Zero Waste is a Journey – 8 Steps to Help You Get Started
What exactly is ‘Zero Waste?’
It took me a long time to warm up to the term ‘zero waste’. Mostly because at first it all looked quite intimidating and the ‘zero’ part felt misleading. It is impossible not to create waste as a human being. Simply by breathing we create C02 which is technically ‘waste’.
All I knew is that I had a message I wanted to share about humanity’s relationship to nature. I felt deep in my bones that our society has it all wrong! We are born of the earth. There is no separation between us and the earth upon which we live and any separation is an illusion. Environmental destruction is the direct result of thousands of years of thinking about nature as something to be dominated and controlled and that the earth’s resources are something to be used in whatever way we see fit. This is a linear way of thinking. The problem with this is that the resources of the earth are not infinite. And we are in fact destroying the planet with this linear approach.
I could see this! And I could see ways in which we could begin to align ourselves with the ecosystems of the earth instead of extracting, wasting and contaminating resources unnecessarily. What I didn’t know then is that this is the essence of the zero waste model!
It isn’t about creating ‘zero’ waste, but about bringing mindfulness to areas of our lives which are contributing to environmental destruction. How much we reduce our waste is ultimately an individual decision. Zero waste living doesn’t have to look a certain way. It isn’t about being perfect. It is about being more aware. It is about developing compassion for all living things and truly understanding our connection as individuals to our environment. This is circular living.
Zero Waste living makes me happy
As I have entered more deeply into the zero waste community, I have found that there are hundreds of thousands of people who have received the same message as I have and strive to live their lives in such a way that the ecosystems of the planet are not harmed, but honored.
It has been the most incredibly uplifting experience for me to realize what a huge movement this has become. It has made me realize that this is the social movement that most closely aligns with my moral values. Not only that, but through embarking on my own zero waste journey I have found so much joy in the little details of my life that before used to be monotonous routine. Now they are transformed into creative outlets that I look forward to. This is a lifestyle that not only works for me but lights me up!
I feel much more connected to the earth than I ever did before because I am bringing so much awareness to all of my actions and how they affect the planet. I feel much more connected to myself because I am actively doing something every day to make the world a cleaner, kinder place. And I feel more connected to my creativity because I am approaching my whole life through the creative lens of ‘how can I reduce my waste?’ This fuels my more expansive creative projects, like the book I am working on currently.
I believe that this movement has the power to change how our society perceives our relationship with waste and in turn shape our relationship with the natural world. And it is already happening! The amount of awareness surrounding plastic pollution is skyrocketing thanks to social media and the zero waste movement. Plastic straws may be banned in England soon, and have already been banned in some cities across the US. And this is just the beginning.
But that awareness relies heavily on us as individuals being willing to make a shift in our own lives. I don’t pretend to think this lifestyle is for everyone, but I want to show how easy it can be. It is bringing me so much joy and I would love to help make it an accessible lifestyle for others!
So where to start when you’re at the very beginning of your zero waste journey? It can be intimidating! At the beginning I was also intimidated. But once I got started, I realized that every baby step is a victory.
8 steps to get you started
Step 1) Start Slowly
You don’t have to go zero waste overnight. Seriously. Start slowly! This is a lifestyle all about slowing down and simplifying. It isn’t about manically rushing to change all your habits. You weren’t ‘doing it wrong’ before and you aren’t ‘bad’. You were just following along with the linear model upon which our society functions.
It takes roughly 30 days to change a habit, they say. So pick one or two things to change at first. See how it goes. Ease into it. The last thing you want to do it stress yourself out.
Step 2) Take a look at your food packaging
The kitchen is the largest producer of waste in the home, seconded by the bathroom. So just start to notice what packaged foods you buy. How much of that is essential? How much of it do you actually eat on a regular basis? Check out the bulk section in your local Whole Foods or Sprouts or other grocery stores and see what they have there that could potentially replace items you were previously buying packaged. Could you make some things from scratch to avoid packaging?
Every week I make oat milk and bake banana bread or muffins of some kind with the oat byproduct. It’s really fun. We also do a lot of cooking. My husband is an amazing cook – and I’m not half bad myself. There is something really nurturing about cooking delicious meals together.
You are ultimately the expert on what you and your family eat, so you are the best person to do this. Again, it’s ok if this takes a while. It will get better over time. I have to admit that my husband and I just recently have been able to cut our packaging down by 90%, and we’re always looking for ways to be better. This is largely also due to the fact that we have access to stores where we can shop in bulk like Whole Foods, Sprouts, Lucky’s Market in North Boulder, and The Refill Revolution off of 33rd and Arapahoe which sells bulk home and body products.
Shopping in bulk has been so helpful in the process of cutting down my packaging and plastic waste. I also think it’s a really great place to start when going zero waste because it’s actually a lot of fun. I love bringing my bulk bags and mason jars to the grocery store! Just make sure to have the cashier tare your jar before you fill it up.
Here is my Ultimate Guide to Bulk Shopping that explains the process from start to finish. Let me know how it goes. I’m here to answer any questions you might have.
Step 3) Get serious about composting
Composting food scraps is crucial to a zero waste life. Composting is amazing for many reasons, but primarily because it utilizes nature’s ability to recycle in the most beautiful way. Your food scraps can turn into highly fertilized soil that helps new food to grow! If they end up in the landfill they will simply rot due to lack of air circulation and produce methane. Landfills are the US’s third largest producer of methane (surpassed by cow farts).
Composting in an urban environment doesn’t have to be challenging. I have devised a foolproof system that will work for anyone. And the best part about it is that it doesn’t take any time out of your day. Instead of throwing your food scraps in the garbage, simply toss them in a compost pale lined with a compostable baggie. Once the pale is full, toss the baggie in the freezer until you can take it to a composting facility. If your city offers street side pick up, even better!
Step 4) Cut out single use plastic
Single use plastic is depleting the earths resources, clogging our oceans and causing all sorts of problems, all for an item that is used once. No thank you!
What can you do about this? Carry a zero waste to-go kit! Not only is it designed to leave you prepared for any instance in which you might need to consume single use plastic, but it’s stylish and convenient. It fits down inside my medium sized purse and isn’t heavy at all.
Mine is comprised of a mason jar mug, a stainless steel straw, bamboo cutlery, a cloth napkin and a stainless steel container. I also make sure to carry a cloth tote with me at all times as well as a refillable water bottle.
To read more about my kit, check out my recent post Inside My Zero Waste Kit – How I Avoid Plastic On the Go.
Step 5) Start to notice the plastic that you consume
Plastic peppers every facet of our lives. Once you start to notice you can’t stop noticing. At least that was how it was for me. I realized just how much plastic I consumed on a weekly, monthly, yearly basis! I realized just how harmful to the environment it really is.
Unfortunately, there isn’t really a market for recycled plastic because it is cheaper for companies to buy virgin plastics. And the process of recycling plastic degrades the quality. Plus it’s a toxic substance, for us and for the earth!
And so I do my very best not to consume any plastic. I buy as much of my food in bulk as I can. I have even stopped purchasing items made out of plastic if I can help it, even if I will be using them for a long time. Because it’s not just about your use of the item, but its life beyond your use of it. Plastic can’t decompose and therefore in some form will be around forever.
I would much rather consume more sustainable materials like wood, stainless steel, silicon (which is made out of sand) and glass.
So just start to think about your plastic consumption. It’s ok if you phase it out slowly. I am definitely doing that in my life. Some plastic is unavoidable. And that’s ok! But wherever it’s easiest for you, start phasing it out, and be mindful of any plastic you do bring into your home.
To read more about the implications of our global plastic problem read my article Plastic Pollution is Destroying the Earth – Here’s How You Can Help.
Step 6) Recycle responsibly
Recycling is good, to a certain extent. There are some materials that are easily recycled, like glass and paper. There are some materials that are less easily recycled, like plastic.
I always seek to reduce my recycling as best I can through shopping in bulk and reusing glass jars. But when I do recycle, I always try to make sure I’m doing it properly. Everything needs to be clean and dry first and foremost. It’s also important that you make sure it can be recycled at all. Some cities have different regulations. My advice is check out your city’s website to see what it accepts recycling wise.
Then there are some things that just can’t be recycled period. Like receipt paper.
It’s helpful to know these things because putting items that can’t be recycled in the bin can cause it to become contaminated at the recycling plant rendering it sometimes non recyclable.
Note: Plastic bags can be recycled at specialty facilities!
Step 7) Take a look at your possessions
This is a big one! I have been going through all my stuff recently and realizing how little of it I actually need. I want to get joy and use out of my things.
To me, beauty is of utmost importance, so I am using this quote by William Morris of the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 1900’s to aid me in discerning between the stuff that is actually benefiting my life and the stuff that is just clogging it up.
“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
This is really the essence of minimalism. And minimalism and the zero waste movement are almost interchangeable.
What can be difficult about this process is the emotional attachment we have created in our society to stuff. Our consumerism is truly out of hand! There are many emotional reasons for this based in the fear of ‘lack’, and deep down often feeling like we aren’t enough, our lives aren’t enough and ‘stuff’ will fix this. But stuff won’t fix it! Which is another reason why I love the zero waste movement so much. It is a great incentive not to over consume and when I do consume to be mindful of that consumption.
I ask myself “do I really need this? Will it truly make me happy? Was it made in a sustainable fashion? When I’m done with it will it harm the earth?”
I have not only saved money with this approach, but I honestly value my possessions so much more because they are all intentional.
It is a whittling down process, however. One that I am still engaged in. It’s ok if this takes a while.
Step 8) Use zero waste as a way to come into alignment with yourself
For me, zero waste living has turned into an exercise in listening to myself and my true needs. I no longer feel the need to keep up with the Jones’s and I give zero shits about what other people think about the way I live my life. This is truly liberating!
To know what my needs are is huge, considering that a year ago I didn’t know what I wanted or needed to feel safe and secure in my life and in myself. To let go of perceived judgement and to live for myself is also incredible. I am starting to truly know my own mind and to feel like I am running my life, not the other way around.
And so I urge you to use zero waste as a vehicle for mindful living and to ask yourself what it is that you truly want and need. Not what society tells you, not what people expect, but what truly brings you happiness.
– In conclusion –
Zero waste living is complex in that it asks us to examine every facet of our lives to see how our habits of consumption are affecting the planet. It has so much to do with mindset and our willingness to shift that. However the goal is to simplify life. There is a learning curve for sure, but trust that as you go down this path and figure out what works for you in your life it will find its own unique rhythm.
Zero waste feels so natural to me now because I took the time to experiment with what works for me and what doesn’t. It is now all falling into place. It really is a journey, one that I am still on. I am still learning and finding better, easier ways to do things.
May your journey bring you as much joy as mine is bringing me! May it be fun and exciting. May you enjoy learning new things and feel even more connected to our incredibly beautiful earth and to yourself.
As always, I am here to answer any questions you may have. There is no one solution fits all in zero waste, but I would love to help you trouble shoot in any way that I can.
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