The Awkward Beauty of Zero Waste: An Introduction

If you’ve seen any of the beautifully elegant zero waste social media mavens, you might imagine me with my trusses tousled into a bun held together by two, hand carved wooden hair sticks I bought at a farmer’s market in Portland.

A lock of my perfectly coiffed hippy hair falls to my shoulder as I purse my lips around a stainless steel straw reaching from the depths of a mason jar brimming with a bright pink, organic, non-GMO, fair trade smoothie that smells like unicorn farts…

If only!

My zero waste journey has been far less glamorous than originally anticipated, but exceedingly rewarding.

Here’s a look into my progress:

  • I carry my food scraps around in a little glass jar.

Peeling a banana at work, eating an apple at work, eating dates at work, I then carry their respective compostable casings, seeds, and pits around in a small glass jar until I can compost them or chuck them into some bushes.

To give myself credit, I have been collecting my compostable food scraps and toting them to my backyard midden since I was a kid, really. One time I flew from San Francisco to Chicago, ate a pound of dates and three apples on the flight. I then carried the increasingly soggy cores and pits around in a plastic bag until finally liberating them into the frozen underbrush of a cancer memorial park downtown.


Food waste is the third leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions and the second largest source of municipal solid waste sent to landfills in the US–it accounts for 15% of greenhouse gas emissions, too. A report from the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that 30% of global food ends up in the landfill uneaten. 30%!

Food is meant to break down into the earth, regenerate the soil, and finally, help our planet clean itself, but most American families toss their food scraps into the trash bin, wrap it up in a plastic bag, and then send it off to landfill. Once in landfill, the food rots inside the plastic bags, becoming a powerful and rampant source of methane and other greenhouse gases. Simply by allowing our food to rot directly into the soil we can avoid this.

my very un-glamorous handkerchief
  • I pick my nose into an ancient, stained, hand-me-down handkerchief I found at my dying grandmother’s house–and then I wash that handkerchief and reuse it.

When my family heard that I was using a washable handkerchief for my olfactory secretions you would have thought my harmless vegan boogers had morphed into contagions carrying diphtheria and tuberculosis. So horrified were they with my newfound joy of waste-free nose picking that I had to end the conversation with a half-hearted promise to “unload my snot rockets into some toilet paper at least, like a normal, 21st century human.” I said OK and left it at that, feeling self-conscious about what may or may not be coming out of my nostrils, or any other orifice for that matter.

Speaking of orifices and bodily fluids…

  • I capture my own menstrual blood (like the wild, pagan goddess that I am) in a silicone cup and pour it into the toilet or down the shower drain–to avoid toxicity and waste from standard tampons and pads.

I started using a Diva Cup back in May of this year, and wow, it has truly revolutionized my monthly female experience. (I have an entirely separate post coming about that.) But! Joy of joys, I recently added to my routine washable “glad rags,” aka reusable, cloth maxi pads that snap into your underwear with lovely little buttons and help catch any unintended leaks. If you’d like a more in-depth look at the environmental impact of your period, check out this article from Slate.

bamboo cutlery, washable dish towel, glass jar of food scraps, ceramic chopsticks for when I’m feeling fancy
  • I carry around bamboo cutlery for on-the-go feasting.

I have been using my bamboo cutlery so faithfully that one of the tines has broken off my fork and the tip of the knife is completely worn down to an impotent nub. But have no fear, my dears, the beauty of these wooden utensils is they will be tossed into my compost for a journey into biodegradable bliss when the time comes.

  • I use a compostable bamboo toothbrush and make my own toothpaste using baking soda, Stevia powder, essential peppermint oil, and coconut oil.

Estimates reveal that between 850 million and 1 billion plastic toothbrushes every year are discarded in the US alone. That’s over 50 million pounds of plastic waste caused by toothbrushes. Switching to a biodegradable toothbrush (which still uses nylon bristles) is the least I could do.

To help alleviate plastic toothpaste tube waste, I’ve found a lovely little glass container with a turquoise ceramic lid to store my homemade concoction. The toothpaste can be customized to my exact preferences: sweet, minty, and gritty AF with all that baking soda. Leaves my teeth Cheshire-cat slick and pearly white.

homemade toothpaste, bamboo toothbrush, refillable glass jar
  • I pack a kitchen dish towel in my backpack for the odd spills and drips.

I am now highly aware of how disgusting my sipping, supping, and slurping habits are because I have a cloth that reflects all of them. I also realize how often I used to grab paper towels at home or work just to dry my hands…why? 

See? Not quite so glamorous as the minimalist mega-babes who typify the eco-chic lifestyle online while traveling the world speaking about their trashless ways. (Uh, Bea Johnson just spoke at the European Union about Zero Waste Home, so….that’s amazing.)

Judging by my booger-hanky, grimy dish towel, seething jar of compost, and ugly wooden cutlery, I still have a ways to go before I reach the pinnacle of zero waste aesthetics. But, guided by a steadfast commitment to leave only footprints, I am on my way to making my life truly beautiful from the inside out.

Have you made any moves toward zero waste or going plastic free? Let us know!

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