Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about trash. Maybe it’s because I see it constantly on the streets of New York, or smell the trashy smell on the sidewalk after bags were grabbed by trucks before weekly street cleaning (because, yes, alleys aren’t a thing in NYC). Who knew I would actually miss alleys full of trash?
I mean, it was all in one place and out of plain sight…which is certainly not the case for NYC. The never-ending bags of trash and leftover smell are just one of the many compromises you make when living in this city—along with the ancient MTA signaling system that’s always malfunctioning, and the slobbery summer heat.
Long story short, I’ve been thinking a lot about trash and how much I throw away on a daily basis. Did you know that in NYC alone the city accumulated 3.2 million tons of trash in 2016? That’s over 8,700 tons a day! And to put that into perspective, one ton is equivalent to 2,000 pounds. You can do the math…because I certainly don’t want to. These bags of trash are then shipped to landfills, costing the city upwards of $300 to $400 million for transportation alone. At least 20 percent of the trash being sent out (typically traveling hundreds of miles) will be used in a waste-to-energy plant for future energy purposes. But the other 80? Landfills.
People…that’s a lot of trash. We may praise “reduce, reuse, recycle” and advocate for a more environmentally-friendly world, but are we really doing all we can to save our planet? Are we making conscious steps to live sustainable lives, or only doing it when it’s convenient for our routines?
Inspired by my new findings, I decided to do some research on sustainable practices to try within our little home. While digging, I came across Lauren Singer, Co-CEO of the Package Free Shop in NYC and blogger at Trash Is For Tossers. She is commonly known as the no-trash girl—aka, the girl who literally only has a mason jar of trash after five years of living waste-free. That’s right. Five YEARS. One JAR. Insanity. According to her blog, her trash consists of paper tags and plastics that were inevitable over the years. Everything else in her life is properly reused or composted.
Now I admit, I don’t plan on going that extreme with my new journey towards sustainability. Oliver and I actually only accumulate one bag of trash a week—which I am quite frankly proud of. Sure only having a mason jar after four years would feel amazing, but right now that’s just not possible in our current life situation. But that doesn’t mean I should just go back to my normal way of living, especially after knowing the numbers from the Department of Sanitation in NYC. I think there are ways we can be challenging ourselves to live a sustainable lifestyle that is still very practical in our every day lives.
Keeping all of this in mind, here are a few ways I plan on applying zero-waste to my lifestyle:
Reusable napkins, towels, handkerchiefs
This is probably the simplest way you can start living a sustainable life—stop purchasing paper goods! Towels, napkins, tissues…those could all easily be replaced with reusable items that can be thrown in the washer.
- 20-count Napkin Set, $25.99
- 5-piece Flour Sack Kitchen Towel, $19.99
- 10-piece handkerchief set, $14.99
What about toilet paper? Okay, I’ll still be using that…but that doesn’t mean it can’t be eco-friendly!
DIY house cleaners
Now obviously it wouldn’t make a ton of sense for you to just throw away anything that isn’t waste-free and just jump right into it—that would be a huge waste of the products you already have! Plus, hopping right into something never ends well, even Lauren recommends taking your time. Instead, work through the products you have. When it’s time to replace, replace!
For example, when you finally run out of your household cleaning products, why not refill those bottles with your own homemade cleaners? Not only is it environmentally friendly (fewer bottles and plastics, y’all), but it’s also introducing you to chemical-free cleaning! Greatist has an amazing list of cleaning recipes that will make this process massively easy for you.
- Wool dryer balls, $18.99 (Replace these with dryer sheets)
Containers for food storage
Think about it – how many times are you throwing snacks or leftovers in plastic bags on a daily basis? I know that’s typically how our kitchen functions, and there’s really no reason for it! Why do that when we can use the containers that we have neatly stacked in our cabinets? Now don’t get me wrong, we do use them, but I think we could be even more eco-friendly about it in our home.
- Stackable container set, $40.99 (This is the set we have in our kitchen, and we love it! Saves us so much space because they stack so well together)
- Canisters & spice jars, $29.99 (Great for storing bulk items)
- Pyrex storage bowls, $9.99 (Need something new for freezer storage? No problem!)
- kate spade lunch container and canister, $25.00 and $20 (If you’re using it every day, might as well splurge on a cute one)
Farmer’s Markets & Food Co-ops
Going package free on your food seems almost impossible in a city like New York—but local markets and co-ops actually make the process way more plausible than you think. Not only are you getting fresh, local produce, but it’s an opportunity to go completely waste free with all of your food for the week!
Now I admit, being waste-free and simply going to markets such as this work really well for vegetarians. Eggs, beans, lentils, vegetables, bread…it’s simple! But Oliver and I will forever be meat eaters, so having to still go to our stores and buy packaged meat will be a necessity for us. But that doesn’t mean we can’t buy the rest of our food products at places that encourage waste-free living!
Located in NYC? Down To Earth is an amazing market organization in the city that has markets available all year round! We like to go to the one in Park Slope, which is closest to our studio.
Someday I dream of us having a small garden and a place for composting, but right now, that’s just not going to work for us. But that doesn’t mean composting can’t be a reality for city-slickers such as ourselves. Going to your local farmer’s market? They probably know areas for composting right in your neighborhood! Be sure to find the information stand at your next market to find out if you can compost every week at your market, or places that encourage composting articles to be brought to.
Not sure what you can compost? Here are 100 things you can compost right at home.
New York City is all about their tote bags. I mean, who wouldn’t be? They’re a great way to save the environment, and they look cute with any outfit. I typically carry a tote bag with me in my purse just in case I stop at a store (like any store, even the pharmacy). Grab a cute tote yourself to keep in your backpack purse, and even throw some of those cheap or free reusable bags in your car so you never forget them on your next grocery run!
- Claudia Pearson City Tote Bag, $20 (Just pick your city! These are seriously so cute. WANT.)
- Cay Tote, $66.75 (Looking for something sturdier for your farmer’s market journey? This will do!)
Paperless receipts & bills
Don’t need the receipt? Just say no! Or tell your store clerk to not print it. And for your bills, sign up to start getting paperless billing – your email inbox works just the same. If you don’t sign up for automatic payments, just make sure that you pay attention to those bills coming in—or set a calendar reminder on your phone to pay those bills at that time of the month.
Jar foods – use empty jars for food and gifts
Because isn’t it way more fun to eat out of a mason jar? Or give someone a homemade gift in a mason jar? I’m sure you have tons of jars in your fridge right now that you can easily clean and reuse as food containers or gift containers. If not, get yourself a set that you can keep reusing right at home!
- 12-count pint mason jars, $17.99
Bagged gifts, not wrapping paper
I admit I started saving gift bags and tissue paper for a while now because I’m kind of a cheap-o. But now, with a ton of gift bags and tissue paper saved up, I can use those for gifts this year during the holidays! Plus, you can get creative with your gifts this year – like using mason jars or other containers floating around your home. So skip on the wrapping paper and get creative with gift wrapping this year. It’s more fun that way, anyway!
Reusable coffee & water bottles
Not just for making coffee/bringing coffee – but also for when you head to coffee (or even smoothie) shops! I know we’re all *in love* with those Starbucks holiday cups, but if you’re out buying coffee every day that’s a LOT of cups to throw away!
- Full Circle Brumi Coffee Bottle, $34.99 (It brews hot & cold brew coffee right in the bottle!!!)
- S’well 17 oz. bottle, $34.99 (Works great for both hot and cold liquids)
- Cold drink tumbler, $16.00 (Great for smoothies)
- Extra straws, $5.99
- Corckcicle tumbler, $19.95 (Something a bit smaller for you…and um…your wine)
Buy loose-leaf tea
By day I’m a coffee girl, but by night my drink of choice is tea (or wine, hehe). Although I’m a huge fan of those Bigelow tea bags, I’ve been wanting to dive more into the world of loose-leaf tea. There are tons of stores that allow you to go in and refill a jar of tea, such as David’s Tea. Once you buy a jar, use some at-home products to steep your tea! Get an individual infuser or carafe for yourself, and a teapot for when you have company.
Dishware & silverware at work
This really depends on the type of office you are in, but I know there are a ton of offices offering paper goods for your eating and coffee drinking needs. Plus, if you’re the type of person that likes to buy lunch on the daily, I’m going to guess that you simply grab the plasticware that you need right at the store. Instead, why not have a few things at your desk to save the environment as you go? I keep a fork, spoon, and a large mug at my desk to use when I’m at work.
- Fork and spoon, $1 each
- 21 oz. mug, $5.99 (Use it as a mug AND bowl at work!)
- To-Go Ware, $12.95 (Out to grab a bite? Even having some cutlery on you to replace the plastic can make all the difference)
Second-hand clothes shopping
According to Lauren’s blog, did you know that the U.S. accumulated 25 billion tons of clothing waste in one year? Instead of shopping for new clothes, why not try second-hand stores to decrease this number? Better yet – sell or donate the clothes you’re not wearing and use that money as your shopping fund!
For the ladies…
That’s right, forget all of those sanitary napkin plastics and try one of these menstrual cups. I have a few friends who use it and absolutely love it.
What else do you do for the waste-free living? Share below, or on Instagram by tagging my blog’s hashtag #ilivebalanced!