5 Steps to Living Completely Trash-Free
Meryl Pritchard is the founder of L.A.-based meal delivery service Kore Kitchen. Kore represents the essence of who you are, with a focus on nourishing your mind, body, and spirit from the inside out. Pritchard's easy-to-follow practices of organic, thoughtful living prove that small actions can make a big impact.
I live alone in an apartment in Los Feliz, a vibrant neighborhood located on the east side of Los Angeles. I’ve always prided myself on making my own meals at least twice a day. Every night, I look forward to turning my favorite produce into a nutritious, tasty meal. However, a few months back, I began to notice that my cooking was leading to a heaping trash bin. Skin from produce, plastic containers, scraps of aluminum foil, and plastic wrap began to build, and I found myself taking out a bulging bag of trash every week.
This was my reality until I came across a short interview Lisa Ling conducted with Lauren Singer, founder of a zero-waste laundry detergent company named Simply Co. In the video You Can Live Without Producing Trash, Singer gives her reasons for going waste-free. The results of her zero-waste lifestyle were amazing. She managed to keep two years’ worth of trash inside the contents of a single Mason jar.
What it means to live a zero-waste lifestyle is what it sounds: You don’t produce any trash that contributes to the 299 million tons of plastic that get sent to landfills every year, according to a study from News Worldwatch Institute. Singer had inspired me. The zero-waste lifestyle became something attainable that I not only could do but should do.
Once I made the decision, I began with small steps, exercising the five Rs of sustainable living: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot. I started my journey by ditching my trash can, since I decided that I would no longer be producing trash. Instead of throwing it away (and creating more trash), I turned it into my new recycling bin, following the third R of sustainable living: reuse.
Then I did a home cleanse to reduce my trash production, which involved going through every room and removing the items I no longer used or needed. I also got rid of plastic items across the board, which I swapped out with more sustainable options. Things like plastic cutting boards, coasters, unused sponges, and plastic toothbrushes all got donated to Goodwill. This allows the items to be reused by someone who could benefit from them, instead of sending it into a hole in the Earth.
I replaced the donated items with sustainable options made of bamboo, glass, or aluminum. I also started making my own home care and beauty products like counter cleaner, toothpaste, and deodorant. Small changes like this were easy and made me feel more connected to the environment.
Going back to the reason I decided to go zero-waste, changing how I cooked and ate became a huge focus point. First, I began shopping in the bulk aisle at the grocery store, using my own reusable bags. I also began buying all of my produce from my neighborhood farmers’ market twice a week. Meeting the farmers and understanding the work that goes into growing and transporting food makes you appreciate it in a different way.
Once I was done eating, I composted all of my food scraps. These leftover bits are organic materials that can be broken down in the Earth’s soil. When you send food to the landfill, it can’t be broken down in the same way because it is mixed with nonorganic and chemical materials. The natural microorganisms that help break down the food are not present. Instead, when food goes into the landfill, it ends up releasing methane gas, one of the most harmful greenhouse gases heating up our atmosphere.
I also learned that recyclables should be rinsed with caps removed when discarding. They should not be sent to the recycling center in a plastic trash bag. When a trash bag full of recyclables goes to the recycling center, the bag can disrupt the processing. They most likely will not open the bag, and will instead send both the bag and its contents to the landfill.
The zero-waste process has helped me become mindful in a multitude of ways. Understanding that everything I do and buy has an effect on the environment has really made me think twice about my purchases. I focus less on being a consumer and more on simplifying, reusing, and enjoying what I already have. I implemented the same changes within my business, Kore Kitchen, to inspire our clients and community to join us in becoming zero waste. We all have a voice, and we all have the ability to make a difference.
Inspired to live a zero-waste lifestyle like mine? Here are the five simple steps I took that you can easily adopt into your everyday routine.
Take a stand and say no to single-use items, especially plastics. Think plastic bags, coffee cups, straws, and any items you can’t reuse. Shop at farmers’ markets and bulk bins to avoid packaging and produce stickers.
Simplify, simplify, simplify. Learn to live only with what you truly need. Don’t overbuy, make the most of what you already have, and donate the rest so others can benefit from it. Instead of buying new cleaning and beauty products that contain harmful chemicals, try making your own. Check out Singer’s blog, Trash Is for Tossers, for some great DIY recipes.
Before sending something to the recycling bin, try to find a way to reuse it. Glass jars can be used as cups, candle holders, pen holders, flower vases, and more. Bring reusable bags to the market and a reusable mug or jar to get your drinks to-go.
When you can’t reuse, recycling is the next best option. Make sure to rinse out anything that’s going to the recycling center so as to not contaminate other items. Recycling varies by city, so be sure to check what your local facility will take. Recycling also means buying used items, such as clothing, cars, and electronics.
Give all food scraps and organic materials back to the earth. You can keep a small home compost bin in your kitchen and dump it into the green bin for your local compost facility. If you have a garden, you can set up an outdoor compost that will lend amazing nutrient dense soil to your crops. I like Greenlid, a compostable compost.
Interested in living a zero-waste lifestyle? Replace plastic items with sustainable alternatives like these:
What are some ways you have adopted an eco-friendly lifestyle? Share your experiences with us.