Environmental Self-Audit: Assessing How Green Your Habits Are

I’ve been posting a lot about emotional topics lately so I thought this one would be a little less heavy. I’ve been wanting to do a home audit, something that’s been in that back of my mind for a while, so I thought I’d check them out and let you guys know what I came up with.

The first thing I realized is, there is not a lot of people in this field, doing this work. The first search yielded results mostly from Canada, and a company from Illinois. This makes me a little sad, knowing there aren’t more people out there doing this type of work. With environmental concerns only getting more acute, it seems as though there should be a glut of these types of companies and places to get this type of work done.

Though this just isn’t the case. The sites I had looked at mostly focused on the energy that is being used in the “house envelope”. This basically means that any system that is working in your house, the plumbing, electrical, HVAC systems, that are all working in conjunction with one another and in a closed space. Like an envelope. So an audit basically adds up to an assessment of how efficiently these systems are working.

I’m not sure how well a self audit would work for assessing the workings of more technical systems, like HVAC, but for habits you keep in your day to day household upkeep, you can easily see if things could use a change for the greener. So in this post I’ll be looking at some ways and habits we can keep to make our lives a little greener.

Some Green Habits

When it comes to thinking and acting a little greener, there are a few areas we can focus on. Anything from systems in the home to personal perspectives we hold that we can shift. These are among a few things we can all be doing to help keep things running a little more environmentally friendly. I’ll go through some ideas and habits I’ve been keeping in this post, and maybe help r inspire you to keep your home as green as possible : )

Composting

Composting is a great way to help keep food waste out of landfills or incinerators and in the food cycle. Even if you don’t have a garden, composting is still an option. Even if you’re living in a city, or a place without land. Let me go over the ways to compost, and how you can get involved.

One way to compost, if you have the space and a garden to use it is, a bin composting system. With this system, you can purchase a bin, or convert a container such as an old plastic garbage bin, into a composter. In these systems, there needs to be air circulation, water and an absence of light to let the bacteria grow and convert food waste into useable soil. You can also use a three bin system, where you place the beginnings of your compost in the first bin and move it to the second halfway to promote quicker growth. Finally the third bin is for the finished compost, to be used in your garden.

If you don’t have land or use for compost, there are companies out there picking up people’s food waste to compost it for commercial uses. The company that’s local to my area is Black Earth Composting. They pick up your food waste in a small container they give to you, much like a tiny garbage can, for a small fee. You can then get a voucher for compost from a local nursery, or donate it to one of the projects they are working with.

Where’s the Meat?

Go vegan! Or maybe eat less meat? This graph from “Climate Central” shows not only how many more resources are used by the production of livestock for consumption, but also the amount of greenhouse gasses that are produced by them. Eating less meat is one way to make a dent in your personal carbon footprint.

If you’re not ready to make the plunge into going completely meatless, maybe think about eating less meat during the course of your week. Try adding a meatless Monday to your week. Every little bit helps, and if you are looking for some inspiration, head over to my Community page where you’ll find a link to The Minimalist Baker’s website. There, Dana has loads of tasty, mostly meat free recipes where you will surely find something suited to your taste.

Be a Man by Challenging Tradition

In this article, The Good Trade explains the link between our traditional views of what it means to be a man, and how they run counter to the ideas of what it means to be an activist for the planet. They explain how certain types of socially created norms can seem unrelated to the current climate crisis, but may share a connection. This is called intersectional environmentalism, and one of the examples is toxic masculinity.

The idea is, at its most basic level, that caring for the environment is seen as feminine, and therefore rejected by those who value the tenets of toxic masculinity. Among them being dominance and competitiveness. Caring for the environment and “environmental stewardship is nurturing and cooperative. It’s inherently at odds with internalized, problematic perceptions of masculinity and feminine” writes Zach Thomas of The Good Trade.

This makes a lot of sense to me. As a product of the 80’s, My young mind was molded to the shape of, real men take what they want, use violence to get it, and anything that was seen as feminine in a man was considered “gay”. It took me a long time to come to terms with these harmful lessons that were handed down to me. And it wasn’t my caregivers fault, they were trapped in the same type of narrow thinking that had been perpetuated by society at large.

And though I recognize that it wasn’t their faults entirely, I will say that they could have come to terms with how they felt about the type of violence they were perpetuating. Forming their own ideas and opinions of what was happening around them, based on the information they were receiving. But instead they chose to take the path more traveled and pigeon hole people into certain categories, creating a great deal of suffering along the way.

This takes a whole lot of willpower, to break the binds of what we’ve been taught that may be harmful to ourselves, others and the environment. But it’s possible. Never give up hope and always question whether what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling may have been shaped by those around you growing up.

Carry a Water Bottle

This one is especially pointed. I’m not sure where the need to keep bottled water on hand came from. This article from The World Counts suggests that it comes from a fear of drinking contaminated tap water. I’m not sure where this fear first took root, but another concerning fact in the article says that, “An estimate 1,500 plastic bottles end up as waste in landfills or thrown in the ocean every second”.

This was a shock to learn for sure. But all the more reason to take action. If you drink water, or plan on doing so (which you def should, it’s great for your health in so many ways), carry a water bottle. I don’t believe I’ve ever been in a place or situation, where I was in civilization, where it was unsafe to drink the tap water.

There are also chemicals that can leach into the water you’re drinking, from disposable plastic bottles, that can be hazardous to your health. If you’re looking for an alternative, I like Hydro Flask for their design and ability to keep their contents hot or cold for a longer time than conventional bottles. They’re also made of metal, steele. So you’re bypassing most plastic when you’re filling up your bottle.

Take Public Transportation or Walk/Ride a Bike

With so many cars on the road, this one should be a no brainer. I’m not suggesting that you sell your car. Only to take a closer look at your driving patterns. Where are you going? What are the nature of the trips you’re taking? Is there another way to get to where you need to be?

For me this is an easy one. I work at a place that is a nine minute walk from where I live. It’s also on a public transportation route. So if I needed to, I could take the bus instead. Where are your destinations? Do you work or go to school in an area that has a robust transit system? Maybe instead of taking your own vehicle, you could share a ride with thousands of others, and do your part to lower the creation of the greenhouse gasses that come with burning fossil fuels.

These commutes can be ideal times to catch up on your favorite podcasts or reading. Writing if that’s something you’re in the habit of, or meditating, as I did on my way into work when I worked in the city. Also, this isn’t a call to get rid of your car, only to utilize it with more care.

For example, if you have children you may need to drop them off at school in the mornings, or pick them up in the afternoon. Also, grocery shopping can be difficult if you don’t have a way to bring your groceries home at the end of your shopping trip. You’ll need to rely on your car for certain things, just not for everything.

I don’t have a car, and still manage to get all the things done on my list. I walk to work or when I worked further away, I took public transit which was very reliable. When I go grocery shopping, I take public transit to the store, and take a Lyft home. Of course, I only need to take care of myself. If I had a family that relied on me, I would most likely find another way to provide for them. This is where a car would come in handy. But what I’m suggesting is, to think of different ways to get your needs met when it comes to transportation.

If you live close to a commuter rail station, or subway or bus stop, consider taking them to your workplace instead of driving. Or maybe carpooling with a co-worker who lives close to you. This will help you to save on gas, while using a service that is already running or share a ride with someone who is going your way. Reducing your carbon footprint even further. Do you live close enough to walk or ride a bike? Consider these carbon neutral ways of greening your commute time.

Donate Time or Resources

Are you an avid hiker? Do you use the beach frequently? These are great hobbies to cultivate and ways to relax and destress. But there won’t be many places that are left pristine for our enjoyment the way things are headed now. What to do about it? Find a place to volunteer or donate to that are in line with your interests.

If you enjoy going to the beach, why not join an organization that is cleaning the surf at your favorite place. Can’t find one? Start one. Organize your friends and family, maybe some coworkers. Throw a party on the beach you’re cleaning, but spend some time first cleaning the beach. Then you can all enjoy the the fruits of your labor while cooking out together.

The same idea can work for a particular park or reservation you enjoy hiking. In both cases, it may be best to get intouch with those who are incharge of the maintenance of the place you plan on cleaning. There may be efforts already taken in that direction. Then you could invite people and go instead of organizing something new.

And if you’re short on time but have resources to donate, try finding an organization or charity that is in line with the type of activities and activism you enjoy doing. I’ve donated to 4Ocean, and the Appalachian Mountain Club in the past. If you’re looking for ideas on where to donate time or resources, this post from The Good Trade has a bunch of ideas on where to get started. Also, check your local community. Maybe on social media, or your city or town’s website. There could be something happening already, locally that you can get involved with, taking some of the pressure off of you to organize.

Get Involved

As an old co-worker of mine used to say, “it’s no easy”, and as another co-worker used to say,”that’s how it be sometimes.” I quote these people, not to make light of the situation we’ve found ourselves in, but to bring a shared sense of struggle and hope. We’re not in this alone. It’s good to remember those who have helped us along the way. The people who have lifted our spirits when we felt totally overwhelmed by a situation. Or those who have given us the wisdom to help get us through to the next project or path when we feel depleted. But there’s still work to be done.

I’ll be looking into green, house assessments in the future and if you have any insights I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below. But for right now, there is loads of work that needs to be done. Find something that sparks your interest and get involved in some way. Even if it’s something small to start, at least it’s a start. You’ll feel better about being part of the solution, but also connect with like minded people along the way, maybe making some new friends to boot. So get out there and lend a hand. You’ll be glad you did. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “A poem behind my green living room…!!! Un poème derrière mon salon vert…!!!” by Denis Collette…!!! is licensed under

      CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Green New Deal: What Are We Planning to do With Our Resources?

The Green New Deal is something that’s been in the works and the news for a while now. So I’m kind of embarrassed to say that I don’t really know what the proposal is all about. Seeing how part of the mission of my blog is based on environmental advocacy, I feel I should at least be abreast on some of the major talking points. I’ve heard it being spoken about in brief news clips, but haven’t done any real digging to find out what it’s all about. So for the past week I’ve been looking for news articles to get a feel for what it entails, and maybe find ways I’m able to support it on an individual level.

What I’ve found is, that the plan itself is pretty ambitious. The scope of which the Green New Deal (GND) may cover, according to this article from The Intercept, may be anywhere from, agriculture, plans for relocating coastal populations from flood zones, ensuring democratic participation in clean energy planning and ending eminent domain, a universal basic income, wildfire management, transportation upgrades and trade policy. And this is only a portion of what it may contain.

Also, according to this article from Vox, the GND is a take on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal from the 1930’s. The GND also covers going carbon neutral in the time frame of ten years, to providing careers and livable wages and pensions to families in the lower income bracket, closing some of the gap in the entrenched wealth divide between social classes in the states.

This was something that was a bit confusing to me at first, but as I continued to read about the GND, I realized that most likely the people who would be most incapable of switching to renewable sources of energy would be those who are having trouble finding these resources to begin with; i.e. lower income and vulnerable populations.

If you’re having trouble paying for the electric bill already, then there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to find alternative sources of energy. Such as installing solar panels on your existing house or apartment building. If you already have the means, then switching to a renewable source shouldn’t be an issue.

And furthermore, the GND isn’t a set of laws or legislation. It’s a large scale plan to invest in renewable energy sources and decarbonizing our economy and infrastructure, while making society a more fair and just one. The plan makes a lot of sense, but like I said above, it’s ambitious. It can be a little overwhelming for a person on the individual level to feel as though they are having an impact.

If you don’t have the time to write congress, protest or knock on doors to gain support, what can an individual do to help the goals of the GND? So in the face of the scope of this expansive proposal, in an attempt to help the average person feel as though they can be doing their part to help further the movement, I’ll be listing some ideas on how we can make a difference on an individual level that are still somewhat in line with the goals of the GND.

The first, and probably most pertinent one is our current energy consumption. One way of changing this is to ask your current electric company to switch your current power supplier to a company that provides energy from a renewable source.

For example, I live in Massachusetts, so I would need to call my energy provider, who purchases power from different sources throughout the state, and ask to purchase my power from a renewable company like wind or solar. The energy all travels through the same grid, so there’s no need to upgrade anything in your delivery system.

This also has the effect of increasing demand for energy that is provided from renewable sources. And since we live in a capitalist economy, we are voting for cleaner energy with our dollars when we switch to sources such as wind or solar.

Buying local is another option. As is growing your own food if you have a green thumb. Some of the focus of the GND is around trade policy. This may include aspects such as shipping packaged produce from remote parts of the world. While most companies have their logistics down to a science, i.e. filling their shipping containers to maximum capacity for best fuel optimization, buying local produce supports local farms, with most likely fair wages for workers and ethically grown produce. You’ll also be investing money into your own community by supporting local farms in your, or neighboring city or town.

And you can’t get much more local than growing your own! Whether it’s in your backyard, a community plot or in containers scattered around your apartment, growing your own veggies is most definitely a satisfying and tasty endeavour. You’ll also be eating your produce when it’s at peak ripeness. This means that you will be getting most all of the nutrients your veggies have to offer. So not only will it be better for the environment on food miles, but you’ll also be eating healthier as well.

Unfortunately there isn’t much we’re able to do when it comes to liveable wages. But there are some things we can do when it comes to how we choose to spend our dollars. There are credit cards that are marketing themselves as environmentally friendly by offsetting the carbon footprint your purchase has when you swipe your card.

While this is a step in a greener direction, and any attempt to help reduce the carbon being released into the atmosphere is a positive, it’s not as clean as it sounds. As Sara Rathner from “The Nerd Wallet” put it, most banks that are issuing these cards are more than likely investing heavily in fossil fuels. Our safest bet when deciding to make a purchase is, deciding if we really need to make the purchase.

This makes a lot of sense, but the reality is, we will sometimes need to make a purchase using a credit card, and in my opinion, it’s better to do so with a company that is actively trying to offset the carbon footprint by making a donation to an organization that is doing green works. And if we look to shop as locally as possible, we may develop healthier purchasing habits along the way, while we’re waning ourselves off of instant shipping that has become so commonplace.

Speaking of shipping, transportation is another place where we can make an impact. One of the aspects of the GND is updating and expanding high-speed light rail for travel needs. This can be approached from a few directions.

First, from a recreational perspective. I live just outside of Boston Mass.. We have a light rail system that is reliable, but we also have trains and buses that connect Boston to other parts of New England and the East Coast. So if you’d like to leave Boston for the weekend you have options other than packing yourself and stuff into your car.

For example, I don’t own a car but I’d like to take a long weekend in Portland Maine. To go to some of my favorite places and just enjoy coastal Maine for a few days. There’s a tea house, Dobra Tea that has a few locations up and down the eastern seaboard. The one in Portland Maine and Burlington Vermont are a few of my favorite places to visit and a must on my trip.

Luckily there is a train line that runs from Boston North, that ends in Brunswick ME that has Portland as a stop and it’s called the Downeastern. So if I’m feeling like taking a weekend trip, I can hop on a train and be there in a few hours.

Also, if I want to head south of Boston I can equally as easily head to South Station which has trains and buses which will bring me to all points south. I believe they go as far as Maryland, New York City and D.C.. So If you’re looking to get out of your city for a few days, it’d be worth it to check to see what your local travel options are first. That way you won’t have to deal with weekend traffic or other roadtrip hastles.

Second, if you live in a city that has reliable public transit, commuting via commuter rail, train or bus are all great options to help reduce some of your carbon footprint. I take the commuter rail and bus/train to get to work now. Sure the commute may be a little longer, but it gives me a chance to ease into my day, check emails, do some research for articles I’m writing and just to relax for the first portion of my morning.

Also it costs less to take public transit that it would to drive into work everyday. You save on gas as well as wear and tear on your vehicle. And if you go carless and take a Lyft or Uber when you need a ride, your transportation budget becomes exponentially cheaper, as you don’t have a car payment or insurance payment to figure in.

Of course these options are mostly only available to people living in a city with established public transportation. But it’s worth your time to look into if you’re thinking of making a switch to something a little greener.

There are also other small shifts you can make in your daily routine that will help you to do your part that are in line with the GND. As we all know, planting trees is still one of the best ways to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, state rep. and a major spokeswoman for the GND is planting a rooftop garden filled with greens to help promote her cause. But if you don’t have a rooftop to turn into a garden for greens, there are other options available to you.

For example, there are websites like Ecosia. Ecosia is a search engine that uses its profits to plant trees in parts of the world that need them most. They boast, everytime you search, Ecosia generates income from ad revenue, that they then use to plant trees. This is a great way to take something you do every day and turn it into something helpful for the environment.

Alternatively, you can also donate directly to projects and organizations that are doing the type of work that aligns with your personal preferences. This list from Green Dreamer has 34 different types of groups and organizations that are doing sustainable work. They range anywhere from ocean conservation, to social justice. Green Dreamer is community supported, which means they independently cover green topics, without special interests from large agricultural or oil companies.

Are there organizations that you’ve heard of and always wanted to donate to, or find out more about the work they do? For me, I’ve historically been drawn to groups that take care of our resources such as our oceans and mountains. A few of the organizations I donate to are, 4 Oceans, The Sierra Club and Oxfam.

Well, I don’t actually donate to 4 Oceans, they are a certified B corporation that prides themselves on pulling a pound of trash from the ocean for every purchase made. So everytime you buy something from them, you donate to their trash collection cause. They have single use plastic alternatives which is in line with their cause and something we can all get behind, but what I’ve gotten in the past are bracelets made from recycled plastic pulled from the ocean. I usually buy them as gifts for people who may be difficult to buy for. This way you and the person receiving the gift can feel good about doing something to help keep our oceans a little cleaner.

The Sierra Club is an organization that focuses on protecting our environment from pollution and maintains trails and green spaces. Be it from helping to make the switch from coal power plants, to protecting national parks, The Sierra Club is doing work to help us continue to enjoy the great outdoors. They are also a place where environmental protection meets social justice. By advocating for groups that work with vulnerable populations.

Oxfam international is an organization that aims to help bring an end to world poverty. They do this by advocating for communities that are experiencing conditions that are near or at poverty levels. They help to train, bring in necessary technologies as well as help communities grow nutritious foods, gain access to clean water and land and access to fair wages. They do a lot to look after the welfare of the communities they work with by also helping to provide care for communities experiencing disasters and conflicts.

These three, and the list of causes above are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to organizations that are out there making a difference that you can support. There are sure to be plenty of people doing the work you would like to be a part of. All you need to do is get out there and search around. Who knows what you’ll come up with. It can be overwhelming, to think of all the areas that needs our attention. Just remember to take it slow, one step at a time.

Also it’s helpful to realize that it took us a while to get into this mess, it may take a while to get ourselves out. So instead of beating ourselves up for not being as green as humanly possible, let’s take an honest look at where we are, what we’ve gotten ourselves into, and make steps, however small, to get ourselves out from where we are. And don’t give up! It won’t be easy, that’s for sure, but it’s possible. We only need to be diligent in our efforts and work faithfully towards our collective goals. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Normandy Pasture” by Bold Frontiers is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Recycling: Are We Really Making a Difference?

I remember reading and hearing about how China is refusing our recyclable materials about two years ago. It was concerning to find out we were shipping our trash to other countries, but to learn that we are no longer able to, and furthermore that I haven’t heard any news since I found this out, left me feeling a bit anxious. What are we doing with our recycling and garbage!? This seems like such a basic question that I’m floored that we don’t have a plan in place already.

We know what happens when we leave garbage to pile up with nowhere for it to go. Why was this not thought through? Instead we have a plastic pollution problem that is literally choking our oceans and lakes, using chemicals that are poisoning our foods and releasing volatile organic compounds into our atmosphere, excellorating global warming and climate change. And most of this is due, in large part, to the petrochemical companies creating massive amounts of harmful products for people and the environment. Mostly under the guise of it being cheap. This just isn’t acceptable in my book, and I hope a lot of others as well.

So I’m angry about it. All in all I’d say this is a healthy response to an unhealthy situation. But I don’t want to be blinded by the emotions that come with the feelings of being wronged in some way. Yes there are horrible things happening in the world, that don’t stop at the environment and provoke anger. But that doesn’t mean that I will default to black and white thinking. I.e. everything involving petroleum is evil and all plastics are wrong. These are only problems that we’ve stumbled into, using what we knew at the time to be the best solutions we had to what we were facing.

But if you’re anything like me, it’s difficult to realize that it doesn’t totally fall within my realm of responsibility to “solve” these issues. Taking on too much responsibility is something I know I struggle with, and I’m sure I’m not alone. So what’s the alternative to feeling like I have to come up with a solution? My best guess would be becoming part of the solution. Then advocating for the solutions that are most helpful. So what are some solutions to the problems we’re facing?

Let’s take a look at some of the problems we’re facing first, to get a better understanding of what it is we’re up against. According to the Columbia Climate School, of the 267 million tons of materials recycled in the U.S. in 2017, only about 94 million tons were composted or recycled. Much of the unrecycled material was either incinerated for energy, or went to landfills.

A large part of the problem is that there is no centralized program for recycling. In the States, there is no federal recycling program that is coming up with solutions and instituting guidelines for the process. It is now currently the responsibility of 20,000 communities in the U.S. to decide what and how to recycle its waste. And what’s more is that these recycling programs need to compete with other municipal programs such as schools and road maintenance for funding. This seems like a lose lose situation.

And to add to the confusion, the only plastics that are being recycled in the U.S. are 1 and 2. Plastics 3-7 are not being recycled, even though they are labeled as such. No bueno. This leads to a vast majority of plastics being sent to the incinerator to produce energy. Along with the plastics that are able to be recycled, but aren’t do to contamination, i.e. not being thoroughly cleaned. This means a majority of the material we are sending out with the intentions of being recycled, end up elsewhere.

With all this information, and misinformation, how do we begin to feel as though we are making a difference? From my understanding, the tenets of, reduce, reuse, recycle and refuse still focus on all the areas we need to be paying attention to, to help be part of the solution. One practice that encapsulates a majority of these tenets is zero waste living.

The concept of living zero waste is simple. It is to purchase goods that have no component that can’t be recycled, composted or reused in some way. For example, purchasing items from the bulk bins at grocery stores, and carrying them home in cotton, reusable bags or glass jars is a way to eliminate the plastic wrap or packaging that is too flimsy to be properly recycled. Keeping as many items that turn into waste, out of landfills and incinerators is the guiding ethos behind the idea of living zero waste.

And this is not an easy way to live for sure. So many items are packaged in some form of unsustainable material, that often times you will have to go out of your way to find alternatives. One big way to make an impact, as I mentioned above, is to buy product in bulk. And I’m not talking about the big box stores where you can buy a years worth of toilet paper on the cheap. But rather stores that have a section with bulk items, that aren’t prepackaged. Where you can bring your own containers to take home with you.

Whole Foods has a bulk section, though it was temporarily suspended due to concerns with Covid. My local store has recently put there bulk section back into use starting on June 2nd. There are other places to buy bulk as well. This site from Zero Waste Nerd has a location finder where you can enter your locality and their site will list some of the known zero waste grocery stores near you. I found a shop on my commute that sells household cleaning supplies in bulk. All you need to do is bring a container and fill up anything from laundry soap, to all purpose cleaners. This is a great way to reduce a lot of the packaging that comes with so many products we buy regularly.

Another site I found in my search, Litterless, has a similar approach in that they list stores by state, then city, that have bulk shopping options. You can choose your state from the list on their homepage, then they have a list of cities, with the stores and what they sell in alphabetical order. They also link to the store’s site, so you can check them out in advance to see if they have and are what you are looking for.

While we’re on the subject, how do you carry these items home to be used? You can’t just toss a bunch of flour or oats in your basket! For items such as the cleaning supplies, glass ball jars work well. this way you can buy as much as you need, use them straight from the jar in the case of laundry detergent, or refill your reusable spray bottle for other types of cleansers. I use the wide mouth Ball Jars which I feel are easier to use a scoop or measuring cup with.

If you’re buying bulk produce, reusable cotton muslin bags will do the trick. You can put all your fruits and vegetables in these bags. I use mine for items such as green beans and fresh herbs. I haven’t tried this, but you may also be able to use these bags for some dry goods as well. They would be great for items such as beans and oats. Anything large enough not to seep through the mesh of the bags. Glass jars will also work for spices and baking needs, such as flour and sugar. Just make sure to ask an employee to help you tare the weight of the jar before you load up.

For me, the items I buy bulk at the stores have a corresponding container at home. So if I buy a pound of wild rice, I have a jar waiting in my cupboard to be filled. This way I don’t have a bunch of bags loosely cluttering up my cabinet space. And I can reuse the same few bags I have to refill different items. So instead of using one bag for each item to then be stored in, I can have a few bags that I use to refill the containers that are already dedicated to a particular item and can easily switch up to contain other items as needed. This way I only need as many bags as items I need to refill. This keeps things neatly organized while also cutting back on the need to buy a large amount of one type of container (and then carry them everywhere).

Another way to get a handle on your garbage consumption is to do a trash audit. This is as simple as it sounds. Take your trash, probably for a week, between trash pickups, and go through it to see what you throw away. What are the items you are throwing away the most? What is filling up your recycling bin? From here, you can make the decision to cut back on the items that you find reoccurring the most. If you find that you are recycling a large amount of shampoo and soap bottles, maybe making the switch to something like bar soap for both hair and body. Or visit a bulk cleaning supply store like the one I mentioned above to reduce the amount of plastic that is adding up in your recycling.

There are also services where you can order refills for different products such as laundry soap. Companies like My Green Fills, sell packages of concentrated laundry products, detergents, stain removers and other laundry needs. This may not be zero waste, but it greatly reduces the amount of plastic bottles that add up quickly as a result of our laundry needs. And it costs less as well. The way it works is; they send you a bottle with packages of dry refills, that you reconstitute with warm water, once you go through the packages, you order more and use the same container to refill your detergents.

Paper towels are a big one for me. Switching to a dish towel could be the answer to this issue. Washing a few dish towels each week will definitely save on the waste produced by the paper industry. These can be used as paper towels are, only washed and hung to dry after each use. Make sure to buy cotton towels and avoid microfiber ones, as they can release large amounts of plastic fibers into the ocean which are dangerous to aquatic life.

Also, old tee shirts work great as cleaning rags. When I retire a work shirt, I will oftentimes cut it up to use as extra cloth rags that can be used for anything from cleaning up messes to dusting the furniture. And as long as you are wearing 100% cotton clothing, it can be tossed into the compost when you’re finished with it.

While we’re on the subject, composting is a great way to reduce the food waste we accumulate. If you have a garden or space for a compost bin, this should be a fairly easy task. There are premade bins you can buy that house compost, but you can also make your own. This article from The Spruce goes into the different methods you can use to create your own compost. One of them is making your own bin using a trash barrel. Something that is accessible to just about everybody.

And depending on where you live, there are companies that will pick up your compost for you, curbside just as your garbage and recyclables are already picked up. In Massachusetts, the Boston area, we have Black Earth Composting. Call your local municipal office to find out if there are services near you that you can join. Also a quick google search will yield plenty of results to get you started on your composting journey.

There is also a new trend in food markets and take out places where many of these businesses are switching to compostable containers and utensils for their take out containers and cutlery. Refusing plastic utensils and shopping at places that use compostable containers is a great way to make a small change in the ways we consume garbage. Asking a business if they use compostable or traditional containers will go a long way to keeping these items out of the landfills and incinerators. And in a pinch, bring your own reusable utensils with you when ordering take out.

And it isn’t only up to us as consumers to help slow down or stop the consumption of plastics. There is some exciting research that suggests that there are types of mushrooms that are able to use polyurethane, a main component in plastic, as its main food source. This means that some of the mushrooms that we eat, maybe the solution to breaking down materials that would normally take generations to biodegrade. And the end result is something tasty for us to eat. Win win!

This article from Treehugger goes into detail about the different types of mushrooms and how they were discovered and what they may be able to do for us in the plastic waste department. There is also mention of a mushroom that is able to breakdown polyester. Which, if you’ve read my post on whether it’s better to buy cotton or recycled polyester, you’ll know that this is a major environmental threat. Having an organic solution to these environmental threats is welcome news after what seems like a never ending stream of potentially dangerous outcomes for our future in regards to our waste consumption.

There’s a lot to be done on the waste management front. Luckily there are motivated people out there that are looking for ways to make the most impact on what seems like a pretty grim looking situation. This post from Wild Minimalist has some suggestions on how to shop zero waste. She mostly focuses on Whole Foods, but you may be able to try these methods out elsewhere, in other stores as well.

And one more tip that isn’t related to tangible objects. I was recently talking with a friend who told me that if you tend to collect emails in your inbox, that is taking a hefty toll on the environment. It may only be a few dozen, or maybe a hundred unread emails, but what I hadn’t realized, and what my friend pointed out to me was, that all those emails need to be stored on servers somewhere. This means that there is electricity being pumped into these storage facilities to hold and handle all your unread emails. So keeping a clean inbox is directly related to keeping with a greener lifestyle.

And this blog, Going Zero Waste, is also a great resource for making some of the switches from a less sustainable way of living, to a more green one. It can feel overwhelming for sure, but remember, you don’t have to solve all the problems all at once. And there are loads of people out there searching for and finding solutions to these problems as well. So relax, and take it one green step at a time. I hope this has been helpful, and as always, peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Recycle Logo From Recycling Bin” by csatch is marked with CC0 1.0