Here’s how you live a trash-free life

In a world consumed with consumption, a New York girl decided to stop generating trash and believes that it was the best decision of her life

Author Lauren Singer at Zero waste lifestyle

When I was 21 I stopped producing trash.

I didn’t quit cold turkey; it was a gradual transition that started in an Environmental Studies course during my senior year at NYU. A classmate of mine would pull out a plastic bag filled with a plastic box of food, plastic utensils, a plastic bag of chips and a drink—you guessed it—in a plastic bottle. I’d watch her, class after class, throw it all into the garbage and I would get really upset.

One night I was feeling particularly frustrated after watching her and went home to make dinner. I opened my fridge only to realise that every single thing that I had in there was packaged in plastic. Oops!

There I was, an Environmental Studies student, constantly talking about how much I loved sustainability, getting upset at this girl that was plastic-ing everything, and it turned out I was that girl too! I felt like an absolute hypocrite. So I made the decision to quit using plastic.

Parting with plastic didn’t just mean eliminating plastic food packaging from my life; it meant evaluating all of the things that I used that were conventionally packaged in plastic and finding alternatives to them. When I couldn’t find products like toothpaste in plastic-free or recyclable packaging, I started to research recipes to make them myself.

While researching alternatives to my everyday products, I came across a blog called Zero Waste Home that was started by Bea Johnson, a woman with two kids, a husband and zero trash. I was amazed. I thought, if a family of four can live without trash, I can too. So I took a leap and committed to going ‘Zero Waste’.

When I couldn’t find products like toothpaste in plastic-free or recyclable packaging, I started to research recipes to make them myself

How did I do this?

Instead of buying packaged food, I began to shop in bulk. As opposed to buying beauty, cleaning and home products, I had to learn to make them myself. This proved to be a bit of a challenge as I definitely didn’t have a recipe for deodorant hanging about in my back pocket. I had to mess around with over six different deodorant recipes before I found one that worked well for me. In fact, I didn’t have any of the recipes I needed for any of the products I used. But that presented a fun challenge and I began to think about it as a game. Yesterday I transitioned away from toothpaste tubes, today I’m going to learn how to make my own lotion! Every new product that I learned to make was a step towards my Zero Waste goal and it was extremely exciting.

Ultimately I went from a girl that was constantly talking about how much she cared about sustainability, to one that actually lives that way.

Over the past few years I have learned some great ideas that even others can take to lessen their daily trash output.

STEP 1 » Evaluate your trash

When I first started my transition towards becoming Zero Waste, I took a peek into my trash can and understood what was in there. For me, it was predominantly food packaging and food waste and so I thought about ways to eliminate them.

To get rid of food packaging, I began buying my food unpackaged from the farmers market and my local grocery store. Instead of buying, say, baby carrots that came in a plastic bag, I bought whole carrots, which came without any packaging. I also learned to bring jars and cotton bags to buy bulk items like grains and beans.

To eliminate food waste, I began composting. I would take my food scraps, put them in a bowl and place it in my freezer so they did not smell in my fridge. I would then take them to my local compost drop off at the farmers’ market every Saturday.

STEP 2 » The low hanging fruit

To reduce packaged waste author began buying unpackaged foodThis step covers the more superficial but high-impact steps that one can take towards lessening their trash output. What you have to do is:

  • Carry reusable bags to the store as opposed to taking plastic or paper bags
  • Use a reusable water bottle instead of plastic water bottles
  • Bring a mason [jam-sized] jar or reusable mug to the coffee shop as opposed to using a disposable cup
  • Say NO to disposable plastic straws at bars, coffee shops, or juice shops and use a metal, glass or bamboo straw
  • Pack your own lunch in reusable containers and eat it with real silverware as opposed to disposable plastic forks and spoons.

STEP 3 » Do it yourself

Lots of everyday products come packaged in non-recyclable or difficult-to-recycle packaging. Instead of trying to buy products and figure out if they are being recycled properly, I learned how to make them myself. I started out with something that was simple and easy like toothpaste. I then moved on to products like deodorant, moisturiser and even cleaning products.

Becoming Zero Waste is not something you can do in a day, but decreasing the amount of trash you produce is something that can happen right now with a few simple steps. You might even find that you save money, have more time in your day and feel great!

DIY

Java Mint Scrub

This scrub is made with everyday kitchen ingredients. Scrubbing your skin once or twice per week improves skin tone, promotes a quick turnover of skin cells, balances oil production, rids your pores of toxins and basically makes you look gorgeous!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup coffee grounds
  • 2 tbsp mint leaves or 2 peppermint tea bags
  • 1/2 cup demerara cane sugar
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil [if solid, melt it]

If you are using fresh mint, spread all the mint leaves onto a baking tray. Bake them at your oven’s lowest temperature for one hour and let them cool completely before crumbling them with your fingers into a powder.

If you are using peppermint tea bags, snip the tea bags open and use the leaves.

In a bowl combine the coffee, mint and sugar. Pour the oil over the ingredients and mix to combine. Store in a sealed jar.

Zero Waste Toothpaste Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons baking soda
  • 25-30 drops Organic food grade peppermint essential oil

Mix all three ingredients in a glass dish (I use a mason jar).

To use, scoop out a little bit with a spoon and put it onto your toothbrush. Add more or less peppermint or coconut oil depending on your textural preference.

I suggest using it for a few days. Give yourself some time to adjust, I had to. It's pretty different, but that's OK.


A version of this article was first published in the January 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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