Moving into my new apartment with very few things to my name and thinking “there is so much I’m going to need to replace,” actually got me thinking about something else: doing it the right way. For a long time I had been thinking about going zeros waste, becoming a minimalist, and living in a tiny house. There would have had to be a huge culling. And then there was. I am now left with very little, but also with very little waste. A few quick and cheap replacement items I bought on the fly, and some beauty/cleaning products purchased in the same fashion. And I do still use a bit of pen and paper (but that I do with paper after is pretty cool — more on that another time!), but that’s about it.
Note: I will never be a zero waster with just a mason jar. That’s too much pressure. I use the one can method.
There are so many other ways to “get rid of waste,” that even now, just about a month in, I don’t even have to think about what I’m doing anymore. And in the month I’ve been here, I haven’t even filled half a trash bag with junk (I keep all of my trash separate — and that includes any crap my friends bring over and leave behind!), so I think I’m doing pretty well. Basically, what I’m saying is that I avoided doing this for a long time because I thought that it would be too difficult, but really, it’s not. I am nowhere near perfect, and I am taking my two housemates (one is so busy, I’m not sure he knows he’s with us, the other is a women in her late 60’s who lived/worked in co-ops and communes in Europe and all over the US, so it’s not her first rodeo) with me. So I thought I’d share a few things — some of the changes we’ve implemented, how they work, and how easy it’s been. If it interests you, I’m sure you can find something that works for your home — we’re still thinking of/searching for ideas that make more sense or that are easier to integrate into modern life.
1. Reduce What’s Going Into Your (One) Trash Can
Most things that wind up in the trash don’t even need to be there. You’ll need to implement a couple of systems (one in your kitchen and one in your bathroom). But they’re really easy to do, so here goes!
Bathroom: In the bathroom we use a two-bin system (the bins don’t have to be large, either. Two wire bathroom wastebaskets would work perfectly). One bin has things that can go into the recycling. Think, shampoo bottles, plastic tubes of shower gel and shaving cream. The other bin is for compostable items (tissues, cotton balls/pads, paper towels, q-tip — as long as they don’t have a plastic shaft — facial wipes, etc). The occasional item that needs to be thrown away can be carried to Your One Trash Can in the kitchen.
Kitchen: Our kitchen setup isn’t perfect. It’s a definite work in progress, but it’s doing what we need it to for the moment. In the back corner of the kitchen, we have the One Trash Can. Next to the stove, we keep a paper bag for recyclables (it gets emptied into the recycling bin when full) and a small tin bucket with a 3 gallon bio-bag in it for food scraps (coffee filters, tea bags, etc). Instead of throwing away food scraps, or something that has gone bad, it goes in there.
On the other side of the kitchen, we keep another paper bag for compost — this one is just for paper products and vacuum dirt/dust — and next to it is The Compost Bin. We have compost pick up in our city. So we have a big bucket (it probably held bulk dish crystals) from the restaurant downstairs. At the bottom of the bucket is some of our paper compost, as well as some dirt. And that’s where we keep our tied off bio-bags until pick up!
The goal, especially when you’re first starting out is to REDUCE your waste. Like I mentioned before, the Mason Jar idea is so intimidating. Do don’t even put it in your mind right now.
2. Collecting Glass Containers (for bulk buying, food storage, & prep)
You immediately got the scary image of a million matching mason jars (haha) in your mind and thought, “My pantry will NEVER look like that!” Well, that’s cool! It doesn’t have to. Now, I don’t hate on mason jars when they’re used for proper food/medicinal storage. However, anything you’re bought in a glass jar or bottle is perfectly useful. Wash it, peel the label off, and keep it instead of recycling it. Ask your friends and family to save you their jars (they usually will, just don’t wait ages before you go get a stash when they tell you they have some for you — it’s kind of rude, and taking up their space.
Just be careful to discern what you store in your saved glass as opposed to your mason jars — you’ve popped the seal on the saved glass. (This isn’t an issue if you’re freezing the jars).
You can also find great glassware at thrift shops, just make sure it’s sturdy and of good quality. Don’t worry if the pieces don’t have lids/covers/corks. It’s easy to find a replacement top on the internet, and corks of various sizes are available at craft stores.
I mean, we have compost pick up in my city. But still. Even if you don’t, you can search out a place for your compost. Try litterless.com – they have a pretty comprehensive list for every state. If you use type of systems similar to the ones I first went over, it’s pretty simple. Here’s a basic breakdown.
Compost: food scraps, vacuum dirt and dust, tissue products, coffee filters, tea bags, natural clothing fibres, plant leaves.
Recycle: Cardboard, paper, plastic, cans (not that you have tons of individual items once you get past a certain point). It’s also worth noting that most pizza boxes can’t be recycled.
Trash: Anything foil or foil lined, the rare item that cannot go into compost or recycling.
Anyhow, I hope this was helpful if a low-impact or zero waste lifestyle appeals to you. Feel free to send me any questions or comments!