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The Simple Beauty of Zero Waste

Author | Laurie Whelden

Growing up, my mom was way ahead of the curve in her zero-waste practices. While I watched my friends in the middle school cafeteria unwrap their pristine Ziplocs, I would open my bagged lunch to find a sandwich wrapped in the plastic bread bag itself. I was mortified! The horror! To my mind, a lunch box overflowing with Ziplocs looked neater than anything I ever had - they were much fancier than a bag that most moms would have tossed in the garbage.

By the time I went to college, I found friends who embraced my mother’s take on reduce, reuse, recycle. All of these cool people rejected the capitalistic idea that new is always better, and reflected this through their purchases - or lack thereof. Their clothing was always second hand, they dumpster dove, and of course, they stocked their kitchens with reused mason jars. After getting over the idea of drinking from a jar that once contained Ragu or dill pickles, I too hopped on board the “Who needs to buy glassware ever again?” train. There was never the faintest hint that the jars meant to fulfill any kind of aesthetic; they were simply best reused immediately in our own homes.

Ironically, mason jars have become the most stylized drinkware in recent memory. Who knew all those kids at my lunch table, with their beautiful Ziplocs, would one day decorate their entire wedding with mason jars?!

As I’ve grown older and taken on more responsibility in terms of my and my family’s impact on the environment, I’ve come to wonder about zero and low-waste options, and whether they hinder our style or help us to embrace it. Can helping the planet also help us to showcase our personal style and make our homes more beautiful?

Allie Jensen, advocate for zero and low-waste products and owner of Harrisonburg’s zero-waste store Bring Your Own, described her home this way:

Living a zero-waste lifestyle has forced me to be very intentional about purchases I do make, whether they are brand new items or secondhand. I want to make sure the item is good quality and made to last. I shop at thrift stores or from local businesses and small shops online where I know the products are well-made...

...I would say that living a zero-waste lifestyle definitely keeps me from impulse shopping when it comes to home goods. I try to use what I have before buying anything. If I don't have something that would work, I look for something secondhand. If I can't find something secondhand, I research to find the best option before buying new. Our house is a mishmash of stuff that doesn't match at all, but at the same time it does!”

Here are my favorite ways to prioritize low waste while also adding personal style to my home.

Cloth Napkins

Napkins are often overlooked as cheap, white paper we use for one meal and then toss - but napkins can become the centerpiece of your table. Swapping cloth for single-use napkins is one of the easiest moves you can make to lessen the daily trash you produce. Using cloth can be a chance for you to showcase your favorite colors, and to celebrate seasons and occasions throughout the year. Just toss them in your regular laundry and you’re good to go.

You can easily make your own - but how cute are these Floral Print (Left) and Vintage napkins (Right) from Etsy?

Cloth Diapers

Okay, cloth diapers are a bit of more of an investment than napkins to swap for disposables - but I would argue it’s well worth it. Once you get used to a wash routine, cloth diapering can be fairly simple (and almost as easy as disposables!). Plus, the environment will thank you. A baby is estimated to go through 5,000 - 6,000 diapers before being toilet trained. And, unfortunately, diapers are not biodegradable. It’s been estimated that a diaper takes 500 years to break down. That means that if Shakespeare wore disposables, they’d still be sitting in a landfill somewhere!

But here’s one of the best parts of cloth diapers - they’re so CUTE! Disposables may offer a couple designs per box, but cloth diapers really take the prize when it comes to colors, patterns, and aesthetically pleasing tushies.

Glass Containers

Who among us doesn’t covet a beautiful and minimalist pantry? C’mon, just admit it, you’ve definitely searched #pantrygoals. Well, maybe you haven’t gone that far, but who can deny how easy this pantry is to look at?

My pantry looks nothing like this. Mine is a mess of aluminum cans, plastic bulk bags, cardboard boxes, and random reused glass containers. As I slowly transition to buying more in bulk, my reward will hopefully be rows of beautiful glass containers. Glass just shines so much brighter than plastic. Of course, there’s no need to buy new ones; glass mason jars are readily available once you finish a pasta sauce or salsa. You can usually find large mason jars at thrift stores, as well. Luckily, even mismatched glass containers look great on a shelf. Bonus: glass is safer to reuse than plastic containers, because it doesn’t leach plastic into your food!

Of course, finding any of these products second-hand is a double-whammy of greatness. Not only are you helping the environment even more by not creating more demand for new products, you are also probably saving a good chunk of change at the same time!

These products not only beautify our homes, they also have continued life, making them a no brainer for dipping your toe into a zero (or zero-ish) waste lifestyle.

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