Taking what he learned from his experiment, No Impact Man Colin Beavan offers 42 tips to move toward a zero-waste lifestyle.
By Colin Beavan
Together with his family, Colin Beavan—aka No Impact Man—spent a year trying to live in the middle of New York City without having a negative impact on the environment. One of his first challenges: getting through everyday life without producing trash. Below are some of his favorite tips and tricks.
- No soda in cans (which means we’re probably less likely to get cancer from aspartame).
- No water in plastic bottles (which means we get to keep our endocrines undisrupted).
- No coffee in disposable cups (which means we don’t suffer from the morning sluggishness that comes from overnight caffeine withdrawal).
- No throwaway plastic razors and blade cartridges (I’m staging the straightedge razor comeback).
- Using non-disposable feminine-hygiene products that aren’t bad for women and are good for the planet.
- No Indian food in throwaway takeout tubs.
- No Italian food in plastic throwaway tubs.
- No Chinese food in plastic throwaway tubs.
- Taking our own reusable containers to takeout joints (except that now we’re eating local so this tip is out for us).
- Admitting that we sometimes miss Indian, Italian and Chinese takeout.
- Hopping on the scale and celebrating the loss of my 20-pound spare tire since I stopped eating bucketsful of Indian, Italian and Chinese takeout.
- Buying milk in returnable, reusable glass bottles.
- Shopping for honey and pickled veggies and other goods in jars only from merchants who will take back the jars and reuse them.
- Returning egg and berry cartons to the vendors at the farmers’ market for reuse.
- Using neither paper nor plastic bags and bringing our own reusable bags when grocery shopping.
- Canceling our magazine and newspaper subscriptions and reading online (you can still make a donation to support the media organizations you value).
- Putting an end to the junk mail tree killing.
- Carrying my ultra-cool reusable cup and water bottle (which is a glass jar I diverted from the landfill and got for free).
- Carrying reusable cloths for everything from blowing my nose to drying my hands to wrapping up a purchased bagel.
- Wiping my hands on my pants instead of using a paper towel when I forget my cloth.
- Politely asking restaurant servers to take away paper and plastic napkins, placemats, straws, cups and single-serving containers.
- Explaining to servers with a big smile that I am on a make-no-garbage kick.
- Leaving servers a big tip for dealing with my obsessive-compulsive, make-no-garbage nonsense, since they can’t take the big smile to the bank.
- Pretending McDonalds and Burger King and all their paper and plastic wrappers just don’t exist.
- Buying no candy bars, gum, lollypops or ice cream (not even Ben and Jerry’s peanut butter cup) that is individually packaged.
- Making my own household cleaners to avoid all the throwaway plastic bottles.
- Using baking soda from a recyclable container to brush my teeth.
- Using baking soda for a deodorant to avoid the plastic containers that deodorant typically comes in (cheap and works well).
- Using baking soda for shampoo to avoid plastic shampoo bottles.
- Using the plastic bags that other people’s newspapers are delivered in to pick up Frankie the dog’s poop.
- Keeping a worm bin to compost our food scraps into nourishment that can be returned to the earth instead of toxins that seep from the landfills.
- Switching to real—meaning cloth—diapers which Isabella, before she was potty-trained, liked much better.
- Not buying anything disposable.
- Not buying anything in packaging (and count the money we save because that means pretty much buy nothing unless it’s second hand).
- Shopping for food only from the bulk bins and from the local farmer’s market where food is unpackaged and fresh.
- Forgetting about prepackaged, processed food of any description.
- Being happy that the result is that we get to eat food instead of chemicals.
- Giving our second-hand clothes away to Housing Works or other charities.
- Offering products we no longer need on Freecycle instead of throwing them away.
- Collecting used paper from other people’s trash and using the other side.
- Using old clothes for rags around the apartment instead of paper towels.
- Talking with humor about what we’re doing because making a little less trash is a concrete first step everyone can take that leads to more and more environmental consciousness.
Colin Beavan adapted this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions for a just and sustainable world. Colin is founder of the No Impact Project. The paperback edition of his book No Impact Man was published in 2010 by Picador.
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