I'm a Zero-Waste Mom: Reducing What I Throw Away Has Saved me Thousands of Dollars

It's small changes in her lifestyle that help blogger and mom of one, Sara Tso, maintain a zero-waste lifestyle. She shares simple tips to help busy families scale back on what they throw in the trash.

It's easy to think that a new baby automatically means a lot of waste (diapers, wipes, plastic bottles, the list goes on).

But for the past five years, Sara Tso, a Los Angeles-based blogger and mom to 16-month-old daughter, Mari, has been leading a zero-waste lifestyle. After an internship at a farm in 2017 where she learned to compost (something she does on her own today), she's been on a journey to live more in sync with nature. "I realized that a lot of things in my trash can could be reused or returned to the earth," she says.

Living zero-waste with a baby sounds impossible, right? It's not exactly easy, but it's also not as hard as you'd think to make small changes—and to Tso, that's important. "I want my daughter to understand that we live symbiotically with nature. In order to ensure that we can have many generations in the future, we have to encourage our future generations to respect the world around us."

Today, Tso blogs about her zero-waste lifestyle, teaches zero-waste workshops, and runs a zero-waste shop. "At the end of the day, we are still going to buy things," she says. "But the products in my shop are mindfully sourced and curated."

Curious how she maintains a zero-waste lifestyle a busy mom? Here are her secrets:

Commit to Reusable Products

One of the biggest changes Tso made was also one of the simplest: swapping throw-away items for reusable alternatives. A biggie: diapers. Parents can spend $70 to $80 a month on diapers per baby. By using cloth diapers and wipes, Tso spent next to nothing (she wound up getting cloth diapers from a woman in a zero-waste Facebook group she's in). "Cloth diapering sounds like one of those things that's impossible, but then you do it and then you realize it's not that bad at all," she says. Plus, it's something you could incorporate into your life as much or as little as you want (you could, for example, just work on using one cloth diaper a day).

She's also switched from paper to fabric dish towels (DIY by using old tea towels or clothes that could be cut up into rags). She also suggests hiding items like plastic wrap, foil, Ziploc bags, plastic bags, or saran wrap somewhere that's kind of inconvenient in order to challenge yourself to find alternatives. "You learn other things to do, like put a plate on top of a bowl instead of using saran wrap," Tso says.

Try a No-Waste Baby Shower

Tso hosted her baby shower in her backyard with rented furniture, linens, cups, and plates from a zero-waste store. She made a dessert and bought bulk food from a local Italian market. While you might not be able to go 100 percent waste-free, you could get close and make a theme out of it. "I think the rentals combined were like $200. Buying disposables would be cheaper than that but they're usually plastic. And also reusables look nicer anyway."

Learn to Live With Less

There's a lot of baby stuff out there—but living without something before buying helps you figure out what you really need, says Tso, noting that she was OK with the minimal amount of baby items. She says they had a little bouncer and a playmat but didn't feel as though they needed much more than that.

Tso notes she also keeps her daughter's wardrobe and toy set pretty small and, when possible, chooses organic cotton, ethically made, or USA-made products. "We definitely spend more money on higher quality items now, but we are buying significantly less fluff." In total, she says she spends about $500 on her daughter a month.

Streamline Grocery Shopping

Tso notes that buying in bulk (say, a 25-pound bag of food versus a bunch of little five-pound bags) helps to streamline shopping, minimize waste, and even saves her money from time to time. "All those little packages add up," she says.

She's also committed to shopping at farmer's markets once a week to reduce waste and save money. "I usually have a certain amount of cash in my wallet and just spend that," she notes. Of course, switching to zero-waste is harder when it comes to some packaged foods and drinks, like milk and eggs. Tso says she buys large quantities of milk in glass bottles and can buy flats of eggs rather than cartons, but she also tries to thoughtfully source ingredients.

"I had an egg vendor that was relatively local," she says. "He would actually take back all of the egg cartons and reuse them so I wouldn't have to worry about that sort of waste." With butter, she tries to reuse wrappers for other purposes (if they're made out of parchment, you can line baking pans with them).

Be OK With Some Waste

When Tso and her husband had their daughter, it was hard to find the energy to cook in those first three months (let alone compost). "We definitely ordered a lot of takeout or delivery, which came in a lot of packaging," she says, "but it's definitely not something I regret because it was necessary for us."

Before transitioning her daughter to the food that they eat, she started out by having her eat some pouches of food that came in plastic. "Now that we have a kid, we do create more waste," she admits, but she notes that she knows it's nowhere near the average person (Tso and her family might use a plastic bag or two a month at the grocery store, she says). Over time, it's small changes that build on each other over time to add up to overall next-to-nothing waste.

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