An expert zero waster will try all other avenues before buying a new product.
They will try to reuse what they have, repair something that is broken, refill what they can, and then try to find something second hand, or used. But when all else fails, sometimes we still have to buy a new product. And depending on where we live, that can be a real challenge. Some communities are really embracing sustainable living, and their grocery stores and shops reflect that.
I am fortunate that I can pick up most of my zero waste supplies package-free at my local co-op, and even Whole Foods. Things like sponges, lunch boxes, reusable containers and bags. But that wasn’t always the case for me, and it isn’t this easy for everyone. My friends in the southeast tell me all the time how bulk aisles don’t exist. Where they are, bulk food means bigger quantities, like wholesale packaging. Not package-free bulk ingredients. Finding sustainable supplies throughout the country, and world, can be a real challenge.
Sometimes that even means we have to resort to using websites that might not be very sustainable, and definitely don’t ship their products in sustainable packaging, and that’s the best option for us. Because it is the lesser of two evils. Let’s go back to sponges because that’s an easy example.
For Plastic-Free July, we explained how commercial sponges are made of toxic chemicals and don’t biodegrade. So naturally, the next time one buys a sponge, one might consider a more natural option. Unfortunately, these are almost always packaged in plastic as well. And for some, the only place they can purchase these items from is online. So you can either buy the toxic sponges from the store in plastic, all of which will create landfill, or buy the natural sponges in non-recyclable packaging, reuse the packaging, and at least be able to compost the sponges. Still creating some waste, but less waste.
And less waste is still a better option. So you go online and you start searching for some zero waste products to help you live more sustainably, but can you trust the reviews? We know most reviews are purchased by the company to make more sales. Because of this, I usually trust the bad reviews more than the good ones. And over the years, I have had to make some online purchases as well.
Even in the bay area, some items were unavailable when I was starting this process. Some still are. But to save you the hassle of trial and error that I went through trying to figure out what was a quality product and what was zero waste garbage (ironic?), here are some of the items I have used, still, use, and personally recommend.
If you’d like, I can eventually make a list of the things I did NOT like and do NOT recommend.
So remember, before you buy something new, see if you can reuse something you already have. Instead of buying new spray bottles, see if you can clean out an old spray bottle and use that. Don’t be ashamed to own plastic. The idea is to avoid buying NEW single-use plastic. This isn’t minimalism, this is zero waste. It’s okay to have stuff.
Before buying online, see if you can locate it locally: at a co-op, a craft store, a farmer’s market, or maybe even on Craigslist. No luck? Try Etsy. It might be a bit more expensive, but you can contact the seller directly and request zero waste packaging. Many are happy to comply, unlike on Amazon.
Use Amazon as a very last resort.
And if I have to order from them, I always contact customer service to tell them I would appreciate zero waste packaging in the future. The squeaky wheel gets the oil.