Zero Waste Challenges

Hello everyone. I just recently got done watching a video called, “Please Stop Recycling”   It was a good trigger for me because I have been mulling over this entire Zero Waste concept over the holidays. I have never been so disgusted by the amount of garbage in my bin as I am over the holidays. There are many videos out there on this topic that are  informative and educational. I’ve witnessed first hand the testimonies and trials of those trying to live zero waste. I even watched a video where a girl had a compost bin in her apartment with its own worms.

Is this where I am at with Zero Waste? Not even close. I spent a summer trying to help a friend with her Zero Waste Market kickstarter (if you’ve been following it was a success). It was definitely a team effort and my efforts were utilized getting the word out at the local farmers market. Now, I volunteer once a week, and in a crunch, I volunteer twice a week. I would say I am knowledgable about Zero Waste but I am in no way an expert.

My friend’s store lies in the back of a community incubator culinary kitchen. In a lot of ways this is a lot of fun, because food trucks are coming and going, and many of these are  from multiple ethnicities. Sometimes someone will offer their coffee blends, matcha puddings, or ask my opinion on their crab cakes. Other times, I’ll go home with a handful of goodies from their pop up markets. It is a sweet deal on occasion but mostly I’ve liked volunteering because I’ve learned so much and I’ve enjoyed the community involvement.

The exotic aromas from the kitchen are heavenly and who does not love the smell of baking? The scents from my friend’s zero waste market are also soothing depending on which essential oil someone has just poured into a bottle.  I’m really starting to dig the smell of cedar wood and I’m feeling a bit nostalgic about the scent of Sal Suds. Piney, but in a good way.

Before this became a weekly ritual I participated in and I began volunteering at the zero waste market, I had the illusion that I was all good just recycling. That was the first reality hit of learning the ropes of the zero waste lifestyle. Recycling is barely putting a dent in the plastic problem. Here are two things I learned RIGHT away:

Lesson #1– If you are just recycling you are only putting a ding in the problem. There is a hierarchy to zero waste. It’s like the food triangle. Recycling should not make up the base of support for this. It is all about reusing and thinking about waste at the time of purchase. If there’s no plastic or over packaging in the first place there is less to recycle.

Lesson #2– Know your community recycling program. In some cases, if there is one thing in the bulk of your recycling bin that is not up to snuff than the entire bulk of your content may not be accepted. I’m coming to learn that plastic bags need to be placed in another bin entirely by themselves (or how about not using plastic bags at all?) Certain grades of plastics may no longer be accepted and one should know the rules about rinsing your items out. Some cities even have policies that are like-three strikes you are out. They just won’t take your recycling anymore beyond that.

Do not be overly intimidated by lesson number two because if you are paying more attention to lesson #1 that is where you are going to have the GREATEST impact. I’m not saying that recycling should fall by the wayside but it should never be the first line of defense.

Now that I have covered that base, let’s talk about zero waste. Yes, there are those true zero wasters out there who only have a jar full of garbage in a week. I respect them, I do. Don’t be intimidated by them, Don’t be discouraged. Yes that’s raising the bar really high. Am I there? Not even close. I recommend setting achievable goals. It’s a lifestyle change and not one that is going to happen overnight. Talk to other people who are doing it, and how they started out, and what is working for them. The experimentation of others is one of your best resources. This is what has worked for me.

I am a mother of four children. I feel my carbon footprint on the earth. Sometimes it even keeps me awake at night. I feel that since my carbon footprint has been heavier than most I have a responsibility to teach my children how to decrease their footprint also. I take this seriously. Do no harm. Be an influencer. I TRY.

One thing I noticed when I first started out, was how many plastic containers were coming from the shower alone- shampoos, conditioners, soaps, and body washes. Especially with three girls. This is where I started.

I now refill my shampoos, conditioners, soaps, lotions and body washes. I’ve looked into shampoo bars for the men in the house and even deodorant, facial, and body bars by the slice that are environmentally friendly. That was my start. Now, I am actually looking into buying body care ingredients from bulk so I can make my own.

clear glass container with coconut oil
Photo by Dana Tentis on

Then there is the obvious. Refillable coffee cups and drink containers. Buy a stainless steel straw, and have a silverware kit you keep in your bag for restaurants that give out plastic utensils. Really think about how much plastic you are accumulating when you order, and support places that use less plastic overall.

Second obvious. Accumulate refillable bags at your favorite store. Always keep a stack of them in your car so you are not caught off guard with a spontaneous trip to the grocery store. I keep my bags together with a caribiner clip in the trunk of my car. Also get some produce bags. I was stunned to find one recipe used four separate plastic bags for my produce needs. Grain sacks are also good for buying in bulk. You may feel silly doing this at first like, yes, you are that bag lady (or man)… but you know someone out there is watching you and they are thinking that they should be doing the same thing.

Washable silicone bags are an option for ziplock needs and many people are using or making their own beeswax wraps to take the place of saran wrap. There are tutorial videos that show you how to make your own and they really are cute. I’m hearing they hold up about a year and you should never wash them in hot water.

My next big plastic goals have to do with my laundry needs, dishwashing, and house cleaning needs. It really comes down to this: homemade housecleaning products are the way to go. I know there are many who are using the dryer balls with drops of essential oils or Eco nuts. Yes, you can wash your clothes with nuts and they work as a laundry detergent and a fabric softener. Once the nuts dissipate, some people even boil them down and use them as housecleaner.

My thoughts on this are that this is not an exact science. I’m hearing several dryer balls need to be used at once, and that the eco nuts will only get you through about five loads. You also have to trust the process. The nuts are cleaning your clothes even if the water is not getting sudsy. There are those customers though that REALLY love them. They were popular on shark tank.

I’m seeing many customers who have come in who are making ingredients to make their own dishwashing tablets who have been liking the results. I have really enjoyed this book. I’ve not tried all the recipes in this one, but I am working on them. I’ll let you know my recommendations. I’m also open to further book recommendations on this subject.

Really, what I am discovering about zero waste is that it takes work and effort and  the more you learn to do things from scratch the more you are going to find that it is suitable for zero waste. My next big zero waste goals are going to lie with my baking items, my spices, and my dry goods. I know my challenges are going to come with making my own baking mixes, spice mixes, and soup bases.

I may have to get serious about canning, or freeze drying, and making my own beans. It’s been so convenient for me to have canned beans and I’ve been a lover of case lot sales. With the recent arrival of the insta pot, I’m hearing some good things on the street about how much easier it is to cook your own beans at home. Soaking beans and cooking them in the home does not have to be the tedious chore that it was for our mothers. For that I am grateful.

assorted beans in brown sacks
Photo by on

Another way to eliminate waste is to try and eat vegan or go vegetarian. Even cutting down on these items helps. I can’t imagine the amount of milk jugs my family has gone through over the years. This is my other challenge. I love cheese too much so I don’t even want to go there.

Many people are making their own nut milks at home with nut bags. I have found this is not an exact science either and that cashews and almonds can be rather expensive. One can’t always make large quantities mostly because these milks can spoil quickly. I do know some people who are experimenting with pepita milk or pea milk because they are less expensive. This is not something I have really dappled in but I am interested.

Another thought. Zero Waste Bulk Markets are not available to everyone. I know. Salt Lake City just got their first one. If you live in a rural area, get creative. There are options on the internet. You may find certain stores will fit some of your needs or that they may offer bulk or refillable items even if they are not classified as “zero waste.”  I’ve heard you can get bulk shampoos and body care ingredients on line etc. One can also get proactively creative and organize a small community of women or even members of your own family to buy bulk items together, refill,  and split the cost.

A word about containers. Don’t think you have to go out and buy the best ones. I see people coming in using everything from peanut butter jars to pickle jars. You name it. I swear if I could give out the most resourceful or creative container awards I would. Mason jars are really popular. Everything that is needed to start living zero waste is guaranteed something that is already in your home. Zero waste can come with the bonus of being aesthetically pleasing.  If you want to go aesthetically pleasing, I suggest looking at second hand stores before buying new. There is SO MUCH out there.

aroma aromatic assortment bottles
Photo by Pixabay on

If aesthetic is important to you, I suggest making your last containers you buy before going zero waste the prettiest ones. It may not be your favorite dish soap, body wash, or shampoo, but make amends and use them until they are gone, and then you can refill them with your bulk body care item of choice.

I am not a fan of glass in the shower. Ross and TJ max have the most beautiful shampoos and body washes but they don’t always smell that great. I’ve found it is less expensive to buy them for their container’s aesthetic even if I rinse them out and don’t use the product. I found some gorgeous amber ones that were 32 0z. and on clearance. If I bought the same size of empty and new amber shampoo containers on line it would have cost me twice to three times that much.

Anyway, I’ve exhausted some of my input on what I have observed from working with the zero waste market and where I am at with my goals. This is just the tip of the iceberg. In another post, I will talk about how I am trying to integrate zero waste into my holidays but I felt I should get this one off the cuff first.  I leave you with this thought over the holiday season: Shop the change you want to see in the world. It is a thought that has been weighing heavily on my mind and I thought I would pass it along to you. Until next post!


Rachelle Whiting




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