Disclaimer, I’m not “zero waste.” I consider myself a reduced waster. These are not must-have eco-friendly products just how I try to do things the right way. The zero-waste community, while well intended, can become a bit toxic and shame-y. Biggest changes for me are:
-Eating way less meat - once a week instead of 2-3 meals a day, which is fairly typical of a standard American diet. Tried veganism but it didn’t work out for me personally; I struggle with some health issues and plant-based made me miserable.
-Bar shampoo and conditioner - Ethique is my favourite, but it’s made in New Zealand, so I switched to HiBar, which is made in North America and has the same active ingredients. It’s pretty much just as good and doesn’t leave a residue in my hair.
-Reusing Ziploc bags - I put a drop or 2 of dish soap (could use scrubber with solid dish soap and rub on inside of the bag too) in the bag and fill about 2 inches of hot water, press out most of air and zip closed. Shake around vigorously and rinse until no more bubbles. Probably wouldn’t work for really greasy bags, but I don’t use much of that in my cooking.
Reusable shopping bags - I’m getting much better about remembering to bring these with me, but occasionally I’ll get home and realize I got a plastic bag and didn’t even notice. Fail. The reusable ones are very nice to use and are way stronger than disposable plastic bags. I sewed some produce bags out of old sheer curtains that I hated; they’re simple rectangular drawstring bags. I made 3 sizes (small bags for things like candy and pine nuts, medium for things like cashews and grains or a couple of avocados, and large for a bushel of apples, a dozen ears of corn, etc.) I think I made like 6 of each and they’re a game-changer. I made some Unpaper towels out of scraps of clothes that were too worn out to go to the thrift store as well, and when they’re dirty I put them in a basket under the sink. When I do a load of towels, I toss my dirty Unpaper towels and produce bags in as well.
Deodorant- there is a local company in Tennessee called Little Seed Farms that makes a deodorant that comes in little glass jars. They work great (as a deodorant; they’re not antiperspirants), and come in multiple scents (including unscented). I was blown away by how well they work.
Compost - I had a compost bin for years and never used it because the fruit flies around my indoor bin were an ungodly horror. Someone suggested keeping my indoor bin in the freezer and this changed everything. I have a big plastic bin (old cheese puffs container my husband bought) and keep it in the freezer until it’s full, then take it to my compost bin, empty it, and put it back in the freezer. I shred my junk mail and use that for browns. Works like a charm!
Toothpaste - this is a tricky one for me. All well designed scientific studies show that fluoride is really important for good dental health, so I will only use toothpaste/tablets/powders that contain fluoride. As you may have noticed, most zero-waste dental products are fluoride-free. I’m waiting for a brand I support, called ETEE, to release the fluoridated tooth tablets they developed this fall, and until then I’m using conventional toothpaste.
DIY - This one gets under my skin a bit because anytime you ask this group for advice on alternatives to conventional products, they will tell you to make it yourself. But unless you are independently wealthy and/or live with someone who doesn’t work, you probably don’t have the time and/or energy to DIY every single thing you use in a day because you spend most of your day at work or school. Personally, I DIYed a few things: bread (takes minutes to prepare because I use a bread machine I bought for $7 at a thrift store about 8 years ago), and nut milk (get yourself a used French press; so much easier to keep clean than a nut milk bag).
Laundry- I have been using Dropp’s subscription service for laundry detergent and dish detergent, and both are great, but I wish I could reduce the subscription frequency to every 8 months because I don’t do laundry that often, since I live by myself most of the time and wear my clothing 3-4 times unless it gets visibly dirty or smells funky. I am also planning to switch the laundry detergent to TruEarth laundry strips because they use less water once I run out of what I have (in like a year or two lol). Soap nuts are cool, but from what I’ve read don’t actually clean your clothes any better than water alone.
-** fewer impulse purchases** - I still buy new “things” other than necessities (particularly things that I can’t find secondhand), but I’m more cautious because I think about the impact it will have and how long it will persist in the environment. I sometimes still buy it, but not always. I weigh the positives and negatives more carefully now and make sure it is at least something that will be used again and again.
Very important - cut yourself a break. Realize that our economy has made it impossible for the average person (or almost any person) to not rely on plastic to a certain extent. I buy some things in plastic every week because I need certain things that I can’t buy in any other way (whether because I can’t afford it or it’s not available). Even things that seem really sustainable have hidden environmental costs. So don’t kill yourself trying to be perfect or you’ll burn out in a couple months. Just do what YOU can without giving yourself a nervous breakdown, and accept that there are times you will screw up - just keep trying. The things you do matter even if you aren’t perfect. Keep taking your vitamins and meds if you have prescriptions, eat what you need to eat to stay healthy, and treat yourself once in a while. It’s easy to feel in this community like you need to throw yourself on the pyre to show that you care about the environment, but self-care is super important to stay healthy and maintain balance. Just do your best.