Ever since moving to Seattle and living in my own apartment, I have to buy everything even toilet papers! It is expensive, but that also comes with the freedom to buy and own anything I want. With blogging, it also forces me to actively making changes and constantly evolving in order to stay relevant and educated. All is to live a more sustainable lifestyle: from home equipment and tools, the food I eat, the clothes I buy, and the way I travel.
Below is my recommended (& constantly growing) list of things that I’ve incorporated in my daily life to reduce waste and live a more sustainable lifestyle.
50 Practical & Easy Ways to Live a Low Waste Lifestyle:
- Know your trash. At most public locations and even at my apartment, there are signs above the bins with clear labels that help to sort compostable, recycle, and trash. I know recycling or composting is still not an option in many neighborhoods, but it does not hurt to learn about types of trash and where your trash goes. Check out the Seattle Times’ trash sorting guide, very helpful, here. But generally, clean and empty items such as cartons and boxes, glass and plastic containers, aluminum foil, bagged together plastic bags, 3” or wider lids, scrap metal can be recycled. Compost food and any uncoated paper products but not animal waste. Everything else that used to contain food should go in the garbage. Used cooking oil should be hardened and thrown in the garbage rather than down the sink because it can block the drain.
- Buy fresh fruits and veggies. I don’t eat frozen or pre-cooked food mainly because I can cook and it is much cheaper than going out. To me, fresh produce tastes way better than processed ones. And as a Vietnamese, I like my meals to have good balance of protein (some sort of meat or fish dish), veggies (stir-fried or soup dish), carbs (rice or noodle), and fruits are considered a dessert! Weird, but I’d rather snack on fruits.
- Reuse shopping bags, make your own or invest in one for groceries. In Seattle, it costs 5 cents for a plastic bag and 15 cents for a paper one. I try to remember leaving a few bags in the trunk of the car or just hand carry groceries if I can. If you shop at big box stores such as Costco, they sell stuff in bulk and only give you big boxes to carry your smaller items home. I forget my grocery bags at home all the time, so a great hack I’ve learned is to ask for a box like that if the store has them laying around. In cases when I accumulate those plastic bags, I reuse them as trash bags in the bathroom.
- Stock up on reusable produce bags. For smaller produce bags, I find it’s bothersome to have to carry even more bags each time, but my friend Lynn (@lynnnvu) has a point when suggesting having reusable produce bags. She’s said she wouldn’t know what to do with those small plastic bags afterward, and I’d totally agree. I’ve found some popular cotton bags or mesh styled bags on Amazon to stock up and pack along for any grocery trips below.
- Stock up on bulk food. Shop at the bulk section at grocery stores when possible. Some stores, in fact, do allow or encourage you to bring your own bulk bags, jars, and containers. If you live in the Seattle area, do shop at local stores like PCC Community Market, Ballard Market, Central Market, Public Goods & Services, and New Seasons Market as they have great selections of bulk foods.
- When eating out, order less than you think you will eat. Even though I cook a lot at home, I go out to eat just as often. I tend to over-order, especially when ordering for everybody in the group. Order less so that everyone will have room for dessert, plus I don’t have to worry about takeouts. Many restaurants still use styrofoam or plastic boxes, so bring your own container to pack leftovers.
- Make your own coffee at home. I have a Chemex (the 8 cup size) and a box of Chemex paper coffee filters to batch-make my coffee for the week. Recently, I’ve discovered that CoffeeSock makes re-usable cotton filters for Chemex, so I’ll switch over to these once my box runs out. For days that I crave Vietnamese coffee, this Vietnamese coffee filter/maker comes in handy every time as one lasts for a lifetime.
- A water filtration pitcher will change your life. I don’t buy water in plastic bottles anymore ever since this water filtration pitcher from Brita purchase. It holds 5 cups of water and fits perfectly in my fridge and has definitely saved me a lot of money and effort from having to go buy water bottles every time. Sink water is still not the tastiest, but I think it is ok as long as it is filtered and cold.
- Bring your own water bottle. If you love iced water, get a Hydroflask. It had saved my days in the desert when traveling to Death Valley and Valley of Fire last August because it kept my ice water or coffee cold until the next day! I make sure to always pack along water for hikes or just bring one with me every day. Call me a hoarder but I like to collect cute glass bottles and reuse them to store my homemade coffee or smoothie.
- Bring your own straws and say no to straws at coffee shops and restaurants. I have a few sizes of straws in both stainless steel and glass for coffee, smoothie or boba. I always have a straw in my bag when I’m out shopping or working at coffee shops. Recently, Rothy’s (a shoe brand that I’m working with) has gifted me these portable straws (come in a fancy wooden case), and now I don’t have any excuses to ask for straws anymore.
- Opt for glass or stainless steel containers for food storage. I have these Pyrex glass containers, bought in a set of a variety of sizes. Yes, the glass containers do break if I drop on accident and the plastic lids do crack, but these have been the best and most sustainable ways for me to store leftovers and pack lunch for work. Just make sure to not heat the lids in the microwave. And you know what? Thrift stores have a lot of these glass Pyrex containers with no lids or some lids for like $1. I think it’s a great way to upcycle and continue the life cycle of these things.
- Get some simple canvas lunch bags. I hated those bulky badly-designed lunch bags that many people carry with them, so I bought these canvas lunch bags to put my Pyrex containers in for lunch. They come with a velcro closure and a handle, simple!
- Limit cling wrap when possible. I like packing soup or food with wet sauce for work sometimes, so adding a piece of cling wrap before closing the lids of my Pyrex containers does the trick. I know it’s not 100% sustainable way because I still use plastic here, but hey! this helps to reduce outer plastic bags significantly ever since. These Bee’s Wraps have increased their popularity among the zero waste community, and I’m very intrigued to invest in a few.
- Pack your own utensils or just leave one at your desk! Make sure you pack your own wooden or metal utensils. I always like to leave a few options at my work desk, in the car, and my bags for just-in-case situations.
- Get the Stashers! These Stasher reusable zip-loc styled bags to store half-used or leftover groceries, and I’m excited to not having to buy plastic zip-loc bags anymore. You can use these Stasher bags to divide fruits/vegetables or meal plans for the week. Plus they come in so many practical sizes and colors, too!
- Invest in multi-use and high-quality equipment at home. I have this food processor/blender that I double up and use it to make smoothies (well, don’t judge me! It’s a gift from a friend of mine, so I’m making many uses out of it!). This Dyson vacuum is also a game-changer because it is so powerful. It comes with multiple detachable heads that work on both carpet or cement floor, corners in my apartments, and even the interiors of the car. This 8” Shun knife and knife sharpener/honing steel are also musts for any home cooks out there!
- Get a Le Creuset. Le Creuset is the brand that I always suggest people invest in terms of pots and pans. For one-pot dishes like soup or pasta, get a Le Creuset dutch oven because it cooks things evenly. Get a Le Creuset fry pan for steak if you want that high even heat! A Le Creuset grill gives ‘authentic’ grill marks, and a Le Creuset non-stick pan is great for eggs and easy cleaning. I know all of these Le Creuset pieces are not cheap, but if you take care of them, they will last you forever!
- Get bowls and plates in sets, stick with classic pieces (not seasonal) or those that do not go on sale often. I don’t know about you, but I like things in sets of 6. I have this organic dish set (bowls and plates) from West Elm. They always carry these, and I’ve bought a bowl to replace the one I broked just a couple of months ago. My rule for bowls and plates is only buying to replace if anything breaks. You can always ask the sale-associateS for the store’s signature range or research on good quality brands that you know you can always get a replacement when things are lost or broken.
- Break down boxes (to save space) and reuse shipping materials. It’s tough when it comes to what to do with all of the excessive packaging and fillers from online purchases. I used to throw ugly packaging away, but now I’ve learned to take some time to break down all shipping boxes that are still in great condition and reuse all materials to ship things.
- Invest in a good razor. I have this Billie razor and an extra head from a campaign I did with them a while ago. What’s great about it is that it comes with a magnetic piece that helps the razor stands up-straight on the bathroom wall. That saves space and helps the razor stays dry. Invest in a good razor, so that you don’t have to keep buying new ones all the time. And you know what’s best? Opt for a stainless steel razor, and I’ve heard good things about the brand! I have yet to make the switch because I want to make use of all of the razors I currently have.
- Read your clothing labels for fabric composition and follow the care instructions. Hand-wash or spot clean your clothes. Silk or even denim are some of the materials that are best to let air-dry. Spot clean your clothes first, especially fancy dressed-up pieces before washing the entire thing. Wash your clothes on cold and tumble dry them to prevent any shrinkage and help with their longevity because heat kills! Wash full loads because your washer will use the same amount of energy no matter the size of the loads. Dry-clean big coats, dresses, or suits at the end of each season to keep them fresh for next year.
- Reduce water consumption by taking shorter showers, fewer baths, and reducing laundry loads. I shower every night but only wash my hair every other day. Baths are only for cramp days before my period or only when necessary. And I like to wait to have enough whites or colors before starting any loads of laundry.
- Wash Responsibly. There are chemically free laundry detergent and natural soap options for you to explore, so it really depends on you to do your own research on what to buy. For washing your clothes, Girlfriend Collective sells the microfiber filter to attach to the washing machine that I have yet to try. It captures microfibers before they go out polluting the ocean. Please read more, here.
- DIY your own non-toxic and effective makeup, skincare, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, household cleaners to avoid toxic chemicals and throw-away plastics and containers of those products.
- Switch to clean beauty and zero-waste beauty brands, and a great way to start is to simply Google or make a visit to Sephora, Credo, or Follain. Kjaer Weis, Tata Harper, RMS, Ilia are some of my favorites!
- Utilize recycling programs at your favorite stores. Goodwill and Savers give you a coupon every time you donate. Recycle your old Girlfriend Collective leggings, and get $15. Madewell offers $20 towards a new pair of Madewell jeans if you bring in an old pair of jeans from any brand.
- Donate gently used clothing and furniture. Remember your trash can be someone else’s treasure. Think RECYCLING as the last resort because in most cases, recycled items will eventually end up in the trash because recycling costs too much.
- Thrift or shop secondhand when possible. I’ve recently gone to the Seattle Goodwill Outlet store and blogged about it, so check it out here to set yourself up for a successful thrifting trip. Check out my ‘thrifting’ IG-Highlight and stories because I go thrifting quite often.
- Support brands that do not only make good quality products but also do good for the environment. Patagonia is definitely my top outdoorsy brand because they are the leader when it comes to sustainability. I love their branding, products and the fact that they offer a lifetime guarantee. Other brands that also offer a lifetime guarantee are: Fjall Raven, Le Creuset, Darn Tough Vermont (yes, it’s a sock brand, and I do have a pair of hiking socks from them!), L.L. Bean (100% satisfaction on everything), The North Face, Dr. Martens, CamelBak (water bottle), Jansport, REI, Costco, etc.
- Air dry your hair to avoid heat damage and electricity usage. If you have long hair, try this hair turban, featured on IntoTheGloss’s best in beauty list in 2018. I have short hair and like to shower at night, so I usually just blow some cool air and go to sleep with it.
- Switching to an electric toothbrush is THE BEST DECISION I’ve done this past year to my teeth and oral health, especially getting my wisdom teeth removal. I now only need to buy replacement heads, not the regular toothbrushes in which eventually reduce my plastic usage. Has anyone tried the bamboo toothbrushes before?
- Try eco-friendly menstrual products. I have a Mirena, so my period has been very little. I have not had a normal period for months now, but I’d like to try a reusable period cup one of these days. Opt for organic unbleached cotton tampons, tampons without the plastic applicators, or even the washable period panties.
- Try fabric or reusable cotton rounds. I’ve recently bought these usable pads to help to remove my makeup. You’d be surprised as to how many cotton rounds you’d save if you switch to these!
- Switch to bar soaps. I have been incorporating a bar soap into my routine, and it’s been pretty nice! My tip is just to get a cute soap disk, and that will encourage you to switch to a bar! It will also help your soap dried out afterward super easily, too. I have a friend who made me this cute dish soap, and it’s currently holding this facial detox soap bar from Herbivore. Drunk Elephant makes soap bars in travel sizes, here.
- Keep your skincare and makeup purchases at a minimum and try to use them up before buying new things. This is hard to resist, but I have been able to finish a lot of my skincare bottles and old makeup. It’s such a nice feeling to finally hit pans and declutter my countertop space!
- Learn to say no to freebies and samples if not necessary. Brands want your attention, especially at college events, product shows, parades, so they don’t mind giving out merch for free. Ask yourself “do I actually want this or am I taking it because it’s free?” If you shop at Sephora, you know you can trade-in your points for samples. Try to save your points and opt for your favorite products in travel sizes when available. This way, you can travel with something you know that works for you. They also let you pick out 3 free samples with online purchases, but think about the fact that you can always walk in a store and ask for a sample of something you really want instead of taking whatever is free online.
- Conserve electricity. Remember to switch off lights and electrical appliances whenever you are done. You don’t need an extra lightbulb in the kitchen if you’re just chilling in the living room.
- Shorten your shower time and shower with less hot water. We’ve got to pay for water these days, so less water usage aka shortening shower time or minimizing bath sessions will help to reduce our water bills. Remember, hot water dries out our skin!
- Opt for matches, candles, home diffusers in recyclable packaging. Avoid air fresheners (those that come in plastic packaging). Light a candle (and reuse those empty candle jars) or incense instead. I’ve recently bought this reed diffuser from CB2 that comes in a glass bottle with bamboo sticks that make my entire apartment smell amazing. Highly recommend investing a diffuser and some essential oils if you’re into making your home smell great like me!
- If you see something wrong, fix it. For example, my friend Alisa (@alisarosie) suggested using the water collected from water leakage in the bathroom to water the plants or flush the toilet. And that leads me to this idea! It’s true that nothing is free, especially when you live on your own. If something bothers you or that there is something wrong, fix it yourself or get professional help! Bring your clothes to a local tailor to have them fit your body. That way you can make use of a clothing item more often instead of having it sit around getting no wear because it doesn’t fit.
- Learn to repair not discard. One of my goals is to build myself a tool kit to always have it with me. I know how to fix my clothes, so eventually, I will invest in a sewing machine at home. Knowing how to hand sew and use a sewing machine has been an incredible skill to have, and I urge all of you to do the same!
- Go digital! Opt-out on paper receipts, plastic DVDs, CDs, paper magazine subscriptions, seasonal catalogs, promotional coupons, and postal junk mails. Get an email receipt, so that you don’t have to return with an excuse of you losing the receipt somewhere. Plus, it’s easier to track and search for one in an email form anyways! Opt-out junk mails, here, and give your mailbox a makeover, here. Be careful out there because old scams still find new victims, read here to learn more.
- Check-in your flight ahead of time and download mobile boarding passes. iPhones let you save boarding passes into the Wallet app, and who doesn’t have their phone with them 24/7 these days? I like that it would be available to scan instantly with the touch of a screen! What’s nice about it is that you don’t have to wait to get a paper pass or search anywhere in your bag for it anymore!
- Carpool more often or use public transport simply because it saves money and reduces gas emission into the air. Many urban areas provide carpool lanes that are usually less congested, which means you will get to work and home faster.
- Walk more! 🙂 Go to the park after work when the weather is nice. Don’t order take-out, drive or bike and walk to get your food. I find that it is so costly to pay for delivery services nowadays, and it’s just not worth it. If you don’t have time for the gym or just hate the gym (like me), get a yoga mat and a few weights to stretch, do yoga, or light workout at home.
- Get a bike. I want to get a bike next year and explore unbeaten paths on the weekends. That sounds spendy, but it’s another great way to spend the weekend whenever I want to get some exercise on.
- Buying and driving a fuel-efficient car. Knowing that we will mostly be driving in cities, we’ve recently made an upgrade to a new Honda Accord Hybrid, and it’s made such a huge difference in gas and driving experience as a whole. Hybrids use the forward motion of the wheels to turn the motor and generate electricity as braking is applied. At low speed, the electric motor is on while gasoline engines propel the car in increased acceleration. When the car comes to a stop, it automatically shuts off and ultimately reduces wasted energy from idling. It also reduces my trips to Costco gas station significantly compared to when I used to drive the old car.
- Upgrade old inefficient home appliances to save on electricity and fuel. Get a smart power strip, a faster-charging cable for your phone. Save on gas by upgrading your car if it’s the time!
- Grow plants and veggies! 🙂 Peek at my plant collection, here. But basically, if you have a backyard, grow as much food as you can to reduce the carbon footprint caused by transporting food. You can also learn to compost food scraps and lawn clippings.
- Lastly, please remember: It’s not about perfection, it’s about making better options. Many people make smaller changes that will result in a bigger and positive impact!
With how fast the social network is moving, I don’t think there is any excuse for us not to take on any challenges or changes that positively impact our lives. It is okay to splurge on something if you know it will last and help you perform certain tasks 10x better and faster. Trust me, you will feel better living in a home with less!
This list has taken me a few weeks to get it together, so I hope it is helpful and new to some of you! If you have pets or kids and are a homeowner, the list can go on so please feel free to add your recommendations in the comment section below!
I am well aware that my lifestyle is nowhere near perfect as I still have a hard time letting go of lots of my clothes (fashion blogger’s common problem!). But compared to me a year or two ago, I am now in a much better place! I am still learning and will continue to find better alternatives and make switches where possible, and I hope you do the same!
Thanks for reading and have a productive week! I love you guys!
REMEMBER: Buy less. Buy secondhand. Fix. Upcycle. Reuse. Donate items if you can.
Small Footprint Family: 37 ways to reduce trash in your home
Lauren Singer from Trash is for Tossers
If you’re in Seattle, check out this zero waste shop, called Eco Collective, and the clean beauty store Follain at University Village.