A 9-for-1 New Year’s Resolution

unpackaged produce from the farmers' market

If the the term “resolution” makes you cringe, use the term “intention”

According to a search I just did, the most common new year’s resolutions are:

  1. Eat healthier (or diet to lose weight)
  2. Quit smoking
  3. Save money
  4. Learn something new
  5. Spend more time with family
  6. Travel to new places
  7. Reduce stress
  8. Volunteer
  9. Drink less alcohol

One resolution that covers most of them: Reduce your waste

Cut your waste and you’ll actually make a bunch of other resolutions without thinking about them.

1. Eat healthier

You can choose from dozens of diets to start this January 1st. I just searched “healthy diet,” and these popular diets popped up first:

  1. Low-fat diet (Ahem, we need fat in our diets)
  2. Low-carbohydrate diet
  3. DASH diet
  4. Veganism
  5. Vegetarianism
  6. Whole food diet
  7. Gluten-free diet
  8. Low-sodium diet
  9. Paleolithic diet
  10. Atkins diet
  11. Raw foodism
  12. Very-low-calorie diet

The majority of these diets share one common tenet: Eat more vegetables.

When you cut your waste, you’ll likely automatically start to eat more vegetables because in order to avoid all the plastic packaging, you’ll eat less shelf-stable food and more whole foods. All the highly processed food comes in shiny packages. Vegetables less so.

Here in Northern California, I have little trouble finding unpackaged produce, with our year-round farmers’ markets that feature naked fruit and vegetables almost exclusively. I’d actually have to poke around a bit to find vegetables wrapped in plastic.

If you don’t have access to a farmers’ market, many grocery stores sell many naked fruit and vegetables. (Good luck finding naked cauliflower though.) You could also look into joining a CSA (community supported agriculture) and ask about the packaging. Find a CSA in the US here.

eat better is a top new years resolution
Recent farmers’ market haul
Naked produce from Piazza’s, a family owned grocery store near me

2. Quit smoking

I have a bit of an addictive personality. When I really like something, I become obsessed with it, like zero-waste living or fermented food. Just try to take those away from me! So I’m glad I never tried smoking. (I’ve also never had a cup of coffee.) I’ve watched loved ones struggle to quit smoking and wouldn’t want to have to go through that (or suffer through the cancer that killed a bunch of them).

However, if you resolve to cut your plastic, it may give you one more reason to cut smoking because the plastic-wrapped packages contain yet more plastic, in the form of cellulose acetate filters, the most commonly littered item on the planet. The risk of ingesting plastic fibers from these filters may not keep many smokers up at night, considering that they, well, smoke. For others, if horrifying images of cancer-riddled patients on cigarette packs don’t help them quit, perhaps horrifying images of seagulls eating cigarette butts will.

3. Save money

People sometimes tell me that zero-waste living costs more. But that depends on where you start. A broke student who eats instant ramen noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner will spend more on food. However, the average American family of four throws out $1,500 worth of food every year. Eat all the food you buy and save money. (Go here for 23 ways to reduce food waste.)

I like to tell people that the money I save living zero-waste comes from the whole (upackaged) package. Some ingredients that I buy cost more than they would at a discount grocery store but I don’t waste food, I eat lower on the food chain (e.g., chickpeas cost less than beef) and I rarely eat at restaurants.

I also don’t buy much stuff, such as clothes, clutter or disposable products like paper towels and tissues and razor heads, which you must buy over and over and over, like a subscription, until either you or your money runs out.

You also don’t need a bunch of gear to reduce your waste. You’ll want a few things—a water bottle or perhaps a safety razor or a menstrual cup. Upcycled jars solve most other dilemmas though.

Zero-waste living is not a consumer lifestyle. It’s a conserver lifestyle.

4. Learn something new

Our dependence on corporations to fulfill our every need and desire has rendered us helpless, thus making us more dependent on corporations to fulfill our every need and desire.

Many of us lack the basic skills necessary to feed ourselves or to sew on a button or to repair a lamp. Instead, we buy prepared foods, we throw out the buttonless shirt and we buy a new lamp.

Reduce your waste and you’ll likely learn a new skill or two—like cooking the dinner or sewing on the button or rewiring the lamp.

5. Spending more time with family

I can make this one work…

Ultimately, when you reduce your waste, you live a more conscious lifestyle because you have to think about every choice you make but only all of the time. This results in spending more time being and less time consuming. You slow down. You have more time for your family.

6. Travel to new places

Okay, this one is a stretch. If I really work on it I could probably come up with a reason that reducing your waste will land you in Paris but I’m writing this on the afternoon of December 30th and need to get this post up.

So how about when you do travel you try a near-cation (not sure if that’s a term people use) to a place you’ve never seen near you, instead of flying all over the place?

My kombucha SCOBY Etheldreda has seen more of the world than I have and I’m okay with that. I’ll live vicariously through her.

7. Reduce stress

(This one is easy…)

When you cut your waste, you may fall down the rabbit hole of fermentation. How else will you get your vinegar? You may next try making sauerkraut or yogurt or dill pickles. Study after study shows a connection between the gut and the brain. Eating probiotic, fermented foods improves gut health and can reduce anxiety and stress.

8. Volunteer

Back in 2011, when I started reading about animals suffering and dying from entanglement in and ingestion of plastic pollution in our oceans (and seeing the accompanying heartbreaking images), I swore off of plastic. That eventually led to this blog, which is kind of like volunteering because there is no money in blogging.

But I also have a volunteer group that started completely organically. I joined a zero-waste group and thought that sewing produce bags to give away would be a fun activity. That first sewing session grew and today, nearly every month, a group of us gets together to sew cloth produce bags from donated clean sheets or unwanted or scrap fabric (thank you to everyone who has donated!). About every three months, we give these bags away at the farmers’ market. We’ve given away nearly 2,500 bags so far! And I also try to help other people start their own groups. (Read more about the Reusa-Bag project here.)

If you reduce your waste, you may start to hang out with other like-minded, waste-busting people and volunteer as a group in your community.

500 of the produce bags we gave away at one of our farmers’ markets
We’re trying to convince people at the farmers’ market to use fewer plastic utensils, with little success so far but we’re undeterred

9. Drink less alcohol

If you go hardcore zero-waste and start making your own alcohol, you many not drink any for a while because your beer or wine or mead will take time to ferment after you bottle and rack it. But you could make this easy, young mead and drink it after a couple of weeks. It has only a small amount of alcohol and so, if you reduce your waste and brew this mead, you may drink less alcohol 😉

There you have it! A 9-for-1 resolution to cover the bases. What other investment provides a 900 percent return?

To kickstart your waste-reducing efforts, please check out my challenge, 31 Days to Zero Waste.

a 31 day zero waste challenge
A simple 31 day zero-waste plan

Happy new year and happy new decade!

9 Replies to “A 9-for-1 New Year’s Resolution”

  1. I’m getting more interested in zero waste. On Skye the favoured produce bags have a fold over top like a pillow slip or coin bag. I’ve been meaning to make some for the shop, we use paper bags currently.
    I’d love to do more loose produce in the shop: my main limitation is space. We do liquid refills for laundry and wash up liquid, and most of our fruit and veg is unwrapped. Our cauliflower however is never wrapped, I wonder why the difference there?
    My main waste is polythene wrap, which is not collected for recycling locally. This obviously does not include the waste packaging which is incorporated in goods I resell…..

    1. Your shop sounds lovely 🙂 We have no unpackaged cauliflower in stores here! It’s impossible to find in stores but at the farmers’ market, all the cauliflower is unpackaged. I’d like to make some bags like your describe to keep everything inside. I think I’ll try making some of those at our next sewing session. Thanks for the idea!
      ~ Anne Marie

  2. Thanks to your posts, this year I’ve made a successful sourdough starter and started making bread at home (unless I feel like something fancy which isn’t often). Hopefully next year I’ll continue to add to my list of things I can easily make myself. Happy new year and decade to you too!

    1. Hi Amanda,
      I’m glad you’ve found my posts helpful. Congratulations on bringing your sourdough starter to life! Enjoy your baking adventures in the new year and new decade 🙂
      ~ Anne Marie

  3. Hi Zerowastechef,
    I have been an avid reader of yours for a long time, thank you for your emails.
    This last email you call Gluten Free Diet a popular diet?
    Eating Gluten Free is mandatory for coeliacs. You can be quite unhealthy eating gluten free also, if you choose all the lovely sweet treats that are now available that are gluten free, such as biscuits, cakes, lollies, icecream, chips, etc.
    A gluten free diet is about eliminating gluten from your diet, because if you are coeliac, ingesting gluten can land you in hospital, the pain can last up to two weeks non-stop, and the ongoing health issues if your diet is not changed can lead to all sorts of terrible things. It is not a life we would have chosen for our child, but we have no other choice, therefore the entire family has had to go gluten free.
    Believe me it is not a popular diet, and the cost of gluten free products are ridiculously high, it is a necessity for people who are coeliac and also for people who are gluten intolerant, wheat intolerant, etc.
    It means we can’t buy bulk, due to cross contamination, we have to buy packaged to protect our child.

    1. Hi Mel,

      Thank you for reading my posts 🙂

      Where I live in Northern California, a lot of people eat a gluten-free diet but very few have celiac disease and many aren’t gluten-intolerant. A lot of people go gluten-free hoping to lose weight. In the US, 30 percent of adults avoid gluten (a large chunk of those are likely in California) even though only 1 percent of Americans have celiac disease. Some people with celiac disease complain that they are no longer taken seriously because of all the people jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon and turning it into a fad diet. Here’s an article about the popularity of gluten-free diets in the US: https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/01/14/375709527/gluten-free-craze-is-boon-and-bane-for-those-with-celiac-disease
      Here’s a quote from the article: “Unfortunately, such people who simply see a health halo around gluten-free may unwittingly be making life more challenging for those with celiac disease, by contributing to an environment where food servers have come to dismiss gluten avoidance as a silly fad that isn’t worth taking seriously.”
      ~ Anne Marie

  4. On the last day of 2020 I finished my first sourdough loaf. The crusty exterior was perfect but it was super dense and barely rose! I know that’s my fault, though, I misread the recipe I was using. Thank you so much for this blog, I never would’ve attempted sourdough or ginger beer without it and I feel so accomplished and proud.
    My low waste resolutions are to shop less, to hold a clothing swap and to plan out my meals or weekly food shops. My bulk stores are hard to get to at the moment (I walk everywhere, don’t have a bike and live in a city with rubbish public transport) but it’ll be easier if I plan for it.

  5. I tried to translate your post and reblog: https://primononsprecare.blog/2020/01/01/buoni-propositi-per-lanno-nuovo/ I hope you appreciate. Happy New Year! Paola

    1. Thank you Paola. Happy new year!
      ~ Anne Marie

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