Are you ever at a restaurant and overhear the girl at the next table asking for her water without a straw? Well, that’s me!
In 2015, my cousin shared an article profiling Lauren Singer, a Brooklyn woman and blogger at Trash is for Tossers, and since then I’ve become more environmentally conscious and dedicated to reducing my waste. If Lauren, who lives in New York City, a pretty dirty place, can produce zero waste, then I could too.
This began my journey into understanding the impact of plastic on the environment and our health. Because plastic products were so normal in my household, from cases of water bottles to plastic shopping bags to dental floss picks, it didn’t occur to me that there was a time when it didn’t exist. Having only been invented in the late 1800s/ early 1900s, and only becoming a household staple in the 1950s, plastic is a relatively new phenomenon.
Plastic is convenient and cheap. I won’t argue with that. There have been plenty of times plastic has come to my rescue. For instance, recently, when my sushi burrito fell apart during lunch at the park, my colleague offered up an extra plastic spoon in her bag so I could finish my meal. But, this convenience is catching up to us. And we’re creating more waste than we can handle. I know I don’t want to keep contributing to this problem, and it helps that it’s also saving me money in the long run. Think about it. If you can find a way to DIY, you will need to buy it.
If you’re interested in learning more about how we got into this mess, I recommend reading this National Geographic article.
The following are ways reducing my waste has saved me money!
I bring my own shopping bags
This is by far the easiest to start with and probably the one that offers the least financial return on your investment. But, it should not be overlooked, this makes an impact instantly, considering the average person uses over 300 bags per year. Yes, at most I’m only saving 25 cents per Target run (with 5 cents given per bag) but something is something and I’m doing it for the cause.
I no longer buy plastic water bottles
This was a challenging one for me since growing up, my house always had an abundance of water bottle cases, yet I did it and never looked back. Not only am I no longer buying water bottles for everyday use, but I never have to buy overpriced water at an airport or music festival! I typically drink anywhere from 50 to 60 oz of water a day, which comes out to about 350 per week. If I did still buy a 24 pack of 17 fl oz for $4.99, I’d be spending at least $230 a year in water bottles.
I rarely buy drinks out (alcoholic or not)
Working in New York City I’m constantly tempted by fancy spots offering “wellness shots” and high-end coffee and tea. Fortunately, I’m not a HUGE fan of coffee, so that’s a plus, but I do enjoy my smoothies. The solution to this was buying a stainless-steel tumbler for homemade smoothies and for those times I want a fountain drink.
Also, since reducing my waste, I have become very picky about when I drink at bars or clubs. If I know the bar only offers plastic cups, then I won’t buy a drink. Period. And to avoid straws I will sometimes opt for beer, which is typically cheaper than cocktails.
I don’t buy fast-fashion
Actually, I rarely buy any new clothes anymore—fast fashion or not. When I first started working in high school, I was thrilled to stop relying on my mom for my outfits and happy to spend my paycheck on cheap clothing. I lived for Forever 21 and H&M, but today, you won’t see me shopping there. I understand that for some people there is no other option, but I’ve had plenty of luck being surrounded by NYC area thrift stores that offer a variety of styles. I know for a fact that my shopping has decreased significantly since being introduced to the Zero Waste movement.
I buy fewer hygiene products
This doesn’t mean I smell, or don’t take care of myself. It just means I find DIY alternatives like instead of buying deodorant, I use lemons to rub under my armpits. My mom taught me this trick in 2011 when she learned about the negative health effects of deodorant. Before finding the Zero Waste lifestyle, I would use makeup removal wipes every night. Not anymore. I now use coconut oil to remove my eye makeup and Lush facial soaps. Through Lauren’s YouTube channel, I found this recipe for homemade toothpaste. This is only a small list of the products you can DIY, there are a number of other ones I’m looking to recreate, like body lotion.
I don’t buy tampons or pads
I stopped buying single-use menstrual products in 2015, and I’m not 100% sure how many cycles I’ve had since then but let’s assume I had one every three months. That’s a total of 12 cycles. If I continued buying two boxes of Tampax Pearl Regulars, I would have spent $96 since 2015.
My Lunette menstrual cup cost me $39.99 and can last up to 10 years. If it does, in fact, last 10 years, I will have saved 80 tampon boxes (two for every cycle and four cycles per year) and $320, assuming each box is $4.