I’ve realized that when you’re first starting down the road to eating ‘real food’ and living ‘zero waste,’ it is going to be difficult. And some days, downright overwhelming. Especially in the beginning. But we’ve made some rules for ourselves here so that we don’t feel so overwhelmed. First, let’s talk about the ground rules for both Zero Waste living, and for Real Food living.
Refuse! This is the big one. If you refuse to bring something in to your house, you will not end up throwing it away some day. This includes freebies at events, swag bags, plastic bags at grocery stores, receipts, etc.
Reduce: Do you really need 100 shirts, 20 pairs of jeans and 30 belts? Probably not. Do you really need
Reuse: One of the biggest places to start reusing things is the kitchen. Trade plastic bags for reusable ones, ziploc bags for mason jars and glass tupperware, etc.
Recycle: This is a last resort! Things that are recycled are still getting thrown out, and contrary to popular belief, just because something makes it to the recycle bin and out of the house doesn’t mean it will get reused or upcycled in to something else.
Rot: Compost! Create your own compost bin, or contact your county to find out if you have a county compost center. So much food and yard debris can be composted and turned into good things for your yard and garden, it’s silly not to at least consider it.
The main concept here is to cut back on processed foods, refined foods, and instead replace them with local, organically grown foods. Also, nothing that has more than 5 ingredients on the label. The health benefits of switching to a diet like this are amazing.
So like I said, at the beginning, this can be really overwhelming, especially if you’re like us, and trying to do both of these things at the same time!
Our ground rules look something like this:
1. Start small. Buy a couple reusable grocery bags. Start looking for a farmer’s market near you that you like (I’ve been to 3 so far, and I’m not really happy with any of them yet. Thursday I’m going to try another one). Don’t be scared to try new stores. We’ve found that even though other people in the zero waste and real food lifestyles have had great luck at places like Sprouts and Whole Foods, that these stores just don’t work for us for most of our food. Instead, we found a store called Jons that will let us bring our own containers for meats and cheeses no questions asked, has fresh made French rolls daily, and doesn’t question our mesh produce bags at checkout! Sure, they aren’t perfect (we aren’t sure yet if their meat if locally grown, and if their produce is organic, but I will be checking tomorrow when I go), but for now, they are the best (and cheapest) option for us.
2. Don’t just throw everything out and start over. Yes, we bought white flour the last time we needed flour, before we started down this path. It violates the rules of real food. But just up and throwing it away would be incredibly wasteful, both consumer-wise, and money-wise. We’ve decided not to feel guilty about slip-ups we made before we made this choice. Instead, we will finish up this jar of flour, and when we’re done, we will replace it with whole wheat flour (to comply with Real Food living) bought in bulk with a reusable bag and stored in a stainless steel container (to comply with Zero Waste). There are lots of examples of this so far: toilet paper wrapped in plastic instead of paper (recyclable, if nothing else), printing paper wrapped in plastic instead of paper, cans of soup and corn we bought previously that we will make ourselves or buy whole in the future, laundry detergent and dishwashing soap that we will make ourselves in the future (reusing the containers we currently have, though), etc. There are so many examples of these types of things in our house. Yes, it will take much longer to get where we want to go because of this, but we feel it would be so much more wasteful (and expensive) to just throw it all out and start fresh.
3. Start cleaning, and yard sale or donate. I’ve started the “Great Purge,” as we’ve been calling it. I’ve been taking our room one section at a time and really cleaning it. I’ve been piling up anything that we don’t want, need, or haven’t used in the year and a half we’ve been living together. It looks like our couch was taken over by some kind of clothing monster. But I have plans for this stuff! A rescue I work with wants to hold a yard sale to raise money in March, and I offered to host it (mainly so I wouldn’t have to lug all of this stuff across the county to someone else’s house). All the proceeds will go to the rescue, which makes me feel good, and I get rid of a bunch of my old, still-useful-but-not-for-us stuff. Whatever is left over after the yard sale will be going to the nearest Goodwill donation center.
4. Don’t get discouraged. Some days I look around our room or our kitchen and think “God, we just aren’t getting anywhere.” But then I think about how much we HAVE accomplished. We no longer bring plastic bags into the house just to get thrown away. We’re cooking 90% of our meals (or enjoying leftovers), and taking lunches to work every day. We’re eating healthier, feeling better, and are enjoying a lot of quality time together because of this. Instead of sitting down in front of the TV for hours with a hot pocket or TV dinner, we are making food together, eating together, and growing together as a couple. Sure, we aren’t perfect at this. Not even close. But we are starting to see changes already, even if they’re small. They’ll get bigger, it’s just going to take some time.
5. Don’t expect other people to understand. Now, please note that there are 6 people that live in our house. All are between the ages of 20 and 30. Aside from Sean and I, only 1 other roommate in the house seems interested in going Zero Waste or Real Food. That’s fine. It’s their life, and we can’t tell them how to live it. However, we have noticed that since we put in the compost pile, and a compost can in the kitchen that we aren’t the only ones who are using it! Yay! They may not know why we’re doing it, or care that we’re helping the earth (and our garden), but at least they’re giving it a shot. Also, we’ve noticed that there is a lot less trash going into the trash can, and more things making it into the recycle bin instead. Now, we’ve always had a separate recycle bin, but it seems like now people are really considering each item before they toss it. “Which can should this go in?” Also, we have a paper bin so that I can try my hand at making paper once I get a good stock of stuff to work with.
In the past, we have had 2 large garbage cans and 1 recycle can. The garbage cans were ALWAYS full. Both of them. Recently, our city switched out one of our large cans for a smaller one. At first we (Sean and I) were sort of annoyed. With 6 people, how could we possibly only fill up a large and a small? But then we started this lifestyle, and we haven’t had a problem. In fact, this week when we went to put the cans out, we realized that the little one was completely empty, and the big one had 1 bag of trash (a small one at that), 1 pizza box (should have been recycled), and some guinea pig litter box (Sean accidentally emptied it in the trash instead of the compost pile). That was it! It didn’t even take up a third of the trashcan! 6 people, 1 small bag of trash! And half of them aren’t even “supportive” or “knowledgeable” about what we’re doing. I’m amazed!
6. We aren’t going to be perfect. Even though these are our ideal lifestyles, we realize that sometimes, it just isn’t going to work FOR US. It is possible to be (almost completely) Zero Waste, and completely Real Food. However, we know that we have limitations. I’m vegetarian, which in a lot of ways makes this easier for me. However, I am also an extremely picky eater, which makes going out to restaurants very difficult, even on the best of days. Sean is not vegetarian, which makes it easier for him to find something when we eat out, but he is also a very picky eater. We’ve decided that when eating out, we can’t worry about eating Real Food. We will strive to eat things that are healthy, and definitely pass on desserts, but we ask the waiters enough questions about the food without also asking about added sugars, locally grown, etc.
7. Be better on purchases from here on out. This is our big one. From now on, we are being extremely thoughtful of our purchases (as Bea from Zero Waste always says, “Shopping is voting”). What are we buying, and why? Do we need it? How is it packaged (i.e. wrapped in plastic that can’t be recycled, or wrapped in paper or cardboard)? Is it healthy for us? Is it healthy for the earth? This rules means that when we DO run out of things like white flour, we will buy the healthier, zero waste alternative.
So now you know the ground rules for both Zero Waste and Real Food, and you know how we’re trying to implement them here in our lives (and our rules and exceptions). This is going to be incredibly challenging for us, especially considering I’m a new vegetarian (one month!), and we’re both such picky eaters. It’ll mean we’ll be posting about our home, our garden (we just started planting one a few weeks ago), our cooking, and all of our triumphs and failures. Please join us for tutorials, recipes, tips and tricks for these lifestyles, and a little insight into our home. Our home is your home, after all.
P.S. I want to send a special thank you out to our roommate, Kathy, who (1) is a super awesome roommate, and (2) hasn’t gotten on our case about the extra bins. She’s been really cool about using them, and we wanted to give her an internet high five and let her know we love her and appreciate her. 🙂