It’s no secret: landfill waste is an enormous problem. The amount of trash we throw away that doesn’t decompose poses a great threat to our environment, and the pollution it causes can’t be ignored. The waste we throw out also gives off noxious gases and causes groundwater and surface water contamination. Animals are affected as they feed off the garbage in landfills, disrupting their natural migration and risking illness from the scraps we leave behind.
The good news is that we each have the opportunity to make a change by transitioning to living zero waste. So, what is zero waste living? We’re glad you asked. Learn more about zero waste living and how to live zero waste with our tips below, and start impacting the environment—for good.
What Is Zero Waste Living?
To keep it simple, zero waste living is about keeping all trash out of landfills and moving to a circular economy. A circular economy means we use, reuse, or recycle everything and eliminate waste. When you think of living zero waste, consider the way people used to live during times like The Great Depression. People took care of the things they had and didn’t waste nearly as much as we do today because it was more difficult to replace items.
The goal of zero waste living is to live more as people did a long time ago. However, the concept behind zero waste living is not a necessity, but rather that you adopt living zero waste as a way of rebelling and protesting the wasteful norms we see around us every day.
Learning How to Live Zero Waste
Learning how to live zero waste takes practice, and honestly, no one will ever be perfect. Living zero waste is an amazing goal. Amazing—and completely impossible. Zero waste living is simply an ideal to strive for so you can reduce your impact on the environment. Kathryn from GoingZeroWaste sums it up perfectly with her motto, “It’s not about perfection; it’s about making better choices.”
One of the best ways to stay on track when you begin learning how to live zero waste is to give yourself a “why.” You need a reason to stick with a zero-waste lifestyle, even when it gets tough. Your “why” will give you that motivation. Perhaps you’re motivated by the trash you see along your favorite hiking trails or hate looking at all the rubbish along the shore as you walk on the beach. Find your “why” and write it down in a place where you’ll see it every day.
Start with the Basics
Now that you’ve learned “what is zero waste living,” you don’t need to run out 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. 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 your run out. If you want to get rid of items and jump head-first into a zero-waste lifestyle, you should donate, recycle, compost, or upcycle items wherever possible.
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. You can use the knowledge you gain to make informed shopping decisions. Look for food and other items packaged in easily recyclable materials.
- Storage: Not everything can be recycled, and you might decide you’d like to upcycle, reuse, repurpose, or donate some of the items you come across. 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. However, 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.
Take a look at the basics above and see what you can do first that would have the most impact on transitioning to a zero waste lifestyle. You may find that you’re already beyond the basics and well on your way to living zero waste.
How to Live a Zero Waste Lifestyle
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 to others looking to reduce their impact, but we also help preserve the planet for future generations. Even small actions can go a long way towards reducing how much waste ends up in landfills every day.
To begin with, take a look at the trash you already produce. It’s probably not a pretty picture since most of us produce 4.4 pounds of trash every day. Don’t get discouraged if you feel like you’re producing too much trash. Instead, look at it as an opportunity to see what kind of trash you produce the most of. Do you get a lot of to-go cups of coffee? Are there lots of water bottles or soda bottles in your trash can? Perhaps you eat out often and have a lot of takeout containers in your trash. These are all simple places to start reducing your impact and heading toward a zero waste lifestyle.
Here are some more areas where you might consider cutting back as you implement a zero waste lifestyle.
We cook, clean, and eat in our kitchen, and this leads to a lot of trash. If you look around, you’ll probably realize that the kitchen is one of the biggest culprits for 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, there are simple, eco-friendly alternatives you can use instead. You can throw waste into your trash can but skip the liner, purchase reusable bags for the grocery store, and even store your food in glass or stainless steel containers.
- Say Goodbye to Plastic Packaging: Our love of plastic packaging just keeps growing. In 2012 the EPA found that 13% 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 on 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 in your own glass containers. You’ll find that you eat healthier, 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 getting 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 to cut down on waste.
- Cut Down on Paper: We use a lot of paper in the kitchen. Paper towels, plates, bowls, cups, napkins, you name it. Zero waste living involves skipping the paper dishes and sticking with real ones. Instead of paper towels use cloth. 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.
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. If you’re really interested in learning how to live zero waste, the bathroom is a great place to put your plan into action. While changing out 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 cut down on 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, it can actually save you money. Options like menstrual cups are a one-time purchase of around $35, which can save you up to $150 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 as well.
- Essential Oils-It: 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 essential oils. 10-20 drops of oil in a spray bottle of water makes a nice refreshing alternative.
- Bye Bye Plastic: 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, there are other options that don’t create as much waste such as shampoo bars. There’s also the option to make many of your bathroom products yourself. This is especially good if you’re looking for natural products free from toxins.
- Recycle the Rest: 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 has a guide on how to handle safe disposal for medications.
Hopefully, some of these suggestions have given you ideas on how to live zero waste in the bathroom. While some of these may require a greater change than others, they go a long way toward reducing how much of your waste ends up in a landfill.
3. Laundry Room
There are many options to reduce waste and learn how to live zero waste in the laundry room. Here are some of the tops 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.
- 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 when you clean off 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: When you really need a deep clean, try a homemade cleaning scrub to tackle tough stains and dirt.
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.
Living Zero Waste
Now that you know the answer to “what is zero waste living?” you’re prepared to implement some of these changes into your own life and learn how to live zero waste. Remember, it’s not about living zero waste overnight. Instead, think of zero waste living as a gradual process of improvement towards living a lifestyle that produces less waste overall. You won’t be perfect, and you’re not meant to be, but even a small effort can go a long way in protecting and preserving our environment for the future.
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. We focus on finding ways to power communities while helping the environment.