Simple Resolutions for a Zero Waste New Year

Happy new year, friends! Did you make any goals for the upcoming year? In case yours include becoming more sustainable or reducing the amount of trash you make, I'm sharing a few simple ideas of ways to get started. Choose one, two, or more to do and you'll be making an easy step in the direction of a better world. Individually, each step is small, but collectively they add up to real change.

1. Switch to reusable coffee cups.

The resolution: Pledge to go a year without accepting a paper cup from a coffee shop. Order your coffee "for here" in a ceramic mug, or bring your own reusable mug, jar, or thermos (as long as you can tell the barista how many ounces your mug holds, most coffee shops will accept yours happily!). I like this Kleen Kanteen, but maybe you already have something in the back of your cabinets that will do the trick.

The result: At three drinks a week, you'll save 150 cups, lids, and drink sleeves from the landfill over the course of a year (paper cups aren't recyclable because they're usually lined with a thin layer of plastic, which makes them waterproof). Plus, you'll get a little thrill of being virtuous each time you order a coffee.

2. Compost your food waste.

The resolution: Sign up for a composting service that will collect your food scraps, find a local food scrap dropoff point near you, or finally get around to setting up a system in your backyard.

The result: Each person generates an estimated 5 gallons of compostable material each month. Over the course of a year, that's 60 gallons of food waste that you'll keep from the landfill and turn into rich soil.

3. Get on board with cotton produce bags.

The resolution: Buy or make cotton produce bags, and make it a habit to bring them with you to the grocery store.

The result: If you tend to use 10 plastic produce bags a week to house your veggies, you'll save 500 plastic bags this year. This simple step keeps them out of the landfill, and means that 500 plastic bags worth of oil no longer needs to be pumped, refined, turned into plastic bags, and shipped to you.

4. Bring along reusable utensils.

The resolution: Plan to carry reusable utensils and a cloth napkin with you, so that you won't have to rely on plasticware and paper napkins on the go. You can buy a special tiny fork, or just grab one from your silverware drawer and tuck it in your purse or pocket.

The result: At one plastic fork and one paper napkin a week, in 2016 you'll save 50 forks and 50 napkins from sitting in the landfill more or less forever. Perhaps more importantly, you'll reduce your carbon footprint by wasting fewer resources (I'd rather those trees the paper napkin takes to make stay a forest home for animals than serve as a tool to wipe my mouth).

5. Goodbye, plastic wrap.

The resolution: Break up with plastic wrap. For good. It's not recyclable, and who likes fiddling with that clingy stuff anyway?

The result: A good set of glass containers with lids (such as plastic-free Weck jars) will eliminate the need for it entirely. Or, if you just can't go cold turkey, try the reusable and eco-friendly alternative Bee's Wrap (pictured in the image above).

6. Say no to freebies.

The resolution: Pledge to say no to flimsy, useless freebies that you neither want nor need (stress balls, I'm looking at you) - at the grocery, at conferences, as parties.

The result: Decreasing the overall demand for throwaway plastic objects, and keeping your home less cluttered. Plus, you'll never again find one in your bag after an event and think "What the heck? Why did I take this?"

7. Reduce your food waste.

The resolution: Learn to use the ends of vegetables (kale stems, broccoli cores, carrot tops) instead of throwing them away (I'll be doing a post with some ideas on this soon!). The green and feathery tops of carrots can become pesto, onion skins can be made into vegetable broth, and lemon peels steeped in white vinegar make a pleasantly fragrant nontoxic home cleaner.

The result: America wastes an estimated one-fourth to one-third of its food supply each year. This year, I'm on a mission to whittle my food waste as close to zero as I can. Plus, using more of each thing I buy will mean decreasing my grocery bill. If you have any favorite ways to use castoff parts of vegetables, I'd love to hear them!

8. Switch to cloth towels.

The resolution: Quit paper towels - yes, it's time! As an alternative, you can make or buy some washcloths or towels and stock them in your kitchen and in your bathroom (I like to use one color of cloth for my kitchen, and one color for the bathroom to avoid any gross mix-ups). Throw them in with the rest of your laundry weekly, and that's it!

The result: No more running to the store every time you run out - because, now, you won't. Three cheers for that! And, more importantly, you'll reduce the amount of trash you make and your carbon footprint by choosing reusables over disposables.

9. Consider buying fewer things.

The resolution: Buy nothing new. Or buy fewer things this year. Or pledge not to buy something plastic when you can purchase it in wood or glass instead. Or commit to giving experience gifts all year long instead of objects. Or plan to host a swap meet with friends to exchange unused goods and get them to new homes where they'll be used and loved.

The result: You'll feel awesome for going against the grain of consumer culture. Plus, you'll be lessening the demand for new products, reducing unnecessary energy and resource usage. Maybe you'll even end the year a little more composed and zen, with a new outlook on material goods. 

What are you hoping to do this year? Any resolutions that you're especially excited about? Can't wait to hear.

Image of Bee's Wrap via.