Tara McKenna, influencer and founder of The Zero Waste Collective, shares step-by-step guidance on making your household more sustainable this spring.
What are the most energy efficient products for keeping the house cool during the warmer months?
Ceiling fans are actually fantastic for both winter and summer months. Fans in winter can help circulate warm air, and similarly, opening windows and using fans can help keep you cool during hotter months. Avoid cooking with an oven during warmer months to help keep your home cooler, as an oven will heat up your home — especially if you’re cooking something over a lengthy period of time. Spend time in the coolest parts of your home, wear lighter clothes to avoid overheating, use LED lighting (less heat, and more energy efficient), and hang laundry to dry instead of using the dryer.
What does “zero waste” mean to you and how can more consumers be less wasteful in their homes?
Zero waste, to me, is ultimately about reducing waste in the context of our lifestyle preferences, circumstances, and budget. It’s actually really about going back to basics with the “Three Rs” — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. So, if we can reduce and reuse, we’re hitting home with the whole idea of zero waste living, which is reducing our waste outputs. Recycling is important, but less ideal, because it’s still a form of waste and not all materials that end up in our recycling bins get recycled. Only about nine percent of plastics are recycled worldwide!
Consumers can reduce their waste at home by consciously choosing options with less packaging when it makes sense. So, for example, that might mean buying only plastic-free fruits and veggies in the produce section of the grocery store and carrying them out with reusable bags. Another option is saving to invest in higher quality products that will last longer. Examples of products that might be worth investing are kitchen appliances — like buying a toaster that will last more than 10 years instead of just one year. How do you know it’ll last more than one year? That takes a bit of research upfront, like checking out the reviews and finding out how much a company will stand by their products and how easily they can be repaired if necessary. You can find out if they have long or lifetime warranties.
What are products you’d recommend to others who want to go zero waste?
A compost bin is essential for any kitchen to help keep food waste out of landfills. Unfortunately, food waste in a landfill creates methane, a greenhouse gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide. If you don’t have access to a municipal compost system, there are other options. Find out if local farmer’s markets, farmers, or community gardens will take food waste for compost. Use a worm bin or bokashi bin to compost at home. There are also a variety of backyard compost bins, both DIY or available for purchase.
Reusable menstrual products were a game changer for me. I use washable, reusable pads, as well as a silicone menstrual cup. These products save money and reduce waste up to 10,000 disposable menstrual products over a lifetime!
Swedish sponge cloths, napkins, tea towels, and cloth rags help me to keep a paperless kitchen. We haven’t used paper towels or disposable napkins in years. Swedish sponge cloths are compostable at the end of their life, and everything else in this list is reusable!
Homemade all-purpose cleaner made of equal parts vinegar and water (typically 1.5 cups of each) with 20 drops of lemon essential oil mixed in a reusable spray bottle is my go-to for cleaning most surfaces in my home, which helps to reduce the use of other cleaners that come in disposable plastic bottles. Thankfully, there are a lot more options these days to reduce waste from cleaning supplies, including solid forms like a dish soap block and concentrated forms like tablets for all types of household cleaners, among others.
What can people do to better enjoy the increased amount of time spent at home during the pandemic?
Make self-care a priority. Here are a few free or low cost and low waste options. Take a walk and enjoy the outdoors, soak up the sunshine, and enjoy nature if it’s available to you. Cook your favorite meal. Read a good book that you picked up at the library. Reorganize your space so it feels more comfortable. Take up a hobby like crafting, painting, or puzzling. Enjoy Zoom classes like yoga or take virtual tours of famous places around the world. Contribute to your community, such as by sewing masks or donating money to important local causes.
How can a sustainable life be both beneficial to you as well as the earth?
I’ve found that living with zero waste in mind has led to a healthier life. The food we eat is healthier because we’re avoiding a lot of the highly packaged and processed foods on the shelves at grocery stores. Eating whole foods that are less packaged tends to be better for the planet and for our health. It also results in lots of cost savings. Choosing reusable options (like menstrual products) saves money and resources, and this is the case for a lot of zero waste swaps. Who can argue with being healthier, saving money and living sustainably as a result of these changes? I can’t!