Zero waste resolutions: 52 sustainable goals
The big list of 52 zero waste resolutions – one for every week of the year! In no particular order, feel free to tackle these in any way that makes sense for you.
What's in this post
- Do a trash audit. Think fast: what’s in your trash can right now? You probably can’t answer that question, can you? That’s kind of the point. We can’t fix a problem we can’t define.
- Flex your “no, thanks” muscle. Many people exploring zero waste forget that the easiest way to reduce waste is by refusing the things we don’t need. Try saying no to freebies, excess travel, too much food, and any of the million items we’re tempted to buy as we go through life.
- Recognize that zero waste is systems, not individuals. Zero waste is never zero because this problem is bigger than all of us. Also understand that climate change will affect us all differently (explicitly, it will affect BIPOC – particularly in the Global South – first and worst). Learn more here.
Food & kitchen things
- Set up your grocery shopping kit. Getting enough containers for your grocery shopping kit is half the battle. Think about your last few trips and think about the number of totes, produce bags, sealed containers, you’d need and set them aside. (And no, zero waste groceries aren’t necessarily more expensive!)
- Commit to zero food waste for a week. Get creative with your food and waste nothing (or as close to nothing as possible) for a whole week. Here are some tips on waste reduction through zero waste meal planning.
- Create a list of meals you can make 100% unpackaged. The kitchen can be a really tough place to reduce waste. Enjoy some easy wins with totally unpackaged meals. Bulk rice, bulk beans, and some sauteed, unpackaged vegatables totally counts!
- Find alternatives to plastic wrap. Plastic wrap is such a scourge and – unlike ziploc bags – rarely have a function something else can’t deal with. Consider beeswax wraps (vegan alternatives) or even just a plate stuck on top of a bowl. Keep it simple!
- Reduce your animal product consumption. While it’s not possible or practical for all of us to go vegan, science demands we reduce our animal product consumption. If you cut out animal products from your diet for one day, it’s the CO2 equivalent of driving 3 miles in your car! Try Meatless Mondays and eating less meat, regeneratively raised whenever possible. More reading about sustainability and plant-based diets.
- Start switching from coffee to tea more often. While like anything the real answer is “it depends”, tea tends to have a lower impact on the environment than coffee – particularly if you use milk in your coffee.
- Try regrowing store-bought vegetables. Another small but empowering experiment in the kitchen worth a try. Here’s a list of 25 foods you can re-grow from your scraps.
In the bathroom
- Switch to unpackaged shampoo, conditioner, and soap bars. Reducing plastic waste is the bathroom has a pretty simple answer but does require some trial-and-error. Finding the right bars for your hair/skin isn’t always easy, but is possible. Make the swap and reduce your bathroom waste.
- Invest in a safety razor. They are NOT terrifying instruments of torture that tear your skin apart or require cult-like devotion to ritual as some people like to threaten. If you’re careful, shaving with a safety razor is just like shaving with a disposable razor. Minus all that destructive plastic waste.
- If you menstruate, consider a lower-waste alternative. Zero waste period products not only reduce waste but also save tons of money and make basic hygiene during menstruation much more accessible.
- Audit your toiletry items. Gather all your toiletry items together (all of them!) and list them all down. Create three columns: “buy again”, “DIY”, or “don’t repurchase”. Each item should fall into one category – ideally you should not be rebuying things on autopilot, leading to a more zero waste bathroom.
- DIY something you’d normally buy. Part of zero waste is learning self-sufficiency tactics that can help remove you from the economy. I suggest starting with something simple like a 3-ingredient zero waste deodorant – no need to go full homestead on your first try!
- Stop buying paper towels. For real. Just stop it. I’m not going to sugar-coat this: you don’t need paper towels. Part of that is the idea that low-waste living is not compatible with single-use paper items. Find out how to break up with paper towels in 5 easy steps.
- Make 1-2 cleaning product swaps. Most people don’t need to disinfect to the levels they do and can get by with using fewer and less harsh cleaning products.
Zero waste IRL
- Pack your zero waste kit (and bring it with you!). Zero waste kits are a way for you to meet the day-to-day challenges of living in a world full of waste. It’s basically a small collection of items (usually cloth napkin, travel mug, fork) you bring with you whenever you leave the house.
- Make a list of zero waste swaps you’d like to make. Someday. Going zero waste does not mean throwing everything you own away and buying sustainable alternatives. There is nothing further from zero waste than throwing away a perfectly functional item just because it doesn’t suit your current lifestyle. Make a list and work through it slowly and thoughtfully.
- Say no to single-use cups, napkins, and utensils. Zero waste is more than a Mason jar full of trash, but a very basic way to live your sustainability principles day-to-day is by refusing single-use plastic items.
- Get to know your local recycling systems better. Don’t believe every cute infographic you see on Facebook or Pinterest – every municipality has a different recycling company with different rules and abilities to recycle. Call your city, get informed, and stop wish-cycling (AKA guessing).
Minimizing without the landfill
- Play the #MinsGame. The MinsGame was invented by the Minimalists and essentially you get rid of things from your house each day for a month (1 item on the 1st, 10 on the 10th, etc.). The real challenge is to play it thoughtfully, deciding how to declutter without throwing things straight into the landfill.
- Find a new home for the items you no longer need. I’m sure all of us in our pre-zero waste days had a fit of “I just don’t know what to do with this perfectly-good [shirt/book/container/etc]” and dumped it in the trash instead of figuring out where it could go to live. No more! Try the 10 in 15 and find how to give old items new value.
- Commit to collect and unsubscribe from junk mail. Most junk mail newsletters/coupon books/etc. have a way to unsubscribe from their website. Check on the physical mail and you should find a site to start your investigation. If all else fails, call the number and you should be able to add your address to a no-send site.
- Repair something that’s been out of commission. Shirt unworn because of a missing button? Small hole in a sheet? Piece of a chair that needs to be glued back on? Get it done and don’t be tempted to buy new! You can also check to see if there’s a repair cafe around you – where experts set up and help people fix what’s broken!
- Take the “Buy Nothing” pledge. Set an amount of time (some people take 30 days, some do a whole year) and decide to buy nothing except essentials during that time. It’s a radical way to assess what your wants vs. needs truly are.
Reducing your footprint at home
- Calculate your ecological footprint. Basically, your ecological footprint is a holistic look at your resource usage. It’s used to calculate how many earths would be required if everyone on the planet lived like you. By calculating it, you can figure out ways to reduce your impact.
- Calculate your water footprint. Yup, you guessed it. A water footprint measures how much water your daily habits require, including diet, clothing, as well as basic water usage from showers/sinks/etc.
- Lower or raise your thermostat by a few degrees. It’s a bigger deal than you think. A 2013 study found: “Approximately 0.43 percent of USA carbon emissions could be erased by a 1°F adjustment of all residential and commercial thermostats… 0.43% of (the USA population) is over 1.3 million persons whose carbon footprints could be erased by a 1°F thermostat adjustment.”
- Collect water as you shower or wash dishes. Small acts of conservation can be powerful zero waste resolutions too! Have a bucket or large bowl underneath you as you use water – save it for watering plants, cleaning, or filling up the toilet.
- Swap your dryer for a clothesline. Save money on your electric bill and reduce your carbon footprint by doing laundry like most of the world: without a dryer. More on a zero waste laundry routine here.
- Set up a composting system. Home composting can seem overwhelming, but the fact is it’s a very simple process that almost everyone can use effectively whether you live in a tiny apartment or have space in your backyard. Food waste releases the GHG methane when put into the landfill so it’s critical it doesn’t end up there.
Becoming a climate adovcate
- Contact a company and request plastic-free packaging. Sending a letter to request plastic-free packaging alone may not get anything changed, but hey: if you get enough people to do so, you may have some momentum. Even making companies aware that people are interested in no-waste solutions can be really valuable.
- Create a representatives list and contact them about important issues. Make a list of your representatives and their contact information. Having a handy list of all your local, state, and federal (or whatever breakdown you non-US folks have!) makes it so much easier to take action when an organization you love asks you to call about a certain issue.
- Write a letter to the editor about a sustainability issue you care about. I know. I KNOW. It seems so old fashioned and like something no one would ever do. BUT. They’re the sort of antiquated idea that still hold value to certain segments of the population – like local government officials. (If you don’t know, a letter to the editor is a short letter published by the newspaper that shares a reader opinion.)
- Spend time off volunteering with a local eco-group. Deep-diving into a new environmental group can be really intimidating, particularly if you’re not sure it’s the group you want to commit to. So spend today finding 3-4 local or international groups you might be interested in joining and volunteer just one hour of your time to each.
Creating a zero waste community
- Create and gift a zero waste kit to someone you know. Most of us have far too many things cluttering up our house – go through your items and create a zero waste kit for someone else. Let your items get a new life with someone else!
- Plan a litter clean up. Make your zero waste living more public by hosting a litter clean up! Whether it’s just you and a few friends or a large community effort, make it happen and beautify a part of your town/city that needs some love!
- Host a zero waste meetup. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but… If there’s not a zero waste meetup group in your town, it may be time for you to start one yourself! Luckily, I have a step-by-step guide to hosting your first event so best of luck!
- Host a local clothing swap. A clothing swap is a great way to introduce the concept of a circular economy to the average person. Have people bring clothes they no longer wear and they get to bring some something new-to-them!
- Teach a zero waste workshop. It’s all well and good to read books and blog posts describing a lifestyle and how to live it, but it’s another thing entirely to experience it for yourself. I know personally zero waste workshops opened my mind to exciting possibilities and empowered me to make tangible differences!
- Make a “Zero Waste Living” PDF or DOC for you town/city. Create a one-pager of places to buy local or unpackaged food, low-waste swaps, and cool organizations working locally. It’s also important to share this resource – either within your own circle or sending it to relevant organizations that might find it useful! See my Zero Waste Lafayette example.
Zero waste at work
- Suggest a sustainability initiative to your boss. If you’ve achieved a low-waste lifestyle at home, tackling a zero waste office may be your next goal. So let’s get busy protecting your company’s triple bottom line: people, profits, and planet.
- Pack your own lunch – no excuses. Whether you work at an office, have a quick break in between shifts, or work out of home office – prep some food beforehand so you can control exactly what you’re getting. No single-use items, no excess food!
Extra sustainable goals
- Practice rewilding and plant native pollinator-friendly plants. Creating spaces for pollinators like bees is incredibly important as our explosive growth continues to destroy native habitats. Whether just a small pot or too on a windowsill to your entire garden, find space for local plants.
- Check out 2 books on sustainability subjects and educate yourself. One of the easiest zero waste resolutions! Because reading blogs is all well and good, but sometimes you need to deep dive into books to get nuanced information.
- Purchase carbon offsets for your commute/last trip. To cancel out the negative effects of carbon emission, individuals and businesses can purchase carbon offsets. An organization calculates the cost of your carbon emission and you pay the monetary equivalent.
- Reduce your fossil-fuel powered trips. For many of us (hi fellow USA residents) going completely car-free seems like a dream, but we can all do a lot to reduce our impact. Commit to car-free days, walk or bike instead of using public transit, and of course limit flying when possible.
- Take a foraging class and fight plant blindness. Plant blindness is when we don’t notice the wide variety of plants around us. Fight the ignorance and apathy by finding a local foraging class to learn more about the (edible!) plants around you.
- Learn a new practical skill. So many of our problems re: the climate stem from distancing ourselves from not only the natural world, but the basic skills we used to have. Commit to learning a new skill that dovetails nicely with the part of environmentalism you’re most passionate about. Care about food waste? Learn how to can! Worried about systemic injustices? Attend a community organizing seminar.
- Say no to fast fashion brands. Overconsumption of clothing is dangerous to the planet’s health. Not only do the resources put a strain on the earth, but the simple fact is there’s no way a $5 shirt wasn’t made by exploitative labor.
- Complete this goal-setting webinar. Need even more goals or want to take a more targeted look at the actions important to you? Work through my Goal-Setting webinar – it’s for 2019 but still good for any upcoming year!