by Dustin Rhodes

A few years ago, I thought a couple of my close friends had joined a cult; they suddenly identified as part of the “Zero Waste Movement,” which seeks to minimize creating waste as much as possible, with the goal being zero.

I thought this sounded good on paper, but their actions to avoid making trash seemed extreme: no more to-go coffee cups, vegetables wrapped in plastic, cereal that came in boxes or food scraps that didn’t get boiled into homemade broths or composted in the backyard. They began making toilet bowl cleaner from scratch and sold a car. They aimed to only put out their garbage for collection once per month (and with only the tiniest amount in it).

“What extremists!” I judged.

What I had to admit to myself is that I all of the sudden felt really guilty for being a trashy person who freely used plastic (but I recycled it!) and still slept soundly after throwing away food that didn’t get eaten, even though I do obsess about things no longer working or being useful every time I buy something. Which is to say, I hate throwing things “away” (where, exactly, is away?), but often choose the path of least resistance: denial. 

In the past few years I have educated myself about a lot of very hard truths: Plastic is a real problem. Did you know that only 8.4% of the plastic you put in your recycling bin gets recycled? And did you know the rest ends up in landfills and the ocean? (For a better understanding, watch, “The Great Recycling Con,” video op-ed here.) Our oceans are filling up with plastic debris, including discarded fishing gear, which is killing sea animals. As you’ve probably already heard, there is an island of garbage in the Pacific Ocean that’s three times the size of France. Clearly there is a problem with waste, generally.

So, what can we do about it?

I have come to loathe the term Zero Waste because it is a set up for failure, and not possible for most people. Moral purity, which is very seductive to the human psyche, does not have to be the driving force. But we can all strive to do better. For instance, we can all use less plastic—even abandon the single-use kind altogether. And we can easily commit to being less wasteful with clothing.

The good news is, there are countless ways to be more mindful about the ways we consume. First and foremost—buy as if nothing gets recycled. All of us need to abandon our throwaway culture. Below are 20, mostly easy eco- and animal-friendly ways we can commit to reducing waste and energy consumption—a goal we can all work towards together in 2020, without judging ourselves or each other—which is counterproductive.

And by the way, I don’t do all these things perfectly, and some are new to me, too (see bar soap, bar shampoo, fast fashion, et al).


Glass containers instead of plastic ones. Why? Glass is truly recyclable and does not degrade in the recycling process, making it much more environmentally friendly. Always carry a thermal bottle with you that keeps hot liquids hot and cold liquids cold. (Friends of Animals has the perfect one here. )You can completely avoid to-go cups at coffee shops, etc. Make sure to take an empty one to the airport, too!



Always bring your own shopping bags. I’ve been using the same Friends of Animals tote bags for almost 10 years, and they still look new. Simply throw them in the wash occasionally (but they last longer if you don’t put them in the dryer).

Keep some in the car, too, so you’re never caught without a bag. When possible buy dry food in bulk, without packaging; take your own re-usable, washable cloth bulk bags. In the produce aisle, look for unpackaged fruits and vegetables, using your own cloth bags. Tip: You can find cloth bags on the internet with the tare weight sewn onto the bag. If your grocery store doesn’t have a “loose” fruit or vegetable you’re looking for, talk to the store manager about stocking them in the future.



Use bar soap, not body wash. Bar soap is much for eco-friendly than body wash, which requires a lot of packaging and is mostly water anyway. Make sure it’s vegan. (We love the bar soaps from the companies Fanciful Fox and Meow MeowTweet: and ) Ever tried a shampoo bar? They don’t require packaging, so they are much better for the environment than their bottled counterparts. I have tried these many times, but they have come a long way. Some are formulated with the exact same ingredients as a liquid shampoo—minus the water. One that I highly recommend can be found at The overall carbon footprint is less with shampoo bars and conditioner bars—they require less space during transport relative to the same amount of washes with liquid shampoo.

Roughly 10 to 15 transport trucks of liquid shampoo would be needed for one transport truck of solid shampoo bars to get the same number of washes. Use a biodegradable bamboo toothbrush instead of one made from plastic. They are now being carried at mainstream retailers like Target.



Avoid those pod-based coffee machines; the pods are not recyclable. DO consider a soda machine (which also makes sparkling water), which does reduce waste overall. Avoid buying home cleaners as much as possible and instead make your own.

Plain vinegar is fantastic at removing lime scale in coffee makers, on shower heads, in kettles and faucets. Good Housekeeping has a free, do-it-yourself guide to home cleaning products that’s here.

Donate your old cell phone to a charity; if it no longer works, find a place in your community that recycles them. Many parts of cell phones are recyclable, but you must make sure they get into the right hands. You can often find out how to recycle cellphones on the manufacturer’s website. Change your lights to LED bulbs, which are the most efficient. They’re more expensive to buy, but last longer and save more energy, which means they pay for themselves over time.

Compost. Food waste ends up in landfills where it produces greenhouse gas emissions. In compost bins, food becomes nutrient-rich soil. Composting is practically effortless. Don’t know where to start? Visit this site.

Eat more pulses. Pulses are the botanical name for beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas—all of which can be bought dried, in bulk. They are very rich in nutrients and have an extremely low carbon footprint. Instead of plastic wrap, use reusable silicone covers for your food. These are widely available online and at many grocery stores and kitchen specialty shops.



The fashion industry is responsible for 20% of the world’s wastewater and 10% of its emissions. Steer clear of animal products in clothing, don’t buy “fast fashion” (clothes that are trendy, cheap and low-quality). Aim for things that will last, take care of them, and look for materials like organic cotton, tencil/lyocell (from tree fiber), pinatex (leather-like material from pineapples) and mycelium, which is made from the roots of mushrooms.

Adopting a plant-based lifestyle packs the biggest punch when it comes to protecting the animals and environment we all love. Friends of Animals has two fantastic cookbooks at full of recipes for everyday cooking and festive holiday occasions throughout the year. Eat your vegan ice cream in a cone instead of a cup— to avoid the single-use paper cup and plastic spoon you will then throw away.

Did you know that cigarette butts are the most common ocean pollutant? If you smoke, which we hope you don’t, never throw your cigarettes butts on the ground. Put them in the trash bin or carry a portable ashtray. (And please quit).

Stay away from cow’s milk. Non-dairy milks have a much smaller environmental footprint; soy and oat milks have the lowest footprint. But all plant-based milks are superior.



Get involved! Work to ban single-use plastics and Styrofoam in your community. Contact your city or town council; get involved with environmental organizations within your community to help reduce and eliminate plastic use.