Intro to: Zero-Waste

sus - intro to zero waste

Recently, I’ve been fascinated with the zero-waste lifestyle. I was introduced to it when I came across Trash is for Tossers and learned that all the trash she produced in two years fit into one mason jar. Then I went down a wormhole and found a whole community of zero-waste bloggers and supporters of this lifestyle. Although this is still a niche community, it was reassuring to see a significant amount of people who cared deeply about minimizing the amount of trash they produce.

Initially the term, “zero-waste,” was kind of intimidating to me. No waste whatsoever? That sounded like a lot of pressure, stress, and frankly impossible. But like most things under the umbrella of environmentalism, it’s better to do something than to do nothing, so I like to think of this as waste-reducing first. From what I gathered, this movement is more of a mental transition than a physical one because it’s derived from your relationship with material objects in general. It’s about living with less and living simply with only the essentials. The planet thanks you for contributing less waste to the landfills, but ultimately you’ll see major changes in your attitude about consumption, which will have a lasting effect for years to come. Once you understand your relationship with “stuff,” it’ll be easier for you to understand and participate in the zero-waste concept. Follow the preliminary tips below to get started on the transition.

1. Evaluate your trash and your spending habits.

Go through your pantry/fridge, closet, medicine cabinet, desk, and any area that stores a lot of stuff. Is it overstuffed or cluttered? Now take a look at your trash can(s). What is it mostly filled with? Do you often chuck out leftover food, beauty products, paper, packaging, etc.? Lastly, take a look at your credit card statement and notice what you mostly spend your money on. Then, start to connect the dots. If you’re mostly spending it on food/groceries, but you end up throwing a lot of it out, you’re wasting both money and food. There’s a correlation between money and waste, which is why many people of the zero-waste community believe you can actually save money through this lifestyle.

2. Reduce where you can.

Now, take a closer look at the type of things you buy frequently and the motivation behind your purchases. Do you order take-out a lot or buy single serve packages like snacks or juice? Maybe you’re a sucker for promotional sales and good deals. Whatever it may be, take note of it first and ask yourself, “why am I really buying this?” and “does this add value or have purpose to my life?” Then from there, you can start to reduce what you have (properly of course! Either by recycling, reusing, or donating whatever you can.) And start to change your habits by buying less and/or less frequently, and thinking about the product’s life cycle.

3. Start saying “no”

This is where the discipline sets in. Once you’ve cut down, start saying no to things that are wasteful. No to plastic bags, impulsive shopping, disposable or single-use items like coffee cups and straws. Unsubscribe from promotional emails (this helped me so much!) Even saying no to free things being passed out can help.

Now, I am nowhere near being completely zero-waste, but I have cut back a lot. My home only produces about 1-2 full bags (the “thank you for shopping” bag with the smiley face, not a trash bag) of garbage per week, as opposed to throwing out garbage every day. The people who are committed and supportive of the zero-waste movement are not lazy people. The actions they take are smart and deliberate, but that doesn’t mean it’s also difficult. Anyone can and should start taking steps to be less wasteful, so before diving into zero-waste, you can approach it as waste-reducing instead.


Go Local: 5 Reasons Why Buying Local Food is Sustainably Better

IMG_C2315DEDEB5A-1I read a blog post somewhere and the writer asked, “Why do we trust celebrities and national brands so much over locally produced items by our community?” It’s a valid question. We tend to trust things that have the most marketing, advertising, or followers. I know I do sometimes. Locally-made products usually require a little more seeking out and it’s harder for them to reach us. Maybe they’re only on social media and can’t afford national advertising. Maybe they’re only available in a specific store that’s several miles away from you. Maybe they’re not the first result that pops up on Google search and you only found them after digging through blog comments.

Lately, I’ve been trying to support more local businesses, you know, #smallbusinesssaturdays, mom and pop shops, Etsy shops, etc. But I think the easiest way to start shopping local is by doing your grocery shopping at the local farmer’s market. Now that it’s warm and sunny most of the time in New York City, I love taking advantage of our farmer’s market. Yeah, it’s a little farther than my go-to Whole Foods/Trader Joe’s and I also have plenty of options just blocks away from me, but let me explain to you why buying local food, and local products in general is the better option, the more sustainable option.

  1. Less Travel – Food travels less miles to get to your plate, reducing the amount of pollution caused from traveling. According to GrowNYC, it can take 435 fossil-fuel calories to fly a 5-calorie strawberry from California to NYC.
  2. Less Packaging – Skip the flattened bagged spinach at the grocery store and grab your reusable totes and produce bags. Not only is the local lettuce fresher, it doesn’t come with any packaging so you can feel good about contributing to the zero-waste lifestyle in some way. Remember, any scraps you don’t use can be composted!
  3. Less Expensive – When you buy food in season or at its peak, it can be less expensive because of its abundance and also because there’s no middle man in the equation. Straight from the farm to the market stand – shouldn’t buying food be that simple?
  4. Better taste – Food that doesn’t have to travel as far preserve more nutrients, so they taste better and they’re better for you. Think about all the checkpoints produce has to go through before it gets to the supermarket: farm, truck/plane, distribution warehouse where I’m sure there are several other mini checkpoints in between. It can take up to two weeks, in some cases even a month before produce reaches supermarket shelves. We all know produce isn’t meant to last that long in transit, so count on your gut feeling that it was probably sprayed with pesticides.
  5. Promotes the local community – Supporting the local farmers ensures they’ll stay in business and in turn helps strengthen the economy and keep jobs. Your money stays within your community. National chains and big box retailers tend to contribute to unemployment. You can also count on your local farmers to answer any questions you might have. They know more about the produce, land, and agriculture than the grocery stock boy.

IMG_1C8E1B06DADF-1But what if you want to buy something that can’t be grown or made locally in most regions e.g., avocados, bananas, oranges? You can of course still buy them (I’m an avocado toast addict,) but be mindful about it. Ask questions and learn about where your produce comes from. Figure out if it’s non-GMO. You can still be sustainably conscious by thinking and contributing globally. Take it in steps – start by looking at the stickers on the produce you buy to see where it originated. Do some research. Then take a stroll at your nearest farmer’s market and compare prices and selection. It’s actually really fun, even if you don’t end up buying anything!

If you live in NYC, we also have CSA programs community supported agriculture. You pay a certain amount up front for the season and your produce gets delivered to you from local farmers. Click here for more info.

For all my travel enthusiasts – think about when you travel – doesn’t it feel unique and special when you get to eat the local food and take home something locally made? The same should apply to your community. Not only is it more sustainable to support local farmers and businesses, but you’re also representing your community. Be proud of where you’re from or where you reside and continue to make it special!

NYC Guide: My Favorite Eateries Reducing Their Eco Footprint

A few weeks ago, the New York Times wrote an article about the role of composting in New York City and the city’s effort to expand composting even more by the end of next year. As someone who is constantly telling everyone I know about composting, this felt like a tiny silver lining, especially after hearing Trump’s announcement of withdrawing the US from the Paris Climate Agreement. In other recent news, I saw a man yelling at another man for dropping trash and demanded he pick it up, so I think it’s safe to say Trump’s decision has made a lot of people take more action in protecting the environment.

While composting and reducing waste are important and will make a big difference from residents, it plays an even bigger role for establishments that sell food all day. Some establishments are required by New York law to compost, but they’re mostly stadiums, restaurant hotels, and really big manufacturers/wholesalers. That’s still a lot of potential waste hitting the landfills from the approximately 24,000 restaurants in the city that aren’t required to compost. A growing amount of restaurants offer to-go and delivery options carried in disposable containers, which only contributes to the waste. I made a commitment in the beginning of the year to reduce my habits of eating from places that have disposable packaging and dining in instead (you can ask my friends if I’ve also done a good job at finishing my whole plate.) If I do need to order from a fast food or to‑go style restaurant, then I usually aim for places that have compostable packaging. Here are three of my favorite places in NYC that are doing their part in reducing their eco footprint.

Van Leeuwen Ice Cream


This place is hands down my favorite ice cream place EVER and they are so good in every way. The owners are all about putting the best simple, organic, and ethically sourced ingredients in the ice cream. They also use compostable cups and spoons, but I usually opt for a cone to be completely zero-waste and because cones are way better. Who opens an ice cream store at 8AM? They do, because they also serve coffee in the morning and will take 50 cents off your order when you bring in a reusable cup. Double green points from me!


Mimi Cheng’s Dumplings


Dumplings are like French fries (the wedge kind) in Chinese culture. Often considered fast food, dumplings are not always sold in the most environmentally friendly packaging. Mimi Cheng’s is here to change that. Not only do they share authentic Taiwanese values in their recipes, but they also extend that into the community by respecting the environment. If you eat in, they serve your food in actual dishes and they only have a compost and recycling bin.




Vegan. Organic. Surprisingly delicious for even meat eaters. Since they’re also considered fast food and they have multiple stores in NYC, packaging is very important. Everything is recyclable and compostable – yes, even the plastic-looking cups and utensils which are made from plant-based resins (I totally want to research this more.) It only seems natural that if you’re serving plant-based foods, that you’d all serve them in plant-based materials.



One of the best parts about living in New York City is being able to eat anywhere and everywhere, but it doesn’t hurt to be mindful about how often you rely fast food/anything in disposable containers, and to make an effort to recycle those containers if possible. And before you get yelled at by the local trash police, always make sure your trash is properly disposed. Happy eating!