My mother recently sent me a massive text message including all of the questions and resources she needed to begin transitioning into a zero-waste lifestyle. She then proceeded to call me and hash out the details of her text messages over the phone in order to make sure that she had covered her bases.
By the end of the conversation, I was exhausted from trying to rationalize with my mother who wanted to start going zero-waste but was calling to get the details whilst talking to the butcher at Whole Foods. It was a cyclical conversation but then I realized, I have never actually written any tips to start a zero-waste lifestyle. I have spoken about my own personal journey and how it started with food, but have never comprehensively talked about it.
So, for those of you out there looking to start transitioning to a zero-waste lifestyle, or if you’re just interested in cutting back a little on your personal waste, below is my comprehensive list to get you started. Mind you, there is no true quick-start, easy, sure-fire way to get you started. This will take time, this will take research, and ultimately it will take a lot of patience and leniency for yourself and others to adopt this way of living.
The easiest way of starting to go zero-waste is remembering the 5 R’s.
Don’t rush into it, start off small, and ask a ton of questions. The zero-waste community is full of amazing resources, friendly people, and guides to help you.
1. Get Rid of Your Trash Can
Not Your Recycling Bin
The easiest way to start going zero waste is by shrinking your trash bin. If you have a smaller to no trash can (including trash liners), then you can’t throw away items, forcing you to purchase recyclable or compostable items. Confronting your garbage is the fastest way to stop making it, and the sure-fire way to motivate you to change your habits.
2. Switch Your Cleaning Supplies
Some people say this is the easiest way to begin because household cleaning supplies have so many toxic chemicals in them, switching them is a gateway to living better. The easiest way is to switch to white vinegar, dish brushes, and bar soaps. Use hemp, linen, or cotton towels to wipe messes.
3. Eliminate Your Disposables
Basically, Anything Involving Plastic or Single-Use
Start by using cloth and towel napkins, then handkerchiefs in replace of paper towels, paper napkins, and tissues. Then move onto shaving alternatives, like safety razors or sugar waxing. For feminine products, switch to a cup, and for sexual health look for products made by Sustain. Stop buying dryer sheets and instead use baking soda and vinegar. Use washcloths instead of makeup remover wipes and say goodbye to cotton swabs and balls. Use a tongue scraper and a water pick instead of floss, and when its time to replace your toothbrush switch to a bamboo one. Say no to single-use plastic (i.e., to-go containers, cups, straws, etc.) and say hello to stainless steel water bottles and coffee mugs with lids.
4. Shop With Reusables
Shop used and opt for glass, stainless steel, or wood instead of plastic. Use your reusable bags! Carry them with you all the time, if you forget it in the store, purchase one, you will start to remember them. Shopping at farmers markets, bulk sections and local stores can help reduce waste. When shopping in the grocery store for produce, instead of placing every item in a plastic bag, opt for putting them in your reusable bags (YOUR FRESH WAS SHIPPED IN A TRUCK, IN A BOX, AND MANHANDLED BY EMPLOYEES BEFORE IT REACHED YOUR HANDS, THERE IS ALREADY BACTERIA ON IT, A PLASTIC BAG WON’T PROTECT IT ANY MORE THAN A REUSABLE ONE). Finally, shop at local farmers markets, they’re so much cheaper, they help small businesses, and it keeps you eating fresh produce instead of opting for takeout or frozen foods.
5. Repair or Reuse
Instead of Buying New
I stopped shopping at large department stores and retailers (Top Shop, H&M, Zara, etc) a while ago because of the damaging effects of fast fashion on the environment, and instead buy almost everything second hand or from environmentally conscious retailers. This means, the more I continue to shop and purchase clothing items I love that are higher quality and made well, the less I will need to shop. Instead, I try and repair or reuse items that get damaged or rip. Instead of buying new, always try and repair.
To some, this sounds like a scary word, but it can be a lot simpler than you think. Because I live in an apartment in the city, composting is scary with bugs and rodents, so instead, I opt for the freezer method, because I don’t have a garden or use for compost. Otherwise, there are tons of resources out there to assist you in composting. It’s fairly easy, not as time-consuming as you think, and makes a world of difference. Instead of throwing away nutrients, you are putting them in the soil and recreating the cycle of life. Go you!
For an extensive guide to zero-waste, check out Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home, The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying your Life by Reducing your Waste. It’s a great resource, has a ton of information and tips, and is basically the bible in regards to zero-waste. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice, slide into my DM’s or leave a comment below and share your journey of zero-waste, there are so many of us out there cheering you on.