Less is More: How to Go Zero Waste

5 minute read

By Kathleen Corrigan

Our landfills are constantly expanding, but we don’t have to stop and think about it. Just wheel that trash to the curb and it “disappears”! Fortunately, if you start a search online, you can adopt zero waste habits that help the environment.

People are joining the zero-waste movement, which aims to stop landfill contribution entirely by reducing, reusing, and recycling everything possible. Here’s everything you need to know about the zero-waste movement.

What is Zero Waste?

Zero Waste is the philosophy that everything should be reused or recycled, with nothing wasted. It’s meant to mimic nature. The main goals of zero waste are to reduce our consumption of resources and to avoid creating non-recyclable waste that needs to be incinerated or placed in a landfill.

Waste that can be recycled or composted like glass, aluminum, and biodegradable items are okay, but the aim of the zero-waste movement is to reduce and reuse as much as possible and recycle only when necessary. This is because recycling uses up resources like water and energy.
This means completely eliminating everything from food and product packaging to plastic bags and tissues by using your own containers, shopping bags, buying food at markets and bulk stores, and generally buying less as a whole. It takes planning and effort to go zero waste, but it comes with many benefits for the environment and you.

You’ll Reduce Your Ecological Footprint

The biggest plus to going zero waste is it greatly shrinks your environmental footprint. Landfills are currently overflowing with trash that’s leaching chemicals into the ecosystem, which in turn affects our air, water, and plant and animal life. Yet despite this, we continue to produce trash at an unsustainable rate. With zero waste, you’re helping make sure the earth is a little cleaner for future generations.

The zero-waste lifestyle can also help combat climate change. Experts estimate that around 42 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the production of goods. By cutting back on our consumption of goods, we can help reduce carbon emissions and start fighting back against climate change.

You’ll Save Money

One of the best things about eliminating waste is that you also naturally eliminate wasteful spending. Not only will you save money by shopping at bulk stores, but you’ll also find it easier to say no to impulse buys like new gadgets, clothing, junk food, and takeout meals, all of which come in wasteful packaging. By reducing your overall consumption of goods and reusing whatever you can, you’re guaranteed to save the environment and your money.

You’ll Live Healthier

There’s no better way to kick a junk food habit than by switching to a zero-waste lifestyle. Empty calories often come wrapped in excessive packaging, and by cutting prepackaged foods out of your budget you’re cutting them out of your diet, too. Limit yourself to shopping at bulk stores and farmer’s markets and you will find yourself drawn toward healthier foods. You’re also helping to eliminate your exposure to additives and chemicals in your food by eating a more natural, healthful diet.

If you’re ready to save money, slim down, and live a simpler and healthier lifestyle, here are some tips to help you live a zero-waste lifestyle:

Gather Supplies

To eliminate waste, you need to be ready to replace that waste with your own reusable packaging. Although your aim should be to reuse what you already have, you may need to invest in some supplies to be sustainable in the long run. Arm yourself with plenty of reusable items like jars, containers, and cloth produce and shopping bags that you can use to buy and store your groceries. Find a reusable lunch container to take to work. Replace your paper towels with dishcloths, and switch out paper tissues in favor of reusable handkerchiefs. If you’re really committed to the Zero Waste movement, consider investing in a bidet attachment for your toilet to cut back on toilet paper.

Plan Ahead and Be Prepared

Living the zero-waste lifestyle means you must think ahead. Before you leave the house, whether to go grocery shopping or to a cocktail party, think ahead to what items you might need to avoid producing waste and have them readily available. Put together a zero-waste kit of reusable containers and bags and keep it in your car so you’re ready to shop any time. Author of the Going Zero Waste blog Kathryn Kellogg carries a Mason jar and cloth napkin in her purse; the jar doubles as a cup or a sealable container while the cloth is a great replacement for paper napkins. By thinking ahead and being prepared, pretty soon you’ll find yourself employing zero waste no matter where you go.

Shop Locally

Getting acquainted with your local farmer’s market to shop without creating waste; they are much more likely to aid in your waste reduction mission than a large grocery chain. Many local markets already encourage their customers to reduce waste and will be happy to accommodate any requests you might have about using your own containers or bags. Some may even offer discounts to those who opt for using reusable packaging instead of paper or plastic.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

If you truly want to commit to zero waste, you need to get used to communicating your needs to the vendors, clerks, and wait staff you’re bound to encounter each day. Don’t be afraid to tell your waiter to hold the straw in your drink or ask the coffee shop barista for a real mug instead of a paper cup. We live in a naturally wasteful society, so to avoid participating in that waste, we need to be proactive.

Buy Secondhand

The key to creating zero waste is buying less, but you’re bound to need to buy something. When it comes to furniture, clothing, appliances, electronics, and other non-food items, aim to buy secondhand from a local thrift shop instead of purchasing something new. By buying secondhand goods, you’re avoiding excess packaging and saving money while reusing something instead of wasting resources.

Get Creative

Necessity is the mother of invention, so going zero waste is also a great opportunity to exercise your creativity. Learn to sew so you can mend your own clothes instead of replacing them, or make reusable grocery bags from old clothing and bed sheets. Try making your own soaps, lotions, and facemasks at home. Impress your friends and family with thoughtful homemade gifts, and wrap them using materials you already have at home. By getting creative and crafty with what you already have, you’ll save money, reduce waste, and have the satisfaction of being self-sufficient.

Do Your Research

As more people join the zero-waste movement, there are plenty of resources on how to do it. Check out blogs like the aforementioned Going Zero Waste or Lauren Singer’s Trash is For Tossers for ideas on how to make the switch. You can read books like Amy Korst’s The Zero-Waste Lifestyle or Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home for lots of great tips, tricks and recipes to help get you started.

If one of your 2018 resolutions was to live a greener life, go zero waste! Not only is it good for the planet, but it’s also good for your wallet, your health, and your overall outlook on life, making it a resolution you’ll want to keep.

Kathleen Corrigan