WORDS: KATE WEINER
IMAGE: MEREDITH MACKENZIE
As passionate as I am about trash-light living, I know that it's a privilege to live where I live and have access to the kind of resources—accessible bike paths, bulk stores, residential composting—that make sustainable living a cinch. Learning to live with less is a richly rewarding experience that has saved me money and nurtured my self-sufficiency skills. But it's a path that's infinitely easier for me to walk by virtue of the city I live in, the friends I share a home with, and the support system that Loam has interwoven across the world.
The last few weeks, my friend Andrea of Be Zero and I have been hosting Instagram Lives where we explore what it means to cultivate a circular mindset and answer questions from our community on putting zero waste philosophies into practice. One question we have heard a lot is: How do you live zero waste when you're not in a community that makes it easy? For so many of us, finding the type of regional tools, community, and norms that nourish sustainable living isn't within reach. We might live far from a farmers' market. We might live in the heart of car culture. We might struggle to find a secondhand retailer in our community or a local grocery store we can feel good about supporting or public transportation that's affordable. I have lived in New York, Valparaíso, Portland, San Diego, and Boulder throughout my life and each city has brought with it its own beauties and its own challenges. I've had to find a way to live my values as best as I can even when the streets I walk are littered in trash and finding fresh food is tough.
Of course, there are a thousand and one ways you can live lighter on this earth no matter where you are. You can choose to mend your clothes rather than trash torn threads. You can refuse single-use plastics by bringing a reusable jar, cutlery, and cloth napkin with you. You can grow a little herb garden on your windowsill. Providing that you trust in the process, show compassion for yourself and others, and embrace imperfection, you will never need to wait on anyone or anything to create opportunities to live sustainably. You are your own permission.
That said, it's sure nice when living sustainably is simplified—especially when you are new to the wild world of zero waste. Learning to cultivate a circular mindset asks us to radically rethink our relationship to ourselves, each other, and our land. And it's a process that's so much sweeter to sink into when we have some support.
Enter Bailiú. The lovely Meredith MacKenzie's online shop makes it easy for folks to find starter sets that mitigate the everyday plastic pollution challenges that arise within our household. As Meredith says: "I became more mindful about reducing my use of disposables and single-use plastics after a cross-country move from Oakland, CA to Southwest VA. After a decade of carrying a reusable tote in the Bay Area, I found myself living in a place where Styrofoam and plastic bags were the norm, which felt shocking. I started paying closer attention to the choices I made and asking more questions. Although I found many helpful resources about a adopting a 'zero waste' lifestyle, they felt intimidating and the lifestyle struck me as unattainable. There seemed to be a lack of forgiveness and humor in the options out there. I wanted to offer an accessible way to start making better choices without taking ourselves so seriously, and while maintaining a sense of style. Practical goods should also be beautiful. So I started Bailiú to create a shop for the stylish, beginner minimalist, because you shouldn’t have to sacrifice style to be kind to the Earth."
Meredith's bridge into building Bailiú embodies many of the philosophies that I want to see better put into practice within the zero waste movement. Showing kindness to others, asking questions of our community, exercising compassion, humor, and open-mindedness—cultivating these characteristics as environmental advocates truly helps us to regenerate our communities as we reduce our waste. It's true that you don't need to buy anything to begin living with less. And learning how to make your own alternatives to plastic-based and plastic packaged goods is a viable (and sometimes really fun!) option. But as an environmental educator and lifelong student of sustainable living, I deeply believe that creating starter sets when we are just beginning helps us find our footing as we pursue new pathways. It's like gathering your supplies for the first day of school or supporting your dream of being a writer by investing in a gorgeous notebook. Sometimes, you need the tools to get started.
Herewith, a breakdown of Meredith's Kitchen Starter Set. Use it as a blueprint for beginning your zero waste journey at home.
Bento bags are beautiful cloth constructions that you can transform into everything from a reusable bag (I use mine to store bulk goodies from the grocery story and stash cherries from the local farmers' market) to a placemat for camping trip meals. Meredith selects her bento bags from Ambatalia, a Mill Valley-based textile supplier that creates goods to guide a non-disposable life.
A mesh tote is super easy to fold up and bring with you in your day bag so that you'll always be prepared for the type of surprise situations—fresh fruit stand by the side of the road, post-work grocery store run—that crop up during our day-to-day lives. I love that I can carry this tote in my backpack to the market and fill it up with imperfect produce to share with friends.
Americans trash more than 500 million plastic straws PER DAY. Sip sustainably with a bamboo straw and always make sure to ask for drinks at restaurants without a straw.
Bee's Wrap is a truly indispensable part of any sustainability starter set. I love Abeego's beautiful designs and minimalist mission. I've used their wrap for everything from storing goods and covering bread as it rises to rolling up sushi.
One of the most impactful switches you can make when are diving into your zero waste journey is to refuse single use disposables by carrying reusable cutlery with you. A utensil roll is useful because it helps you keep your straw, spork, and knife in one place (I've lost many a reusable fork to the depths of my jam-packed book bag) and creates conversation when you sit down to share a table with friends!
As Meredith notes of her starter sets: "A big part of the joy that I get from Bailiú is curating a collection of products that I would gift to a dear friend. Gift giving is my love language! I love the idea of introducing a dear friend to a product that will make her home and her heart a little happier." Meredith's sentiment is a reminder that learning how to live with less is really about making room for more love in our lives. To truly love what we have and to care for it translates into how we love and care for ourselves, for each other, and for our earth. So get to it, loamy loves. Sustainable living is always within reach.