15 Ways to be Zero Waste Even if you Don’t Have a Bulk Store

One of the main things I hear from readers is, "I can't be zero waste because I don't have a bulk store (or I have severely limited bulk options) near me." 

15 Ways to be Zero Waste Even if you Don’t Have a Bulk Store from www.goingzerowaste.com

Depending on where you live, it can be really frustrating having to buy your groceries in plastic and/or packaging when you're trying to avoid it. Do not despair!

Zero waste is not all or nothing. It does not hinge on perfection. It hinges on everyone giving it their best! Do what you can, where you can, in your circumstances. Everyone can join this zero waste party! 

related: Can you be Zero Waste Without Bulk Options? 

My upcoming project is al about being zero waste at regular grocery stores. I am working with four other awesome bloggers in different regions of the US to highlight regional store chains.

here’s the lineup:

I am so excited about this challenge and cannot wait to share it with you. We’re going to be doing a different grocery store each month. Sign up for my email list to be notified when the first round of stores goes live!

While you’re waiting for that mega resource, here are 15 zero waste things you can do!

get started: 

1. reusable water bottle:

Don’t leave the house without a full reusable water bottle. If you don’t like the way your tap water tastes, check out this awesome plastic free way of filtering it.

2. reusable bag:

Ditch those plastic and paper bags for a reusable one! Plastic is bad news, we already know that. But, paper bags are still very resource intensive.

It takes 3.8 liters of water to produce one paper bag! The best solution is to bring your own. While you’re at it, why not throw in some reusable produce bags too!

3. to-go cup:

Do you occasionally indulge in a coffee out? Why not bring your own to-go mug? If you’re sitting in, ask for a mug. Even Starbucks has real coffee cups for those dining in.

4. cloth napkins:

Keep it simple or go big and bold with a fun pattern. I love my cloth napkins. I have a multitude of colors because I like to keep it fun and coordinate for certain events and holidays. Zero waste doesn’t have to be boring! 

5. dishes:

Keep it real! Whether it be dinner, lunch, or breakfast make a habit of using real plates and cutlery. 

6. don’t waste food:

This is huge! Americans throw out 40% of the food they buy. Make sure you’re storing it properly and you have a plan when going into the store. Meal planning does not have to be complicated. Get my tips for making a five-minute meal plan to avoid food waste!

7. compost:

Composting is so important! Organics cannot break down in a landfill. They release methane which is 20x more powerful than your average green house gas.

If you live in an apartment without access to a backyard, see if there’s a local garden club or community garden that would be willing to take your food scraps.

Find out more about backyard composting here.

8. rethink your commute:

Guess who grew up where the closest store was a gas station 4 miles away? *this girl*

Vehicles are a part of our lives and most of our morning commutes. I consider myself to be moderate in pretty much every aspect of life. (Except for musical theatre. The only way to be is extreme.)

I don’t believe vehicles are inherently bad. They serve a very important purpose especially for those of us who live spread out. I.e 90% of the South.

For many, giving up the car is not possible. Instead, rethink things a little. Can you carpool? Can you grab any public transit? Can you consolidate all of your across town errands into one trip? Can you make trips less frequently?

9. ditch takeout packaging: 

Did you think I was going to say, ditch takeout!? Never. Never, ever, ever. I love takeout. I get takeout all the time without the nasty packaging.

Once you ditch the packaging, you’ll hate going back to stinky, messy, disposable takeout boxes all over the house and in the bin. They take up so much space. 

If you want to get takeout zero waste style, check out this post

10. eat more whole foods:

Even if you don’t have a bulk section, ditching processed foods is an excellent way of reducing packaging waste.

Opt for more fresh fruits and vegetables. Reduce your meat intake, keep the meals filling by adding in legumes. Stock up on dry goods in that still come in paper and cardboard.

Or act like the bulk stores and buy big bags of rice and beans. Get my 15 tips for saving money on real food here. And, get tips for grocery shopping when you don’t have a bulk store here.

11. shake up your bathroom:

I just wrote a great post on this all about 15 swaps for a zero waste bathroom. Try your hand at a DIY or keep it simple by sending your bathroom product packaging back to TerraCycle.

12. look local:

I live in a pretty small town. Yes, I’m in the bay area so I do have access to all things package free like Rainbow Grocery, Berkeley Bowl, Green 11 etc.

But, these are all day trips. I can't just pop by. However, my downtown has some unique shops. Like a random bulk tea store and a tortilleria. One little café makes kombucha and keeps it on tap. You can fill up your own wine bottle!

Little shops like these exist in almost every little town. Your town probably has something cool, and it most likely doesn’t have a web presence... or they have a very poor web presence.

The best way to discover these places is by foot in my experience. Get out there and explore your town! You never know what neat treasure you might stumble upon.

13. go second hand:

Always check the local second hand market first. Do you have a thrift store you can pop by?

Maybe you find their offerings to be lackluster. Thankfully there are a slew of online second-hand markets. Craigslist, eBay, Thread Up, Poshmark, etc. These sites typically require shipping. Get my zero waste shipping tips in this post.

14. shake up your kitchen:

Just because you can’t buy ALL your food without a package doesn’t mean you can swap out single-use items in this room.

If you only use it once and toss it, even if it’s recyclable, look for an alternative.

Remember, zero waste is more about the use of resources and less about the landfill. Any item, even a recyclable one takes a lot of resources to produce.

It’s always better to find something to reuse. I’ll be coming out with a guide for kitchen swaps soon! But, if you have any specific questions, I’ll answer it in the comment section and check out my kitchen tab

15. raise awareness:

We live in a consumer society and often forget that the consumer has the power.

If you don’t like that everything is packaged in plastic, request a change. I can promise you, you’re not alone. But, someone has to get the ball rolling. Maybe you’re that person?

The internet has provided us with a great tool to interact with those around us that share like-minded values. If you feel you’re under represented, make your voice heard. Start a facebook page. Hell, start a blog! (Let me know if you’d be interested in knowing more about blogging and I can write a post on that as well.) Go to city council meetings. Talk to your local government. Just start talking about the problems and the solutions.

We can all work together as a team to bring some serious change. :)


My Top 5 Zero Waste Shower Essentials

This post was sponsored by Plaine Products. I received these items to try for free. All thoughts and opinions are my own. This post may also contain affiliate linking. Please see my full disclosure for more information.

My top five zero waste shower essentials from www.goingzerowaste.com

Going zero waste has definitely altered my shower routine from the products I use to how frequently I actually shower.

Americans shower WAY too much. Most Americans shower 1-2 times a day, but I know people who shower 3. It’s all just a little excessive. It wastes water but most importantly it’s flat out bad for your skin.

The body keeps itself moisturized with a layer of dead skin held together by lipids (fatty compounds). It protects the healthy layers underneath, and the more you shower the more you scrub that layer away.  

My top five zero waste shower essentials from www.goingzerowaste.com

Your body can’t keep up. In fact, it can lead to an overproduction of oil. (Further reading) It makes sense right? The more you strip your body of its natural oils, the more it will over produce to compensate.

Many commercial shampoos and soaps work similarly. They make you dependent on their products because they strip all of your natural oils away. This causes your body to overproduce, requiring you to buy more and more of their products.

I stopped using conventional shampoos when I started going zero waste two years ago. I have tried many different hair care methods. I think hair is one of the most challenging aspects of zero waste living since everyone’s body chemistry is so different.

My top five zero waste shower essentials from www.goingzerowaste.com

Hair care is one of the biggest laments I hear from readers, and it has inspired me to try and find the best zero waste hair solutions for everyone. Plaine Products has been kind enough to send me liquid shampoo, conditioner, and body wash to review.

If you're one of the readers who have complained about not liking shampoo bars, this is the product for you. They have landed the #1 spot on my zero waste shower essential list. 

my top 5 zero waste shower essentials:

1. plaine products:

This is one of the most well thought out product designs I've ever seen. I don't know about you, but I’m nervous about keeping glass in my shower. These products are packaged in aluminum. 

Aluminum is a self-sustaining metal. It's 100% recyclable just like glass, but it has a better carbon footprint for shipping because it's lighter than glass. Plus, it won’t shatter if it's dropped whether that be in shipping or in the shower.

They offer a refill service. When you run out of your products and order a refill you just switch the pump over to the new bottle and send the old bottles back. They'll sanitize the bottles, refill them, and send the to their new home.

If you’ve lamented over the shampoo bar – you need to check out their liquid shampoo and conditioner.

Plaine products have the ease of commercial products without the guilt and yucky additives - no SLS, vegan, and biodegradable. I used to use Aussie and this competes. My hair is light, healthy, and has lots of volume. You can check out their list of ingredients here

My top five zero waste shower essentials from www.goingzerowaste.com

I honestly cannot rave about them enough. I trusted them 100% with my hair for the wedding. Probably the most photographed day I will ever experience. With all natural soaps, I find them to be a little bit thinner so I have to use a little more product than I normally would. But, I'm washing my hair way less (on average every 3-4 days), so I'm still saving SO much product in the long run.

2. scrub brush:

In my old shower, I used to have one of those plastic netted loofahs. I always thought they worked well, but they have a pretty fast expiration date.

Loofahs of any sort can trap dead skin cells which can be a breeding ground for bacteria. It's recommended to throw out your loofah every 2-3 months. I can honestly say, I never did that. In fact, I'm a little shocked that it's recommended to replace them that often. 

Once my loofah came to the end of its life, I didn't replace it. I read somewhere that between the hot water, the soap, and an agitator, like a loofah, you can over exfoliate. Back to breaking down that layer of dead skin cells too much. 

My top five zero waste shower essentials from www.goingzerowaste.com

I tried going without and using just my hands to lather, but it wasn't working out very well for me. The water here is hard and it's messed with my skin texture. I started breaking out on my back which I've never done before. 

I decided to get a bamboo scrub brush to see if the extra exfoliation would do the trick and it has! 

I honestly cannot imagine my shower without a good scrub brush. 

related: Benefits of Aromatic Showers with Eucalyptus

3. safety razor: 

Safety razors might seem like one of the scariest zero waste swaps. It can be intimidating holding something that could easily slice your skin. I don't consider myself to be overly clumsy, but I have never cut myself while shaving. 

Full disclosure, I have dropped the razor and taken some skin off. But, I have never cut myself shaving! It really is almost the exact same as using a disposable razor. 

I have a full post on how to use a safety razor here. What that post doesn't cover is how to recycle the blades. 

My top five zero waste shower essentials from www.goingzerowaste.com

You CANNOT put razor blades in the regular recycling bin. You have to take the blades to a special recycling facility where a machine sorts metal and it's not done by human hands. 

If you're in Northern California, I got to the Concord Recycling Center. You'll want to get a steel can that has broth only. Cut a slot in the top of the can and pour the soup out. Rinse with water and tap dry. 

Obviously, there's no way of completely guaranteeing it to be dry, but that's alright. Drop you used blades into the slot. Once it's full put a piece of tape over the slot and take it to your nearest metal recycling facility. 

4. water pik:

I just wrote a whole post about my oral hygiene routine here. I love this water pik because I can use it in the shower! This is so convenient. I don't have to worry about getting water everywhere, which I most definitely do when I'm using it by the sink. 

My top five zero waste shower essentials from www.goingzerowaste.com

I am lazy - a lazy, lazy woman. Water piking in the shower is probably the only way I would do it. 

5. a bucket: 

This is a great way to catch excess water in your shower! You can use it to water your plants or flush your toilet.

Another great thing about the rockin' ingredient list on Plaine Products is that it's biodegradable.

My top five zero waste shower essentials from www.goingzerowaste.com

It's completely safe to use the gray water to water your plants and take it outside. Filling up a bucket is also a good visual tool. 

If you're someone who tends to spend too long in the shower, gauging the fullness of the bucket is a wonderful indicator that the clock is ticking. Just be careful not to trip on the bucket if it's under your feet. I wouldn't know anything about that... 


I truly couldn't imagine a shower with these five items. Everything is streamlined, simple, and effective. 

If baths are more your thing make sure to check out my recipe for bath salts. What are some of the items you couldn't imagine showering without? 

Zero Waste Wedding Part 1

I have been on a bit of a blogging hiatus. I took an extended three-week break. It's been odd being away from writing. I haven't taken more than half a week off before.   

Zero waste wedding part one the backyard bbq/reception, find out how we kept this 50 person event waste free from www.goingzerowaste.com

I missed chatting with y'all, but the extended break was lovely! And, at least it was for a good reason. ;) I got married and went on a wonderful vacation. It was so nice to unplug and take a break from routine. 

On Saturday, we had a big backyard bbq party. On Sunday we ferried into SF and spent the night. We were married on Monday morning and had a huge wonderful brunch to celebrate. On Tuesday we flew to Portland, Maine. 

I'm breaking this into three posts. Part one will focus on the backyard bbq. Part two will focus on the ceremony and brunch reception. Then there will be a third part focusing on the honeymoon, but honestly, that might be broken into more parts. 

I also owe you a post on my amazing, plastic free hen party! There's going to be lots of wedding posts coming up soon. I'm going to try and pepper them in with other posts to avoid wedding burnout.

But I'm so excited, and I hope you're excited to read them too! 

set up: 

The backyard bbq was always meant to be an informal affair. We invited friends via facebook. It was just a party and was never going to be a "wedding" party. However, it morphed into more of a wedding party as we grew closer to our nuptials. 

We pulled every chair and table we had out of the house. On the facebook group, I asked if anyone had a couple of tables we could borrow. Of course, they did! 

Zero waste wedding part one the backyard bbq/reception, find out how we kept this 50 person event waste free from www.goingzerowaste.com

My friends dropped them off the morning of the party. The tablecloths we used were white sheets I picked up for $3 a piece at the thrift store. In fact, I've already dropped the sheets off at the thrift store again. 

We pulled out every cloth napkin, plate, and cup we had! Most all of them were used, but they definitely, weren't uniform. It's a backyard BBQ, so I can't imagine people minded that much. 

flowers:

The centerpieces were made of in-season flowers I got at the farmers market that morning. I got them completely plastic free and placed them in spare mason jars I had from my kitchen.

related: 13 Unexpected Uses for a Mason Jar

Zero waste wedding part one the backyard bbq/reception, find out how we kept this 50 person event waste free from www.goingzerowaste.com
Zero waste wedding part one the backyard bbq/reception, find out how we kept this 50 person event waste free from www.goingzerowaste.com

My mom arranged them and I think they turned out beautiful! 

decor:

The decor was kept pretty simple. Mostly the flowers and scattered with some photos. I have the huge benefit of working at a print shop. 

I made a scrapbook of our first year together. We went on lots of adventures, including moving out to California. I placed that book on the coffee table in the house for people to flip through. 

I haven't scrapbooked since going zero waste. It was a hobby that didn't really align with zero waste. Beyond that, blogging has become its own digital scrapbook. 

Zero waste wedding part one the backyard bbq/reception, find out how we kept this 50 person event waste free from www.goingzerowaste.com

I also printed 10 easel backed photos on cardstock. The whole things can be composted or recycled. But, I'm going to keep them. I thought I would compost them, but I'm going to hold onto them. 

I also rented an 22" x 28" sign holder. You can see it in the first photo. I'm going to keep that photo of us as well. 

entertainment:

We made a playlist on spotify to play during the party and rented cornhole boards with bean bags and a beer pong table. Justin wanted a beer pong table. Me, not so much. 

I was hoping that we could use real cups instead of red solo cups but I was vetoed. The board had holes in it and 16oz mason jars just didn't fit.

Zero waste wedding part one the backyard bbq/reception, find out how we kept this 50 person event waste free from www.goingzerowaste.com

But, hey, everything else was waste-free and I washed those cups and gave them to a friend who would definitely use them (and would buy them anyways). So, no trash wound up being created from the event. 

Remember, life and relationships are about compromise. Not everything is going to go 100% your way 100% of the time. And, that's OK. Have fun and find creative solutions. 

related: Dating with Lifestyle Differences 

photos:

In fact, when Justin and I first started dating we stumbled upon a box of disposable cameras that were being thrown away. The cameras were kept inside of a big rigs glove box.

They were to be used for photos after an accident, but with the invention of camera phones holding on to the disposable cameras were pointless. 

Zero waste wedding part one the backyard bbq/reception, find out how we kept this 50 person event waste free from www.goingzerowaste.com

All of those cameras were being thrown out with full film! We saved around 15 and we put them out for everyone to use this weekend.

I'm not sure how well the photos are going to turn out, but it was a lot of fun! Only three wound up being full. So, we're just going to hang onto the rest until they're full. 

I have NO idea how well these photos are going to turn out, but that's kind of the fun with a disposable camera. You have no idea until it's finished. 

It also means I don't have many photos to share with you. 

food: 

The whole event was potluck. It was AWESOME. I made a batch of sangria, the same one I made at my 4th of July party last year. I kept it in a two-gallon drink dispenser I picked up at the thrift store. 

I also lugged my crockpot down to the butcher. They placed it on the scale, pressed the tare button, filled it up with brisket, and then I paid. People were complimenting me for bringing the crockpot left and right. It's a great way to guarantee that everything will fit plust it's completely plastic free. My mom made the brisket, and I made the jackfruit

The jackfruit was completely demolished, btw. You have got to make it, it's delicious. 

I popped down to the tortilleria while at the farmers market and got 40 fresh tortillas to go in my own container for $3!!!

I also stopped by the bakery to buy some rolls. Then I left it for everyone else to bring the sides. Man, oh man, I was not disappointed! There was a huge array of snacks, and no one went home hungry or thirsty. We wound up having a lot of liquor roll through the doors too. 

We partied for 6-8 hours and it was an absolute blast! 

On the invite, I requested that all of the party food come in a reusable dish. I was so happy, because there wasn't a disposable in sight! 

the outfit: 

This wasn't my wedding dress, just a dress I've had in my closet for 5 years. It was a Gunne Sax dress I bought at a vintage store in Pensacola, FL. 

Zero waste wedding part one the backyard bbq/reception, find out how we kept this 50 person event waste free from www.goingzerowaste.com

I've always loved that dress, and couldn't think of a more fitting dress to wear at the party. And, I also wore the crown from my hen party, because - WHY NOT!? 

Every time I walked into the room someone shouted, "All rise for Kathryn of house Kellogg first of her name." And, a girl could get used to that. 

gifts: 

I specifically stated that we did not want gifts. We just wanted to hang out with our friends and we wanted them to bring food to share. I did say if you felt really, really compelled to give something we would accept cash for the honeymoon. 

I was absolutely blown away by everyone's generosity. We wound up with a nice little chunk of change that we blew on drinks and fun in Maine! I cannot thank everyone enough. (But, now I have to write thank you cards. ;) 

the cost: 

This whole party cost less than $150. 

My biggest advice would be to ask friends for what you're missing. You'd be amazed as to what you can borrow. 

The only thing I wanted was to spend time with friends and family. I just wanted to have a fun afternoon, and it was definitely a huge success!