Zero Waste 101

A few weeks ago, 2 amazing women and 1 amazing man really inspired me. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them and their revolutionary way of living.

Two major themes emerged for me:

  1. Maybe their way of life shouldn’t be so revolutionary.
  2. If they can do it, so can I!

The concept of a zero waste lifestyle is what fascinated me about these three people. This is basically what it sounds like: living a lifestyle that produces little to no garbage. I like a good challenge, so while this may sound extreme to some,  the idea of reaching this ideal really appeals to me.

If it seems overwhelming to you, remember that the goal is always improvement, not perfection.

First, I started by noticing just how far away I was from this goal, and I’ll admit, that did kind of horrify me. I mainly noticed how much plastic I was using and throwing away.

It seemed like the only things I was doing right was recycling sometimes and using reusable bags at the grocery store most of the time.

My next step after becoming aware of how earth unfriendly my lifestyle is was to start brainstorming how to make little changes. I kept Bea Johnson’s 5 R’s in mind: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot.

I started using my reusable bags at all stores instead of just the grocery store. I also started refusing a bag if  I was just buying one or two items. I started taking my own knife and fork to work and washing them every day instead of using plastic ones and throwing them away daily.

After talking about these ideas with some friends, they gave me some more good ones. My friend, Kelly, told me that Amazon has an option to use less packaging when you order from them. I did not know that!

My friend, Mary, decided to institute BYODC (Bring Your Own Damn Cup) in her classroom. She makes the coffee at work every day and after seeing the zero waste heroes, she noticed the constant stream of Styrofoam cups being used and thrown away daily. She decided to get rid of these cups and have everyone bring their own coffee mugs and wash them, which also turned out to be a big money saver!

Here are some other changes that I’m incorporating into my lifestyle:

  • Recycling more: I already recycled, but now I’m realizing there are certain things I used to throw away that I could have been recycling all along, so now I am!
  • Composting: I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, but I wasn’t sure how I’d pull it off in an apartment and I’d heard bad things about the smell. I learned there are machines you can buy for apartment composting and a few other methods you can research on You Tube. I decided to go with a convenient, low tech method: storing food scraps in a sealed container in the fridge and adding them to my sister’s family compost when I see her every week.
  • Mason jars: I’m learning that mason jars are very useful in the kitchen, especially if you want to reduce costs and the use of plastic. You can buy new ones, but I decided to just save jars and ask my sister to do the same for me. She also gave me some chalkboard paint. I used it to paint the top of the jars so I can label them with chalk or chalk pens as I fill and refill them. These can be used for food storage. You can even freeze them, but apparently that’s a bit of an art! I plan to freeze meals and take these to work instead of prepackaged microwave meals. They can also be used for food and drink on the go, premade salads, and overnight oats. I’m also thinking of keeping mason jars of filtered water in the fridge for guests as an alternative to bottled water. I have a feeling these will be my #1 waste eliminators in the kitchen and in the whole home.


mason jars


  • Homemade and/or more natural household products: As my products run out, I’m trying to switch them out for natural or homemade alternatives. My friend, Susy, gave me the idea of using coconut oil as a moisturizer. I use it on my lips, skin, and hair before bed. I do feel like you could make a pancake on my face for the first few minutes, but by morning my skin is not greasy at all and it’s noticeably softer. I was able to find the brand below at Whole Foods which is already somehow a liquid at room temperature and is therefore much quicker and easier to work with it.



I’ve also replaced my astringent (toner) with witch hazel. I love it because it doesn’t dry out my skin. Witch hazel can also replace Preparation H, but I’m not going to go into too much detail about that one… Susy’s also got me mopping my floors with white vinegar and water. Call me crazy, but I actually love the smell! It smells clean and natural to me. Unfortunately, the scent dissipates after a little while. The beauty of many of these more natural products is that they can be used for more than one purpose in the home. Today, I noticed that I’m running low on laundry detergent, so I found this easy recipe to make my own and I already have 2 out of the 3 ingredients.

Well, I don’t want to overwhelm you or myself, so that’s enough for today. We may never get down to zero waste, but we can certainly try to get as close as possible as often as possible in our day to day lives.

I’ve noticed that talking about this with friends and family is inspiring and helpful for sharing ideas. If your friends and family are not interested, I’d be happy to start a conversation with you here. Just leave a comment below. Even if your people are on board, I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!

Keep in mind that what’s an easy change for you may be hard for someone else and vice versa. Building these habits takes time, support, and patience with ourselves and others.

If you thought this post was helpful, go ahead and like and share it!

Thank you for sharing in my journey! I hope to hear from you soon!

xo,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Gena



  • mary del cuadro says:

    Loved the article Gena and loved the plug of bring your own damn cup. I’ve already seen such a difference and other teachers are asking me about why…. every little bit helps! Hope to see more tips. I already take my reusable bags everywhere…going to try cleaning with vinegar and water next. You are doing a great service here…keep it up 🙂 xoxo

  • Gena says:

    Thanks, Mary! Love discussing these issues with you! You inspire me!

  • Noelle says:

    Excellent article, Gena! I love the mason jar instead of bottled water idea. Have you been using jars or other containers to buy bulk items? If so, which stores are conducive to this?

    I also love making my own cleaning solutions. I use castille soap, water and tea tree oil for my daily household cleaner. I might have to try the coconut oil thing too. This is all my sister is using these days as well.

  • admin says:

    Thank you, Noelle!

    I’m going to try making that cleaning solution!

    I don’t really buy in bulk since I live alone. Regular items are already in bulk for me. Lol!

    I like farmers’ markets so I can just throw my produce in my bags without any packaging. Some vendors there will also let you refill your own olive oil bottle so you don’t have to keep getting new ones.

    Whole Foods lets you use your own containers for their bulk items. You just have to take them to guest services first so they can weigh them. That way the pricing is accurate. There’s an Aldi coming to my neighborhood soon. Can’t wait to see if they have good options.

    What else does your sister use coconut oil for? I know it can be used for so many things!

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