Environment Go Low-Waste with a Few High-Impact Changes

by Stacy Suaya | October 01, 2019

Looking to help the environment and your budget? Then take note: cutting back is the new keeping up.

There’s a lot to be gained from a way of life where we generate less trash: cleaner air and oceans, and protected natural resources and habitats, to name a few.

While living a zero-waste lifestyle is an extreme challenge, you can start small and still make an impact, which is why a “low-waste” movement has bloomed. Parents are preparing plastic-free lunches at local schools. Big companies are pledging to reduce their contributions to the waste stream in the years ahead. They may seem small, but these gradual changes can add up to a cleaner Earth — and they can even have a lasting impact on your budget.

To get started, check out these easy tips from change leaders who have discovered inventive ways to cut back on what they toss out.

The sustainable fashionista

Jeanette Padilla Vega is not your typical fashion lover blowing up social media. When the entrepreneur from Las Vegas, NV, posts a photo of herself in a styled outfit, the pieces are either thrifted, vintage or sewn herself from discarded fabric. She often uses a hashtag that signifies a pledge to buy “no new clothes for one year.”

The biggest perk to no shopping is that Vega gets to spend more time with her daughter and less time running to the mall for what she needs. She also loves the creativity it demands. “It’s easy for fashion influencers to make looks with glittery, vibrant pieces," Vega explains. She embraces the challenge of making more out of less. "Limited pieces spark creativity.”

How you can be a low-waste fashionista:

  • Let the creativity flow! Consider taking up sewing. Vega's skills with a needle and thread have allowed her to make a cardigan, salvage a pair of torn workout pants and more. She even sells some of her homemade wares online. So, she's not only recycling materials, but earning some extra income for doing it, too. "You feel so proud of yourself," she says.


  • Wait on clothing purchases. If you like something you see online, take a photo and put it in a folder. If it sticks in your mind, and you still want it a few months later, it’s more meaningful. And, consider the cost per wear.
It’s easy for fashion influencers to make looks with glittery, vibrant pieces.
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The low-waste local

Sheila Morovati, a mother of two who lives in Los Angeles, CA, is passionate about preventing and reducing waste. The former marketing professional now works within her local community to change how people treat what might be thought of as disposable items in their day-to-day lives — particularly kids.

It all began when she noticed how many crayons were being thrown away while dining with her children in restaurants. As a result, Morovati founded Crayon Collection, which works with restaurants in Los Angeles to bring unused crayons to underserved schools. She also fought to have plastic straws banned in Malibu (and won), and is currently working with food-delivery services to cut out the plastic cutlery.

How to educate your kids — and yourself — to be a low-waste local:

  • Look for opportunities close to home. Bring kids to beach or park cleanups, get them involved in composting or join (or start!) a community garden at school.


  • If kids say that they're bored, turn to science. Head to the library — or ask a science teacher — for cool experiments to do at home that will teach kids about the environmental effects of waste first-hand.


  • Shopping at farmers markets is a smart way to support local growers and shrink the carbon footprint of your food. To save on your budget, Morovati suggests shopping the market at the tail end, when you may be able to bargain with the farmers looking to unload (and not waste) their goods. She recently paid one dollar for a pound of organic fruit! Just remember to bring your own bag.
Family returning home from shopping trip unpacking plastic free grocery bags

The green beauty queen

Tina Hedges grew up in Jamaica, where ingredients for food and beauty were plucked from nature. She went on to a career at some of the biggest beauty brands in the world. Then a mysterious allergic reaction to a commercial beauty product got her questioning all of the chemicals she was slathering on herself every day. She resolved to turn back to nature as her source.

“Most beauty products are 80% water, and then you have to add synthetic ingredients,” says the New York-based entrepreneur. “I decided to go back to my own heritage of blending my own beauty.” With that, Hedges started Loli, a zero-waste, food-grade, 100% waterless beauty company that makes skin, hair and nail care products. She harvests ingredients from all over the world, like rare oils from France and Senegal, and from seeds that would have gone to waste — talk about a circular economy.

How you can be a green-minded consumer:

  • If possible, opt for products in glass containers over single-use plastic bottles, as Hedges does when packaging her products. Plus, it'll save you money in the end since you can reuse glass containers.


  • Buy powder detergent instead of liquid — liquid detergent is primarily water, and it usually comes in plastic. Powder usually comes in a cardboard box that can be recycled. For the same reason, buy bar soap instead of body wash.


  • When you travel, aim to go low-impact. Start by packing your own cloth shopping bags for souvenirs, a reusable water bottle and straw.
Most beauty products are 80% water, and then you have to add synthetic ingredients.
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The commuter with a cause

Last year, more than 84 million trips were taken on shared bikes and scooters in the U.S. according to a report from the National Association of City Transportation Officials. Several hundred of them were taken by Jeff Novich, who lives in New York City's Harlem neighborhood and commutes via Citi Bike bicycle around the city.

Novich took his first ride on the bikes in 2016 on a spin through Central Park with his wife. They loved it so much that they signed up for annual memberships. Today he considers himself part of a community of bicycle advocacy in New York and enjoys seeing the city through sharper focus. “You can’t zone out on a bike,” he says. He also loves that his commute time is accurate, his legs are in great shape and that it’s saved him money on public transportation and taxis.

Ed Skylar, Citi’s head of public affairs, says the Citi Bike program's success has far exceeded initial expectations when it launched six years ago. “It’s been exciting to see the extent to which riders have embraced Citi Bike bicycles, making it a sustainable, new form of public transportation that’s become a part of so many New Yorkers’ lives.” Beyond enjoyment and ease, it is estimated that Citi Bike trips have offset up to 120 million pounds of carbon from entering the atmosphere.

Man wearing a camera helmet

How you can be a low-impact commuter:

  • If you always take a car, take a look at alternative options such as walking or biking. Ease into biking by exploring for fun first and then build up to the commute — and take note of what it saves in your commuting budget.


  • Go at your own pace. Make the route comfortable for you — it doesn’t have to be the fastest route.


  • Many cities host car-free street events where you can test-pedal the city without traffic. It's a small step to getting started, which is what Novich did.

With so many perks, a low-waste lifestyle can bring a higher quality of life. And when everyone makes small steps — at home, at work and in their community — it adds up to big changes for the future

Stacy Suaya

has recently revamped her kids’ lunches, swapping plastic baggies for aluminum containers. The Los Angeles-based writer’s work has appeared in The New York Times Styles, The New York Times T Magazine, Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and Robb Report.