33 easy ways to start zero waste living

Easy ways to start zero waste?! I hear you screaming. Zero waste can definitely feel like an overwhelming concept to grapple with.

I remember starting out and thinking how is it possible to really do all this? After a year and change of giving zero waste a serious chance, I’m happy to report everything does get easier – really!

At some point, bulk shopping, tossing food waste into the compost, and refusing single-use products becomes second nature.

Still, getting started is probably the biggest obstacle to overcome. This was especially frustrating for me when talking to my friends and family about zero waste – I figured that if I could do it, so could they! Instead, they seemed to focus on all the difficulties and none of the rewards.

After a while, I started to figure out I was really the problem. I presented this broad, overarching problem with society and gave them a radical new way of life to deal with it. When I thought about it, I was overwhelming my friends in the exact same way I had felt when I first heard about zero waste. So I stopped yapping and started thinking smarter.

Whether you’re doing none, just a few, or most, remember: the zero waste movement is about learning and progressing, not literally creating zero waste. Let’s move forward together, imperfectly.

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33 easy ways to start zero waste living - Polly Barks

Need to start at the very beginning?

Recommended reading: The Zero-Waste Lifestyle: Live Well By Throwing Away Less by Amy Korst

  • Create a zero waste kit that you keep with you (or in your car) when you know you’re going out and may need to buy something.
  • Ditch harsh chemical cleaners and make your own simple, eco-friendly cleaners with vinegar and citrus!
  • Trade your plastic toothbrush for a bamboo toothbrush.
  • Use cloth instead of paper towels (or at least for kitchen messes and napkins if you can’t make the jump to 100% paper towel free).
  • Say no to junk mail by putting your name on a ‘do not send’ list.

Have access to bulk shopping?

Recommended reading: Zero Waste: Simple Life Hacks to Drastically Reduce Your Trash by Shia Su

  • Instead of reaching for plastic produce bags, pack some cloth reusable bags. Easily make some of your own, or even better – just let your produce hang loose! (Don’t forget your totes, either!)
  • When you want to buy a sauce or dip, why not make it yourself? Hummus, salsa, and bean dips are all easily done with less waste and less money spent!
  • For spices you use a lot, buying bulk can save money and packaging. Many grocery or health food stores have large bins to buy from; otherwise, you can invest in your own bin from online stores like Frontier Co-op.
  • No bulk? No problem – challenge yourself to do one grocery shop as package-free as possible. Then, use that as a baseline to know what you can achieve, even if you don’t every time you shop. You should also check out this post on how I went zero waste in a food desert.

Feel like you’re drowning in stuff?

Recommended reading: A Life Less Throwaway: The Lost Art of Buying for Life by Tara Button

  • Learn to embrace not browsing and try a shopping ban. Set a length of time to stop shopping for everything except the bare minimum essentials. (30 days is a great start.) Make a list of what are essentials for you; if you don’t make a hard and fast list, it’s easy to justify unnecessary purchases.
  • Find a local organization soliciting gently-used or unused new items. Most shelters need clothing, hygiene products, cleaning supplies, batteries, non-perishable goods, etc. See what you have taking up space in your home that could be of better use to someone else.
  • Is your closet taking over your life? Do a 1×7: pick your dress, jumpsuit, t-shirt/sweater/jeans of choice and rock them for a whole week. (And don’t worry, no one else cares about what you’re wearing – the feeling that people are paying extra attention to us is just a psychological phenomenon!)
  • Lead a free swap with friends, family, or even your whole community! Bring your gently-used items that don’t have value for you any more and give them new life with someone who will use them!

33 easy ways to start zero waste living - creating community - Polly Barks

Want to create a community?

Recommended reading: Transforming Communities: How People Like You Are Healing Their Neighborhoods by Sandhya Rani Jha

  • Identify your zero waste skill (something sustainable you’ve been doing for a while and are good at) and teach a workshop on it! Need some ideas? Here are four simple zero waste workshops you can use in your community to share zero waste.
  • Help your community with food security. If you live in an urban area, get involved with established community gardens. If you live somewhere with space, use your lawn to create an informal neighborhood CSA. You’d be surprised at how many eager hands will help you if you promise fresh produce!
  • Start a “Really Really Free Market”. A no-money market is the perfect highlight of what a circular market within your community could look like. Invite people to bring things to trade (clothes, household items, services, DIY products, etc) and get to know your community! More on creating a really really free market here.
  • Don’t have a local zero waste group? Start one! As an individual, you’re kind of useless. (Sorry, you’re great.) Start a local zero waste movement and you’ve got much more power to change your community.

Want to tie all of this up into a neat, organized package? Join The Essential Zero Waste Blueprint and be guided through the zero waste movement for all of 2019!

Need to tackle your eating habits?

Recommended reading: Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

  • Participating in the zero waste movement means being as animal product free as possible. Going from meat-eater to vegan for a whole day saves as much CO2 as a gallon of gas! Whether you it’s meatless Monday or a vegetarian/vegan month, the easiest and quickest way to reduce carbon emissions is by changing your diet.
  • Start thinking about where your food comes from and eat as locally and in-season as possible. While more carbon emissions come from food production (again – stop eating animal products!), there is a significant sustainability issue around flying in food from around the world.
  • Reaching for a vegan milk option? It’s cheaper and less packaged to buy the nut or seed in bulk or large packaging and DIY. Just add water and blend in a blender or food processor. The best alternative is oat milk – cheap, simple, and oats are much less resource-intensive than nuts.
  • If you eat eggs, trade out grocery store options for a local chicken farmer. Not only will you be able to reuse the same carton over and over, but you’ll be able to see first-hand that the chickens are free range and well taken care of.

Need to stay on a budget?

Recommended reading: Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World by Kelly Coyne

  • Get prepared for avoiding single-use plastics outside of the house by creating a zero waste kit made from what you already have. A glass jar for food storage and drinks. A cloth napkin for a plate and clean-up. A fork from the drawer to avoid single-use utensils. Easy!
  • Make a DIY swap and stop using store-bought products. You don’t need to do everything at once, but choose a few high-impact swaps like deodorant or lotion.
  • Are you someone who menstruates? Consider making a sustainable (super thrifty!) swap with period underwear, reusable cloth pads, or a menstrual cup. There are plenty of options – one will likely suit your needs.
  • Whether you’re in a tiny apartment or have yard space, grow your own food! Start with herbs and move on to hearty vegetables like tomatoes or leafy greens. This is a great way to appreciate the time, energy, and resources that go into our food.

Drive a car?

Recommended reading: Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawken

  • Although they won’t offset the immediate impact of your pollution, investing in carbon offsets or donating money to an environmental organization is a way to feel like you’re breaking even if you are required to drive frequently.
  • Commit to cutting down your car trips by 10-20% weekly. Calculate how far you typically drive in a week; then, get efficient with your route. Cut out unnecessary detours and combine all of your errands into one trip.
  • If your driving routine is non-negotiable, calculate your carbon footprint and find other ways to cut down on your emissions. Food and resource usage (like water and electric) are a great place to start.

want to involve your friends or family?

Recommended reading: Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson

  • Lead by example. Create your own zero waste kit, shop as low-waste as possible, stop buying fast fashion, etc. Be the example of what you want to see; no one else will make a change if you won’t do it first.
  • Show off how fun zero waste can be by hosting a zero waste event. Whether it’s a BBQ, picnic, family dinner, or birthday party, create as little waste as possible with food and decor. Show off how little you’ve wasted at the end of the night and get the conversation started!
  • Offer to teach or share resources for a zero waste lesson at your child’s school. Learning to sort recycling, crafts with second-hand materials, or conducting a classroom waste audit are great ways to engage kids. @yourecofriend and @popcorn.ceiling.life both have young children and have become involved with their schools!

Worried about your overall carbon footprint?

Recommended reading: The Zero Waste Blueprint by ME!

  • The zero waste movement often focuses too heavily on physical trash: use a water footprint calculator to assess how much water you’re using and how to use less. As water becomes more and more of a precious commodity, the ability to live with less will be critical.
  • According to the EPA, every year you can save 105 lbs of CO2 by raising your A/C temperature by 2F or 34 lbs of CO2 by lowering your heat by 2F in the winter.
  • Find a way to effectively compost, no matter where you live. Whether a worm bin in your apartment or a huge pile in your backyard or drop off compost at a community garden, there are many options.