6 simple and zero-waste swaps for your bathroom

Before I jump into the article, I want to be sure to address the matter of affordability. After all, “affordable” is a very loaded term and it means vastly different things to different people. 

Yes, truly sustainable products do cost more than their generic alternatives. And unfortunately, this does negatively impact their accessibility. The promising news is that as more people already able to afford these products make the switch, over time, costs will decrease. It’s for sure not an immediate solution, but it does offer some hope for greater access down the road. 

Where I am at in life, it is financially feasible for me to make sustainability a priority. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t some initial sticker shock as I started exploring these zero-waste swaps. Even if you’re able to make sustainable switches, letting go of comfortable and convenient habits is hard. So to help, here’s the logic I used to see these products not just as purchases, but as investments in a more sustainable future. 

Higher quality ingredients – Chemical-free and biodegradable products are naturally derived and therefore better for your body and the earth 

Longevity – Many sustainable products are concentrated or purer, requiring less volume per use 

Livable wages & working conditions – More money is cycled back to the people who grow and produce these products, so they can achieve a higher quality of life 

If you’ve been hoping to switch over to a more sustainable or plastic-free bathroom routine but haven’t known where to start, this guide will help you identify which products can work for your lifestyle and budget. For every product, I’ve broken down the costs and ease of switch to help make your sustainable transition a smooth one.  

1. Zero Waste Lip Balm | Ease of switch: 9/10

Currently, I’m using a nice mint stick from Twinkle Apothecary, a woman-founded, small business based in Oklahoma. The large stick, if I recall correctly, was $12 and has lasted me more than a year. 

Mint lip balm in zero-waste, compostable packaging

The only challenge I encountered when switching to a plastic-free lip balm was adjusting to the more natural formula. As a devout Burts user, I found my lips more dry than usual at the start, but they’ve since adapted and feel very healthy. 

Buy it here: 

Twinkle Apothecary $6 

Splashe $7.99  

Zero Waste Store $12.99 

Boston General Store $14.00 

2. Stainless Steel Razor | Ease of Switch 6/10 

If you’re willing to break from your plastic pal, stainless steel razors make for a great zero-waste swap. Unlike safety razors you find at drug stores or from popular brands like Billie, the steel versions feature two blades that can be replaced an infinite number of times. 

My favorite Albatross, zero-waste razor

I purchased my three-piece Albatross razor from Package Free a year ago, and although we had a pretty rocky start, we’re now very well acquainted. What do I mean by ‘rocky’? Well, bloody. I should preface this with the fact that I’ve never been a very adept shaver. Add to that applying way too much pressure to this new razor and you have yourself a perfect little storm. 

During my initial shaves with the Albatross, I used the razor just like my cheap plastic ones. Big mistake. Because the body of the Albatross razor is heftier, applying any additional pressure pushes the blade directly into your skin. Ouch! 

But before you write this method off completely—hold on. We’re not talking ER type cuts, just little nicks, easily fixed with a bandaid. A slow learner, it’s taken me almost a year to shave cut-free but now that I have a handle on it, I truly love this product and will NEVER go back. I use it on my legs, armpits, lil mustache, and uh yah, down yonder too. I only need to change the blade every 4-6 months and each replacement costs just cents. 

Another benefit of this particular brand is Albatross’ free blade recycling program that lets you mail in used razors to be repurposed rather than trashed in landfill. But if you aren’t able to buy Albatross’ razor and use their recycling program, I advise you collect your old razors in a pill container or Altoids box, something hard and difficult to puncture. When the container is full, put the entire thing in the trash. Never in recycling and never uncovered; the tiny pieces can damage disposal machinery and pose risk to workers. Obviously, this version isn’t completely waste-free, but you are still eliminating new plastics from being produced and added to the environment.

Buy it here

Package Free – $25 

Blade Refills – $.25 each

3. Bar soap | Ease of Switch 9/10 

Bar soaps are a cheap and easy way to cut back on plastic at the sink and in your shower. These zero-waste swaps are available in an incredible number of scents, packaging options, and sizes so most people won’t have trouble finding a good fit. If you can find and afford it, opt for a soap that is package-free, chemical-free, and biodegradable.

Natural bar soap is biodegrable and can be purchased completely pastic-free

Something you might also want when making the switch to bar soap is a self-straining holder. These little babies can be helpful in preserving the life of your soap and preventing the bar from becoming soggy. I like this one from the Zero Waste Store, but you can also make your own using rubber bands and a jar top

Dr. Bronners – $4.69 (I can often find this brand discounted at T.J.Maxx)

Toms of Maine – $4.99 (Try your local grocery stores as well) 

4. Toothpaste tabs | Ease of Switch 8/10 

If you like breath mints, toothpaste tabs will be a synch. Unlike some of the homemade solutions I’ve tried, toothpaste tabs don’t cause me to dry heave over the bathroom sink. Which is great. While you definitely don’t get the same rush of freshness as you do with a chemical-heavy Crest or Colgate, the tabs still leave your teeth and mouth feeling clean. Oh, and my dentist approves, too! 

I personally use Bites, although after doing this cost analysis, I’ll probably switch to Georganics. Regardless, both brands’ are cruelty-free and don’t contain sulfates or parabens. If you’re not a fan of traditional mint, Bites also has flavors like Berry Blast (good for kids) and Lavender Lemon. 

I love these Bites plastic-free toothpaste tabs

As for cost, Bites charges about $.2 per tab while Georganics is half that. My Bites subscription is $30 for four month’s supply that automatically renews, so I never run out. Their refills come in compostable, plant-based plastic, making even that part of the process zero-waste. Georganics, on the other hand, is about $26 for the same amount of tabs and they do not offer a subscription option.  

Truthfully, there’s not a huge difference in price or quality between either of these tabs. During this pandemic, Bites is more convenient because I can’t access a lot of local stores. However, after this period is over, buying Georganics makes more sense because it’s slightly cheaper, lets me support local business, and doesn’t require any added shipping. 

Buy it here 

Georganics tabs – $12.90 for 8 weeks 

Bites – $30 for four months  

5. Reusable Swabs | Ease of Switch 6/10 

I use ear swabs for makeup and, of course, a satisfying de-waxing. But daily use really adds up and these small items unfortunately often end up damaging waterways and oceans.

A zero-waste alternative to tradtional ear swabs

Fortunately, a very smart person invented a reusable & zero-waste swab. I own two different types; one for ears and one for makeup. Both are made out of a squishy, body-safe silicone and are easy to clean using just soap and water. They’re very comfortable and other than regular washing, don’t demand much of an adjustment. 

Earthsider – $12.95 (duo pack)   

LastSwab – $12 

6. Refillable Floss | Ease of Switch 10/10 

I hate flossing. What normal person doesn’t? But every time I go to the dentist, she reminds me it’s the only way to keep my own teeth. So I floss.

I started using refillable floss a few months ago and am very happy with this zero-waste swap. Before, I did try a low-waste floss wrapped in paper, but found it’s design totally non-durable and by the end of the pack, I was having to cut the floss with scissors. 

Low-waste charcoal floss by Georganics

Refillable floss, however, is just like regular floss but without the plastic waste. The container is made from glass and metal. And while normal floss is typically nylon, a type of plastic, most zero-waste floss is made from compostable 100% silk. The only exception I’ve found is Georganics charcoal floss, which contains some plastic in the form of polyester. Regardless of the brand you choose, always read the materials of your floss prior to buying to make sure you’re getting a wholly biodegradable option. 

As you may have guessed, refillable floss isn’t cheap. It averages about $7 upon initial purchase, plus $10 for two refills. I bought my current floss about four months ago, floss 3 times a week (don’t judge me), and still have a ways to go to finishing it. Out of all the products I’ve shared, refillable floss is arguably one of the most expensive and difficult to justify. But if you can afford it, you’ll be removing dangerously small and easy to swallow plastics from waterways and any animals in them. 

Buy it here

Public Goods – $2.50 

Boston General Store – $6.90 

Package Free – $11.99 

4 essentials elements of a healthy quarantine

Time is a fickle thing. If you’re like me, you probably complain a lot about not having enough of it. And yet, in the face of free time, we don’t always know what to do with the extra hours. It’s daunting, isn’t it? Free terrain. Space to roam. But cows manage. So why can’t we? 

As somewhat of a skilled procrastinator, I thrive in the busy and chaotic. But now, standing here in week four of quarantine, I’m starting to reassess where and when I’m most productive. 

While I definitely do work well under pressure, in my personal time, I often use other non-conflicting commitments as excuses. I’m too tired after work to do anything. There’s only an hour before I have to go meet someone. If I start that project now, I won’t be in the right headspace. Blah. Blah. Blah. It’s shocking how good I am at convincing myself there’s no time for the things I really enjoy.

Today though, those excuses only go so far. I’m no longer going out or commuting. I don’t really have plans and honestly, there’s only so many hours a day I can spend binging shows. So all those previously neglected activities, now I guess I have no choice but to give them my time. 

To both combat and embrace the added hours I now have to myself, I’ve found these four areas critical to staying positive and productive. They not only pass the time but also assure I’ll leave quarantine happier and more myself than when I started.

LEARN 

Without the pressure of grades, learning can be a great way to develop new skills and interests. Maybe you’ve wanted to learn a new language or get a little more creative. Obviously, in-person classes aren’t an option right now. But for some of us, they weren’t anyway. I looked into Spanish classes a while back and the total cost was in the thousands for less than a year! But fortunately, sites like Skillshare and apps like Babbel make it possible for you to learn affordably from anywhere, all at your own pace. 

Skillshare is an open platform where professionals in the field teach courses on graphic design, video editing, copywriting, and other creative topics. After your free trial, Skillshare is $99 a year for unlimited access, which means you can tune in and complete courses when you have the time. Really good at something? Skillshare makes it easy to become a contributor and upload your own courses to share with others.  

As for new languages, Babbel, Duolingo, and other apps on average cost less than $10 a month. Because you test into these programs, they’re great for everyone—true beginners to advanced speakers. I personally use Babbel to keep up with my Spanish language and writing skills. I love that the app offers speaking, writing, and matching exercises and how each course builds on the next. It really is like being in school but A LOT less pricey. 

Anyone else looking to get smarter about sustainability? Slow Factory is offering a three week, free crash course in sustainable literacy starting Friday, April 17th. Regardless of where you are in your own journey, this class offers valuable information from expert sources and can add some much-needed structure to your day.

If you’re willing and able to pay for them, the University for the Arts London (UAL) offers online short-courses spanning all areas of fashion sustainability. UAL is known internationally as one of the best fashion and arts colleges and is one of the only accredited institutions I’ve found that offers courses addressing the intersection between sustainability and the fashion industry. Their courses are taught by professors and are very much doable, even while working a full-time job. 

Finally, Coursera—yet another great online learning resource—is also offering a free, 14 hour Sustainable Fashion course through the Copenhagen Business School. The three instructors teaching the course work within the fashion industry and boast some pretty impressive resumes. For your convenience, the class is entirely pre-recorded so you can start whenever you’d like. You also have the choice to take the course for $49, which will get you a certificate of completion for you to post on your LinkedIn—or give to mom to put on the fridge. 

Like with any learning experience, success relies on your motivation. For example, I set aside 10-15 minutes almost every day to practice my Spanish on Babbel. It’s not a lot of time but because I do it consistently, I am noticing progress. If you’re a student already or working full-time, be reasonable with your time commitment. Don’t learn something just to get a certificate or check a box. Dedicate yourself to studying something you love and that you know will contribute to the skillset you want. 

CREATE 

I’m not sure why, but sitting at my computer all day at home is almost more draining than it is in the office. On top of the absence of people and energy, most days leave me feeling kind of like a wilted plant in need of some serious creative juices. 

I’ve found hands-on activities to be the most therapeutic for my drain. I actually have enjoyed cooking lately (?!) and there has been a surge in my embroidery activity. For some of my friends, puzzles have been a great use of their time. Others have started making their own cleaning products, sniff, and making me oh-so-proud. 

And it’s not even necessarily about backing away from the computer, just using it differently. For someone, recording a shitty podcast to share with friends could be a great release. My designer friend uses her iPad to create some really cool art that she then sells on Etsy. The beauty of creativity is that it can be anything you want it to be—and, most important, you don’t even have to be good at it to enjoy the process. 

MOVEMENT 

I don’t count my steps on a daily basis but I don’t need to to know that my mobility is blob-like right now. Even so, during this time, I’m trying not to worry about how much I work out and instead, focusing on my intentional movement. Some days, I wake up ready to go and log a 10k easy. Other days, take yesterday for example, I’m slower and spend 40 minutes flowing with Adrienne. It doesn’t really matter what I do, it’s just doing it that changes my outlook on the day. 

Leaving the house, walking your dog, riding your bike, reiki, pilates, stretching—it’s all intentional movement. I recommend logging this movement in the AM. Especially if you’re able to go outdoors, the mornings usually mean fewer people and it’s less likely that you’ll run into conflicts or constraints during those early hours.

So—mark it on your calendar, tell your roommate to wake you up. Do what you need to do to hold yourself accountable. You may grumble all the way outdoors or to your yoga mat but I promise that once you’re there, you won’t regret it. 

Here are some of my favorite free workouts: 

Chill morning

Quick Cardio

Firey Pilaltes

For runners 

Power Flow  

Cool Yin

Sleepy Time 

CONNECTION 

Even introverts are social creatures. Yup, you heard it here first. Although I’m not struggling socially as much as my extrovert pals, there are some days when I swear I’ve spoken more to my cat more than human beings. 

The world we live in is inherently social. We work in open office spaces and live our lives in constant communication. So of course it’s a shock to the system when our physical community is taken away and suddenly we have to learn—or maybe re-learn—how to connect. 

As much as social media is helping ease the burden right now, I encourage you to do more than like your friends’ photos. Check in with people individually to see how they’re really doing, set up virtual happy hours or game nights, and send cards, if you can. These gestures, that we might normally ignore or take for granted, count for so much right now. It’s very easy to assume people are doing fine so long as they’re physically well, but with the added stress of job and financial insecurity, online courses, and shifting home environments, you’d be surprised just how many of your friends would really appreciate a touch-base. 

Another fun thing I’ve noticed people doing is trying out different social media. Tik Tok is apparently a huge thing (AM I OLD?!) and I’ve been loving watching random celebrities force their families into group dances. If it’s not going to be disruptive, maybe you create a satirical Twitter or IG, join a dating app, or start a Youtube channel. It’s never too late and the time has never been better for these means of virtual connection. 

But for as great as social media is, there is someone even the latest iPhone can’t help you get in touch with. When it comes to self-care, taking a short break from your phone and computer can be really helpful for decompressing. Either because of work obligations or boredom, my screen time has gone up significantly since the stay-at-home order began. I get panicky about missing a text from a co-worker or not being there if my parents need to call. And those are all valid concerns, but so is caring for your personal wellbeing. 

Every day, I challenge you to set aside at least an hour where your phone is in a different room than you are. Go for a run and leave it at home. Eat dinner while your phone’s on Do Not Disturb in another room. Just get away from that crack devil, even if it’s just for a little while. 

There’s no doubt about it, now is one of the strangest and most difficult periods of time many of us will ever encounter. That’s why finding simple pleasures within your day is so critical. Don’t think of these activities and routines as requirements or scold yourself for not doing all of them every day. Instead, just take a little bit of each area and find the groove that works best for you. 

6 online, low-impact stores for everyday necessities

Typically, I don’t buy much online…well clothing. But other than that, I do most of my business IRL. Take that, millennial haters! And so far, my non-digital approach has served me well. I’m lucky to live in an area where it’s easy to find local grocery stores to support and with very few exceptions, I can purchase any household, cosmetic, or everyday essential within just a few miles of my house. 

But right now, everything’s a little different. Amidst the pandemic, bulk sections at my usual grocery stores are empty. Healthy and cheap go-to’s like oatmeal are difficult, if not impossible, to find. This on top of having to stand in line for hours just to get into virtually any store. And suddenly, something that was so simple and enjoyable for me just a month ago, is now a stressful time commitment. 

For the most part, I’m still trying to get my groceries around the neighborhood. I feel some obligation because of my good health (knock on wood) and access to a car to leave online stockpiles to those who really need them. Online orders also require additional gasoline and resources to ship and the more I can avoid adding to my footprint, the better. 

But if you do need toilet paper or some things for your pantry, the good news is you can find affordable, lower-impact options online. The following brands offer more sustainable alternatives to the Amazon’s and other one-stop-shops of the world. And even after shelter-in-place orders relax, you might find them to be a great addition to your lifestyle. 

The Wally Shop ($$ – $$$) 

In an attempt to mimic the “value, selection, [and] convenience” of her then current employer Amazon, founder of The Wally Shop, Tamara, split from the herd and started her own climate-conscious venture. 

Selling a range of bulk goods—olive oil to chocolate chips—in returnable and reusable containers, The Wally Shop is blazing trails where few digital businesses have ever been before. The site offers different size jars, letting you buy just what you need, and tells you the ideal number of products you’d have to buy in order for the carbon footprint of shipping to be worthwhile. At checkout, buyers pay a jar deposit that they’ll get back once their containers are returned as well as a flat rate for back-and-forth shipping. When your jars are empty, just send them back and you’re ready to start the process over again. Super simple & sustainable. 

Public Goods ($ – $$)

A smaller and more niche version of Costco, Public Goods is a members-only, semi-sustainable online grocery store. Membership is $59 annually (or about $4 a month) but you can try their products for free through their two week trial.  

In terms of quality, I think of Public Goods like a Trader Joes. Most of their products are unfortunately wrapped or packaged in plastic but, from what I can tell, the contents are more planet-friendly and/or healthy for your body. Their toilet paper, for example, is wrapped in plastic. But the paper itself is made from sugar cane and bamboo—bamboo being one of the more environmentally-friendly paper products out there. So it’s a trade-off. They also offer a lot of refillables which, if used properly, can reduce, but not eliminate, your plastic consumption. 

Overall, Public Goods scores lower for sustainability but offers really great value and access. If you are trying to limit your plastic use, I’d recommend sticking to their designated ‘zero waste’ section, glass or canned goods, vitamins, and avoid their travel & smaller sized cosmetic products. 

Package Free Store ($$ – $$$) 

Need a fresh shampoo bar, biodegradable dog poop bag, or reusable food storage pouch? The Package Free Store has it all. While their prices definitely fall on the higher side, Package Free has an incredible selection of sustainable products that are helpful in and out of quarantine. Keep in mind that the higher cost of eco-friendly products typically accounts for their longer lifespan and body-safe ingredients. But if that’s not enough justification, you can always try finding products of interest on other sites for a better deal. 

Package Free does offer a subscription program which will save you 10% on every order and prevent future oh-shit-I-ran-out-of-biodegradable-toilet-paper moments. 

Zero Waste Store ($$ – $$$) 

I owe my friend Mikayla for this one! (Hi, if you’re reading!) Like Package Free Shop, I trust the Zero Waste Store implicitly. They carry some of the best sustainable brands and offer a surprising number of smaller and more difficult to find names as well.

The Store offers shampoo and conditioner bars, candles, makeup, kitchen supplies, and more, all with minimal to no packaging. It’s also a woman-owned business and has a great blog if you’re looking for some reading material.

Sustain Naturals ($ – $$)

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I heard Tinder’s not doing great with the whole social distancing thing. But that doesn’t mean the world has stopped having sex altogether. Like always, staying safe and comfortable is of the utmost importance. That’s where Sustain comes in.

Sustain, which in the past year was acquired by the subscription-based site, Grove Collaborative, was founded with the intention of destigmatizing intimate health. In addition to organic cotton tampons and pads, Sustain also makes fair trade latex condoms, water-based lube, and even a menstrual cup. Their products aren’t as affordable as K-Y or Trojan but they contain far less compromising materials. So they’re good for you, and better for the planet. 

Plain Products ($$ – $$$) 

Once I run through the shampoo and conditioner bars I’ve been meaning to try, Plain Products will be my next stop. As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve been skeptical of how a solid bar of product will interact with my hair. But, at the same time, I’m tired of big plastic bottles and long, chemical-packed ingredients lists. 

That’s why Plain is super cool. For $30—$27 with an ongoing subscription—you can get 16oz of liquid conditioner or shampoo. The product comes in metal bottles that you use and then send back to be refilled. No plastic. No waste. Plain has a range of body products, including lotions, body oils, face wash, and toner, all of which follow their low-impact system. 

If you’re looking to cut back on plastic within your beauty routine and can swing the higher price, Plain is a really good option. As someone who washes their hair 2-3 times a week, I can go four to five months on 16oz of product. That’s just cents per wash! 

sustainability style: my 2020 glowup

I’ve been making the transition to a low-impact lifestyle for a little over a year now. I say “transition” because so much of this process is about me forming and settling into new habits, none of which happens overnight. It’s all a work in progress and no matter what, there always seems to be some room for improvement. 

Taking into account the past year’s downfalls and successes, here are six ways I’m reevaluating my lifestyle & consumer decisions to make an even greater impact in 2020: 

No more stockpiling

The daughter of a chronically overprepared woman, I was born into a world where there was always a reserve of household supplies. Lotion, toilet paper, the same shirts in black, white and red. There was never a shortage of anything—sometimes to a fault. 

As I got older and began to pick up my own buying habits, I kept up with stockpiling. From white blouses to the perfect mascara, I was obsessed with having more than enough of everything. Unfortunately, this too often meant loading up on something I’d just end up donating or throwing out because it was no longer cool, necessary, or had passed its expiration date. Wasted money. Wasted space. Wasted resources. 

I still love being prepared—I keep a lip balm in every one of my bags for christ’s sake. But this year, I’m trying not to cross the line into over-preparation…toilet paper being the only exception. 

No fast fashion. No exceptions.  

I’m normally really good at dodging unethical brands. But, admittedly, I did make a few exceptions while traveling abroad in 2019. Figuring in the reduced shipping distance (most of Spain’s Zara garments are made in Morocco and Turkey) and timeless design, I ended up bringing back a Zara belt, jacket, dress, and shearling coat on two separate occasions. Have I worn the items? Yes, absolutely. But, let’s be honest—I know better.

Although they’re not coming from China or another country notorious for poor working conditions, there’s no way those garments were made by healthy, well-compensated Turks or Moroccans. Zara uses the same production model across its factories and buying from any store is supporting unethical practices. 

In trying to reevaluate why and where I shop in 2020, I’m cutting ties with all fast fashion brands and instead, exclusively buying from second-hand shops and ethical labels. The ‘no exceptions’ thing is going to be tough. But if I can’t say no to a piece of clothing, knowing all I do about its negative impacts and even though most of the time I can afford to find an alternative, well, let’s just say I’m not loving what that’s saying about me.  

Cutting back 

In tandem with my oath to not shop fast fashion, I’ll also be cutting back on how much I buy. My goal is to limit shopping to one or two indulgent/non-necessity (new or used) per month. This could be clothing, housewares, technology—anything I could really live without but want nonetheless. I’m hoping this change will help me to stick closely to my monthly shopping budget and consistently force me to take into account what I already own. 

No more guilty gifting

When it comes to gifting, there’s enormous pressure to buy, buy, buy. I’ve had so many experiences, both on the gifting and receiving side, where quality has been sacrificed for quantity. For my birthday this year, one of my friends didn’t know what I needed or wanted. Instead of guessing, she got me a gift card to a zero-waste store. It was perfect. I got exactly what I wanted and didn’t have any extra stuff I didn’t need lying around after. 

Whether it’s weddings, birthdays, or baby showers, I’m choosing to no longer give in to the social pressures and instead get people fewer, better quality items and/or experiences. 

Bye, bye subscription boxes 

Causebox, it’s been fun. I’ve loved trying all the new products and reading about the different brands. But after regifting up to half of each box, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just not worth it. The thing about subscription boxes is that they let you try products you wouldn’t otherwise try…which probably means you didn’t need them in the first place. I love putting on a new lotion as much as the next girl, but by making my own beauty items or buying locally, I discover new brands without using or spending more than I really need to. 

Slowing down 

Instant message. Fast food. Our culture grooms us to expect everything now, right now. The problem is, the more we speed, the less time we have to really think about what we’re doing and, more importantly, why. Just last week, I found myself on a RayBan bender. I flew through Poshmark for hours, looking for THE PERFECT PAIR. In the past (reads: even a month ago), I would have closed the deal then and there just to satisfy the hungry consumer in my head. But I just couldn’t justify it. I have perfectly fine sunglasses. I could hate the way the style looked on me and not be able to send them back. Was I feeding into brandom? Bottom line—there were just too many cons and not nearly enough pros. 

Instant gratification feels great in the moment. It’s a buzz…until it’s not. The limelight of new items seems to fade for me after just a few uses. So rather than jump at the first fish I see, this year, I’m making a concerted effort to stop. Think. Then buy. This new mindset allows time to try to find an item used or of even better quality before ever reaching for my credit card.

5 easy tips for more sustainable grocery shopping

So at this point, everyone knows BYOB—that’s, Bring-Your-Own-Bag. But what other simple steps can you take at the grocery store to reduce plastic and unnecessary waste? Let’s take a look. 

Anything but plastic 

Aluminum cans, glass jars, paper—literally anything is better than plastic. Because of the current recycling crisis, an overwhelming amount of America’s recyclables are now piling up in warehouses or being sent directly to landfill. That means even if you recycle with good intentions, at least a portion of those items may sadly end up in the dump. 

Now, I want to be clear—waste is waste. An aluminum can ending up in the garbage is just as bad as any other material. But what distinguishes plastic from other materials in landfills is what follows its disposal. Unlike plastic, aluminum and glass do not leach microplastics as they degrade, therefore posing less risk to our environmental wellbeing. Even better, these alternative materials are great for reuse and repurposing. A glass tomato sauce jar can easily become a to-go iced coffee mug and soda cans can double as retro flower vases. 

Not-so-valuable value packs 

Buying produce in plastic wrapped ‘value packs’ is an easy habit to justify. It’s usually cheaper than buying single fruits or vegetables, feeds far more people, and for those of us without easy access to transportation, it’s simpler to carry a large, plastic bag of potatoes than it is to try and wrangle ten individual ones. 

But what many people don’t realize in buying this way is that bulk doesn’t always mean getting a better deal. For example, let’s say you buy a bag of 7 red peppers. Yum, right? Well, yeah, for the first week. But unless you’re obsessed with peppers, you and your household probably only eating one or two per week. The remaining peppers are in a rush against the clock. Knowing this, it’s not surprising that North America has the highest rate of food waste in the world, hitting anywhere between 30-40%

Before buying value produce, it’s important to consider what you can realistically consume. Knowing that most fruits and veggies start to go bad after a week or so, try to plan out meals prior to hitting the grocery store. If you and your partner aren’t big salad people or on a mighty juice cleanse, buying an enormous box of baby kale probably isn’t the right option for you. In the end, you’d likely spend around $6-8 and only consume half that value, when you could have spent less than that on a fresh, unpackaged head of kale. It may take some time to get in the habit but a simple cost-benefit analysis can really help you figure out what your most sustainable food options are.

Bulk up

In most produce departments, there’s a small section dedicated to dried fruit and nuts. While part of me is like, yay, healthy snacks, the other part of me is like, no way that’s sustainable. First off, dried fruit and nuts are expensive. Unlike bulk options, where you pay by weight, prepackaged bags give companies a heavier hand in dictating costs. So maybe you think you’re getting a $10 trail mix pack, but what you may not realize is that you’re actually paying a premium. Companies find sneaky ways, like using cheaper nuts and candy, to supplement more expensive ingredients and make you think you’re paying for a better quality product than you are. 

Fortunately, shops like Whole Foods and Wegmans offer a variety of bulk options, including organic and non-organic nuts and dried fruit. Bring your own produce bag and you can choose the exact amount you want to buy and pay. If you haven’t tried something before, bulk bins let you get a taste before purchasing to prevent wasted money and food. 

Boycott the bad guys

On top of avoiding products made by big corporations (i.e. Unilever, P&G, etc.), you can also look out for problematic ingredients like: 

Palm Oil:

Found in things like chocolate, peanut butter, and shampoo, palm oil use is widespread—and so are its consequences. Its demand has led to unsustainable growth practices that threaten biodiversity and endangered species. Thanks to the clearing of land used to grow palms, nearly “558 million metric tons of CO2,” have been released into the atmosphere. 

Almond Milk

One of the double-edged swords to come from the vegan/plant-based movements is the popularity of almond milk. While it’s healthy and doesn’t rely on heavily-polluting animal agriculture, it takes nearly “100 liters of water to produce 100 ml of almond milk“. And with the vast majority of almonds coming from dry and water-depleted California, almond milk is putting a lot of unnecessary strain on precious resources and environments. 

Soy

Like palm oil, soybeans, used in insulation, a range of food products, and animal feed, require huge plantations in order to keep up with current demand. Much of the land being cleared for production has come at the cost of invaluable rainforests in Brazil and has overtaken land populated by native species.

Say no to singles 

It’s very tempting to buy products in smaller packages—trust me, I work in advertising. Like many people, I’m a sucker for little jars of yogurt and those tiny bins of Vaseline. But when you can resist, do. There are times when buying just a single portion of something helps prevent food waste. But when it comes to buying a lot of individually wrapped items instead of one larger portion, you actually end up using more packaging and plastic per serving—not to mention overpaying along the way. 

sustainable holiday shopping guide—boston edition

So you waited until the very last minute to buy gifts. And I can’t say I blame you—between the impeachment trials and mercury finally getting the fuck out of retrograde, there’s been a lot going on. Unfortunately, that excuse won’t fly when your dear mother, who birthed you, realizes you’ve brought her nothing home for the holidays. 

In this kind of situation, solutions can come one of a few ways. The first is online shopping, with all the thrills of very expensive expedited shipping that still may or may not get to you on time. The second is a commercial shopping rampage…oh, except holiday shopping started weeks ago and sizes/style are few and far between.

But wait, hold on, there’s still one more way out. Buying local.

With far more curated inventory and closer proximity to their customers, small businesses are the perfect place to begin your holiday gifting. To start, quality at these stores tends to be higher than what you’d find at any commercial retailer. That means you may end up paying more per item but you’re more likely to find a gift that will be loved and lasting. As for available inventory, independent shops tend to have close relationships with their merchants/manufacturers and may be able to hook you up with out-of-stock merch or have good ideas for substitutions.

To get you shopping in the right direction, here are a few of my favorite Boston-area shops that will help you score before time runs out. 

For the Best Dressers: 

Covet Consignment Store 

391 W Broadway, Boston, MA 02127 | 109 Charles St, Boston, MA 02114 | @covetboston

Great for: Luxury (Louis Vuitton, Prada, Chanel) and mid-scale (Zara, Free People, Madewell) labels and products including handbags, shoes, sportswear & sunglasses

Reformation Sustainable fashion 

353 Newbury St, Boston, MA 02115 | @reformation

Great for: Last-a-lifetime pieces in a wide range of styles & inclusive sizes

For the Aspiring Minimalists

Boston General Store Sustainable & Low Waste Products 

305 Harvard Street Brookline, MA 02446 | 626 High Street Dedham, MA 02026 | @bostongeneralstore

Great for: Sustainable supplies for home & on-the-go (dishware, natural beauty, refillable soaps, personal grooming) & quality leather goods, like hats & bags 

For the Health Kickers  

Cambridge Naturals Natural Products & Food  

23 White Street Cambridge MA 02140 | 92 Guest Street Boston MA 02135 | @cambridgenaturals 

Great for: Natural beauty, grooming, vitamins & supplements, bulk teas, and spa tools 

For the Athletic Types 

Heartbreak Runners Running Gear

652 Tremont St Boston, MA 02118 | 638 Commonwealth Ave Newton, MA 02459 | 294 Massachusets Ave Cambridge, MA 02139 | @heartbreakrunco

Great for: Fit gear, sneakers, specialized fitness classes & marathon preparation 

Tracksmith Luxury Sportswear

285 Newbury Street Boston, MA 02115 | @tracksmithrunning

Great for: High-end sportswear & athletic accessories

For the Plant Mamas & Papas  

Niche Plant Boutique 

286 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139 | 619 Tremont St, Boston, MA 02118 | @nicheplantshop

Great for: Fun variety of house plants & in-house plant experts 

For Big & Little Readers 

Brookline Booksmith New/Used Bookstore

279 Harvard St, Brookline, MA 02446 | @brooklinebooksmith

Great for: Books, coffee table books, notebooks & quirky gifts 

For the Person Who Has Everything 

Abroad Modern Authentic Indian Gifts

260 Concord Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138 | @abroadmodern

Great for: Internationally sourced gifts & kitchenware

Black Ink Card & Stationery Store

5 Brattle St, Cambridge, MA 02138 | 101 Charles St, Boston, MA 02114

Great for: Games, puzzles, hand-made greeting cards, feminist swag & cute totes

Something for everybody

Bow Market Mixed Vendors

1 Bow Market Way, Somerville, MA 02143 | @bow.market 

Great for: Vintage, Boston maps, jewelry, plants & accessories & locally made art

SOWA “Farmers” Market

460 Harrison Ave, Boston, MA 02118 | @sowaboston

Great for: Vintage & antique finds, handmade cosmetics, jewelry, and local grub

how to cultivate gratitude

As we leave fall and officially migrate into the winter months, normal life begins to shift back into place. And for many of us, that’s a good thing. If you’re anything like me, you need some level of routine to feel mentally and physically well. But that doesn’t always make the transition any easier. Even though routine may be good for eating family meals or going to the gym regularly, it can be in conflict with the more intuitive sides of ourselves.

After summer vacations, weekends spent by the water, endless hours of sunshine, and brightly colored produce disappear, I recently found myself unwillingly face-to-face with the regular. Wake up. Workout. Coffee. Work. Home. Zzzz. Repeat. Feeling restricted, I began to overpack my schedule with dinner’s out, exercise classes, shopping, and travel. That worked for a time…until after an entire month of weekends away, it occured to me that I was completely burned out and wanted to hide under a rock for six months.

Wait…what? How was this possible? After all, I was doing everything. How could I possibly be anything but ecstatic? And then it hit me. On top of some basic time-management skills, what I really was craving was Gratitude.

It’s such a hard thing, gratitude. When you live in a world that operates at the speed of light and urges you to go with it, it’s hard to carve out space to fully appreciate where you are right now. It’s something I’ve been working on over the past year and in the process discovered a few great tools for fostering a little more goodness in the midst of the daily grind.

While I hated journaling at first, after filling about seven notebooks with my most genuine and disorganized thoughts, it’s really come to grow on me. Sometimes I journal when I wake up. Other times its before bed. To me, it doesn’t really matter when I do it as long as the deed is done. Depending on my time or mood, I’ll write for a few pages, recording my very raw stream of consciousness.

At the urging of my shrink, I’ve also added a section at the end where I write down a few things I’m grateful for at that moment. Sometimes the list is simple and non-prolific—yoga, my cat, hot coffee—while other times it’s an opportunity for impactful change. Regardless of what ends up on the page, I’ve found sitting down and actually documenting my gratitude helps me be more at ease and present in the moment.

But there are times when writing something down just isn’t enough. Growing up in a household where phrases like, ‘Thank you’ and ‘I love you’ were used very liberally, it shocked me that that wasn’t the reality for everyone. Learning how to outwardly express your gratitude to friends, SOs, and family can sometimes be one of the most challenging aspects of a relationship. And one of the most rewarding.

For a writing-inclined human, like myself, I love sending out-of-blue appreciation texts to let people know they’re on my mind. But some of the people in my life prefer showing they care through group activities or physical contact. And all of this is totally fine by me. Because everyone’s love languages vary, it’s really not about how you tell others you’re grateful but rather just finding your own way to express those feelings.

So we’ve gone over the more external things you can do to express gratitude, but what about the internal? Like oxygen masks on a plane, gratitude is something we need to foster within ourselves before I can even think about extending it to others.

One of the biggest barriers to gratitude is negative thought. These ideas can be brought on my insecurities, challenges at work, and other mood-altering events. Negative thoughts can zoom in faster than storm clouds and flip a perfectly good day on its head.

When I sense a storm coming on, I use both mantra-based meditation and apps like Headspace to break the turbulence. Mantras help me reaffirm aspects of myself while guided meditations lead me out of my stream of thought and into a more reflective space. My favorite mantra is, “Nothing is perfect. Everything is okay.” When I’m in a head mess, this saying reminds me that perfection is unattainable and that most of the time, I really am doing the best I can. With a clear head, I can finally begin to separate feelings from reality and circle back to gratitude.

Thinking back to the fast-paced consumer culture we live in, it’s easy to see why some people understand gratitude in terms of what one has, like a nice house, disposable income, and so on. Yet ironically enough, the times I feel most in need of gratitude are the moments when I have the most. After receiving a few parcels in the mail or gifts during the holidays, I feel overwhelmed and frankly a little unfulfilled. Why? Because beyond food, water, shelter, sex, and love, there’s nothing we actually need. Everything else is just an add-on. They don’t always feel that way because the world is so geared towards a culture of more and better, and pretty, shiny things are distracting. But that’s the reality.

Sure, the minimalist lifestyle isn’t an option for everyone. But learning to pause and be mindful while handling a credit card is one way to minimize this excessive buildup of stuff. Another is to take into account the items you already have. Which do you use regularly? Which ones rarely see the light of day? Whether it’s appliances in your kitchen or clothes in your closet, be honest with yourself and eventually, you’ll be more comfortable separating from those possessions.

Gratitude is a beautiful emotion. It’s not the easiest thing to feel, particularly during difficult or emotional times. Yet the more we learn to appreciate what we already have instead of seeking things to be grateful for, the more content we can become with where we are, what we’re doing, and where we’re going.