Tips for going zero-waste
We all want to reduce our waste, but could you live without creating any waste at all? Kindlings magazine asked zero-waster Maria Cusumano, author of East Coast Zero, a few questions to give you a beginner’s guide on how to go zero-waste.
Can you explain what the zero-waste movement is all about for those who don't know?
The zero-waste movement is all about reducing one’s impact on the planet, with the ultimate goal being to send as close to nothing, or zero, as possible to the landfill or incinerator.
What first inspired you to try and go zero-waste?
I first learned about zero-waste in the fall of 2014. It was the last semester of my undergraduate and my best friend and I participated in the Turning Green Project Green Challenge (PGC), which is an online program open to students in middle school, high school, and college, that educates students on environmental issues and solutions.
I’d always cared about the environment on a basic level, and my interest increased as my boyfriend and best friend discussed what they learned in their environmental classes for their respective majors. Additionally, I had been taking steps to better my health, starting with what I ate and then focusing on the personal care and cleaning products that I used. PGC really opened my eyes to a lot of environmental and health issues that I was unaware of. It gave me a lot to think about and provided great tips for making small steps to be part of the solution.
Of course, when I first learned about the concept of zero-waste, I thought it was overwhelming and intimidating – I thought to myself, “that sounds impossible”. I kind of dismissed it for a while, until one day in the spring of 2015 when I realized just how many small steps I had already taken in the direction of zero-waste. It was then I decided it was worth striving for, even if I never fit a year’s worth of trash in a mason jar!
How did you go zero-waste? Did you do it gradually, or overnight?
Going zero-waste is definitely a gradual process. I do not believe it is possible to do it overnight, no matter how hard one tries! It is a journey, one step at a time. I think it’s important to take it slow in order for changes to stick in the long term, rather than overwhelm one’s self with a whole new lifestyle. Make one small change that you think you or your household can make, then implement it. Once it becomes habit, a part of your lifestyle, choose another one. Eventually it becomes second nature!
What's the most difficult thing you've forgone?
My biggest challenge in living a zero-waste lifestyle is my living situation, living with non-zero-wasters. I live with my grandparents and my boyfriend lives with his mother and sister, so until we have our own place, there are certain changes that are difficult to implement or maintain, particularly in the kitchen. I do my best in both households, but I take comfort in knowing that I will do better when I can play by my own rules.
What are 3 things anyone can do to reduce waste and consume ethically?
1. “Just say no” to disposables! For every disposable item there is a reusable alternative. To start, bring your own bags to stores and switch to using a reusable water bottle and travel mug.
2. Shop secondhand! It’s the most sustainable way to shop because you aren’t increasing demand for new resources or products.
3. Purchase items (especially food) with minimal/sustainable packaging. Avoid plastic and instead opt for paper, glass, or metal. If finding the item unpackaged is possible, that’s even better!
What are your favourite bulk food stores or recycled brands/products?
The two big bulk food stores near me are Whole Foods and Wild By Nature. Neither are particularly close, so I go every 2-3 weeks.
My favorite brand of products made from recycled materials is Preserve Products. Long story short, using a bamboo toothbrush hasn’t worked out in my living situation, so I use Preserve toothbrushes. Preserve’s products are made from recycled #5 plastics (yogurt cups) and can be returned to their collection bin at the end of its life. They also sell plastic tableware, which may interest parents, and just recently they’ve come out with a line of razors for those who are not yet ready to brave using a stainless steel safety razor (which really isn’t that scary, I promise)
What are your favourite resources to help with zero-waste?
Three zero-waste blogs that I follow, which are fantastic resources, are Lauren Singer’s Trash is for Tossers, Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home and Kathryn Kellogg’s Going Zero Waste. Bea Johnson also has a best-selling book by the same name as her blog, which was an excellent read! I also maintain my own blog, East Coast Zero, where I share my own journey and tips.
Maria Cusumano is a 25-year-old zero-waster from Long Island, New York, and author of the blog East Coast Zero. In order to spread awareness and educate on environmental issues, she has been a guest speaker at schools from elementary up to the college level, and is currently in pursuit of a career in sustainability consulting.