When I started reading about zero waste, one of the first steps was to do a trash audit, so you could see your problem areas and develop a plan for your low waste journey. Being the impatient person that I am, I skipped that step. Since COVID hit, I noticed that my husband and I have started producing more trash, so I wanted to get to the bottom of it. I started by collecting a week's worth of trash and then laying it all out on the floor. By dividing the trash in categories, I was able to see what I had most and figure out why and what I could do to fix it.
Most of the contents in the trash can were from food packaging, which wasn't surprising, but was also a reminder that I need to stop buying so much processed food!
Cheese packaging: comes in a plastic sealing bag and each slice is layered with a piece of paper to keep them from sticking together. I used to be able to buy fresh slices at the deli (whole foods + walmart) and use my own container, but since COVID, you can't bring your own stuff anymore.
Fruit + veggie: you can easily buy fresh produce and freeze it to use at your convenience. But not all supermarkets offer plastic-free produce, so sometimes you'll only find frozen options (which means it will come in a plastic bag). Berries can be cheaper if you buy them frozen, but the plastic clamshell that fresh berries come in are more recyclable than the plastic bags from the frozen ones.
Snacks: it can be tricky to find your favorite snacks package free, but it's also a good reminder to think twice if you really need all that processed food in your life!
Vegan protein: as with any diet, many protein sources come in plastic packaging. I am yet to find tofu, tempeh and seitan package free.
Convenience food: sometimes you simply don't have time to make your own tortillas or need the convenience of having a quick breakfast when you are late for work, and most of those items will come in plastic packaging.
Coffee: it is possible to buy fresh grounds at your local coffee shop and just bring your own container, but most places have stopped that practice due to COVID.
Takeout food: we rarely ordered takeout before quarantine, but we find that it is the safest way to support local restaurants, so it's ok to do it temporarily. Ideally you would dine in or ask that they put the food in your own container.
Tea packaging: you would be surprised by the amount of trash one single box of tea can produce AND, did you know most tea bags are lined with plastic? Releasing billions of micro plastics in your drink when you pour hot water over it? So the best option for you, and the planet, is to buy loose leaf tea.
Dog ear wipes: I like to clean my dogs ears at least once a month. I bought these wet wipes years ago, before going low waste, so once I run out of them, I'll just use a soft cloth with warm water and soap.
Receipts: you should try to avoid getting receipts as much as possible. Many places offer the option of email, which is ideal, but if you must get a receipt, avoid touching it as most receipts are coated with toxic BPA, making them impossible to recycle as well.
Miscellaneous packaging: many recyclable products contain a small portion of non recyclable material. Like a glass kombucha bottle that might have an extra piece of plastic around the cap, or a dog treat box that is made of paper but has the actual treats inside a plastic bag. You can always ask a store associate if they know how the contents of a product are packaged, so you can avoid the ones that have plastic inside.
After the audit, I was able to confirm my suspicions that COVID was the reason our trash had increased. In the early stages of quarantine, I was very upset about not being able to bring my reusable bags inside the grocery story, and that all bulk items were now being pre-packeged (in plastic). After seeing other people share the same concerns, I found that the overall sentiment among the low waste community was that people's lives were on the line, so the extra packaging we were going to consume was a small price to pay in order to keep people safe. And it's also not going to be forever!
That put things in perspective for me. Even though I don't agree with some actions people are taking to protect themselves (wearing gloves and disposable masks), I do believe that it is for the greater good and that it's only a temporary setback for the low waste movement. At least I hope so!
Have you ever tried doing a trash audit? Give it a try! You will be surprised by the amount of plastic you can avoid by buying in bulk and cooking at home.