Four ways to start on a “zero waste” journey

Photo courtesy of NASA, Wikipedia

The term “zero waste” may seem a bit overwhelming, like a lot of work and expensive. This does not have to be the case, especially if you are passionate about decreasing your consumption footprint and being smart about it. Most importantly, you should not be discouraged from starting your own zero waste journey because of these overwhelming aspects.

The truth is, the zero-waste movement has so many meanings. It does not always have to mean measuring all your landfill trash in a small mason jar. Create your journey around what means most to you. Find aspects in your life that seem wasteful and if something really bothers you, find a solution.

I started my own zero waste journey because it was frustrating to have an abundance of plastic and non-recyclable or non-reusable items in my life. I became more determined in my journey when I realized how easy and cost effective it would be to swap out these items with more eco-friendly products.

With this realization, it is very possible you are going to want to cut out everything wasteful in your life at once. However, as a college student, it is very unlikely that we can ditch all our single-use, landfill-bound, un-recyclable products at once. This should not discourage one from taking steps to reduce their waste at a pace that fits them.

Below, there are steps to start your zero waste journey that are easy, cost-effective and perfect for college students. When you run out of shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, face wipes and anything else in your life that comes in plastic packaging and ends up in the landfill, do not go out and purchase that same disposable item.

Instead, research how to replace that item with a product that either comes package-free, in recyclable or compostable packaging or even consider making it yourself. This is the route that I have been taking for the last few months and I have never felt more empowered by the things I use in my everyday life. To help you start your journey, here are four simple and low-cost ways to implement zero waste items in your life in order to replace disposable products.


1)      Reusable to-go ware

Instead of picking up that disposable coffee mug at one of the on-campus cafes, bring your own mug! Pick up a reusable travel mug at a local store to carry your much-needed coffee in. Most mugs will cost you between $15 to $25 depending on the features you prefer in a coffee mug. This way you can caffeinate and be conscientious at the same time. As a Ramapo College student, you will get a 25 cents discount at any of the on-campus cafes if you bring your own mug. In addition to a travel mug, bring along a pouch of reusable utensils when eating out. I prefer utensils made from compostable bamboo from For the low cost of $12 to $13, you can save tons of disposable plastic utensils from going into thea2)      Reusable face wipes

Whether you like to cleanse your face at the end of the day, remove makeup or like to avoid your face from breaking out, there is a low cost zero waste alternative to face wipes. A pack of eight to 10 baby face cloths can be used to make your own simple reusable face wipes. With four basic ingredients, you can create your own cleansing wipes without the guilt of having to throw them out after. A Dr. Bronner’s recipe calls for 3/4 cup of boiled water, 1/2 cup of witch hazel, 1 tablespoon of a nourishing oil such as coconut oil and 1 tablespoon of castile soap. Mix these ingredients together in a bowl, then pour over the washcloths in a tall mason jar. These wipes will keep for about four to six weeks and will naturally cleanse your face. Witch hazel is known to naturally help heal and prevent acne, skin sores, redness, swelling and oily skin. These are a great alternative to purchasing face wipes soaked in harsh chemicals to clean your face. When you have used all your cloths, just throw them in the laundry to clean them and use them as many times as you like!


3)      Make your own toothpaste

Toothpaste tubes are one of the most wasteful items to enter a landfill. Approximately 400 million tubes of toothpaste are discarded every year in the United States that end up right into landfills. The plastic these tubes are made up of will never truly breakdown. Every piece of plastic ever made still exists in our environment. A great alternative that takes the plastic packaging out of the equation is this simple recipe you can make on your own with three ingredients: two parts coconut oil, one part baking soda and ten drops of peppermint oil. Mix these items together and store in a reusable glass jar to use when brushing your teeth.


4)      Bar Soap and Shampoo

Most common forms of shampoo, conditioner and body wash come in wasteful plastic bottles, and most of the time are not or cannot be recycled. A perfect solution to this, and one of my personal favorite zero waste alternatives, is switching to bar soap. Many local natural food stores and co-ops sell bar soap and even bar shampoo at a reasonable and low cost. The ingredients are also much better for your skin and hair because they usually are made without harmful sulfates that are typically used in standard soaps. The bars either come in no or very little, and recyclable, packaging. I recommend doing a bit of research on different kinds of bar soap that are out there to find one that will work best with your hair and skin type. Your skin and hair will look and feel so great with the all-natural ingredients you are treating it with, along with the knowledge of making yet another stride in shrinking your impact on our landfills.