Zero waste shopping ban: Week 1
The new year is here and our shopping ban has begun! For anyone tuning in late, this six week shopping ban is to help reset our buying habits and get us all a bit closer to zero waste with what we already have, rather than acquiring more resources.
It’s week one, and we’re starting with the bathroom. The bathroom and the kitchen are two areas of the home where necessities come wrapped in plastic and disposability is king. Over time, you may have built up an arsenal of towels, extra shampoo, and forgotten products.
During this first week, follow the rules as outlined here and dive deep into the resources you can find in your bathroom(s).
If you are someone with a minimal linen closet (or wherever it is you store them), this will be quick; if not, you may have some work to do. Take the time to inspect the towels and washcloths that you have. For the towels in good condition, just keep them as towels. Chances are any old or worn towels are your last choice for use; there is a chance to breath new life into them.
If your towels are in very poor condition, consider one of two options. If the problem is fixable, repair. I have a towel that is ripping, but otherwise still soft and thick; I’ll fix it. I have a surprising number of novelty washcloths from childhood that are in very poor shape. They’re unused as washcloths because of this, so I’ll add them to the rag pile to use them for cleaning up kitchen spills and other messes. Recycling old towels for cleaning keeps them in the circular economy and allows you to continue benefiting from the resource rather than leaving them unused.
Since I get this question frequently, I’ll address here that even for “super yucky” messes, I choose reusable cloths to clean up. If cloth diapers come out clean, I’m not concerned about washing cleaning rags. There are, of course, messes I have (luckily) not had to face, most importantly vomit. Whether your housemates are people or pets, you might come across this problem. Most of my rags are old tee-shirts and cotton towels; since they’re natural fibers, I would have no problem throwing those in the garbage considering it should all be truly biodegradable (gross). With the exception of vomit, I always clean up with washable cloth.
At some point or another, most of us have kept extra products on deck. In zero waste, we try to use all of our resources fully, so when we have three bottles of conditioner, they must be used before we can buy a conditioner bar. To stay organized, you might find it useful to take a little inventory to keep under the sink. Make a list of all the products you need to use up, and don’t open anything new or buy anything post-ban until they are used up. That way, your three extra bottles of tile and grout cleaner aren’t forgotten and you know of (and fully use) the resources you already have before choosing to re-purchase more zero waste products.
That being said, it’s exciting to make zero waste switches, and nobody wants to keep using disposable razors once they feel ready to try a safety razor. Your unopened products like shampoo, lotions, and soap can be donated if they’re new. If you are itching to be more low waste in the home, donating products is a win-win because people in your community in need are helped and your visible household trash is reduced. I suggest checking if your local food banks accept toiletry donations (mine doesn’t) or if there are any shelters helping the homeless or women’s shelters in your area, especially if you have unopened disposable menstrual products you no longer need. Keep in mind, however, that while this will successfully reduce the trash/recycling in your own home, the packaging and inputs from these resources remains unchanged.
Resources YOU DON’T WANT OR USE
Now is a perfect time to clarify what I mean when I say “resource”; the short answer is that a resource is anything that you can use and that serves a purpose. Resources I don’t use or want make up a huge part of how I could continue zero waste-ing my own bathroom. Like with the linens, take a thorough look through the things you have including cleaning products, toiletries, grooming gadgets, etc. Opened and half used products are not donate-able, but they are still valuable resources and may serve someone else.
You may or may not have many people in your life who would be interested in the resources you no longer need, but check anyway. It’s bound to be an interesting conversation when your sister asks why you’re offering her three partial bottles of Bath and Body Works lotion. Personally, I found chapstick, hair mousse and essential oils that I’ll be passing on to friends and family.
With anything in zero waste, the easiest thing to do is refuse and reduce. Rather than giving away back-stocked bottles of shaving cream and buying a bar of shave soap post-shopping ban, just opt out of special soap for shaving. Similarly, with the extra products and resources you don’t want/use, part with them without looking back.
You may or may not find yourself at odds with certain products you just want to throw away; unsurprisingly, I recommend you don’t. If you have a health concern about something, like cleaning product ingredients or formaldehyde in nail polish, you’ll have to make a careful decision.
RESOURCES YOU FORGOT ABOUT
Chances are, you’ll find a few things that don’t fit in any of the above categories; they’re not new, they’re not unwanted, but they were entirely forgotten. I found lotion and my iPod nano, both of which are useful resources. For the forgotten (but liked) resources you find, make an effort during the next six weeks to use them. If by the end of the six weeks you haven’t needed one of these things or been able to use it, consider letting it out of your life.
This category also applies to resources you can’t get rid of, don’t want, but that you could use: the unwanted but still useful. My approach is to just use it up. I found an almost new tube of color changing lip-gloss that can’t be passed on in any way, so I’ll give it a try and attempt to use it up. Hopefully in using up these products, we are reminded when making future purchases to choose carefully, because (honestly) it’s not fun to use up products we don’t love.
If you come across things to throw away…
I did, and you will; I’ll say again that it is the opposite of zero waste to throw away usable resources. Reallocating those resources to those who can use them and using them up yourself are the most zero waste options, so don’t throw away useful resources.
For other things you find like empty containers, dispose of them purposefully. If they are reusable, clean them for reuse. If they are mixed component packaging, the entire thing may not be recyclable, but perhaps you could detach the paper part for recycling. Personally, I have a bottle made of different plastic pieces, some of which are labeled as recyclable and some of which aren’t. Chances of anything we recycled being actually recycled aren’t great, but proper recycling increases the likelihood that it occurs. As for packaging of products like toothpaste, hair gels, and deodorants, it’s worth checking out if the brand recycles their packaging or if there is a way to keep the packaging in the loop and out of landfill. Colgate, for example, recycles their toothpaste tubes with Terracycle.
The medicine cabinet usually lives in the bathroom, so I’ll take a moment to say that medicine, regardless of packaging, is important. Despite the association of zero waste with all things natural and home remedy, you should keep your medicine cabinet stocked with whatever you need. Pseudoscience is not good enough for our health.
Enjoy your first shopping-free week! As you work through all the resources you have in your bathroom and linen closet, keep in mind that there are a million lists of zero waste bathrooms swaps for another day, but that you’re the only one who can take responsibility for the resources you already have.
If you want to see more of how I’m making use of my resources during the ban, follow me on Instagram @lesswasteworld ! If you join the ban late, highlights for each week of the ban will be available on my Instagram page.