Zero Waste Lifestyle: The Transition
If you’ve read our last blog post, you’ve heard that March is all about zero waste. From saying no to single use plastics, to tackling the struggle of takeout and leftovers, the EarthHero team is taking on the challenge of producing less trash and nailing down the basics of living a zero waste lifestyle. Don’t know what zero waste is? We’d love for you to join the movement! Check out our quick summary of the movement here.
If you’re reading this, it’s probably safe to say that you’re on board with the idea of making less trash. But with any new lifestyle change, there comes an adjustment period. We’re here to let you know that some challenges are normal, and we’re experiencing it right along with you. Here are a few tactics that we’ve found helpful when starting a transition to zero waste!
We’ve all been there. You discover a new fad diet or workout trend and set out to incorporate it into your life. Your intentions are pure, and the end goal is something that you not only want, but can realistically accomplish. As the first few days go by, you’re on track and motivated, but there’s always something that can quickly derail your progress (if you let it).
The first rule of zero waste is that there’s no such thing as failing! If your goal for that week is to say no to all plastic straws, don’t beat yourself up if you forget to ask the bartender to ditch the straw at happy hour. Hell, you might ask and they’ll just put the straw in your drink anyway! The worst thing you can do is get so frustrated that you quit. Make sure to go into this knowing that you’re going to create some trash, and that’s a-okay.
Create a System
As with any new lifestyle change, it’s helpful to break your transition down into a few smaller steps. Although you might want to quit trash cold-turkey, we’re all human here, and that’s pretty tricky. Instead, write down a few of your biggest goals, and set up a schedule to slowly bring them into practice.
For example, if you’re a dedicated foodie and are constantly eating on the go, it can be daunting to avoid all of your takeout trash at once. Instead, maybe take the first week to stop getting your coffee in disposable cups. (Fun fact: single use hot coffee cups are not recyclable!) Instead, ask your barista to put your morning joe in a reusable coffee mug! While they might not always say yes, it’s worth a try. You can also think about making coffee at home. Sure, on-the-go coffee is convenient, but making it at home is one less stop you have to make during your travels–plus you’ll save money! Once you’ve got that down, try to carry around a reusable utensil set to replace single use plastic cutlery. Figured that out? Move on to bringing reusable straws everywhere you go, or bringing your own container to take home those leftovers!
Some aspects of zero waste do involve a little more planning. Between meal prepping, coming prepared to the grocery store, and timing your bulk grocery store runs properly; it can be super helpful to plan ahead. Start by creating a menu for the week, or setting time aside to make sure you’ve washed your reusables and stocked up on the necessities. By planning out your week and anticipating potential struggles, you can drastically cut down on last minute plastic wrapped snacks, and yet another day of forgetting your reusable grocery bags. By breaking everything down into small steps, you’ll already have incorporated multiple waste reduction skills into your everyday life in no time!
Don’t Start from Scratch
Starting a zero waste lifestyle doesn’t mean you need to buy everything new. Sure, your favorite Instagram environmentalist has a snazzy new coffee mug or reusable food wrap, but that doesn’t mean you need flashy new items to successfully make less trash. While you get the hang of things, you can use your old takeout containers and repurposed pickle jars. Get creative! Upgrade when you really need more storage, or when your old items aren’t serving their purpose anymore.
If your first zero waste project is making DIY cleaning solution, use up your existing product first. If your goal is to cut down on waste, you don’t want half a bottle of unused cleaner going to the landfill just because you’ve moved on to a better one. Once you’ve made the most of what you already have, you can have fun upgrading to a refillable and recyclable bottle to make your essential oil-infused spray in! You can also use your old cleaning bottles to create some natural solutions in (just be careful not to mix leftover chemicals from old bottles!). The best way to cut down on waste is to make the most out of what you already have first.
Zero waste goes hand in hand with minimalism. You don’t need to be surrounded by items you don’t use, so slowly phasing out some items in your home can be a huge factor in making less waste. This brings a whole new challenge into play–what do you do with all of the stuff that you no longer want or need?
If you have clothing, kitchen supplies, or other gadgets that no longer have a place in your home, you can do your part by making sure you’ve given them their best shot at a second life. For items that are reusable, find a local thrift shop that can get these items to someone who needs them. Plus, different thrift stores benefit different organizations, so you can double your impact by donating to a store that benefits local wildlife or homeless shelters!
For items that are long past their lifespan, it’s worth it to do your research and find the best place to dispose of it. For ripped or stained clothing, find a place to drop off clothing that will recycle them into new textiles. Check your local recycling guidelines or TerraCycle to find out just how to recycle and repurpose your no longer desired items. Sure, it may be easy to simply throw them away, but what good does that do? Do right by our Earth, take the time, and recycle right!
There Is No “Right Way”
Zero waste is not some elitist club where you make one wrong mistake and you’re outta there! It’s about doing the best you can, utilizing what’s within your own reach, and reducing waste. Make it your own and get creative with your sustainability swaps and tricks. We’re here to make waste reduction a fun journey, not a chore! To recap, here are some zero waste lifestyle tips to keep in mind when you are making your transition.
Get out of your comfort zone! You may have to ask your barista for coffee in your mug and you may have to ask the bartender to “hold the straw, please.” It might feel weird at first, but in time, these simple asks will become second nature.
Use up the old before making or purchasing the new! It can be exciting to learn how to make that new, natural, 3 ingredient, all-purpose cleaner, but don’t let your half used one sit on the shelf! Use that first and then make the new.
Recycle and repurpose the right way! Do your research and responsibly dispose of those hard-to-recycle materials. If our goal is to reduce waste, then the landfill is the last place we want our things to go. A quick Google search will point you in the right direction of where to dispose of certain items.
Making the effort to go zero waste does not have to be scary. If you take your time to make an effective, lasting transition, your waste output is bound to diminish. So be patient, don’t stress, and stick with us!
Check out our 31 Day Zero Waste Challenge to learn tips and tricks to make low-waste living easier and more accessible.
This blog was originally posted on March 6, 2018, and was last updated on March 2, 2022.