Going zero waste at home can feel difficult. So much of our zero waste efforts are wrapped up in being out in the world, actively fighting unsustainable systems.
Still, sometimes we need to stay at home. Don’t worry – I’ve got plenty of ideas and practical actions you can take to reduce your waste and live more sustainably, even if you have to stay inside.
Let’s start going zero waste at home…
What's in this post
- Make your “zero waste wins” list. One thing that’s all too easy in a zero waste journey is only looking at what you haven’t done yet. Instead, why not start with a list of the zero waste swaps/actions you’ve already made/taken. Celebrate what you’ve gotten done already… then get down to business.
- Set some goals. Now that you have your list of wins, make a list of goals alongside it. These could be tangible goals you can accomplish right away, big dreams you can’t achieve yet, ideas you want to look into, or cool things you’ve seen others do. Choose 2-3 realistic goals to start working on right away.
- Touch base with your ancestors. Zero waste isn’t new. People all over the world have been practicing zero waste at home out of necessity and thrift for ages. Talk to your older relatives, look through historical records, and study up on all the ways that people have practiced sustainability in the past – no metal straw in sight!
- Read a chapter or two of a sustainability book. Blog posts are great. I love trawling Instagram for a hot take or two. But! It’s not enough and diving into well-researched, thoughtful books takes your zero waste education to a whole new level. Set aside a few minutes to find a book and read a few chapters in some fresh air. Here’s a whole list of zero waste books I recommend diving into.
- Have a conversation. (Really!) One of the easiest ways to amplify the effects of you going zero waste at home is to just have a conversation with someone. Cook a no-waste dinner with your family. Call your friend and share a cool sustainability fact or win you had. Challenge a friend to a virtual “no single use plastic” competition. You can’t solve the world’s problems alone – bring people in to help.
Food + food waste
- Make a meal from scraps. Cooking with Scraps by Lindsay-Jean Hard and Waste Not by James Beard Foundation are good ones to check out!
- Do a “no food waste” challenge. Step up from just one meal… It’s just like it sounds: set a time frame and make absolutely zero waste from food scraps during that time. It means using every part of the vegetable, figuring out hacks for stale bread, etc. Use your compost heap as a last resort.
- Plant an edible garden. Whether you’ve got a lawn begging to be torn up or just enough space for a small pot next to a window, get something edible going! Fostering a connection to our food systems is so hard, but necessary. When you’re babying your own herb or tomato, you’ll gain so much more respect for the resources behind every under-priced vegetable in the store.
- Split a bulk shop with a friend. If you’re trying to stay home or don’t have access to bulk food, why not do an online bulk order (my recommendation? Azure Standard). To make it easier – and not struggle so much to think about where to store 25 pounds of chia seeds – split it with a friend interested in trying out zero waste at home!
- Start a little free pantry. I talk about this a lot, but it’s because I think it’s a great idea! Whether you have a lawn, porch, or just a common area in your apartment building, why not start a spot to give and take food? Community building at its most simple and beautiful! Here’s how to start a little free pantry.
- Measure your ecological footprint. Your ecological footprint is how many earths would be required if everyone on the planet lived like you. Spoiler alert: it’s pretty dire. Take the test and figure out ways to begin reducing your impact (it’s usually diet and travel, FYI!).
- Find your water footprint. Let’s get a little more granular by measuring our water footprint. Many people assume it’s just the number of times you flush your toilet – or fixable by turning the water off when you brush your teeth. Nope – most of your water footprint comes from the food you eat and the items that you buy. Find out more about your water footprint.
- Measure what’s coming in (and going out!) of your house. One of the easiest free zero waste hacks is to simply… not buy stuff. No, it’s not a particularly sexy answer to the question “how do I make less waste?” but it’s true. On the output side of things, consider doing a trash audit to figure out exactly what kind of trash you’re creating. Know your problem, start to solve your problem.
Zero waste at home – but not alone!
- Contact your representatives. The magical bit about representatives is that even a few insistent constituents can begin shoving them toward action. Pick a cause – maybe declaring a climate emergency or supporting any bills on increased renewable energy – and get calling/emailing. Make your voice heard – bonus points if you amplify your own voice by asking other people to contact them about the same issue!
- Host a virtual zero waste event. 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. While some of the magic is lost by doing it virtually, there are plenty of ways to share zero waste at home. Consider hosting a workshop – even just hopping on a call with a few friends totally counts!
- Commit to an hour of education each week. It’s easy to fall into the trap of swaps and small changes. Staying in that mindset is an easy way to make a few visible changes without actually impacting the greater systems that affect how we live. So commit to finding some free classes on sustainable topics (I’m auditing this edX course now), webinars on sustainability intersected with your area of interest, or any other way you can actually learn from an expert and get out of your own bubbe! May I suggest one of Teju’s incredible upcoming classes on imagining alternatives? I’ll be at one!
- Set up a reoccurring donation to your favorite radical organization. Making donations is great. Making reoccurring donations is even better. It’s just like your paycheck: know you’ll get a certain amount every month makes it so much easier to budget than if your check was all over the place every month. (And what’s a radical organization? Any organization that’s working wholeheartedly towards a more just and beautiful alternative future!) Make an attempt to get close to 10% of your monthly income in donation to at least a few organizations.
- Create zero waste kits to share. Zero waste kits are a great entry point to zero waste – but can be cost-prohibitive to some. Help offset the cost by creating them from items you already have at home – or source from friends – and handing them out in your community.
- Buy a coffee for your favorite creator or educator. Who are you learning or just enjoying content from? Buy them a (virtual) coffee! That might look like a couple bucks to their Venmo, an actual virtual coffee, or a Take it from me! (Most) content creators and educators put in a lot of work that goes long unpaid. A little boost goes a long way!
- Find a new home for something you’re not using. “Wealth” isn’t just about money. Building strong, resilient communities is about creating equitable access to everything! Have some extra seedlings in the spring? Share them with neighbors! Have some old toys your kids don’t play with? Post them on a free site
While so much of zero waste is hyper-focused on the things we buy when we leave the house, in fact that’s probably the least critical part of going zero waste. Zero waste at home – and within your community – is so important.
Use some or all of these tips and never think you can’t go zero waste at home again!