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10 high-impact zero waste challenge ideas

We’re not messing around with any of this “buy a reusable straw!!” zero waste challenge ideas. We’re going to do great things with real results while also still recognizing you don’t have all the time in the world to devote to sustainability.

10 high-impact zero waste challenge ideas

We’re not messing around with any of this “buy a reusable straw!!” zero waste challenge ideas. We’re going to do great things with real results while also still recognizing you don’t have all the time in the world to devote to sustainability.

Let’s get started!

Zero waste challenge #1: do a trash audit

Quick! What’s in your trash right now?

Chances are, you have no idea! That’s why we need a trash audit – because how can we focus on solutions when we don’t even know the problems?

A trash audit is essentially a study of what kind of trash you make. This is obviously incredibly helpful for someone interested in the zero waste movement, as it sheds light on problem areas.

Here’s how to do a trash audit.

Create your own zero waste kit - PollyBarks.com

Zero waste challenge #2: create a zero waste kit

Packing a good zero waste kit can really mitigate a lot of potential pitfalls. It was one of the first and best things I did when I decided to feel out the zero waste life.

If you don’t know, a zero waste kit is just a group of items you bring every day when you leave the house. It helps you avoid single-use plastics while not in the safety of the known AKA your house.

While everyone’s zero waste kit will be different depending on their needs and lifestyle, here’s an example of mine and how to create your own zero waste kit.

10 high-impact zero waste challenge ideas - PollyBarks.com

Zero waste challenge #3: assess your ecological footprint

Never heard of an ecological footprint? Essentially, 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.

When you calculate your ecological footprint, it takes into account how energy, settlement, timber and paper, food and fiber, and seafood use our resources. It them compares how fast nature can absorb our waste and generate new resources.

In order to maintain – and even improve – our planet, we need to make sure we’re using less resources and creating less waste than the planet can keep up with.

Find out how to measure your ecological footprint here.

Create your own zero waste kit - PollyBarks.com

Zero waste challenge #4: choose 2-3 zero waste swaps

Zero waste swaps: only to be undertaken once you’ve thoroughly explored zero waste habits with what you already have!

As you’ve already done several challenges and begun to get a feel for what a zero waste lifestyle is really like at a systemic level, now’s the time to be looking at some practical swaps.

While it’s tempting want to change everything all at once, I suggest identifying a part of your house you’d like to focus on (your trash audit should help here!) and choosing 2-3 items/habits to replace with more sustainable options the next time you need to buy something.

Need some ideas? Check out these 80+ swaps for zero waste living.

10 high-impact zero waste challenge ideas - PollyBarks.com

Zero waste challenge #5: write a feedback letter

One of the most important things about living a zero waste life is taking your individual actions and applying them outwardly for a larger impact. One way to do this is by sending a feedback letter to a company you’d like to see change.

This might include:

  • a coffee shop that doesn’t offer reusable mugs;
  • a brand that offers unnecessary food packaging;
  • a local company you love but that only offers plastic bags to customers;
  • etc. The options are sadly endless.

Here’s a sample zero waste feedback letter plus tips on where to actually send it once it’s written!

The big list of zero waste cleaning recipes - PollyBarks.com

Zero waste challenge #6: swap for some zero waste cleaners

Looking at zero waste cleaning products is an important way of becoming more mindful about the products we surround ourselves with. (Not to mention dump into our waterways!)

The best part of wholly embracing zero waste cleaning products is that you can pretty much use the same four or five different ingredients in any number of useful ways.

The big list of recipes for zero waste cleaning.

Easy home composting - PollyBarks.com

Zero waste challenge #7: find your composting options

Sending organic matter to the landfill almost guarantees your food won’t break down. Because there’s no room for oxygen to circulate, that organic matter just sits and mummifies.

And all that organic matter adds up. It’s estimated that if food waste were a country, it would be the 3rd largest emitter of GHG in the world – only behind the USA and China!

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, there are options.

Use this guide to home composting to figure out whether a worm bin, compost heap, or even a composting pick-up service might be right for you.

10 high-impact zero waste challenge ideas - PollyBarks.com

Zero waste challenge #8: learn how to zero waste meal plan

On the topic of wasting less food, let’s talk zero waste meal planning!

A zero waste meal plan attempts to save time, money, and help you be very mindful about what you have in your kitchen so there’s less likelihood something goes to waste. It can be as thorough or loose as you’d like – all that’s important is that you do some thinking about how you’ll use the food you have.

If it sounds really overwhelming – don’t worry! – I have different levels of meal planning laid out that helps you figure out exactly how much prep you can do beforehand.

Learn how to zero waste meal plan.

10 high-impact zero waste challenge ideas - PollyBarks.com

Zero waste challenge #9: head to the library

Blogs are wonderful (truly!) but sometimes you need a deeper dive to better understand the nuances of zero waste and sustainability. We got into the climate crisis because we were disconnected and uninformed – let’s make sure we change that.

Whether you’re just looking for an introduction to zero waste, want to turn your yard into a permaculture paradise, or learn more about environmental injustices, an expert has already done you the solid of doing the work.

Let’s get reading!

The ultimate list of zero waste books.

10 high-impact zero waste challenge ideas - PollyBarks.com

Zero waste challenge #10: find a local zero waste community

What’s the point of making a mason jar of trash every year if no one else around you is doing the same? Building community is incredibly important – we both literally and figuratively can’t do it alone.

Consider holding zero waste workshops for local folks. Bring a sustainability-focused proposal to your city council with a group of concerned citizens.

Build! That! Community!

Want even more? I have a whole book centered around actionable zero waste called More Than a Plastic Bag!


I hope this list of 10 zero waste challenge ideas has kickstarted your imagination and excitement about zero waste living. Good luck!

10 high-impact zero waste challenge ideas - PollyBarks.com
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