Hey guys! Michelle here, manager of our Dedham location. If you've been following along with us on social media, you know that for the month of February I took part in a Zero Waste Challenge. For anyone unfamiliar with the concept, the challenge involves creating as little waste as possible with the goal of ZERO. Seems crazy, right? Well, I'm here to tell you from experience, it's not as hard as you would think. And not having to lug a huge bag of trash out every week is oddly satisfying.
A Brief History..
You may have noticed that lately we've been stepping up our game in the department of sustainability. In case you're wondering why we're so focused on this idea of zero waste living, knowing the history of Boston General Store might help. Boston General Store was created as a tribute to our founder’s grandmother, who had a passion for all things well-made and a dedication to using and reusing things as long as humanly possible. We were founded on the principle that not everything has to be disposable and that high quality goods built to last a lifetime still exist. In the spirit of Nanna, the shop aims to get away from our current culture of convenience and instead live more like past generations with a focus on sustainability. Hence, our passion for all this zero-waste stuff.
So, as a way to put this principle to practice and to test out some new products from our Zero Waste Home collection, I committed to a month a of a package-free lifestyle, and man was it eye opening. I've always thought of myself as a pretty "eco-friendly" person, but the challenge made me realize how much trash I actually produce on a daily basis without even knowing it. As a way to measure my waste production for the month and to hold myself accountable, I kept all my trash in a little 6 oz jar.
Zero Waste Essentials..
Living zero waste usually includes these goals: refuse what you don’t need, reduce what you do need, reuse what you can, and as a last resort, recycle what you can’t refuse, reduce, or reuse. While going zero waste requires you to reduce possessions, there were a number of items I invested in up front that were total game changers and ended up saving me tons of waste and money in the long run.
First up on that list: bulk bags. Prior to the challenge, I brought my own grocery bags to the store, but I still felt like most of my waste came from actual food packaging. I was convinced that making the change to package free groceries was going to be the hardest part of going zero waste, but it actually became one of the easiest. I started buying only loose produce and filling bulk bags with nuts and grains. It caused me to eat healthier, and because I could choose my own quantities, I ended up creating less food waste and saving money as well.
Another game changer was plastic-free food storage containers. These were essential for storing food at home, toting lunch to work, and even using at the grocery store. I started bringing one to the meat/fish counter to avoid disposable packaging—and yes, I got some weird looks when I handed the butcher my container, but they got used to it. Some even seemed happy to forgo the waste.
I did run into some road blocks while grocery shopping when it came to things like procuring package-free almond/oat milk, but then I started making my own using a nut milk bag. I never realized how easy this stuff was! Plus, theres something about making your own food from scratch that causes you appreciate the work that went into it (I swear it makes it taste better..)
Another super simple but hugely impactful swap I made was from standard paper towels to reusable paper towels. In the past, I used disposable paper towels liberally, ripped off way too big of a piece, sopped up a mess, and tossed it in the trash after just one use. Sure, using reusable cloth towels takes a bit more effort—you have to do laundry a little more often but it’s totally worth it. Do you know how much money I saved from not having to buy endless rolls of paper towels?! (I don’t know either. But it’s a lot trust me).
Going zero waste also required me to make some changes to my self care routine that were seriously life changing. First, I started using a refillable razor and It. Is. Amazing. For some reason, I've always thought of this as a men's product, but really anyone can use one. (Plus, we just added a new refillable safety razor to the shop that's designed with a flexible head and it's perfect for shavin' those legs, ladies). This was something that had a higher cost up front but I'll end up saving tons of money in the long run with all those plastic disposable razors I'll never have to buy again. I also swapped out disposable cotton balls for reusable facial rounds, and ditched my plastic-container deodorant for magnesium deodorantpackaged in stainless steel.
Basically, going zero waste required me to invest in fewer, but better things—things that can be used over and over again, avoiding the cyclical pattern of single use disposability.
Challenges of Living Zero Waste..
Now don’t get me wrong, while these tools helped make the package free transition easier, the month of zero waste wasn’t a total breeze. I ran into some frustrating challenges along the way. For example, finding certain package free foods, like eggs, was a struggle. Sure, loose eggs are easy to find at farmers markets but farmers markets are hard to come by in the winter. Also, can someone explain why every grocery store on planet earth wraps their cauliflower in cellophane?! And full disclosure, I broke down one day and got takeout sushi in a plastic container, because sometimes you just really need sushi. Needless to say, I was by no means perfect.
I also had trouble finding things like bulk cleaning supplies. I tried making my own, but I ended up having to buy ingredients that had plastic packaging, and the whole thing just wasn’t very time efficient. Plastic free shampoo and conditioner options that worked well with my hair were difficult to find too. In some cases, I felt that forgoing packaging meant sacrificing quality, which shouldn't be the case.
Moving forward, BGS has decided to pick up the slack in some of the areas that we've learned are lacking in the zero waste community. Over the last month, we've been busy adding new products like compostable bandages, stasher bags, and.. wait for it...bulk refill stations for cleaning supplies! Now you can grab one of our refillable glass bottles (or bring your own), and fill it with all purpose cleaner or dish soap (laundry detergent and hand soap coming soon). On it's way, we also have four different kinds of package free shampoo and conditioner bars that are compatible with different hair types.
Since completing a month of zero waste, people keep asking if I’m actually going to stick with the changes I’ve made, and the answer is honestly, yes. While I don’t think it’s realistic for me to be as strict as I was during the challenge (and I definitely won't be carrying around a little trash jar), I'm going to try my best to continue living a low-waste life. I've realized that it doesn't take very long to adopt new habits and most of my zero waste routines have stuck around even though the challenge has technically ended. I’m still doing (mostly) package free grocery shopping, and my self care routine has stayed pretty plastic free too. The lifestyle changes I’ve made haven’t become burdensome at all—it's quite the opposite actually. There’s something so liberating about living waste free and I’ve actually grown to really enjoy it.
If you're looking to reduce your waste, know that it's a totally attainable goal—and over here at Boston General Store we're doing our best to make the transition to a zero waste lifestyle as easy as possible. Check out our website or come visit one of our two locations for plenty of sustainable resources!