7 Simple Steps to Start Your Zero Waste Lifestyle

Author: Sarah Breeze

July 09, 2020

Did you know that the average US household produces 4.4 pounds of trash a day? That adds up to over a ton per household per year!

The statistics are scary, but the solution doesn’t have to be. Going zero waste is one of the most impactful and rewarding decisions you can personally make for the health of the planet.

But — you might be thinking, it’s impossible to go completely zero waste! And you’d be right. The reason why isn’t your or my or anyone’s fault.

Linear Versus Circular Economy

It’s because we’re part of a linear economy — one designed to take raw materials, create goods for the market, and then dispose of the goods when they wear out or are no longer useful. It’s a “take-make-waste” model, and it’s why most of what we buy is destined for the landfill.

Fast fashion is an example of the linear economy at work. Cheaply made clothes are mass-produced and sold at rock-bottom prices. Fast fashion is poor quality and the majority of it ends up in thrift stores or landfills.

circular economy

A circular economy, by contrast, is one that prioritizes careful and thoughtful use of raw materials. It has three main goals:

  1. Eliminate waste and pollution
  2. Design products and materials that are made to last
  3. Protect and preserve natural resources

Our leaf leather products align with the goals of a circular economy. They are:

  • Created to last. We want your first leaf leather wallet to also be your last.
  • Produced using only fallen teak leaves. No trees are harmed in the process.
  • Free from harmful chemicals and pollutants.

You can see how different the two economies are. Most companies providing consumer goods operate in a linear economy and make it next to impossible for us to buy waste-free products.

The good news is that you can still make a difference!

You Can Be a Zero Waste Changemaker

Zero waste is not an all or nothing venture. It’s a movement designed to progressively reduce the waste you create — from food waste to household waste to energy waste and beyond.

Adopting a zero waste lifestyle sends a clear message to companies that you are committed to shopping with the health of the planet in mind.

And as more people make the commitment to go zero waste, companies will adapt and change practices to align with a circular economy.

1. Set Realistic Zero Waste Goals

The biggest mistake people make when trying to adopt new behaviors is setting unrealistic expectations. Change is hard! Don’t make it more difficult by trying to do everything at once.

The best way to make sure your new zero waste habits stick is by taking small, daily steps. When you approach new habits this way, your daily successes build on each other. As you celebrate your daily wins, your motivation to continue skyrockets, and your habits become automatic.

Just like you automatically brush your teeth every day, you’ll soon be grabbing your water bottle every time you leave the house. Without even thinking about it.

Use these strategies to ensure success:

  • Write down your goals. Be specific. Instead of, “I want to go zero waste,” try, “I want to bring my reusable bags to the grocery store this month.” Now you have something to track!
  • Have an accountability partner. Tell a friend about your goals, and ask them to hold you accountable. Better yet— get them involved in your new zero waste lifestyle!
  • Take a little time every day to reflect on your progress. Did you remember your reusable bags? If not, what do you need to do differently? If you keep your keys in the same place, maybe you could put your bags right next to them, so you’re more likely to remember the next time.
  • Ditch the idea of perfection, and focus on your progress. To keep your momentum going, celebrate your small wins.

Now that you’ve set yourself up for zero waste success, take a look at the next steps below and decide what you can do in the next month.

2. Find out what’s in your trash

Excuse me, what? Yep— that’s right. To eliminate your trash, you need to know what’s in it! This is called a trash audit.

notebook for trash audit

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Spend about a week tracking everything that goes in your garbage. If you can separate out recyclables and food waste, it will be easier and not as icky.
  2. Write down what you see. Is your garbage full of takeout boxes? Paper towels? Plastic coffee cups?
  3. You can count items or weigh your trash. This helps you track your progress.
  4. Decide what you want to see less of. Remember— start small and be consistent! Example: “I will reduce my food waste from 5 pounds a week to 2 pounds a week.”
  5. Commit to your goal for another week. For food waste, you could focus on meal-planning and researching how to compost.

3. Create Your Zero Waste Kit

Your zero waste kit is a surefire way to set yourself up for success outside the home. Having zero waste swaps with you will help you avoid the dreaded single-use plastic.

Your kit should be easy to grab on your way out, so get a basket or large tote bag and fill it up.

how to use less plastic

Some ideas for your zero waste kit:

  • Reusable grocery bags
  • Containers for bulk bin shopping
  • A stainless steel water bottle (like our Eco Bottles)
  • Reusable straws
  • Bamboo flatware

If you're near Denver, Colorado drop by Zero Market in the Stanley Marketplace in Aurora or inside the Edgewater Public Market.

They're one of our favorite wholesale partners. They say "good things come in no packages" 😃. Check out their site Zero Market to help build your zero waste kit.

4. DIY Your Way to Zero Waste

Making your own products to eliminate waste is a great way to remove yourself from the linear economy.

Most of the household goods we buy, from food to cleaning products to skincare, are packaged in single-use plastic. Some of it is recyclable— if you’re lucky enough to live in an area that will accept it.

making your own zero waste items

Many products are easy to make and only require a little time up-front. Plus— they’ll save you money in the long run!

Here are our favorite zero waste DIYs:

  • All-purpose cleaner: mix one part warm water with one part white vinegar in a spray bottle. Use this in the kitchen, the bathroom, and for all of your windows.
  • Lotion and deodorant. Check out how to make both here and here.
  • Make your own facial rounds. You can use these to apply makeup or skincare products. You can also find several inexpensive options on Etsy.
  • Beeswax wraps are a great way to ditch plastic wrap in the kitchen for good. You can buy them here or make your own using this tutorial.
  • Learn how to DIY one of your favorite foods — yogurt, salsa, dips. Buy the fresh ingredients, get creative in the kitchen, and pat yourself on the back for avoiding one more plastic container!

5. Reduce Your Energy Waste

We don’t often think about energy waste, but the truth is, the resources we use to power our energy grid are finite.

Part of a zero waste lifestyle should include a commitment to reducing the amount of energy we use. And just like making your own household products, you’ll save money!

riding bike is zero waste

Here are some ideas to reduce energy waste:

  • Bundle errands. If you have to drive to get your errands done, do them all at once so you don’t waste gas making multiple trips to stores.
  • Make the switch to LED light bulbs. You can sometimes get these for free through your power company or nonprofits. Google “energy kit” + your city or state to see what your options are.
  • Ride your bike or walk to work a few times a week.
  • Get a push mower. Leaf blowers, lawnmowers, and other lawn-care equipment are huge energy wasters. Use low tech alternatives like a push mower, clippers, and rakes. Better yet— replace your yard with food!

Lower your thermostat a few degrees in the winter.

6. Go Zero Food Waste for Maximum Impact

If you’re looking for maximum impact ideas for a zero waste lifestyle, eliminating food waste is where it’s at.

Did you know that up to 40% of food in the United States is wasted? And accounts for 16% of methane emissions from landfills? Every little step we take toward reducing our food waste is a step in the right direction.

compost your kitchen scraps

It may seem overwhelming to know where to start, though. Use this guide to help you chip away at it.

  • Meal plan, meal plan, meal plan. Make a rough menu before you go grocery shopping. List your ingredients for your meals, and stick to it as much as you can. You’re less likely to end up with 3 bunches of kale when you only needed one.
  • Go meatless one day (or more!) a week. It takes 1,910 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. That’s a lot of wasted water! Plus, cattle ranching is responsible for about 40% of annual methane emissions.
  • Buy from the bulk bins. You can check out this list to find grocery stores that offer bulk bins. Take note— many stores aren’t allowing customers to use their own containers, due to COVID-19 precautions.
  • Compost your food scraps. This article is an excellent guide to get you started on composting.

7. Become a Zero Waste Activist

Remember that linear economy we’re living in? Well now’s the time for all of us to do our part to advocate for a circular economy.

become a zero waste advocate

Companies need to hear from conscious consumers. If you have a favorite product but it comes with too much plastic packaging, write a short email message to the company and ask them to find alternatives. If you need help getting started, check out this guide here.

Some other ideas for zero waste activism:

  • Invite your friends and family to join you on your zero waste journey. Multiply the impact you’ll have by inspiring others to go zero waste too.
  • Find your local zero waste group. You can search on Facebook to see if there is a group in your area. These groups are great for swapping ideas, staying motivated, and keeping informed on local policy.
  • Vote for local politicians who align with your zero waste values.
  • Join or donate to Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a nonpartisan activist group. They focus on bringing climate change policies to the forefront in over 500 local chapters across the United States.

Go Zero Waste for Life

Remember that going zero waste is a marathon, not a sprint. The steps above will help you avoid overwhelm. Start with a few easy zero waste swaps to gain confidence and momentum.

Make your habits automatic and sustainable, and soon zero waste will be your way of life.

Let’s save the planet together!

Author: Sarah Breeze

Contributor

Nature lover, foodie, eternal optimist. I split my time writing, cooking up delicious vegan creations, and getting lost in the Pacific Northwest woods. In the winter I trade my hiking boots for cross country skis. Loving the slow life.

Favorite nature spot: Hoh Rainforest, Olympic Peninsula, Washington State.



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