One of the big buzzwords in ethical living is “zero waste” but what does it mean?
And, more to the point, how do you incorporate living with “zero waste” into your own life?
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with this super practical and simple guide for moving from low to zero waste.
Why Go Zero Waste And What Is Zero Waste?
The ultimate goal of the zero waste movement is very simple – nothing that you use should ever end up in the trash and head off to a landfill.
However, it’s also pretty much universally agreed that you can’t completely eliminate all your household waste but you can reduce it substantially.
And there, you can make a significant difference – like Lauren in the video below that can fit 5 years of her trash into a single mason jar!
We go zero waste to be kind to the planet and the environment.
But we do it within the limits of what we can realistically achieve rather than setting ourselves an unattainable target.
The 5 Core Principles Of Zero Waste
In her book, Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste, Bea Johnson offers 5 core principles for us to follow to cut down our waste to a manageable amount:
- Refuse – this means to reject things that you don’t need. Don’t sign up for junk mail, don’t pick up free stuff because it’s there, that kind of thing.
- Reduce – this means to cut down on the things that we use. The less we use, the less opportunity there is for waste in the first place.
- Reuse – wherever possible give something a new lease of life before you dispose of it. Can it be fixed, repaired? Repurposed? It also means investing in products such as reusable washable towels rather than disposable paper ones.
- Recycle – if you really can’t reuse it, can you recycle it? Paper, glass, fabric, wood, metal, etc. can all be recycled.
- Rot – this means compost everything that you can that can’t be recycled. Food waste, plant waste, small or dirty bits of paper, etc. can all be turned into compost easily and cheaply.
You can find Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste by Bea Johnson online.
How To Start With Zero Waste – 10 Action Points
OK, so now we know the basics, let’s get to the practical stuff – here are 10 things you need to do to get down to zero waste in your life.
Write Down Your Motivation
Have you ever had a new year’s resolution that you failed to keep?
A target that you missed at work?
Made a promise that you just forgot about?
If you want to achieve things, you need to write them down.
This helps you remember why you wanted to achieve them and if you display the note somewhere prominent – it keeps focusing you on the end objective.
Take 5 minutes to write down why this is important to you – you’ll be glad that you did.
Cut Down On Junk
Then before you start buying, using things up, etc.
It’s time to take a long hard look at your life and start weeding out the things that you have that you don’t really need.
We don’t want you to throw them away at this stage, mind you, just work out what they are and then bring them all together.
If you don’t know how to do this – check out our reviews of The Joy of Less and the New Minimalism both of these books will teach you how to declutter with ease.
Use Up What You Already Have
One of the funniest things we’ve observed about people going zero waste is how much waste they create trying to do it.
You need to use up the things you have rather than throw them out and then replace them with zero waste items.
Don’t worry if this still creates a bit of waste while you do – it’s still kinder to the planet than chucking it out unused.
Zero waste is a gradual process, a marathon not a sprint.
Do A Trash Audit – Get Rid Of Single Use Items
The next step is to conduct a “trash audit”.
This is a posh way to say, go through your garbage for a month and write down what’s in it.
This should help you identify the things that you throw away the most of.
A lot of this stuff tends to be single use items.
Paper napkins, condiment wrappers, soda bottles, etc.
Once you know what you’re chucking out in large quantities – you want to find zero waste alternatives for those products.
Handkerchiefs can replace paper napkins. Condiments in reusable containers. Soda bottles can be replaced with glass containers and so on.
Think Bulk – Reusable Shopping Containers
The next step is to try and remove waste from your weekly/monthly shopping.
If you can find a local zero waste store, then it’s time to start buying things in bulk that you can use reusable containers for.
If you don’t have a zero waste store then many grocery stores allow you to bulk buy now and they will let you use and weigh your own containers – do that.
Make sure that you or an employee “tares” the container before you fill it though, you only want to pay for the products you’re buying, not the weight of your container.
Turn Down Things You Don’t Need
This can be hard for many of us because, well, we’re polite.
When people give us stuff, we want to take it because they gave it to us.
This is how companies work because they know that when they give you things, not only will you take it, you will feel obliged to return the favor by giving them money.
This is known as the reciprocity principle.
Yes, companies are using psychology to manipulate you.
Now, you know – you can say “no thanks” to that stuff they’re trying to give you.
Can You Reuse What You Already Have?
It is quite incredible how much of the stuff that you already own can be resued in one way or another.
In fact, as you’ll see from just the one video below (and there are many more on YouTube) you can reuse or repurpose 100 different household items super easily.
How many more can you think of?
What Can You Buy Second Hand?
You can buy nearly everything second hand and not only is this good for the planet but it’s good for your wallet too.
For example, take buying a camera.
What you might not know is that most people who buy cameras never use them.
They sit on a shelf for a year or two and then get sold in decluttering exercises.
So, you can get a bargain and still get a nearly new camera!
And if you don’t know how to shop for a secondhand item – there are plenty of tips on YouTube like this video about second hand cameras.
The Most Important Question
Then there’s a single question that can make your zero waste life much easier.
It’s… “Do I really need this?”
Ask it before you buy anything and if the answer isn’t a resounding “yes!”? Don’t buy it.
Get Practical: Make Things You Want
The next step is to start making things you want from materials you already have or materials that you can scrounge from the waste of others (yes, we know that sounds grosser than it needs to).
For example, you can make your own paper (as in the video below) easily enough and there are tons of other projects on YouTube to get you started.
Where Can You Get Support With Going Zero Waste?
You don’t have to do this alone, either.
There are plenty of folks out there trying to live a zero waste life just like you are and they can help you and you can help them.
We recommend that everyone get involved in zero waste activities in their community.
- Buying in bulk or from a local farmer’s market
- Contact your local government department and ask them about their initiatives and how you can get involved
- Why not run a clothing swap with your friends?
- You could host a community cleanup event too.
- You could even write to local businesses (via email) to ask what they’re doing to reduce their waste
You can also find a support group and get them involved. You can find support:
- Online. Hit up Facebook for a zero waste group in your state or Google for other options.
- Friends and family. Get your friends and family involved and ask them for ideas and other ways to work together on keeping waste to a minimum.
- Colleagues. Obviously, talk to a manager before you try to get your workplace involved but you can make big contributions by changing corporate culture.
Last Word on Zero Waste Living
Going zero waste won’t happen overnight and you shouldn’t expect it to.
However, by taking practical action, you can reduce the waste that you and your family create and you can have a good time doing so.
One thing many people don’t seem to realize is that, in the long-term, zero waste is a cost-effective lifestyle and you’ll save plenty of money for things you really love as you move forward.