How to Start a Zero Waste Life? (A Beginner’s Guide to Trash-Free Home)
We drag the garbage can to the curb at night,
And by the morning, we wake up and find that all the trash disappeared, as if by magic.
The trash is out of sight, but does that mean it should be out of our minds?
After all, our trash doesn’t just evaporate because the garbageman whisked them off.
Waste ends up in our landfills, contaminating our environment and leaching toxic into our air, soil, and water.
Many people share the misconception that Zero Waste involves extensive recycling when on the contrary, Zero waste views recycling as a last resort solution.
Today you’re going to learn how to live a richer life while generating less waste through the Zero Waste lifestyle.
Let’s get started!
Benefits of The Zero Waste Lifestyle
Most people share the erroneous belief that Zero Waste is time-consuming and expensive which cannot be farther from the truth.
Zero Waste makes financial sense because it:
- Reduces consumption of products.
- Reduces storage, maintenance, and repair costs.
- Eliminates purchasing disposables which saves so much money over time.
- Encourages buying in bulk which is generally cheaper.
- Advocates selling or renting unused item for a profit.
Zero Waste lifestyle improves the overall health of your family through:
- Discouraging buying plastic packaging and products which reduces risks of plastic leaching into our food such as BPA.
- Using natural remedies and cleaning products, which reduces exposure to chemicals.
- Advocating minimalism, which reduces dust accumulation and accompanying allergies.
- Advocating outdoor activities, which provides cleaner air, vitamin D, and an increase in physical activity.
- Encouraging buying whole foods by limiting the consumption of highly processed ones.
Zero Waste lifestyle saves your time by spending less time buying, transporting, unpackaging, storing, cleaning, maintaining, etc.
The 5 R s of the Zero Waste Lifestyle
A zero waste lifestyle isn’t just about using eco-friendly alternatives, but rather decluttering more and recycling less.
It offers practical solutions to living richer and healthier by following a simple system of:
1. Refusing what you don’t need.
2. Reducing what you do need.
3. Reusing what you consume.
4. Recycling what you cannot refuse.
5. Rotting (composting) the rest.
Keep in mind that the goal isn’t achieving absolute Zero Waste life, considering the manufacturing practices in place. Zero Waste is an idealistic goal to help you generate as little waste as possible.
Step 1: Refuse (What You Do Not Need)
Having a Zero Waste home begins with your behavior outside the home.
Consumption doesn’t only occur through shopping. It’s also the junk mail you receive, the goody bag you leave with every conference, the flyers given everywhere…
Consumption is both, direct and indirect – the things you need, and the things you don’t and didn’t ask for.
The first R (refuse) addresses the indirect type. It stops needless waste from getting into our homes in the first place.
There are many things you don’t need that you can refuse.
The following is some of them worth considering:
- Single-use plastics: such as disposable plastic bags, straws, bottles, cups, lids, flatware.
- Freebies: such as food samples, goody bags from conferences and events, hotel room toiletries.
- Junk mail.
- Unsustainable practices: such as accepting business cards we will never consult, buying excessive packaging.
Step 2: Reduce (What You Do Need And Cannot Refuse)
Reducing is the best immediate way to the environmental crisis. Reducing also allows us to favor experiences over stuff. Not to mention that it saves you so much money by questioning the need and use of several purchases.
Less means less to worry about, plan, clean, store, repair, or dispose of later.
The following are some practical ways to implement the reducing strategy in your home:
1. Evaluate past purchases.
- Assess the true need and use for everything in your home.
- Consider letting go of things you always thought you have to have.
- Choose repairable/quality over disposable/quantity.
- Donate or sell previous purchases.
2. Curb current and future consumption in amount and in size.
- Restrain your shopping activities.
- Reduce packaging by buying in bulk instead.
- Reduce your car usage by biking or walking instead.
- Downsize your home if you can.
- Buy less quantities or in concentrated form.
3. Decrease activities that lead to consumption.
Reduce your media exposure (TV, magazines) and leisure shopping. Not only will you start using less, but you’ll also find satisfaction with what you already have.
Refusing is a pretty clear strategy to reduce waste. You simply have to say no. Reducing, on the other hand, is an individual affair. You need to assess your own needs given the realities of your family life and financial situation. If you’re living in a rural or semi-rural area, reducing car usage can be difficult (carpooling and combining your trips can help reduce car usage).
Step 3: Reuse (What You Consume And Cannot Refuse or Reduce)
Many people believe that recycling is a form of reusing a product. But while recycling is about reprocessing a product and giving it a new form, reusing, on other hand, is about using the product in its original form several times to maximize its usage.
Reusing is reserved for things that cannot be refused or reduced, which means that you won’t have to find uses for lots of things.
For example, a plastic grocery bag can be reused as a packaging alternative to bubble wrap, but since they can be easily refused, a zero waste home doesn’t need to find uses for them.
1. Use more reusables for packaging and wasteful single-use products:
- Bring reusable shopping bags to the store.
- Swap disposables for reusables/refillable/rechargeable/repairable and durable such as using cloth hand towels instead of paper ones, safety razor instead of plastic ones, etc.
2. Alleviate resource depletion.
- Share items that you don’t use frequently like lawnmowers through borrowing, loaning, trading, renting peer to peer, etc.
- Start buying used through thrift stores, garage sales, antiques markets, Craiglist, eBay, Amazon, etc.
3. Extend the useful life of necessities.
- Repair broken items.
- Rethink the use of some item such as using mugs as penholders.
- Reuse shipping boxes and single-side printed paper before recycling them.
Step 4: Recycle (What You Cannot Refuse, Reduce, or Reuse)
Zero Waste home isn’t about recycling, it’s more about reducing waste through refusing what we don’t need, reducing what we need, and reusing before recycling.
Recycling is still a better option than sending an item to the landfill. And even though it’s a form of disposal, it provides a guide for making better purchases best on the awareness of what recycles best.
This is why it’s essential to choose products that are made of materials with high postconsumer content, are compatible with your community’s recycling policy, and are likely to be recycled over and over like steel, glass, and paper.
Step 5: Rot (Compost) The Rest
Rotting or composting is the process of recycling organic materials, allowing them to decompose over time and return their nutrients to the soil. The outcome of what we put in our compost is rich soil or what gardeners refer to as “black gold”.
Choosing a compost type is a personal choice but there are certain things to take into consideration like:
Location. You can use your yard to set up a compost system, but if you live in an apartment, your choices will be narrowed down.
Food consumption. Most composting devices accept fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, eggshells but some can also process meat, dairy, and bones, which can be really convenient for nonvegan Zero Waste homes.
1. Kitchen and Grocery Shopping
Having a Zero Waste kitchen isn’t as hard as you might think. All you need is to set a system in place and maintain it.
Take everything out of your cupboards and only put back items that survive the following questions:
1. Is it in working condition? Is it expired?
If it’s not, repair it now, sell it, donate it, or discard it once and for all, and for expired food, compost it.
2. Do I use it regularly?
If you haven’t used it in months, you probably don’t need it. Donate or sell kitchen items you don’t use.
3. Is it a duplicate?
Set a maximum number or device space limitations for stuff and discard the rest.
4. Does it put my family’s health in danger?
Teflon (nonstick), aluminum, and plastic can be dangerous to your health.
5. Do I keep it out of guilt?
If it’s a gift that you never intended to purchase and don’t really need, let it go.
6. Could another item achieve the same task?
A bottle can act as a rolling pin and a knife can do the same job as a salad cutter.
7. Is it reusable?
If not can someone make use of it? Don’t be afraid of letting go, focus instead on the benefits that will come from living with less.
There will always be the dreading of “what-if I regret things”. But trust that letting go of things is a small sacrifice in order to gain control of your kitchen.
Kitchen items that usually don’t survive the questions above are the following: Food processor (hand-chopping can be faster and save time cleaning) microwave, can opener, rolling pin, loose cutting boards, cake pans, placemats, decorative items.
Grocery and Errands Lists
Shopping lists aren’t just time savers, they also help reduce grocery trips and impulse purchases.
A great way to use shopping lists is to keep two lists: one for groceries, and one for errands. Clip them near your pantry so that every time you notice that you’re running out of something, you can write it on the list.
Use single-side printed paper and fill it from the bottom up so you can tear off the bottom and bring it to the store.
Cell phones can be a good paperless alternative, but not as convenient for on-a-whim jotting.
Shopping In Bulk
Bulk shopping allows you to refill containers and buy as much or little as needed.
To reduce packaging waste when shopping in bulk, you’ll need the following:
- Cloth bags. Use it to stock up on dry bulk like beans, cereal, cookies, etc. at home transfer your dry goods into airtight containers like canning jars.
- Mesh bags that will allow the cashier to easily read produce codes.
- Glass jars. Have them weighted at the customer service counter and make note or permanently mark the tare on them. Then use them for wet bulk such as peanut butter, honey, pickles, olive, etc.
- Bottles. Use them to fill with liquids, such as olive oil, vinegar, etc.
- Pillow case for bread.
- Washable crayon.
- Your grocery list.
Consider growing your own food. The food you grow at home will always be package-free.
1- Swap paper towels for reusable rags.
2- Shop vegetables and eggs from the farmer’s market and take with you the egg’s carton and your basket or a reusable bag.
3- Reuse the single-printed papers to write down your shopping list.
4- Reuse vegetables and fruits cleaning water to water your plants.
5- Use baking soda and white vinegar to clean the kitchen (oven, microwave, refrigerator, dishwasher…).
6- For the food that can be frozen, cook much of it and save it in the freezer for later.
7- When buying food, don’t buy more of it just because it’s on promotion. Only buy what you really need and in the quantity that you really need. Write a list before you go shopping and stick to it.
8- Grow your own herbs. If you have a little garden, make it useful and plant some vegetables you eat constantly. Even if you don’t have a garden, you still can grow them in pots.
2. Bathroom, Toiletries, and Wellness
Be wary about the “Dirty Dozen” chemicals.
According to the D avid Suzuki Foundation’s “Dirty Dozen,” the chemicals to be most wary about are:
- BHA and BHT
- Coal tar dyes
- DEA-related ingredients
- Dibutyl phthalate
- Form aldehyde-releasing preservatives
- Parfum (a.k.a. fragrance)
- PEG compounds
- Sodium Laureth Sulfate
Although decluttering is a very personal matter, the following items could be eliminated:
- Bathroom decor
- Deodorizing spray
- Duplicate combs, brushes, tweezers, and scissors
- Expired medications
- Extra cosmetic bags
- Extra hair ties and accessories
- Freestanding storage
- “Party” makeup color palettes
- Hand towels
- Q -tips
- Trash cans!
Depending on the type of composter at your disposal, the following hygiene items could be composted:
- Bamboo or wooden toothbrushes
- 100 percent cotton swabs
- 100 percent cotton balls
- 100 percent cotton facial pads
- 100 percent cotton gauze
- Facial tissue
- Hair from a brush or electrical shaver
- Sea sponges
- Nail clippings
- Silk floss
- Tampons (including the cardboard applicator)
- Toilet paper
Zero Waste Toiletries
The following are examples of zero waste alternatives for your toiletries:
Skin soap bars. It’s a great zero waste alternative if you can find it loose or in recyclable paper. You can use it to wash your hands, face, body, and shaving.
Bulk liquid. Liquid soap can also be bought in bulk.
Alum stone. it’s easy to use as a deodorant. You simply wet the stone, apply it, and dry it after use.
No-poo. Instead of using shampoo, you can rinse your hair, sprinkle baking soda on your scalp, massage it, then rinse with apple cider vinegar for shine, and rinse again with water.
Solid bars shampoo and bulk liquid shampoo.
Straight-edge razor. It requires regular sharpening, but it’s a great zero waste alternative.
Baking soda as toothpaste. In theory, toothpaste isn’t necessary to effectively clean your teeth. The act of brushing alone is what matters. But baking soda can be a great alternative to toothpaste.
Reusable feminine products. Consider switching from tampons and disposable pads to a reusable menstrual cup or reusable pads that can be washed and sterilized.
Home remedies aren’t just zero waste but they can also be effective for occasional bruises, cuts, sniffs, and stubs.
Allergies: Consume honey daily.
Bruises: Apply half an onion on the area for fifteen minutes.
Sore throats: Gargle saltwater.
Eczema: Apply olive oil.
Foot odors: Spray apple cider vinegar on your feet and sprinkle baking soda in your shoes.
Insect bites: Apply white vinegar to the bites.
Menstrual cramps: Drink chamomile or yarrow tea and apply a warm pad on the belly.
Nausea: Consume ginger candied or in the form of a tea.
1- Use baking soda as a deodorant
2- Refill your bottles with bulk shampoo.
3- Buy package-free solid soap.
4- Swap your regular plastic toothbrush with a bamboo toothbrush.
5- Start using safety razors instead of plastic ones.
6- Start including natural remedies in your skincare routine.
3. Bedroom and Wardrobe
Common bedroom activities usually include sleeping, reading, and getting dressed. So anything that doesn’t facilitate these activities can be discarded.
The following are some ideas to simplify your bedroom:
TVs, Computers, and other work equipment are best kept in the living room or your study.
Bulky nightstands tend to accumulate clutter and things we don’t use anymore (old magazines, unloved beauty products, expired medicine, etc) limiting your storing space discourages pileups.
Chairs and valet stands invite clutter and collect dirty clothes. By removing them, dirty and smelly clothes will go straight into the laundry bin or back in the closet.
Valances tend to accumulate allergy-causing dust. Consider taking them down and repurposing the fabric into something more useful.
Purely decorative pillows can take so much time to be moved for sleep, put back, cleaned, occasionally repaired, etc.
Simplifying your bedroom with help provide better air quality and make it easier to clean and straighten up every morning.
Zero Waste lifestyle is about consuming intelligently. Versatility is key to make the most of your wardrobe. It starts by carefully selecting items that can be worn in many different ways.
The following are some tips to help you select versatile pieces that can be worn to any event or season:
Pick basics in neutral shades. Depending on your complexion, select colors that mix well with inter pieces like black, gray, navy, nude colors, etc.
Pick fabrics that are neither too formal nor too casual.
Favor fitted and medium fit pieces that can be layered or worn alone.
Look for multi-functionality in bags. For example, a removable strap can turn a daytime purse into a nighttime clutch.
Repurpose it. Hide a home with a pin or a flower or color it.
1- The rule is: Anything you didn’t wear for a year and a half you’re not going to wear it ever, so donate it.
2- Keep your closet minimal.
3- Shop as few times as you can per year to avoid compulsive buys.
4- Buy second-hand clothes.
5- Bring a reusable bag for your purchases.
6- Use the worn-out clothes as rags.
7- Learn few sewing tricks. Repair your clothes or make something useful out of them instead of throwing them.
4. Housekeeping and Maintenance
The Magic of Vinegar
Vinegar can be an alternative for many cleaning, laundry, pest, and gardening products.
Here are some common vinegar uses:
Bathroom cleaner. Vinegar can dissolve soap scum and hard water stains. It also shines counters, floors, sinks, showers, and mirrors.
Kitchen cleaner. Use vinegar to disinfect cutting boards, clean the sink, counter, refrigerator, oven, coffeemaker, etc.
Laundry booster. Adding vinegar to your rinse cycle helps prevent the buildup of yellowing, softens the fabric, boosts its color, and reduces static cling.
Color set. If a garment bleeds and fades when washed, let it soak in vinegar before laundering.
Eraser. Remove pen, pencil, or crayon marks from walls using a cloth dipped in vinegar.
Weedkiller. Kill weeds by spraying vinegar onto them.
1- Start using natural cleaning alternatives such as baking soda, white vinegar, Castile soap, borax…
2- Buy dishwasher and laundry detergent in bulk.
3- Open the windows instead of using an air freshener and let houseplants absorb toxins.
4- Do the laundry as few times as you can.
A Paperless World
With the advancing of technology, our society is going more and more paperless. E-books are replacing books, tablets are replacing schoolbooks, etc.
Below are some ideas to help you go paperless:
• Collect single-side printed paper for reuse.
• Cancel magazine and newspaper subscriptions and start viewing them online instead.
• Email invitations or greeting cards rather than printing them.
• Make online billing and banking a common practice.
• Print on both sides (duplex printing).
• Repurpose junk mail envelopes and make sure to cross out any barcode.
• Turn down business cards. Enter relevant info directly into a smartphone, instead.
• Visit the local library to read business magazines and books.
1- If you have a habit of coffee, make it at home. If you want to drink it at work, make it at home and take it with you in a flask.
2- Sign up for free customer rewards program, but don’t buy just to collect points. Let it be a long-term investment.
3- Turn off the TV. It not only consumes energy but your time too. Instead of spending time in front of the TV, do something you love.
4- Use the nearby park to jog and do your exercises, instead of going to the gym. It not only saves you money but also having some fresh air can reduce your stress considerably.
5- Cut down your expenses. Remove luxuries from your budget. Buy what you can from thrift and buy exactly what you need.
6- Consume less. When it comes to saving electricity and water, it might not seem that consuming less of them will pay off or make any difference at least in the short term. But it actually makes a difference, it’s a way to train yourself to live as a minimalist.
7- Use cheaper transportation. Walk when you can and use carpool. When using your car to shop, start with the furthest destination for maximum fuel efficiency.
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Portions of this article were adapted from the book Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste, © 2013 by Bea Johnson. All rights reserved.