If you compared eco-minded living to a video game, going zero waste is a bit like the final boss fight. It’s the kind of achievement that takes a good deal of work in pulling off and often comes with certain frustrations and setbacks. If you can manage to do it (or even get close), however, it means you’ve accomplished a kind of gold-standard in environmentally-friendly living. It feels good knowing you’re not contributing quite so much to the garbage patch that’s three times the size of France currently floating in the Pacific Ocean.
Obviously, there’s no one solution for decreasing your waste. The trash we throw away doesn’t all come from one place — it demands attention across the board. There are a few easy tricks to slicing your eco-impact, though, and we’ve picked some of the most manageable ones to lay out below. Here’s a look at what you can do that will help move you and your household in the waste free direction before Earth Day on Aprill 22.
Reusing (And Reusable) Containers
Packing up your reusable grocery bags when you go shopping is a good start, but it’s not all you can do. Much of the trash we end up throwing out is packaging that comes with buying lunchmeat, cheese, coffee, and so on. Some of that excess packaging can’t be prevented, but you can dramatically reduce that type of plastic by bringing your own containers from home. Instead of picking up a pre-packaged bundle, order directly from the deli counter, and after they weigh your purchase, have them put your food in one of your containers. The same goes if you buy bulk coffee beans, nuts, or grains.
Yes, this complicates your shopping trip down before you even get to the store (the clerk should let you pre-weigh your jars so that you’re not paying for their weight), but it will lower the amount of waste that ends up in a landfill somewhere. There’s an added bonus that comes with using glass containers, particularly mason jars, for food storage — your shelves will resemble something between a quaint farmhouse and the lair of an over-prepared survivalist.
Picking The Right Packaging
The big takeaway here is knowing that just because something’s made of a recyclable material, it doesn’t necessarily mean that its recyclable itself. If you’re like me, you might have a sort of built-in reflex to thinking cardboard is the go-to choice for being better for the environment than a plastic container. However, the reality is that cardboard food containers are often coated in wax or plastic, making them impossible to recycle. Which means it ends up being just more fodder for your trash.
The best way to pick the right packaging depends on the material. If it’s plastic, there’s a code on the back of the packaging that’ll indicate whether it’s recyclable or not. Greenopedia also has a helpful breakdown of how to read them. If it’s another material, the package should indicate whether or not you can recycle it, but it’ll take a little double-checking on your end before you throw it in your cart. Also, remember that if something says it’s made from recycled material, that doesn’t necessarily mean it can be recycled again when you’re done with it.
Bottom line: You have to be savvy and check the packages of the things you buy. Yes, it’s a little extra effort but that’ll be well worth it to help save the planet.