Five insider tips to help you reduce waste at home and on the go
A zero-waste lifestyle? Impossible is your first thought, right? It sounds very out there, dramatic, unattainable, and for most people, totally unrealistic—depending on where you grew up, where you call home, and the people surrounding you. And yes, living a zero-waste lifestyle isn’t something that simply happens overnight, but rather something to be worked into your lifestyle slowly, and with a whole lot of thought, according to the vast majority of people we’ve met who are striving to do so. It’s also not as hard as it sounds, as long as you start with small steps.
Marifer Mijangos, an expat living in Colorado, originally from Mexico City, has been working towards a zero-waste lifestyle for the last decade. Inspired by her grandparents who were one of the only houses in the city with chickens and horses, and one of the last houses ever to get a delivery of real raw milk until it was prohibited by Mexican law.
“My grandparents lived a zero-waste life. They’d go and buy their food every day in the market with their bags and containers, they would compost everything, and they didn’t have a lot of electronics in their kitchen. The fridge was usually empty because they’d decide what they wanted to eat that day, walk to the market, and buy fresh fruits, vegetables, milk and whatever meat they wanted to make,” says Mijangos, explaining that in colourful Mexican markets full of beautiful produce you can buy everything in one place.
When she had the freedom to decide what to do with her own life, Mijangos was motivated by her love for the environment to live a more natural life. “It’s healthier for everyone—your own body, the environment, and the people who are harvesting and creating this food.”
“In Mexico,” Mijangos says, “A lot of the practices are easier to do with no waste, but here in the States everything comes packaged and there’s a lot more processed food, so I’ve had to be more conscious about how to stop creating waste.”
She says the main thing is to not get overwhelmed or try to do too many things at once. Every small step counts, any bit of change helps. “It’s a gradual thing, it’s not something you do all at once because then it becomes overwhelming and people stop doing it. Master one thing, then move onto the next.
Marifer’s Top Tips for Working Towards a Zero-waste Lifestyle
1. Consider the waste created while travelling
Photo by S'well on Unsplash“I travel a lot internationally, so I plan out what food I’ll bring on the plane and I avoid taking anything from the airline because that creates trash. I bring multiple snacks, like apples, carrots, grapes, a sandwich or a main dish, depending on how many hours I’m going to be on the flight. Also, I always bring my water bottle, headphones, eye mask—I simply don’t need anything by planning ahead.”
2. Invest in reusable beauty products
Photo by EcoPanda on Unsplash“Every time I see an opportunity to get something that will help me create less waste in the long run, I buy it.” Think about things that are part of your daily beauty routine—do you need to use a new cotton pad every day? “I’ve had the same reusable cotton bud for three years, and haven’t needed to buy a new one since,” adds Mijangos. She also found a deodorant in Mexico made from a stone—piedra de alumbre (aka stone of alumbre)—that has antibacterial properties making it one of the best deodorant’s she’s ever used. It is made from the naturally occurring mineral salt potassium alum. It only needs to be replaced once every five years (also, it’s one of the main ingredients in almost every deodorant you’ll find on the shelves of your local drugstore).
3. Shop bulk
Finding great places to shop bulk in different cities can be difficult and it can get overwhelming pretty quickly. But once you track a place down where you can buy bulk and store your goods properly, it creates significantly less waste than buying small packaged amounts more frequently.
4. Choose reusable market bags
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash“Everything I acquire, I buy in compostable packaging—or no package at all—and put it in my own bag.” Expert tip: Keep canvas, linen or mesh grocery or produce bags in your purse or car and you won't have to worry about remembering to pack them each time.
5. Do your research when shopping for a vehicle
Photo by EcoPanda on Unsplash“I live in a place where I need a car for many things. Colorado is beautiful, but there’s no public transit to get out of the city in a way that is efficient or effective. Marketing does its job of making hybrid and electric cars look like they are always sustainable,” says Mijangos. “In most cases—like 95 percent of the time—they are not. Buying an electric car in Colorado isn’t actually sustainable because the electricity here comes from coal, and all the parts of the car are produced in the same way as a regular car. In Colorado, buying an electric car has the same impact as a regular car because of where the energy comes from.” Carpool more—travel with friends to use the car less and be conservative with your energy efficiency.