Individuals and businesses that are looking to be more environmentally friendly by reducing their eco-footprint are turning to zero waste practices. This eco-conscious lifestyle can not only assist with leading a healthier lifestyle and saving money, but it may just be the key to conserving our planet. Whether you are new to the concept of zero waste or just starting your journey, below are six easy tips that you don’t want to skip.
Understand What Zero Waste Is
Knowing exactly what you’re striving toward will direct your efforts and keep you on track. Therefore, you should be able to answer the question: What is zero waste?
Simply put, zero waste strives to send no waste to landfills, the ocean, or incinerators. Why? To conserve the environment by creating a circular economy—the opposite of the common “take, make, and waste” model in our linear economy. A circular economy is where resources are continuously reused and re-purposed instead of going to a landfill.
Find Problem Areas
Finding where your waste stems from can help you identify where sustainable changes need to be made. One simple way to do this is a trash audit and there are two easy ways to do one in your home:
Sort Through Your Garbage:
Take a look at what is in your garbage before putting it the curb. You want to see what is reoccurring and what items don’t belong (recyclable and compostable).
Keep a Garbage Inventory:
If sifting through garbage isn’t for you, put a list over your garbage bin and get everyone to write down what they are throwing out for the week. It may feel tedious, but it is only temporary and can be a major help for giving you an idea of what changes you need to implement to make your home less wasteful.
Don’t Change Everything at Once
From drawers of single-use products to hoards of plastic bottles in the shower, it can seem like waste is everywhere. However, there is no need to tackle it all at once as making too many changes off the bat is a sure-fire way to get overwhelmed.
Instead, start small by picking one or two changes and go from there. This may include:
A Trash Audit Item:
If you did a trash audit, you might want to pick something that is prominent in your garbage and look for a solution. This may be paper towels, food packaging, food waste, etc.
A Single-Use Item Replacement:
Maybe you’ve run out of plastic wrap and instead decide to buy a zero waste swap like reusable bowl covers or beeswax wraps. Or, you can always use Tupperware you have on hand to eliminate the need to purchase a new item altogether.
Instead of recycling glass jars, you can start saving them for a bulk food run to eliminate packaging. Have a shirt that is beyond repair? Cut it up into rags for cleaning or put a few drops of essential oil on them to create reusable dryer sheets.
You may find that some items aren’t necessary and can be eliminated altogether. For example, coffee stir sticks can easily be replaced by a spoon from the drawer.
Use What You Have on Hand
Before buying anything new, it is best to use what you already own—even if it isn’t environmentally friendly. After all, it will end up in the landfill either way, so you may as well get some use out of it. Alternatively, if you feel you won’t use an item, try giving it away to a friend you know will get use out of it. Unopened hygiene items and the like are also gladly taken by most homeless shelters.
Fight Food Waste
Single-use products and unsustainable packing are two substantial problems that zero waste aims to eliminate. One issue that gets far less time in the limelight, though, is food waste. Yet, it is a massive contributor to global warming, with America alone wasting 80 billion pounds of food annually. The good news is you can start fighting food waste right at home. And it doesn’t have to be complicated.
A few ways to do so:
Whether it is a backyard compost pile or a program provided by your city, composting is key. When waste like spoiled food and produce are thrown into the trash, they decompose without any air, which causes them to release greenhouse gases like methane. Contrastingly, composting allows airflow as decomposition occurs, eliminating this toxic release.
Plan Your Meals:
Meal planning means you know exactly what ingredients you need, so you are far less likely to buy things that will spoil from not being used. To use an ingredient in its entirety where recipes call for small amounts, like celery and carrots, you may want to consider planning meals with similar ingredients. Or, for food that freezes well, double the recipe and freeze half the batch for a later date.
Use Produce Entirely:
You are missing out on some great opportunities by tossing vegetable and fruit peels. For example, banana peels are great for making fertilizer, banana tea, and even vegan pulled “pork”. While vegetable scraps can be saved in the freezer and eventually boiled in water to make a nutritious vegetable broth.
Opt for Quality & Secondhand
Higher quality items have more longevity, which means you will be able to use them longer and keep them out of the landfill. By buying secondhand, you are giving a second chance to items and reducing landfill waste. Plus, both of these options can help you save money over time. A few items to consider:
A good cookware set can last decades. Stainless steel and cast iron are generally good choices as they are less prone to scratching. You can also find these items secondhand and still get more use out of them than many cheaper pans or pans with delicate non-stick coatings.
Quality clothing will look better longer and is much more resistant to wear and tear. However, before buying new, it always best to love what you have first. If you are craving a new piece or two, you may want to consider secondhand shops or doing a clothing swap with a friend or hosting a larger scale swap in your community. Secondhand clothing is especially great for kids since they often outgrow it before it is even close to being worn out. One of my favorite to start with is Organic Basics. Here is their US site, and their EU site.
Reducing your waste doesn’t have to be hard, expensive, or perfect. By taking it slow and tackling only a few changes at a time, going zero waste can be a sustainable lifestyle that will benefit both you and the environment.
More Healthy Habits
My FREE ebook Refresh is a collection of eight healthy habits that I’ve picked up along my journey. Don’t worry, they’re not the usual ones you’ve heard before – we all know we should drink more water. Instead, these habits are lesser known and have seriously improved my life.
They’ve helped me reduce stress, be more productive and improve my mood.
Shannon Bergstrom is a LEED Green Associate, TRUE waste advisor. She currently works at RTS, a tech-driven waste and recycling management company, as a sustainability operations manager. Shannon consults with clients across industries on sustainable waste practices and writes for Zero Waste.