Zero-Waste: Preserving our Oceans and Lands
Zero-waste is a topic I’ve been wanting to talk about for a while now, and this is a long post, so buckle-up and let’s get started!
First off, I just want to say that this guide is supposed to be educational, and in no way am I trying to personally attack anyone. There’s a quote by Maya Angelou that’s been on my mind a lot lately which is “"Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I think we all have a responsibility to our earth to take care of it as best as we can, and we can’t do that if we don’t educate ourselves.
This topic may seem a little weird to you to find on a Travel/Photography blog, but it actually impacts my life and my photography more than you might realize. I spend a lot of time outdoors, in our National Parks, and in our oceans and these places are being impacted dramatically by humans. Our oceans are filled with plastics and pollution that kill marine life, deplete oxygen content in the water, and disrupt the ocean’s food chains. This ultimately circles back to humans as we eat these contaminated fish. It really is a vicious cycle. It’s not just our oceans either, our lands are also being negatively effected by litter and pollution.
So what can we do?
There are SO many simple things we can do to reduce our impact, and help to restore our lands and oceans. For this blog post I am going to focus on ways we can produce less waste, as well as provide info and links to items that can help us live a more sustainable life.
I am actually going to create a separate post on the “Leave no Trace” principles, which focus on how we can preserve our earth as we enjoy it. I want to do this as a separate blog post because there is so much to share, and I want everyone to understand why it is important to choose an adventure/elopement photographer who respects and upholds these ideals.
I want to note that I too am new to the ideas of zero-waste, and I am still working on implementing many of these things in my daily life. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and even if you start by just doing a few of these things, you are still making a difference. We’re all human, we’re all imperfect, and we should all just strive to do the best that we can.
Since the post is going to be a little lengthy, I’m going to break it down into 5 sections:
1. Changing our Mindset
2. Refusing Items
1) Changing our Mindset
The first thing i want to talk about is how in order to live a zero-waste lifestyle, we first must change the way we think of our products and way of living. There are several important ideas I want to address.
Zero-waste doesn’t actually mean ZERO waste.
While as much as I wish we could produce absolutely ZERO trash as humans, it just isn’t realistic. The ideas of zero-waste are more about making conscious decisions and removing harmful items from your life when you can. It also means disposing of items properly and not sending things to landfill when they can be recycled or composted. This may mean finding different kinds of recycling places in your area, or even mailing in some items that can be recycled (I’ll touch on this later.)
When we recycle plastics they are actually being downcycled and just delaying the inevitable.
When we recycle our plastic bottles, containers, etc. these items are essentially going to be made into other items until the quality is so poor that they eventually have to be sent to landfill. In reality, recycling plastics isn’t solving a problem, it’s just delaying it.
Single-use plastics may seem easier now, but the impact they make isn’t worth it.
Paper plates and plastic silverware means no dishes. Plastic grocery bags mean I don’t have to remember to put the reusable bags back in my car. Paper towels and napkins mean I have less laundry. These are all thing we tell ourselves to justify single-use items, but It. Is. Not. Worth. It.
Something I find ironic is that parents often ensure they feed their children organic foods and only use soaps and lotions that are toxin free, yet don’t think in the long term about how their waste and single-use items will effect their children’s future. I’m not trying to call anyone out, because honestly, many people just don’t realize the impact that their actions are making on the environment. It all comes back to, “"Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Let’s keep our earth alive and thriving so our children (or future children) can enjoy it.
It’s likely you’ve heard of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle when it comes to waste, but there is another important concept that is often left out, and that’s Refusing. How often are we walking around a shopping mall or picking up our mail when we are given something for free like a flyer, sample, or promotional item? Fixing this issue is as easy as saying “no, thank you” and opting our of junk mail when possible. Let’s be honest, do you really need another pen or stress ball? Do you actually read that flyer you were handed, or does it go straight in the trash?
Not only does buying too much stuff negatively impact our earth, it also stresses us out. I also bet that if you think about the stuff you own you will realize a lot of it is sitting in a storage closet, untouched for months or even years. A few simple ways we can reduce our waste are:
Shop Less: Shop only when you actually NEED something, stop buying things for the sake having it.
Choose Quality over Quantity: How many times do we see something we really love, like a piece of furniture, but then realize the price is way over our budget. By choosing quality over quantity we are able to spend less money on cheap items and save for something that would really make us happy. Not only that, but if you buy a quality item you won’t have to replace it as often.
Rent or Shop Secondhand: If there is an item that you will only need for a specific time or occasion, consider renting it. Do you really need something extra sitting in your closet. If it is something you think you will use a lot, consider buying it secondhand instead of buying something brand new.
Plan your Meals: By planning out your meals, you will have less food waste and won’t need to re-buy items that have spoiled.
One big step is purchasing items that you can reuse rather than single-use items. I’m going to list below easily replaceable items that can make a big impact. I’ve also compiled a list of links to items that I have found through articles and blogs, that I believe are excellent options. None of this is sponsored, I just simply want to share my finding and make it easily accessible.
Kitchen, Grocery Shopping, & Eating Out
I’ll start with the obvious. Replace your plastic straws with metal ones, or don’t use a straw at all. I just ordered these metal straws from Etsy!
Replace plastic bottles and cups with reusable options. I absolutely love my Hydroflask. It is a little pricey, but in the long run it saves me money by not having to buy water bottles, plus it keeps my water super cold! If you’re a coffee shop regular try getting a to-stay cup or bringing you own reusable coffee cups.
Avoid plastic silverware at fast-food restaurants and bring your own reusable ones.
Replace paper, plastic, and styrofoam plates with reusable plates.
Trade in your paper towels and napkins for reusable cloth napkins.
Stop using single-use plastic and paper grocery bags and instead use reusable cloth bags. It’s likely you already have some tote bags around the house you can use, if not these simple canvas bags are a great option.
Replace plastic produce bags with reusable sacks like these cotton and mesh sacks.
Buy in bulk and use your own reusable containers like mason jars. Again, you probably already have something in your home that will work for this, but if not IKEA sells cheap glass jars that are perfect for bulk buying. In addition to using your own bags for bulk items, you can also bring your own containers to the deli.
Replace your aluminum foil with a silicone baking mat. I personally have a bad habit of using aluminum foil to line a pan every time I bake. I hate scrubbing pans with baked on foods, so this mat is a perfect option.
If you don’t have a place to buy groceries in bulk near you, try shopping the outer isles of the grocery store. It is there that you will find fresh produce, meats, and other items with less packaging. You can also check out your local farmers markets and support local businesses while you’re at it!
Bathroom, Toiletries, Skin-Case, & Makeup
Replace your plastic toothbrush with a biodegradable bamboo toothbrush like these from Wowe. The ones from Wowe are even numbered so you don’t get your toothbrush mixed up with someone elses!
Swap your regular toilet paper with recycled or tree free toilet paper that is wrapped in paper instead of plastic. I actually found a statistic published on GoingZeroWaste.com that says “Americans use 8 million tons of toilet paper a year. If every US house used just one roll of 100% post consumer recycled TP a year, it would save 423,900 trees.” You guys! This is such an easy replacement, there’s really no excuse! I personally find mine at a midwest based grocery store called Fresh Thyme, but you can find it at many stores and even online. Tree free toilet paper is a new concept to me and is made from plant-based items, and is supposedly 10x softer than recycled toilet paper, so it might be worth a shot!
Use coconut oil or another natural oil to remove your makeup instead of the store-bought solutions.
Replace you disposable cotton balls and circles with reusable facial rounds. I just bought these on Etsy and am excited to try them out! They also have these organic bamboo washcloths for washing your face!
Swap your soaps, shampoos, and conditioners that come in plastic bottles with ones that have reusable containers, or buy ones that come as bars. I personally struggle with the idea of giving up my liquid shampoo and conditioner and have found an awesome company called Plaine Products that uses aluminum bottles that you can send back for reuse! They even cover the cost of shipping the bottles back!
Replace your facial products with those who are conscious about their product and packaging. I personally love Natura Culina, a lot of their products come in glass containers and they use environmentally friendly shipping materials. Plaine Products also offers facial washes and lotions!
Choose makeup brands that are eco-conscious in both their product and packaging. The makeup industry is responsible for a huge amount of waste. Think of all the plastic containers your makeup comes in that can’t be recycled! Some of the popular brands like LUSH and MAC offer take-back programs where they will recycle your containers. While I personally haven’t tried most of these items, Green Indy Blog provides an excellent resource for choosing eco-minded makeup companies. I’ve also heard good things about Elate Beauty.
Replace your deodorant with a natural and eco-friendly version. This is something that I feel is pretty trial-and-error and the best solution really depends on your personal body. There are different types of natural deodorants; some are made with baking soda, charcoal, etc. My best advice it to do your research and see what type would be a good fit for you. A few companies that focus on sustainable packaging are Schmidt’s, PiperWai , and Native.
Laundry & Cleaning Products
Replace disposable dryer sheets with dryer ball or reusable cloths. I have been using these for about a year and LOVE them.
Make your own laundry detergent or buy from a sustainable company. There are a TON of DIY laundry detergent recipes out there, so I’ll let you search that one on your own. If you’re not much of a DIYer there are several sustainable options like ECOS who even uses 100% renewable energy for powering their manufacturing facilities AND you can buy it at Target! Another options is Dropps.
Use a wood handled dishwashing brush with replaceable heads. Wild Minimalist has even made their heads compostable!
For an all around cleaner Anita Vandyke recommends using Dr Bronner's castile soap to make your own dishwashing liquid, hand soap, and all-purpose cleaner. She also uses white vinegar, water, and orange peels to make her own cleaner.
You can use glass spray bottles like these to store your homemade cleaning products.
Buying secondhand is the best way to help the environment. Check out Goodwill and local thrift stores in your area before buying something new.
If you are going to buy something new, try to purchase from brands who are making efforts to reduce their environmental impact. Some of my favorite eco-minded brands are People Tree, Amour Vert, Patagonia, Rothy’s, Pact, United by Blue, Ten Tree, and Everlane. Some of these may seem a little pricey but it goes back to quality over quantity.
I know I listed a ton of information here, but don’t feel like you have to change your whole life overnight. Maybe try making 1-2 changes a month and see how much less waste you are producing. I will be the first to admit that I definitely don’t do all of these things, but I’m working on it, one small change at a time.
5) Recycling & Composting
As humans, it’s inevitable to get rid of all waste, so we need to be responsible about how we discard of our items.
Recycle anything that you can. This includes paper, bottles, plastics, electronics, etc.. If you don’t have recycling pickup at your home, it’s likely you have a recycling center nearby. Earth911.com can help you locate recycling centers near you for just about anything.
Compost all of your vegetables, food scraps, bamboo toothbrushes, etc. Check out this article for useful tips on what you can compost, I was super surprised by some of them!
If you live in an apartment like me, or don’t have a garden, you might be wondering how in the world you can compost. You actually have a couple of options. One thing you can do is collect your compostable items and take them to a friend, or local garden center, that does compost. To keep these items from smelling, you can keep them in the freezer, if needed, until you are ready to take them. Another option is using a composting service if you live in a large city. Living in Indy I use Earth Mama Compost and they will pickup from your house or apartment, or you can drop them off in a bin in Broad Ripple.
Eat less meat. Although meats can technically be composted, most people don’t and most composting companies won’t accept them. The reason for this is because meat smells bad as it decomposes, as many of us are probably aware from smelly trashcan situations. The smell in turn attracts animals that you might not want roaming your yard.
An awesome option for random things that we can’t recycle but don’t want to throw in a landfill is TerraCycle. They specialize in hard-to-recycle waste.
Phew, we made it! I know that was a ton of information, but I think it’s important to share these things because they really can make a big difference.
Something we often forget is that our money is one of our greatest voting weapons. When you spend money with a business you are investing in them, make sure you are supporting the right businesses and brands.
I hope this helps you make some positive changes in your life that will make our earth a much healthier place.
So now that we know better, let’s do better, friends. <3