Waste Less in 2017

I love goal-setting at the start of a new year. My brain defaults to thinking in the visionary, big-picture realm, and I try to balance my broad goals with a handful of practical ones that I can start on right away. One practical goal for 2017 is to waste less. Multiple things worked together to inspire this goal, and it’s been really satisfying to see how a few simple changes in our home and lifestyle can make a difference!

Here are my thought processes, practical changes I’m making, list of supplies, and challenges that have come out of working toward the goal of wasting less. And listen, I’m not sharing these things because I think I have it figured out, but because I think it’s really enjoyable — and good — to talk about what we’re learning together. I’d love to hear about any tips or thoughts you might have; leave them in the comments and I’ll respond to each!

Why

I’m either a child at heart or a closet philosopher, because I find myself asking why for everything! My wish to waste less came out of the need to recycle as NYC residents (I’ve always tried to recycle, but it’s never been a requirement and I’ve never stuck with it), joining our local food co-op, buying almost everything in bulk, frequenting stores that are bag-free, living in less space (and no longer having an entire drawer to devote to plastic bags and rolls of cling wrap), and simply because I believe it’s right to take good care of this beautiful earth (I mean, look at her!). But if I’m really honest, the biggest motivation for wasting less in 2017 is simply because it sounded like a fun little challenge! Housekeeping can quickly become monotonous drudgery for me, so I make conscious efforts to keep it exciting by letting it become an outlet for creativity. 

Supplies

Here are some supplies I have slowly added to my drawer to help our household waste less. Do you have any reusables that I should add to my stash?

Bee's Wrap (I’ve discovered a bee's wrap will keep half an avocado fresh and (mostly) green in the fridge for 10-12 hours!) / Unpaper Towels (I made a bunch of unpaper towels to replace — you guessed it — paper towels. It was a simple DIY out of flour sack towels (how-to coming later), and I've found so many uses.) / Dish Brushes (replaces sponges that only last a week or 2 at a time) / Sandwich Wraps (for packing sandwiches instead of plastic bags or wrap. These are made by Dot & Army via Food52 and I can’t say enough good about them. They also fold open to make a nice placemat when eating on the go.) / Fabric Snack bags / Reusable plastic bags (I’ve tried to stop buying snacks that are heavy on the packaging (like individual trail mix snacks) and instead just keep a stock of nuts and dried fruit in bulk.) / Stainless straws / Produce bags (I’ve had these for years.) / Cloth napkins - yes, cloth napkins mean more work (hello laundry), but I think they're prettier, so it's worth it 😉. These chambray ones are an inexpensive Amazon find.

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Other reusables not pictured above:

Pantry storage containers (buying in bulk is less expensive and also means less packaging to throw away or recycle. My bulk purchases live in glass jars of varying sizes in the pantry.) / Lunch bag (my husband’s, made of beautiful brown leather & canvas. No way is bringing your own lunch to work as sexy as eating out every day, but at least he has a good looking bag.) / Reusable Sponges (aka Swedish Dish Cloths. These are washable, and I’ve been using one package for 6 months and still going strong.) Water bottles / Coffee Mugs

Wish List

I’ve been adding the above items slowly as I run out of the disposables that they replace. As much as I wanted to buy everything and start at once, I quickly realized that was an impractical choice. For one, the startup cost isn’t cheap (I do think it will be cheaper in the long run though), and if my goal is truly to waste less, then I ought to first use up the disposables I have instead of just tossing them in the trash! Here are a few other things on my waste less wish list:

Stainless Smoothie Straws (the straws I have don’t work very well for smoothies) / Baking sheet liners (I'm not convinced these will be better than parchment paper, but want to try. Anyone have experience?) / Mesh bags (for buying bulk pantry supplies like rice, oats, etc.) / Copper Scrub Cloth / Tiffin (sexy lunch carrier for me 😉) / Cheese Paper & Bags (I buy cheese in bulk too because there's nothing better than a big hunk of cheese. I’ve heard that parchment paper is actually the best way to store cheese and let it breathe (yes, I take very good care of my cheese), and I think the bags look reusable?)

Challenges

I’m stumped with ways to replace a few particular things in my kitchen, and would love any ideas you might have! Aluminum foil is nearly irreplaceable for baking, and I don’t know of any reusable alternatives that will work as well. I’m still purchasing gallon bags for freezing food because they take up little storage space. Name-brand bags hold up after a few washings, but I might also try these food storage containers because they stack nicely into each other. I’d also like to find something to use as refillable smoothie packs for when summer rolls around and we’re drinking smoothies multiple times a week.

Balance

I’m still planning to have diapers shipped to my doorstep when baby 2 arrives even though there are better ways to reduce packaging waste. I’ll probably always have a roll of paper towels handy for mega spills, and if you’re at the next party I host, there’s a very good chance you’ll be eating off paper plates. All that to say: I’m determined to maintain balance with this little challenge. My goal is certainly not to add more stress to my life, and there are plenty of ways I could take these ideas too far and do just that. It's truly an enjoyable challenge, and my current life stage means these changes are small and simple and don't take up too much brainpower.