When you imagine the stereotypical environmentalist, you probably picture a hippie who lives off the grid in a self-sustaining commune. But I want to introduce you to a new kind of environmentalist: the everyday activist. I am a strong believer that everyone can live a low-waste life, one that has minimal impact on the planet, without sacrifice or deprivation.
When I first started my zero-waste journey, I was struck by how damaging plastic pollution is for our oceans, and I felt overwhelmed by all the frightening climate change statistics out there. But I decided the easiest place was to start with my everyday habits. By starting small, I finally felt in control of these seemingly "out of control" issues. And now, living a truly zero-waste life is as much about not wasting Mother Nature’s limited resources as it is not wasting my own time and energy.
Here are a few quick switches that will turn you into an everyday activist without totally overhauling your life or depriving yourself of modern luxuries:
1. Make sensible switches.
For me, living a zero-waste life has always been about making sensible, sustainable switches. That means they're sustainable for the planet but also sustainable for you. One of the quickest ways to get started is by throwing together your own zero-waste kit that replaces disposables with reusables. Here's a peek inside mine:
- A stainless-steel drink bottle to replace single-use plastic drink bottles
- A cloth napkin to replace paper napkins
- A stainless-steel straw to replace plastic straws that are used for less than 10 minutes and take hundreds of years to break down
- A reusable coffee cup to replace to-go cups. (Many coffee cups are lined with plastic and almost impossible to recycle!)
My zero-waste kit lives in a small drawstring bag that I can easily transfer from one handbag to another. I just keep it by my entrance and grab it before I head out the door!
2. Make grocery shopping a richer experience.
Grocery shopping is rarely described as a sensual experience, but appreciating your food and knowing where it comes from is a pleasure for the senses. Shopping at the farmers market allows you to talk to the farmers; touch, smell, and feel your food; and free it of unnecessary packaging. By allowing yourself to take your time and make shopping a more mindful experience, you’ll be more inspired to try new fruits and vegetables. And at the same time, you'll be supporting local businesses and eating according to the seasons. If you don’t have a farmers market near you, make the outer aisles of the supermarket your own little version. Look for loose items that are grown locally and are not wrapped in plastic. After all, Mother Nature has already created her own packaging, so there's no harmful plastics required!
3. Make secondhand your first choice.
The rise of fast fashion has led to an influx of clothes at thrift stores, so "secondhand clothing" is no longer something your grandmother would wear—it's often just a season or two old. And considering we're now experiencing a surplus of secondhand clothing items, there's no reason not to make secondhand shopping your first choice. Stop playing into a resource-intensive fashion industry, and browse local thrift stores, organize clothes swaps with friends and neighbors, or search online to find an old item that you can give a second life.
Buying secondhand is not only good for the planet, but it’s great for the bank account. You can buy luxury brands for a fraction of the cost and buy higher-quality natural materials such as wool, silk, and leather for the price of environmentally damaging polyester clothing.
So there you have it! I hope this list helps you feel empowered in knowing that you can take simple actions to reduce your waste. Remember: In saying "no" to plastic, you're saying "yes" to a meaningful, fulfilling life.
Check out some more zero-wasters discussing the most effective ways to cut down on that trash pile.