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5 GO-TO items Zero Wasters Should Ditch

This is a list of things I gave up and grieved after really putting effort for caring for the earth, trying to go zero waste and reduce my overall consumption in an attempt for a simpler, sustainable and more fulfilling life. Just to be clear, you don’t HAVE to give these things up, not completely. It’s just making it a conversation/thought process, setting priorities and accomplishing baby steps to a better earth.

nail polish, artificial food dye, bagged popcorn, conventional tea bags, and chewing gum.

Sold? (I’m really not selling anything) Great! Not sold?
There has been a time in my life where I could’ve told you all I needed was these five things and I could live my life happily ever after. Well let’s just say that has changed immensely. I am assuming that most 1st-world women can agree that out of most of these items, one is in their purse right now or in their daily regimen. And it makes sense! Colors are fun on your nails and in your food, popcorn and tea are their own food group, and gum can be tasty, good for your breath, something to occupy the mind while concentrating. The list goes on. With that being said, they are not so good for you and the environment.
A woman getting her nails painted by a beautician.

1) Nail polish and MOST manicures. Man this stuff is scary… it’s the epitome of NOT NATURAL. And sorry ladies, it is ‘cute’, but vanity should only go so far. Nail polish really doesn’t say anything about your external or internal beauty. Even the rated ‘fair’ nail polish ingredient list is intimidating. Let alone the plastic packaging/lids/brushes AND chemically removing it. I, for one, like to know what is going on my body and then in my bloodstream. One Green Planet has a great article on The Ugly Truth: Toxins Lurking in Nail Polish Are Harmful to Your Health and the Planet. The occasional spa day is still definitely warranted, but try to find a salon that uses plant-based ingredients and ask for no polish. Sad but probably for the better eh? If your not ready or willing check out these 7 brands of Non Toxic Nail Polish. I’m not sure if any of them are the perfect alternative, but one bottle would last quite a long time, and almost nothing is a perfect alternative so it’s just your individual battle. The goal is to reduce, but for me nail polish can go without too much fuss.


2) Food dyes (artificial). I think that humans (probably most likely Americans) take something made to be good, and make it bad- hence artificial petroleum-derived food dye. Food dye is something to give up with being zero waste because of how they produce it, what they put in it and what they sneak it into. They most likely are in highly preserved, processed packaged foods, come in little plastic bottles for consumers and are linked to hyperactivity in children WAIT WHAT (via article on food dyes.) Plus, there seems to be good options for natural dyes via natural grocery stores or DIY with fruit, veggies, roots, herbs and more! I like turmeric powder for yellow and beet powder for pink/red. I still need to try using spinach. Here’s a link to a diagram/website that has the different plant color visuals. You literally just puree and add some water, then filter/strain if you want, fun and creative. Plants are awesome.
3) Bagged popcorn. Man is this stuff good, but there are better alternatives. I am a fan of popcorn. Why Microwave Popcorn Is An Absolute Health Nightmare has good insight on the most popular grocery store microwavable popcorn brands. Also, if it takes a while- google, clicking, reading and repeat- to find out info about a product or even a good alternative product, there may not be much out there for you to know and/or the companies are hiding something. I personally do not participate in animal products due to lack of clarity with sourcing, animal living conditions and other reasons, but we’ll save that for a rainy day. So might as well control what’s in your scrummy popcorn. You can get a microwave reusable bowl that pops popcorn (although I didn’t have any luck with the pampered chef one, haven’t tried any others), an air popper (my parents have one from the 90’s and it’s amazing), a popcorn stovetop pot-yes that’s a thing, make it over the stove (I do this the most), brown bag and/or DIY at home popping, or most intriguing to me…make your own reusable fabric bag like this!! Easy as that, pick one and go. It reduces a lot of trash because most bulk stores sell organic, non-GMO popcorn kernels.
4) TEA…but not all, just most store bought, name brand, high industrial/mass produced conventional tea/tea bags. You see all this info online about composting tea and and tea bags BUT what to do with the darn envelopes, the tea bag’s bag? If they are a plastic/foil/paper combination, they are not recyclable. I have emailed many well known tea companies asking if their envelopes are recyclable and all the ones that have a paper/foil/plastic wrapping aren’t recyclable (Stash, Good Earth etc.). If you are a tea person it can add up to a lot of waste, even if you compost the tea bag itself. So what is the alternative? Tea bags that come in tins, tea bags in bulk or loose leaf tea in bulk. Want to help your body and the earth even more? Check out Top 5 Reasons to Choose Organic Tea.
5) Chewing Gum. This is one thing I did not expect to give up at all when trying to reduce my trash and overall consumption. I am a dental hygienist so I know about sugar-free, anti cavity, saliva producing help, sugar snack craving, brain stimulating (I always chewed gum during tests in college) gum and I flat out loved it. Unfortunately, most chewing gum is made from synthetic plastics, synthetic dyes,  synthetic flavors and they aren’t biodegradable, let along the packaging! To be honest, I don’t have an alternative because I just gave it up at some point along the line. I am sure at local health food stores they have natural mints that come in tins (watch out for sugary ones!).  Check out this blog post from How to Live Zero Waste on the different brands of plastic free chewing gum. The graphic below is a useful learning tool as well. Is Europe more advanced environmentally than the US?
As a little bit of a downer, there are also many benefits to losing some of these things. Like ‘they’ say, “When one door closes, another door opens”. I like the challenge of finding natural alternatives. It accumulates less trash, less stuff, less shopping, less consumerism, less materialism, less superficial-ism. Sometimes it seems like there is no point, “my trash wont make an impact, or other people still wont care about their trash”. The point is to spread the word by how you live, even if it seems to take a long time or to be useless. You have to communicate to companies why you aren’t participating in their product (cough Trader Joes and ALL THEIR PLASTIC) and support/spend your money on good products and companies that make it a priority to care for the earth.

Q: What do I do with all my current nail polish, food coloring, chewing gum, bagged popcorn and tea?
A: YOU USE IT. As annoying and frustrating as it is when trying to go zero waste. You slow down, take a deep breath. You’re making a move in the right direction so you enjoy it, grieve what will come when you’re done and let it go slowly. You learn and make better decisions in the future.


  1. Joanne Reel Peressini says:

    I loved when you took your own bagged popcorn to the movies last summer! It’s a great idea! I really e joy reading all your frugal earth saving tips! Keep up the good work! ( cute bubble gum photo too! )

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