A girl's quest to live on the greener side.

Zero Waste Beginners Guide: 20 Tips to Get Started

zero waste beginners guide

A lot of people ask me "how did you go zero waste?" The answer is: Research. Tons and tons of research. I read articles, blogs, books, watched videos, documentaries. I was like a sponge, soaking it all up. Then, I applied that research and started making more conscious, educated choices. Yes, I bought a few new items (like my reusable water bottle, travel mug, etc.) but it was more of a mindset change than anything else. Zero waste living isn't so much about what you buy: It's about how you live, and what you do with the items you buy/already have. For example, you could already have a reusable water bottle, but it doesn't mean anything if it sits in your cupboard all day long, not being used. Zero waste is about developing a relationship with your items, learning to cherish them and purchasing with end of life in mind. If you're new to the zero waste lifestyle, all of this can be quite overwhelming. That's why I've created this zero waste beginners guide: It's everything you could want to know about the zero waste lifestyle rolled into one. Here I'll explain exactly what zero waste living is, along with 20 actionable tips to get started. Are you ready to dive in and start making a difference?

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Zero Waste Beginners Guide

List of sections:

1. What is zero waste?
2. What can you do?
3. 20 Tips to Get Started

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What is zero waste?

▨ Section 1 ▨

zero waste beginners guide

First, zero waste isn't zero...


I'd like to start out by saying, zero waste isn't zero. I know how contradictory that sounds. Green Indy Blog has a great post all about this very topic you should totally check out. But basically, we live in a linear economy, instead of a circular one. The items we see marketed to us are designed for the landfill, not to last. We use raw materials to make them and then use them only once before being discarded into the landfill - or worse - our environment. Products are designed that way on purpose, so that you will have to buy more and more. It's a real money sucker, and clearly not sustainable at all. 

But zero waste living seeks to change that. It proposes a circular economy. The goal of a circular economy entails reusing products and materials, not abusing, exploiting and throwing them away. The end of life for a product under a circular economy is much different: Either it is compostable (meaning it breaks down back into the earth), or it is easy to recycle (such as metal or glass which can be recycled infinitely without downgrading). Ideally, this is how everything should be made, which would remove waste and pollution from society altogether. This is what zero waste strives for. Unfortunately, society hasn't gotten to that point yet.

Aside from individual businesses that are definitely making a difference, our economy is still very much so linear. This makes it very hard to avoid all single use items. And that's okay - it's not your fault. Rather, it's the system, not you.

What can you do?

▨ Section 2 ▨


zero waste beginners guide


That said, there's still a lot you can do to help change the system. Going completely zero waste as an individual may be impossible at the moment, but you can get pretty darn close. 

Here are four core values to keep in mind when going zero waste:


  • Focus on simplicity: The less items you have, the better off you are. Make a point of using what you have first, before buying new. In fact, opt for second hand items before new, whenever possible. Keeping things simple is always best.
  • Build community: If you want to change the system, you can't do it alone. Building community, especially in your own community, is so important. This can be as simple as finding an online community that supports you, talking to friends about your zero waste efforts, or getting family members on board. When first starting out, it's best not to go overboard.
  • Remember your reason: Whenever you feel discouraged or if you had a zero waste fail, don't give up. Remember the reason you decided to go zero waste. In fact, upon starting out, I highly recommend you ask yourself - why do I want to go zero waste? Maybe it's because you love the earth and/or want to avoid toxins found in plastic. Jot down your answer in a notebook and reference it whenever you need some inspiration. It's good to remind yourself when the going gets tough.
  • No one is perfect: In line with remembering your reason you're going zero waste, realize no one is perfect. Even the best zero wasters produce some form of waste (Ex: A plastic straw they didn't ask for in their drink, a plastic dish handed to them at a party, etc.). The goal is to reduce the amount of waste you're currently making to a minimum. Not everyone can fit their trash into a picture perfect mason jar, and that's okay. Any difference you make is better than none.

Keeping these four ideas in mind will really help you keep a level head on the zero waste journey. Zero waste living can be daunting, but it's well worth it. After a while, you'll be running on auto-polite and will be amazed at how naturally everything comes to you.

Ready to take action?

20 Tips for Zero Waste Beginners

▨ Section 3 ▨

zero waste beginners guide


Here are my top twenty tips for zero waste beginners. Once you feel you've got the philosophy of zero waste down, and the core values to keep in mind, you can truly start your journey.

  1. Invest in a reusable water bottle so you can stop buying bottled water packaged in plastic (+ save money).
  2. While dining out, say "no straw please" when ordering your drink and store any leftovers in a container you brought from home (it's okay if it's plastic Tupperware and not a mason jar or a metal tiffin - it's still reusable).
  3. Bring a zero waste kit with you you can leave in your car or purse that contains your:
    ▪ water bottle
    ▪ reusable cutlery
    ▪ reusable napkin
    ▪ travel mug
    ▪ reusable bag
    ▪ reusable straws
  4. Go to the farmers market and purchase seasonal, local produce completely plastic free. Here are my favorite zero waste farmers market essentials (you can also use them at the grocery store if you don't have a farmers market near you).
  5. Don't throw out your food scraps - compost them. Better yet, hold on to some of them and make some delicious food scrap vegetable broth.
  6. Got gardening room? Get gardening and grow your own food - it's completely package free. No outdoor room? Try windowsill gardening instead.
  7. Give bulk food shopping a try without producing any waste (bring your own containers with you, even if all you have is Tupperware - still better than single use bags).  
  8. Make your own toiletries such as toothpaste, mouthwash, and deodorant - it's really easy and saves you a buck!
  9. Swap out paper towels for reusable dish towels. If you must use paper towels and napkins, make sure to compost them after use.
  10. Keep your bathroom plastic free by getting a bamboo toothbrush (I love Brush with Bamboo!), using bar soap (instead of gel), and Plaine Products shampoo and conditioner. If Plaine Products is too expensive, look into getting a shampoo bar or dabble in creating your own shampoo and conditioner.
  11. Skip plastic wrap and opt for bees wrap. Here's how I store leftovers without plastic.
  12. Create your own zero waste cleaning supplies (my go to is my all-purpose citrus vinegar cleaner and my zero waste laundry detergent). 
  13. Go thrifting for your clothes and zero waste essentials. Look for local thrift stores near you - Goodwill or Salvation Army are good options too.
  14. Go to your local library whenever you want to read a book - they have so many to choose from and the books get reused over and over. Some eco-friendly reads I recommend:
    ▪ The Zero Waste Home
    ▪ Zero Waste: Simple Life Hacks to Drastically Reduce Your Trash
    ▪ Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too
  15. Save a buck and make your own dish soap (which doubles as a hand soap too).
  16. Looking to clean out your house? Don't just throw your things away - donate them. Often times thrift stores will accept a lot of things you no longer need or want such as toys, board games, books, clothes, dishes, etc. You can also give any electronics to Best Buy - they accept anything televisions (big) to phone chargers (small). 
  17. Learn how to freeze food without plastic - that being said, don't just get rid of your Tupperware to do this. Use it until it's at the end of its life, or give it away to a friend or family member who needs it before replacing it with a more sustainable option.
  18. Make your own lunch using farm fresh produce and reusable containers. Here are my favorite zero waste lunch essentials.
  19. Learn how to repair your items when they break - ask someone older to show you how to sew and mend things. Or, get them repaired by a specialist.
  20. Gather memories, not things. Focus on spending genuine time with other people instead of going out and shopping. Someone's birthday coming up or a holiday? Get them experience gifts over material gifts whenever possible - treat them out. Your time is much more valuable than any item you can purchase them.
zero waste beginners guide

Did this zero waste beginners guide help you? If you need more inspiration, be sure to download my free e-book "10 Ways to Reduce Trash". Also, feel free to share any of your own tips in the comments! 

2 comments

  1. I'm starting my zero waste journey and I am currently in that "read everything" phase. This article is super helpful - thank you for the ideas and motivation!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Rebeca! :) I'm so happy you found this helpful! It's so exciting to start the zero waste journey. What exactly have your biggest struggles and successes been so far? I'd love to hear more about them. :D

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