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How to easily make your home plastic-free in Chicago

Tips from Chicago’s first zero-waste store

Kitchen brushes with wooden handles are displayed on a white towel.
A bundle of kitchen brushes by Zefiro.
Courtesy of Zefiro

Taking stock of how much plastic we use in our homes can be overwhelming. There are dish soap bottles, plastic bags, disposable cups, and sponges. So, where do you start?

The first step is wrapping your mind around developing a new routine, says Carly Pulford of Zefiro, a shop aimed at making zero-waste more achievable in Chicago.

Many of the single-use items in our homes are hard to swap out because they’re designed to be convenient. Rather than overhauling your entire kitchen, Pulford recommends going slow and making small changes with big impact.

Always throwing out kitchen sponges? Replace those with bamboo handled brushes. One of Zefiro’s kitchen brushes costs around $6.50 and lasts much longer than a $2.99 plastic-filled sponge pack. Customers can buy a pack of five unique kitchen brushes, but Pulford says you really only need two, maybe three to take care of household cleaning and dishes.

There’s also items like Chicago-based Meliora dish soap (package free!), compostable toothbrushes, and muslin produce bags to consider. The key is figuring out what works for your own household. Every home is different, and there will be areas where certain changes will make more sense—so don’t worry about being perfect and find small swaps that work, says Pulford.

Pulford opened Zefiro after doing a stint at the Wicker Park farmers market in 2019. At the time, the market had newly banned plastic bags. She kept hearing from customers how difficult it was to find and incorporate reusable items. That feedback ultimately influenced her decision to launch an online shop to help residents find easy solutions.

While refill stores in Chicago are not the norm yet, Pulford thinks it’s heading in that direction. There are a handful of food coops that stock hard-to-find bulk items and more composting services popping up.

The ultimate way to reduce waste and environmental harm? Focus on buying less, Pulford says.