As the low-waste and sustainable lifestyle has made its way into mainstream culture, Ali Hall has tapped into quite the following on social media. Find out how she influences people daily to make healthier choices for the planet through her weekly series, “The Cost of Sustainability,” along with tips and tricks on shrinking your waste.
In 2020, my husband and I hiked the Appalachian Trail, a 2,000 mile footpath from Georgia to Maine. We lived in the woods for five months and carried everything on our backs, including our garbage. Walking 10-20 miles a day gave me ample time to ponder all of life’s biggest questions, but what I really fixated on was how much I hated carrying my trash. I was sure that my backpack would feel significantly lighter and i would feel worlds better without that half a pound of waste. So, I started listening to audio books about the zero waste lifestyle, which ultimately led to books about the environment. And after spending day and night outdoors, I got a little obsessed with the idea that this landscape might not exist as we know it by the time my children grow up. Needless to say, that drove me to make some changes.
When we got back home, I was eager to maintain the minimalist lifestyle we had settled into, but there were some major differences between trail life and real life. I thought that, much like crash-dieting, going zero-waste overnight was unrealistic and unsustainable. Instead, we opted to make gradual changes by addressing one issue every week. I started Tiny Waste as a way to share my progress as well as all the information I found along the way.
I think the majority of people are concerned about climate change, but have no idea how to fix it and feel overwhelmed by the concept of zero-waste. By sharing simple swaps and low-waste habits, my followers have actionable ideas to work towards. Unfortunately, there is a common misconception that a sustainable lifestyle is too expensive, so I’ve tried to show multiple options for every issue. I’m currently doing a series called “The Cost of Sustainability” on Tik Tok, in which I compare the prices of everyday goods to their sustainable counterpart. My goal is to show that the low-waste swap is often comparable in cost and usually even saves money. When you start to break it down, low-waste and frugal are similar concepts. Now, I have a big overlap of people hoping to reduce their carbon footprint and people trying to spend less.
The low-waste lifestyle is very easy for my husband and I to execute at home. The real challenge comes when we are out and about. We’ve gotten better, but we don’t always remember to bring reusables like cutlery and napkins.
Before I started my low waste journey, I conducted a trash audit with a week’s worth of garbage. Over the course of seven days, my household of two people had generated three kitchen bags full of trash. After a year of easing into the low-waste lifestyle, it takes at least a month to fill just one trash bag. Even our recycling bins are seeing less action, since we opt for package free or bulk goods as often as we can. Our trash and recycling output has become so small, that months go by before we have to bring anything to the curb for pickup!
I think shifting into this environmentally conscious lifestyle before having a child made for a much smoother transition than the other way around. By the time my son came along, we had already converted the majority of our low-waste swaps and established many sustainable habits. I collected all of his nursery furniture, books, and clothes secondhand. I comitted to cloth diapers and wipes that can be washed and reused. And I found products, like diaper rash cream and baby shampoo, that come in low-waste packaging. Now, we are hoping that he will grow up thinking of our “low-waste lifestyle” as normal.
It can be tempting to buy him a new outfit or toy, but second-hand shopping usually scratches that itch. I’m sure it will only get more challenging as he gets older, but right now he’s just as excited about a wooden spoon as he is a dancing moose.
Absolutely. I am a sucker for seasonal coffee treats from Starbucks! Pre-pandemic, I could bring a reusable cup to be filled at any Starbucks location, but now it’s hit or miss depending on the location. A few times I’ve walked out empty handed when my mug was refused, but usually I just give in and take the disposable cup.
I have started to receive more and more messages from brands looking to collaborate on social media, but I’m very careful about which ones I’ll work with. When I started Tiny Waste, I promised myself that I would never promote a brand or product that went against my values. So, before I agree to anything, I do a little digging to make sure a company is living up to their sustainable claims. It’s infuriating how much greenwashing comes through my inbox; and ultimately, it ends up in the trash.
(1) Pay attention to packaging – when I conducted my first trash audit, I noticed that my biggest landfill contribution came from packaging, mostly plastic, which has limited recyclability and can take hundreds of years to break down in a landfill. Now, I opt for products that come in paper, infinitely recyclable glass or metal, or even better, no packaging at all. For example, at the grocery store I purchase loose produce and eggs in paperboard instead of styrofoam. I also look for shops that let me fill my own containers. Between Mom’s Organic Market, Weaver’s Way, and Shift, I have an array of package free food and household necessities to choose from.
(2) Ditch disposable cups and bottles – Worldwide, billions of plastic bottles and disposable cups, which are lined with plastic, are sent to landfills every year. I know I used to go through countless water bottles and coffee cups every day. Now, I keep a water bottle and thermos that can be rinsed and refilled repeatedly.
(3) Get a handle on food waste – Americans generated an estimated 63.1 million tons of food waste in 2018. At first glance, I wasn’t too concerned about that statistic since food breaks down relatively quickly, but wasted food means wasting all of the valuable resouces it took to produce and transport it. Not to mention, food that ends up in a landfill produces methane, a greenhouse gas 86% more powerful than carbon monoxide in terms of global warming potential. Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to cut back on food waste, like eating leftovers, meal planning, and composting.
I try to convey to every parent that mental and physical health have to be the priority. Eco-guilt can really creep up when you’re, for instance, throwing away endless diapers, but being a parent is hard. If the maintenance involved with cloth diapers is going to push you over the edge, then stick to disposables. Sustainability looks different for everyone and perhaps you can focus on a different aspect, like shopping secondhand or raising awareness in the community.
As for sustainable switches, I’m still so new to motherhood and have only ever done things one way, so I can’t really speak to whether or not my sustainable habits make parenting easier!
I can say, with confidence, that I have no idea what the future holds. I have a secret dream of transitioning into van-life with my family and giving sustainable seminars at libraries around the country. But having a child constantly reminds me that plans are made to be changed. So for now, I’m taking things day by day.