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Steps to Start Your Zero Waste Journey

"If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it." ~ Peter Drucker

Spring has arrived, and the need to do a seasonal cleaning beckons us. To begin a zero-waste and plastic-free lifestyle, the first step is to conduct a waste audit. Conducting a waste audit is similar to keeping a food diary. You can record as you throw out items, or go through your trash before it’s hauled away to the landfill.

What did I discover to be the number one source of waste in my garbage? Plastic packaging from food products. This packaging ranged from chip bags to candy wrappers. Newcomers to my waste line however are milk cartons as my recycling center no longer takes the blended paperboard and plastic materials. Also, my quest to eat vegan has increased my packaging waste since I’ve been buying an assortment of processed plant-based foods.

Step 2 - Refuse and Reduce

Solutions to diminish and eliminate excess waste include refusing and reducing purchases with packaging. An easy habit is to shop with reusable bags and containers. When grocery shopping, for example, shop naked - naked produce that is. There is no reason for needing a disposable plastic produce bag for every piece of produce that you buy. After all, you do wash all your fruit and vegetables before cooking and eating them?

Buy bulk foods, such as rice, beans, nuts, and trail mix, as much as possible and use reusable produce bags and containers. You can also have the manager at your traditional grocery store weigh your reusable containers when buying bulk foods. I plan to refill my own containers for nut butters. And if you’re lucky to have a refill shop in your city, cater to it!

Avoid processed and pre-packaged food products, and learn how to cook from whole ingredients. First, these types of food products come wrapped in excess packaging, often unrecyclable. Meal kits are the worst as those plastic film bags are not recyclable. Secondly, they’re chock-full of fillers, preservatives, and other unhealthy ingredients. Finally, the embodied carbon footprint is greater for frozen foods, for the simple fact that it takes energy to transport and store them at a freezing temperature. The paperboard of frozen foods is often not even recyclable since the paper is often blended with plastic to create a vapor barrier.

If you can’t buy something without packaging, seek items with the least amount of packaging. Bulk sizes qualify as you have more of the product with less packaging in comparison to buying several smaller packages to equal the same amount. On a similar note, concentrates also save on packaging waste.

My personal challenges have included eliminating the paperboard (now blended with plastic) cartons used for store-bought milks. I could make my own nut or oat milk from scratch, but this is unlikely due to the time and labor involved. I have however stumbled upon a possible low-waste solution! Joi is a line of concentrates of non-dairy milk which comes in recyclable jars. Because it’s concentrated, there are more servings per container, reducing roughly 85% of packaging waste with their jars. This equates also to a smaller carbon footprint from transit. I am now waiting for Joi to make a coconut version. ; )

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