Your zero-waste lifestyle starts now! You don’t have to go out and replace everything in your home to be part of the zero-waste movement. In fact, I propose you hang on to what you’ve got until you wear it out or use it up before you consider replacing anything you are currently using.
The first step is to become aware. See what you consume. What do you put in your trash? Doing a waste audit will help you get a big picture and set some goals. You can download this handy 7 Day Waste Free Project Plan to get started. Instructions for a waste audit can be found here.
Easy Beginner Steps to Go Zero Waste
You can get started on your zero waste journey by implementing these seven beginner sustainability habits. At the bottom of this post, you’ll also find a short shopping list of items you may want to pick up as you make the effort to produce less waste.
- Reuse things (like the glass jars your marinara sauce comes in!)
- Eliminate Food Waste (start composting)
- Ditch paper towels
- Stop accepting cutlery with takeout
- Ditch single-use plastic bottles
- Eliminate single-use plastic bags
- Replace plastic wrap film with beeswax wrap.
- Swap your plastic toothbrush for a more sustainable option
1 Reuse things
One of the easiest ways to start zero waste living is to begin reusing containers. You don’t have to go out to buy something new. When you get right down to it, what can be more waste-free than keeping something out of the landfill?
Before you toss a jar, tub, or bag, ask yourself, how can I reuse this? Reusing anything and everything is one of the first ways many people start going zero waste because it is also budget-friendly.
When you can’t reuse an item or have reused it multiple times, you can always choose to recycle. Glass jars are a good example of this. Instead of buying new mason jars, rinse and reuse the ones you get food in from the supermarket. Peanut butter jars are awesome! If you lose the lid or have too many, recycle the glass!
2 Eliminate Food Waste
If you’re into sustainable living, you may already compost. However, this is one area where a lot of people run into roadblocks. Composting eggshells, banana peels, and coffee grounds is a useful way to keep food waste out of the landfill.
When we lived in apartments, one of my biggest concerns was how to deal with inevitable food waste such as peelings and pits. Thankfully, I found foodcycler which solved the problem. It’s like a dehydrator/grinder that condenses food waste into nutrient-rich fertilizer for plants. Read more about food waste here.
3 Ditch paper towels
Here’s another budget-friendly way to go zero waste. Ditch your paper towels! Do you know how many you go through each day, week, or month? An eye-opening experiment is to keep a separate trash can just for paper towels for a week and see how many you use. When you see them all together like that, it makes a bigger impression.
Instead of buying something you’re just going to throw away, use an old towel cut into smaller pieces. If you don’t like that idea, you can always buy a couple of packs of bar mop towels to use in place of paper towels.
Yes, you can also get the fancy sewn clothes with buttons you snap together to form a roll. I used them for a few days, but I got tired of snapping the buttons and also found it easier to just buy plain old bar mops. I keep a good-sized basket near my kitchen sink filled with towels so when someone needs one, they are there!
4 Don’t accept cutlery with takeout
Do you have a drawer full of plastic cutlery at home? We did, and we don’t even eat out that often. If I’m going to spend money on outside food, I want the full experience of sitting down at the table and enjoying the ambiance.
Somehow they just seemed to accumulate. That is until I started putting my foot down. I’d order food and say no cutlery, please. Then when I picked up the food, I asked them to double-check that there is no cutlery included.
On a side note, we also stopped getting takeout from restaurants that use foam clamshell containers. Foam is not recyclable and doesn’t break down, so it’s the opposite of zero waste.
If you’re getting takeout for home why bother with plastic cutlery? When eating out and about you can DIY a zero-waste kit or buy one to carry with you. I personally don’t see any reason not to just grab a fork and spoon from the kitchen and carry it with you, but as a backup plan, you can buy secondhand cutlery pretty cheap at thrift shops.
If you’re having a big party or gathering, this is also a good way to stock your party-ware. Thrift shops and second-hand shops are where I buy my plates, bowls, and cutlery for carrying out to the picnic table.
5 Ditch single-use plastic bottles
Drinking bottled water is just a habit. That’s really all there is to it. When I was a kid, most of us would not have dreamed of paying for a bottle of water! You could drive up to most fast-food restaurants and get a cup of ice water for free.
Currently, in the United States, bottled water is the second most popular beverage on the market. First place goes to soda! (By the way, if you want to quit the soda habit, check out this resource.)
A whopping 14 billion goes to buying bottled water each year. Crazy how people will complain about spending $2.99 on a gallon of gasoline but happily pay $10-13 or more per gallon for drinking water.
The average bottle of water has 16-20 ounces and runs about $1.57 retail. A gallon contains 128 ounces, dividing that by 16 ounces (a typical bottle of water) and you’ll need 8 bottles to fill a gallon. At the cost of $1.57 per bottle, you’re paying $12.56 per gallon.
Next time you go into a gas station to grab a bottle of water, do the math.
Grab a reusable water bottle or other container and take your water with you. Then, if you want to take it one step further, consider a reusable coffee cup as well.
6 Take your own reusable bags to the grocery store
Plastic bag pollution is a problem because they are hard to recycle. In addition, they are made with fossil fuels. Eliminating plastic bags wouldn’t eradicate the plastic pollution problem, but it is a huge step in that direction.
I know how hard it can be to get in the habit of carrying reusable bags with you all the time. When I first started using them, I had to hang them in my garage near my car or keep them in my trunk so I’d remember. Then I’d get to the store and do my shopping before I remembered them. I’d have to leave my cart by the register and go back out to my car to grab them.
For quick trips, I started carrying a Chico bag which is compact and easy to pop in your bag or even on your keychain.
Bottom line: When you head out to farmer’s markets and grocery stores, take your own reusable bags.
7 Replace plastic wrap film with beeswax wrap
Plastic film might keep your food from drying out but it wrecks the planet! There are health implications as well as for the environment.
The slick, transparent film we now know as plastic wrap was originally a mistake of chemistry, a residue clinging stubbornly to the bottom of a beaker in a 1930s laboratory. ~ The Sticky Problem of Plastic Wrap
When I first started practicing being a zero waster, I made my own beeswax wrap. You can watch the tutorial here. Not a DIY person? I’m not really either. No problem, you can grab some premade beeswax wrap on Amazon here.
Using beeswax wrap is so satisfying! It’s one of the first zero-waste tips I implemented many years ago.
8 Swap your Plastic Toothbrush for something Compostable
A billion toothbrushes will be thrown away in the U.S. this year, most of them plastic. How did we get here, and can we change? As late as the early 1920s, only an estimated one in four people in the United States owned a toothbrush. ~ How your plastic toothbrush became part of the plastic problem.
Bamboo is compostable and it appears to be one of the better options as long as you actually take it to a composting facility or compost it yourself. I’ll be honest, I have used bamboo toothbrushes and the texture gags me. I wanted to like them, I gagged my way through several times but I just couldn’t do it.
Thankfully, I stumbled upon Goodwell’s! It is a sustainable twist on the classic manual toothbrush. With the Premium Brush, you keep the recycled aluminum handle for life and only change out the degradable brush head every three months. It has a sleek design and binchotan charcoal-infused bristles for a superior brushing experience that’s better for your oral health and the planet.
They’re also coming out with a no battery, no charging cords, “beyond electricity” toothbrush that is genius. You wind it and then brush.
Going Zero Waste Shopping List
Remember, it’s not considered sustainable to toss perfectly good items so you can replace them with “low waste” alternatives. With that in mind, here are some of our favorite zero waste home supplies for when you are ready.
- The Organic Skin Co. Beauty Products (replaceable pods!)
- River Organic Zero Waste cosmetics (the trio is my favorite)
- Stainless Steel Tiffin for lunches or carryout
- Zero Waste Toothpaste from the Package Free Shop
- Soap, brushes, and more from Life Without Plastic
- Reusable Bags
I have curated a list of Zero Waste items we use from Amazon. These sellers change how they package and ship items, though so you might consider reaching out to them before ordering or checking the box for frustration-free packaging. This will reduce the excessive amount of plastic bubble wrap, tape, etc. You can even call Amazon to let them know you’d like to have frustration-free packaging flagged on your account.
Think about it like this; in a world where most of us are comparing up, waste reduction encourages you to compare down. So instead of seeing those who have more than us, try noticing those who have less and are still happy. Aspire to be a happy zero waster!
Download the 7 Day Waste Free Project Plan and get started going zero waste today. Everything you need to complete a trash audit, then proceed to complete seven projects that take you step-by-step to implementing a waste free lifestyle!
Give me the 7 Day Zero Waste Project Plan so I can begin or continue my Zero Waste Effort. The PDF will open in a new window, but you will also receive the downloadable to print and keep. Check your email – if you can’t find it, please check your promotion and spam folders, then contact [email protected]