I admit, I have definitely been (and continue to be) tempted by the aesthetic idea of having an all-new matching set of labelled mason jars, minimalistic unbleached produce bags & 100% recycled cotton tote bags for all my future low waste grocery hauls. Scrolling through Instagram & Pinterest “zero waste inspo” filled with both sustainable influencers/bloggers & sustainable stores all trying to promote an environmentally-friendly lifestyle, all the while, needing to advertise products like “zero waste starter packages” & reusable bamboo utensil sets. It’s all too easy to be drawn in by the lure of aesthetics & forget the reason why we all (generally) were inspired to start living more sustainably in the first place.
Especially for people who are first starting out, it can be confusing whether they are to replace all of their current products with new “sustainable swaps” or to switch only certain things while hiding the rest out of shame. It’s tempting to want to only show off your new low waste products & bulk/refills in pretty containers that are only made of sustainable materials. Well, here’s a friendly reminder that (for most things) the most sustainable thing you can do is extend its life because “it’s not waste until it’s wasted.”
Sometimes, I can still be hesitant to share photos on my “zero waste” Instagram account that shows that I do still own & use (or reuse) things made of plastic, still wear clothes from fast-fashion online shops & still use paper stationary sometimes (finishing up what I had from before). For most of these things, they can continue to be used until the end of their lives, but many of them can also leach tons of microplastics into the water system every time I wash them or can be harmful to my own body just by being in contact with them. It’s hard to know what the best thing to do in each situation is. I can’t tell you what the ultimate “right” thing to do is, as I do not know for sure, but I can share with you what I am doing & why.
Caption: Making a list of things you ALREADY do (before making a To-Do list) is a great way to declutter your mind while reminding yourself to maintain those good habits.
Influencing or Affecting Friends & Family
Since I live with my family, I can’t force them to completely follow my decisions to live more sustainably, as they each lead their own lives & have their own values/priorities/responsibilities. I also don’t want to force them (any family or friends either) to live more sustainably, because I realized that the more you try to stuff something in someone’s face, they will react first with disliking it, even if they were mildly interested in it before. However, what I CAN do is to lead by example, as well as adjusting my decisions based on what is possible & works best for the situation.
Being a stereotypical Asian family, we have always bought and stocked up on things whenever they’re cheap. We use and wash LOTS of dishes every day & we have a LOT of those plastic green & yellow dishwashing sponges. After I learned that they leach billions of microplastics into the water when we use them, I wanted to switch to using all-natural sponges & scrubbers instead. This was one of the swaps I decided to make knowing that if I continued to use the plastic sponges, I would harm the environment even more. I also knew that my family would be reluctant to switch to using a different product from what they are used to, both for money reasons (plastic is cheaper & they wouldn’t want to waste what they stocked up on) & for convenience (the material used affects the texture & shape of the sponge).
For many of my swaps that are things that my other family members use as well, I simply let them know that I will no longer be sharing theirs and let them see me using my sustainable alternative proudly. They can still continue to finish up the products they already paid for & planned on using anyway, while I can get a head start on reducing at least one person’s usage of those not-so-sustainable products. In the words of Edward Everett Hale,
“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”
Some of my swaps include:
- Fully compostable dishwashing sponges
- Cotton cloths for wiping instead of microfiber
- Dishwashing liquid (refilled in glass jars at the refillery)
- Hand soap (solid bar soap in zero packaging)
- Shampoo & Conditioner (refilled in glass jars at the refillery & solid bar form in zero packaging)
- Body wash (refilled in glass jars at the refillery & solid bar form in zero packaging)
- Laundry detergent (refilled in glass jars at the refillery)
- Reusable shopping bags & totes (a combination of old ones we hoarded & some new ones I got for free with the purchase of stuff)
- Reusable produce bags (combination of mesh plastic ones I bought before I was able to find natural ones & cotton produce bags)
Availability of Products
Most of these swaps weren’t readily available to me until very recently (this year) when the Replenish General Store opened up in Aurora, closer to where I live up north in Richmond Hill. For people living in the downtown area of Toronto, there are SO MANY OPTIONS for bulk markets & low waste stores! Although Replenish opened in May of 2020, I didn’t find out about it until October 2020. I probably would’ve found out earlier though if I had been actively searching for it, but better late than never! (For any readers in York Region or up north of GTA like me, another low waste store, Earth Market is another option too.)
If you live close enough, many low waste stores offer free local delivery in low waste recycled/recyclable packaging for prefilled & bulk goods too, so you can start making a change without ever visiting the store in-person (the perfect option during these difficult times). Even if they require a minimum purchase, I’ve always been able to reach that minimum easily, not because the items are expensive, but because I spent the time to plan out what I know I will be needing in the near future & bought enough items all at once. It’s more sustainable than buying one item at a time & getting it delivered individually anyway!
A photo of my online order in the basket I left out for them to leave the free local delivery in, so they could take back their paper bag & wrap