10 Easy Household Swaps to Live Low-Waste
Here in Jersey City, we have so many resources to teach us about low/zero waste living and implementing positive sustainability practices. The biggest hesitation I hear from people who are thinking about trying to live less wasteful, is they don’t think their small contribution to the planet is enough to make an overall difference. Well, I simply do not believe that. I subscribe to the theory that everyone doing a little something is always better than everyone doing absolutely nothing. I spoke to Kate Lawrence, the Sustainability Director at the Office of Sustainability here in Jersey City, about living a low waste lifestyle and she perfectly stated her own version of that theory,
“As a society, we have a lot of bad habits when it comes to consumption and waste. Every small change an individual makes matters. Not only in the change itself but also in the influence it has on others to make similar changes.”
Right on Kate! This is why I made the decision 2 years ago to try and live a more low-waste lifestyle in my home. I’m no “Sustainability Saint” and the past 2 years have been full of trial and error. The various products I’ve purchased and how easily or not-so-easily I was able to implement them into my daily routine is the learning curve I’m hoping to spare you today. Here is my list of 10 easy household swaps you can make to reduce your carbon footprint and the amount of trash you create for our beautiful planet.
1. Don’t Be Clingy
Traditional plastic wrap is toxic for the environment, costly to recycle, and can release harmful chemicals like dioxin. A quick and easy swap is using a beeswax wrap to help store your food. These wax cloths are biodegradable, sturdy, reusable, compostable, and can even be cut into strips and used as a fire starter when they’re past their prime. I personally love using these Beeswax Wrap products for all my saran wrap needs. They use all organic products and come in many sizes and shapes to suit whatever items you need stored. If you are looking for a local vegan option, check out Plant Base in Bergen-Lafayette. They carry some fantastic vegan options for Zero Waste living.
2. Refuse and Re-use
We all saw the #SkipTheStraw movement that encapsulated the country last year. Refusing a straw at a restaurant or bar became the thing to do and onward the masses went adding metal straws into their Amazon carts everywhere. As eye-rolling as these social media trends are – this was finally a movement I could get behind. It’s estimated that Americans use over 500 million non-biodegradable straws every day. Unfortunately, a majority of those end up in landfills or the ocean. “But how!? I recycle my straws!” you may say. The hard truth is straws are very lightweight and typically don’t get sorted out correctly in recycling facilities so they end up in landfills. If they don’t end up in a landfill, the second and most devastating place it will live the rest of its very long, plastic life is at the bottom of the ocean among our sea life. How do we stop this? It’s simple, stop using plastic disposable straws. I recommend this collapsible straw that can be kept on a key ring or in a purse. It comes with a spoolie to clean the straw, a sleek case to carry it around and silicon tips to make sipping even more comfortable. At under $8 you can get one for your purse, pocket, office, car or wherever you want to get sippy with it.
3. Single-Use No More
Switching from single-use paper coffee cups to a reusable coffee cup or thermos is an incredibly easy way to take a step towards a low waste style of living. I love the fact that I can bring my travel mug to any coffee shop and have it filled up and it saves me a buck or two in the process! Brewshot in downtown Jersey City offers 10% off when you bring in your own mug. If you’re looking for something duel purpose I would recommend a S’well Bottle. Mine has been through countless airport security lines, hikes and bike rides and it is still in immaculate condition. It keeps my coffee piping hot and keeps ice water refreshingly cold. Two other great options I like are these Yeti products or you can always find this Contigo Bottle on my desk at work.
If you would have asked me 10 years ago that I would be so well versed in the different types of reusable silicone ziplock bags AND that we’d have so many options – I wouldn’t believe you. But I am, and we do! I use these for packed lunches, travel containers for my dogs food, snack bags and even on occasion a place to stash my jewelry when I travel. I especially like these Stasher bags because they are indestructible, they pop right into the dishwasher and they come in a plethora of colors and designs to accommodate any ones eco-friendly vibe.
5. The Ole Switch-A-Roo
Once upon a time everyone used cloth napkins and towels to clean, wipe and wash. So it stands to reason that going back to a more sustainable option shouldn’t be that hard. Thanks to these zero-waste towels on Etsy by Green & Happy Shop it’s not! These can be used for cleaning, wiping up spills as well as dinner napkins. They are more absorbent than a paper towel and cleaning them is as easy as tossing it in the wash with the rest of your laundry.
A millennium! That’s how long it takes for your toothbrush to decompose. Think of how many toothbrushes you have used in your life thus far. Now times that number by 1,000 for each! It’s staggering, I know. Bamboo toothbrushes are a perfect option to swap out your traditional plastic toothbrush for something more sustainable. Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world, so using it as a resource to make something widespread is a great option we should all be reinforcing. I buy these bamboo toothbrushes. They have cute uplifting quotes on them and are also numbered so you don’t mix yours up with anyone else in your household. If you are looking for a 100% compostable option, check out Brush with Bamboo which can be found at Plant Base also.
7. Bag It, Tag It!
Yes, Jersey City! Yes! Jersey City no longer condones the use of single-use plastic bags. Thanks to the efforts of the Office of Sustainability, the Make it Green Campaign and the many people who pleaded the case for this bill to be pushed forward, we are already seeing a more clean Jersey City. These days, finding a reusable grocery bag is around every corner. Let’s take it one step further with reusable produce bags. These reusable produce bags by Simply Eco are fantastic and long lasting. If you’re already taking reusable grocery bags to the store, why not throw these produce bags in too!
8. What a Sham(poo)!
Switching over to a bar shampoo and conditioner will eliminate the use of plastic from your hair washing routine for good. Not only will you feel great about kicking another plastic product out the door but you’ll also save money, your shampoo will last longer, and traveling with it just became easier (no leaks). I recommend Ethique because of their variety of fragrances and specialized products for different hair types. They even partnered with Bindi Erwin to create a limited edition Wombar shampoo to help raise money for the Irwin’s Wildlife Warriors foundation. Keep it local by shopping at Taproot Organics for your bar shampoo needs and more.
9. Pour Over Coffee or French Press
No paper filters needed! I purchased this paperless pour-over coffee cone 2 years ago and it has stood the test of time swimmingly. For a cup or two of coffee, pour-over coffee is a fantastic low-waste option. If you are worried about the coffee running out in the morning, switch over to a french press. Not only do they come in a multitude of sizes and styles but there is just something so smoothly satisfying about pressing that plunger down and pouring yourself a fresh cup of coffee.
10. Activated Charcoal Water Filters
Many of us buy water filters so we can avoid buying cases of bottled water. This is a great step in the right direction to becoming as low waste as possible. One more step that can be taken is to check out these awesome charcoal sticks to purify water. I honestly never knew that those little black specs at the bottom of my Brita filter were just charcoal. By using activated charcoal sticks instead of a plastic filter, I’ve instantly and easily lowered my carbon footprint. For a more local option, check out Green Design. They’re a New Jersey company specializing in reusable products and they also carry water purifying charcoal by the bag.
I hope this aids you in your journey to living a low-waste lifestyle. Making just ONE of these swaps in your everyday life is a magnificent start in making a dent in the amount of trash you produce. And remember, one person doing something is better than everyone doing nothing!
Article Update 7/17/2020
In the past 6 months I have evolved my low-waste journey to include new habits and products. Below you will find an updated video on my current low-waste swaps. A few of my favorite items include NOAP shampoo and conditioner bars and my Zojirushi thermos!