Zero Waste is a movement with the overall goal of completely eliminating household trash. Now the goal of producing absolutely zero waste is nearly impossible to achieve, however, a more realistic approach that most zero wasters take on is to produce the lowest amount of waste as possible. I hope this guide can be of great help to you on your journey to zero waste living.
Zero waste can also be described as a new mindset and way of living. Here are the basic principles of zero waste living.
The 5 R’s of Zero Waste Living
- Refuse – stop any unwanted items from gathering in your home by refusing the things you don’t need.
- Reduce – cut down on those materials that you use on a regular basis.
- Reuse – upcycle and extend the life of an item by finding a creative new way to reuse it again.
- Recycle – that which you cannot refuse or reuse, you should recycle. Avoid items that cannot be recycled.
- Rot – any leftovers items you may have you can rot. Composting food scraps and other items you will help return nutrients and fiber back to the earth.
Zero waste living starts with reevaluating our overall daily habits and trying to change those that produce waste. If you are new to zero waste living, here are 12 tips you can follow in order to get started right away.
1. Ask Yourself Why
Think about your motivation for wanting zero waste living. Do you care about helping take care of the environment? Do you want to save money? Do you want to keep the earth a clean and healthy place for the future of your loved ones?
Zero waste living isn’t always easy but when you can clearly identify your “why”, this will help you and your family stay motivated for zero waste living. When you can clearly identify your motivations, you are ready for the next step.
2. Use What You Have
Before making the swap to zero waste alternatives, use the items you do have and dispose of your waste responsibly.
You may already have the tools to for zero waste living and not yet know it! Glass mason jars can be used as reusable storage containers or drinking glasses. Old clothing can be turned into a tote bag or reused as cleaning cloths. Cutlery can be taken on the go when eating out.
Have a look around your house and see what items you have that can be reused. Starting writing down any creative ideas that come to mind. You may find that when you are inspired by one idea, a bunch of other ideas will start flowing into your mind.
3. Assess Your Current Waste
Start keeping track of how much waste your household is producing. Ask yourself one simple question: How many bags of trash do I produce each week?
Write down this number and set a goal for you or your family to improve upon. Post this somewhere visible in the house for everyone to see. This will be easily achievable when at the front of your mind.
4. Eliminate Single-Use Items
Single-use items come in many shapes and forms and as modern-day humans, we love convenience.
Think about your daily routine and which single-use items you use the most. Are you a twice a day “frappucino on-the-go” person? Do you use plastic utensils, napkins, straws, and water bottles? What does your bathroom routine look like?
This may take a week or two to start noticing, but this will help you identify exactly where your waste is coming from. Once you notice your waste, you can act accordingly by swapping out your single-use items for reusable and eco-friendly items.
5. Refuse the Unnecessary
Say “no” to promotional items and unnecessary products. It common to accept free items with gratitude but most promotional products are made from low-quality materials that won’t last long.
Think twice before a flier is handed to you on the street or promotional pen and paper pads are given away in excess. If you didn’t actively go out and search for the item, chances are you don’t really need it.
6. Buy Secondhand
If you have the need to buy an item, look to purchase from your local thrift store first. This will almost always be a cheaper option. Why buy something new and use up new resources when that item gets produced?
By buying an item secondhand, you are also preventing that item from ending up in a landfill. Nowadays are many secondhand online marketplaces where you can score a great deal.
One person’s trash can easily be another person’s treasure!
7. Avoid Impulse Purchases
Start to change your mindset and avoid impulse buys. These can be a huge factor for zero waste living and preventing overconsumption. If there is an item you are absolutely dead set on buying, play the waiting game by waiting a few days to a week and ask yourself a few questions:
- Do I really need this?
- Why exactly do I want this?
- How long will this last?
- Will it contribute to my zero waste living?
8. Make It Yourself
Learning how to be resourceful and make your own products can greatly decrease your household waste. Many toiletries a come with tons of excess plastic packaging. A simple recipe and you can create your own toothpaste or cleaning supplies. A home-cooked meal will always produce less waste than ordering that takeout food.
By creating new items in your home, you will start to take more ownership and value them to last for a long period of time.
9. Appreciate What You Have
As a society, we are very quick to throw things out when something is broken or it doesn’t serve a purpose to us anymore. If you start to appreciate the items you do have, you will be less inclined to kick it to the curb. If something breaks, get it repaired or repurposed.
You will be surprised how long you can make an item last when it receives the proper care and the love it needs!
Look around your home and see which items can be donated. By donating unwanted items, you eliminate the potential of producing more waste from that item. You will also free up more space for the items you need.
Ask yourself, “does this item bring me joy?” If not, donate it to someone to whom it will!
11. Get Involved
Getting involved with your local community can be a fun way to promote zero waste living for the whole family. Shop at your local farmer’s market or bulk foods provider. Organize a clothing swap amongst family and friends or participate in a local waste cleanup.
Kindly inform local businesses about reviewing their packaging and container policies. Be proactive within your local government and promote zero waste living to make a change within your community.
12. Start Composting
Composting is the process of decomposing or breaking down waste such as food or plant materials so they can be returned to the environment. For example, organic food scraps such as banana peels or celery stalk ends can be naturally broken down together into nutrient-dense soil that will go straight back to the earth. Almost anything that comes from the ground can be composted.
You can start simply by placing all of your food scraps into a jar and putting them in the freezer. Dump the scraps off at your local composting station. Congratulations, you’ve just started your own compost system!
If you have a backyard, you can invest in a composting tumbler or build your own. You just simply add your food scraps into the tumbler and crank it round and round. This will produce you fresh compost that will give nutrients and fibers back to the earth while eliminating your food waste.
Zero Waste in the Kitchen
The kitchen is one of the most waste-producing places in the home. This is due to the food packaging we bring into the home and the waste it produces after we have opened and consumed it. Below are some helpful tips that will help with going zero waste in the kitchen:
- Use reusable containers – after cooking, put the leftovers into a reusable container in the fridge or freezer to be stored for later consumption. There are many options on the market but reusable glass containers or reusable freezer bags will be the best.
- Adjust how you store your food – glass jars are great for storing bulk foods in the fridge or freezer. Stainless steel storage containers will also last a long time while preserving the life of your foods.
- Eliminate food waste – with 45% of household waste coming from food waste, composting (see above) can be an effective way to reduce that number. Check in your area to see if your local municipality offers curbside pickup or start one in your own backyard.
- Reduce your cleaning supplies – many surface cleaners can be replaced with a simple vinegar or baking soda substitute. Stay clear of excessive amounts of cleaning supplies for each job, instead opt for one that is multi-use. Many commercial cleaning supplies can also contain toxic chemicals that can pollute the waterways.
- Rethink your appliances – some appliances can encourage us to produce more waste than we may intend. Blenders are great but maybe purchasing plastic-wrapped frozen fruit. A coffee machine may need disposable filters or single-serve capsules. Examine your kitchen appliances and look at what you use regularly and what you can live without.
Zero Waste in the Bathroom
The bathroom can be another waste-producing part of the home, especially because you may have multiple bathrooms. Many toiletries and personal care products are packaged in plastics and may not be fully recyclable.
Look to streamline the use of products that contain plastic and use only the essentials. Here are some additional tips for reducing waste in the bathroom:
- Toothbrush – plastic toothbrushes aren’t easily recyclable so when tossed out they end up in landfills. Swap out your plastic toothbrush for a biodegradable toothbrush. Bamboo is a popular material known for its sustainability as a renewable resource and ability to decompose in the environment when finished. You can easily find an affordable pack of bamboo toothbrushes at any popular online retailer.
- Toothpaste – there are many substitutes to the traditional toothpaste that comes in a plastic tube, however, if you want to practice zero waste living you shouldn’t replace one disposable package with another. Simple ingredients such as baking soda, sea salt, and peppermint extract make for an easy homemade toothpaste.
- Shampoo and conditioner – there are many brands that now make organic shampoo and conditioner in a solid bar form. This will eliminate the use of plastic bottles and also last much longer. You can also opt to buy your shampoo and conditioner in bulk and transfer to reusable glass “pop-top” bottles.
- Shaving – stainless steel safety razors are a long term option that won’t produce waste as plastic disposable razors will. You can also look to invest in a high-quality rechargeable razor. For a shaving cream replacement, a mixture of coconut oil and aloe vera works well.
- Deodorant – deodorant that is package or plastic-free is sold in solid bars or creams. These contain mineral salts which will prevent odors but is not an antiperspirant. These work just as well as commercially sold deodorant but without the aluminum or plastic packaging.
- Makeup – look for cosmetic brands that come in plastic-free packaging and are compostable. Analyze your makeup routine and see where you can substitute products to those purchased in bulk. You can also substitute your cosmetics using simple edible ingredients such as coconut oil for moisturizer or cocoa powder for blush and bronzer.
- Menstrual products – using disposable menstrual products every month will only contribute to the trash piling up in landfills as many pads and tampons contain plastic. There are reusable options such as menstrual cups and cloth pads. This will also prevent any toxins from coming in contact with your body and save you money each month.
Zero Waste in the Laundry Room
The biggest factor for reducing your waste amount in the laundry room will be the amount of laundry you wash. Review your weekly laundry routine and see if how you can reduce the size of your loads. Here are a few tips you can follow to reduce waste when doing laundry:
- Detergent – buy your detergent powder or liquid in bulk. Soapberries or soap nuts are an alternative to chemical soaps. They contain saponin which is a natural detergent. When thrown in the wash they free dirt, grime, and oils from clothing. Simply place 3-4 soapberries in a light cloth bag and add it to your laundry. After 5-6 uses, you can compost them.
- Fabric softener – white vinegar works as a fantastic substitute to commercial fabric softener. Simply add about 1/2 cup (118ml) to your fabric softener compartment before washing. Your clothes will come out smelling fresh but without any hint of vinegar!
- Stain remover – many stains can be removed with a small amount of Castille soap, hydrogen peroxide, and water. White vinegar, baking soda, and water also work as a multi-purpose stain remover. For oil stains, scrubbing in talcum powder mixed some water will do the trick. You can also upcycle your old plastic toothbrush as a stain remover brush.
- Dryer sheets – wool dryer balls can be swapped out for wasteful dryer sheets. They work by rapidly absorbing water from your wet clothes in the dryer. These will last up to 1000 loads when dried properly after each use.
Zero Waste in the Bedroom
You may not initially think it, but the bedroom can be a place where a high amount of waste in producing. This is mostly due to our wardrobe and our need to hold onto unused clothing items for what seems like an eternity. The following tips can help you reduce the waste in the bedroom:
- Minimize your wardrobe – by simplifying your wardrobe you will find it easier to find certain items of clothing when you need them. You can free up some closet space by donating less frequently used clothing. If you haven’t worn it in the last year, chance are you don’t need it!
- Limit your shopping – we all have our vices and excessive clothing shopping can be one of them! By simply limiting your shopping to once or twice a year, you will already cut down on your waste that comes out of the closet.
- Repair your damaged clothes – by learning to mend you can bring life back to those pants that ripped or buttons that popped off. You can also find clever ways of reusing those old t-shirts such as cutting them up to use as cleaning cloths.
- Sleep green – if you are in need of replacing your bed sheets and linens, use materials that will decompose at the end of their lifespan. Some options include organic wool, cotton, bamboo, or hemp.
Zero Waste in the Living Room
The living room can sometimes be a place for items to clutter, especially if you have a large family. Staying organized is essential but also minimizing the items in your living space. Here are some ways to reduce waste in the living room:
- Furniture – look for furniture made from all-natural and eco-friendly materials such as eco-wool, organic cotton, bamboo, reclaimed woods, or recycled fabrics.
- Use energy efficient light bulbs – reduce your household energy output by switching to energy efficient light bulbs throughout the home. You will also see positive results on your electric bill!
- Clean out your junk drawer – we all have that pesky junk drawer that just keeps on piling up with random bits and bobs. Take a couple hours and purge the unnecessary while also reorganizing so you can find the items you actually need when called upon.
- Use an essential oil diffuser – make a switch from scented candles, which can have harmful ingredients, to using a diffuser with essential oils. There are many added health benefits and will save you from candles that may or may not be able to be reused or recycled again.
- E-books – if you haven’t already, start a library of e-books. There’s no doubt to the upsides of having books in your home but consider donating the titles you never use or have gone untouched for years.
- Toys – for your children, consider reducing the number of toys on hand. Donating the toys that go unused over time can be a great way to bring joy to another child!
Zero Waste Outside the Home
Start to look at your routine outside of the home. What you buy and consume outside the home will affect what you bring back into the house. There may be many other parts of your daily routine but here are a few more tips for different situations outside the home:
- Grocery shopping – reusable cloth bags will allow you to purchase your dried food and produce in bulk. Glass jars can be used for refilling bulk liquids such as honey, soaps, oils, and shampoo. Stainless steel containers work well for transporting basic staples and spices that are bought in bulk. Reusable fabric shopping bags will eliminate the need for plastic ones.
- Eating out – when eating to prevent any food waste, bring your own reusable containers for any leftovers you or your family may have. Bring your own cutlery if you don’t want to use single-use disposable silverware. You can bring simply bring your normal dining cutlery or opt for reusable bamboo cutlery which is light to carry and easy to wash.
- Lunch at work – bring a packed lunch to work. This will not only cut down on your waste but also be much healthier. Use a stainless steel lunch container that you can easily bring back and forth. A reusable water bottle will also eliminate the need for plastic consumption.
- Your coffee routine – think about your daily coffee routine and how much plastic or paper you consume with disposable coffee cups. Use a reusable cup with a reusable drinking straw. Many local coffee shops even offer discounts for bringing your own cup!
- Traveling – when traveling zero waste, keep a conscious mind towards your consumption. Create a zero waste toiletry kit that can be taken on the go. Small mason jars make great portable containers for just about anything! Put your liquids and toiletries in small reusable containers for carry-on luggage. At the hotel, hang your towels up to be reused again the next day. Avoid using the mini travel sized toiletries offered by the hotel and instead use your own.
- Refuse receipts – if you are given the option of a paper receipt, refuse it! Many times you will still be given the receipt anyways. Some establishments are starting to go paperless for their invoices and receipts, by sending an e-mail instead. Encourage places you often frequent to consider this option.
- Refuse straws – when offered a single-use plastic straw, simply say “no straw please” and refuse the potential waste. You can also “BYOS” or “bring your own straw” and carry a reusable drinking straw with you at all times.
- At the movies – bring your own snacks in a small container. If the movie theater doesn’t allow this, make sure it’s discreet and sneak them in!
- Picnic at the park – instead of going out to a restaurant, have a picnic in the park. It’s a fun way for the whole family to get outdoors! Pack minimally with reusable food containers and make sure no waste is left behind.
Depending on where you live, all of these tips may be easier for some than others. Those who live in larger cities may have more options for bulk purchasing and a variety of eco-friendly brands, whereas those who live more rural may have more options for homegrown food, farmer’s markets, and composting. It’s all about being about to do your best to practice zero waste with the resources you have.
Take the first step and challenge yourself to zero waste living! Nobody is perfect and it does not happen overnight. Even if you take one simple action after reading this article, you will already be taking a large step toward helping eliminate waste in the environment and your journey for zero waste living. Now get out there and give zero waste living a try!