Practical Tips for Moving Toward a Zero Waste Household

From Recycling to Wastlessness: I have always recycled, always thought I was aware of my consumption. For a person living in high-waste settler states of Canada and the US, my garbage levels were not considered high. We already didn’t use plastic bags for fruits and vegetables. We brought our own bags to the store and stored our food in glass containers in the fridge. As I began learning from folks committed to 0 waste, my awareness of a just how much plastic I have used without thinking about it began to grow (the odd candy bar, a salad to go).  As I’ve learned more about Canada and the US offloading plastic recycling onto China, I have become more committed to cutting plastic out rather than recycling. Our biggest pile on the landfill was through groceries.  

A Plan With Our Reality: We absolutely need to challenge corporations and unbridled late capitalism but I do not believe that this takes the onus off of my responsibility as an individual. I do not want any part of the plastic a whale chokes on to come from me, I do not want a sea turtle harmed by my straws (note that I don’t need plastic straws to live, some people do, it’s okay). I have a few chronic illnesses and two complex foster-to-adopt children. Are lives aren’t simple or easy so I strive toward 0 waste without greatly increasing my labour. Below I outline some of the front loading we do so that we are able to  reduce the amount of times being busy and tired results in garbage and how we work with not being able to make multiple stops and the need for easy snacks. 

Family Buy-in: My kids needed a sense of being in on it together. We decided plastic was our top concern so we sat down and talked about how plastic is hurting the earth, water, and animals. We watched a video or two on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and talked about how we don’t want our groceries to add to hurting earth and animals. Together we:

  • Brainstormed 10 areas of our groceries where we use the most plastic and brainstormed ways we could get rid of or cut down on them.
  • We then named one thing that there isn’t a replacement for that would be a challenge for us personally, but that we were willing to give up.

We named the next steps the Team Zelda Plastic Reduction Plan. Zelda is our beloved pocket beagle. How is that for buy-in? 

The Team Zelda Plastic Reduction plan

We have reusable grocery bags packed with muti-sized jars and small cloth bags (for bread and bagels) packed in the trunk of the (electric) car so that we have them with us in case of having a spare minute to pick up groceries when we’re already out. 

Step 1: Packaged items to start buying in bulk 

  1. Beans
  2. Pasta
  3. Flour
  4. Bread
  5. Maple syrup, honey, sugar
  6. Nuts and nut butters
  7. Shampoo
  8. Baking soda (we use it for cleaning and in place of laundry soap)
  9. Tofu
  10. Protein powder

Step 2: Switching to different products

  1. Milk: I wrote to the Bellingham Community Food Coop and Fresh Breeze Organics and requested that they carry the organic, grass fed, local milk that comes in returnable bottles.
  2. Yogurt: We now buy local, organic yogurt in glass bottles that I save to store plant medicine that I grow and dry.
  3. Cereal: We were able to find delicious granola varieties in bulk at our local store but not cereal, so we switched.
  4. Toothpaste: A good toothpaste powder or toothpaste Bites come in bulk or in glass jars. We use these now.
  5. Snacks: We stopped buying individually wrapped fruit leathers and snack bars and now get bulk dried fruit and bulk fruit and nut clusters in mason jars.
  6. Q-tips: We got a set of reusable silicone q-tips that are easy to clean.
  7. Toothbrushes: We have bamboo brushes. Not 0 waste, but much less plastic!

Step 3: Being Prepared for On-the-go Times 

It’s not realistic for us to always eat and home. Sometimes appointments, errands, and fatigue are in the lead and we’re out and already hungry. Keeping a bag with the following items allows us to pick up faster meals without waste:

  1. Reusable straws
  2. Mason jars
  3. A pack of cutlery
  4. A few metal plates
  5. A couple glass take-out containers
  6. A couple reusable coffee cups with lids

We got ours at Earth Sider, but there are good products in many places.

Step 4: Giving up some plastic wrapped favourites 

I agreed to stop buying potato chips (a major comfort food for me) if I couldn’t find some with plastic-free packaging. The kids agreed to not buy plastic toys that are wrapped in plastic (e.g. packaged hot wheels) with their nominal allowances and to prioritize saving for one bigger thing instead of a lot of little things. For my wife it was individually wrapped chocolate bars. We buy less varieties of breads and buns and rarely get crackers because those don’t come in bulk where we shop. We eat way less nachos. But we eat well. Food is tasty and plentiful.

For us it also isn’t realistic to go to multiple stores for groceries so our choices are shaped in partnership with the Bellingham Community Food Coop. Many of my students reuse plastic bags and buy from the more affordable and different selections at Winco in the US or at Bulk Barn in Canada. Others I know prefer to stop at many places to get waste free food that exactly matches their tastes.

Step 5: Taking Stock

We’re not at 0 yet, but I estimate that we’ve cut down on our grocery waste by about 90%. I’ll survey my cart with food for my family of four for a week and the only waste will be plastic on a very large chunk of cheese and a paper carton for an ice cream treat.

I know, it’s not the revolution we need but this is how we are currently working to  live differently in this present moment while pushing for systemic change. Would you like support in moving toward 0 waste? Feel free to comment or send a message. 



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