Posts Tagged zero waste

How to Embrace the Zero Waste Lifestyle, Realistically

How to Embrace the Zero Waste Lifestyle, Realistically

The zero waste lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but everyone in the world benefits when we create less trash and cut back on waste. Not only does our trash take up room in our homes, but there are plenty of concerns about the environment as well.

how to start zero waste lIfestyle

Cutting back on trash is also important if you don’t get regular pick up of trash or recycling. Save yourself the time and energy of hauling garbage to the dump when you could simply make a few adjustments.

In my own life, I’m not yet 100% zero trash, but I’ve cut back significantly in the last few years. This what I’ve learned and how I’ve made a zero waste lifestyle (or close to zero waste) work for me.

Getting Started with the Zero Waste Lifestyle

getting started with a zero waste lifestyle

If you’re ready to get started with a zero waste lifestyle, there are a few steps to mentally and physically set yourself up for success. There are many zero waste products out there to help with waste free living. Items like bags, bottles, and food containers can be reused over and over. Storage containers can even be created from items you already own.

Here are my tips on how to go zero waste easily.

1. Be Realistic

be realistic when starting with the zero waste movement

Get yourself in the right mindset to before you even start exploring how to go zero waste. Focus on how you will make a zero waste lifestyle work and how you will deal with any anticipated roadblocks.

Most importantly, stay realistic. Don’t expect yourself to go completely zero waste overnight. We all see people in the news and on YouTube who commit to going zero waste 100% right away. While this works for a few people, most of us need to simply take steps over time to cut back on trash and waste. We’ve been living with our wasteful habits our entire so it will take some time to reverse that.

2. Do an Anthropological Study on Your Trash

study your trash to see what you throw away

If you’re ready to start, my first recommendation will sound a bit odd, but stick with me here. Go through your trash! Take your most recent bag of garbage and go through the items in the bag piece by piece. Approach it like an anthropologist—what will you learn from your garbage?

Your garbage will probably tell you a lot about what you eat. Many people find the majority of their trash comes from the kitchen. Food containers, drink containers, straws, bottles, bags…all these items add up quickly. As you separate out your trash, look at the items to recycle (typically, recycling isn’t counted as “waste”). Sometimes cutting back on your trash means recommitting to recycling as well.

Keep an eye out for items you could have repurposed. This isn’t to say you should hoard empty containers and jars to the extreme. A cupboard full of repurposed containers still takes up space in your home. Simply see what is recyclable and how you could minimize your current trash footprint.

Understanding what you actually throw out will let you guard against those things in your zero waste future.

3. Focus on Small, Meaningful Changes

focus on small changes to acheive the zero waste life

Once you’re ready to start the transition to a zero waste lifestyle, check out zero waste resources. Read zero waste blogs and books about the zero trash lifestyle. Find small waste reducing adjustments to implement without changing your routine too much.

Something as simple as carrying your own water bottle or reusable coffee mug makes a big difference without much effort. When you went through your garbage, did you notice many of the same items, like Styrofoam coffee cups or takeout containers? That indicates a good place to start.

Would your favorite takeout place let you bring your own container for food? Could you carry your coffee mug with you each morning?

Beyond your convenience food purchases, look at your shopping habits. Is your grocery store zero waste friendly? Some stores allow you to bring your own bags or jars, offering ways to minimize your food containers (more on creating a zero waste kitchen below).

4. Purchase Zero Waste Products to Set Yourself Up for Success

purchase zero waste products: water bottles, resuable bags, reuseable straws etc

There are many products available to help those who want to live a zero waste lifestyle. Metal and silicone straws are a great example of now-common zero waste products. Bags and food containers are also widely available.

You may also want to look at products with minimal or recyclable packaging. Some health and beauty companies sell products like “bar shampoo” without a bottle. For example, the company Lush promotes that 35% of their products are sold “naked” without package. Look for minimal waste or recyclable options for items like toothbrushes, deodorant, and more.

If you buy items like candles, look for ways to reuse the jars. If you read magazines, exchange or recycle them, use them for crafts, or donate them to a local school or library when you’re done reading them (better yet, switch to an e-reader). Whenever you make a purchase, ask yourself if there’s a less-wasteful alternative.

5. Find Simple Swaps

find simple zero waste swaps, there are lots of products to reduce trash

There are many simple swaps to help set you up for success with your zero waste lifestyle. On the blog The Greener Girl, she outlines many easy zero waste swaps. Straws and bags are two of the easiest switches.

Other items to swap for zero waste (aka reusable) items include fountain pens, razors, feminine products, and laundry soap. Change your kitchen sponge for a microfiber towel. Rather than using napkins and tissues, switch to washable handkerchiefs and cloth napkins. Once you explore the zero waste swaps out there, you may be surprised at all the areas where you can implement a simple change. In the long run going, zero trash will save you money.

How to Create a Zero Waste Kitchen

create a zero waste kitchen

Hands down, the biggest area of waste is usually the kitchen. When I studied my trash, almost everything I was throwing out on a regular basis had to do with food. Many convenience food products come in plastic bags, bottles, boxes, and containers. What we’re saving in convenience, we’re making up for in garbage.

If you’re wondering how to create a zero waste kitchen, there are a few easy areas of focus to start to cut back on waste.

1. Bulk Buying

bulk buying to reduce trash from food waste

Many stores offer the option of bulk buying, especially natural groceries and health food stores. People might feel a little intimidated at first but buying items in bulk is simple. Best of all, bulk buying creates zero trash.

When people plan to buy bulk, often they bring containers with them to the store. Purchase simple mesh bags made to hold all sorts of items like rice, nuts, oats, and coffee beans. Bring a paper bag with you for items like flour. Jars are typically used for deli meats, cheese, and other items requiring a sealable container.

Get your containers weighed at the service counter before you start shopping. The grocery clerk will give you a printout or write down the weight of each container so it’s deducted from the purchase weight at checkout. Then all you need to do is fill up your containers. Shopping this way doesn’t take much extra time and you often save money because bulk buys are typically cheaper.

2. Store Items in Jars

store items in jars to reduce on trash

Rather than storing items in plastic containers, use glass or metal jars to hold the ingredients in your kitchen. If you live in a tiny house, this tip is useful anyway—often glass or metal containers take up less space than commercial packaging. Uniform containers help you maximize your storage space and look great too on open shelves.

If you cook meals ahead to freeze, use glass container to store your food. Leave extra room in the top of each container because food expands when frozen. Store your leftovers in glass jars and reuse them over and over—you can even heat mason jars and eat out of them. This makes food storage simple and there are no worries about chemical compounds in the plastic leaching into your food.

Even microbreweries get in on the trend of reusable containers. You can purchase a “growler” from many breweries and get your beer refilled over and over. This is a fun way to eliminate the need to recycle beer bottles or aluminum cans.

3. Compost

compost bin to handle kitchen waste

Composting is part of a zero waste lifestyle, and for good reason: so many of us throw out food we could instead compost. Gardeners know compost creates a rich, nutrient-dense soil for plants to thrive in. Even if you aren’t a huge vegetable gardener, compost is a welcome addition to any flower bed.

Now, all organic matter can be composted—including human waste. If you’re interested in setting up a composting toilet, it isn’t hard (but of course it isn’t for everyone).

Food composting on the other hand is SO simple, everyone can do it. There are great containers with charcoal filters to eliminate any smell. These bins are stored right on your countertop. Add food scraps, vegetables, coffee grounds, and even paper products to your compost. Most people prefer to avoid adding meat and dairy waste to their compost as it takes longer to breakdown and attracts pests.

When you’ve filled up your compost container, you move it outdoors to a larger composter, where it is mixed with grass, leaves and other organic waste. Vermicomposting uses worms (typically red wiggler worms) to break down the decomposing matter and turn it into harmless vermicast. This rich compost is excellent for gardens. Vermicomposting is an easy composting method for anyone and my personal favorite composting method.

4. Cut Out Bags

cut out bags by using reusable shopping bags

Plastic shopping bags are one area where nearly everyone can cut back on waste. Whether you make your own (make a no sew shopping bag from an old tee shirt) or purchase ready-made bags, fabric trumps plastic every time.

If you buy fresh produce at the store, did you know you don’t need to put it in the bags they provide? Add loose fruits and veggies to your cart and checkout without using plastic. The mesh bags used for bulk buying are also used to store fruits and vegetables, or you could use a paper sack if you prefer. No matter your choice, it’s easy to BYOB (bring your own bag).

5. Plant a Garden

plant a garden to grow your own food which means less trash from food packaging

One of the best ways to cut back on food waste is to grow your own food as much as possible. Now, gardening and homestead farming aren’t for everyone, but even planting a few herbs and salad greens will cut back on containers and waste. Put your new compost to good use by planting easy vegetables like squash in recycled containers.

If you’re ready to take farming further, chickens are often a great place to start. Not only will you get eggs aplenty, but chickens minimize bugs and even help you till the soil in your garden. As you start to grow your own food supply, you’ll see a huge reduction in the amount of waste your produce. Gardening and homestead farming are a great step toward the zero waste lifestyle.

6.Buy Local

buy local food

Another important tip for minimizing your kitchen waste is to buy local whenever possible. Farmers markets and fruit stands naturally produce less waste. Food doesn’t need transportation—there’s minimal packaging and you often pick up right at the farm. Check into your local CSA or farm-share program as well. You could get a bushel container of packaging-free organic vegetables every week!

Buying local also extends to meat, dairy, and baked goods as well. A loaf of bread at the bakery will need less packaging (and require less wasted energy to create and transport) than a commercial bakery. When you purchase from local purveyors, you build relationships and connections with your community. Choose your prime cuts, waste less, and request minimal packaging. Many commercial grocery stores won’t let you bring in your own containers for meat and deli products, but smaller natural food stores often will accommodate a zero waste lifestyle.

The same goes for joining a local co-op. Often, co-ops specialize in bulk foods and minimally packaged items. If your city or town has a co-op, consider becoming an owner. For a small fee, you’ll get access to a wide variety of foods and products, usually locally produced and minimally packaged.

7. Pack a Zero Waste Lunch

pack a zero waste lunchbox

Brown-bagging your lunch with zero waste is simple! There are so many products out there to help you pack a lunch and transport your food, it’s almost a no-brainer. I use a stainless steel box by a company called LunchBots. These containers are beautiful, simple, and so easy to transport. Your lunch is laid out in small compartments and it’s really appetizing.

bento box by lunchbots - a stainless steel lunch containerBento-style lunches have become very popular and for good reason. Not only are they a zero waste lunch option, but they’re aesthetically pleasing as well. In fact, a simple search on Pinterest will yield tons of ideas for making appetizing bento lunches your entire family will love to eat.

Plastic bags and utensils are really easy to cut out of your lifestyle because there are so many alternatives. Get rid of plastic wrap too. With beeswax wraps, you cover food airtight, wash the wrap, and reuse it over and over.

If all else fails, take a cue from your local deli and wrap your lunch in recyclable butcher paper. It keeps food covered and will help you maintain your zero waste lifestyle when you eat on the go.

8. Learn to Creatively Repurpose

creatively repurpose items that would otherwise go in the trash

Embracing a zero waste lifestyle means learning to creatively repurpose items whenever possible. Nowhere is this truer than in the kitchen. So many packages can be reused again and again. Spaghetti sauce jars are used as storage containers. Cans are reused to organize or as pots for plants.

A simple cutting tool will turn plastic bottles into strong rope to use in many different applications. You can recycle many plastic items into craft projects and gifts too. A simple search for repurposed or recycled crafts will yield hundreds of ideas.

Use your old toothbrushes as cleaning brushes. Reuse clothing as cleaning rags. The idea behind a zero waste lifestyle is to use up items as completely as possible. When you think an item has completed its purpose, ask yourself how to reuse it in another way.

FAQs About Living a Zero Waste Lifestyle

zero waste faqs

When considering the zero waste lifestyle, people often have a lot of questions. Like living the tiny life, there are no set rules you need to follow. The main idea behind zero waste is to find what works for you and do your best. There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to a zero waste lifestyle, but really, it’s pretty simple.

Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions I get about zero waste.

Where should I start?

Start by going through your trash to see your biggest area of waste. Then set small goals to help you tackle each area. If you see a lot of kitchen waste, for example, focus your zero waste efforts there. If you seem to throw out a lot of toiletries and beauty products, then that may be a good area to focus on.

simple clothing to wearYou may want to focus on a zero waste wardrobe as well. Having a capsule or minimalist wardrobe is a great start. Pare down to the necessities and simplify. As you clean out and get rid of items, find ways to recycle, donate, or reuse them whenever possible.
For most people, a zero waste lifestyle begins in the kitchen. Tackle that area and chances are you’ll take a huge step toward become completely zero waste.

Is it hard to do?

It depends on the situation. It requires effort, yes, but if you already recycle and minimize your purchases, then zero waste is the next step. If you plant a garden and grow your own food, then you may find it even easier to transition to a zero waste lifestyle.

My biggest piece of advice is to take it slow. Move in small steps. Tackle one area of your life at a time, like implementing a zero waste kitchen first. Then move to the next area. Like all lifestyle changes, baby steps make it much easier.

Does it cost money?

It seems counter intuitive to spend money on more “stuff” to embrace a zero waste lifestyle, doesn’t it? I recommend using what you already own as much as possible. That said, there are items in the zero waste products section below to help you on your journey.

A one-time purchase like a reusable straw will cut out many future purchases down the road. Buying beeswax wraps or mesh bags might mean making an investment up front, but it’s a trade off when you never need to buy plastic wrap or Ziploc baggies again.

Does it mean giving up “normal life”?

People may raise an eyebrow at any type of lifestyle change. When I moved into my tiny house, people asked me if living in a tiny house meant giving up a normal life. When I’ve advocated for homesteading or minimalism, people ask if it means giving up their normal routine.

Anytime you change, it will mean giving up the conveniences and norms you’re used to. That said, there are zero waste options for almost any product you can think of. You don’t necessarily need to go without something, you just need to adjust your approach.

For example, while I don’t know much about cosmetics, I’ve been told there are beauty companies who allow you to bring your own containers and fill up your own products. There are also minimal packaging beauty products to fit with a zero waste lifestyle.

For clothing, you will find almost any item of clothing you need at a second-hand store. Check Craigslist, Freecycle, and other exchange networks. Borrow what you need and find creative ways to reuse and repurpose items to keep them out of the landfill.

What if I mess up?

Again, like living the tiny life, there are no hard and fast rules you need to follow if you want to live the zero waste lifestyle. There are people who minimize their waste to a mason jar while there are others who simply try their best to cut back on garbage. Join online forums to get ideas and support about living zero waste.

Just keep in mind, no one is perfect. Sometimes there are items that wear out or need replacement (for example, I had to buy a bathmat even though I was attempting a no spend challenge). If a zero waste lifestyle is right for you, do your best. Even making an effort toward reducing your waste is a step in the right direction.

Resources & Zero Waste Products to Help You Start a Zero Waste Lifestyle

zero waste resources - websites, articles, posts, and videos

There are many zero waste blogs and ideas out there for living a zero waste lifestyle. Check out Pinterest and Google for resources to help you navigate. There are also many social media groups for zero waste.

A few popular zero waste blogs are:

Trash is for Tossers
Going Zero Waste
Zero Waste Home
Litterless

The items I’ve found really helpful for a zero waste lifestyle are:

LunchBots Bento Containers
Klean Kanteen Mugs and Water Bottles
CamelBak Water Bottles
Epica Countertop Compost Bin
Flip & Tumble Bags
Flip & Tumble Reusable Mesh Produce Bags
ECOSIP Reusable Straws
Glass Food Containers
Handkerchiefs
Microfiber Towels
Safety Razor
Biodegradable Toothbrushes
Bee’s Wrap Food Wrap
Wool Dryer Balls
Bar Shampoo

There are a plethora of reusable and zero waste products out there. Research and purchase items as you go along to help you embrace the zero waste lifestyle. It’s a great challenge to take on and really makes you think about what you’re buying (and the container it comes in). While we aren’t all ready to go completely zero waste, we can all take steps toward minimizing our waste and cutting back on trash.

Zero Waste House

Our friends over at Jetson Green found a great video about a family of four that create next to no trash.  In the video she shows just how much trash they have had in 4 months, which is amazingly little.  I really wonder how she is able to shop without all the packaging, she explains it kind of, but doesn’t go into details.

Via