Inspired by Zero Waste Chicago, Fresh U put together a short list of items essential to a low-waste lifestyle that should also save money and space. Most of the items listed should be available at a local secondhand store. If you can't find a product locally, check out Buy Me Once for an online directory of U.S. and U.K. companies that manufacture products meant to last a lifetime.
1. Bamboo Toothbrush
It's common knowledge that every single piece of plastic ever created still exists today, and will outlive future generations in the far-distant future. It is estimated that by 2050, plastic will outnumber the fish in our oceans. An easy way to cut out a significant piece of plastic from our lives is to switch to a bamboo toothbrush, which is biodegradable. Bamboo is an incredibly sustainable resource — it reaches maturity in less than five years, and when harvested, its root systems remain in place from which new bamboo can grow. When you make the switch, try to pick a brush with plant-based bristles, too.
2. Baking Soda
I can think of few situations where baking soda isn't useful. It's a staple ingredient to a good chunk of household essentials; from deodorant*, stain remover (paired with an old plastic toothbrush + dish soap = ultimate scrub), toilet cleaner, to a drink to help with heartburn.
3. Distilled White Vinegar
Baking soda's partner in crime. Visit versatilevinegar.org for a comprehensive list that explores all of vinegar's everyday uses. Not only is it delicious on french fries, but it can help unclog drains, be used as a substitute for Windex (ferment in a dark place with citrus peels for a fresh scent) and also serves as an excellent stain remover.
4. Coconut Oil
It's a perfect moisturizer for the hands and body, a great substitute for lip balm, makeup remover and a cleaner for wooden surfaces. It's also a main ingredient in homemade deodorant. Buying in bulk will save you more money per ounce.
5. Reusable Water Bottle and Coffee Mug
Some coffee shops may give you a discount on your coffee for bringing your own mug. Stainless steel bottles and mugs are preferable, as they last longer and don't carry the risk of containing dioxins or bisphenol-A that can be found in plastic. Look for one at your local secondhand shop or garage sale, or keep your eyes peeled for sales going on at Klean Kanteen (stainless steel + BPA / lead free).
6. Tea Strainer for Loose Leaf Tea
An essential for religious tea drinkers, and allows you to buy (or grow!) loose leaf tea in bulk.
7. Reusable Food Containers
Soak your jars that have been sitting around the house forever in vinegar overnight for easy removal of labels.
8. Cloth Napkins
Cut up an old tablecloth, blanket or clothes to make these. They're good for storing reusable utensils on the go, packaging gifts with zero waste (after the traditional Japanese wrapping cloth style, furoshiki) and avoiding disposable napkins.
9. Bar Soap and Bar Shampoo
Cut out harmful additives (like parabens and sulfates) found in name brand soaps, as well as excessive plastic packaging, and look for a package free bar soap to adorn your shower.
10. Herbal plant seedlings.
Mint or chamomile leaves can be harvested for tea. Just add hot water. If you like dry tea leaves, dry in a hot, dry place like the laundry room.
The sad truth is that the individual consumer isn't largely responsible for our current environmental crisis. Individual accountability holds weight, but is arguably obsolete in relation to the unsustainable industrial practices. A good friend once complained to me that grassroots environmental activism largely consists of individuals who randomly draw the line where they feel good about it — and he's got a point. The central issue stems from industry, and prolonged environmental change starts with them. Feeling superior for refusing a straw is progress at a snail's pace, and while we should still do that, we need to recognize that we need to do more and hold corporations accountable.
Regardless, it doesn't hurt to lower our own impact in small ways and inspire others to do the same. The industry certainly loses power when it loses customers. Shifts in consumer culture are also shown to cause a shift in how companies structure their business model. Yes, this leads to a lot of greenwashing and companies being more talk than walk when it comes to sustainable business practices. Ideally, we would all consume less virgin materials and stick to products that are secondhand or made from one hundred percent recycled material. Ideally, we would all be able to show up at our respective city halls, ballots in hand, and rally against Standing Rock and demand that #PolluterPays.
Ideally, we would be able to push our government to do the right thing. Ideally, we would all read feel empowered by Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. Yet we all come from completely different backgrounds and circumstances. The tangible, meager power that we hold from our wallets (and our ballots!) is one of the few things we all have in common. Let us tap into the power of our wallets while also igniting our inner activists that show up to rallies and on voting days. We cannot forget the holes in the concept of conscious consumerism. It is easy to become complacent and think that we've done our part when we switch to LED lightbulbs or buy our sneakers made from ocean plastic. Yet we can never do enough, we can only seek to do more.
*Learn more about what's best for your body. Do your research first before making the switch to natural deodorant.
Nothing in this article was sponsored.
Lead Image Credit: Zero Waste Chicago