Most people nowadays want to live a more natural and lower waste lifestyle, but it can feel daunting trying to get started! There’s a lot of conflicting information available, and conflicting opinions. Is it necessary to “go big or go home?” Or will small changes make enough of a difference to be worth it? Why are some of these “small changes” so intimidating? Making a bazillion small changes can be scary, difficult, or even impossible. But it can feel awful to continuously wonder if you could be doing more. Over the next few months, I want to help share some simple tips and tricks for slowly introducing a more natural way of life and helping you reduce your waste. This post will have three tips to start out, and then each post in the series will have a few more easy changes. After you utilize the tips for a month, it will be easy to carry out the next few!
3 EASY Tips for a More Natural and Lower-Waste Life!
1 – Start Recycling
I used to think that everywhere had city provided waste management services which included greens and recycling. Growing up, our cities (Southern California, near Los Angeles) provided us with either two or three curbside waste cans. Everyone got trash and recycling cans (the recycling was a little smaller and blue, trash was large and black), and some cities got green bins for “greens” waste (gardening waste, etc) that were roughly the same size as the recycling. If you didn’t get a green bin, any trash bags or cans set outside of the other two bins were collected by the greens recycling truck. All three cans were picked up every week.
Then I moved to Colorado, and was appalled by how the waste management services work here. Every single house/HOA handles setting up their own waste removal services. You could have 5 different companies, on 5 different days, driving down a street with 5 houses on it to pick up waste. It’s ridiculous. Trash and recycling are always separate fees, so a lot of people don’t pay for recycling. This bothers me greatly, especially since Colorado is “all about nature and the environment.” Okay, sure, I don’t believe you. I’ve also never seen a greens recycling service offered or utilized.
I’m telling you this so you know I understand that it may not be as simple to recycle as setting your bin on the curb each week. (Our HOA pays for recycling, but they only pick up every other week.) However, there are easy ways to recycle even if you don’t have a recycling service!
First, separate out plastic bags. Almost every grocery store now has “plastic film” recycling bins near the front. Target has them, Walmart has them, and other stores as well. “Plastic film” is any plastic product similar to a plastic grocery bag that has a recycle symbol on it (those air pillow that come in Amazon boxes, grocery bags, produce bags, etc). Even when you don’t use plastic bags, it’s amazing how many accumulate. Start collecting them separately and drop them off the next time you are grocery shopping.
If you live in an HOA or apartment complex, contact the management and ask if they have recycling services. Our first apartment we didn’t think had recycling, then discovered the one recycling bin in a different part of the complex. If they don’t offer recycling, ask them how many people need to be interested in recycling before they will offer it, and then talk to your neighbors (or post a sign at the mailboxes, following the rules, urging your neighbors to contact the HOA about recycling). It really could be as simple as asking for the service.
If you don’t live in an HOA, and it’s expensive to pay for individual services, ask the company if they offer discounts if an entire street agrees to the services and ask how many people need to have the service to receive the discount. Then start talking to your neighbors about it. You may be surprised by how many people are annoyed at the lack of easy recycling options and you may give them the little push they need to recycle!
Once you figure out a recycling service, find out if the service is single stream (also called “mixed” in some areas) or if you need to separate items. Also, find out if you need to clean out cans and other containers (rinse out the food gunk) before they can be recycled; some places will only take clean products, others don’t care. Single stream recycling means that every recyclable item can go in one container. If it’s not single stream, then you need to separate paper, plastic, metal, and glass into separate containers.
Set aside an area in your house for your recycling collection containers where they will actually get used. We have a recycling container on the main floor of our house (we have single stream) where we collect recycling, then we carry it down to the garage (the larger can) once it fills up. If you have an office that collects large amounts of paper recycling, put a bin in there too. Every night, do a final sweep of the house to see if you missed anything, and collect it. It’s easier and less daunting to do it daily. (Set up multiple bins if you need to separate types of material as it’s much easier to separate as you collect.)
Even if you can’t recycle at home at all, collect it. Target has recycling bins at the front of the store, so taking recycling to them once a week is easy to do. Other stores in your area my have similar cans, so look near around stores when you’re shopping. There may also be recycling centers near you, so do a quick Google search to see what is available.
If you live in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, or Vermont, you are paying a “bottle/container deposit” when you purchase aluminum cans or glass bottles. The deposit value varies by state, but is added to price of the item (similar to tax). If you collect these items, and take them to a recycling center, you will get that deposit back – either partially or entirely. Definitely participate if you’re in one of those eleven states! You can read more about it: here.
Recycling becomes second nature quickly! And you’ll be surprised at the amount of items you recycle that you were previously sending to the dump.
2 – Reduce/Eliminate Plastic Grocery Bags
This may sound daunting and frustrating, but it’s much easier than you expect. If you’re wondering if your bag habits matter, the answer is yes: “[t]he average family accumulates 60 plastic bags in only four trips to the grocery store” (source: Conserving Now). An “average family” is considered two adults and two children. That’s 15 single-use bags per grocery trip, which is almost 4 bags per person per trip! That’s also a lot of trips from your car into the house after a grocery run. With our reusable bags, since they hold more per bag, we need about two reusable bags per person per grocery trip.
First step: search in your house for sturdy reusable bags. Somehow, bags seem to accumulate in my house. Gather the bags into one place, and when you go grocery shopping, take them with you!
If you don’t have bags, or don’t have enough, I recommend acquiring some excellent reusable bags. I personally love BAGGU bags (not sponsored) and currently have three of the “standard BAGGU.” Each one of their shopping bags holds up to 50 pounds (I’ve put more than 30 pounds in mine and it was fine – can’t say the same about my poor arm though), is machine washable, and folds down to be about the size of a CD case. They come in a huge array of colors and patterns, and are durable rip-stop nylon. When they do wear out, BAGGU has a recycling service you can mail them to (or you can drop them off at their store in San Francisco). I’ve had my first BAGGU for over two years and it’s still in practically new condition! Oh, and they’re $10 for the standard bags.
A lot of grocery stores sell reusable bags near the checkouts. They’re a lot cheaper than the BAGGU bags are, but not as strong. We have some of the less expensive grocery store bags in each car for the “please go to the store on your way home” trips. They are an excellent option to get you started!
If you don’t have any money to spend on reusable bags (I’ve been there, I get it), switch to paper bags. Make sure to recycle them when you’re done! You can also reuse them to collect your trash instead of buying plastic bags, or you can use them to collect your recyclables! (Paper bags are also wonderful for a lot of children’s craft projects and for protecting surfaces.) I’ll get paper bags occasionally because my recycling service wants shredded paper gathered in a paper bag. Try to avoid using any bag as a “single use” product, and try to find other uses for it before you discard it!
(I was telling Dan, my husband, about this post and he said that switching to reusable grocery bags has been the easiest switch by far!)
3 – Replace Your Cleaners with Natural Options
This is one of the more daunting sounding steps, but is surprisingly simple. I get horribly overwhelmed in the “natural” section of the cleaning aisle at the store: do they work; are they actually better for me and the environment; what are these “fragrance” additives; are these safe to use around my pets? It feels like playing twenty questions with every single bottle in that section! Because of that, I stuck with what I knew for a long time, while craving a better option. My body hated the cleaners I was using, and I couldn’t use them without thoroughly scrubbing my hands and airing out the area (or wearing my mask) during and after use. But, I wanted a clean house, so I dealt with it.
Then, I got the doTERRA OnGuard Cleaner Concentrate. I was skeptical, so I did a science experiment to see how well it cleaned. You can read about my experiment: here. I was pleasantly surprised that it worked! It worked so much better than I anticipated! (I have been skeptical throughout my entire journey with essential oils and natural products, and I keep getting pleasantly surprised.) As we use up cleaners we have had, we replace them with the OnGuard Cleaner Concentrate. I have a spray bottle of the “bathroom” cleaner (there are different strength dilutions for different uses on the bottle) in the upstairs bathrooms, and it has resulted in cleaning a lot more! There are no generic categories, like “fragrance,” on the bottle – all fragrances are from the essential oils and all of the ingredients are listed. It doesn’t bother my delicate body, and it keeps my house clean! (Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use this contact form, to learn more about the Cleaner Concentrate.)
I am planning on using the Cleaner Concentrate to replace other cleaning products around my house as well, and will post DIYs as I complete them!
For the next month, start implementing these three tips into your daily life! They’ll become habit quickly and you’ll wonder why you hadn’t done them earlier! And, as your friends and family members start to see how easy these changes have been for you to make, they’ll start too!
Change precipitates change – congratulations for starting something wonderful!