The first mistake that people make on their low waste journey is not thinking they’ll make mistakes. You will. I did. Everyone does. But hopefully this list can help both beginners and those who’ve been into sustainability for a while pick up on some mistakes they might be making. I have made almost all f these + even continue to make some of them from time to time.
BUYING NEW MASON JARS
It’s completely unnecessary to go out and buy brand new glass jars when most people have a ton of foods (especially condiments) that come in glass jars and can be reused once the food is gone. You can also look around second hand for some or get second hand non-glass items like plastic tupperware or food storage containers.
Our glass jars don’t all have to look the same and be cute, it’s much more environmentally friendly to reuse and buy used!
ONLY FOCUSING ON WHAT YOU THROW AWAY
Reducing your waste and overall impact is so much more than just not having as much stuff in your trash can.
The most important aspects of low waste are reducing and reusing. Buying less things and therefore creating less demand for new products to be made and when we do need to buy things, trying to find a second hand version, both play a huge role in our impact.
We contribute to a lot more waste than we probably realize just through buying new items, so to only focus on the trash waste we see ignores all of that as well as the energy that goes into everything we use that requires electricity, fuel we use for our cars, water we use to shower, wash dishes, go to the bathroom and many more things.
NOT BEING CONTENT WITH TAKING SMALL STEPS
Making the decision that you want to start being more conscious of your impact is already a step in the right direction. So please don’t feel like you need to do a ton of things at once because for most people that is not going to be easy to sustain. Gradually replacing wasteful practices and items you have with less wasteful versions is going to go much further than trying to make a list of all the things you want to stop or start doing and doing those as soon as possible.
It’s fine to still use products that you know are wasteful.
It’s also completely fine to not have the “lowest” waste item for everything. You may really want to use a shampoo bar but they just don’t work for you so you decide to go for a regular shampoo that comes in a plastic bottle made from recycled materials forever or until you can find a better alternative that works for you.
GETTING INTO IT FOR AESTHETICS
Bloggers, Instagrammers, Youtubers, Pintresters, etc all try to make their content aesthetically pleasing because that is what people are interested in seeing, but to get into reducing your waste because you think it would make you kitchen prettier probably isn’t the best reason.
This is a big reason why people buy new glass mason jars to put bulk items in, because having all matching jars is cuter and fits the “zero waste aesthetic” than having a bunch of difference of different sized ones is. Another thing people like to do is make cute plastic labels with a label maker for their items, which is semi-practical in the sense of not getting certain items mixed up like spices. But from my experience, sharpie tends to work just fine on the metal top part of a mason jar and does not wash off. Also if you need to label your almonds so you don’t mix them up with something else, you’ve got bigger problems to deal with.
Any ways, don’t buy things for the sake of them fitting the “zero waste aesthetic” because finding some ugly plastic food storage containers at a rummage sale is much more sustainable than buying a new set of glass ones.
THINKING YOU MUST BUY A LOT OF THINGS TO START
There are many things that help cut down on waste that you would have to buy like reusable napkins, grocery bags, or a safety razor… but you don’t have to buy any of these things to begin. If you’re hesitant to start your journey because you can’t afford to go out and buy a bunch of $10 silicone ziploc bags, then you’ll be happy to know that there are many low waste swaps that will actually save you money. You can check out my blog post on that here or my video here.
Simple things like using less water and electricity, reusing what we already have, and purchasing less stuff overall are things we can all do and they don’t require buying anything.
You also don’t have to buy “sustainable” items that influencers promote. I fell into the trap of getting To Go Ware utensils to keep in my purse, when I really could have just used regular silverware I already owned.
FEELING GUILTY FOR THE WASTE YOU DO PRODUCE
We all produce waste, even “zero wasters”. There’s no such thing as not having a negative impact on this planet aside from being dead, which I don’t recommend doing when trying to reduce your waste.
You might not be able to fit all your trash for the year into a jar. There will be times when you consciously choose to buy things that are not the most environmentally friendly choice. There will probably be foods you buy on a regular basis that you can only find in plastic packaging. And that’s okay! And it’s okay to no want to have as little waste as possible. To do so does require many sacrifices (especially when it comes to food because most people would need to change their entire diet) and it’s understandable that most people don’t want to do that.
Focus on how much waste you have reduced and know that every little sustainable practice you have in your life makes a difference. Something is better than nothing, especially when it’s not possible to do everything.
BUYING NEW “SUSTAINABLE” ITEMS INSTEAD OF USING REUSING “UNSUSTAINABLE” ITEMS
I’ve found that a few people online (usually commenters, not influencers) seen to think that all plastic is bad. I’ve shown some plastic tupperware that I’ve had for long before I become interested in being more sustainable and some were confused as to why I would keep those plastic items when they’re not eco friendly. I know the majority of people don’t think this way but I still feel it is important to mention for those who do. Using plastic is not a problem, buying plastic is (that’s not to say I don’t buy plastic ever because I definitely do).
If you get take out and get some soup that comes in a plastic container, it is perfectly fine and perhaps preferable to keep and reuse that container. If you have a ton of plastic tupperware, it’s completely unnecessary and less eco friendly to go out and replace them with glass tupperware. But if you need new tupperware and can’t find any second hand, thats when you go for the ones made with more sustainable materials.
BEING JUDGMENTAL OF OTHERS
One of the worst things I personally believe we can do for the environment is be judgmental of those who aren’t doing as much for it as us. Everyone is on their own path in life and unfortunately not everyone is going to choose to be an eco warrior. Not everyone cares about how throwing things out their car window effects the planet of animals or other humans. Not everyone even believes in global warming! And many people are conscious of their impact but will choose to do less than you or someone else may choose to do.
The best thing we can do is lead by example, be compassionate and understanding, educate ourselves on certain factors that may make it harder for others to be sustainable, and show people that even doing just a few things, like getting reusable grocery bags or not leaving the water running when brushing our teeth does make a difference and is great!
NOT BEING EDUCATED ON RECYCLING
Something you can do right away when you decide you want to be more sustainable is to look up information on your cities recycling program. DO you know for sure what can and can’t be recycled? A lot of people really don’t know, especially since it can be different for every city. And placing a non recyclable in recycling can actually lead to more than just that item getting sent to the landfill, as can not properly cleaning your items out.
For example, in the city I live in, garbage bags are not allowed in recycling, and I believe this is pretty common in the US. As far as I’m aware, this means you’re suppose to put your recyclables loosely in bins, yet almost all of what is in my apartment complex’s bin is bagged up.
BUYING “ECO” THINGS OVERSEAS INSTEAD OF LESS “ECO” THINGS LOCAL
This one is tricky because it really takes being extra conscious of where everything you buy comes from. I still purchase “eco” items from overseas, so I don’t think it’s practical to expect everyone to always buy local items all the time, and that’s not what I’m advocating for. But I do think it’s important to be aware that buying items from overseas has a huge impact on the planet that we don’t see. And you might get something shipped from (or made some place) halfway around the world that doesn’t have any plastic, but if it did that would have possibly been one of the least environmentally damaging aspects of it when you take into account the toll transportation has on the planet.
On the other hand, you could find something locally made that has a bit of plastic or styrofoam, but it could actually be a better option than getting something shipped from overseas.