Happy First Birthday to the Environmentalish Blog!
I started this blog a year ago, and it has been quite an adventure! For this post, I want to write a little summary of where I am on this zero-waste journey, along with some tricks and swaps I have learned over the last year. After this post, I will continue posting about different topics in each post- there is still so much to write about! I split this update into categories to make it easier to read, as well as easier on myself to stay on track! Enjoy!
Okay so, food packaging is probably the worst part of becoming zero waste. Sometimes I feel like I rely on TerraCycle too much, and I really want to move away from more plastic packaging so that those zero-waste boxes can stretch even further. I bought our last box in December, and it is probably about half full, so two boxes a year is not bad compared to what I was doing this time last year! We have moved to buying as much as we can in bulk, glass, cardboard, and cans, which makes a huge difference. I grew up on frozen vegetables, but I made the switch to canned veggies and honestly- I’m not going back. And yes, fresh is always best but sometimes we just don’t have the time to cook epic meals every night, and canned veggies go into a soup or shepherd’s pie. I started shopping for deals on olive oil so that I only buy in glass now, which I never did before. I also have gotten into making my own dressings for salads rather than buying them in plastic or spending a small fortune on dressing in glass.
One thing that really bothers me is that vegan meats and cheeses come in so much packaging. I love a good burger or nugget substitute, but there’s so much plastic! We have started buying these a lot less often and using them as a treat, and thankfully we have TerraCycle to help us out there. Oh! And pasta! Why do we need windows on boxes of pasta? Seriously, there is a picture on the box. I hate tearing that little piece of plastic wrap out of a pasta box before recycling it. Aside from these, we have drastically reduced our plastic waste. If I ever get on the level of baking my own bread and making my own soy milk, tofu, etc., I’ll be golden. The best thing to do if you can’t avoid plastic is to buy in bulk, so you are buying less packaging. We started buying bulk tofu, as well as buying the gallon-sized jugs of low sodium soy sauce from the grocery store. Once empty, those make great watering cans for your houseplants; we have not thrown away a soy sauce jug yet in the four years we have lived together.
Fun fact- if you want to really be awesome, you can save your pasta water and use it to water your house plants as well. I’ve also heard of people putting a bucket in their shower to collect water for plants, but I am not sure I am able to accomplish that in my little standing shower without filling it with soap and shampoo-filled water.
This is a good transition, so next I’m going to talk about the bathroom. I have posts on hair and skin care, so if you have read those entries, you already know my routines are pretty zero waste already. The hardest transition for me was honestly the deodorant swap because I’m super self-conscious about smelling sweaty and natural deodorants just don’t cover up as much. You really need to transition in the wintertime, preferably on a long break from work when you are home and won’t offend anyone 😊. The only parts of the bathroom that are not zero-waste in my house are oral care and…the toilet paper situation. I am making moves on both of these fronts as we speak, and will get into more details in later posts, so I will just give a quick update here. I really want to move away from buying tubes of toothpaste, but toothpaste tablets are just too expensive to me. My husband found a compromise there in toothpaste powder. You wet your toothbrush, dip it in the powder, and go. Now, the microbiologist in me does not approve of this, so I will have to update you on how that one goes. I also ordered mouthwash tabs, because we go through Listerine so quickly in my house, and neither of us is ready to completely give up mouthwash. As for the other bathroom business, I got a bidet for my birthday! Cheers to 31, guys! All jokes aside, I really didn’t know how I would do with this, but it is actually growing on me. I have some rags in the works that I am making out of old towels and T-shirts, and am researching toilet paper alternatives (bamboo?) as we speak, so once that whole process is complete, I will be posting. Get excited. I also use reusable and washable feminine hygiene products, which I have learned to love as well. Our trash can in our bathroom is really just a holder for cardboard tubes, boxes and swept up hair that I transfer to the recycling and compost bins; we really don’t make any trash in our bathroom anymore. I’ve been asked how I survive without plastic bags as liners in my bathroom trash cans, and the answer is: I don’t need them.
Okay, so last year I purchased 5 new pieces of clothing. I bought a bridesmaid dress, and I bought two blazers and two blouses for a work conference. This year, I bought another bridesmaid dress for my sister’s wedding, but I am pledging that that is the only new piece of clothing I will buy this year. If I need anything, I thrift it. The only reason I bought the blouses and blazers new last year was because I did not have enough time to shop around and thrift for pieces in my size before I left for my conference. I believe that I have appropriate clothing for any event, so I should not have something like this come up short notice again. I am a planner, so I usually know what I need way ahead of time.
I have also been trying to part with more and more of my wardrobe lately. I did a few “wear it or donate it” challenges, and even one where I tried to remove one thing from my closet each day for a month. I have paired down a lot, which is satisfying my new obsession with becoming more minimalist. It really is such a weight off my shoulders having less stuff. However, you can’t just dump your unwanted clothes off to any Goodwill store, or most of it may end up in landfill as they receive way too many donations to keep up with. I have been selling a lot online, and I also sent two boxes to Thredup. They will take your donations, assess them, and send back what they can’t sell. Then, when they do sell something of yours, you get a cut that you can use as credit. I figured this was the best way to assess what can and can’t be sold out of what I have, and I will find a way to properly donate the rest when it comes back to me. For items that I know they won’t take because of wear or age, I have been repurposing them in other ways. I have been learning how to make scrunchies, headbands, and am also using some to cut up into wipes for the bathroom or use as rags for cleaning. I also found a neat tutorial online for making jeans into small purses and wallets, and I have two pairs that wore out and split that I will be using in an attempt there.
I completely stopped using our gas dryer. I am pretty proud of that one. I have been doing a load of laundry in the evening on weekends and hanging the clothes to dry on racks overnight in the same room. When the weather is better, I will be able to dry them outside, but for now, they must dry inside. I use liquid detergent that I buy in bulk (in an old applesauce jar), and I was gifted dryer balls to replace dryer sheets. Since I am not using the dryer, this does not matter quite as much, but when I have multiple loads to do in one weekend, sometimes I have to use it. I have heard about a few different bags you can put your non-cotton items into in the washer to avoid microplastics from leaving your clothes and getting into the water, but I need to do more research there.
I recently stopped using nail polish. I have gotten back into creative crafting but have been focusing on upcycling as much as I can. I started a new job a few months ago with a company that aligns with my sustainability goals, which makes me proud. I’ve gotten significantly better at cooking and have been making dinner on weeknights with nothing but compliments from my husband. I am looking into finding a way to offset my emissions for flying when going on vacations now, which is something I would have never thought about before. I took the course and admin a Buy Nothing Group for my town, which is slowly but surely gaining traction and I am super excited about it. I have used my straw and eating utensils that I carry in my purse so many times in the past few months, and that is really empowering. The little things add up to become big things. We have also been saving our cardboard packaging to use in our gardens this spring as a natural weed blocker, and I am excited to see how that turns out.
The two hardest parts of this journey have been finding support in it, and my struggle with being a perfectionist. I want to be perfect, and I worry that I rely on the easier things a little too much. TerraCycle is amazing, but part of me feels like it would be better to break away from eating cereal for breakfast and to bake my own bread and make my own tofu…but really, where is the time? I work full time, and I have to give myself a break here. I am also trying very hard to not turn into a hoarder in order to avoid trash. My husband and I both resist throwing things away and ask each other for ideas on how to upcycle things like Styrofoam packaging or yet another glass jar…but at some point we can’t keep every single thing. I want to be more minimalist, and I am…aside from my massive craft area, which is full of empty bottles and pieces of trash that I want to make into things. I also refuse to stop collecting books, so really I am a minimalist when it comes to everything aside from books. I buy them all used, and I read and enjoy them, so I don’t see this as a harmful collection. Ever since I was young I dreamed of having a library in my house, and I am not giving up on that dream. That is my one stubborn point, but really, there are much worse things I could be collecting.
Another tough situation for me lately has been acceptance. As isolating as this lifestyle can be, I have been feeling increasingly alone in this. Being vegan has definitely had its challenges; going out is awkward and difficult when I don’t have any options on the menu, and I fear being excluded from plans because of it. I always worry that people don’t want to spend time with me because it is work to try to include me in plans. My coworkers tease me when we go out for birthday lunches, because I can often only order a salad and eat that as my lunch wherever we are. I didn’t tell them when my birthday was to avoid the awkwardness of going out for it, which is a little sad probably. When I do talk about these things, I feel like I have to defend myself in every conversation, and I get tired of it and don’t even argue with people when they try to counter what I say or do. I have had people try to argue with me about what sustainability is, or what is more or less sustainable, and I walk away from those conversations now because I don’t have the energy to discuss these things with people who are so set in their ways that they are just going to refuse what I say without really listening or being open to it. I started to only follow accounts on Instagram and twitter that are run by people that are like minded to me, so that I feel a sense of community somewhere in my life. I definitely wish I could find a way to find people in my area to be friends with that see the world the way I do. It’s all taken a toll on my mental health, and I am learning how to live in a more mindful and intentional way where I stop worrying about what anyone thinks, and just focus on what I am doing and hoping it may positively impact someone else someday.
The last thing I have been having a tough time with is medications. First of all, I want to live a cruelty-free life, but I also take medications that have definitely been tested on animals. That is where my line is, because I deal with health issues that I depend on medications for, and I have tried and failed to stop taking them. In order to function and do all these other things I am doing, I need this one thing. Secondly, they never come in any packaging that does not include plastic. I put my medication bottles and sachets in our TerraCycle box, but it still bothers me buying all that plastic. For instance, I take birth control for health reasons, and I can’t stand that it comes with a little page of stickers and paperwork in every single pack. I know that there are probably laws requiring the information packets, but I have been on the same medication for 11 years. I don’t need the paperwork every month for 11 years. Luckily, that can be composted or recycled and the plastic portion of the packaging is small, and can go in my zero waste box in my kitchen.
Anyway, one year down, another still to come! Some topics I am planning to write about in the coming weeks include oral hygiene, nail care, gardening, pets and children, upcycling crafts, weddings and parties, transportation, carbon emissions and offsetting, and greenwashing. I am also planning to do a sort-of virtual tour of my house, where I go room by room and assess where waste can be eliminated and substituted. I am constantly learning every day, so there may be some repeat topics coming up as well, as I learn more and more about different products or how different processes work.
I hope you are enjoying reading this blog as much as I am enjoying writing it! If you have any questions or suggestions for topics, please reach out! I have a blog email address, and I also have my social media accounts linked to the contact page as well.