I know firsthand how intimidating (or frustrating) trying to live the “zero waste lifestyle” can be at times. Plastic use is so tightly wound into every aspect of our lives these days, it can seem impossible to avoid it.
Well, first off I don’t think our goal should be to try and completely avoid it. At least not to start. I’ve found that easing into this lifestyle one month at a time, one home product at a time, has (so far) been a good recipe for success. It would be a much different story if I had attempted to achieve perfection right out of the gate. I would have failed, I would have been disappointed with myself when I slipped up, and it would have increased my chances of giving up.
Not giving up is the key! With each passing month, I try to think of a new way I can eliminate my reliance on plastic goods, and it’s actually been a really fun ongoing personal experiment to see what I come up with. The more I learn about eco living, the more inspired I become to keep at it. One month I chose plastic shampoo/conditioner bottles as my theme. I was running low, and so it was the perfect time for me to look into new zero waste hygiene options. The next month I focused on the kitchen, trying to think of ways to eliminate paper towels, parchment paper, plastic wrap and tin foil usage from my cooking. I’ll expand on this more in another post (and eagerly showcase my growing collection of silicone bake ware!).
For this post though, I wanted to create a list of EASY, stupid-simple, low-effort, frugal, and actionable easy zero waste changes someone could make right now to make a big impact on their consumption habits. All of the tips I mention below you can accomplish with basic household items you already own, or are easy (and cheap) to acquire. They involve little effort, and don’t require drastic changes in your day-to-day routines. Anyone can do them!
So without further ado, here are my 10 ridiculously easy zero waste changes you can make right now.
1. Buy Single Bananas
If there’s one fruit we’re all bananas about, it’s bananas! They’re in the top 5 for most eaten fruits in the world. In the U.S. we average eating 28.5 pounds of bananas per person, per year. Which is nothing compared to some places, like Uganda where the average person eats 500 pounds of bananas per year!
So clearly, we’re all buying bananas like crazy. But here’s a tip on helping to reduce waste you may not have thought of: buy single bananas. I also like to call them lonely bananas based off the cute song that Kathryn from Going Zero Waste sings.
But you know the ones I’m talking about. Just the single ones, floating around on the banana stand by themselves. There’s always a few on the banana stand, and they are always the first ones I grab. Bananas not in a bunch are rarely picked up by customers, and so often they get tossed out by the grocery store. Though I can’t find the study anymore, I read once that up to 60% of all “lonely bananas” get thrown away by grocery stores because they went unsold (and eventually became too brown and spotty to sell). So, my zero waste tip to help you reduce FOOD waste in the world, is to simply buy single bananas if they happen to be on your grocery list! I never have any troubles finding enough single bananas to put together a complete “bunch.” But if there are only a few single bananas floating around, and I still need more, then I go for the smallest bunches I can find (with only 2-3 in them).
A similar tip to this, would be to consider buying less-than-perfect looking produce when you can. Because the perfect looking ones are going to get sold no problem. On the other hand, grocery stores in America throw out 43 billion pounds of food every year, of which a large portion is produce. This food is still perfectly good to eat, but cosmetic blemishes deter many people from selecting certain fruits and vegetables over others. I’d like to write a larger post one day about how to tackle food waste, but for now my tip is simply to buy single bananas. Easy, right? 🙂
2. Take Cutlery With You On The Go
Next up on the list of easy zero waste changes has to do with dining out. But first, a few facts. Billions of single-use plastic utensils are thrown out every year, which helps to make up the 6 million tons of plastic waste (and counting) we’re all throwing out every year.
We think our trash is contained when we throw things away to be sent to the landfill, but in reality up to 80% of that trash ends up in the ocean. It’s become such a problem, that now 700 species of marine life are threatened with extinction, which can be directly related to plastic pollution. Thousands more are in danger when you take into account ALL the factors of man-made climate change, but a whole post could be dedicated to that alone.
To put it bluntly, we’re forked unless we start making some changes. So my second tip for easy zero waste changes is to bring your own cutlery with you when you’re on the go. Take a fork, knife and spoon each from your silverware drawer, wrap it up in a linen napkin or thin towel, tie a rubber band around it, and toss it in your purse/backpack/briefcase/day bag, etc. Boom! Now you’ll always be with your own eating utensils! Craving Chipotle one day for your lunch break at work? No need to grab those plastic forks that they provide near the drinks anymore, just whip out the ones you brought with you from home! Does the cafeteria at your school/office only provide plastic cutlery? Not an issue, just grab the ones you brought with you out of your purse.
You may have seen those cute wooden/bamboo cutlery sets on Pinterest, or Instagram, but the truth is, unless you really want to get a wooden set the silverware you already own works just fine as well. So without spending any money, you can make some easy zero waste changes in your morning routine to make sure you always take your silverware bundle with you when you leave for the day, and drastically cut back on your plastic waste!
There is a small caveat with this tip, and it’s that it only works for local traveling. If you are someone who travels by plane often, metal forks and knives won’t make their way through the security checkpoint. So in this instance, you would want to bring a wooden set with you. It was for this reason, that I did decide to buy a bamboo cutlery set, because I do travel by plane for work often enough to make the purchase worth it.
There are lots of cute shops on Etsy where you can get a roll, or pouch made for storing your travel utensils. I went with this shop, and I can say that the quality of craftsmanship is wonderful! I’m going on an international trip next month, and I’m really excited to bring my new travel set with me for dining out!
3. Save Your Vegetable Scraps
We’re back to food waste again. So my next tip for easy zero waste changes is this – save your vegetable scraps! You know, those odds and ends you trim off while you get your vegetables ready for cooking, juicing, smoothies, salads, etc. Save those scraps in a large bag/container and put them in the freezer. These scraps can be used to make homemade vegetable broth for soups, curries, stews, and many other recipes! You’ll never have to buy vegetable broth again, meaning this tip helps you reduce plastic waste AND food waste. To make homemade vegetable broth simply take your frozen veg scraps, put them in a large pot filled with water, and boil for a few minutes until it reaches a flavor you like. You can add things like salt, pepper, bay leaf, thyme, rosemary, or other herbs to the boiling process for more flavor too. If you’re interested in more food waste solutions like this one, check out my full length blog post on the topic!
4. Use A Reusable Water Bottle
On to item number 4 for easy zero waste changes. Whenever I leave the house, my reusable water bottle is always with me. It’s one of my must-have items for being on the go and staying hydrated wherever I am. It really confounds me when I stop to think about how people still buy cases of plastic water bottles. Seriously…. why? If you live in a place where drinking the tap water is unsafe, I COMPLETELY understand. That is a different story. But for the majority of those living in modernized countries/locations, what is the excuse?
This is one of my easy zero waste tips that may involve the need for you to purchase a new item. But reusable water bottles are everywhere these days, and it is so easy to pick one up at the grocery store, or online for around $20. Just make sure to buy one that uses a sustainable/recyclable material such as stainless steel or glass. Plastic “reusable” water bottles may be cheaper than their stainless steel counterparts, but they often wear out quicker, and once they they reach the end of their life cycle, the stainless steel one can be recycled infinitely, while the plastic one is going to the landfill.
This tip for easy zero waste changes comes with a caveat too, and once again it has to do with traveling. When I travel to a country where the drinking water is unsafe, I’ll be honest, I don’t have a zero waste solution yet for what to do. I buy plastic water bottles. But a case like this is also the minority for me. Most of the time, and especially for those of us in the U.S. drinking the tap water is perfectly safe and so I take my stainless steel bottle with me everywhere!
Another tip: if you are traveling internationally, make sure to look up their tap water safety before you depart! I do this with every trip that I take. You may be surprised to find that your destination has perfectly safe drinking water, in which case, don’t forget your reusable bottle!
5. Shop Secondhand
If there’s one tip that DEFINITELY belongs on the list of easy zero waste changes, it’s this one. I’ve written before about how much I love shopping secondhand and hate fast fashion. The fashion industry is one of the top most wasteful and polluting industries on the planet, which is why shopping secondhand first is so incredibly important.
Thrift stores can be used for finding so many different kinds of goods though, not just clothes. From decorations, to furniture, kitchenware, electronics, tools, etc. You name it! These days, whenever I have a product need, my first instinct is to visit my local thrift stores. I enjoy embracing “slow fashion” or “slow consumption” in the sense that if there’s something I want, I don’t just rush out to buy it immediately, I think about it for awhile. After a few weeks, my “need” or “want” for the item may go away entirely. But if it’s still there, then I visit my nearest thrift store. If I can’t find it at that thrift store? Visit a different thrift store, on another day. I may do this for a few weeks even, before moving on to my next step: online purchasing. Is it an item that I can get secondhand from a seller on Craigslist? Like a sewing machine? Or a bike, etc.? I’ll try to find it on Craigslist or some other direct buyer to seller website first, before looking for a brand new version elsewhere.
FINALLY, if I still can’t find said-item, I will purchase it new, to the best of my abilities, from an ethical business online. I like supporting small businesses on Etsy for things like soaps, lotions, scarves (and other similar clothing items) because it’s a guarantee they didn’t test on animals, a guarantee they didn’t use slave labor to create the product (duh, they made it themselves!) and I like knowing I’m supporting a small business owner, and not some giant chain monster like Walmart… For other things, like underwear, bras, idk, things I just can’t (or don’t feel like) finding on places like Etsy, then I do a looooooooot of research and try to find an ethical company that has fair-trade certifications, cruelty-free certifications, vegan ingredients, zero waste sustainable packaging, etc.
With my process above, sometimes it takes me months to buy a product, lol. But honestly, the hunt is kind of fun. Instant gratification sure is addicting, and websites like Amazon make it so so easy to simply add-to-cart and buy things within seconds. To be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with buying off of Amazon (I still use it), but I’ve stopped making it my go-to place for buying new things. It may have been the first place I went to when looking for things before, but now it’s more like my fifth, or sixth. My new method of shopping secondhand first may take me awhile now to get things, but I like knowing that I’m living by my values, and only consuming/purchasing what I need, and in the most ethical, environmentally friendly, low-waste way possible. So while shopping secondhand may not always by easy, 100% of the time, I still think it belongs on the list of easy zero waste changes because of how important it is. Plus, thrift stores are everywhere!
6. Use Reusable Grocery & Produce Bags
Reusable produce bags, like reusable water bottles, are also pretty ubiquitous these days. It took me awhile to get used to it, but now grabbing my cloth grocery bags and cloth produce bags before I go to the store is second nature.
If you don’t own any, they can be purchased pretty much at any grocery store for just a couple bucks. You can also find sets of them online. Bonus: old linens like sheets or pillowcases that you don’t really use can be sewn into grocery bags at home easily – for free!
7. Opt For Glass Containers Over Plastic
This is also on the list of easy zero waste changes you can make, though really it’s more of a mental shift. When you go to buy peanut butter at the store, for example, grab the version sold in a glass jar instead of a plastic jar. Same goes for any grocery product you can think of. Often the glass ones are a few cents (or dollars) more, but I think it’s a price worth paying if I know I can recycle the complete container afterwards (or reuse it to store my bulk goods!).
This tip can also be applied to many “convenience” products, like when you see bundles of potatoes sold in bags of plastic, or cutie-clementines packaged in netting and plastic. It may be easier to grab these items and put them in your cart, but just a few feet away they also sell potatoes and oranges bare, with no packaging at all! When I can, I always try to opt for “bare” or “naked” packaged produce items.
8. Pack Your Own Lunch
Number 8 on the list for easy zero waste changes has to do with food again (Do I talk about food too much? :P).
Not only is packing your own lunch more cost-effective, it’s also usually healthier and lower-waste than eating out at a restaurant every day. I know so many people who eat out for lunch every single day during their break at work. They get quick meals to go from food trucks, restaurants, or the local cafe – carried away in styrofoam boxes and plastic bags.
But the alternative is so easy! Learning to meal prep or wake up a bit earlier so you can pack a lunch is a great way to help reduce plastic waste. As I mentioned, it is often much healthier too. Restaurant food tends to always be higher in oils, fat, sodium, and sugar than if you had cooked the food yourself.
9. Bring Containers From Home When You Eat Out
Now if you do eat out, in addition to bringing your own reusable cutlery, consider bringing your own carry-out container too! This can be any tupperware container you have at home currently, no need to purchase anything fancy (unless you want to). It can be used as a carry-out container if you have food leftover from a meal at a restaurant (instead of the styrofoam ones).
If you ask nicely, it can even be used as a carry-out container when you order your food to go in the first place. For example, let’s say you stop by a cafe a few times a week for a breakfast bagel or muffin before work. Instead of letting them package your bagels in a styrofoam box, and plastic bag – you could ask them to place your items in your container you brought from home, and place it in your own bag to walk out with.
This tip is easy, and doesn’t require any new products to be purchased. It may be intimidating for some though, asking cashiers or servers to accommodate your special requests to use your own containers. I find that the more practice you get with something though, the easier it becomes. I get nervous in social situations too sometimes, but putting a smile on your face and asking nicely is the best anyone can do. If the server is unable to fulfill your request to use your own carry-out containers, that’s ok. You tried, and you can try again another day too!
10. Make Things From Scratch
The final item on my list for easy zero waste changes has us back on the topic of food. And it’s this: learning how to make things from scratch is a great way to reduce your waste! Take bread for example, I loooove bread. And since I learned how to make easy whole wheat bread from scratch, I now make all my bread at home!
I was intimidated at first with the thought of bread-baking, because I thought it would be a complicated process. You have to knead, and let the dough rest, and what if it doesn’t rise? And what if I burn it? I haven’t always been into baking, so when I first started I was worried I would never get the hang of it. But honestly, it is SO easy! Bread needs 3 ingredients: flour, yeast, water. That’s it. If you don’t count water, then you only need 2 ingredients to make homemade bread.
I can no longer remember the last time I bought bread at the store. True, if you were to go to a proper bakery, I’m sure you could find good quality bread and ask for it to be packaged in paper or your own bag. Unfortunately, it’s not that common that people do that. Most grocery store bread is all packaged in plastic. By learning to make it at home though, I’ve reduced my plastic waste significantly! Additional bonus: homemade bread is also way healthier, with no filler ingredients.
So when it comes to your weekly grocery list, what items do you consistently buy over and over again? Maybe you buy almond milk every week, or peanut butter. Maybe you frequently buy different salad dressings, sauces, baked goods, juice, jams, or salsa. This list is a great place to start when it comes thinking about what to begin making from scratch! I realized that I buy bread often, so that was an easy choice, learning how to make it from scratch.
Another thing I love to always have on-hand is some kind of plant-based milk (like soy milk, or almond milk). I wanted to learn how to make it myself for a few reasons: to cut down on waste and because oftentimes making something from scratch is a quarter of the price!
After lots of research, and some price calculations, I settled on oat milk as my new go-to for homemade plant-based milk! It’s thick (like cashew milk), has a good amount of protein in it (like soy milk) and is ridiculously cheap to make (UNLIKE almond milk, or any nut milk really). I do love nut milks, but when you look at the cost per pound of bulk almonds vs. bulk oats, there’s just no comparison.
I’m actually pretty jazzed up about my new homemade oat milk recipe. If you’re interested, you should check out my new post about it to learn how to make it easily at home! For now though my only point is that learning how to make things from scratch, that you would otherwise purchase prepackaged at the grocery store, is not only frugal but also a great way to reduce your waste. DIY’ing things can also be really fun!
Final Thoughts On Easy Zero Waste Changes
That’s all I have to say for now. I hope you enjoyed this post about easy zero waste changes you can make right now. I really do think they are simple, cheap, and reasonably low-effort!
Sometimes it can seem like zero waste is more complicated, and more expensive than the convenient (plastic) alternatives. You have to remember to grab your cloth produce bags, or cutlery, when you leave the house. Thrift stores can’t guarantee that the item you need will be there. DIY’ing can be time-intensive, and a burden for those with busy lives. Buying items in glass or stainless steel can be more expensive, and difficult for those on a tight budget. The list goes on.
But no one said you need to make all these easy zero waste changes at once. This list of ideas is just that – ideas. I also mentioned in the beginning of the post, the value in making one change at a time and I stand by it. These 10 tips are all easy zero waste changes I incorporated into my own life over a period of time – spanning months. It’s a journey, and everyone goes at their own pace.
The more you work to re-train the way you think about purchasing though, the easier it gets over time. Buying single bananas at the grocery store, or thrifting vs. buying-new has become second nature to me now. Choosing items packaged in glass at the grocery store over plastic is my new normal. With time, and the right thinking, a zero waste lifestyle can definitely be effortless and budget-friendly. Whether you purchase a new product to accomplish a zero waste goal, or use something you already own, I think saying NO to single-use plastics is something everyone can work towards!
That’s all for my list of 10 easy zero waste changes, but if you’re curious I have other blog posts on easy zero waste changes you can make. Such as using compostable floss, buying reusable straws, or DIY’ing household cleaners like laundry detergent. While also EASY, some of those tips require more time or upfront costs, which is why I didn’t include them in this list of RIDICULOUSLY EASY zero waste changes. But again, if you’re looking for more please check out my other posts or search ‘Zero Waste’ at the top! It’s something I love to talk about, write about, and something I hope makes a lasting impression on others.
Good luck with these easy zero waste changes if you decide to take the list on! Also feel free to leave a comment below with any thoughts or tips of your own as well. I’d love to hear from you. As always, thank you for reading. 🙂