Let me clarify something before I begin… I’m not completely waste free. I’m going towards a zero waste lifestyle, and I’m headed in the right direction, but I still have a long way to go!
But even in the small amount of progress I’ve made so far, I’ve realized that there are a ton of things I don’t miss- even things that I thought would be really hard to give up.
There are a couple of things I do miss, though, and a few regrets I have from pursuing a more sustainable lifestyle.
Read on to find out what those things are- and get inspired to reduce waste more in your own life!
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Zero waste swaps I’ll never regret
Back when I started trying to reduce my waste, I made a lot of mistakes and bought some things I really didn’t need. Part of that was because I was afraid I’d be missing out without some things I thought were staples.
But there are some things I just gave up, cold-turkey, which helped me to realize that small steps towards zero waste really aren’t that scary!
Here are the top things I don’t miss from my zero waste journey.
1. Single-use coffee cups
This is one item that I thought for sure would be difficult to ditch. I used to think there was just something “cool” about carrying around a disposable coffee cup- it’s recognizable (and a great way to promote local coffee, right?) and very photogenic.
I mean, only the coolest influencers post shots of coffee cups from well-known chains with their name written on it, right? (Extra points if they spell your name right)
But now that I’ve switched to bringing my own reusable coffee mug when I go to coffee shops (or sitting in and using their mugs), I’ve realized that I don’t miss the “look” of the old for-the-trash cups at all!
Related: Creative ways to use less plastic
I’m no longer drinking toxins (leaching from the plastic lining that all disposable cups have, especially with hot drinks) and I’m not adding to the waste. Single-use coffee cups add up so quick in the trash and landfill- it’s just not worth it for the insta.
This is one swap that I’m never going back on!
2. Disposable straws
Straws are another plastic item I thought I’d need to adjust to giving up. And yes, it’s still an adjustment remembering to ask for no straw when I order a drink, especially when I’m traveling and there’s a language barrier.
However, simply adapting to having no straw at all was no big deal! Sometimes, I’ll carry around my stainless steel straws, and I still love how they look (they’re my go-to for iced coffee at home!), but I don’t really miss straws at all.
Related: Creative ways to use less plastic
I understand that there are sick and disabled people who need straws, but, thankfully, there are other options out there! If you can’t use stainless steel straws and can’t just give up straws cold-turkey, try paper or bamboo.
They’ll probably invent a biodegradable “plastic” for sustainable straws soon too.
Sometimes, though, using a straw is just a habit. For example, I used to hate drinking ice water without a straw and I’d always ask for one. But now, I ask for no straw and no ice! Problem solved!
If you’re addicted to straws (or any other single-use disposables), I’d recommend challenging yourself to give up the habit, slowly if needed, or as soon as possible.
The earth will thank you!
3. Taking out the trash
Here’s a fun side effect of going after a zero waste lifestyle- no more taking out the trash!
Of course, I still produce some trash- I don’t live in an area where zero waste items are super accessible and I still have a ways to go. My husband and I put our trash in empty dog food bags and take it to his work about every month or two.
Here are a few tips that made this possible- wash and recycle disposable food containers, and put your non-recyclable empty food containers from things like raw meat, as well as bones, in the freezer instead of the trash can.
This way, your trash won’t start stinking before it’s full!
That’s a habit I picked up from living in Mexico in the middle of summer, and it really makes a difference. Then you just toss the trash from the freezer into the trash when you take it out.
No more paying for trash services or the dreaded weekly task of getting trash from around the house!
This one did come with a bit of an exchange- instead of taking out the trash, now I’m washing, reusing, and recycling some of the containers I used to just toss in the trash. But I fully believe it’s worth it to do my part in caring for the earth!
More on that in the next point.
Let’s face it- when you start reducing waste, the zero-waste swaps you make come at a price. You can’t just throw everything away anymore, you have to wash, clean, recycle, or reuse it.
But honestly, I don’t think that’s a bad thing!
Let me explain why. Especially for us living in the US, we tend to glorify convenience and comfort above all else.
We’ve lost sight of the value of slow living.
Going zero waste or becoming more minimalistic might mean a bit more work, but I think the tradeoff is worth it!
You can get in touch with your roots, and you might even find that washing lots of reusable dishes and cutlery can take on an almost meditative quality.
Or, you could spend your whole life looking for that next-new-thing that will make life easier, instead of being grateful for the friends, family, and possessions you already have.
So yes, I spend more time and effort on cleaning the reusable products I have, and I take time to do things like washing, drying, and folding cloth napkins.
But that time is worth it in the end.
It’s worth it both for the planet we live on, and for me personally- so that I can reclaim the kind of slow, present, grateful living that really makes life worth it.
On the other hand, the pursuit of convenience will never end. There will always be that new, must-have thing that is supposed to save you time or money, but I’d argue that the joy from slow living is immediate and satisfying!
It’s up to you which one you go after.
Aspects of zero waste I do regret
Even though there are plenty of things I’ve given up and haven’t looked back on in my journey towards a zero waste lifestyle, I’d be lying if I said it was all easy swaps and positive decisions I’ve made.
There are plenty of aspects of living zero waste that I still need to grow in. But in the time that I’ve tried to reduce my waste, I’ve noticed and regretted some changes that I have made.
Here are some of the things that I occasionally regret, either because they’re zero waste failures (I really should know better) or because they’re areas I can’t go back on (I almost wish I didn’t know better).
1. Boba tea
This is a weak area of mine, so, I have to admit, I don’t always refuse boba when I get the opportunity… I’m getting better at it, but this is one area where I still need to prioritize a plastic-free lifestyle over my own wants!
I keep meaning to clean and reuse my boba straws, or buy these awesome reusable stainless steel bubble tea straws, but I just haven’t gotten around to it.
This is one area where I still need to grow, but slowly I’m learning that I am able to say no to the things that are harmful to the earth we all live on!
2. Where I live
Since beginning to reduce my waste, I’ve learned that there is a lot of privilege attached to zero waste living.
It takes money, time, and access to lots of options to be able to really downsize your waste. Not all of us have those things!
For me, where I live is one area I’ve grown to regret as I try harder to reduce the plastic and disposables in my life.
I live in a small town kind of in the middle of nowhere, where there isn’t much support for sustainable living, and we live about 4 hours away from the nearest bulk store.
Sometimes zero waste living just isn’t really accessible.
If I had known before moving that the place I live wouldn’t support a zero waste lifestyle very easily, I might have thought twice before moving.
Of course, I moved before starting to adjust my lifestyle, but it’s something I have to think ahead on a lot now.
I plan ahead on shopping trips to try and reduce waste, and we always bring our jars when we visit family up north near our closest bulk store.
We also try to stay flexible- for example, when we shop at our local grocery store, they usually only have organic apples in plastic bags, so we’ve just learned to say no to apples when they aren’t available plastic-free.
It sucks sometimes, but we’re slowly adjusting and trying to make good decisions whenever possible.
You know how they say that ignorance is bliss?
This is probably the area of the greatest regret for me. There are times that I really wish I could go back to the ignorance I once had towards zero waste living and plastic waste.
It feels so incredibly heartbreaking sometimes when I see huge amounts of (completely avoidable!) disposables and plastic water bottles filling trash cans. It hurts when I see people making choices that are unhealthy for them and for all of us.
Sometimes, it honestly just feels really hopeless. Sometimes I wish I lived in ignorance so that life wouldn’t be so discouraging.
But I have to remind myself that I know better, so I can do better. I’ll never forget but I can continue to grow and do my part.
Every little bit counts.
Pursuing a zero waste lifestyle has been an absolute roller coaster.
Sometimes I feel like I’m doing great, my jars look nice, and I’m on top of the world, and sometimes I feel judged, I screw up, and people drink from their micro-plastic-filled, expensive, disposable, plastic water bottles right in front of me and I can’t do a thing about it.
But even though I have some regrets, and in some ways, going after a zero waste lifestyle has made my life harder, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I know that I can have grace on myself, and I know that in the long run, I’m fighting for a better world. And even the small day-to-day decisions I make can be a part of that. All I really can do is my best, and I can try to encourage people to grow alongside me.
So, are you in?
If you want to take the next step, here are a few zero waste posts you might be interested in:
And if you’re feeling really ambitious, download and start using my zero waste checklist to keep track of your goals and accomplishments!