I read a quote on Facebook the other day that didn’t make me cringe (for a nice change). It simply stated, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” (Anne-Marie Bonneau – Zero Waste Chef).
Let me tell you, reading that was a relief. Because I’ve been trying to move towards a zero waste lifestyle, and it’s really not easy to do it perfectly. Especially not with a family. Especially living an hour away from a major city. And especially not when you’re really the only one in the family with this passion.
I love following zero waste influencers and have been inspired by many of them. But there are some things that baffled, confused, and downright challenged me about attempting to minimize my trash, plastic in particular. There were some things that I wish someone had told me. And there are more than a few triumphs and insights that I’d like to share with you.
Tips, Tricks & Things I Wished I Had Known About Zero-Waste Living
Oh, shampoo. I’ve tried DIY with castile soap. I’ve used solid shampoo bars. I’ve tried dry shampoo and going for longer times in between shampoos. Here’s the thing – all of those techniques might work great if you have thick hair, a mop of curls, or locks that are on the dry side. If you are one of those people who think that their hair looks better the day after a shampoo, then you’ll probably be fine with those methods. I have fine and straight hair. It looks best after I wash it. It goes limp and bedraggled by the time it’s ready for it’s every other day shampoo. Shampoo bars are not kind to these tresses. And I know that I have to wait for a month or nine thousand to allow my hair to get used to not needing to produce the oils. But I haven’t been able to stick it out.
I love washing my hair with shampoo. And thanks to social media, I’ve found a great salon that offers very eco-friendly shampoo. Bonus – I can bring my own container – any container – and they weigh how much shampoo or conditioner I buy. It’s even half-price compared to buying the same salon-quality shampoo in the bottles. So I can finally have my liquid shampoo, without any waste! Plus, I supply my husband and son with shampoo bars – they have short, no-nonsense hair cuts and wash their hair at least once a day, so I figure it’s a good fit. And it’s not like they miss liquid shampoo. My learning here? Don’t stick with something that makes you miserable. Find a workable solution, or let this be the thing you cheat on.
I make (well, “made”) my own toothpaste with coconut oil, peppermint essential oil and baking soda. It took a bit of getting used to, but then I started to like it – until my teeth got really sensitive due to the baking soda and I had to go back to regular toothpaste while I continue to procrastinate on finding a better alternative. My kids and partner tried my homemade toothpaste and flat-out refused to use it. Oh well. Don’t sacrifice your dental health. There are a million other recipes out there – I’ll find one that works.
When you progress down a zero waste journey you ultimately realize that the solution to so many situations is to make things yourself. From nut milk to bread to snacks, the packaging is everywhere when you buy things ready made. When you make items yourself, you can make things tastier, more nutritious, and much cheaper, all with zero waste. The trouble is that it takes time. I make muffins every three days, and energy balls or granola bars about once a week. And sometimes I just really miss the days when I would by a club pack of nut-free granola bars and be done with school snacks for the week. But I don’t – because there’s always something that I haven’t had a chance to make from scratch (usually bread and crackers, and I haven’t tackled nut milk yet), and so I pick my battles. My learning here is that I can’t do everything with my schedule, but some is better than none and is usually better for my family’s health, as well.
This was such an easy switch away from liquid detergent in plastic bottles. I usually make my own powder with 2 parts Borax, 2 parts washing soda, and 1 part grated solid Castile soap in a yummy scent. It leaves my clothes so much softer, cleaner and brighter than my experiment using soap nuts. Another option is to buy laundry detergent powder in cardboard boxes – not exactly zero waste, but cardboard recycles much more easily than plastic. Learning? Easy switch!
We’ve been moving away from plastic reusable containers. We use them until they crack, which seems to be quite often, but then replace them with glass or stainless steel. What I’ve learned is that I’ve spent a small fortune in well-made steel and glass containers, and many of them never came home. Some are likely now residing in my stepdaughters’ high school lockers (past and present) or garbage bins. Many make their way over to the houses of co-parents and never come back. Glass containers seem to be the only ones dropped. Yes, you will lose some expensive containers in going plastic-free and zero waste – but it’s worth it.
People Want to Learn
Every time I bring my massive collection of glass jars and containers to the Bulk barn to be weighed before filling, fellow customers are interested in what I’m doing. They seem to see the value in reducing our reliance on plastic bags, and usually, they just aren’t sure where to start. When I posted my find of plastic-free, all-silk dental floss in mini, refillable mason jar-like containers, my friends and family were charmed and wanted to learn where to buy the product. Other contacts wanted to embark on a zero-waste kitchen project. My kids’ metal, bento box lunch sets have sparked many a conversation. People – not everybody, but some people – are interested in learning more and trying to do their part.
So I urge you to learn from the influencers but don’t expect to be as perfect as they seem. Perhaps they don’t have families. Maybe they have more options where they live. It is so much better to cut yourself some slack and try to live zero waste imperfectly – with cheats and hacks and omissions and great, big, juicy victories – than to have an all-or-nothing approach.
Sometimes it’s hard, and sometimes it’s easy. It’s definitely always worthwhile.