Seeking out zero waste packaging is the first step to living a zero waste lifestyle. When you’re not bringing all that plastic packaging into your house in the first place, you don’t have to worry about what happens to it when you throw it away. These are the 4 main types of zero waste packaging.
This is the best zero waste packaging option! You can bring your own produce bags to the grocery store. Or skip the bags entirely–do you really need to put that onion or lemon you’re buying in a bag at all? Use the bulk bins at your grocery store and bring your own jars instead of using the plastic bags supplied by the store. (I usually use jars I save from food, but Weck jars are really great too because they don’t have a metal lid that can get rusty.)
If you have a local farmers market, this is a great way to go no packaging too. When I go to the farmers market, I bring a big canvas bag stuffed with BeeKeep, small reusable sandwich bags, and large produce bags. Cheese goes in the BeeKeep, pastries go in the sandwich bags (I can’t leave the farmers market without treating myself to pain au chocolat), and loaves of bread, fruits, and vegetables go in the large produce bags.
Zero Waste Packaging That Can Be Upcycled
The primary type of packaging that fits this bill is glass. When you buy pasta sauce, fancy yogurt in class jars, iced tea in glass bottles, there’s no need to throw away or recycle the packaging. When you’ve accumulated a few jars and bottles, fill a sink with room temperature water and swish in 10 tablespoons of baking soda. Let the jars and bottles soak for about an hour, then scrape the labels off.
I’m an avid candlemaker, so I like using wide-necked jars for making my own candles to give as holiday gifts. Jars are also great for bulk shopping and storing your own homemade cleaning products. Bottles make lovely vases, especially when you group a bunch of different sizes together on the table and put a few sprigs of flowers or leaves in each.
Zero Waste Packaging That Can Be Composted
As a gardener, this is my favorite form of zero waste packaging. Packaging that can be composted includes:
- Tea bags
- Paper food packaging
- Cardboard pizza boxes
- Muffin wrappers
- Flour and sugar bags
Compost Now has even more ideas for composting, but these are a good place to start. In general, if it’s paper or cardboard, you can toss it in your compost bin. Even a lot of takeout containers are compostable these days, but you have to be sure they’re 100% paper–not paper coated with plastic or other substances.
The best way to tell if packaging can be composted? Look for the BPI seal from the US Composting Council.
Zero Waste Packaging That Can Be Recycled
One of the things that prompted me to go zero waste was this story about how American recyclables are increasingly being transported to landfills instead of actually being recycled. I have been a diligent recycler since grade school, even pulling out things other people put in the garbage and putting them in the recycling bin instead. (Yes, I am that person.) So to find out that all the effort I had been putting into recycling could be for nothing was upsetting to me.
Even when products are recycled, that process uses energy and resources so whether recyclable packaging is truly zero waste is a controversial subject. My personal opinion is that it’s not really zero waste, but it’s not as bad as throwing things in the garbage either. If you’re serious about living a zero waste lifestyle, contact your local government to find out if your recycling is being recycled.
Photo credit: Laura Mitulla