Also: Four Brands that Give Me GREEN Heart Eyes
I was an environmental studies major in college, but I found that living in line with what I was studying was difficult to do while actually in college. It mostly came down to priorities (I juggled a lot) and time (not much of that). For instance, I wasn’t great about remembering to bring a reusable mug when I got coffee – and boy, did I drink some coffee.
When I grocery shopped, I paid no attention to packaging and made little effort to bring my own bags. Otherwise, I ate what was free – and that included lots of meat. Convenience and cost were at the forefront of my choices.
And then I ended up on my own.
- No more free toilet paper, wifi, multiple free meals a day, or included utilities.
- I got to see, truly, how much waste I as a single human being created. I couldn’t hide from it.
- I tried going plastic free for all of July 2017 and could not believe how difficult it was to find food packaged without plastic – or unpackaged food at all.
- I noticed the difference in my waste production when I ate out and brought back leftovers, grabbed a snack, meal or coffee in a drive-thru and when I didn’t. So did my budget.
In light of these observations, I did a lot of research on what I could do as a young, single, pet-owning human with a cashflow problem and a desire to live more sustainably.
What I found is that other people care about living sustainably, too, and that adopting these habits is a process. Changing lifestyle habits is actually more likely to stick if done slowly rather than suddenly, and I take comfort in that!
Small Changes First: A Few Examples
A) I stopped letting myself buy coffee in a single-use container. I bring my own, or better yet, I make my own at home! I’ve got a french press and it’s a great way to make coffee in a way that reduces waste, but it takes a little more time and effort than I’ve got sometimes. There is grace for days that I *must* have a latte.
B) I started refusing to grocery shop unprepared. Cloth bags live permanently in my car so I never forget them. I go for minimally-packaged food or at worst, reusable/recyclable containers. I don’t buy meat, usually – I eat out about once a week and usually enjoy a dish with meat then.
Shopping in bulk is almost impossible for me (allergies, rural shopping options) but here are my favorite ways to get groceries with less plastic:
- Walmart – yeah, not what I expected to be first on this list, either. But their produce section has a lot more loose produce and fruits than most grocery stores, so it’s easy to bring your own container (BYOC). Except for leafy greens and carrots… ugh.
- Aldi – BYOBags is required here, so I love the premise, but that doesn’t mean they have lots of unpackaged offerings. Fruits and veggies are almost always wrapped in plastic. Still good for jarred/canned/dry items.
- Farmer’s Markets – there are several in my area, depending on how far I’m willing to drive, and most will gladly accommodate BYOC customers – sometimes more readily than accepting payments via card or check! Great for veggies, local honey in jars, fruits, etc.
- Roadsides – they’re everywhere in Western NC, with fresh fruits and veggies galore! For me, the tricky part is to catch them open while I’m headed home, and not on my way out for a three-hour excursion. That and having cash on-hand.
C) Generally, I became more critical about my purchases. Clothing: thrifted when possible, and bought from sustainable, ethical brands otherwise. (Pro tip: ThredUp combines thrifting AND online shopping – win-win!) Cleaning products: old t-shirts-turned wash rags work better than and last longer than paper towels, anyway. There’s always a “zero waste” alternative.
Larger Changes Later
Start composting all my food scraps and using it to grow my own veggies? It’s on the list – for a day that’s not today, and that’s okay. There are plenty of items I could add to this list, many of which start with “make your own ____,” and ain’t nobody got the time for that right now.
Embracing small changes first means giving myself GRACE for the hiccups along the way… like moving, or schedules that change at the last minute, etc.
Great Brands Help: A Few Favorites
In navigating the challenge of shopping sustainably a rural area, I’ve found a few great brands that filled some particular needs of mine, and all are sustainable and ethical. Because I’m investing in quality products that will last, I’m saving money, too. Here are a few recent favorites – no ads or collaborations here, just fangirling:
Package Free: so many ways to ditch plastic, AND so many ideas to replicate without buying online! The first Package Free items I tried: A shampoo bar, face soap bar, and the safety razor – no more plastic in my shower! I can’t believe how many sub-par plastic razors the safety razor replaces – saving me money and the planet! Same thing with my bamboo straws – I can avoid so many plastic straws while keeping myself hydrated plastic-free!
The “Trash is for Tossers” blog is awesome and full of ideas – and P.F. products range from cleaning to kitchen supplies and everywhere in between! All shipping is even 100% plastic free. Seriously, go explore their site for the inspiration alone.
Street & Saddle: Handmade ethically by an entrepreneur and designernamed Katelyn in Vancouver, I love the art that is this collection of clothing! While not every item on their site is my style, their bamboo/rayon shirts are incredibly comfortable, sustainable, professional enough to wear to work, and functional enough for me to wear to the barn.
They’re gorgeous to boot! Some of these prices would have freaked me out a year ago, but I’m saving so much money through thrift shopping and in other areas of my budget that I’m learning to enjoy the occasional investment. Plus, sales are still a great thing. And I’ve got a long wish list…
Summersalt: Swimwear is one of those things I don’t feel like buying secondhand – crazy, I know! – and I did a lot of searching for sustainable brands. Most current eco swimwear brands are super pricy and/or shipped all the way from Australia (AUS and NZ are absolutely crushing the sustainable swimwear industry, FYI) but I eventually found Summersalt. All suits are under $95, are incredibly durable and sustainably made, and pieces mix and match well. This was a difficult item on my list to fill, and I like the way it turned out. I’ll be back for more!
Rareform: I needed a new backpack to take to work that was large enough to fit my computer, lunch, etc., but that was high-quality and didn’t cost half my paycheck. Most packs I found were leather… not quite what I was going for on either price or sustainability fronts.
Rareform recycles old billboard art to create unique backpacks, totes, duffle bags, computer sleeves, wallets – it’s genius and I ended up with a spacious, waterproof backpack that I’m proud to carry. Better yet, I only spent $68! I was able to score a black one that I know I’ll always want to take everywhere, but there are colors and styles galore to suit any personality! Definitely check them out.
Using Everything to End of Life
Once I found some awesome alternatives to objects I used already that were way more sustainable, I panicked a little at how much it would cost to replace all my earthly possessions. But here’s the thing: I shouldn’t replace everything I own right now! Doing so would create unnecessary waste and cost more money – totally missing the point.
There are some aspects of my life that I’m not sure will ever be waste-free… My nut allergy makes buying in unpackaged bulk dangerous, and my bread will likely always have to come in plastic bags until I decide to love baking bread for myself (I don’t). Many designated nut-free food items come packaged to prevent contamination, and I’m not shy about putting my safety first. But otherwise, I’m thrilled to be making a noticeable change, however slowly.
*Especially* in Plastic Free July, the internet is full of “Fifty Ways to Go Zero Waste” lists and ideas – and that’s a good thing. I remind myself often, though, that I do not have to start juggling all fifty of those zero waste habits at once – I can’t! One or two at a time is just fine, even if it takes months for me to take another step forward. One less piece of waste is still important, and personally, I’ve found so much joy in wading into the waters I’ve admired from afar for so long.
A new, modern generation of “waste not, want not” is coming, and I’m all in for it. How have you made zero waste doable for your situation? Please let me know in the comments!
Plastic Free July: Join me on Instagram!
I’m documenting my [honest, not always successful] attempts at plastic-free living this month on my Instagram story; join me @sarahcmadden if you’d like! Sneak peeks below: