Picking the Right Materials for a Sustainable Lifestyle
The zero waste lifestyle is not only about reducing waste, but also about responsibly choosing the materials you use each and every day.
Just as we may choose organic produce over conventional produce to avoid the harmful chemicals from pesticides, we should choose materials that are not only reusable but also avoid chemicals or other materials that are damaging to our health and the environment.
Materials to Avoid
Here are the materials that you should avoid purchasing to cut down on their presence in your home and in landfills:
- Plastic. Not only does reducing plastic help save oceans, wildlife, and the environment in general, there can be harmful cancer-causing chemicals in plastic. So even if you have reusable plastic containers for things like food storage, you may want to consider getting them out of your kitchen and finding another use for them that doesn’t include food preparation. Plastic without BPA can still contain chemicals that leech into your food. If you have any plastic, verify it is free of Phthalates, BPA and BPA substitutes, PVC, nitrosamines, lead, PET, and biologically harmful chemicals.
- Paper and cardboard. While these items can be recycled or composted, try to opt for reusable items when possible in order to reduce waste. Additionally, try to use post-consumer waste paper, which is the eco-friendliest to print on. And avoid packaging items that are coated in waxy surfaces, which make certain cardboards and paper unable to be composted or recycled.
- Nonstick materials, pre-coated cookware. Cookware with Teflon and other nonstick coatings can break down and release toxic fumes into the air. The coating can also flake off of the cookware itself during high temperatures. Avoid these materials and opt for stainless steel or cast iron instead. Cast iron pots, if well taken care of, last for generations. Grandma knew what she was doing when she stocked up. Go for quality and you will more than make up the cost.
Materials to Choose Instead
Choose materials that are high quality and reusable. Compostable and biodegradable materials are also great options to look for, especially if a material isn’t recyclable.
- Beeswax. Ditch the plastic wrap and replace this kitchen staple with beeswax wrap. A much more sustainable option, beeswax wrap is cotton fabric coated in beeswax, jojoba oil, and pine rosin, which gives it a pliable and tacky surface that clings to itself. With fun prints to brighten up the fridge, I am a huge fan of this solid replacement to Saran Wrap.
- Bamboo. Bamboo products are great for personal care, such as for toothbrushes, razors, hair brushes, and cleaning brushes. You can also opt for bamboo-based tableware items. Bamboo is compostable, biodegradable and recyclable, but double check what material the bristles in your brushes are made of before disposing of them. If possible, choose biodegradable bristle options. Otherwise, the bristles must be removed when responsibly disposing of bamboo.
- Stainless steel. Stainless steel is a great, sturdy material for cooking, and is perfect for food storage containers and pots and pans. It’s easy to clean, and won’t melt in high temperatures. Not all stainless steel is the same quality. When cooking, opt for grade 316, which has high chromium and nickel contents and adds molybdenum to resist corrosion, holding up against acids, alkalis and chlorides (salt).
- Silicone. Silicone is a better swap for plastic, although there is some controversy in zero waste circles, as it has to be burned in order to compost. Try and stick to other materials when possible and choose silicone when you know you will use the item for years to come. I like reusable silicone straws for kids because the straws are flexible and kids can bite down on them.
- Glass. Mason jars are always in style! Mason jars can serve as a great swap for your plastic travel mug, and can also be a great food storage option as well. Glass food containers can also help you save time, dishes (and dishwasher water!) because you can microwave food in glass containers instead of having to use a new dish to reheat leftovers. Mason jars are great to grow herbs, store bulk dry goods, collect hair ties and pins, store make-up brushes or a toothbrush, store DIY shampoo or body balm, and the list goes on.
- Hemp. Hemp is a great zero waste alternative, as the hemp plant requires less water to grow than cotton, is biodegradable, and every part of the hemp plant is used in the industrial process. Clothing, paper, and other items can be created using hemp.
- Organic Cotton. If you don’t have an option to use hemp, try and purchase organic cotton. Conventional cotton is pesticide intensive and you’ll want to avoid those chemicals by choosing organic cotton instead.
- Linen. Linen is a much better alternative to paper products like paper towels and paper napkins. You can also use old bedsheets or other linen-based products to create reusable grocery bags and other necessities.
The zero-waste, sustainable lifestyle is all about choosing quality, reusable, eco-friendly goods. Not only is your conscience clear, you’ll also be leading a healthier, happier life knowing you’re protecting the environment as well as yourself and your family from waste and harmful chemicals.