It’s no secret: landfill waste is an enormous problem for the earth. The amount of trash we throw away that doesn’t decompose presents a great threat to our environment by producing noxious gases and contaminating groundwater and surface water. Animals are also affected as they feed off the garbage in landfills, disrupting their natural migration and reducing their chances of survival.
What is zero-waste living? We can all make a change by transitioning toward a zero-waste lifestyle. What is zero-waste living? Learn more about how to go zero waste and start impacting the environment for the better.
What Is Zero-Waste Living?
Zero-waste living is a lifestyle that’s focused on keeping all trash out of landfills and moving toward a circular economy. A circular economy means we use, reuse, or recycle whatever we can to eliminate the waste we personally contribute to landfills.
To give you a better idea of what this would look like in the real world, let’s consider an example:
You buy a bottle of pasta sauce from the grocery store. When you finish the sauce, you’re left with a glass bottle. Instead of throwing that bottle away, you may reuse it for a variety of other purposes, such as:
- Storage for other food
- Planters for a small flower
- Glasses to drink from
- Containers to send something to your friend
- Containers for overnight oats or parfaits
When you think of living zero waste, consider how people lived during times like the Great Depression. People took care of their things and didn’t waste nearly as much as we do today because it was more difficult to replace items. Think of the zero-waste lifestyle as a way to better appreciate what you already have.
Why Should I Live Zero Waste?
Take a look at the trash you already produce. It’s probably not a pretty picture—most of us produce 4.9 pounds of trash every day. Add that to the rest of the U.S. population, and our country produces over 292.4 million tons.
This problem goes beyond landfills—our habit of overconsumption is sucking the planet dry of its resources. Metal ores, fossil fuels, and non-metallic minerals are all consumed by billions of tons every year without any way to replace them.
COVID-19 also taught us the importance of zero waste. For months, people couldn’t go out and buy the single-use products they use every day. Some eventually hoarded all they could find, while others switched to more sustainable alternatives.
While we hopefully won’t have to endure a quarantine like that again in our lifetime, it’s clear that a zero-waste lifestyle can and should be maintained, even during a pandemic.
Simply put, our current consumption patterns just aren’t sustainable. So if we want to live on this earth for a long time, we should adopt a zero-waste approach.
How to Start a Zero-Waste Lifestyle
Learning how to start a zero-waste lifestyle takes practice, and honestly, no one will ever be perfect. But perfection isn’t the goal—zero-waste living is an ideal to strive for so you can reduce your impact on the environment.
Kathryn Kellog from GoingZeroWaste sums it up perfectly with her motto, “It’s not about perfection; it’s about making better choices.”
Without the pressure of perfection weighing us down, it’s time to go through some tips on how to live a zero-waste lifestyle. There are many different ways to live zero waste, but here are six tips to get you started.
1. Find a Purpose
Before you can learn how to go zero waste, you must give yourself a “why.” This will motivate you to stick with a zero-waste lifestyle even when it gets tough or inconvenient.
Perhaps you’re motivated by the trash you see along your favorite hiking trails or hate looking at all the plastic littered along the shore as you walk on the beach. Or maybe you suddenly noticed how full your garbage can is every week and don’t want to continue contributing that much waste. Whatever your reason, find your “why” and write it down in a place where you’ll see it every day.
2. Get Familiar with the Basics
Don’t start with the high-level zero-waste tasks like making your own soap. Here are a few basics of zero-waste living to help you get started on your zero-waste lifestyle.
- Recycling: Getting a recycling bin is a good place to start when it comes to learning how to live zero waste. Your local community center should have information on the types of materials you can recycle in your area. Once you know what’s recyclable, look for food and other items packaged in easily recyclable materials.
- Storage: Not everything can be recycled, but it could be upcycled, reused, repurposed, or donated. Store these items in a place that won’t create unnecessary clutter in your home.
- Composting: When you think of composting, you might just think of food scraps, but compostable containers and plain paper can also go in the compost bin. The easiest method is to keep a small compost bin in your kitchen for food scraps and other materials and transfer it to a larger compost pile once it’s full.
3. Audit Your Trash
It may seem gross, but go through your trash to see what you’re throwing away. This is the only way to really know what you consume and discard regularly. For example, you may find that you use a lot more paper towels than you originally thought.
Take note of what’s in your trash and find reusable alternatives for those products. Continuing with the paper towel example, you might buy reusable paper towels or more dish rags you can use to dry your dishes and wash your countertops.
4. Get Used to the Zero-Waste Mindset
You should become familiar with the mantra of the zero-waste movement. Some of its tenets include:
- Refuse what you do not need (like plastic bags at the grocery store or straws at a restaurant).
- Reduce what you use (find ways to be more resourceful, like turning your soap bar scraps into a new bar).
- Reuse what you have until it no longer works (and then find a new use for it, like turning old t-shirts into rags).
- Repair what you can (especially with larger machines, like vacuum cleaners).
- Recycle as a last priority (ensure you’ve gotten as much use as possible before recycling).
5. Use What You Already Have
You shouldn’t run out right away and replace everything in your home with zero-waste alternatives. Throwing out your old toothbrush or plastic bags would also be wasteful—and the point is to reduce waste.
A great example of this is reusable grocery bags. While most people think of these bags as the epitome of zero waste, the tote bag industry isn’t very environmentally friendly. Some estimates believe you have to use the bag 200 times to justify its purchase.
The best way to switch to a zero-waste lifestyle is to use what you have and gradually replace them with zero-waste alternatives as you run out. So use those plastic bags until they break, then buy those reusable totes. Remember, reuse what you have until it no longer works!
6. Find Zero-Waste Alternatives for Your Home
You can make the most progress toward your zero-waste lifestyle in your home. Here are some areas where you might consider cutting back as you implement a zero-waste lifestyle.
As you start on your zero-waste journey, you’ll probably realize that the kitchen is one of the biggest culprits of waste in your home. Thankfully, there are a few ways to cut down on kitchen waste.
- Get rid of plastic bags: Plastic bags are everywhere. We use small ziplock bags to store lunches, large bags to line our trash can, and plastic bags to carry groceries. However, you can use simple, eco-friendly alternatives instead, like reusable bags and glass storage containers. But remember, you shouldn’t buy these reusable options until you’ve used all of your plastic bags to the breaking point.
- Say goodbye to plastic packaging: Our love of plastic packaging just keeps growing. In 2018 the EPA found that 18.5% of what we throw away is plastic—much of which could be recycled. When possible, avoid purchasing items packaged in plastic. Instead, purchase items in glass jars that can be reused again and again. Cloth or mesh bags are also great for purchasing bulk items when you want to avoid using plastic bags provided by the store.
- Buy in bulk: While this might seem like a counterintuitive suggestion, think for a moment how much packaging is used for single-serving items like yogurt, popcorn, or even string cheese. Every time you choose single-serving packages, you’re creating unnecessary waste. Purchase in bulk and store items in your own glass containers. You’ll find that you eat healthier and produce less waste., and save money as well.
- Don’t waste food: We throw away far more food than we realize. One way to reduce food waste is to carefully plan your meals so you use every ingredient in your fridge. This keeps you from buying too much food that might spoil. You may also find that some of the scraps you’re throwing away could be reused for other food. For example, vegetable scraps can be saved and boiled to make vegetable broth.
- Cut down on paper: We use a lot of paper in the kitchen—paper towels, plates, bowls, cups, napkins. Instead of paper towels, use cloth. Zero-waste living involves skipping the paper dishes and sticking with real ones. This is one area that might require a little more dishwashing and laundry on your part but will significantly cut down on your kitchen waste.
- Get a compost bin: Food scraps and paper products you can’t reuse can still give new life by getting thrown into a composter. This will create nutrient-rich mulch you can use in your garden or flower pots.
- Start a vegetable garden: a great way to fight against food waste. Instead of buying too many zucchinis and having to throw the extras away, you can pick exactly what you need every day. Check your vegetable garden’s zero-waste status.
The kitchen is a great place to start living zero-waste because you can make a major impact with only a few small changes. Take it one step at a time and find what works for you.
Another barrier to zero-waste living is the bathroom. While changing habits in the bathroom may be slightly more challenging than reducing kitchen waste, it can certainly be done. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Use recycled paper: While you don’t want to reuse or recycle your own toilet paper, you can purchase recycled toilet paper to reduce waste. Some even come in recyclable packaging.
- A zero-waste period: Ladies, listen up—not only can living zero waste on your period cut back on what you throw away, and potentially what you spend., but it can also save you money. Options like menstrual cups are a one-time purchase. of around $35, which can save you up to $75 per year on period products. Considering these little cups have a lifespan of about 10 years, that’s potentially a grand savings of $1,500. If menstrual cups aren’t your thing, there are also reusable pads and period underwear that help you live zero waste.
- Swap air fresheners for oils: Traditional air fresheners might make your home smell nice, but they’re actually polluting the air, and the containers they come in create waste. Instead, swap your current air freshener for 10-20 drops of essential oils diluted in a water spray bottle for a nice refreshing alternative.
- Stop using plastic bottles: Much of the plastic we use in the bathroom comes from body wash, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, and so on. While it might require an adjustment, other options don’t create as much waste—items like shampoo bars and toothpaste tablets. There’s also the option to make bathroom products yourself. This is especially good if you’re looking for natural products free from toxins.
- Prioritize sustainable materials: Sometimes it’s almost impossible to find beauty products that don’t have packaging. In these instances, look for products with containers you can recycle. There are even toothbrushes made from natural materials that you can recycle when you’re finished using them.
- Don’t flush your meds: While it’s tempting to just throw away or flush medicine that has expired, this is not a safe way to dispose of these products. Medication that is improperly disposed of can lead to environmental pollution. The EPA recommends looking for a drug take-back program in your area that can properly dispose of your medication for you.
There are many options for zero waste in the laundry room. Here are some of the top ways we produce waste through laundry, and what you can do to transition to zero-waste living.
- Soften your clothes—naturally: Sure, dryer sheets make your clothes smell nice and keep them soft, but there are natural ways to go about this as well. You can opt to make your own dryer sheets from clean old towels or other cut-up fabrics, or you can use a homemade wool dryer ball that does the trick as well.
- Buy bulk detergent: When you purchase your detergent, look for natural, chemical-free soaps to keep your family healthy while living zero waste. Find containers that can be recycled or composted or purchase concentrated liquid to minimize the size of the packaging. If you want to take your zero-waste living up a level, you can even make your own detergent and store it in a reusable container.
Clean, soft clothing is possible, even when you’re learning how to live zero waste.
It’s no secret that cleaning supplies are full of chemicals and often come in plastic containers that create additional waste. Try switching out some of your current cleaners for natural ones as you run out of them.
- Cleaning rags: Instead of paper towels, use old cloth rags to clean bathroom surfaces.
- DIY cleaner: Instead of purchasing chemical-laden cleaners in plastic bottles, make your own surface cleaner using vinegar. There are some great options for homemade cleaners that smell great!
- Deep clean: Try a homemade cleaning scrub to tackle tough stains and dirt when you really need a deep clean.
Just because you’re learning how to live zero waste doesn’t mean your house can’t be sparkly and clean. Switch to natural cleaners and do your health a favor.
Start Your Journey Toward Zero Waste
Even small actions can go a long way toward reducing how much waste ends up in landfills. Living a zero-waste lifestyle is challenging, but the rewards of caring for our planet and reducing our impact on the environment are exponential. Not only do we set an example for others looking to reduce their impact, but we also help preserve the planet for future generations.
If you’re interested in preserving the resources you have and finding an environmentally-conscious energy solution to power your zero-waste life, sign up for Spring Power & Gas today. With us, your zero-waste lifestyle can even extend to the energy you consume.