The Zero Waste Guide

There’s a lot of information about zero waste out there, and it can be daunting to cut through the noise. How do you know what is useful for your particular situation? Where can you find more information about zero waste principles? Is there a local group of people who have also committed to reducing their waste production? How can you reduce your personal waste in a sustainable way?

Whether you’re just beginning to learn about zero waste or are looking for new tips and tricks, this guide will get you started on your journey towards a zero-waste lifestyle. We’ve compiled the best practices, advice, and examples from across the internet into one place.

What is zero waste?

Zero waste is a lifestyle in which you aim to reduce your total waste production to almost nothing. It is also often used to describe businesses or organizations that aim to produce as little waste as possible. The term was coined in the 1990s and has become a widely used way to describe an increasingly popular trend of reducing our waste.

It differs from a “reduce waste” or “don’t waste” approach in that it looks at how to practically eliminate waste and make up for any remaining waste through things like composting, reusing, and recycling.

There are several steps to go from being a “reduce waste” person to a “zero waste” person, and it can take a bit of time and effort to put the pieces of the puzzle together. While it’s a good idea to research zero waste as a lifestyle, it’s not necessary to commit to the lifestyle fully to start reducing your household waste.

Start by knowing your habits

Before you start with any new habit, it’s helpful to know where you’re starting from. A good way to begin to understand your habits is to conduct a waste audit.

A waste audit involves taking a close look at all your waste over a two-week period. Start by collecting all the waste that comes out of your household, including your recycling and compost. Be sure to include paper towels, napkins, and other paper products you might use for cleanup. Every time you put out a new bag of waste at the curb, make a note of it.

You might be surprised by how much you produce over a couple weeks.

Once your two weeks are up, go through your waste audit and start identifying trends. Which items come up most often? What was the reason they were generated? What do you think could be done differently to reduce the amount of waste you produce?

What to keep and what to toss

Next, let’s talk about what to keep and what to toss. In the zero waste community, there’s a big focus on reusing items. This is because it’s impossible to make new things out of nothing and also because it’s an easy way to reduce your waste production.

There are many ways to reuse items, but there are also many items that are best to toss when they become unusable.

  • Reusable items – The best reusable items to focus on are ones that can be used for a variety of purposes. Items like a reusable water bottle, cloth produce bags, and cotton dish cloths can be used for many different things.
  • Disposable items – Disposable items like paper napkins, paper towels, and disposable plates can be replaced with reusable options such as reusables napkins, hand towels, and plates made out of materials like ceramic, bamboo, or stainless steel.
  • Recycle items – Recycle items that can’t be reused or repurposed, like plastic bags that can’t be reused as storage bags or plastic containers you didn’t plan to keep. Be sure to repurpose items like plastic containers and cardboard boxes whenever possible.
  • Compost items – Compost items that can’t be reused or recycled.

Commit to a no-waste grocery store trip

Your next step in the zero waste journey is to commit to a no-waste grocery store trip. Nail down your meal plan for the week and bring along your reusable shopping bags every time you go to the store. Start by examining your store’s produce section for produce that’s not in plastic.

Many grocery stores have produce that isn’t packaged in plastic, which is a good place to start looking for produce without any packaging.

If you don’t find what you need in the produce section, head to the bulk section next. Here you’ll find items like whole grains, beans, nuts, and dried herbs that often come in reusable containers.

Shop strategically at the grocery store

When you start to focus on staple items, like grains, beans, rice, and nuts, you can start to shop strategically at the grocery store. Many bulk bins have the same items you’d find on the packaged goods aisle. However, bulk sections often have several eco-friendly items that are packaged in paper or cardboard. Paper and cardboard packaging is less costly than plastic and can be reused if the item you purchased isn’t in a resealable bag.

Be sure to check the ingredients list on all packaged foods, including foods in the bulk section. Many bulk foods don’t have ingredients lists, so they may not be safe for people with food allergies or special diets.

Stay stocked with eco-friendly cleaning supplies

Next, let’s talk about eco-friendly cleaning supplies. Start by picking up a few bulk items and replacing your eco-unfriendly products with bulk options. There are many zero waste blogs and forums that have guides for household cleaning products made with items like baking soda and vinegar.

Once you have your eco-friendly cleaning supplies on hand, start using them. It’s important to make the switch from your eco-unfriendly products to eco-friendly ones as soon as possible. This will allow you to get a feel for how long each product takes to work and how to best use each product. Once you have your cleaning routine down, start looking for reusable cleaning tools like microfiber cloths and reusable cleaning sponges.

Bottom line

Going zero waste is a lifestyle that aims to reduce your waste production to almost nothing. It differs from a “reduce waste” or “don’t waste” approach in that it looks at how to practically eliminate waste and make up for any remaining waste through things like composting, reusing, and recycling.

It’s helpful to understand your habits before you start making changes. Once you’re clear on what you want to change, you can start making progress towards a zero-waste lifestyle.

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