Getting to a zero-waste home can seem like a daunting task, even if we’re a Portlander born-and-bred.
But zero-waste is attainable. Like most new things in life, we may just need a little help getting started in the right direction, and access to the right tools to make it happen. Here are a few tips and tricks to make that journey towards zero-waste a bit easier:
Change Your Mindset
These are some general rules most zero-wasters follow.
- Refusewhat you do not need. (Things like bringing your own bags to the grocery store, your own straw to the restaurant, and opting out of junkmail in your mailbox.)
- Reducewhat you do (We talk about green living habits and reducing your carbon footprint here.)
- Reusewhat you consume. (Think about various uses for glass jars, gallon jugs, etc. This article has lots of ideas for common household items!)
- Recyclewhat you cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse.
- Rot(compost) the rest. (We talk about backyard composting here.)
Don’t turn up your nose at the bulk bin. These resources have come a long way in recent years, and many very high-quality items can be purchased from a bulk bin. Buying more fruits and vegetables when they’re in season and freezing them will not only reduce packaging, but also allow you to eat healthier! Consider these things as you shop as well:
- Bring your own cloth bags for bulk and fresh food items.
- Bring glass containers for things like fresh meat, peanut butter, and honey.
- Refill your empty wine bottles at the local winery and get a refillable growler for your favorite brewery.
- Shop the farmer’s market and fill your own basket with fresh produce.
And if any of these feel strange or you’re not sure your local store will approve, just ask them! Most shops in Portland will gladly help you to be more sustainable!
Simplify Cleaning Supplies and Personal Hygiene Products
Okay, I must admit that some of us hoard the cleaning supplies. We have a cleaner for dishes, laundry, floors, tubs, hard woods, tile, windows…. Did you know that the EPA ranks indoor air pollution as one of the top pollutants and that many of these indoor air pollutants come from the cleaners we use? Here’s a list of some of the top offenders that contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other toxic substances:
- Aerosol spray products, including health, beauty and cleaning products
- Air fresheners
- Chlorine bleach
- Detergent and dishwashing liquid
- Dry cleaning chemicals
- Rug and upholstery cleaners
- Furniture and floor polish
- Oven cleaners
Consider making some natural choices for your cleaning. Try these instead:
- Baking Soda: cleans, freshens, brightens, and cuts grease like a boss
- Castile Soap: entirely plant based, is safe for babies and pets, and can be used as face and body wash, hand soap, dish soap, laundry detergent, shampoo, shaving cream, makeup brush cleaner, floor cleaner, windows …. Almost anything.
- Vinegar: eliminates grease and soap scum very effectively and freshens towels like nothing else.
- Lemon Juice: brightens clothes, cleans the microwave, degreases dishes, removes hard water stains, helps unclog drains… and smells great in the process!
These can all be purchased in bulk and can be used to clean almost everything. And try using rags instead of paper towels, hankies instead of tissues. You can even cut up old towels and sheets to use for cleaning!
Yes, this means gently used items. But so much good can be found second hand — the list is endless! Check out Portland’s ReBuilding Center for some great home improvement, and remodeling items! And when you shop gently used clothing, you can generally buy high quality items that will hold up over time. Consignment shops are great for clothing and furniture and often carry unique styles. Powell’s is great for second-hand books that read just as great the third and fourth times, too.
Whatever steps you take to get closer to zero-waste, I applaud you! When we all work together on being more gentle on the environment, the healthier we’ll all become.