If you’ve been working on building up better low waste habits for awhile, you might have noticed some added roadblocks during quarantine thwarting your good intent -- bulk sections closed at grocery stores, bans on using your own containers, pressure to use disposable wipes and gloves, the need to stock up on more packaged goods, and an increase in online shopping. If these temporary challenges are making you feel like you need to put your sustainable efforts on hold, have no fear! There are plenty of ways you can not only proceed with your low waste lifestyle, but kick it up a notch from the comfort of your quarantine quarters! Here are 13 ideas for how:
1. Simplify your space and routine.
Many of us have already started using this extra time at home to declutter and deep clean our homes. We’re big fans of the KonMari method of narrowing down to just the items that spark joy and actively choosing each belonging you want to keep because it encourages you to cherish everything you own and not take adding more lightly. It helps remove the impulse purchase temptations and the need to accumulate new stuff you don’t really need.
Of course, this process also inevitably results in excess items that need to be properly disposed of. Take the time to consider the end of life of these items. See if you can donate them to an organization that can use them. Find a local Buy Nothing group (there are many on Facebook) or sell on Facebook Marketplace, eBay, or ThredUp. You can even offer to your friends and family who might be interested. If you can’t find someone else who would appreciate a certain item, look for how to responsibly dispose of it before you toss in a dumpster. You might be surprised at the organizations and facilities near you who collect used textiles, electronics, mattresses, lightbulbs, wood, difficult to recycle plastics, and more.
2. Reduce your meat consumption.
In our previous blog post, The Case for Eating Less Meat, we went over some of the impacts of animal agriculture at its current scale and why it’s the “single biggest way to reduce our environmental impact on the earth,” according to a recent study by researchers at the University of Oxford. Going vegan is a great way to keep that impact to an absolute minimum, but if you’re not quite ready to go all the way, you can still make an effort to incorporate more plant-based meals in your diet.
Eat meat for every meal? Cut down to one less meal a day. Eat it every day? Try one less day a week. Or if you’ve thought about going vegan or vegetarian before, but thought, “There’s no way I could live without cheese and bacon,” then cut out everything except cheese and bacon. Start noticing the difference between the foods that genuinely bring you joy and the ones you’re just used to but could maybe do without. Is the chicken your favorite part of chicken pot pie or is it the flaky crust? Does the ground meat give your chili all the flavor or would it still be amazing with just the beans, veggies, and your favorite mix of seasonings? You might even find that your favorite part of many meals is the sauce, which can be added to a wide range of plant-based proteins.
Make some easy plant-based swaps in your baking by substituting plant milks instead of cow milk or applesauce or flax eggs instead of chicken eggs.
Learn how to make some new plant-based recipes, including some of our favorites:
- Asian Quinoa Salad
- Loaded Vegan Chili
- Lentil Soup with Wilted Greens
- Saucy Coconut Curry with Rice Noodles and Garden Vegetables
- Quinoa Fried Rice
- Creamy Coconut Lentil Curry
- Or an entire Taco Tuesday spread
You may also find that you end up producing less waste from packaging by buying more of your food in the produce section!
3. Grow more of your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs at home.
Think about the produce you buy that often comes in packaging -- herbs, cherry tomatoes, lettuce, berries. Make a list of some of your most frequently eaten (and desired) items and see what you can plant and grow in your own front yard, patio, or windowsill. Many vegetables can be regrown from scraps -- like potatoes, onions, celery, carrots, and herbs (sounds like soup time)! You can even keep green onions in a mason jar of water to regrow again and again without ever planting!
Look into which plants are native to your area and other tips on Eco-Friendly Gardening to make sure your new hobby works with and benefits your environment. Have limited space? Check out this article on Apartment Gardening for Beginners from The Spruce!
4. Make DIY versions of foods and beverages you’d normally buy in packaging.
If you’re anything like us, it may have not occurred to you for most of your life (or maybe until right now) that you could (or would) make things like mustard, cheese, or tortilla chips at home. That might seem more like territory for really passionate cooks or pioneers, but suddenly a lot of us are finding the idea of baking our own bread or making our own nut milk more appealing now that we have a little more time on our hands and grocery shopping has become more anxiety-inducing.
What are some of your favorite foods that come in not so ideal packaging? Check out your trash can or recycling bin, and find the culprits of some of your most persistent waste. What can you make from scratch and save some packaging and maybe even some undesirable ingredients? Here are some ideas with easy recipes:
- Nut Butter
- Flour Tortillas
- Oat Milk
- Vegetable Broth
- Plus Mustard, Vanilla Extract, Hot Sauce, and Soy Milk from Bea Johnson herself!
We’ve been finding there’s something that feels really right about getting up close and personal with your food. Who wants to run away to the country and start a farm with us??
5. Learn to mend and make your own repairs.
Have something that needs to be repaired that you’d normally have a professional handle? See if it’s something you can do yourself! Learn to mend your clothes, unclog your shower drain, or even make some repairs to your car or bike! Take those fixes into your own hands and save yourself a little money in the process! Maybe you’ll learn a thing or two you can continue doing yourself post-quarantine or maybe it’ll just give you more appreciation for the real experts!
6. Order as close to home as possible.
Whether you’re ordering takeout, stocking up on essentials, or sending a gift to a loved one, support the businesses that are literally closest to home. It’ll reduce carbon emissions from shipping (or maybe even walking) to get your items to you and stimulate your local economy. Nobody wants all the cool restaurants and shops to move farther away from their homes. Play an active role in keeping your neighborhood thriving by spending your money there when it’s an option.
7. Adopt a capsule wardrobe.
Have a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear? While the dress code of our daily lives may have changed recently, a lot of us have found ourselves in a cycle of buying clothes that end up not fitting quite right or going with anything else we own or lasting more than a few wears before we start to resent them. Use this time to reflect on your wardrobe -- what your style is, what items you love and hate, and which ones fit your actual lifestyle. We recommend reading The Curated Closet: A Simple System for Discovering Your Personal Style & Building Your Dream Wardrobe by Anuschka Rees to walk you through the process.
Consider transitioning to a capsule wardrobe made up of limited items that are well-made, versatile, and fit your lifestyle. Capsule wardrobes allow you to maintain your personal style without needing to constantly buy new items with limited longevity. When you buy fewer items, not only does it minimize the enormous amount of waste that comes from textile production and disposal, it also frees up your budget to invest in pieces that will stand the test of time. Look for sustainable, slow fashion brands that make classic, timeless garments using sustainably sourced, biodegradable materials and low waste practices.
You may already have all of the items you need, but if you need to supplement with an item or two, see if you can find what you’re looking for from a local thrift and consignment shop or secondhand platforms like Poshmark and ThredUp before buying new. The Good Trade is a great resource for finding ethical, sustainable brands for new items.
8. Make your own personal care and cleaning products.
If you’ve been following us for a while, you know we’re big fans of a good DIY. It’s so satisfying to make your own solutions from pure and affordable ingredients that often work better than a lot of other options with higher price tags. Check out our blog post on What to Buy and What to DIY for recipes and a breakdown of which personal care DIYs are worth making yourself and which aren’t.
Like the idea of simplifying, but still don’t think whipping up your own skincare is in the cards for you? Here are a few One Ingredient Wonders that can often do the trick all by themselves: Bentonite Clay, Coconut Oil, and Tea Tree Oil.
Or use these three ingredients for a wide range of household cleaning needs.
9. Upcycle used packaging and other unwanted materials for crafts.
Uninspired by your garbage or all those bags of unwanted items from decluttering? Transform them into new and useful creations! Have some old clothes or linens? Use them to make your own face masks, facial rounds, cloth wipes, produce or bread bags, or rags to use around the house. More jars or other containers than you know what to do with? Use them for candles. Make fire starters for your next camping trip from egg cartons and dryer lint. Head to Blossom or Pinterest for ideas on what to do with what you’ve got!
10. Start composting.
If composting has been on your back burner, there’s no time like the present to give it a whirl! Food waste is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases, and composting is the best way to keep that waste from ending up in a landfill where it does the most harm (aside from preventing food waste in the first place). If you have space in your backyard, start a compost pile or bin. If you live in an apartment or otherwise limited space outdoors, check out our blog on How to Compost in an Apartment.
11. Opt-out of direct mail when you receive a catalog or ad in the mail.
We wish there was one easy solution for ridding our mailboxes of all the unnecessary paper that comes our way, but alas, it takes a little bit more work because junk mail comes from a variety of sources. One way to start is by collecting the catalogs and ads you get in the mail and contacting those companies directly. You can also use CatalogChoice.com, which is a free way to unsubscribe from those unwanted catalogs. OptOutPrescreen.com is a way to opt out of unsolicited credit card and insurance offers. A lot of your mail also comes through the Data and Marketing Association, which has a $2 program for blocking a lot of the junk mail you receive for 10 years.
12. Try a new low waste swap.
We love a super straightforward swap that helps us cut a major source of waste in our lives. Many of these trades involve swapping a disposable product for a reusable alternative or converting a liquid staple typically found in plastic to a form that requires minimal to no packaging. The list is endless, but here are some of our favorites:
- Toothpaste Tubes → Toothpaste Tabs or Liquid Tooth Cleanse
- Disposable Plastic Razors → Stainless Steel Safety Razors
- Liquid Dish Soap → Dishwashing Block
- Liquid Shampoo → Shampoo Bars
- Disposable Plastic Baggies→ Reusable Silicone Sandwich Bags
- Tampons → Menstrual Cup
- Single-use Cotton Balls or Facial Rounds → Reusable Cloth Facial Rounds
- Paper Coffee Filters → Reusable Coffee Filters
- Plastic Water Bottles → Stainless Steel Water Bottles
- Disposable Plastic Produce Bags → Organic Cotton Cloth Produce Bags
Don’t know where to start? A couple of ways to choose are
- By doing an audit of your trash and checking where a primary source of your waste comes from,
- Focusing on one area of your home at a time,
- Choosing items you’re not particularly attached to (dryer sheets, air freshener, body wash, etc) to trade out,
- Or starting with something you really care about and are ready to own -- maybe minimizing waste in the Kitchen or your Skincare routine.
There’s no wrong way! You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for advice on what will work best for your lifestyle or check out our Comprehensive Guide to Starting Your Low Waste Journey.
13. Advocate for plastic-free packaging.
Frustrated by the plastic shipping materials that come in your online orders or that your favorite hard-to-find ingredient comes in a hard-to-recycle plastic bag? Email the companies to share your thoughts. Every business that wants to stay in business also wants to keep its customers happy, which means that your suggestions and buying habits have the power to change their ways. Send them an email, add your preferences in the notes when you’re placing an online order, or talk to managers in-store to request the shelves be stocked with better packaging. And, of course, vote with your dollar by opting for products and retailers that align with your values! (Did we mention we always ship plastic-free? :D)
How have you been maintaining your low waste efforts during this pandemic? Share your highs and lows in the comments below!Photo by Bonnie Kittle