Zero-waste can be quite an overwhelming concept when you don’t know where and how to start.
This guide is one of the best ways to learn about this lifestyle. From the definition of the concept to the next steps to take once you’re a zero-waste at home pro!
If you want to get an introduction to this circular way of life, some tips, or if you just wonder why you should adopt it, then you will love this guide!
Let’s dive right in:
Going zero-waste: the meaning
Definition of the zero-waste lifestyle
You’re probably imagining that zero-waste is pretty self-explanatory, right?
It’s all about living your life without sending a scrap of plastic to landfill.
No waste produce allowed.
But zero-waste isn’t the strict eco-mission you think it is.
Zero-waste philosophy is more about living an eco- lifestyle.
Send as little as you can to landfill.
Reuse as much as possible.
Be eco- to the very core of your soul.
And hey, if one or two little scraps of plastic make it to the recycling bin, it’s not the end of the world.
“The most important thing with living zero waste is the intention. The intention to reduce our footprint, reduce our waste, and make the best choice we can with the time, resources and options available to us.”
Zero-waste living is a journey, not a destination.
After all, no one can truly live while creating 0 waste.
Going zero-waste: myths and misconceptions
- Recycling = zero-waste.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Think about it.
How much energy and how many resources have gone into creating that plastic bottle?
No amount of recycling can get back the energy spent creating plastic, or suck back the toxins that have already leached into the environment.
- And don’t forget time.
This isn’t an overnight lifestyle switch!
Maintaining a zero-waste home means changing the input, not just the output.
Food packaging, cosmetics, even toilet cleaner.
How much waste has gone into producing these products?
Recycling the bottle isn’t enough.
Don’t buy the bottle in the first place!
Feeling daunted? Don’t.
- There’s a big misconception that going zero-waste is socially awkward and near impossible with kids.
Don’t be afraid to take the plunge!
Kids can be your biggest supporters when you convince them of your eco-journey towards zero-waste.
Oh, and don’t forget your online support network of eco-warriors too. Eco- is behind you every step of the way.
- You don’t need to be rich either.
Local farmers market too far away, or just too expensive?
Well, best start growing your own veg then.
Anything worth doing will require at least a little effort on your part.
Zero-waste isn’t about giving up at the first hurdle because “it’s just too inconvenient.”
The 5 R’s of a zero-waste lifestyle
Zero-waste philosophy is not a hipster trend.
There’s some real science and a structured way to go about creating a zero-waste home.
And this makes zero-waste totally accessible to everyone.
Busy mums. 9 to 5 workers. Shop-a-holics.
Follow these 5 R’s.
- Refuse: step 1
Refuse to buy trash!
The first R is about refusing items (and packaging) that you just don’t need.
Do you really need another hat or is 1 sun hat and 1 wooly hat enough?
Pick up your apples in a brown bag, rather than a plastic one.
Better yet, take a reusable basket.
Goodbye to plastic freebies.
Say no to the plastic straw.
Hello to zero-plastic wrapped groceries.
Think of it like this.
If you refuse to buy waste in the first place, you won’t have to go to the trouble of recycling it!
And the planet says thanks too.
- Reduce: step 2
Reduce your consumption of items that you do need.
You need to dry your clothes… but do you need a tumble dryer when a clothes horse does the trick for less energy?
Speaking about clothes… we all like to change up our wardrobe now and then. But how can we do so without frequently buying new clothes?
When you get tired of your clothes, just swap them!
When you need that special outfit for a special occasion, why not try renting it?
Then we come to reducing your clutter.
No matter how much you refuse useless “stuff” in the future…
… you’ve still probably got a lot more useless items at home than you realise.
Take a look in your closet, can you reduce the number of clothes you have?
Think about how often you actually wear each item. Once a year or less?
Take your clothes to the second-hand store, donate to charity or swap with friends for other items you genuinely need.
Why let your clothes go to waste in your closet, when someone else could be getting real use from them?
Even worse is the stuff that’s going to waste AND using energy.
The lava lamp that’s always on. The tap that drips. The outside light that’s on all night.
The alarm clock you haven’t used since Apple phones took over your life.
Do you need these?
Are they going to waste?
Wouldn’t it be better if they were given (or sold) to someone who could actually get use out of them?
Which leads us on to the next R.
- Reuse: step 3
Gone are the days when reusing was just for kids who watched Blue Peter.
We don’t mean turning milk cartons into bird feeders.
Reusing often means purchasing items that are reusable.
Always head to the second-hand store before buying new!
Reuse, reuse and reuse.
Energy has only been spent once to make that footstool…
… but an endless number of people can benefit from using it by packing it off to the second-hand shop when you no longer need it.
Plus second-hand items are a little easier on your wallet!
Tea and coffee can be brewed with reusable silk tea bags and permanent mesh filters.
Use jars and containers instead of cling film.
Create quilts from old clothes or upcycle old jeans into shorts.
If it’s broke, fix it, don’t bin it.
If you want to take the reuse R to the next level, try this.
Only use items that can be reused indefinitely (or until they break beyond repair).
A glass jar always trumps a plastic tupperware container.
Glass can be recycled indefinitely too, without losing any structural integrity.
- Recycle: step 4
Bet you’re sick of hearing about recycling.
Local councils nationwide have gone a bit crazy with the recycling trend.
And that’s really what it has become.
Not many people realise that recycling should be the last (or second to last option) for disposable items.
Plastic can only be recycled 9 times, at most.
Each recycling loop requires energy too.
Recycling should be your go-to when all else fails.
If you just couldn’t refuse it. If you can’t reduce it or find it a happy owner.
If it’s broken beyond repair or if there’s no way you can reuse it.
Then consider recycling it.
Glass that’s been smashed. Plastic that’s warped out of shape and won’t go back.
These are the only consumables your recycling bin should see.
- Rot?! : step 5
The final R.
Zero food waste is about reusing too.
Not like that!
Collect orange peels for making marmalade.
Chicken bones for broth.
Bananas that are a bit too brown for banana bread.
Reuse what would end up in your bin!
For those food items that just cannot be reused, add them to your compost heap.
Turn your waste into fertiliser for growing more food.
The last step is about rotting down whatever food waste you quite literally cannot stomach.
A worm tank is a great way for kids to get involved with the zero-waste living.
Fill a glass container with all your food waste and let the worms have it!
Plus, “if you don’t eat your veggies, the worms will eat your dessert” is a fantastic incentive for the kids at dinner time.
The genius creator of these zero-waste regulations is Bea Johnson.
Her comprehensive book, Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life, has everything you need to follow these 5 Rs in all aspects of your life.
Check out the previously used books before purchasing a brand new copy.
Your reusing efforts will make Bea proud.
Why should you go zero-waste?
Health and individual reasons
Obesity is on the rise.
Sorry to start on a downer, but it’s becoming the extremely large elephant in the room.
One huge thing that zero-waste starters notice is this:
When you purchase food items that aren’t wrapped in 10 layers of plastic,
When you’re trying to avoid foods that have been processed through machines that spend a lot of energy,
You’ll start buying unprocessed, natural foods.
Non GMO veggies.
Fruits grown without chemical fertilisers.
Flour, rice and beans purchased directly from the grower, cutting out the energy-wasting middleman.
It’s good for you and certainly better for the planet.
This is just one way that zero-waste is better for your health.
Many vegans, people with severe allergies from gluten to lactose, find that the zero-waste way of living agrees with them.
And let’s not forget mental health.
Money can’t buy happiness.
Experiences, journeys and hard work result in amazing rewards.
The purpose that zero-waste living will bring to your home is a kind of happiness that’s unbeatable.
We live in a linear world.
The dodo is dead, and it’s not coming back.
We have limited time on this planet.
Up until now, it’s not been a problem.
There’s always been just another acre of forest we can clear.
More oil to suck from the earth or another well to dig.
But by 2050 there will be 10 million people just like you. Each person needs all the resources you do.
How we wish this was just a brain teaser.
Learning how to start a zero-waste lifestyle now could save the future.
Granted it all feels a bit too far away.
You can read about the deforestation in the Amazon rainforest…
But until it’s the trees in your own back garden that are being cut down, it’s hard to grasp the devastating impact.
Our environment needs protecting.
How to start a zero-waste lifestyle?
A journey to zero-waste
Your journey should be driven by the reasons why zero waste is important.
Not by masses of guilt after seeing how much waste you really produce.
You need to get into the right mindset.
Take a look at the room you’re in. Which things do you really need?
Can you replace these items with zero-waste alternatives?
Can they be recycled?
Can I buy this in bulk?
Start by assessing your home, then apply the same mindset when you’re out shopping.
There will be days when you need a pep talk.
When you give in and buy a disposable razor.
When you forget to take your tote bags to the supermarket.
When the smell of fresh coffee lures you into Starbucks.
Don’t give up!
Zero-waste pattern making takes time.
No one is perfect…
If we were, we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place!
Stop looking at zero-waste living as if it’s a burden.
“It’s not about being perfect, it’s about making changes, no matter how small they are. Do what works for you and you’ll find you’re constantly growing and improving. Zero waste doesn’t happen over night, but the willingness to start, does!”
It’s an opportunity to take control of your life and the impact you have on this planet.
Wondering how to start a zero-waste lifestyle without losing your mind?
Try these tips…
Zero-waste grocery shopping
Credit where credit is due.
Big name supermarkets are trying to make an effort.
Brown bags have replaced plastic ones in the fruit and veg aisle.
Carrier bags are hidden away from the temptation to buy them.
If you’re serious about zero-waste, avoid the supermarkets!
How far have those apples travelled in a lorry?
Where were those strawberries grown?
There are many hidden ways your local supermarket has created waste.
Instead, head to:
- Farmers markets
- Local butchers
- Local growers and farmers
Take jars, containers and bags with you!
So, you’ve got your zero-waste ingredients… Now it’s time to get cooking!
Cuisine is irrelevant, it’s all in the method.
Store herbs and dry ingredients in glass jars.
Make your own pasta.
Cook with non-stick pans (no oil needed).
Reuse the pasta water for your pasta sauces or just use it to water the plants.
Zero-food waste means not wasting a single drop.
…even out of the kitchen.
Take tap water to work in a reusable water bottle.
Make your own crisps from baked sliced potato.
Seal the kid’s lunches with reusable beeswax wrap. There are plenty of cling film eco-alternatives!
And of course, food waste is the key part of the 5th R.
What’s not eaten by you will be used to grow even more delicious veggies.
Surely we can’t replace this with zero-waste products?
Actually, we can.
It all depends how far you want to take it.
Take a leaf out of Bea’s book and use moss.
Or quite literally take a page from Bea’s book.
Or one of our favourites, recycled toilet paper.
We can’t all go au naturel for toilet paper, but we can make some changes.
It’s time to get your eco- face on.
Charcoal is great for your pores and even better as eyeliner.
Beetroot juice is a fantastic dye for your lips (combine with shea butter for a lip balm).
Shampoo? Try mashing half an avocado, honey, egg whites and banana.
Add a dash of soy milk for consistency.
Toothpaste, cleaning products, cotton pads.
There are zero-waste alternatives for everything.
Other home swaps
Craving a takeaway?
Want to take home the rest of your meal from the restaurant to stop it going to waste?
Take your lunch boxes with you.
Try wooden toothbrushes instead of plastic ones.
Swap paper towels for tea towels.
Pssst. Dark colours hide stains well.
And let’s not forget your friends, colleagues and family.
Just in case they haven’t heard about your zero-waste adventures.
Try the innertube wallet as a gift.
Or recycled business cards for the office.
Zero-waste on the go kit
You’re at the airport.
And you’re desperately looking for food that fits your zero-waste regime.
If only you had an on the go kit.
Creating a zero-waste kit is the best way to ensure you don’t break your zero waste pattern making when it feels like the entire world is set against you.
Things to add to your basic, every-day kit:
- Canvas or tote bag,
- Extra cotton bags for impromptu zero-waste shopping,
- Reusable water bottle,
- Food containers (try glass jars for soups and salads, or compartmented lunch boxes for sandwiches and snacks),
- Reusable cutlery and straws,
- Cloth napkins and handkerchiefs.
The work edition.
Keep this under your desk or in the car.
- Spare work shoes,
- Innertube wallet,
- Recycled umbrella,
- Business cards,
- Leaf leather notebook,
- Handmade laptop case,
- Reusable coffee mug,
- Map of walking routes through your city,
- Copy of Bea’s book.
The travel edition.
Take a look at Vaho’s canvas bags – their extra large sizes are perfect for zero-waste travelling.
- Clothes made from recycled material,
- Recycled rubber flip flops,
- Reusable cosmetics and makeup wipes,
- Homemade sun cream,
- Solar-powered phone/camera charger.
Adjust these kits to suit your zero-waste needs.
Stash one in the car, at the office, under the sink…
Remember the first R, only buy what you will actually use in your travel kits!
Meet like minded people.
Swap zero-waste lifestyle tips.
Save the planet.
It’s all in a day’s work, really.
Once you’re the master of your own eco-household, look to the community.
Join that Facebook group.
Or start your own zero-waste group in your county.
It’s about time that zero-waste went mainstream.
Create awareness. Talk to people around you about your zero-waste, its benefits, but also difficulties.
Share this article with your friends who may be interested in zero-waste too.
Let’s make sure no one has to travel the zero-waste journey alone.
Holidays are a time to relax.
Create lots of waste?
We think not.
There are plenty of ways to reduce waste on holiday.
Make it a challenge.
A round-trip flight from New York to San Francisco emits approximately 0.9 metric tons of CO2… per person.
25% of airplane pollution is emitted during take-off and landing.
Pick non-stop flights.
Or better yet, fly half way and drive the rest.
Can you save as much pollution as was emitted by the plane journey during your holiday by taking walking tours and cycling routes?
The festive season
Christmas crackers, stockings and, of course, Christmas trees.
Oh, and a lot of waste.
Like every other time of the year, there are zero-waste alternatives available.
Try wrapping presents in newspaper, or reusable gift bags.
Decorate the tree (that can be planted in the back garden in January) with edible ornaments, handmade by the kids.
Make your own gifts, or buy tickets for experiences instead of more plastic toys.
After all, the festive spirit is about taking part.
Christmas can’t be bought in a box!
The future of the zero-waste lifestyle
Fingers-crossed… The future should be bright.
Powered by energy-saving light-bulbs, naturally.
The truth is, no matter how much effort you put into maintaining a zero-waste lifestyle, big brands and companies will still create waste.
Or will they?
The 5p carrier bag charge, the uproar at Starbucks’ paper cup waste…
The world is becoming more eco-conscious.
The future can be dictated by us consumers.
Make a stance. Show your support for eco-businesses.
Let the mass waste-producing companies know your thoughts.
You haven’t heard the last of us zero-wasters.
As we head into the future, it’s good to be prepared with more zero-waste tips, ideas, products and businesses to buy from. If you’re interested in any of the topics and products covered in this super long but (hopefully) rewarding article, put your email address in below! We’ll send you an update whenever there’s news.