When people hear zero waste they think, naturally, about creating absolutely zero waste in their life. This is almost certainly impossible. I don’t even know why it’s called zero waste and I wish there was a better name for it. If you search around the internet, the definition of “zero-waste” varies. It’s not just throwing away less garbage, it can include never using plastic, buying everything second hand, making everything yourself, not eating out, eating only organic foods, becoming vegan, and on and on. The list of rules for how to live zero waste seems to be endless and very daunting.
There is no way to be truly zero waste without leading an extremely restrictive lifestyle. People who only create a mason jar’s worth of trash still aren’t technically zero waste. One of my favorite zero waste bloggers that I follow (the Zero Waste Chef) said something like this: “Don’t strive for perfection. No one is perfect, so fear of failure becomes an excuse not to start.” The actual quote sounds better, but you get the idea. I think of this every time I feel like giving up on my zero waste goals because it feels impossible. The truth is, even the smallest way you try to reduce your waste is better than nothing.
If you’ve ever wondered how to go zero waste, I’m going to tell you about some little changes you can make to create less waste in your life.
- Donate or Sell old stuff
This is one of the easiest switches to make. Donate your unwanted clothes, dishes, home decor, kids toys, and pretty much anything else to your local thrift store instead of throwing it away. Most cities have a thrift store of some kind nearby, whether it’s a Goodwill, Salvation Army, Savers, or another independent store. Plus, you can write donations off your taxes! If your town has a Habitat for Humanity Restore, that’s a great option for the things thrift stores won’t take: building materials, hardware, paint, furniture, and more. Another option is to sell your stuff, whether it’s on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or a yard sale. Your stuff gets reused, and you make a little money. Win win!
This one is so easy. Instead of throwing food scraps in the trash, put them in a compost container in your kitchen. Here is a quick list of what can and can’t be composted. There are nice stainless steel compost buckets with carbon filters you can buy, but a compost container can be anything: a bowl, a jar, a tupperware, a small trash can. Once it’s full, toss it outside. Again, this can be a special compost container or just a barrel, or even a sectioned off part of your yard. Ours is a pile sectioned off with chicken wire. When your compost breaks down, it becomes amazingly nutrient-rich soil that you can use for gardening and planting! Don’t have a yard? Many apartment complexes have communal compost piles. If yours doesn’t allow one, there are alternatives. There are also an increasing number of composting services that will pick up your compost and reuse it. My workplace uses Earth Stew.
- Buy reusable
A really easy switch is reusable tote bags instead of plastic bags for groceries. These cost around $1 each at your local grocery store, but people also give them away for free at many public events. If you want to get nicer, sturdy ones I would recommend Chico Bags. They can be pricey, but I got a Jack-o-Lantern one on clearance after Halloween for cheap. So I carry my groceries around in a trick or treat bag. I am committed. If you currently buy bottled water, stop it. Get yourself a Brita pitcher and a reusable water bottle and you’ll never need that shit again. In addition, I have a collection of reusable products that have effectively replaced the disposable ones, and I’ve never looked back. For example, I use cloth napkins instead of paper ones. I bought a set of 10 from this Etsy shop, and I haven’t needed to buy more. They work way better than paper napkins, and I just toss them in the laundry after I use them. I use Lunchskins and Bees Wrap instead of plastic bags and plastic wrap when possible (we still use plastic for meat storage). Just wash and air dry and they’re ready to reuse. Though some of these products are more expensive than the disposable kind, they will save you a lot of money in the long run. It’s one purchase as opposed to repeated purchases.
- Buy consciously
I’m sure you’ve heard this one before…buy in bulk. Buying in bulk is great. If you can bring your own containers to the store and fill them up with whatever you need, you save a ton of packaging. In many cases, it’s also cheaper than buying the same packaged product. That said, not everyone has the opportunity to do this. Many grocery stores don’t have a bulk section at all, or it’s very limited. Plus, not everyone can afford the stores that do offer bulk (Whole Foods, grocery co-ops, specialty stores, etc) That’s why I titled this section “buy consciously.” I don’t buy everything in bulk, because not everything I need is available in bulk, or it’s not affordable. So, I try to buy things with less packaging or recyclable packaging. The merits of recycling seem dubious at times, but it is still better to recycle than to add to a landfill. When you eat out, opt to eat in the restaurant rather than take it to go and you won’t need to deal with the styrofoam container, plastic bag, and plastic flatware that might come with it.
- Make your own stuff
You can do as much or as little of this as you want. Cooking your own meals at home saves tons of packaging, because of the aforementioned packaging that takeout food comes in. It’s easy to make your own cleaning supplies and body care products, too (I’ve saved lots of good recipes for these on my Pinterest). Pinterest is a great resource for recipes to make pretty much anything you can think of. One thing I haven’t been able to figure out is DIY makeup. I know it’s possible, but I haven’t had the time or materials to do it yet. But if you want to try that, go for it! The bottom line is, if you make it yourself instead of buying it, there’s a good chance you will create less waste. Plus, it’s fun!
- Plastic vs. Glass
I need to devote a whole other blog post to this. We all know plastic is bad. It’s polluting our oceans, and it’s made with chemicals that mess with our bodies. That said, I still think it’s better to reuse what you have instead of buying new stuff and throwing the old stuff away. Not everyone can afford to replace all their plastic things with glass. Glass is more expensive, heavier, and breakable. Sometimes, it’s just not a practical choice. If all you have at home is plastic tupperware, use it.
In conclusion, don’t be intimidated by those who claim to be living zero-waste. You don’t need an extreme change of lifestyle to help the environment. Just the fact that you are reading this post is a great start! Ease into living zero waste with these 6 steps, and then go further if you wish. Doing something, no matter how small, is better than doing nothing.