If familiar with the term “zero-waste,” you probably know about the people who share pictures of a single jar filled with their annual trash output. Those well-photographed mason jars prove it’s entirely possible to solve our elaborate waste problem. It’s easy. Just switch to making all our own beauty products (that may or may not come out okay), dramatically change our grocery game (and therefore diet) and never make a to-go order again.
Riiiiiggghhht. Well, maybe it’s not that easy. It always looked tough to me, really, which is why I procrastinated researching the how-tos of a zero-waste lifestyle… until recently.
The good news: zero-waste means adopting the process of cutting down waste. It’s contributing as little as possible for the planet to deal with, and still accepting the garbage can under the sink (hoping maybe one day it could be the size of a jar).
Many people already do some of the things — like using a coffee mug or tumbler, bringing reusable bags to the store and never buying bottled water.
Nobody has to go all in all at once. In fact, being too ambitious in trying to cut 99% of the stuff we pitch in the trash may actually discourage us from committing at all. Another unfulfilled new year’s resolution down the landfill because of high expectations.
Eating Amy’s frozen food three nights a week got me thinking about my own waste. I did vow to stop buying them (but only cut back) every time I threw away the paper dish (that can’t be recycled after its coated in hard cheese and enchilada sauce), ball up the plastic bag it also came in and folded up the third packaging cringe — a larger than necessary box with enticing picture of the easy dinner.
Ironically, in my procrastinating cutting trash significantly in the last few years, it became easier. Helpful trash-free shops have started popping up. They turned the trend into something we can all identify with — shopping.
Seattle’s first zero-waste store, Eco Collective, is run by three women helping to propel the movement in the Pacific Northwest. They define zero-waste as “seeking high quality, sustainable, conscious alternatives.” Their business emphasizes the positive repercussions as well, like less clutter and saving money.
“It’s really a new wave of environmentalism,” said Founder Genevieve Livingston. “Once you understand how to make a positive change, it’s something you talk about.”
The store in Ballard recently turned 1 year old. When the business started, Livingston says many people hadn’t heard of zero-waste. But now, when the team speaks at local companies, they ask if people have heard the term, and “all hands go up,” she said.
Through her own love for the environment, she began pursuing minimalism and living simpler, naturally leading to cutting back trash.
I started by making my own deodorant, and from there it spiraled into how to reduce waste at home, she said. People do want to switch but don’t have the time or money to try all the products, she added. Eco Collective is “the resource I wish I had when I started.”
One misconception is the lifestyle is too expensive. But, Livingston said, “if you really look into it, zero-waste is all about using what you have. The most sustainable thing you can do is reuse what you already have at home.”
The importance is placed on buying items that last, which may cost more upfront but typically save money in the long run because they are not continually being replaced.
The Eco Collective team chooses long-lasting products through a strategic vetting process, aligning with set packaging, material and origin requirements.
This includes: little to no packaging, or compostable when needed, and collaborating with women-owned businesses. Overall, they seek out the best makers of the products, shifting the perception on items routinely thrown away.
Not every rule applies to every product, though, Livingston explained, using the example that shipping something like their bamboo toothbrush without packing is just not allowed.
“Everyone has to have their own set of standards,” she said – like maybe your distinction is always buying organic but placing less importance on keeping it local. “You have to decide what sustainability means to you… It’s very personal.”
And now that we can’t rely on recycling for being the guilt-free loophole we always thought it was, we have to figure out how to throw away a few fewer pieces of trash a day.
Still, sometimes Beecher’s “World’s Best” Mac and Cheese frozen meal wins. And that’s okay. We’ll get trash-free someday… or a little closer to it maybe. But at least there are shops out there to help get started, without having to turn our kitchens into a beauty bar manufacturing side hustle.
In that spirit, here are some easy-switch items, all available at Eco Collective.
I started ripping large cotton balls into 8-10 uses a few years back. I use cotton every day in my face regime and was feeling guilty about it. So I love these things. Plus, pesticide-drenched cotton (i.e., non-organic) is not only toxic for nature, but it’s terrible for our faces. So eliminating it is a double good thing. I will say, I feel like these pads soak up more astringent than a small cotton shred but worth it to me since I use witch hazel which is not very expensive, etc.
Natural, vegan and 100% compostable packaging, tabs are the new paste. A little awkward at first but a great product. I love the idea of never having to buy or throw away a toothpaste tube again. One can be a little small, so sometimes two helps. (But I once heard we all doubled our toothpaste habit after makers increased the hole size, so maybe we just need to be retrained).
Gotta love the charcoal detox trend happening right now. The Abyss facial bar soap is not only cool to look at but a significant step in getting rid of beauty rubbish. Soap is probably one of the easiest things to zero-waste on, without even cheating, once the right bars are discovered. For normal to oily skin, this one “fights acne, reduces pores, and tightens skin.” Like most face washes, it would be best used with an exfoliant a few times a week.
I really bought this bag because I was tired of every produce purchase at the grocery store being like a game of hot lava with the conveyer belt at check out. After ditching plastic bags years ago, I’ve accepted the germs on the cart and checkout counter to some degree, balanced fruits and veggies on other items when possible and scrubbed a little extra at home. But then there was the time a clerk said, “Let me put something on this scale for the apples.” Then a look, “Honey, you don’t want your fruit touching this thing, trust me.” So yeah, the reusable produce bag.
I wish I were braver. This is the item I came into the store to buy actually but chickened out. I saw it and immediately had visions of a story my mom told many times over about her first shaving experience, with her dad’s straight razor and no guidance. Leaving out the gory details, let’s just say not a good scene and definitely had something to do with me not getting the razor. I love the idea of it, though, and will get the courage to use it one day. Since I didn’t try it yet, here’s what one of the shop owners said on how to use a safety razor safely, for the more daring people out there.