frequently asked questions
Q: What are some of the very first things you did when you decided to live sustainably?
A: The very first thing we did was switch to a bamboo toothbrush! Other things were simply refusing single-use plastics like bags, straws, coffee cups, cutlery and so on…
Q: What is your biggest tip for living zero waste?
A: My biggest tip is to use what you already have! For example, if you already own plastic food containers, don’t go out and buy shiny new steel ones. Buying new creates a demand for resources and uses a lot of energy. And you’re producing waste if you replace your things with “sustainable” ones.
Q: How do you take notes in college?
A: I’ve saved a lot of half-used notebooks from high school that I intend to fill page-to-page, and then I’ll recycled them. I don’t like taking notes on my laptop because a lot of my professors don’t allow them in class and I also feel like I can’t retain the knowledge as well as on paper. I also look to thrift stores for used notebooks, but if I were to buy new, I’d get a notebook with recycled content.
Q: How can I compost when I live in a rental apartment?
A: When we lived in a college dorm we would freeze our food scraps and take them to the compost at the school’s garden in a paper bag, weekly. You could find out if your apartment building had compost services, find a local compost to take them to, go to a local drop-off site, ask farmers at farmers markets if they’ll accept them, or get an indoor wormery bin! Gardeners sells some and I’ve heard they’re fantastic.
Q: What if one can’t afford all the sustainable products?
A: There is an expensive route and a cheap route to sustainability. Obviously this lifestyle isn’t attainable to everyone because it requires time, energy, a sufficient income, and an able-bodied person, but I recommend using single ingredient/material products, which you’ll find cost nothing at all if you already have them or regularly buy them anyway. For example, use vinegar to clean your home, olive oil as moisturizer and make-up remover, use a washcloth to remove make-up and scrub your face and body in the shower, bar soap to clean your face and body, old clothes to turn into cleaning rags and bags, buy things in glass and reuse the jars for storing things, cocoa powder/cornstarch for dry shampoo, use the silverware you have at home to take with you in a rag instead of buying bamboo ones, and so on. If you’re someone who doesn’t have the time/money to put your efforts towards sustainability, just do what you can and that’s totally fine. You shouldn’t feel bad for what you can’t do.
Q: Was it hard transitioning to no plastic? Any tips for someone who wants to start using less?
A: At first it was really stressful because we wanted it to be perfect, so I recommend taking it easy and make changes here and there instead of all at once. We recommend to start by refusing the 5 big plastics: water bottles, straws, plastic bags, coffee cups (may look like paper but they’re lined with plastic) and plastic cutlery. You can swap these things for reusables!
Q: What about toilet paper?
A: You can buy individual rolls of toilet paper that are wrapped in paper almost anywhere! But preferably recycled.
Q: What do I do if I want to take home leftovers from a restaurant? Bring tupperware?
A: It's always a great idea to bring some kind of container with you every time you go out to eat. You can just ask the waiter nicely to put your food in your container, or just do it yourself. Easy!
Q: What do I do if I need to dry my hands in a public bathroom, and there aren't electric hand dryers?
A: It's always a great idea to carry a small rag everywhere you go. Just keep it in your bag at all times and you'll never forget it! They can come in handy for so many situations! Just don't forget to wash it every time you use it!
Q: How do you substitute pads and tampons?
A: This is a great question! There are actually many alternatives to disposable pads and tampons. You can use a menstrual cup (which is made of silicone but will last you MANY years), reusable cotton pads and even absorbent menstrual underwear! You can read more about these alternatives on our "zero waste alternatives" tab.
Q: What do I do if my drink automatically comes with a plastic straw?
A: This is a tough one and frankly really annoying. If you forget to tell your waiter that you do not want a straw and they give you one anyway, we recommend using it. It's better to use it and throw it away than to not and throw it away. You can also email the establishment and request that they get rid of plastic straws or only give them to people who ask for them. But nonetheless, it's really important to get in the habit of asking for your drink with no straw. Practice saying "water with no straw please," "lemonade with no straw please," "smoothie with no straw please." It only takes a few unwanted straws to really get into this habit. If you have reusable straws on you, show your waiter and they will remember better to give you no straw.
Q: What can we do about receipts?
A: Receipts can be tricky because they’re coated with plastic and also contain toxic ink which can both contaminate other materials in the recycling process. When cashiers ask if you need a receipt just say no, but sometimes it just can’t be avoided. But always choose the email option if there is one.
Q: What do you do about drinking water when you go traveling? Water bottle with a filter inside?
A: I carry my reusable water bottle with me everywhere I go so if the drinking water is safe to drink wherever I am, I just fill it with tap. But if it’s not, yes, I would recommend buying a water bottle with a filter inside. It may be made of plastic but it’s better than going through countless disposable plastic water bottles.
Q: How can you be sure of a company is truly fair trade/ethical or not?
A: Look for certifications and transparency! Companies will usually make it extremely clear if their intentions are ethical because it's great marketing, considering the rising demand for it. If it's not super clear, check for certifications or ask questions! Send the company an email with all your questions and/or requests. You can also get the Good On You app that gives brands a sustainable/ethical rating on their practices.