Easy, cheap ways to go zero waste
It’s no secret that the planet and its inhabitants suffer from the decisions we make as consumers. Earlier this month on the shores of Indonesia, a dead whale was found with over 6 kilograms of plastic (roughly 1000 plastic bags, plates and cups) in its stomach, which is thought to be the cause of its death. This is but one instance in an infinite number of situations where consumerism has contributed to global death and decay. So, how does one combat these horrors? They reduce their carbon footprint. What is the easiest (and cheapest) way to do that? Going zero waste.
This may seem tough, especially for a low-budget college student who barely scrapes by on ramen noodles and $3 merlot from Trader Joe’s. But, despite the rumors, going zero waste is easier than ever, especially for a student at UC Davis. From opting out of using Keurig K-Cup Pods to bringing reusable bags to the grocery store, the possibilities are endless.
First on the list of easy ways to go zero waste: coffee. Let’s get this straight, coffee is a lifeblood. If you go to college and you don’t drink coffee, you’re probably much healthier than the rest of us. But for those avid coffee drinkers, a key zero waste asset is the French press.
For the time crunched college student, the conveniency of a Keurig may seem ideal. But put into perspective, single serve coffee makers produce a ridiculous amount of waste. French presses are magic makers that work without the need for a paper filter or plastic pod, just a plunger and a pot makes a batch of coffee without the possibility of preparatory waste ending up in an animal’s stomach. Plus, French presses are incredibly affordable and can be purchased on Amazon for around $20.
When thinking about zero waste opportunities in the kitchen, disposables may be easily thrown away but not so easily broken down. That is, paper plates, towels and anything plastic while convenient are not cheaper than the alternative and are bad for the environment. The money spent on disposable amenities can be money spent on dish soap.
Needless to say, the disposable route and the idea of not having to clean up after eating may seem appealing, but in the end, someone or something has to face the repercussions. Whether it eventually lands in a landfill or the tides of the ocean, the life of the plastic fork doesn’t end in the garbage can.
One can dive into the endless abyss of the internet and reference a number of studies on the environmental impacts of paper and plastic, but our imaginations are probably more realistic than not. All else equal, reusable kitchen amenities are cheaper, longer lasting and better for the environment than their alternates. If you’re serious about going zero waste, this a no-brainer. On that note, let’s not forget about the wastefulness of plastic zip-lock baggies; their alternative would be an eco-friendly bee’s wax paper that is flexible and reusable. Wrap your food in these bad boys and your kitchen will be free from the wrath of the zip-lock, or if you decide against buying the “bee’s wrap,” you can always become a Tupperware hoarder. It happens to the best of us.
In the bathroom, consider either a shorter shower or a longer bath, and for the porcelain throne, there is the time-old saying: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.” Less water use, the better.
Although not nearly as much as other recyclables, shampoo and body wash bottles stack up over time. Consider opting for soap bars. Lush cosmetics sells a wide range of shampoo, face and body wash bars that are all plant-based and vegan and have nothing to do with animal testing. A quick Google search will find a large selection of zero waste, fair trade deodorants, dental floss and more. Discovering new products can become one of the most fun parts of transitioning to zero waste — change up that bathroom game.
Outside of the house exists a wasteful wonderland. While keeping reusable bags handy is a well-known rule of thumb, remember to abstain from using the plastic produce bags within the grocery store. Their zero waste solution is reusable mesh produce bags. Keep them in your grocery bags at all times and you’ll be thankful every time you reach for them.
When you go to flex these reusable bags, consider visiting stores that sell in bulk because they allow you to bring your own containers to fill with items such as rice, almonds or coffee. Just write down the weight of the empty container, give it to the clerk and they’ll do the math and cut the price. Also, bulk sale is always substantially cheaper than buying pre-packaged goods.
For daily adventures, there are a few accessories that deserve a spot in the everyday backpack. Starbucks, along with most coffee shops, will fill any cup-like container you hand them when ordering a drink. Seriously, your local baristas will fill a Mason jar to the brim with your favorite drink if you just supply the container.
That being said, step one: put a Mason jar in your backpack. It will come in handy. Step two: never touch a one-time use plastic straw for the rest of your life if you can. There are reusable straw keychains for sale that you can add to your bag that will immediately curb your plastic straw usage, thus keeping you away from waste and keeping waste away from the nostrils of sea turtles. Step three: to-go wooden cutlery is a total lifesaver. Packable knife, fork, spoon (and chopstick) combos are easy to wash and easy to pack. They come in handy on a regular basis, whether you’re at a park bench or even your favorite restaurant. Final step: pack a rag. The days of disposable napkins are at an end and the handkerchief is now in.
Take all that has been listed (reusable cutlery, straw and cup), wrap them in a rag, put it in your bag and you’ve got yourself a zero waste toolkit to take with you everywhere. With this, you may actually go through the entire day without contributing any waste while eating.
Paying a visit to the bookstore is also worth mentioning, as you can marvel at the many options they provide for the environmentally concerned student: reusable water bottles, refillable soy-ink pens, post-consumer-waste composition journals. You name it.
These are the most basic essentials when it comes to going zero waste on the fly. Of course, there is a larger and better list out there somewhere that will direct you towards a long life of being zero waste. But, for the college student lifestyle, these are some of the first steps you can take towards reducing your carbon footprint today.
Written by: Clay Allen Rogers — firstname.lastname@example.org