10 EASY WAYS TO REDUCE WASTE
Last summer, after living in Sweden for over a year, my boyfriend and I went home to the US for a visit. It was so much fun to see friends and family again after what felt like forever (the longest I’ve gone without hugging my mom!) and we spent 3 weeks being whisked around by people who wanted to see us (and shopping for things we can’t get in Sweden!).
While it was amazing to be home with people we love and indulging in all the American things we had missed (Veggie Grill! Amazon! Whole Foods! Driving a car! Mountains!), something kept tugging at the back of my mind: the amount of waste I was witnessing people around me contribute to.
Plastic bags at checkout, trash cans filled with Starbucks orders, single use makeup wipes littering Ulta, straws and plastic forks at picnics… the list goes on and on!
Seeing these things served as a great reminder about how my perceptions have changed since moving to Sweden. In general, Swedes are pretty conscious about the environment, and are well known for their sustainability efforts. Nobody’s perfect (there is still TONS of plastic packaging used in grocery stores, and not everyone uses cotton/reusable bags) but Sweden is definitely ahead of the US in terms of waste reduction.
Before I move on, I want to acknowledge that of course I’m not an expert. I understand that many of these products that have become integral to our daily lives have been created out of convenience. And how amazing is it that we live in a world where we have the ability to make that choice?!
Finding small ways to be more sustainable in your everyday life is a great place to start. Since last month was Plastic Free July, I thought it would be useful to share some tips I have implemented in my own life for reducing plastic, and waste in general! Though of course I’m not perfect, these are 10 easy(ish) things that I’ve implemented in my life over the last 2 years or so, and are things you can do as well!
1. BRING YOUR OWN BAGS
I bring my own bags everywhere. Whether I’m meeting a friend for coffee, heading out for a walk, or making a quick trip to the library, I always make sure I have a bag with me in case I need to buy something.
This was especially easy when I lived in Seattle and drove everywhere – I always stashed a few cotton bags in my trunk, so that there was no excuse to bring home groceries or anything else in an extra plastic or paper bag.
Of all these tips, I would say this is the most easy and widely known. With adorable bags that you can slip in your purse or stash in your car, bringing your own bags to the shops is something you can start doing today!
2. BUY (AND REMEMBER TO BRING) YOUR REUSABLE COFFEE CUP
For me, this one was not as easy as remembering a bag. Again, if you have a car, it’s simple to always keep a clean cup there in case you feel like a hot drink. But as someone who walks, bikes, trains, and busses everywhere, I make sure to always have a clean cup with me if I think there’s a chance I need a coffee or matcha on the go! I love using my hydroflask and keepcup!
3. BUY ITEMS IN BULK
One of my favorite parts of the week is heading to my local zero waste shop, Gram. Though it’s small, there are so many amazing dry and fresh goods to buy in bulk. I usually bring my own jars or food bags, but many shops have paper bags or donated jars that customers can take for free!
A few of my favorite things to buy in bulk are: oats, flour, chia seeds, cacao powder, nuts, olive oil, and laundry soap!
4. REMOVE SINGLE-USE ITEMS FROM YOUR MAKEUP/SKINCARE ROUTINE
This is one of the changes that I drug my feet on forever because I just didn’t think I could live without cotton swabs and cotton pads in my bathroom, but let me tell you people – it’s TOTALLY POSSIBLE!
Washable cotton pads and this silicon swab have been complete game changers for me over the past year. Rest assured when I tell you that I have no regrets making the switch, and don’t see myself needing to buy single-use swabs and pads again!
5. BUY REUSABLE SILICONE STORAGE BAGS
Another way to save money and reduce waste is by ditching plastic storage bags. This has been surprisingly easy for me to change, despite the fact that 99% of lunches and snacks I packed for YEARS came in a disposable ziplock bag.
Last Christmas my boyfriend’s mom bought us this bundle from Stasher Bag, and we haven’t purchased disposable bags since! We have clear bags, but they come in all colors of the rainbow! Next up on my wishlist is this beautiful pack in mojave.
A few ways I use stasher bags:
- Packing snacks
- Freezing bread and other food
- Packing liquids for travel
- I use this small pouch for vitamins and pills while traveling
6. MAKE YOUR OWN BREAD
Keeping up with the theme of food, another thing I have done to save myself a trip to the store, save money, reduce food waste, and have a bit of fun along the way is by making my own bread!
I really love making my own sourdough (a post coming on that soon!), but for those who can’t be bothered or simply don’t have the time, normal bread is SO EASY to make! Once a month, I make a few loaves of sourdough or whole wheat bread. It’s just my boyfriend and I, and even though I COULD eat a whole loaf by myself, I try to exercise some self control. So after I’ve made a loaf or two (with flour I’ve purchased in bulk), I wait for it to cool and slice it. Then I put those slices into my large Stasher bag, and freeze until I’m ready to have some avocado toast – yum!
7. REDUCE FAST FASHION PURCHASES
I used to believe that I needed new wardrobe items every season, and that it was embarrassing to wear clothing items too often. Going to the mall was a favorite pastime, and ASOS was basically the homepage on my computer.
While I love a bit of retail therapy every once in a while, in the last few years I have drastically reduced my clothing purchases. Buying quality, classic items that will last me years is my goal now. While it does tend to be more expensive at first, the longevity and reduction in overall clothing purchases has made this change so worth it.
Making the switch to a more minimal wardrobe with items that I love and am happy to wear over and over has drastically changed the way I think about clothing. I now spend more time researching brands by looking into their ethics and overall quality of products.
Before purchasing a piece of clothing, I ask myself a few questions:
- Why do I want this item?
- Do I have multiple items existing in my wardrobe that will complement this item?
- Is this item trendy at the moment? Will I like it in a few years?
- Do I love the fit and quality?
- Would I buy this item at full price? (if it’s on sale)
Using these questions to guide my purchases has been a game changer and has really helped me to think about my spending in a new way!
8. MINIMIZE ONLINE PURCHASES
We live in an incredible era, where millions of items are at our fingertips with the click of a button.
I used to be an Amazon addict. At least once a week (sometimes more!) a box would be waiting for me at my doorstep when I got home for work. Need a waterproof phone case? A vegetable spiralizer? Cat shampoo? No problem! My motto used to be: if I can buy it online, I will.
After moving to Sweden and realizing that Amazon isn’t really an option, my online shopping habits came to a screeching halt. Upon finding out that I had to actually go to the store to buy most of the things I wanted, I thought my life was over.
Life gets busy, and online shopping is an amazing option to make our lives easier and free up time to do the other things we love. But in the last 2 years, I’ve also realized that online shopping can make me lazy and increase impulse buying habits.
You don’t have to quit Amazon or other online retailers cold turkey like I did (there are still so many benefits to being able to purchase online!), but by taking a look at your shopping habits and seeing where you can buy local and support your own community it’s pretty easy to make a change. The benefits of shopping IRL include: reduction of wasteful packaging, supporting local retailers, and even saving some money along the way!
9. GROW YOUR OWN HERBS
This is one of the easiest changes to make! Instead of buying a bunch of herbs at the store and using half before they go bad, buy a basil, mint, or cilantro plant! They’re easy to take care of, can grow inside, and you can take what you need without worrying about wasting the rest.
10. BORROW BOOKS FROM THE LIBRARY OR BUY SECONDHAND
Libraries are free, sustainable and an awesome way to reduce clutter in your home and support your local community. Secondhand shops and websites like ThriftBooks are also amazing places for cheap finds on great books!
Do you have other tips on ways to reduce waste? Let me know in the comments!