Full disclaimer, I don’t think a zero waste lifestyle is possible. Some things break or have a limited lifespan. When it’s over, those items become waste. There is no way to avoid that.
But we can certainly waste less. That’s more than possible.
So, here are a couple habits to adopt as you wade into a low waste lifestyle. These are based on the concepts of: refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, recycle and rot.
If you refuse things from the get go, you will have less to waste. So, refusing should be your main priority. After that, reducing and reusing will keep your trash levels low. You should recycle and rot when there is nothing else you can do with that item.
Tips for Adopting A Zero Waste Lifestyle
1. Refuse single use plastic bags
Did you know the world uses 10 million plastic bags a minute? A minute!!
Can you imagine what happens to those plastic bags? They either end up in a landfill or in the ocean. There, they break down into microplastics… and we don’t fully understand the consequences of that yet!
Refuse single use plastic bags. Collect, make, and use reusable bags everywhere. Where you can, get your hands on organic, biodegradable, sustainable and recyclable materials for your bags – like cotton, linen, hemp and jute. Old clothes are also perfect for making bags.
Find 25 DIY bag tutorials here:
2. Refuse single use plastic bottles
So, stop buying single use plastic bottles.
Try a reusable bottle instead that you can fill up at water coolers and beverage dispensers. Make your own drinks at home too. If you can’t, then reach for products in recyclable materials like paper, glass bottles and cans.
3. Refuse plastic takeout containers
Plastic takeout boxes are super convenient but there are eco-friendly alternatives made from paper and plant fibers.
If your favorite spots do not carry these alternatives, ask them if you could bring your own reusable containers. If they are eco-conscious, they will be more than happy to facilitate you. If not, ditch them!
Carry your own containers to take home your leftovers too. This stainless steel lunch box from Amazon is one of my favorites. It’s nice and light. And these three compartment glass lunch containers are also perfect to keep your food separate.
4. Refuse single use coffee cups
I’m not saying drink less coffee! I promise… I would never do that!
But, instead of accepting single use coffee cups with those plastic lids, take your reusable insulated bottle to the coffee shop. Or a ceramic cup.
Most shops will even give you a discount for bringing your own bottle or cup. They get the zero waste lifestyle!
5. Refuse plastic cutlery
Yep… another plastic problem – plastic spoons, forks, and knives. Say no to them. Refuse them every time you can. Instead, pop reusable cutlery into your purse so you can use them on the go. Stainless steel and bamboo ones are great. I adore this bamboo cutlery set from Amazon.
Jessica has a great DIY video for making a cutlery pouch out of old shirt sleeves:
6. Refuse plastic straws too
Americans use 500 million single use plastic straws every day! What happens to them after? A couple get into the noses of sea turtles and the stomachs of marine animals.
So, it’s important to refuse plastic straws. Swap them for paper, bamboo and stainless steel ones. Keep them in your bag so you can use them when you’re on the go (there’s a DIY tutorial for making a straw pouch in here).
7. Refuse disposables
Disposable products are convenient, yes, but they are usually made of plastic or come packaged in it. They are designed to be used a couple times, if that much. For instance, there are disposable plates, cups, razors, and travel-sized creams all designed to be thrown away after a few uses. That’s wasteful… Let’s not do that.
Look for more sustainable options. Try compostable plates or use a stainless steel shaver.
Hubby has this one from Amazon. Also, think about buying in bulk for a more zero waste lifestyle.
8. Refuse products with plastic packaging
This is a tough one. I feel everything comes wrapped in plastic. But if you look into the products, you may find alternatives that are more eco-friendly.
For instance, vendors at the farmers’ market usually sell fruits and veggies singly and package free.
Bulk stores sell grains, food, and household essentials without plastic packaging. There are a couple online zero waste stores too and some may ship to your door.
Research and you may be pleasantly surprised by the options you have close to home.
9. Refuse fast fashion for a more zero waste lifestyle
According to the UNEP:
“The fashion industry produces 20% of global wastewater and 10% of global carbon emissions – more than all international flights and maritime shipping. Textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of water globally…”
Woah! The fashion industry has more problems – washing synthetic fabrics releases huge levels of microfibers (aka microplastics) into the environment. Then, there is the human side where workers are paid poorly and forced to work in terrible conditions.
Bottomline, avoid cheaply made fast fashion.
Look for better quality clothing made with more natural, organic materials like cotton and hemp.
Also, repair and repurpose what’s already in your closet. Donate what you could to friends, shelters, and the less fortunate.
10. Buy second hand
Companies like ThredUp and Vinted prove second hand clothing retail is here to stay. They’ve both raised hundreds of millions of dollars and Vinted (as of now – Nov 2019) is the world’s largest online store for secondhand clothing. Oh and it is valued at $1.1 billion. BILLION!
Second hand clothing retail is now mainstream. So, ditch fast fashion. Embrace pre-loved clothing. Shop at your local thrift store. Buy only what you need. And resell what you don’t want anymore.
11. Recycle and repurpose old clothing to fit your zero waste lifestyle
If you have clothing that can’t be resold or donated, think about recycling and repurposing them. You can turn worn curtains into reusable kitchen napkins. Tshirts can be made into produce bags. Stuffed socks can become fun toys. And shirts and dresses are perfect for making baby clothes.
The possibilities are endless to extend the life of your clothing.
12. Go vegan
If you are a meat lover and not ready to go full vegan, then try being vegan once or twice a week. Baby steps! But necessary ones.
Why? Well, according to the UNFAO, animal farming uses 80% of all agricultural land and contributes 7% of greenhouse gas emissions! And, to have enough food by 2050, the FAO believes we should switch to a more sustainable diet and replace meat with pulses, peas and beans.
Sustainability is key!
13. Reduce food waste
Here’s another quote from the UNFAO:
“World hunger is on the rise; yet, an estimated 1/3 of all food produced globally is lost or goes to waste. We all have a part to play in reducing food loss and waste, not only for the sake of the food but for the resources that go into it.”
There are tons of ways to reduce food waste. Plan your meals. Use food scraps to make broth and pet food. Forage and glean. Store fruits, veggies and cooked food properly. Eat leftovers. Use brown bananas.
Find more ways to reduce food waste:
14. Start a kitchen garden
Growing your own food is such fun. You can guarantee your produce is organic and pesticide-free. Pick what you need right before you use it. So, there won’t be any sad wilted produce in your fridge. This is an actual cauliflower from my garden! I used it to make roasted cauliflower with turmeric.
To start your own, visit your local garden center for potting soil, plants, and seeds. Reuse old containers as plant pots. Bookshelves and drawers work too! Regrow herbs and veggies like chives, lettuce and bok choi. Plant the seeds from your peppers and tomatoes. Start a community garden. There is so much you can do.
15. Rot and compost to achieve that zero waste lifestyle
Rot all the organic scraps you can no longer use. Set up your very own composting equipment. Research vermicomposting and bokashi composting too. If that isn’t your thing, look for nearby composters, farmers, or industrial composting facilities that will accept your scraps and yard trimmings.
16. Look for recycling initiatives in your area
If you can’t reuse or repair, then recycle your waste.
Paper, cardboard, glass, metals, electronics and some plastics can all be recycled. See what is being done by your municipality, government agencies, local companies, and NGOs.
Make glass recycling a priority too! Why? Well, glass is so durable, it will not decompose in a landfill… for at least a million years! So, chucking it in the trash is a waste of the resources used to make the glass. Metals take decades to rust and corrode but they can be “effectively recycled indefinitely without a loss of quality”.
So, recycle where you can, as much as you can!
17. Explore eco-friendly kitchen products
Paper towels, tin foil and plastic wrap are common single use kitchen items. But, there are great substitutes for them!
Replace paper towels with cloth ones. Reuse your old clothes and curtains to make them too. Instead of tin foil, use recyclable paper to wrap or cover items. Also, cook in Dutch ovens with covers so you won’t need to use tin foil in the oven.
As for plastic wrap, replace them with beeswax wraps (these are cute from Amazon) or mixing bowls with covers. You can even sew your own covers with elastic. Jen from Shabby Fabrics has a great video tutorial that explains everything.
Oh and there are eco-friendly kitchen sponge alternatives too. Try natural bristle brushes, loofahs and coconut fiber. I actually use coconut fiber to scrub my dishes and, let me tell you, they do a much better job than synthetic sponges!
18. Find bathroom products to fit your zero waste lifestyle
There are great zero waste bathroom products you can try. Have a go at bamboo toothbrushes, recycled and unbleached toilet paper, vegan bar shampoos, silk and bamboo floss.
Make your own reusable makeup pads. And toothpaste. Oil pulling promotes good oral hygiene as does gargling with salt water. Use these in place of mouthwash packaged in plastic.
19. Repair and repurpose furniture
Don’t throw out old, damaged furniture. Repair them or repurpose them instead. Extend their life with a new coat of paint or upholstery or sand and varnish. Reimagine them as new pieces. For instance, drawers can be made into seedling boxes or tiny side tables.
Also, try shopping at antique shows or second hand stores. Buy pre-owned and nearly new items. Give curbside furniture a new home. Sending good items to the landfill is just wasteful!
20. Repair appliances and electronics too
I have a wonderful inverter fridge that died a couple years ago. The problem? One circuit board was damaged… Instead of replacing the entire appliance, hubby found the board online and changed it! It still working like new! Oh, the same thing happened to our TV too (our electrical company is the worst!).
Bottomline, don’t give up on your appliances and electronics. Call a repairman. Look for DIY repair videos on YouTube (that’s what hubby did). Some problems may be as simple as changing a fuse, redoing a plug or changing a circuit board. Others may be more complicated. If you are not able to repair your items, think about recycling them.
Those are 20 habits to adopt for a zero waste lifestyle. There is so much more you can do… but these are good habits to start with.
Have you embraced the zero waste lifestyle? I’d love to hear your stories. Leave them in the comments below.