The term “zero waste” can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Simply put, the goal of low or zero waste is to reuse products when possible, cut down on items sent out for recycling, and avoid sending trash to landfills. In short, the resources we’d normally throw away are always in rotation rather than being disposed of.
1. Evaluate Your Current Level of Waste
Getting real with yourself about your habits regarding waste will help you create a plan of action. While the evaluation phase may be a bit overwhelming, it can be equally enlightening. It’s important to practice self-compassion as you assess your current situation and begin implementing small changes.
2. Start Now, Not Later
As you look around your home, you’ll likely notice unnecessary and/or unwanted items that are collecting dust and cluttering up your living space. A great introduction to the zero waste lifestyle is decluttering your home.
Refrain from throwing things away in large quantities in an effort to start fresh. Instead, donate unwanted clothing and household items, gift things to loved ones, compost at home, and don’t forget to recycle. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published a helpful guide on common recyclables to simplify the process.
3. Reevaluate Household Necessities
If paper towels, plastic straws, and/or disposable razors are on your weekly shopping list, this is a great place to start making slight modifications. There’s no need to break the bank by splurging on an eco-friendly shopping spree. Small changes will add up quickly, so we recommend researching Earth-safe alternatives as you run out of your current products.
Swedish dishcloths are an Earth-friendly, cost-effective alternative to traditional paper towels, and compostable straws can replace plastic options, which release harmful chemicals into the environment as they break down.
As for your shaving needs, we’re forever fans of this unisex, plastic-free, reusable razor by Eco Roots, but there are many eco-friendly alternatives on the market for you to choose from.
Plastic toothbrushes can be easily replaced with ecofriendly brushes. We recommend Brush with Bamboo, which are plant-based and completely safe for the environment.
4. Remember: Quantity Matters
When it comes to a zero waste lifestyle, being mindful of the quantities of products you use is a great way to save money—and the planet.
Household cleaner dispensers are often designed for overuse to ensure these products are purchased frequently, but some consumers use excessive amounts of personal care and household cleaning products even if the packaging isn’t poorly designed.
Examples of frequently overused products include:
- Face cleanser
- Shaving cream
- Toilet paper
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Dishwasher detergent
- Paper towels
- Laundry detergent
- Glass cleaner
- Furniture polish
Making a conscious effort to cut down on the use of these products will drastically reduce the frequency of your purchases, as well as waste.
5. Treat Yourself to a Reusable Water Bottle
Plastic water bottles may be convenient, but they’re one of the key contributors to the alarming amount of waste on our planet. A 2019 article published by National Geographic reported that no less than one million water bottles are sold every minute around the globe, and in the U.S., a mere 30% of them are being recycled. When compared to Norway, which recycles 97% of water bottles, we have some work to do.
If you’re wondering if eliminating disposable water bottles from your home will actually make a difference, the answer is absolutely! It takes one plastic bottle at least 450 years to break down completely, so you’ll literally be doing your part to save our planet each time you fill up your reusable bottle rather than reaching for a plastic one. Consider using a reusable thermos or vacuum flask for drinking water on the go.
6. Eliminate Plastic Grocery Bags from Your Life
One of the easiest changes you can make immediately is banning plastic shopping bags from your home. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the average American family uses up to 1,500 of these single-use bags each year, and on average, just 15 of those bags (1%) wind up being recycled. What’s more? Each plastic bag is used for an average of 12 minutes before being thrown away.
In lieu of traditional plastic, opt for reusable bags made from durable cloth. Keep them in your car for trips to the grocery, and stash one or two in your purse to ensure you have a sustainable bag anytime you need it.
7. Ban Freezer Bags and Plastic Wrap, Too
By now, you’re probably noticing a theme when it comes to all-things-plastic. Our planet isn’t fond of plastic, so it’s important to utilize Earth-friendly alternatives when possible. On average, families in the U.S. use about 500 single-use storage bags per year. With well over 120 million households throughout the country, that’s a whole lot of unnecessary plastic.
If you have a stockpile of storage bags at home, they can be reused if carefully washed and dried between uses; however, we’d advise against reusing bags that have been used for raw meats and odorous or moldy foods. As you run out of single-use storage bags, we recommend replacing them with reusable containers or more durable zip-style bags. While these options are a bit pricier than traditional bags, you won’t have to buy them nearly as often.
As a sustainable alternative to plastic wrap, we adore Bee’s Wrap products, which are washable, reusable, and easily compostable.
8. Stock Up on Glass Jars
Using glass jars and containers for food storage is a great way to cut down on plastic. These reusable items can be found at virtually any discount or thrift store, and they’re a great alternative to Tupperware and other plastic containers.
If you don’t have glass storage solutions at home, and you’re not keen on purchasing in bulk, simply wash and reuse glass jars from your fridge and pantry.
9. Opt for Foods with Minimal or No Packaging
As you begin transitioning to a zero waste lifestyle, you’ll become more conscious of your shopping habits. Lots of convenience foods come in unnecessarily bulky packaging. When food shopping, choose products with the least amount of packaging and/or biodegradable containers.
Farmer’s markets are a great place to pick up fresh goodies with little to no packaging.
10. Switch to Bar Soap—for Your Face, Body, Hair, and Dishes
One effective way to decrease waste is by replacing liquid soap with bar soap. While bar soap has always been available for the bath and shower, many companies are now offering bar options specifically for dishes. You can even switch to a bar variety for your hair, as Lush offers a line of deliciously aromatic shampoo bars that last up to 80 washes.
11. Try DIY Beauty Products
As you probably know, store bought beauty products often contain chemicals, such as petroleum, and they’re generally packaged to draw the eye—not to preserve the environment. Plus, they tend to be exorbitantly overpriced.
Transitioning to DIY beauty products is fun, cost-effective, and allows you to handpick safe, natural ingredients. We’re currently loving this list of 50 amazing handmade beauty products compiled by Earth911. Our absolute favorite? The deliciously refreshing lemon sugar scrub recipe by Thrifty Jinxy, which is great for personal use and makes a beautiful gift. You can even print a premade label for pretty packaging.
12. Be Mindful of Your Water Consumption
This may seem like a no-brainer, but many of us still leave the faucet on when we’re brushing our teeth, scrubbing our kitchen counters, etc. So much energy can be saved simply by turning off the faucet when it’s not in use.
As far as baths vs. showers, filling a bathtub generally requires much more water than the average 10-minute shower. Of course, this largely depends on the size of your tub and your particular shower head, as well as the amount of water you use.
13. Skip Takeout
Ordering in can be a difficult habit to break, but foregoing takeout reduces waste. If you do opt to order in, choose an environmentally conscious restaurant that considers our planet in both food sourcing, preparation, and packaging.
14. Grow Your Own Food
One amazingly fun and easy way to help preserve our planet is by growing your own fruits, veggies, and herbs. This is a safer and healthier alternative to buying in-store, as you can eliminate pesticides and other toxins.
Knowing exactly what goes into your food will give you peace of mind, and there’s nothing quite like watching a seed or sprout grow into something delicious! Consider using a good quality multi purpose compost to get you started.
15. Eat Less Meat
Lots of environmentally conscious folks are eating less meat to help do their part to preserve our planet. If you’re not keen on giving up meat altogether, consider going meat-free a few times a week, or eat vegetarian options for breakfast and lunch, and only eat meat at dinner.
16. Store Foods Properly
Whether it’s fresh meat, produce, or last night’s leftovers, storing your food properly will help it last longer and ensure you get the most bang for your buck. According to the EPA, the vast majority of the food we throw away winds up in landfills. In 2017, Americans disposed of more than 38 million tons of food waste. We can all work together to reduce that astronomical number.
17. Ditch the Dish Sponges
We get it… Kitchen sponges are convenient. Unfortunately, they’re also bacteria breeders and terrible for the environment, as most are made from synthetic materials.
When it’s time to replace your dish sponges, check out eco-friendly substitutes, such as a plastic-free brush like this one from Life Without Plastic. Silicone sponges are another sustainable option that are more sanitary than traditional synthetic sponges. Although silicone isn’t biodegradable, it’s easily recyclable.
18. Forego the Tissues
Many folks don’t realize that tissues can’t be recycled once they’re used; in fact, after a single use, they’re detrimental to the environment. Old school handkerchiefs might seem like a blast from the past, but they are a much more sustainable option, as they can be reused time and again. You can even turn old sheets and towels into a reusable tissue alternative.
19. Reevaluate Your Laundry Habits
Rather than throw every clothing item in the laundry after every use, consider only washing your clothes when necessary. While you’ll want to continue washing underwear, socks, and swimwear each time you wear them, items like pants, skirts, and shorts can be worn two or three times between washes, along with bras and PJs.
Line drying also saves lots of energy in comparison to machine drying. Trust us… The environmental benefits outweigh the extended drying time.
20. Switch to Sustainable Light Bulbs
Traditional incandescent light bulbs last about 1,000 hours. Switch to LEDs, and your bulbs’ lifespan increases up to 50,000 hours, saving you time and money.
For the most part, lightbulbs are recyclable; however, not all recycling centers accept used bulbs, as the components must be separated during the recycling process. Check with your local center to make sure they accept these items.
21. Opt for Rechargeable Batteries
When it’s time to replace the batteries in your remote or clock, purchase a rechargeable set instead of going the disposable route. Toxic metals from decaying batteries seep into our landfills and eventually our earth. Rechargeable sets aren’t just planet-savers… They’re convenient and much more cost-effective than traditional batteries.
22. Unplug Electronics Between Uses
Leaving electronics plugged in when they’re not in use is a waste of energy and money. From kitchen appliances to televisions and computers, the simple act of unplugging will reduce your carbon footprint and your electric bill.
One common energy-sucking culprit? Your cell phone. Many experts suggest maintaining a charge of 40-80% and unplugging overnight. These tweaks to your phone charging habits will help save the environment—and the life of your phone.
23. Purchase High-Quality Products
When possible, buy well-made items that are intended to last a very long time, if not a lifetime. From tools to cookware and everything in between, opt for items that are known for their longevity.
24. Reel in the Thermostat
If you tend to crank up the heat in the winter and the A/C in the summer, keep in mind that nearly 50% of the average household’s electric bill is the result of temperature control.
While it’s impossible to gauge a temperature that will work for everyone, being mindful of the temp in your environment can help. One simple fix? During the winter, snuggle up in a sweater and slippers rather than turning up the heat, and let the fresh air in during the warmer months before switching on the A/C.
25. Utilize a Rain Barrel
Whether you plant an annual vegetable garden or you’re a self-professed flower fanatic, outdoor watering really adds up. In addition to being environmentally conscious, using a rain barrel could potentially lower your water bill. If you set up the barrel directly below your gutter’s downspout and you live in a rainy climate, you should collect plenty of water to hydrate your plants and/or flowers.
26. Purify Your Air Naturally
Many houseplants and flowers act as natural air purifiers, which can help you breathe easier and banish allergens, along with pollutants and unpleasant odours. According to Live Science, indoor plants absorb harmful gases through their leaves and root systems. If you’ve ever wanted an excuse to fill your home with beautiful plants, here’s your chance!
Snake plants and spider plants are two of our absolute faves, but the famous 1989 Clean Air Study by NASA found that at least 29 different plants and flowers do an excellent job of purifying air. Check out the list—which still rings true today—and take a trip to your local nursery. Just remember to return any plastic pots, which can be reused.
27. Buy Second-Hand
Opting for second-hand clothing and household items keeps the recycling community going strong. As an added bonus, when you donate gently used goods or offer them for sale at a reduced price, you’re allowing others to try brands and products they may not have access to otherwise.
28. When Buying New, Pay Attention to Where Your Purchases Come From
Not all products are created equal, so it’s important to research before making purchases. Buy from Earth-conscious retailers that are actively trying to cut down on excess waste to save our planet. The best way to research a company? A simple internet search should do. Most ecofriendly companies produce sustainability reports, which you can typically find on their websites. Any recognition or awards for being ecologically friendly are also a good sign.
29. Opt to Repair Rather than Replace
If an appliance is on the fritz, try getting it repaired before shopping for a replacement. The same goes for other household items and clothing. For instance, ripped jeans and sheets can be mended.
If an item is beyond repair, consider repurposing it rather than throwing it away. You’ll likely notice that this new mindset will spill over into other areas of your life.
30. Reuse Gift Wrap and Gift Bags
When you receive a gift, save the gift wrap, bag, and/or tissue paper when possible. Greeting cards can be used for crafts, such as ornaments and gift tags. It’s amazing how many items can be reused and repurposed when we think outside the box!
31. Treat Yourself to Experiences Instead of Things
Many of us celebrate our successes and/or sooth our sadness with impromptu shopping sprees. The next time something goes right—or terribly wrong—why not treat yourself to an experience instead? Sign up for a dance class, enjoy a night on the town, or book a low-key getaway. Scaling back on unnecessary purchases and focusing on experiences will cut down on the clutter in your home and help you tap into your creativity instead of your bank account.
32. Go Paperless
A super easy way to protect the environment is by cutting down on paper usage. Opt-in to paperless billing and online banking to do your part. If at all possible, forego printing documents and other papers, and store them virtually instead. Opting for paperless receipts at retailers and restaurants is also a simple way to cut down on paper use.
If you absolutely have to use paper, use both sides! Little changes really do add up.
33. Become an Environment-Conscious Reader
If you’re an avid reader, there are a few effective ways to cut down on your carbon footprint. Digital options eliminate paper altogether, while borrowing and buying secondhand are environmentally conscious alternatives.
If you ever decide to whittle down your beloved book collection, consider donating to a local library or school. You can also upcycle books by creating DIY projects. From decorative balls and flowers to canvas art and greeting cards, we absolutely love Felt Magnet’s list of 53 creative ideas for repurposing book pages. Check it out here.
34. Not Sure How to Dispose of Something? Do Your Research
It’s not always obvious where to dispose of specific items, so some research may be required before trashing that old phone or kitchen appliance. We regularly use Martha Stewart’s “How to Get Rid of Anything” list when we’re clearing out old items.
35. Get the Whole Family Involved
Your passion and excitement for preserving our planet will likely rub off on your loved ones. Encourage everyone in your household—and beyond—to get involved.
[c/o our friend Sarah at Spruce Up]