Journey to Zero-Waste: Let's Get it Started
Updated: Jan 30, 2019
Trash grosses me out. I really love to clean (shocking to my college roommates) and spend a lot of time tidying for fun, but I could leave a full bag of stinky trash sitting in the kitchen for 3 days until Alex takes it to the dumpster. Hauling those nasty, full bags is my least favorite adult chore. Maybe that’s why I only took it a couple times...sorry, Alex. And don’t even get me started on recyclables. Thanks to this low-waste journey there will be minimal trips to the drop-off!
Although the decision to go zero-waste may seem out of the blue, this has been a gradual transition. Getting rid of everything in our home that came in packaging would be such a waste. Instead, as I run out of something, I replace it with a zero-waste alternative.
In order to come up with a plan to combat waste, we analyzed our waste over the course of a couple weeks. This process helped us determine the biggest contributors. Let’s just pretend for a minute that you are interested in our household waste.
This is what our trash/recycling bin looked like a month ago:
-Food scraps (onion peel, egg shells, stems, etc.)
-Food packaging (frozen veggies - whatup Trader Joes, cans, plastic salad boxes, etc.)
-Shipment packaging (Looking at you, Amazon prime)
-Empty toiletry containers
-Plastic produce bags
-Worn out clothing not suitable for Goodwill
-Disposable utensils at work when I forget my silverware
-Single use containers (coffee cups, to-go boxes, pizza boxes, takeout containers, etc.)
-Restaurant straws when I forget to say “We are a straw-free table”
-Feminine products (too early to go there?)
There is a lot to talk about for each of the contributors, so today let’s just talk food (my personal favorite subject).
Food scraps are one of our biggest sources of waste. To eliminate this, we began collecting all food scraps for compost. We do not have a yard, so composting never crossed my mind previously. After a bit of research, I stumbled across a Residential Compost Program. There is a local drop-off spot that accepts all food waste to compost and use on their local farm.
Kansas City Residents, check out the drop off location. Conveniently, it's open 24/7...and by open, I mean there's always a dumpster.
5500 Bennington Ave.
Kansas City, MO 64129
The farm has a booth at a local farmer’s market where they sell organic produce that is grown using our food waste. We store our compostables in a bucket with a lid (on our balcony) and I drop it off every couple weeks.
FOOD PACKAGING/GROCERY SHOPPING
Our recycling bin was constantly overflowing with food packaging. After making the decision to have as little waste as possible, I knew the bulk of the work would take place while grocery shopping. To prepare for the change, I purchased canvas produce bags that list the tare weight (weight of the empty bag). This means I can refuse the plastic bags that grocery stores offer in the produce section. The checkout employee just subtracts the tare weight from the total weight of the item so you aren’t charged more for using a bag.
Mason jars became another grocery shopping go-to. Using my digital kitchen scale, I weigh each container, and label the lid using a permanent marker with the tare weight. This way, when I buy bulk items, I place them directly in my container. Some stores may prefer weighing your containers first, making it even easier for you.
The foods I regularly buy in bulk bins: rice, oats, black beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, dried fruit, sugar, brown sugar. Each bulk bin item is labeled with a PLU number. As I fill my jar, my assistant (mom, wink wink) types the item name and number into a note on my phone. While going through the checkout, I tell the cashier the PLU number as they weigh each item.
Last week, I had to purchase cheese for a dinner party. I brought my glass container up to the counter where they have large wheels of cheese. They cut off the desired amount, weighed the cheese, and placed it in my container with a sticker for the cashier to scan. Although this is not a completely waste-free option since stickers are technically waste, it’s as close as we can currently get at our supermarket. I went through the same process to get meat for our charcuterie board.
Another exciting food change I’ve made is
signing up for a CSA. My workplace has a partnership with a local farm, so a veggie box gets dropped off each Wednesday at noon. This saves me a mid-week trip to the grocery store if I want some extra produce. This is definitely just a fun extra, not a necessary part of the transition. I’m just weird and get excited about food.
Because we do not consume many processed foods, this transition has been very doable. For people who consume lots of packaged foods, or eat a lot of carryout, this transition will be more drastic. Taking small steps at a time makes the shift more manageable. Just being mindful of what you waste is a great place to start.