Not ready to be the face of zero waste? That’s OK, I’ve got plenty of other resources to get you comfortable before you start to take over the world!
Online community is great. However, having a local zero waste group can be even more vital to the success of your zero waste journey. As an individual, you’re kind of useless. (Sorry, you’re great though.) Band together and you’ve got much more power to influence change in your specific community.
Plus, the whole zero waste journey is just easier if you’ve got someone to share your highs and lows with!
To that end, I’ve created this (frankly massive) guide to starting a local zero waste group for anyone who may be interested. No matter where you are in the world, I think you’ll be surprised about the number of people interested once someone gets the ball rolling!
Why you should be the organizer (at least at first)
I like to be in charge of things, but not as a leader. (If that makes sense.) I prefer to orchestrate, but not be the face of anything. So I understand some people’s hesitance at starting and taking charge of a new group.
It can be lots of work. It can be awkward to plan when no one shows up.
But here’s the thing: a group cannot form without a focal point, especially at the start. The good news is creating an intentional community of like-minded folks shouldn’t be a one-person task. I love this passage from Lamanda Joy’s Start a Community Food Garden about leadership and organizing:
It is important to understand the difference between leadership and organizing… Leaders create visions that people want to follow; and while that vision may require management and nurturing over time, it is a top-down scenario. Leaders are required to articulate their vision to move people in a specific direction.
Organizing, however, harnesses the power of consensus to create a shared vision and shared direction. The organizer’s job isn’t to push people toward his or her personal dream, but to foster a collective goal, to help build community around that goal, and to inspire people to take on responsibility through action…
Truth be told, your organization may need a little bit of both approaches.
Getting the ball rolling on a community group doesn’t mean you have to be the sole driver or face of the movement if you don’t want to be. Building a group is meant to create a collaborative leadership – eventually.
But you may need to be the driving force on starting a local zero waste group at least at first. Here’s how:
A three-month plan of action
My three-month plan for starting a local zero waste group may seem a bit intense to you. If you don’t have the desire or inclination to go through all these steps to create a community, that’s OK! Pick and choose what works for you and your community.
This is what I’ve done to build a small group here in Lafayette. I wouldn’t say it’s yet thriving, but does have fits and spurts of action – and that’s pretty damn exciting enough for me!
Month 1: create an online presence
Even local groups need an online place to plan get-togethers, ask for advice, and generally be supportive. I suggest Facebook and Instagram. Facebook for reaching the general populace – since everyone from your high school enemy to your grandma has a profile – as well as its events section. Instagram because you’ll get younger folks who are likely to want to latch on to a larger social movement.
A local zero waste community can also be a nice extension of a blog if you already have one. If you back your zero waste community with your blog (like I do with Zero Waste Lafayette), it has the added benefit of giving you instant credibility. People can look through your archives for “proof” of your zero waste skills and be more willing to engage with you.
Month 2: hold your first zero waste meetup
You’ve amassed a little group of people on your social media platforms and you’ve kind of gotten to know each other in the online world. It’s time to take this relationship to the next level!
This month two goal is to meet with the innovators of your group – the people who are interested in what you’re doing right away. This is a great way to meet who will potentially be your core group. This event is for finding your collaborators before pushing your zero waste efforts to a wider audience.
I’d suggest holding it at an easily-accessible public location like a coffee shop, public library, or free meeting space of some kind. Make it easy for people to come, chat, and get to know the community.
My main criteria are:
- was locally owned
- wouldn’t mind a group of people hanging around for an hour or so
- didn’t cost to host an event
- showed some interest/inclination toward zero waste
which typically leads to places like coffee shops, libraries, or even parks if the weather’s nice.
Big tip: consider your audience. Are they students, young adults, or housewives? All of these people likely hang out and feel comfortable in different places – plan accordingly.
Month 3: lead a high-value workshop
Now that you’ve had two months and some change to get used to corralling a zero waste community around you, it’s time to get serious and invite the wider community into your adventures.
What better way than a workshop?
Concocting something themselves gives people pride of ownership. Not only will they be more likely to utilize the product itself, but they’ll be much more willing to talk about it to friends and family. One more diabolical way to spread the word of zero waste!
Big tip: consider your audience. Choosing the space for a larger community event is key. If you’re trying to reach out to a low-income audience, will they be able to access/feel comfortable in the high-end co-working space?
Beyond month 3
Beyond month three you should have a pretty solid group of people you can count on – whether it be two or twenty! Here are some additional ideas on how to engage with the local community and grow you zero waste community!
- have a table at a festival. Gather a few simple zero waste swaps and a couple of informative posters, and get teaching! Local festivals often have space for local businesses – it doesn’t hurt to ask if you can get a free space if you won’t be selling anything! Find out more about hosting your own table here.
- co-host events with local groups. A great way to reach out to audiences you might not otherwise reach is to co-host an event, or have an event on another organization’s schedule. Reach out – non-profits are often looking to fill their event schedule.
- reach out to local schools. A lot of schools – particularly for younger children – often invite in guests to talk about things relating to curriculum. Especially in spring, it can be great to bring zero waste to a kid’s level!
- create a zero waste initiative. Link up with a council member and get something legal and official rolling in your city! Bag bans are a great place to start if you’re feeling really motivated and have connections to city government.