2019 has kicked off with a 30 Days to Zero Waste Challenge led by Zero Waste Nerd on Instagram and her blog. If you follow me on Instagram you know I’ve been recapping the zero waste challenge every 5 days, talking about how I implement each tip into my daily and travel life. If you’re not, following me on Instagram, what are you waiting for?!?
The concept of zero waste was introduced to me a few years ago and it fits into a lot of sustainable lifestyle habits I had been working to cultivate over the last 5 years. In a nutshell, it’s sending nothing to the landfill. As a concept, it’s about creating a system (whether that’s your house or community) where all resources are recirculated or repurposed back into the system. One example from nature would be leaves – each autumn they fall to the ground where they break down and add nutrients into the soil. In spring, because the soil is now nutrient rich, daisies grow and thrive.
With the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Report stating that the world has until 2030 to reverse climate change without creating catastrophic damage, every habit shift matters. Our habits send messages to governments and businesses.
So let’s recap Days 1-30 of the Zero Waste Challenge! I’ll give a brief explanation why each focus of the day is important and then how I implement these changes in my daily life and when I travel. I’ve linked lots of resources in the post so you can get started on your zero waste challenge with success.
DAY 1: REUSABLE SHOPPING BAGS
One of the most basic of changes. But one of the hardest habits to form! It’s so normal to use a plastic bag when shopping that 307 of them are thrown away per American every year. Have you ever seen a plastic bag caught in tree branches after a wind storm? I mean they are everywhere.
As Zero Waste Nerd cautions, the solution isn’t purchasing reusable cotton bags! See if a friend has extra; find some at second-hand stores; or make your own. If you have graphic t-shirts from high school or college, pull them out and treat yo’self to a DIY afternoon.
Daily: I keep reusable bags everywhere: car; work bag; office; house. If I plan to shop, I place my bags at the back door or car the night before.
Travel: I always pack at least two bags. I use these for groceries, souvenir shopping, and just anything!
DAY 2: USE A REUSABLE BOTTLE
Plastic beverage bottles. They are everywhere. Water. Juice. Soda Pop. In the United States 50 billion bottles are purchased every year. (Sorry, but recycling isn’t the solution.) Not a fan of water from the tap? Try a filter. Staying hydrated is important, but let’s save the planet too. Obviously if the water from your tap is unsafe to drink, it’s understandable that you are using plastic bottles.
Daily: When I head out the door I grab my bag, my keys, and my water bottle. It’s as simple as that!
Travel: The places I’ve traveled to have not had tap water concerns. This is why I insist on bringing one or more water bottles with me. When I camp, I’ll bring a bottle for myself and a stainless steel growler. It’s a part of my luggage that always travels with me.
DAY 3: REDUCE FAST FOOD
Enjoy a burger and milkshake in 20 minutes; the cup, lid, straw, wrapper, and bag last for decades.
I know life can get in the way and you don’t have time to meal prep. I GET IT. But there are habits we can all develop to limit our waste: taking lunch to work; packing snacks; eat in, rather than take out; bringing your own fork/spoon/knife/straw/napkin if you know there are disposables; and order minimally packaged food (thanks for the suggestions, Zero Waste Nerd!) It’s not impossible to change this habit; it’s about noticing where your trash comes from and finding ways to reduce it where you can 99% of the time.
Daily: I make my lunch and snacks for work. I bring a cutlery kit with a cloth napkin, straw, spoon, knife, and fork everywhere.
Travel: My cloth napkin, straw, spoon, fork, and a container for take-out follow me in my travels. I pack snacks (like trail mix) from the bulk section.
DAY 4: DITCH PAPER TOWELS
For one ton of paper towels to be produced, 17 trees are cut down and 20,000 gallons of water are used. Cut old t-shirts or towels into rags. Purchase second-hand towels from yard sales. Use whatever you have to reduce your reliance on an item whose lifespan is 10 seconds.
Daily: I keep a drawer filled with cloth towels in the kitchen. I use metal basket to toss in used towels until I’m ready for a load of laundry.
Travel: Whether camping or staying at an Airbnb, I pack one or two cloth towels to use for washing/drying dishes or clean up.
DAY 5: USE A REUSABLE COFFEE CUP
Every year 500 billion single-use cups are disposed. Like a reusable water bottle, this is another habit to add to your morning routine when leaving the house.
Daily: If going to a coffee shop, I request my drink “for here” or “in a ceramic mug.” If on the go, I bring a reusable cup. Most shops and baristas don’t mind making my drink in the cup, especially if it’s a local spot. My scratched Klean Kanteen holds coffee like a champ! If I want iced coffee, I bring a pint-sized mason jar.
Travel: I bring my reusable coffee cup through airport security unfilled and then fill ‘er up at a stand in the airport. When I travel I use the same methods in a coffee shop as I would when I’m back at home.
DAY 6: CLOTH PRODUCE BAGS
When shopping for groceries this is where you can stop plastic from entering your house in the first place. While bulk items are not available everywhere, be creative about where you buy your produce and other food items. Again, it’s a way to reduce your plastic bag use. You can buy or make your own produce bags.
Daily: I made cloth bags from old clothing and use them for produce, rice/lentils/oatmeal, etc. from the bulk section. I pack these the night before shopping so I don’t forget them when I leave the house.
Travel: When I went to Scandinavia I brought trail mix, dried mango, and peanuts. These cloth bags were a lifesaver.
DAY 7: SHOP IN BULK
Buying in bulk allows you to reduce the packaging you bring into your home. Every store and region are different in their access and availability to bulk. Where I live, the best bulk options exist at a local co-op grocery store. Zero Waste Nerd gives you the run down on how to perfect the shop in bulk challenge.
Daily: Shop bulk when you can. I recently purchased black tea and spices in bulk. I saved so much money when comparing to what buying a new bottle of curry powder and a container of compostable tea bags.
Travel: If you really want to take your zero waste to the next level, when you leave town, find out where the best bulk store is and make a stop there. I regret that I didn’t do this when we went to Burlington, VT because their bulk section was what dreams are made of.
DAY 8: REFUSE PLASTIC CUTLERY
More than 40% of plastics are used once. I’ll admit, I’ve used single-use plastic fork when at a work function because I forgot to grab my cutlery kit before going to the party. However, the packing of my cutlery kit- a cloth napkin, fork, knife, spoon, and straw- have saved me from using countless disposable plastics.
When situations are simple and straight-forward I have no problem sticking with this habit. Now I need to form the habit for when I’m outside of my office, away from my work bag, or surprised by food.
Daily: When I take my lunch to work I pack the utensils I will need. In addition, I bring a separate cutlery kit that is kept in my bag at all times.
Travel: Whenever I travel I bring a cutlery kit with me. If I go to the airport with only a carry-on, I take out the knife since it will be seized by security.
DAY 9: REDUCE FOOD WASTE
It’s estimated that 30-40% of the food supply is wasted in the United States. A true challenge is to change this wasteful habit. Every 4-5 months, I challenge myself to eating everything in my pantry and freezer before buying more. This challenge is also about finding ways for the scraps or odd ends to be used as food.
Daily: I save peels and tops from onions, potatoes, celery, etc. in a freezer bag until it’s full to make a pot of vegetable stock. I compost in our backyard. I freeze bananas for smoothies or bread.
Travel: I try to limit the food I come into contact. I eat smaller meals and snacks throughout the day. I might end up grocery shopping more to ensure I don’t end up throwing items away before returning home.
DAY 10: SAY NO TO FREEBIES
This isn’t about a sweater that your friend no longer wants and gives you for free. Saying no to freebies is about refusing promotional pens, gizmos and gadgets, or items from the dentist that you don’t actually need.
Daily: Unless it’s something you need, refuse the freebie. Do you really need another pen? Travel-size toothpaste? Stress ball?
Travel: Refuse the soaps, pen, writing pad, etc. that tend to be in hotel rooms. If you don’t need it, don’t use it.
DAY 11: UPGRADE YOUR TOOTHBRUSH
Does changing your toothbrush really make an impact? Like other plastic waste, toothbrushes end up in our waterways. They can’t be recycled. The most sustainable option is to purchase a bamboo toothbrush. Bamboo decomposes in 6 months in your compost pile. However, that bamboo toothbrush will likely cost more than a traditional plastic toothbrush.
Daily: I made the switch to bamboo toothbrushes over a year ago. In that time I’ve used 2. I find the life of the bristles exceeds the typical plastic ones. I’ve purchased mine from Brush for Bamboo, but other companies make brushes with different types of bristles (most of which are not compostable).
Travel: Whether at home or abroad, my bamboo toothbrush comes with me.
DAY 12: TOILETRIES
So much plastic. So little time. Second to the kitchen, the bathroom is FULL of plastic.
Start taking an inventory of what you use in your bathroom on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Don’t just purge your plastic. Make the change to plastic-free alternatives as you finish items. Out of body wash? Sub in a bar of locally-made soap. Out of deodorant? Switch to an all-natural one or learn to make your own!
Daily: From my soap to my makeup, I transitioned my bathroom to zero waste. Some items I purchase; some items I DIY from recipes from other zero waste bloggers.
Travel: I take my home bathroom with me when I travel. I wrote an entire post about my travel toiletry bag, so go check it out.
DAY 13: REUSABLE MENSTRUAL PRODUCTS
Real talk: Why was this not an option that was discussed when I was 11 and sitting in the bathroom? My mother came in and said, “well now you’re a woman,” but she never mentioned that for the next 20 years I’d spend so much of my hard earned babysitting, fast-food, waitressing, and teaching money on pads and tampons. If you estimate $7 cost per period that’s $84 a year (and I think that’s low-balling). Don’t even get me started on the “tampon tax.”
Daily: I use both a menstrual cup (daytime) and reusable pads (overnight). Based on my flow, I purchased 2 overnight pads (for $11 each) on the Tiny Yellow Bungalow‘s online store, but you can find them locally or on Etsy. In total I’ve spent $50 on this swap. In less than 8 months I’ve already made up the investment.
Travel: If I bring my Diva Cup and its soap with me when I travel that’s all I have to bring. No counting tampons. No need for extra room in my bag. I get to pack another sweater or pair of shoes instead!
DAY 14: TRY COMPOSTING
I am not an expert at composting. There is a ratio of greens to brown you should have in your pile to ensure an active and healthy breakdown of materials. Use Google and start turning your waste into soil gold! Use the resources, don’t listen to me.
I throw it yard and kitchen waste in a pile, till it every once and a while, and hope for the best. Some municipalities are starting composting programs or there may be a community garden (or friend) nearby that will take your items. You can compost if you have an apartment too.
Daily: We keep a small container in the kitchen for items that need to be taken to the compost pile. Although we live outside of Buffalo, New York we compost year round. We throw the new scraps on the frozen pile and wait until spring for magic to happen.
Travel: Depending on where I travel, I may or may not bring a container with me to collect my food scraps to bring home. If it’s a weekend road trip, I will. If it’s international, I won’t. However, I have been known to book certain Airbnb’s based on access to composting…
DAY 15: VISIT A LOCAL FARMERS MARKET
In theory, this where you should be able to find plastic-less food goods. However, I find plastic abound at the farmer’s market. I’m that hipster who transfers the strawberries to a linen bag (that I made from my husband’s worn dress pants) and hands the plastic crate back to you. Sorry. I just don’t want or need the plastic. The added bonus of farmer’s markets is the ability to support local growers, eat in-season food, and limit the travel miles of your food.
Daily: Frequent farmer’s markets, farm stands, and road-side stands in someone’s front yard. I know supporting the local food supply has a farther reaching impact than just limiting plastic waste.
Travel: Visiting daily markets in Rome and Bologna are some of my most vivid memories from a college trip to Italy. The activity and life in the early morning markets helped me feel more connected to the culture. There’s a reason that people go to Pike Place’s Market in Seattle. (Hint: it’s not to see the guy throwing fish).
DAY 16: REDUCE JUNK MAIL
If you’ve watched my InstaStories recap of the zero waste challenge, I admitted is this is my goal for 2019. I’ve done nothing to curb this. I’m lucky I go through the mail. Use the resources on Zero Waste Nerd’s guide to get yourself started in this challenge.
Daily: I sort through the junk mail and pull out envelopes, and use them as scrap paper for grocery list or notes.
Travel: This doesn’t apply to my travel lifestyle. Alas, I’ve never stayed anywhere long enough to gather junk mail abroad. I take time to unsubscribe from e-newsletters I knowing or unknowingly signed up for when I was traveling (hotels, tourism board websites, etc.).
DAY 17: PACKAGE-FREE SOAP
I love bar soap. It doesn’t leave an over-powering smell like foaming Bath and Body Works soaps, but I think it’s the prettiest thing on the kitchen and bathroom countertops. Use it for your hands, body, face, shampoo, or to shave. You can order soap online, but see if you can find a local artisan or company. Farmer’s markets and craft fairs are where you are most likely to find these business-owners.
Daily: I use bar soap for as body wash, face wash, and hand wash. I also subscribe to Plaine Products* for my shampoo and conditioner (they use a circular business model with aluminum bottles).
Travel: My favorite bar soaps to take with me when I travel are from a local company called, Alpine Made. They keep my skin moisturized regardless of the weather conditions that my travel brings.
This blog post contains some affiliate links where I may earn a small commission if you use these links to make a purchase (noted with a *). I use these funds to feed my dog. Thanks for the dog food. All opinions are my own and given as a resource to encourage your own journey into the Zero Waste Movement.
DAY 18: NO STRAW, PLEASE
Most of us don’t need a straw for iced coffees, smoothies, or pop (sorry that’s what we call it in Buffalo). A typical plastic straw is used for 20 minutes and then discarded. While banning plastic straws has born the brunt of many critics, it touches on the most basic fact about plastic pollution in our world- we need to change our behaviors.
Daily: I’m not a straw drinker. But I carry one in my bag, in my cutlery kit to be exact, in case I stop for juice or a smoothie. When dinning out, I glance at other tables glimpse the straw status to know what I need to say to the server.
Travel: My travel straw habits are the same as my daily ones. It’s all about situational awareness.
DAY 19: CHOOSE SECONDHAND
I love, love, LOVE second hand. The only furniture in my house that was purchased new is my mattress and vanity (thanks mom for the 13th birthday present). Many dishes were purchased at thrift stores or yard sales. The couch was given to us from my husband’s grandmother (and it was her step-mother’s). My clothes are a mishmash of second hand store finds, hand-me-downs from friends, and holiday gifts from my mom.
Daily: I keep a list of things that I need to purchase for my home, office, or closet. When I go to a second-hand store or yard sale I bring the list with me, so I can stay on task.
Travel: Not only do I go second-hand shopping at home, but I also do so when I travel. The Salvation Army thrift store in Reykjavik had the iconic lopapeysa, or wool sweaters, that I kick myself for not buying. There is a popular second hand market in both Stockholm and Helsinki I was sad to miss on our trip to Scandinavia.
DAY 20: RETHINK GIFTS
You might have heard the stat: U.S. households throw away 25% more trash during the holiday season. Yikes! If the holidays are about friends, family, and being thankful for what we have, why are we throwing so many things away?! Rethink the season of giving. What can you make that wouldn’t be trashed after it’s use? What items could you gift that would add value to the receiver’s life? Is there an experience that you can “gift” dad instead of another tool set wrapped in plastic?
Daily: This holiday season I wrapped my parents’ presents in a brown paper bag from the home brew supply store. Hemp string from the garden pinched the bag closed and I added a sprig of pine needles that had fallen in a wind storm. Rethink the gift and the packaging to really help make an impact. Get some more inspiration here and here.
Travel: No one wants another keychain from your travels. Be creative and tap into the personality of those receiving the gift from your travels. If you need some inspiration, check out my list of 5 items that make great souvenirs.
DAY 21: GROW YOUR OWN FOOD
Gardening is where I get my zen on. Pulling weeds brings me inner peace. My heart swells with pride when my tomatoes finally ripen and I can make my own tomato sauce.
If you haven’t grown your own food before, start simple. You can grow your own food, even if you think you have a black or brown thumb (as in you kill everything). Have a small yard or live in an apartment? There are lots of resources sharing how to grow food in small spaces.
Daily: Plan your garden in the winter months and then get ready to dig in the dirt come spring. Just starting out? Try lettuce or herbs. Have a lot of space? Plant winter squash (think butternut, spaghetti, and acorn).
Travel: If you plan on traveling during the summer months and have a garden, find a friend or neighbor who will water your plants for you. Depending on their level of skill leave detailed instructions. My mom is my designated summer travel waterer.
DAY 22: SAFETY RAZOR
Ok, I’ll be honest. I don’t have a safety razor. For the sake of not sounding like a total poser, I’ll tell you why: I am still going through razor blades from my pre-zero waste days. I have a Gillette Venus razor from college and change out the heads. I’ll use this challenge to say- use your stuff up first. Throwing away a razor and 5 unused heads makes zero sense. That’s wasteful. With any changes you make in your zero waste journey, don’t just go out and BUY! Use what you have, see what you can live without, and sub in sustainable pieces when your old items have come to the end of their life. Flip the switch on consumerism by buying items when you need to.
DAY 23: ZERO WASTE CLEANING
I started zero waste cleaning before I knew the term zero waste. I was on a hunt to get rid of the chemical cleaning products that I hated the smell of and was honestly not sure I wanted in my life. Enter my old standbys- white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, Castile soap, and baking soda. These items cut down on my plastic-waste (I’ve been able to find the vinegars in glass bottles) and I feel like I am actually cleaning my house better than when I had all those chemicals.
I’m also going to say something that might irritate you: Do not buy Norwex. Even if the ions actually clean and disinfect your house, every time you wash the “microfiber” cloths you are allowing millions of plastic micro-fibers to enter the water system. Microfibers can’t be filtered out and you are rubbing plastic on your counter-tops. Sorry. Instead try white vinegar- it’s a great disinfectant and the smell doesn’t linger.
Daily: My all-purpose cleaner is a 1:1 ratio of citrus-rind infused white vinegar and water. For stains on the counter, I dust a thick layer of baking soda over night and then wipe away in the morning. My laundry detergent is a combination of baking soda, washing soda, and a shredded bar of Castile soap.
Travel: When camping, I bring a plant-based soap to wash dishes so it doesn’t negatively affect the ground water.
DAY 24: EAT MORE PLANTS
Eating more plants has a positive effect on the environment. Less water is needed to grow plants than to raise a cow. What we eat and how it’s grown has a drastic impact on the soil, water, farmers, and farm workers. Maybe you can’t be vegan or vegetarian, but do you need to have meat at every meal? Start by swapping one dinner a week with a meatless option (Meatless Monday, for instance). Lessening your dependence on meat can open your world to plants and flavors you might never have discovered.
Daily: I’m not 100% vegetarian, but I typically eat vegetarian when home. Had I not stopped eating meat, I would never discovered how much I love lentils or quinoa. I never ate them as a kid growing up on a dairy farm.
Travel: I try to opt for vegetarian meals when I travel. But some cities and countries have better access to vegetarian alternatives than others. With everything in this challenge (and life), do your best. You’re going to mess up; strive for excellence anyway.
DAY 25: HANKIES AND REUSABLE TISSUES
My grandfather came to the United States from the “old country.” My dad was a farmer and wasn’t stopping for a box of tissues when he was out in the field. Instead, they both had a handkerchief in their pockets at all times. However, it wasn’t until I married my husband when I decided my house would be a “tissue-free” zone. I never remember to empty the pockets of pants, so anytime I washed his work or sweat pants there would be tissue residue all over my clothes (usually something black). So I hand-hemmed handkerchiefs for him as a birthday gift from old fabric.
Daily: We keep a container of tissues in the bathroom, our bedroom, and the downstairs bathroom fo guests. To aid in clean up, I have metal basket on the floor in each room where “used” tissues can go to be washed. It’s become such an iconic piece of my husband’s persona that his students made him tissues as a gift.
Travel: I always take 3-5 handkerchiefs with me when I travel. Unless I get sick (cough, cough Iceland), that’s enough to last me 10 days. Learn your habits and do what makes sense for you.
DAY 26: HOME EFFICIENCY
My husband and I live in an old Victorian house near the shores of Lake Ontario in New York State. Some windows in our house are at least 50 years old, so each winter we weatherize them and drape them in energy-efficient thick curtains. Read more about how to make your home more energy efficient from Zero Waste Nerd.
Daily: If it’s a sunny winter day, I open the curtains of south-facing windows to let in the warmth. In the spring and summer we cool the house with a cross-breeze and close the curtains of south-facing windows. We also have a rain barrel to catch rain runoff for the garden.
Travel: Whether in a house or Airbnb, I shut off the lights and unplug any appliance that I’m not using. Camping at electric-free sites forces us to get creative about the energy we use wand when we use it. Traveling with friends can also help save gas mileage. Booking direct flights when possible, can also lessen emissions.
DAY 27: DITCH THE PLASTIC WRAP
I have always HATED plastic wrap. It’s always clinging to itself and not the bowl or item I want it to. When I learned about beeswax wraps it was like an angel of heaven had heard my prayers. Oh yeah, and they’re better for the environment, but mostly less of a headache. Can you believe that plastic wrap was only invented in 1949? I mean what did my grandmother use?! Oh that’s right, she survived and you will too when you ditch the plastic wrap and move on with your eco-friendly life.
Daily: I love the beeswax wraps from Abeego. My friends bought me some beeswax wraps from Trader Joe’s and honestly I don’t like them as much because they are not malleable.
Travel: It’s hard to know what you are going to use or need when you travel. However, when we went camping in Iceland I brought one of my Abeego wraps with us. I ended up not using it but I am glad I was prepared.
DAY 28: REPAIR AND MEND
I haven’t read this yet, but I’ve been dying to get my hands on Mending Matters to really dig in and learn more about the best ways to mend clothing items. Right now I have the basics down- mending a tear, a seam thats comes undone, patching a pair of jeans. My mom and grandma know how to extend the life and wear out of so many items, so I really want to tap into what they know to expand my skills. When it comes to repairing, my dad is king. If he doesn’t know how to do something there is a plethora of YouTube tutorials out there. So learn something new and become a repairing wizard.
Daily: Sometimes I run into clothing or items that need to be repaired, but I don’t have time to do it in the moment. So I have a basket for these items for when I have time to do the fixing.
Travel: Before I have to mend things, I try to take good care of the items I already own. That means investigating for tear prior to travel and fixing anything before it goes from a small tear to a bad that’s completely screwed.
DAY 29: BUY LESS
Just because you’re starting out on your zero waste journey doesn’t mean you need go run to the store or laptop to order the most sustainable items. The United States is home to 5% of the world’s population, but consumes 30% of its resources and creates 30% of it’s waste. We all need to ask ourselves “do I really need this?” before making a purchase (myself included).
Daily: I started a spreadsheet to better understand where my money was going. Something about entering the dollar amounts I spent on beer, groceries, etc. into Excel helps me visualize my income and impact of spending.
Travel: You won’t find me buying souvenirs for many people. In fact most the time I buy something for my parents and that’s it.
DAY 30: RECYLCE
Recycling isn’t the answer. It’s a business model and not one run by tree-hugging environmentalists who seek a way to recycle and reuse every fiber of plastic, paper, and metal that shows up at the doors. Did I burst your bubble? Sorry. Recycling is also not a viable alternative anymore as China is no longer importing the West’s plastic waste as of January 2018. There are companies like Terra Cycle who recycle alternative waste items, but really the challenge is to consume less so less needs to be recycled.
Daily: Before recycling something I see what I can reuse or repurpose. Can that container from the cream cheese hold paper clips in the “junk drawer?”
Travel: When I travel I try to limit the items that I consume so I don’t have to concern myself finding a place to recycle items. There are so many regions in the Untied States where municipal recycling ins’t even an option.
So you made it! You’ve achieved and mastered 100% of these zero waste challenges. Congratulations! Now it’s your turn to help spread the word and to keep challenging yourself to create less waste throughout your lifetime.
Have questions? Let me know below or send me a DM on Instagram.