I am a big believer that small improvements matter. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by big, usually unachievable goals. The big picture is always intimidating, and sometimes unrealistic.
I have accepted, for example, that I will never have a truly zero waste existence. Zero waste is a great thing to aspire to, but it isn’t actually doable for most people. But I can absolutely reduce waste. And that matters.
It all starts with small changes. Break down bigger goals into bite sized pieces and suddenly you’re creating a big impact.
Houses are built one brick at a time.
With that in mind, I wanted to share five simple changes that can drastically reduce the amount waste– both physical and financial– that a household produces. Why less waste, you ask? Because it’s better for the earth, it’s better for our pocketbooks, and it has a ripple effect that impacts our lives and our communities. It’s all about stewardship; being responsible and conscientious with our resources rather than mindless and consumeristic.
Waste not want not, as our grandmothers would say.
The best part? These are all changes you can make wherever you are. Whether you’re in an apartment or a hundred acre ranch, these steps are achievable. That means so much to me right now as I am currently abiding in an apartment myself. Knowing that there are still things I can do to take back control of my food system and be a steward of the land, even when I am not actively dwelling on property, gives me a huge dose of hope and excitement. You can take the girl off the homestead, but you can’t take the homestead out of the girl.
So start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can. Every little change truly matters. Your actions matter.
Five Small Changes to Reduce Waste
- Join a CSA
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. When you join a CSA, you are buying a small share of a local farmer’s production for a season (or longer). Typically you are given the option to pay all at once or per delivery, and deliveries are most often weekly, though some farmers offer different schedules. As for me, I am buying a share from a local farm for the spring, summer, and fall seasons. Each week I will get a box of locally grown, naturally produced veggies.
What are the benefits of a CSA? There are a few: Fresh, ripe produce grown in season and typically harvested days (or less) before it gets to your door (nutritional quality and taste degrade over time after harvest). A much shorter commute for that produce; it isn’t travelling from across (or even outside of) the country to get to your door. It supports local, small farms and business, not giant box stores. You can choose farmers who grow their produce (or meat, dairy, or eggs– there are many kinds of CSAs!) using principals you believe in. And of course, less waste: CSA farmers typically package their produce with little to no plastic and reduce plastic usage for other products, too (such as using glass for dairy and cardboard for eggs).
Resources: Check out Local Harvest to find a CSA farmer near you. If you’re in Tennessee, try Pick TN Products.
- Make More from Scratch
No one can make everything from scratch, but everyone can make something from scratch. Start with the obvious: cook at home using as whole of ingredients as you can. Cooking at home saves so much money, and the more you can do truly from scratch, the more you save. Again, it’s impossible to do everything, so don’t hold yourself to a standard of perfection. I suggest choosing a few things which are most important to you and starting there, while making better choices for pre-packaged foods as you can.
Meals aren’t the only thing you can make at home, either. I don’t mean start carving wooden spoons and sewing your own clothes (although that’s awesome if you do). I mean simple things that we sometimes don’t think about, like kombucha, coffee, or yogurt. A cup of coffee from the drive through every day wastes money and resources, but it’s so simple to make at home. Cultured foods are more intensive, but absolutely doable.
Resources: I love Cultures for Health for all things ferment-y or cultured. For meal prepping, I’ve recently found these glass food storage containers. I found them when I was finally ready to switch completely to glass (because I was fed up with supposedly safe, microwave friendly plastic containers melting!). I love that they are glass but also have a silicone outer shell that makes them less slippery and protects them from damage. The lids are plastic, but they are BPA free. Because I take food with me to work, I need the lids to be truly leak-proof, and I didn’t trust the all glass or bamboo lids I’ve seen to not lose suction. For coffee, I swear by pour over. It’s easy, fast, and doesn’t rely on single use pods or disposable filters. Plus, the coffee just plain tastes better.
- Switch to Reusable
Almost anything we use that is disposable has a reusable counterpart. There are always exceptions, of course, but the vast majority of disposable items are made that way for convivence, not because of necessity. The easiest reusable swap to make, if you haven’t yet, is to buy a reusable water bottle and take it with you everywhere. I am a fan of stainless steel tumbler designs, which don’t sweat and keep my water cold for hours, but there are so many options to choose from!
Choose consciousness over convivence wherever you can. Switch out disposable paper products for cloth. Change from plastics to glass, stainless steel, or bamboo. Bring reusable bags to the market. Opt for a stainless steel safety razor for your shave. Clean up your menstrual cycle by switching to cloth pads or a menstrual cup. I changed to reusable cloth pads years ago and never looked back! They save you money, they’re more comfortable, and I experience less leaks. I also started using a reusable menstrual cup about a year ago and let me tell you, it is a game changer. There is a learning period (heh- no pun intended), but once you get the hang of it, it’s so much more comfortable, almost leak-free (nothing is ever 100% of course), and hassle free.
The realm of reusable is seemingly endless. Start making small changes and suddenly you start to see possibilities everywhere.
Resources: I love Etsy for supporting small makers of things like cloth pads or other fabric goods (anything an individual might make, really). For menstrual cups, I have used a couple different brands with success now (and one I didn’t love), but I recommend flex cup for beginners because it’s so easy to remove. All bodies are different, so this is a very individual purchase. For general waste-free items, Wild Minimalist is a great place to start.
- Support Small and Local Artisans, Craftsmen, and Businesses
We hear a lot about shopping local, but for the most part no one goes beyond the standard, “support local!” or “support small!” It’s easy to lose sight of the big difference that shopping small can make when we forget to study the impact.
Every time you buy something that comes from your own region, you are drastically reducing the footprint that your purchase makes. Instead of buying a tomato grown in California (unless you live there of course) and shipped across the company (in boxes, possibly with plastic wrapping) where it is sold in grocery store and placed in a plastic bag, you can buy a tomato at the farmer’s market* that was grown twenty miles away, transported in rescuable containers by the person who grew it, and placed in your reusable fabric market tote or basket. Everything leaves a footprint, but the size of that footprint changes.
Sometimes buying small doesn’t mean buying local. I have found many wonderful, handcrafted items (everything from pottery to jewelry to wooden spoons) via Etsy and even instagram, Those items are still shipped, but there are still many advantages. The quality is higher than mass-produced items, they are made by individuals or teams who truly care (as opposed to underpaid factory workers in another country), and your purchase supports a small business instead of a massive, multi-million dollar company. I’ve also found that small creators often take care to craft and package their products in ethical, sustainable ways instead of inside layers of plastic. Love goes into things made or grown or raised by hand.
You will end up spending a bit more when you buy small. That is true. But the trade off of purchasing fewer, better quality items for a higher price is worth it.
*A note about farmer’s markets: I have seen with my own eyes that some sellers at farmer’s markets will truck in produce grown somewhere else and mislead buyers into thinking it’s there own. (I worked for a farm stand one summer as a teen.) Don’t be afraid to ask questions and know your farmer. Also, consider that they may still be buying regionally grown produce, so don’t necessarily make that a deal breaker. For example, we have a lot of roadside watermelon stands in the summer here in Tennessee, and frequently those melons come from Missouri. Missouri is still closer than California, and farmer -> truck stand -> me is a shorter chain than farmer -> distributer -> grocery chain -> me. (Why Missouri? Beats me. Maybe they just grow good melons up in the Show Me State?)
Resources: Tap into your local shopping scene! Farmer’s markets, craft fairs, small shops, town squares, roadside stands– there are so many potential options. And of course you can find a plethora on Etsy and similar places online.
- Change the Way You Shop
Change is sometimes hard, but it can be a good thing. 2020 changed all of our consumer habits due to lockdowns, postal delays, and supply shortages; we can adjust some of those changes now to benefit ourselves and our world.
Because everything we need can’t come from local, small business, we can change how and where we buy the things that fill in those gaps. Some best practices include: making less frequent, larger purchases; sourcing from more ethical stores; paying attention to ingredients and brands; and avoiding unnecessary consumerism.
I aim to grocery shop roughly once a month, with bi-weekly stops for fresh items that go bad faster and don’t freeze well (like lettuce, for example). This helps me with time management and meal planning, but it’s also helpful financially. Fewer trips means fewer impulse purchases and less frequent “what can I make for supper tonight?” moments. Sometimes buying larger quantities means spending less, too. But another benefit is that it enables me to purchase some of my staples from stores that have more ethical, healthier products. I’m happier when I shop less at big box stores. Believe it or not, I buy the majority of my beef and pork online (see resources below) when I run out of homegrown and local isn’t readily available (it’s harder to source in the off season, and purchasing a half or whole share is expensive upfront and harder to store).
I try to avoid consumerism by giving real thought to my purchases. Do I really need a new xyz or do I just want one because I feel an impulse to buy something? Is the thing I’m looking at truly useful? Will it just take up space without adding any real value to my life? Is it going to last a long time or will it wear out quickly? I don’t justify every single purchase in this way– that could become mentally unhealthy and lead to a lot of guilt– but it is something to think about. When it comes to things I’m brining into my home, I want them to serve a purpose (even if that purpose is just to make my home more beautiful), be good quality, and contain as little plastic as possible.
I can’t stand a cluttered, messy space and having gobs of belongings only causes stress; its easier to be responsible with my purchases when I remind myself that anything I buy is 1. going to take up space somewhere in my home and 2. costing money that I will then not be able to spend later on something I may want or need more. Delayed gratification can be a good incentive to curb unnecessary spending. Remind yourself things like, “If I save the $5 on this thing I want to buy right now, I can put it toward this nicer thing I’ve had my eye on later.”
Resources: For general grocery and home supplies, I love Thrive Market. I have a monthly autoship that I periodically add items to as I start to run out. I love autoships! Other items that I get via autoship include my gut health supplements; my essential oil laundry detergent, body care, and toothpaste + whatever oils I need replenished; and even my shampoo. For sustainable, ethical meats when I can’t raise my own, Force of Nature is one of my favorites; I love that they have an ‘ancestral blend’ that mixes nutrient-rich organ meats with ground beef as well as their regenerative agriculture practices. I have also used US Wellness Meats, and Five Mary’s Farm is a very cool, family-owned ranch in California that ships their pastured meats.
I know all these things can be so overwhelming. I feel overwhelmed by the pressure to get it all right, too. But I find that every step I make in the right direction is encouraging, and every mighty tree starts out as a seed. We can’t be perfect, but we can be better.