Helpful wisdom, compassion and care for you

Zero Waste: how we each can make a difference!

Zero Waste - how we each can make a difference - Love Jo by Jo Cooper

Have you heard of the zero waste movement? The term “zero waste” comes from manufacturing, and the goal of sending zero waste to landfills. Interestingly, at least 20 large-scale US manufacturers had achieved zero waste status as of 2015 — no wonder some of them objected to President Trump pulling out of the Paris Accords! They’re already way ahead of the curve.

Individuals are pursuing zero waste, too.

A couple of years ago, thanks to Lauren Singer of Trash is for Tossers and Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home, I got interested in zero waste. Both women are famous for their Mason jars that contain all of the trash destined for landfills that they have generated in years. In one jar. What a concept!

Here’s Lauren explaining what’s in her jar after 4 years:

This may seem ultra picky. But think about the amount of trash most of us disgorge from our homes every week, and the amount we contribute to landfill every year. I’m inspired to improve.

What I’m doing so far to cut back on landfill:

  • Make my own toothpaste with Lauren’s excellent recipe. My dental hygienist approves!
  • Brush with bamboo toothbrushes. The bristles aren’t biodegradable, but the bamboo handles are compostable, making them the best on the market so far.
  • Use biodegradable dental floss. I’m trying this one, after Whole Foods stopped selling the brand I’ve been using for years.
  • Carry my own shopping bags. I’ve done that for 30 years, and was SO proud when my hometown of Washington, DC became the first city to require reusable shopping bags in 2010. The 5 cent bag fee has generated over $10 million to assist cleanup of the Anacostia River so far. Go, DC!!!
  • Use cloth handkerchiefs, like I did when I was a little girl! So much softer on the nose, and easy to care for.
  • Wash with this fabulous toxin-free and sustainable laundry powder from Simply Co. I wait until they have a sale to purchase. It’s THE BEST.
  • Purchase 100% recycled toilet tissue wrapped in paper. No plastic, all biodegradable. I recycle the cardboard tubes and paper wrapping.
  • Use rags instead of paper towels. I’m still using cloth diapers from nearly 30 years ago, and they work wonderfully.
  • Use biodegradable cleaning utensils like these horsehair and wood brushes and these spaghetti scrubs. I bought one horsehair brush to clean our glass Chemex coffee carafe, then got creative and bought one for each bathroom to scrub toilets, pairing them with leftover ceramic cachepots that came with orchid plants. They look nice and work perfectly! The spaghetti scrubs make dishwashing a pleasure, last forever, and don’t grow mold.
  • Use Dr. Bronner’s pure castile lavender soap for washing everything from our dishes to ourselves. The soap bars are wrapped in paper, and the concentrate comes in recyclable plastic containers that last for ages. Makes life simple! Sold at Rodman’s, Whole Foods and online. I watch for sales and stock up.
  • Shop at our neighborhood farm market, I’ve been shopping at the New Morning Farm market for 30 years. Best. Farm market. Ever. My son still goes with me at age 25 (or perhaps I now go with him :). I ask you: what could be better? The food is so fresh we waste very little and we save money. Plus it’s so fun to experience what’s new each week!
  • Purchase second hand clothes. I shop for my clothing at thrift and consignment shops as much as possible, but I’m not a great shopper like Celia of Litterless. Check out her recent terrific post, shopping for secondhand clothing.
  • Repair clothing as long as possible before donating. Did you know that clothing is a massive glut on the market and most of it ends up in Africa, where it is destroying local clothing industries, or in landfills? The system is broken. Socially conscious brands are beginning to step up. Patagonia sells Worn Wear and is teaching sewing on college campuses, for instance, and Eileen Fisher has Fisher Found, selling recycled items. Time to re-think what we wear.
  • Order coffee or tea in a ceramic mug for “here” when possible, or bring my own container when I’m on the go. This one’s easy and very helpful since those paper coffee cups don’t get recycled. That’s a lot of landfill.
  • Filter tap water at home with a gravity-fed Berkey filter and take water to go in reusable bottles. Berkeys do have two different types of internal plastic filters to remove the bad stuff. One needs replacing once a year and the other every four years. But that’s a lot less plastic added to landfill than individual plastic water bottles or more common water filters which have to be frequently replaced. And the water tastes great!
  • Purchase unbagged, unwrapped or unboxed produce as much as possible. I buy naked produce sans the single-use plastic bags and cover greens and vegetables in refrigerator drawers with clean dish towels to keep them fresh. Parsley stays fresh longest upright in a jar of clean water. I’m always experimenting.

Next on my list /what I’m not doing yet:

  • Composting. I wish DC would offer curbside pickup, like many municipalities do now. Meanwhile, I have an old PVC ring I purchased for $5 at the Audobon Society that I need to set up again, after a neighbor inadvertently took it down. I can at least compost leaves and veggie food waste. I’m going to. I’m going to. Really.
  • Using cloth bags for bulk purchases such as grains and nuts. I’m stalled a little here because the organic cotton ones aren’t cheap, and I can’t bring myself to buy the nylon ones. On my wish list.
  • Making all my own cleaning solutions. Not sure why I’m not 100% there yet — I use, healthy, eco-friendly products  — but it’s on my radar.
  • Bringing my own containers to pick up carry out food. This should be easy too, but I’ve not found it so. Perhaps it’s because I order carry out so infrequently, I haven’t gotten a routine down.
  • Purchasing organic bulk teas from a plastic-free source. I just learned about one online supplier… any suggestions?

But… isn’t it time consuming?

You may think this will take too much time. Firstly, you don’t need to do it all at once. Try making one change a month. I started making my own toothpaste one month, and focused on switching to cotton handkerchiefs the next, which was frankly no sweat. Also, once you buy the simple ingredients for making toothpaste (coconut oil, baking soda, and peppermint essential oil, or a fragrance of your choice) you’ve got plenty to make it for months to come. So you don’t have to go to the store every time you need toothpaste. In fact, a well-stocked pantry and a weekly trip to the farm market can ultimately save lots of time. It’s also a lifestyle thing. I personally prefer spending time in my kitchen listening to music and cooking or talking with my sons or friends rather than shopping. It feels like I’m spending more time living 🙂

But… isn’t it expensive?

Bea Johnson’s husband, a skeptic when she got started on zero waste, did a serious analysis of the family budget before and after. He was predisposed to believe that her shopping in fancier grocery stores with bulk sections was costing the family a fortune. Au contraire! His math showed they were saving 40% over their previous plastic-heavy lifestyle.

So take heart, my friends! We can save, simplify, support quality businesses, AND help the planet by learning a few new ways of living more lightly.

And there are many, many organizations designed to support people in making zero waste changes for the better. I especially like One Million Women, an Australian advocacy org that shares a lot of great information, and Plastic Free July, whom I salute this month for their annual challenge asking people to Choose to Refuse Single Use Plastics — for this month, or for always!  I follow these and other interesting zero waste folks on Instagram.

Can you tell I’m enthusiastic? Let me know if you are too, or are interested in learning 🙂


Cook like an artist


Don’t ask permission. Just do good things.


  1. Beth Daniel

    Thank you for this excellent post. I have been working on cutting back on waste for years but haven’t made nearly as much progress in that area as I would like. I make a some of my own cosmetics and household cleaners but it is not nearly enough. I can’t even begin to fathom getting all our waste into a mason jar. The resources and links you have shared will definitely help. I feel that now more than ever we need to be conscious of the effect we have just by existing. Especially with all the techno trash we generate.To quote Jane Goodall, “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make”. So true.

    • Jo

      Oh, I love the Jane Goodall quote, Beth! I hope these resources do help, and that we can continue to inspire each other 🙂

  2. Bekah

    Yes, very interested. Thanks for all this info!

    • Jo

      Oh, yay! I’m planning to post from time to time as I learn more about steps we can take towards zero waste. So glad you are interested too, Bekah 🙂

  3. Susan Hardy

    compost worms! nice jo xo

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