Thursday, December 22, 2011

How to Pay for Zero Waste

Going zero waste will eventually reduce your household expenses (by a lot), but getting there requires an initial investment that can be intimidating. I live far below the poverty line, so collecting the change to pay for cloth towels, diva cups, food storage containers, and other reusables was daunting at first, but soon snowballed into an easy process as I saved money by not buying all those disposables in the first place. You can go about acquiring the things you need for zero waste any way you like, but this is the simple system I like to recommend.

Stop buying the things listed in order. Either use the standard, reusable version, or go without it. Put the money you would have spent on that product in a piggy bank, where you can save up for the more expensive zero waste replacements.Good luck, and remember to contribute to your pig regularly.

  1. Garbage bags. Just carry the can out to the dumpster and empty it. You won't have to worry about sticky, stinky things as long as you're composting, and you can always give your garbage can a quick rinse if it needs it. $1 a week.
  2. Paper plates and plastic utensils. Washing dishes isn't that hard, and has much less impact on the earth. $2 a week.
  3. Paper towels and napkins. Use rags, dish towels, cloth napkins, and Bird-e towels instead (see replacement resource list) $2 a week.
  4. Soda, smoothies, and coffee. Replace with water (free), or buy them if you must, but use a reusable cup or water bottle. Most places will give you at least a nickel off the price if you supply the container. $0.10--$20 a week. 
  5. Ziploc bags, saran wrap, and paper lunch bags. Use cloth sandwich wraps, Tupperware, and other food storage options. $1--$5 a week.
  6. Bathroom sundries, like Q-tips, cotton balls, nail files, cotton rounds, and paper cups. $2--$10 a week.
  7. Tampons and menstrual pads. $5--$10 a month.
  8. Toilet paper. I know this sounds gross, but cloth wipes clean better, feel nicer, and are lighter on the planet. A lot of people use them for #1 only, which is a great way to lessen your toilet paper use without worrying about the grossness factor. $1--$5 a week.
  9. Packaged and processed food. Oreos are crazy expensive compared  to homemade cookies. (if you don't have bulk bins in your area, try to buy the largest size package you can, and focus on dry goods rather than canned) $5--$50 a week.
  10. Batteries. These are expensive and wasteful, especially if you go through them quickly. $5--$10 a month.
Once your savings pig is good and fat, start buying reusable versions of disposable things, in order of importance/highest cost to you. Things I like:

There are lots of other disposable things that can be replaced, but these are the ones I was buying most often before going zero waste, and which I saved the most money from replacing. If you're lucky enough to be able to buy these in one trip, go for it, but if not, I hope the idea of snowballing your savings helps you in acquiring the little things that make a zero waste life easier.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Step Six: Find Your Style

I love wearing the colors black, khaki, and green; I like all my kitchen implements to be glass or stainless steel; I only like using Moleskine notebooks; I'll vacuum every day, but I'm lucky if I mop once a month; I don't consider movies and television a waste of time; I like dark wooden furniture; I'd rather read a book on my Kindle than any other way; I have little use for liquid lotions, but I love perfume; I don't eat things if I couldn't make myself, except for Oreos. These are just a few things about me and my style, but they've helped immensely in my zero waste life.

When you know what works for you, what you like, and what you will never use, you can cut through the clutter of unloved gifts, household duplicates, and dreaded calendar appointments. By eliminating these things, and letting people know that they aren't important to you, you can cut waste from your lifestyle. I don't buy clothes I won't wear and love, don't accept hand-me-downs that don't match my style or standards of usefulness (old buckets I will always take, a brand-new KitchenAid mixer? no thanks),  and put gifts I won't use directly in my donation box (after writing a nice thank-you note, of course).

But how to find your style? As pictures of me in high school will prove, I struggled for years to find out what clothes worked for me, and learn what would be a bust. A few more years in college were spent figuring out how I wanted to live, cook, and interact with the world. I still have to work at figuring out what I want from life, and more specifically what I want from my possessions in terms of appearance, function, and amount. This is an ongoing process, but for someone looking to jump-start their discovery of style, I'd recommend the following steps:

  1. List off the things you love. Clothes, cooking utensils, collections, activities, everything. Then look at your list and try to notice some common factors, like colors, clothing styles, people you like to spend time with, and functionality. Keep this list of attributes in mind when you're deciding whether to throw something away, RSVP to an event, or acquire something.
  2. Discover, and start to follow, some methods on cutting the crap from your life. I would be lost without Dave Ramsey for money management, David Allen for time management, and Erin Doland for uncluttering methods. Some people know how to cook, but are at a loss when it comes to dressing themselves, or know how to look good but have no idea how to maintain a car. Whatever your weakness is, do a Google search and start to find out how to manage, maintain, and feel good about that aspect of your lifestyle.
  3. Go through one area of your life and get rid of the things that aren't your style. The easiest area  in my opinion? Office supplies. Gather all the tape, scissors, paper clips, markers, rulers, and other office ephemera from around your house, and take a good look at it all. If something doesn't work, is a duplicate, isn't something you like, or is something you rarely use, donate it to a thrift store, shelter, or school. Your scissors don't need to be in your favorite color (though some people like it when they are, and that's okay), but they do need to be in good working condition and in a place you can easily access and put them away.
You don't need to figure out your perfect everything, or declutter your entire house just yet; we'll go through everything as part of the hundred steps to zero waste, but it is helpful to know what works for you, and what might work better as a member of someone else's home.

First time reading about a hundred steps to zero waste? Go here for the introduction and index.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Best Zero Waste Christmas Gift

There are a bunch of great ideas for zero waste Christmas gift; things like Lunchbots, furoshiki wraps, and experiences are all great options for presents. However, to be frank, money is the best gift of all, especially for us zero wasters. With money, you can buy whatever you want/need, and you don't have to worry about getting/giving something that doesn't look like your brand of pretty, work with your lifestyle, or simply won't be used.

I know giving cash can be a major faux pas, but I'm still going to advocate it, as long as it's given in a certain form. My very favorite version of the money present is for a surprise payment on debt. This takes work (you have to go to the recipients bank and ask about making a payment on their line of credit, auto loan, or mortgage), but I think it gives a huge payoff, as you are relieving an incredible amount of stress on that person's life. I particularly like it, because I'm too irresponsible to dedicate all of my gift money to debt repayment. I put most of it towards that goal, but I always end up making an Ikea trip or stop at the stationary store along the way.

By making a payment on someone's debt, you are lessening their load, furthering their financial goals, and helping them to focus on what really matters to them. If you are worried that your financial gift might go towards furthering a spendy lifestyle, I'd recommend giving them a good book on money management, along with a few loving words of why you care about them and want them to have peace of mind.

My parents were kind enough to offer to pay off my entire credit card balance a while back, but had the stipulation that I  disclose all my financial details to them and then close the account. I was young and stubbornly independent (or so I thought), and so refused the deal. It's taken me a long time to get rid of that debt, but doing things the hard way has made the lesson sink permanently in (something which I don't think would have  happened otherwise. I may not be as independent as I thought I was, but I really am quite pigheadedly stubborn). Now that I've struggled with my budget and made significantly better choices with money, having someone offer to pay off all my debt would mean the world to me, and would allow me to fully employ all the things I've learned about money since initially using it so badly.

If your gift recipient has been wise or lucky enough to remain debt-free, consider making a contribution to their retirement fund, emergency savings, or giving them a stock or bond. Ensuring a financial future feels priceless, even if it actually has a set dollar amount.

Of course, it's also perfectly fine to just give a body some money, and let them decide what to do with it. Giving a gift, especially of money, means releasing it into the recipient's care; if they spend it on groceries or drugs, that's their choice. They are the ones who have to deal with the consequences, and you are under no obligation to give them more if they blow it.

While there are dozens of zero waste gifts to give and get, I think that getting someone out of debt, padding their future, or just helping them save up for what they want in the now, is a great choice. Yes, zero waste is primarily about treading lightly on the planet; but paying interest rates, extra fees, or penalties for poor foresight can be incredibly wasteful, and drains a person of their focus, energy, and joy, things we could all use more of in our zero waste lives.