The Zero-Waste Challenge – Yes, you CAN!

The Zero-Waste Challenge – Yes, you CAN!

We have all seen photos of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) and shaken our heads at the terrible shame of the impact of pollution and waste on the environment. Never before in history has there been human-created environmental impact on the scale that we have seen in the past 100 years. I was thrilled to hear about clean up effort ideas for the GPGP, though it is discouraging to know how very long it will take to make a real impact due to the sheer size of the garbage field (Three times the size of France and growing).

Problems that make the news, like the GPGB, feel too big for one person to tackle. I think it is easy to feel that there is little that we can do individually. We just go with hope that someone else will figure it out. I am here on a grey Sunday morning to lay this challenge at your feet. There IS something that you can do to make a difference in our environment. You can make small choices every day that reduce waste, reduce plastic use and it WILL make a difference. Below you will find a list of easy ways to reduce waste in your own household. If you only adopt three of these changes long-term, you will still be serving the world by making positive change, even if on a small scale. And like I said, these things are easy to do so why not??

In many areas of the United States you may never think twice about trash. With collection service being wide-spread in many locations, pulling the cans out to the curb for collection might be the last thought given. It probably would not have come to my attention if trash were easier to get rid of. Living on a remote island, here we get our hands dirty with our own waste. On our island there is no trash collection service. Residents haul their own trash to collection centers. Hawai`i island stopped collecting most recycling a couple of years ago when China stopped taking other country’s trash for payment. It is easy to think that recycling is a magic bullet, but the reality is that recycling is not actually happening as much as you think (many places haul separated recyclables straight to the landfill) and recycling is actually incredibly resource intensive. When you are schlepping bags of trash and hefting them in a giant bin filled with rubbish for just one little community, you have the opportunity to be confronted with your own choices and to resolve for personal change.

As I was cleaning my kitchen this morning, looking out at the view of the beautiful ferns in the native forest where I live, I started reflecting on this topic. I am not sure why it came to mind, or maybe why it had never come to mind before, but I decided that to write this post in hopes of helping others begin their journey. I have put a lot of thought and time into this subject for my own household and I hope that it might be of help to you.

Smarter purchasing ideas for reducing waste in your own home:

Much of the changes you can easily make come down to smart buying choices. Instead of plastic or disposable, put that extra bit of time and money into more sustainable solutions. Ultimately, reusable products will save you money and will make an impact.

Move to Dehydrated Laundry Soap

Stupid Facebook and their targeted ads. I hate that they know me. They got me again with these TruEarth laundry strips. I love these things so much. Instead of hauling a heavy, plastic jug from Costco, that make a big mess all over my washing machine, TruEarth come as a subscription in a little envelope, straight to my house.  I simply peel off a little strip and toss it in. This works great and it is the most convenient. And more than just the reduction of plastic waste, think about the manufacturing of those plastic bottles, then the fuel waste shipping the filled bottles in huge trucks and barges. It is more than saving a single container, it reduces waste along the entire manufacturing and distribution chain.

Use Rechargeable Batteries

Recycling batteries in my area is a challenge as they have to be shipped out and there are very few collection centers. I used to store up batteries in a box and only recycle them when the box was full. Seeing a full box of battery waste gets you to thinking, however. A few years ago I made the investment in rechargeables for everything in the house, which is more batteries than you think! I had to place numerous orders because I was always short some batteries. I purchased a large battery charger that charges about 20 at once and also has solar charging.  This has saved me so much money over the years and also has saved the waste and the fuel to take the spent batteries to the special collection center, which is a 40 minute drive for me.

Kick K-cup and Coffee Pods

I read an article once about the K-cup creator and how once he saw the impact of this invention and the extreme waste, he regretted ever coming up with the idea. These single-use plastic coffee pods have become all the rage due to their extreme convenience, but since many people drink multiple cups a day and with multiple members of a household, you can imagine the exponential waste this creates. Please consider a one-cup pour over pot instead. They are so quick and easy and use no power apart from heating the water. If you must use a K-cup, try the reusable cups, which reduce the convenience, but also reduce the waste.

Stop Single-Use Eye Drops

Stupid Facebook and their targeted ads. I hate that they know me. They got me again with these TruEarth laundry strips. I love these things so much. Instead of hauling a heavy, plastic jug from Costco, that make a big mess all over my washing machine, TruEarth come as a subscription in a little envelope, straight to my house.  I simply peel off a little strip and toss it in. This works great and it is the most convenient. And more than just the reduction of plastic waste, think about the manufacturing of those plastic bottles, then the fuel waste shipping the filled bottles in huge trucks and barges. It is more than saving a single container, it reduces waste along the entire manufacturing and distribution chain.

Reconsider Disposable Diapers

No pressure intended for all of the parents who have so much on their plates. I am just leaving this here as an option for those people who feel strongly that they would like to use cloth diapers. We now have the benefit of many conveniences and services that make cloth diapers more manageable than ever in history. This is no longer the era of my childhood with safety pins and stinky diaper pails. With diaper liners, diaper laundering services and waterproof, fitted, pin-free diaper covers, things are much easier. The Honest Company has sustainable cloth diapers and also wipes and other consumables.

Try Re-useable Zip Lock Bags

You do not have to give up the convenience of Zip Locks! Check out these re-usable resealable bags. I have tried a couple of types and couple of brands. I also like this Silcone Stand-Up type because they are super easy to clean and they have solid bottoms, which make them good for saucy leftovers.

Start with Refillable Dish Soap Cakes

A local, sustainable farm in my area, Kalopa Makai Farms, makes these fabulous, farm-made refillable kitchen soap cakes. I use this in my own kitchen and think they make a fabulous gift.

Use Glass Reusable Storage Containers

I love my Snap Ware set. They are stackable in the fridge and are useful for storage and serving. I always wish I had more of them. Now the lids on these are plastic, but they are reusable and you are not throwing them out. I purchased my set at Costco. There are two types, be sure to look for the glass containers.

Opt for Beeswax Food Wraps

These trended a few years ago. I am posting a link from Amazon here: Beeswax Food Wraps.  I did find someone making these locally in my area and selling them at farmer’s markets, so check to see if you can find a local source first.

Look for Plastic-Free Deodorant

Native brand has a line of well rated plastic-free deodorants. Also, Lafe’s and quite a few other brands have deodorant products which utilize paper barrels and are also Aluminum-free. I am trying both brands out right now and will report back on my findings.

Soda Machine

For those of you who drink sparkling water, seltzer, or soft drinks, a soda machine is a HUGE thing you can do to become more sustainable. You can make your own carbonated drinks, right in your own kitchen and eliminate all of the packaging waste, including glass bottles for sparkling water or aluminum waste from cans and plastic waste from soda bottles. Please read my post here for more information on SodaStreams.


More things that you can do to make an impact:

Bring your own bags

I know that this is a no-brainer, but I have to drop it here because the vast majority of people know the impact, but still accept single-use plastic bags from stores. In Hawai`i this is gratefully a problem of the past since plastic bags are outlawed, yet paper bags do persist here. I have reusable bags of all types, including some cute, upcycled bags my friend makes out of feed bags. Iif you are like me, you often stop at the store unplanned and don’t have any bags with you. Here are a couple of ideas for you.

  1. Get a large purse. I am not kidding. I wear a tote purse in a large size because it doubles as a shopper for me.
  2. Consider keeping some of these cutie pie travel shopping bags in the glove box of your car in case of emergency.
  3. Place your unbagged goods back in the cart and just load them straight from the cart into the car.
  4. Pay the price for forgetting and buy one more reusable bag at the check stand.
  5. Whatever you do, you have to make a decision that disposable bags are just not an option or the pattern will never change.

Buy in Bulk

Most grocery stores and natural foods stores have bulk bins. This offers you not only a reduction in packaging waste, but a reduced price, as well. Apart from bulk bins, purchasing at Costco, ironically, can reduce waste. Buying large containers of a product that you can use over time potentially saves quite a few small plastic bottles. An example of this is their eco-friendly dish soap. While it comes in a plastic bottle, it is a huge volume that lasts me over a year. I have a glass dispenser in the kitchen that I just refill.

Send a Letter to Costco

Costco is one of the largest distributors of organic products in the country and one of the nation’s most influential retailers. They have quite a number of great policies and I like them as a company. They support local and a large percentage of goods in every warehouse has to be sourced in the local area of each store. They provide excellent employee benefits. They have a great return policy for their customers. They bring in organic products in almost every category and they have even funded small organic farms to help keep up with the increased consumer demand for organic goods. Today, I want to highlight that they also care very much about comments. Speaking with one of their employees, I was told that every Costco has a comment box and each comment is actually individually reviewed by management. I was told that comments make a difference and do get consideration.

A few years ago I was a snit about wasteful packaging at Costco, so I penned them a long note. This is something I especially noticed on small format products that they were trying to increase shelf exposure for. Costco has an extreme amount of involvement in every product on their shelf. They have a team that not only reviews packaging, but also gives design recommendations and oversight for every package. They DO have the ability to reject wasteful packaging and if they hear from enough of us, maybe they will make a policy change.

Give Zero-Waste as gifts

Last year I had a Zero-waste holiday theme. For all of the people I love, I shared some of my favorite waste-reducing products. Perhaps these items might make their lives easier and spread some positive change.

Kick the processed foods

When you are thinking diet I bet you don’t immediately think about how your diet will impact your household trash.  It makes sense, of course, but it just is not the first thing that comes to mind. Years ago I was prescribed a healing diet and it changed everything about the way we eat and shop. One of the interesting side effects of cooking almost everything from scratch is that we produce much less household waste. Food packages fill up landfills across the nation. Not only are these products high in waste, but they are usually packed with preservatives and chemicals that are not beneficial to your health. Your diet has an impact not only on your body, but on the environment. Prioritize making a few simple things from scratch and it might result in many positive changes.

Shop Local

One of the side effects of buying local is not only a smaller carbon footprint, but also reduced waste. Most local producers are not packaging and shipping products and often have reusable packages. Each time you buy a jelly in a reusable mason jar, you are reducing that much more packaging waste.

Buy from Farmer’s Markets

Most produce at grocery stores are sold in bulk, so we maybe do not consider the packaging waste in that department. It is not just consumer waste we need to consider, there is also pre-consumer packaging in the system. In order to get the produce to the store, there absolutely is packaging. Everything comes packed in something, and produce shippers spend hundreds of thousands each year on packaging and supplies that are disposed of and are now in our landfills. Buying local is a great idea in lots of ways, but there is a big benefit in waste reduction from buying your produce from these small local growers where there is no packaging used at all.

Donate Unwanted Items Instead of Throwing Them Away

It takes just a little bit more effort to donate items to charity stores than it does to throw them in the trash. I have a collection bin going at all times and haul a couple of times per year a few bags to our local donation center. While this seems like a natural, this is not part of everyone’s household flow. It is more than just not throwing something away that someone else could use. Someone reusing your unwanted item keeps them from buying a new version of this product, which would have package waste, transport costs, etc.

Shop Used

It might go without saying, but thrifting used items actually supports your sustainable mission. Buying used reduces the waste of the item itself, but also the waste in packaging and shipping a replacement item. Also consider the real issues of fast fashion and clothing waste. This is a huge, global problem. reports that there is nearly 2 million tons of textile waste each year and this doesn’t account for the water waste and chemical use. For those of us who are particular about our clothing, ThredUp is an online thrift store that offers an unbelievably huge selection of used clothing, much of this designer fashions, through their slick and convenient website and app that shows you just clothing in your size and specifications. While it is not as sustainable as shopping from your local thrift shop, this is so much better than contributing to additional fashion waste. Ebay and Poshmark are also great ways to upcycle and to sell your own pre-loved clothing.

I hope that a few of these ideas might inspire you to incorporate more sustainable options in your own homes!

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