Welcome to the zero waste community! If you are reading this, chances are you’ve heard of the zero waste movement. If you haven’t you can read a little about that here. To sum it up, it’s about reducing your waste output and living an all-around more sustainable life. The way I was introduced to the zero waste movement was with a mason jar trash. You might already know what I am referring to, but if not, it was this idea or, lifestyle rather, that you should completely eliminate your trash output to only produce enough to fit in a mason jar. It was really captivating from an outside perspective, definitely enough to draw me in and get me filtering my entire life with a fine-tooth comb in efforts to reduce every and all waste possible. But as you could imagine, it was quite impossible.
In my opinion, the mason jar trash is a misrepresentation of the zero waste movement. The thing is, going zero waste isn’t about fitting your trash into a mason jar. Honestly, the idea is overrated, and undoubtedly overwhelming. First of all, it neglects to depict the waste that gets created before you get home. Or the trash that doesn’t get included in the jar because you found a way to justify not including it (condoms). Secondly, it is a privilege. The ability to commit to this is a privilege because it takes money, accessibility, and time to completely eliminate your waste. On the other hand, the idea does demonstration the significance of our footprint. It gets you thinking about how much waste is created daily, from your morning cup of joe to the hundreds of paper towels you use. Yes, the mason jar is extreme, but it creates an awareness to the matter. Fortunately, going zero waste isn’t about extreme changes overnight. It is about making small, conscious changes toward a sustainable lifestyle, and doing it in a maintainable way. Here are a few first steps to towards going zero waste.
Define your reasons.
Establish your why. Why do you want to start living a zero waste life? There are many reasons, and you can certainly have more than one! Whether you are sick of spending money on a coffee every day that you can simply make at home, and maybe you are looking to save a couple bucks.
Or if you are a firsthand witness to the drastic plastic pollution, constantly noticing the litter washing up on our beaches. Or maybe you are experiencing some health effects and are aiming to reduce the toxins in your life. Whatever your reason may be, your reason will be your constant. It will remind you of why you chose to make lifestyle change and will help keep you focused on the matter. Once you’ve decided your reasons, you might be thinking “I’m ready to go and buy all my zero waste products now!!” But, that’s actually not the best route. The next step is the most sustainable way to start going zero waste.
Use what you have!
Before you go buying all sorts of zero waste gadgets and plastic free goodies, use up what you already have!
This tends to be another misrepresentation of the zero waste movement – the idea that you need to purchase all new products, even though those shampoo bottles are still half full. Or that you need to have matching glass jars for that Pinterest-worthy pantry. Well, good news for you, you don’t! Don’t throw away anything until it’s empty. Use what you have, and use it until it’s gone, otherwise it’d be even more wasteful. So finish those bottles of shampoo before you buy your first shampoo bar.
And you don’t need to buy a matching set of mason jars to fill at the bulk bins, chances are you already have mason jars at home, and even jars of sauce or jelly that can be cleaned and used to bulk items. Be resourceful! The goal is to divert waste from the landfill, so use what you have first.
Replace items as they run out.
Once you’ve used up all of those old plastic or toxic products, you can begin swapping them out! A great way to keep track of sustainable swaps that you have found is to tag your current products. You can use painters’ tape or cute washi tape or even stickers laying around the house. Tape them to the products that you have found sustainable replacements for, like your toothpaste or your bandages so you remember to buy those once you’ve run out. It is a great way to continue using up what you have and to remind you to buy a sustainable option when you eventually replace it. Make sure your replacements are bought from ethical companies. Greenwashing is becoming a frequent marketing target, so it’s best to spend our money supporting companies that are working towards making a difference.
Recycle (properly), donate, gift, or sell.
Not all of our unwanted items need to end up in the landfill!! There are options! Options that can help others, options that can give you some cash, and options that are better for the planet. Let’s get into this one. Recycling can be tricky because you might think you are recycling properly, but you are really wish-cycling, the idea that if you put it into the recycling bin than your deed is done and it gets recycled properly. However, that is unfortunately not true. Only 9% of plastic is recycled, so make sure you do your research as to which plastics your recycling program accepts and make sure you clean them out before recycling it! Donating and gifting are great concepts for getting rid of things you don’t want. Most of our clothing still has life left when we want to get rid of it, so why would we throw it out? Gift it to a friend! Or donate it, or bring it to a clothing drive. You can even post it online and get some cash for it. Point is, try all options before sending it to the landfill, whatever the item may be.
Buy only what you need!
This tip is great in more ways than one. Whether you are here to save money or to live a minimalistic lifestyle, buying only what you need is an important step. Good practice is to first decide if you need it the new item. Do you need it, or do you want it? If you simply don’t need it, then skip it. If you need it, find out if you can buy it secondhand. Most of the items I’ve purchased in the past year were secondhand. Anywhere from clothing to kayaks, it makes more sense to buy one that could otherwise be sent to the landfill instead of using the resources to make an entire new product. If you can’t buy it secondhand, try to make sure you support an ethical company with sustainable practices. Remember, we vote with our dollar so where we spend our money with is who we are supporting.
This will help you become a mindful consumer, you will be saving a bunch of money and your choice will be better for our planet.