Zero-Waste Lifestyle: The Beginning

As you’ve read in my 2018 resolutions, this year I want to put more of my attention towards the zero-waste lifestyle. This means learning about ways to reduce the amount of waste I produce and making gradual changes as I’m able.

To document this journey, I’m taking a snapshot of what my practices look like today. (I also have a Zero-Waste Bit-by-Bit page with a more detailed record.)


My Current Zero-Waste Practices

Reusable Shopping Bags

I’ve been using cloth/reusable grocery shopping bags since I first moved to Madrid in 2009. There, you had to pay a few cents for each plastic bag you used—all the more incentive to simply buy and use the durable reusable bags that were available in every grocery store. I quickly got in the habit of bringing my own bags when grocery shopping, and this has continued everywhere I’ve lived since.

When making smaller purchases without a bag on hand, I simply tell the cashier “I don’t need a bag” when I check out, and carry them in my arms.

Reusable Produce Bags

life without plastic produce bag

This fall I bought some reusable produce bags from Whole Foods after moving to Flagstaff, to use instead of those thin plastic bags. When I told my mom about it, she bought these organic cotton bags for herself—and they were excellent to use when I was home over the holidays.

Tupperware at Restaurants

My parents go out to eat on Fridays, so while I was living with them for a greater chunk of last year, that meant I got to come along, too. Together we got in the habit of bringing tupperware along for our leftovers, so we weren’t taking any single-use styrofoam take-away containers. Sometimes we would still forget, but what worked best was keeping a clean container or two in my mom’s car for this very purpose.

Tupperware/Sandwich Wraps on Hitch

u-conserve sandwich wrap

During these past five months working on the conservation corps, I always bring tupperware and my two reusable food wraps in my lunchbox. I’ll use one wrap for a sandwich and the other for snacks. I use the tupperware when there are leftovers at dinner, saving both on food waste and ziplock bags. (Our corps sends along ziplock bags with each crew, which mainly get used for lunches and leftovers. I try to avoid using any, but usually use one for the whole hitch, for salty snacks.)

Washing/Reusing Ziplocks

I’m trying to remember who I first saw washing ziplocks—either my grandma or my friend Cathleen—but the idea hadn’t occurred to me before I saw someone else do it. While I eventually want to stop using ziplocks altogether, this is a simple way to reduce my plastic waste production.

Water Bottles

I typically don’t buy plastic disposable water bottles, and currently use my Vapur water bottle and 4L DromLite bag both on hitch and on off days.

Bamboo Toothbrush

This past fall I switched to a bamboo toothbrush (from Mother’s Vault).

Bamboo Silverware Set

bamboo travel utensils

I bought this set of bamboo travel utensils this winter and have been using them a lot! I could have just as easily made my own travel set with metal silverware from home or from St. Vinny’s/Goodwill/Savers, too.

This month I’m in Texas working on a monthlong conservation project, and we’ve been staying in many hotels. The breakfasts at all of them only have single-use styrofoam dishes and single-use plastic silverware. Ah! I’ve been using either my bamboo utensils + tupperware or silverware and dishes from our camping cook set instead.


I’m quickly learning that recycling should be thought of as a last-resort rather than the green goodness I was taught it was in elementary school. But if it’s recyclable, my top priority is to get it to recycling rather than a landfill.

That said, we haven’t seen any recycling yet here in Texas! When I asked at our hotel the first night, the woman had to ask me a second time what I was looking for. Recycling? No, we don’t have that here. So my precious little bubble has been popped as I’ve seen more recyclables going to a landfill than ever before. We have a hodgepodge collection of recyclables going in the back of our trailer, but we haven’t been able to save everything. I do have a new curiosity to investigate, though: Why haven’t we been seeing recycling in Texas?


When I was at home with my parents, I’d save food scraps for our compost bin in the backyard. We’re not allowed to compost at ACE housing, so I try to minimize what food waste ends up in the garbage. (I’m also learning that it’s harmful to the environment for food to end up in a landfill.)

Lunette Cup

lunette cup

I bought this reusable lunette cup in 2016 and haven’t used tampons since. I love it!

Daily Panty Liners

cloth panty liners

I’ve been wearing these cloth panty liners since 2015, as well as a set I bought on Etsy. Although the ones from Amazon are super comfy and work well, I do recall that they were shipped a long distance (from China?) and were packaged in plastic—so this particular set is not necessarily the greenest solution I would recommend today. I have, however, to date prevented three years worth of disposable panty liners from landfills by switching to cloth! (And would never go back!)


Zero-Waste Resources

Here are some of the zero-waste resources I have my eye on.





Do you know of any resources I should check out? Zero-waste documentaries? Books? Websites? I’d love any recommendations!