Written by: Natalia Brown
Ironically, consumer culture in society has made many of us feel as though there is a host of “essential” new supplies needed to live a low-waste life. From experience, myself and other members of the DFO team included, that’s not always the case! There’s a great deal of impact that can be made from a mindset shift, more resourcefulness, and creativity. These 3 key strategies may be implemented at any point in your low-waste journey to do good for your environmental footprint, wallet, mental and physical health.
1. Inventory your habits; think about recurring actions and expenses!
A personal inventory of your actions is one of the best ways to increase your understanding of how a low-waste lifestyle can be achieved in a way that is uniquely your own! Be open to considering different types of waste as you go through day-to-day activities. This may include food waste (such as vegetable trimmings that you don’t eat) and loss (foods that perish before you get to eat them), solid waste made of recyclable and non-recyclable materials, single-use plastics, and bulky packaging.
This consciousness exercise may seem overwhelming at first, so remind yourself that more room for improvement only represents greater potential for impact. Also, know that some unsustainable products and forms of packaging have dominated the markets and made alternatives less accessible for all of us. Make room for grace and acknowledge that living low-waste is a journey without a deadline or endpoint. Start with one or two sources of waste that are avoidable and manageable to phase-out at first. Then, gradually challenge yourself to do more! Repeating this exercise helps to integrate the long-term goal within your mindset.
As you identify patterns in the things you do and use most, compare these findings to what you find yourself spending the most time and money on. We tend to overlook abundance, and it is extremely important to understand and identify these things when looking for areas for improvement. Give yourself a moment to step back and survey what you have; you could also recruit a friend or family member to contribute a second opinion! Culprits may include anything from a pantry item to a piece of clothing that you gravitated towards in the store but never actually used after buying.
You will reach an important milestone in your low-waste journey as the relationship between these costs and priorities becomes more clearly defined. In my experience, this led me to embrace a simpler approach to my material possessions. I have avoided lots of direct and indirect wastage, saved an abundance of time, and eliminated unnecessary costs by cherishing all that I already have and thinking more deeply before buying anything new.
2. Make use of the hidden tools that you may not have noticed, but already have!
Sofia Mesa, DFO’s Chef Andrew Internship Program Director and one of my good friends from the University of Miami, is always coming up with innovative ways to repurpose the things we already have on-hand. She recently shared a flash-lesson on Debris Free Oceans’ Instagram sharing her take on this topic. If you haven’t already, check out her video for some insight and additional tips!
Living low waste can seem “overwhelming when you [become more aware of] all the disposable products in your life. The solution may first seem to be to get rid of all those items and start fresh with reusable and more sustainable items … in reality, getting rid of all those (usually) perfectly good items to replace them is extremely wasteful.” – Sofia
First things first, some of that waste you identified throughout your audit … isn’t waste yet! Repurposing is the ultimate budget-friendly solution to reducing your waste footprint. Some of our most frequent household waste can be reused in a multitude of ways. My favorite items to repurpose are glass jars, cans and other types of food packaging. These materials are made to be durable and protect their contents, so they’re perfect to wash and use at your desk, in the kitchen, bathroom, garden, or elsewhere. The possibilities are practically endless!
One bonus tip from Sofia is to save beverage containers, like wine or kombucha bottles, to propagate plants or store homemade low-waste cleaning products. By coincidence, I recently repurposed an empty liquor bottle to store homemade nut milk. This simple habit allows me to avoid trips to the grocery store and the single-use milk containers. Now that I have a larger and more durable bottle, I’ll also save time by preparing milk fewer times each week and storing it in bulk!
Up-cycling textile waste is also a great way to channel creativity, reduce your waste footprint, and revamp your wardrobe without breaking the bank. Increasing the life of your clothes not only reduces the waste you generate directly by ridding of ill-fitting or off-trend garments; you also do so indirectly by reducing your demand for new products. Manufacturing clothes creates a great deal of waste—including water, energy, and textiles used throughout the supply chain.
3. Seek out circularity, secondhand treasures, and high-quality new alternatives.
If you do not feel that what you already own can be used to satisfy a particular need, seek out insights from experienced zero-wasters, family, and friends. Google, Pinterest, Instagram, and Youtube can also be good sources for some creative inspiration and ideas!
When all else fails, recognize that there may be instances where making a purchase is necessary.
With the same priorities of increasing circularity and the lifetime of valuable materials already in loop, the best place to start is with secondhand goods. Purchasing clothes or home goods from someone who no longer has use for them can be an excellent way to reduce your waste footprint and that of your community. You don’t even have to step into a store to try this either! Swapping with neighbors, friends, or family is an even more budget-friendly way to increase circularity and find some useful secondhand treasures. Be sure to clean pre-owned items that you bring into your space and carefully test pre-owned appliances or tools to ensure smooth functionality.
When purchasing new products, you can go a step further by comparing brands, ingredients or materials, and packaging. Items that may be used for multiple purposes, by multiple people, or for longer periods of time are most worthy of your investment. This can be as simple as finding a set of containers that may be adjusted to hold different volumes or as far-reaching as a sectional couch that can be rearranged to accommodate different rooms or residences. With a bit of deeper searching, you can also learn more about a company’s supply chain. Becoming more aware of the purchases we are making can send signals about our values and needs to suppliers.