Many people shy away from zero waste because there are a lot of misconceptions about what it is and what it entails. One common misunderstanding is that it is an all or nothing lifestyle and to take part you have to produce zero garbage. However, in actuality, your efforts don’t have to be perfect to embrace this eco-friendly way of living. While creating no waste is the ultimate goal, any changes you make to reduce your waste output and consumption of natural resources is a win!
If you want to give zero waste a whirl but aren’t sure where to start, follow these 10 steps. These zero waste tips will not only help protect the environment, but they can also help you lead a healthier lifestyle and save you money.
1. Use What You Have
A lot of information about going zero waste is sustainable swaps you can make, specifically ditching single-use items like coffee cups, water bottles, and paper towels for reusable alternatives. And while these changes are a great idea, please don’t throw out what you have to buy new items—it defeats the purpose. Instead, use what you already own until the end of its lifespan before purchasing sustainable replacements.
If you really don’t want to use some of your single-use items anymore, ask a friend if they would like them. Have extra office supplies you won’t use? Schools are always looking for items for their art programs.
2. Take Baby Steps
You don’t have to make every zero waste change you can think of in one day. You are more likely to stick with changes if you implement only one or two at a time. So pick something easy to start with and go from there, such as ditching plastic water bottles for a refillable bottle.
3. Reduce Food Waste
If you find yourself with lots of spoiled food on your shelves come garbage day, it is time to look into reducing your food waste.
Meal Plan: By planning out your meals and knowing exactly what you need, you reduce the risk of overbuying. You may also want to plan meals that use similar ingredients to use food items like produce and canned goods in their entirety. Or, you can also double meals and freeze one batch for a later date.
Use an Expiry Bin: Section off a place in your fridge or insert a small bin where products close to expiry will go. This reminds you to use them and should also be the go-to spot for anyone wanting a snack.
4. Get Creative
Zero waste doesn’t have to be serious. There are plenty of ways to have fun and involve the whole family!
Food Scrap Dye: Boil your onion peels, wilted spinach, and beet peels to make some eco-friendly dye. Then use these vegetable dyes to colour fabric, dye Easter eggs, or watercolour paint. You can also try one of these other activities to reuse food scraps.
Plant a Garden: Homegrown vegetation is really rewarding and always fresh. Plus, it can help get kids interested in eco-friendly activities. Don’t have a yard? Try growing a windowsill herb garden or regrow vegetables from scraps.
5. Ditch Plastic
One thing that many don’t realise about zero waste is that sometimes it simply means choosing the lesser evil. However, one thing that is clear is that there is always a more sustainable option than plastic. Even though plastic is recyclable, only 9% of it gets recycled. Plus, unlike glass and aluminium that can be infinity recycled, plastic can only be down-cycled. This means that eventually, the plastic will end up in the landfill.
6. Shop Responsibly
Only buying what you need is always a great place to start when it comes to shopping. But if you want to take it one step further, look to where you are spending your money and what it is supporting. Ideally, you want to support companies with similar values to yours and those that are also doing their part to reduce their carbon footprint. Find businesses that disclose their production practices, material sourcing, and ingredient breakdowns. Small businesses and local products is a good place to start your search.
7. Revamp Your Gifting
Consider giving the way you gift a makeover by gifting experiences instead of things. Not only does this allow you to spend quality time with a person, but chances are the memory of a day well spent will last longer than a materialistic item. You could gift a picnic with you providing all the food or spend the day exploring nature together. Or, you could also gift tickets to an art opening, concert, or another event. If you do decide to gift an item, try to use more sustainable gift wrapping. For example, consider using recyclable kraft paper and decorate it with compostable twine and floral sprigs.
When we send food waste to the landfill, it decomposes without air, which creates methane—a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. However, when we compost and natural matter decomposes with air, methane isn’t an issue. You can check if your city offers a curb side or backyard bin. If they don’t, you can always start your own compost. If you live in an apartment, then you can still collect compost in a small bin and find a local drop-off location. Slip your compost bin in your freezer if smell is a concern.
9. Keep in Mind the 5 Rs
Keep in mind the 5 Rs from the zero waste hierarchy when making decisions. They are in order of priority.
Refuse - Don’t take it or buy it unless you need it.
Reduce - Use less of what you need and look for sustainable solutions to reduce the consumption of natural resources.
Reuse - Think of ways to reuse or upcycle items before recycling or composting.
Recycle – Recycle anything you can’t refuse, reduce, or reuse.
Rot – Rot the rest. AKA Compost.
10. Don’t Get Discouraged
Don’t sweat it if you forget your reusable mug or find mouldy leftovers at the back of the fridge. When these things happen, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed or you aren’t really zero waste—it just means you’re human!
Zero waste isn’t something that will happen overnight. But over time, by shifting your mindset and creating sustainable habits, you can make an impact on the health of our planet.