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:
- Eat healthier (or diet to lose weight)
- Quit smoking
- Save money
- Learn something new
- Spend more time with family
- Travel to new places
- Reduce stress
- Drink less alcohol
One resolution that covers them all: 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:
- Low-fat diet (Ahem, we need fat in our diets)
- Low-carbohydrate diet
- DASH diet
- Whole food diet
- Gluten-free diet
- Low-sodium diet
- Paleolithic diet
- Atkins diet
- Raw foodism
- Very-low-calorie diet
The majority of these diets share one common recommendation: 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.
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.
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.
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.
Happy new year and happy new decade!