Going zero waste doesn’t have to break the bank. Learn how to start making small steps towards zero waste without purchasing anything!
How to Start Taking Steps Towards Zero Waste
Zero Waste is an intentional lifestyle decision that aims to completely eliminate sending personal waste to landfills. The movement has done an amazing job raising the alarm about the worldwide garbage crisis, but on an individual level zero waste is a very high bar to aim for. The good news is that a large number of people making small changes have a bigger impact overall than a small number of people making big changes.
The Impact of Big Changes vs. Small Changes
What does this look like? According to a study done by Verisk Maplecroft, the average American generates 1,700 pounds of garbage each year. If 1,000 dedicated Zero-Wasters made huge lifestyle changes and reduced their garbage by 95% they would keep 1,615,000 pounds of garbage from going into landfills per year. Preventing over a million pounds of garbage each year from ending up in landfills is huge!
Now let’s look at a large number of people making small changes. If one million people were able to reduce the amount of garbage they sent to landfills by just ten percent they would keep 170,000,000 pounds of garbage out of landfills. This number is one hundred times greater than the small group of dedicated Zero-wasters.
We do need a dedicated core group of zero-wasters to continue bringing the movement forward and inspiring others, but we should take heart that realistic small changes do make a difference.
The Five Zero Waste Principles
The five principles of zero waste are the “Three Rs” of recycling I learned about in grade school with two additions: refuse and rot. Practicing these principles in the right order leads to a massive reduction in personal garbage going to landfills. Let’s look at the five basic rules of zero waste:
Five Zero Waste Principles
- Refuse to purchase items that will end up in the landfill. Reducing unneeded items is also the basic principle of minimalism.
- Example: Refuse to purchase deodorant in a plastic container
- Idea: Place a small sign on your mailbox that says “addressed mail only” and return all junk mail to sender
- Reduce your consumption. You may still need to purchase certain items, but reduce the amount you purchase or make a sustainable change in the item you are using.
- Example: Buy your produce and meat at a local farmers’ market. Purchasing local food reduces shipping impacts and reduces plastic packaging waste
- Idea: Purchase grocery items in glass containers when possible. They are much easier to recycle than plastic.
- Reuse items you already own. Repairing items you already own falls into this category. Embrace the visible mending movement and learn how to repair those small appliances.
- Example: Learn to darn socks and how to repair small holes in clothing
- Idea: Shop second-hand stores instead of buying new
- Rot simply means composting. Once a biodegradable item can no longer be used, return it to the earth through composting. Items purchased should have this end destination in mind.
- Example: Use a compostable bamboo toothbrush.
- Idea: Petition your city to start a composting program if one does not exist
- Recycle items that do not fit in any of the first four steps. In theory recycling is a wonderful idea, but in reality it does not always work well. Once you start prioritizing the other Rs, there should not be much left to recycle.
- Example: Donate unusable clothing to a textile recycling company
- Action: Inform yourself and your family about things that can and cannot be recycled.
First Steps Towards Zero Waste
There are so many places to begin taking steps towards zero waste. The following are six steps towards zero waste that are free. Often the price tag on zero waste products is a barrier to leaving one-use plastics behind. Making any of the changes on the following list won’t cost a thing.
Six Free Zero Waste Swaps
- Bring your own bottle to fill if you get thirsty. Any bottle will do. It doesn’t have to be a Hydroflask or Nalgene. Next time you finish a jar of pasta sauce or kombucha wash the jar out and save it. Glass is best because it won’t leach chemicals into your drinking water over time.
- Make some kitchen rags. When a t-shirt needs to be retired from your wardrobe cut it into uniform pieces to be used as kitchen rags that replace paper towels. The knitted material of a t-shirt won’t unravel so there is no sewing required for these as well
- Shop your kitchen. Before heading out to the grocery store go through your refrigerator and pantry. Brainstorm meals that can be made from ingredients you already own.
- Bring along cutlery. If you are heading out for the day, wrap a fork, spoon and knife in one of your t-shirt rags and bring them along with you. This way if you stop for a quick bite to eat you can decline the plastic cutlery. Wrap them back up in the t-shirt rag when you are finished eating to keep the inside of your bag clean.
- Start saving containers your food comes in. Instead of wrapping left-overs with plastic wrap or putting them in baggies, use the containers you’ve saved. I prefer glass containers for this. A little oil helps get the glue residue left by the labels off the jars
- Bring your own bags to the grocery store. If you don’t own reusable grocery bags, save the plastic ones from your last trip and bring them back to be used again. If these aren’t available to you get creative – backpacks, pillowcases, and duffle bags can all hold your groceries! I even bring my laundry baskets and put my groceries directly into them.
My Steps Towards Zero Waste
I’m going to begin sharing our family’s steps towards zero waste here at Restored to Land. In my journey I’ve found real people with real lives and experiences to be the most inspiring. I’m challenging myself to make four permanent zero-waste swaps per year: one each quarter. Later this week you can read about how we finally got liquid dish soap out of our kitchen and what we use instead.
I’d love for you to join me in this challenge and to hear all about how you are making small zero waste changes in your life. Leave me a comment below and tell me about your most recent zero waste swap.