Zero Waste Living: How to live zero waste (or close to it!)

Zero waste living is taking the eco world by storm. The movement’s origins can be traced back to early adopters including Bea Johnson, Kathryn Kellogg and Lauren Singer. While their work is something to be inspired by, their sustainable lifestyles can seem overwhelming – especially if you’re just getting started.

And that’s just it. All you have to do is start. Being somewhat sustainable, mostly vegan and trying to buy less is better than being paralysed by climate anxiety and plastic despair. Whether you’ve just bought your first reuseable water bottle or you’re a composting pro, read on for the complete guide to zero waste living:

Why you don’t actually need to be zero waste

It’s strange to begin a zero waste living guide by saying, “You don’t need to be zero waste…” But hear me out. The old saying “it’s about the journey, not the destination” couldn’t be more applicable to the zero waste movement.

Focus on the waste you’re preventing rather than the waste you’re producing.

Once you delve into zero waste living, you will undoubtedly reach a point of overwhelm and despair when you realise that we’re living in the most wasteful time in history. It’s difficult to live zero waste and goes against the norm. From supermarkets wrapping just about everything in unnecessary plastic to the shocking fact that one-third of global food production is wasted, it can feel like an uphill battle. Focus on what you can do.

Cultivate a sustainable mindset

Start by taking small steps to sustainability. You are limiting waste every time you successfully implement a zero waste strategy. Once you experience a small zero-waste win, you’ll receive the sustainability equivalent of a runners high and want to come back for more (and more and more!).

Your sustainable mindset and consistent action to produce less waste matter much more than zero waste slip-ups ever will.

The 5 Rs of Zero Waste Living eco friendly plastic free

The 5 Rs of Zero Waste Living

Now that you’re on the path to cultivating a zero waste mindset, let’s start with an overview of what this eco movement is all about – creating no waste! Here are the 5 Rs of Zero Waste Living:

Refuse

Master the art of saying “no” to unnecessary waste. Whether it’s a promotional pen, hotel shampoos or a flyer on the street. Avoid things you don’t need that will likely end up in landfill. If you’re not actively seeking something, you probably don’t need it.

Reduce

Reducing what you consume can make a huge difference to your impact on the planet. It’s also a great first step towards elimination. You can begin your zero waste journey by reducing the amount of food you buy in plastic, limiting the amount of money you spend on new clothing or cutting the number of household items you buy in single-use packaging.

Reuse (+repair)

The basic concept is to reuse an item as many times as possible before condemning it to landfill. This can involve reusing a plastic yoghurt container to store dry goods or cutting up a worn-out t-shirt to replace disposable cotton rounds. The options are endless!

Note: many plastics leach nasty chemicals into food and liquid so avoid heating, freezing or storing liquids in them, especially the single-use variety.

Meanwhile, repairing has become a lost art; especially as it’s often cheaper to replace something than fix it. Repairing good quality items stops them from being sent to landfill and will save you money long term.

Recycle

We’re quickly learning that recycling isn’t the answer to our plastic and waste crisis. That’s because it’s estimated less than 9% of all the plastic ever created has been recycled. However, recycling still has its place. For products that you can’t refuse or reduce, opt for options that are recycled in your local area and ensure you follow local recycling guidelines thoroughly.

Rot

Composting (rotting food scraps) is an important part of limiting waste. More than a third of the average household’s waste comes from food scraps. This is especially concerning as food sent to landfill creates methane gas which has a global warming potential 21x greater than carbon dioxide.

It’s easy to dismiss composting as something that only those with backyards can do, but there are many alternatives for those in apartments. These include food waste collection services, small worm farms, electronic composters and community gardens.

>>> READ MORE: Why paper bags are BAD for the planet <<<

Recently, these have been expanded to the 7 R’s of zero waste:

Rehome

Decluttering your home isn’t just good for your mind but for the environment too. Rehome the things you don’t use rather than leaving them to gather dust around your house. You can limit the need for these things to be made new for someone else who does need them.

Replant

For those with space to garden, many fresh fruits and vegetables can be regrown from scraps. From green onions to pineapple, the options are endless.

Learn, baby. Learn!

Some zero waste solutions can be implemented no matter where you live. Others are location-dependent. For example, recycling rules change depending on your local council. Meanwhile, sustainable buying options vary greatly depending on location. Teach yourself how to properly dispose of things in the most sustainable way possible. Determine what zero waste steps you can currently take in your local area.

Now you’re all read up on zero waste living, take action:

Set some goals

The best way to live more sustainably is to take it one step at a time. At the beginning of my zero waste journey, I committed to not buying any new clothing for six months as well as implementing one zero waste swap per month. Breaking it down into small, actionable steps made the switches easy to manage and a lot more fun. They’re also habits and routines now that I don’t think twice about doing.

Assess your current waste

Due to the high levels of convenience many of us experience, we’re generally unaware of just how much waste we individually produce. Spend a week focusing on what you throw away to assess where you’re at.

You can conduct a waste audit at the end of this time, which involves collecting your trash (yep, all of it) at the end of your recording period. If scrounging through garbage isn’t your style, keep a running tally on your phone of every time you throw something away for one week. Either method is guaranteed to shock; especially when you consider what this amounts to over your lifetime.

Use up what you have

It’s very tempting to want to shop up a sustainable storm when you begin your zero waste journey. I mean, the gorgeous shampoo bars you always see on Instagram and a set of matching mason jars will make all difference, right? Not quite.

That’s consumerism pumping through your veins and you’re acting exactly how you’ve been conditioned to. Zero waste living is one of the few ways you can change your life without spending a cent. Instead, the most sustainable way to begin your zero waste journey is to use up what you already have.

Dust off those old beauty products and begin to use them up (yup, even the ones in unsightly plastic bottles). Stockpile empty glass jars for future use, even if they’re not matching shapes and sizes. Before investing in a reusable purchase ensure you don’t already own something that could perform its duty.

Note: the only exception to this is beauty products containing plastic microbeads, which should be tossed in the bottle and not used.

>>> READ MORE: How to make hemp milk that doesn’t separate (secret ingredient!) <<<

Organisation is everything

Convenience is a byproduct of a lack of organisation. Zero waste living is made much easier with a little bit of planning. The more organised you are, the more likely you are to make zero waste choices.

Pack your bag the night before and include your keep cup, water bottle and reusable cutlery. Plan your outfit for a big event in advance to allow time to scour second-hand shops.

Think before you buy

Our capitalist world has made spending money fun and turned shopping into a hobby. As you continue on your zero waste journey, you will begin to see the sheer scale of how wasteful our society is. We’re conditioned to spend our hard-earned money on crap we don’t need. 

It’s impossible to make any sort of zero waste living progress until you begin intentionally questioning what you actually need. Most people quickly discover it’s really not that much. Begin by asking yourself these three simple questions before every purchase:

  • Do I really need this thing?
    • Exactly how will it add to my life?
    • Where is it going to live in my home and do I need to get rid of something else to accommodate it?
  • Do I want this or am I being compelled by outside influences to buy it?
    • Where did I get the idea to buy this thing?
    • Will I still want and use this thing (or even remember it exists) in a month, a year or a decade?
  • If I must buy something, does this purchase cast a positive vote for the world that I want to live in?
    • Does it come from an ethical source?
    • Is it second-hand, recycled, zero-waste, re-usable?
    • Does it have a smaller environmental impact than the same conventional purchase?

The third question is the most important. Every dollar we spend influences the world around us. The aim of businesses is to make money, which most do be selling things to consumers or other businesses in one way or another. It’s powerful to know that whatever their customers demand, they will do – otherwise, the business won’t survive! 

minimalist minimalism questions to ask before buying something new zero waste living

Important zero waste living points to remember:

  • It’s about the zero waste journey, not the destination
  • If you do one thing, COMPOST!
  • Find a sustainable community to support and inspire you (joining me on Instagram and Pinterest is a great place to start!)

Now go forth and create less waste, the future of our planet depends on it.

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