOT or COLD, ALL DAY. We’ve tried a bunch over the years: the Zioroshi, the Keep Cup, the Hydroflask and most recently Frank Green.
We’re big fans of the Hydroflask and of Frank Green. Frank Green go a bit further as they have a core focus on sustainability from using green energy, to recycled paper, to who gives a crap toilet paper to local manufacture and lots lots more. They’re a super sustainable company who are trying to solve the single use bottle and coffee cup problem. They’re also just becoming available in the US which is pretty exciting.
Replace disposable plastic utensils with stainless steel or bamboo alternatives. Keep a set in your purse or briefcase and never find yourself picking up plastic at the office cafeteria. Or worse, having brought your own lunch but realizing you’ve forgotten the tools to eat (come on, we’ve all been there). Don’t forget the stainless steel straw!
Instead of building up that annoying and environmentally destructive pile of plastic bags beneath your kitchen sink, switch to reusable bags. Again, this is another really easy habit to build with a bit of effort.
Even if you’re not going zero-waste, everyone should make the switch. Plastic pollution is rife, including in your house, so it’s a win win. Chances are, you probably have some bags lying around that will work, but if you have to buy, they’re cheap and available online or at just about any local grocery store. We use a range of odd-bod bags but love those good quality organic cotton net bags:
Those little thin plastic bags you put produce in might not seem like a lot at the time, but that plastic adds up. While many things can be collected without a bag at all, some things (like leafy greens) are a little awkward to transport without it. These are easily replaced with small organic cotton or mesh bags, which you can even make yourself out of scraps of fabric or old t-shirts you don’t wear anymore. Get crafty and embroider something fun on it. If crafts aren’t your forte though, you can buy them on the cheap as well.
On average, one person will go through about 300 toothbrushes in their lifetime. That’s 90 billion toothbrushes thrown away each year. Check out this video on the Life of a Toothbrush if you don’t believe us. It’s horrifying!
Instead of a plastic handle, just swap to a bamboo one, which is biodegradable and sourced from fast-replacing resources. Just be careful to remove the bristles before composting as no bamboo toothbrush (so far, anyways) has truly compostable bristles (have a read here and here for more info).
Here’s another single-use item that gets thrown away relatively shortly after purchase. Surprisingly, not a lot of people think about, but there are so many uses for one around the house. Cleaning products and hair products are probably the best examples.
Just get one or two reusable ones (you may have a bunch lying around the house already) and fill them with cleaner from your local bulk store or your own all-natural cleaning agents, essential oil mists, and more! Here are some great recipes for home-made cleaning agents and scents:
- Basic vinegar or Castile soap cleaners
- Pine and juniper scented all-purpose cleaner
- Fermented orange peel all-purpose cleaner (this one’s great because you make it from your very won orange peel scraps- make use of your waste!)
- Surface cleaner (with abrasive qualities for tougher grime)
Another item that goes under the radar. Most people don’t think about how wasteful standard ballpoint pens are. The tubes are plastic and lead so they have just as many greenhouse gases emissions as any other plastic product.
We know plastic pens are most often free, but do you really need one from every bank you’ve ever used? Instead, join the latest trend, go back in time and get a classy looking refillable fountain pen you can refill and reuse for years and years (just be sure not to lose it!).
Zero Waste Home has written a great article about how to choose a good fountain pen, including opting first for a second hand and/or vintage pen with a converter, potentially from Ebay.
Product Ideas – Used from Ebay: Saved search for a used fountain pen (*remember to look for one with a converter for the ink)
Product ideas for new fountain pens (if you must):
This super versatile “unpaper product” replaces all sorts of every day papers. Wet wipes, paper napkins, paper towel, Kleenex, cotton balls to name a few. Another hack that saves a bomb over time.
Keep a couple with you on the go (one as a hanky for your nose and one to dry your hands) and a few more at home for things like make-up removable and house cleaning. Then just a simple wash is all you need! You can use old washcloths, cut-up retired t-shirts, or just plain old handkerchiefs. But if you want some in some fun colors that don’t make you feel like your grandpa, check out the link below.
Product Ideas: Etsy
Instead of using foil, Saran Wrap, and zip-lock bags for food and snacks, switch to reusable and washable beeswax wraps. They keep food sealed, fresh, and tasty. Of course, not everyone will jump on board with these, as they’re not vegan friendly, but they definitely eliminate the greater of two evils: plastic. If you are vegan, fear not; you can also buy similar wraps that substitute beeswax for plant-based waxes or just go for organic cotton reusable snack/sandwich bags.
Zero-waste containers can be pretty much anything, from reused jars, to even that old stained plastic Tupperware in your cupboard. Just because the lifestyle tries to minimize plastic use doesn’t mean you can’t continue to use plastic you already own and try to mitigate further waste. If you want something a little fancier, you can buy stacking glass or stainless steel bento containers with nice dividers and airtight lids to keep your food fresh and separated.
Not only can you use at home or for packing your lunch, but you can also bring them to restaurants for leftovers or ordering take-out. You can even use them to do bulk shopping or purchase things at the deli counter. It’s easy to forget this on the fly, so get in the habit of keeping one in your bag just in case.
We’re getting a little personal here but a menstrual cup is honestly the best thing ever. They last for about 10 years, replacing about 2,400 tampons worth of waste! This means no more plastic applicator and wrappers. No more synthetic scented cotton!
It’s better for you and for the planet. Just ask anyone who’s made the switch; they’ll tell you it’s life changing and they’re never going back. Lots of options here, but we like the look of Saalt (though they can be hard to find in the AU), because they donate 2% of their revenue to fund programs on sustainability, education, and women in need.
While we’re on the topic of menstruation, period underwear perfectly complements the menstrual cup for your complete zero waste period kit. Great for overnight or when you just need a break from the cup!
We like Modibodi who again, gives back but also, they just really work well! They have a range of options, including G-strings for lighter days. Big fan over here!
For those who lead hectic lives (like us!) you can get ready-to-go pre-made starter kits. They usually have all the basics and are a good option for experimenting with a zero waste kit. Seasoned zero wasters will probably have their favorite products but this is a good starter option.
What we love about our zero-waste kit is the simplicity of using each of these items; switching to these items is actually very easy! And the easier it is to make that switch the easier it is to build the habit (which will lead to more motivation to continue to improve your path to zero-waste!).
As always, remember that zero-waste is a journey not a destination, and no one expects you to make it overnight. Just focus on the basics and you’ll make a huge difference. Sustainability is best achieved not by leaps and bounds, but rather one step (even one as small as a stainless steel straw) at a time.