Over the past year I’ve tried out roughly 12 zero waste swaps. Some of these have stuck long-term, and I can’t imagine going back on. Others took some time to adjust to, or will take more time to adjust to. And some just didn’t stick.
But above all else, over the course of this project, I’ve started to view the world differently. Anytime I buy anything, I’m aware of how it’s packaged. I’m aware of how much plastic there is. I wonder if there’s a sustainable alternative. I wonder if it’s something I really need. Anytime I’m getting rid of something, I wonder if there’s a sustainable way to recycle it or repurpose it, rather than throwing it out in the garbage. By intentionally considering the environmental cost of my lifestyle choices, I’ve started doing it unintentionally as well.
Sometimes I find myself really struggling not to be the condescending vegetarian telling everyone how they should be living their lives in a more sustainable way. I know that I’m not perfect, and I acknowledge that not everyone has the same resources or opportunities to make environmentally-friendly choices. That being said, I do hope that people will at least start considering more how their actions do have a ripple effect, and I hope this column has helped with that.
As my final zero waste column at The Daily Campus, I’m following up on some of my swaps, giving you more of a long-term glimpse at how they worked, which ones were my favorites, and which ones I want to go back and improve on.
The ones that worked
My top three favorite swaps that integrated easily into my life were composting, my paperless kitchen and the safety razor. I’ve been using all three of these zero waste strategies consistently since I first wrote my columns on them.
I will admit, composting has been much easier because my family composts at home. Normally when I go home to visit, or stay for a holiday, I empty my compost bin then, rather than use the transfer station I discussed in my article. When I move away, and going home isn’t an option, I’ll look into getting a worm bin, or try to find a different local dumping compost dump to visit.
Using cloth napkins and towels is way easier than it sounds. Sometimes when my laundry is backed up, I’ll have to resort to disposable paper towels briefly, but overall, changing my mindset to reach for cloth instead of paper has been easy and painless to keep up with.
Lastly, the safety razor is just so easy. Shaving is something I already did, and now I just use a different razor. It is important to make sure you store the safety razor somewhere dry, so it doesn’t rust, but this is one of the least invasive swaps I made.
The ones that I adjusted to
When I first reviewed the zero waste shampoo and conditioner, I hadn’t quite figured it out. The shampoo bars made my hair feel weird, and the liquid options were so expensive. Since then, I’ve tried out a new shampoo bar from Ethique, which I absolutely love. Unlike the shampoo bar I bought from Etsy, it doesn’t make my hair feel sticky or unrinsed. I normally use this with Pleine conditioner, but because it is pricy, I may eventually leave it in favor of conditioner bars.
I also tried to make homemade granola bars instead of individually wrapped store-bought granola bars. This one wasn’t so much a success as a lifestyle change. Ultimately, the granola bars I made myself just weren’t as good as the store-bought ones. I’m sure if I adjusted my recipe, I could improve it a bit, but I’ve also just stopped buying them from the store. Yes, they were quick and convenient, but after giving them up for a month while I tried the homemade version, I didn’t find myself craving them like before.
The ones I’ll keep trying
I feel pretty confident that my experience with the menstrual cup will be a success, but since I’ve only used it once, it’s too soon to really judge. Besides that, I think the homemade oat milk, the zero-waste toothpaste and the variety of zero waste cleaning products are all things I could improve on if I gave them another shot.
The oat milk was honestly really easy to make, and if I’m only using it for a few things — mac’n’cheese, cereal, scrambled eggs — I think the small yield should be fine. If I incorporate this into my routine better, and maybe find a better way to store it, I think this one could easily become common practice.
The toothpaste I tried was decent, but I think if I shopped around a little more, I might find an option (with fluoride) that I feel comfortable using more consistently.
In terms of the DIY cleaning products I made, these were all last-minute attempts to make something work. I think if I took a day and just made a bunch of different cleaning products in bulk, this would be an easier process, and set me up with sustainable supplies for a while.
Overall, I hope that while following this column, you’ve been inspired to try some of these swaps out on your own. At the end of the day, remember that even if you can’t fit all your trash into a tiny mason jar, any tiny effort you make will be better for the earth than not trying at all. Eliminating even one plastic straw, or buying just one zero waste toiletry, or finding just one meal’s worth of vegetables from the farmers’ market means just a little less waste. Money is an investment, so invest it in sustainable practices.
As much as corporations and governments are responsible for protecting this planet and ending unsustainable practices, you’re also responsible for your role in the system. Learning and exploring ways to minimize that role is the first step, and so I hope this column has helped with that.
Thank you for following me on my journey this year, and feel free to reach out to me with any of your own tips, tricks or questions about sustainability.