We lost count of how many days we’ve been in quarantine weeks ago – and same goes for the amount of trash bags we’ve taken to the curbside each week since all this began. Between cooking and consuming most of our meals, as well as spending all our daily activities, at home, it’s proving difficult to be a conscious consumer in this season of life.
This conversation is also happening on a much larger scale right now—especially in the design world—as generations-old design houses are having to reconfigure nearly every aspect of their business as the environment, consumer shopping habits, and coronavirus pandemic are calling for immediate change in order to stay afloat.
“There’s a shift happening among the broader shopping audience that demonstrates a pursuit of a more sustainable planet,” says Anna Brockway, co-founder and president of Chairish, an online marketplace for fine vintage furnishings and home decor.
“Research shows that sustainability and social responsibility are impacting purchase decisions, including what shoppers choose to buy and how they buy it.”
We chatted with Lily Cameron, founder of Wild Minimalist, a zero-waste essentials shop based in Marin County, California, about some simple ways to ease into a lower-waste lifestyle. Her personal journey to zero-waste began when she and her husband quit their corporate jobs in 2017 and took a three-month road trip, where they lived mostly off of what they could carry on their backs.
“We wanted to cultivate this minimalist way of life when we returned home and felt reducing waste—and clutter—was a piece of that puzzle,” says Cameron.
“We found it challenging to get the essentials we were looking for to reduce our plastic consumption and ended up having to buy them online. We craved a one-stop shop to help us reconfigure our home with items that were as beautiful as they are functional, and it inspired us to start our own store to help others find those essentials, too.”
Below, you’ll find Cameron’s top tips for reducing waste at home:
Conduct a Garbage Audit
Cameron tells us the first step anyone should make in reducing their waste at home is taking an honest look at their garbage. Yes, you read that right. She advises studying what goes into your garbage cans for a week to discover any patterns and the most frequent offenders in your household.
“Most people find food packaging is the number one offender, so your kitchen is a great room to start with,” Cameron says. “Our kitchens produce the most waste—especially right now as we are cooking and eating most of our meals from home. Bathroom trash is also good to look at between all the shampoo bottles, cosmetics, and skin products we use.”
Make Your Fridge (and Pantry) More Functional
“One of my favorite things is what I call ‘shopping the pantry,’” Cameron says. “Each week I go through my pantry and fridge and see what needs to be used up. From there, I make it a game and try to create a meal plan that helps me end up with as empty of a fridge and pantry as possible.”
Cameron notes that you can’t prevent food waste without storing food properly. She says it’s important to learn how to store your favorite fruits, veggies, and other nonperishables. Even some pantry staples have specific storage needs for staying as fresh as possible. She advises stocking up on a nice set of glass storage containers and jars to reduce waste, keep your kitchen more organized, and ensure everything can be seen so you know what to use up before your next trip to the grocery store.
Invest in Stylishly Sustainable Products
Now we’re getting to the fun part: shopping! While it’s perfectly fine to keep your massive set of reusable plastic storage containers if you already have them, consider what’s worth investing in to help you reduce waste for the long-term.
One of Cameron’s favorite sustainable purchases? Cloth napkins and dish towels to help you ditch single-use paper products. (Go ahead, use this as a time to finally expand your India Amory or Horchow collection!) This may mean more frequent laundry cycles, but Cameron suggests purchasing enough of these items to get you through a week, or however long you go between laundry days.
Depending on your trash audit revelations, you’ll find which items deserve top priority. For many of us, it’s the products hiding in our bathroom vanities. We reached out to beauty editors at Elle, our sister brand, who shared some of their top low- and zero-waste beauty products with us. Among them were Gucci’s new lipstick line—both chic and refillable!
Repurpose When Possible
It’s one thing to reduce your use of single-use paper and plastic products, but what about that closet full of clothes you haven’t worn in years or the family heirlooms collecting dust in your attic?
“The most eco-friendly way to treat an unwanted item is to reuse it – or find someone who wants to,” Cameron says. “If you can’t figure out a new use, post it for free to see if a neighbor wants it.”
Cameron says the Salvation Army, Goodwill, and the like are your best best for getting rid of items that are beyond reuse or that you wouldn’t want to reuse (looking at you, college running shoes). These organizations will take your damaged textiles and recycle them for you. Cameron says Nike’s Reuse a Shoe program will turn your old athletic shoes into new track fields. H&M will even take your damaged textiles! Do a little digging into nearby options to see what makes the most sense for you.
Shop and Sell Vintage
Clothing, accessories, and housewares that are in good condition but just no longer fit your taste are a great option for selling to consignment and vintage shops. It’s what the pros have been doing to outfit their home in one-of-kind ways for years!
“Interior designers have long incorporated vintage into their projects because it brings character, uniqueness and style to a room, and I don’t think that will ever change” says Brockway.
“If you’re someone who has great taste and a collection of quality furnishings that are in good condition, list them for sale on Chairish. Giving these pieces a second or third (or fourth!) life is not just practical and a money maker, but you’re also doing your part to be more sustainable,” Brockway says.
The same rings true when shopping for clothing and home goods. While more and more clothing companies are working towards a more sustainable supply chain, shopping vintage will always be the most sustainable shopping option—especially when you bring your own reusable bags!
“Buying vintage is smart, chic and green,” Brockway says. “Reuse minimizes carbon emissions, reduces waste and conserves resources. Antiques and vintage are the oldest and chicest form of upcycling.”
Breathe In, Breathe Out
“People can get really overwhelmed when they first start out, and I suggest a gradual approach [to reducing waste in your home],” Cameron says. “Ideally, you should transition over a period with intention, in pursuit of making real, lasting changes.”
It’s important to give yourself grace as you seek to reduce waste in your household, especially in this current global climate. Overhauling your life may prove to be more stressful than good if you do it too quickly.
Having an intentional conversation with the members of your household will help you determine your initial priorities and help hold everyone accountable to the pursuit of less. Check out our expert decluttering tips to help you stay inspired.
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