I was introduced to Lily, co-founder of The Wild Minimalist, by a mutual friend. She treated me to an oat milk matcha latte (have you tried this?!) and we bonded over our shared belief that little things make a difference. I learned so much from chatting with her about sustainability in the home, so naturally, I wanted to share the knowledge here. Style, sustainability, and really good hair coming right up…
Q. Tell us a little about your mission and why you and your husband decided to start a zero-waste lifestyle.
A. Shortly after we were engaged, my husband and I took a three month backpacking and road trip and could only bring what we could carry on our backs. We returned home super inspired to live more minimally and eliminate unnecessary waste from our lives.
When we started to transition to a zero waste lifestyle, we had a really tough time finding many of the reusable alternatives to disposable products at our local stores. When we bought them online they were always shipped in wasteful plastic packaging. We started Wild Minimalist to make it easier for people to transition to a zero waste lifestyle. We hope that by providing high quality and beautiful alternatives to disposable products, and shipping them completely plastic-free, people no longer have to choose between sustainability and convenience.
Q. What are your top three recs for simple sustainable swaps we can make at home?
A. For me, I noticed the biggest reduction in trash when I made a few simple swaps in the kitchen. The kitchen is by far the biggest trash producer in most homes and if you’re thinking about going zero waste, I definitely suggest doing a trash audit—essentially looking through your trash to see what you’re throwing away.
I realized that I was tossing a ton of plastic produce bags and food packaging. I switched to reusable cotton produce bags which are great for bagging and storing loose fruit and vegetables, but also shopping for bulk items like grains, flour, nuts, and more. I also suggest having a set of glass jars to transfer and store all of your dry bulk goods, which helps keep your food fresh and makes it easier to spot what staples you’re getting low on.
You can even reuse glass jars from pasta sauce rather than buying a ton of new jars. The final swap I suggest is switching from a plastic sponge to a wood dish brush and copper scrubber. My wood dish brush cleans just as well as a sponge and the copper scrubber is great for loosening especially stuck bits of food and cleaning cast iron. They also last a long time and don’t get that nasty sponge smell. You can compost the dish brush when it’s at the end of its life and recycle the copper scrubber.
Q. Any great alternatives for paper towels that actually work?
A. My husband and I ran out of our last paper towel three years ago, and we’ve never looked back! People are always skeptical about switching from paper towels to unpaper towels (reusable towels made from cloth), especially when they have kids and lots of messes to clean. I was skeptical too, but once I made the swap, I became a convert. Unpaper towels are so versatile and much better at cleaning up messes than flimsy paper towels. I love that I can just toss them in the washing machine when I’m done and they come out good as new. I also recommend cutting up some old cotton towels for really dirty jobs like cleaning the cast iron or washing the car. When they fall apart, you can just cut them into strips and add them to the compost pile.
Q. What are your favorite alternatives for Ziplock bags and Saran Wrap?
A. So many great alternatives here. Glass jars and containers are excellent at preserving foods, but if you love the convenience of a press-and-seal sandwich bag, I’d recommend reusable silicone sandwich bags or cloth snack bags with waterproof lining. We also love beeswax cloths for preserving cheese, half an avocado or covering a bowl—you can mold the cloth around the item with the warmth from your fingertips. If your little one tends to lose things at school, I’d recommend labeling all of their gear with their name and a phone number so they hopefully get returned. But if you absolutely must use disposables—I’d suggest either aluminum foil, which is recyclable, or paper sandwich bags, which are compostable.
Q. Any favorite food storage products for more sustainable / plastic-free lunch packing?
A. For lunch on-the-go, I always bring my stainless steel lunchbox, bamboo cutlery, a cloth napkin and some sort of reusable drinking container—either a stainless steel water bottle or smoothie tumbler, a glass coffee cup or a even a glass mason jar will do. This set of items is great for packing my own lunch, but also comes in handy for grabbing food on-the-go when I prefer to dine out, or I’m in a rush. The next time you order food or a beverage, ask for them to fill your own containers. You’d be surprised how willing most businesses are to skip the plastic, and if they give you a weird look, use it as a teaching moment to explain that you’re trying to reduce waste. Some businesses will even offer a discount when you bring your own container!
Q. Any quick tips for more sustainable options for the following?
Toothpaste: There are lots of great toothpaste recipes out there, and some hard core zero wasters just sprinkle straight baking soda on their toothbrush (it works, really!). If you’re not into DIY, I’d recommend a natural toothpaste packaged in a glass jar or in a metal tube. You just clean the jar or tube when you’re done and recycle it.
Shampoo / Conditioner: A lot of stores that sell bulk foods also have a bulk section in their health and beauty department. You can bring your own glass jar and fill it at the store with bulk liquid shampoo or conditioner. You could also try a shampoo bar—essentially bar soap packaged in compostable cardboard. I like using either a shampoo bar or filling my own jar with liquid shampoo. For conditioner, I fill a glass jar with one part apple cider vinegar to 4 parts water—it makes my hair super soft and shiny and the vinegar scent pretty much disappears when your hair dries.
Diapers / Wipes: I’ve done cloth diapers from the start, and I recommend borrowing or buying used to try out a variety of styles. I think a lot of parents make the mistake of buying a huge bundle of brand new cloth diapers (which is a big investment) only to find they prefer a different style of diaper, or cloth diapering just isn’t for them. By buying a number of different styles secondhand, I saved a lot of money and quickly figured out what styles worked best for me—I love all-in-ones which are most similar to a disposable diaper and fitted diapers with a diaper cover, which are great for preventing leaks. There are also cloth diapering services that will pick up and launder your diapers, which I think is a great option for parents who have little time (or desire) to do diaper laundry. I also love cloth wipes and make my own baby wipe solution (just baby soap and a few drops of tea tree oil which is great for preventing diaper rash). I soak them in the solution, roll them up and place them in a wipe warmer. I like to think it makes diaper changing more like a spa experience for my little guy!
Thank you, Lily! I know I have learned so much and feel inspired to implement these changes in my own home. I’ve already planned a trip to stock up on sustainable goods at the shop in Marin, but if you’re not a Bay Area local, not to worry! The Wild Minimalist offers free shipping and plastic-free shipping materials.
Zero-Waste Starter Kit, anyone?