Nothing New: Just Replacements

Going zero waste on a budget | Litterless

It's human nature (or maybe just my nature) to latch on to a change and want to make it happen all at once. New Years' resolutions, exercise plans, travel itches: good intentions can turn into mad dashes to the finish line can turn to burning-out. When I talk to folks wondering how to dip their toes into the waters of zero waste, I often talk about choosing just a few small things to change at once. To give ourselves time to let each habit sink in and stick before slowly layering the next one on top of it.

The bad news is, this method lacks the instant gratification of seeing your trash bag shrink from full to empty in a week's time. The good news? It gives you time to consider thoughtfully which changes you think are the most doable, which you'd like to tackle first in your home. And, too, it means that you don't need to rush out to buy a bunch of gear to turn your home zero waste at the snap of a finger. It means you can replace things as you use them up instead of all at once, lightening the strain on both your to-do list and your wallet.

How to go zero waste without buying anything new | Litterless

So, for this installment of Nothing New, the series where we ransack our homes to find the zero waste-friendly gear we might already own, a bit of a cheat: today I'm talking about purchasing new items, but things you'd have to purchase anyway.

Hear me out; I think choosing to replace only the things you run out of, one at a time, is a pretty good strategy for transitioning to a zero waste home. In practice, this is how it goes down for almost all beginning zero wasters. Rare is the person, I imagine, who doesn't have a small stack of plastic toothbrushes in the bathroom, a load of paper towels in the basement, all sorts of things to use up before replacing them with zero waste alternatives. For me, this stage lasted for several years as I worked through everything from razor cartridges to lotion bottles to plastic-wrapped DIY ingredients. (And of course there are still many things around my home left over from pre-zero-waste days that have packaging I wouldn't necessarily choose to buy now).

How to go zero waste without buying anything new | Litterless

Rather than making this the de facto strategy, we might as well make it an intentional one. If the number of changes you'd like to make seems daunting or pricey, consider giving yourself the permission to make no changes and buy nothing new for zero waste except what you need to replace around the home. It's a way to ease yourself gently into your new habits, to take stock of what you have and use that up, to give yourself space to carefully think through your next addition. And, since you'd be purchasing a new version of the item anyway, the cost of the zero waste version might not feel like quite as much of a pinch.

Some things you might replace as they run out:

-Swapping soap in a plastic pump bottle for package-free bar soap.
-Purchasing a stainless steel safety razor once you run out of plastic ones.
-Using up the last of your paper napkins and choosing cloth alternatives.
-In your bathroom, replacing disposable cotton rounds that come in a plastic sleeve with washable cloth cotton rounds.
-Switching out your plastic dish brush for a compostable wooden one.
-Making your own cleaning spray with vinegar once your plastic bottle of all-purpose spray gets emptied.
-And you can find a list of more of my favorite replacements, here.

Slow changes can be agonizing when all you want to do is throw out all your plastics and start afresh. But there's value in it, too. Any replacements you're working on these days?

Previously in Nothing New: A use for glass bottles, and an introduction.