Zero Waste Beginners Guide

Zero Waste Beginners Guide; 10 Ways to Get Started

Are you new to the zero-waste lifestyle? Perhaps you're curious about the zero waste movement, or you're thinking of transitioning to a waste-free life and looking for tips and tricks to help you get started. 

The transition process from more to less waste doesn't have to be overwhelming, regardless of where you are. And one thing you must remember is that you don't have to get everything right from the start. The zero-waste lifestyle is more of a journey than a destination.   

This beginner's guide will take you through most of the things you need to know about living zero-waste and highlight simple tips and tricks to make your transition to the zero-waste lifestyle hitch-free. 

What is the zero-waste lifestyle? 

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Eco zero waste pinboard ideas
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Zero-waste living is a type of lifestyle that focuses on reducing waste and eliminating the use of single-use plastics. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, each person in the US produces about 4.9 pounds of trash daily1.

The impact of waste goes beyond heaping landfills. It also pollutes our environment and depletes our natural resources. Apart from reducing waste, zero waste also involves choosing reusable and sustainable alternatives. The zero-waste lifestyle generally involves reducing waste and one's environmental impact in all aspects.

More reading: What is Zero Waste? And the Zero Waste Movement All About? 

The basic principles of zero-waste living    

In Bea Johnson's "Zero Waste Home: the ultimate guide to simplifying your life by reducing your waste," she shares some principles for living the zero-waste lifestyle. These principles are daily guidelines for zero wasters around the world. Here are the five basic principles for zero-waste living:                   

Refuse what you don't need 

The "Refuse" principle requires that you learn how to avoid unnecessary items. It means that you avoid overconsumption and waste. This can start with refusing the little items you're offered. For example, plastic straws and plastic water bottles from restaurants, plastic bags from the grocery store, and any single-use plastic. 

Reduce what you do use 

Refusing will not always be possible as there are many things that you will need. The "Reduce" principle involves producing less waste, for example, reducing the number of plastic items you use to package your lunch or taking a walk instead of driving to reduce your carbon footprint

Reuse whatever you can 

Do you have items that need repair? You could extend their lifespan. The "Reuse" principle involves reusing an item or swapping disposable items for reusable ones. For example, you can swap your disposable bottle for a reusable water bottle made of stainless steel. Instead of plastics, you can use glass jars as food storage containers

Recycle what you can't refuse or reduce 

Recycling can be the last option when it seems impossible to refuse, reduce or reuse. Keep in mind that recycling in itself is not the answer to living zero-waste. Generally, most recycled items still end up as waste in landfills. So, focus more on the first three principles. 

Rot what's left over 

Essentially, this involves getting rid of organic materials. So think of food waste, pieces of paper, yard waste, etc. Instead of throwing food scraps in a landfill without proper decomposition, you can compost them in your backyard. 

More Reading: Importance of 4Rs - Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

10 tips to start a zero-waste lifestyle

Zero Waste Bathroom Essentials
Photo: iStock

Remember that the zero-waste lifestyle is not about perfection but about taking significant, incremental steps to reduce your environmental impact.

So now we know what the zero-waste lifestyle is all about. Where do we start? 

Let's look at some tips to get you started on the zero-waste lifestyle. 

1. Start with your why 

As we mentioned earlier, going zero waste is a lifelong journey. To motivate yourself and remain consistent, it is important to start your journey with why. Why are you going zero waste? What do you want to achieve? 

Perhaps you're tired of the piles of trash your home generates every week and want a change. Or you may be concerned about the state of the planet and want to do your own part in making more earth-friendly choices. 

Setting goals will help you measure your progress and stay focused. For example, your zero waste goal could be replacing all disposables in your kitchen with reusables. Whatever the case, it is helpful to write down your why and include your zero-waste goals. 

2. Go through your trash 

You must go through your trash to get a good picture of what you consume and throw away. Carry out a trash audit to find items you dispose of more regularly. This will help you know the areas you need to start with. Take note of items in your trash can and recycling bins, and find reusable alternatives for zero waste.    

3. Begin with what you have 

As a zero-waste beginner, you may want to switch everything in your home with alternative zero-waste products instantly. However, this would be wasteful - which is the opposite of what you're trying to achieve. 

So instead of throwing out all your plastic water bottles and bags, use them until they are worn out before purchasing reusable alternatives. 

4. Start grocery shopping at bulk stores 

Refilling at bulk stores
Photo by Sarah Chai

Grocery shopping typically comes with a lot of plastic packaging, which ends up in the trash. Instead of buying packaged goods, you can bulk shop in a local grocery store or zero waste store online. Ensure you take your own bags along with you to bulk stores. 

When shopping for raw products like rice, you can put them in reusable produce bags instead of plastic bags. 

Also, you can shop for locally grown food at a local farmer's market.

More Reading: Zero Waste Grocery Shopping Guide & Tips

5. Use your own containers for takeout

Apart from taking your shopping bags to the grocery store, you can take it a step further by using your own containers for takeouts. Reusable alternatives to Ziploc bags are perfect around the home and also for leftovers you can take home. You can take them to work with a home-cooked meal for lunch or take them out empty to fill up at a restaurant. Once done, all you need to do is wash and reuse them. 

6. Shop for secondhand clothes 

Second hand thrift clothing rail
Photo by cottonbro studio

Fast fashion comes with a lot of waste that contributes to a high environmental impact. From synthetic fabrics to unsustainable dyes and unfavorable working conditions. You can do your own part in combating waste from fast fashion by shopping for secondhand clothing from thrift stores. By thrifting, you can remove clothes that you will have discarded from the waste stream. 

7. Donate items you don't need 

You may have clothing and other items piling up in your home. Instead of getting rid of these items, you can donate or trade them to second-hand stores on consignment. For example, you can trade your clothes and accessories on platforms like Swap and Rehash Clothes - or join or host a clothing swap

Ensure you send clothes in good condition to avoid having them tossed in the trash anyway. 

Also, if you have worn-out clothes like old jeans and shirts, you can give them new life by upcycling them into something new. For example, you can cut up your old t-shirts into little cleaning cloths for your dirty surfaces. 

8. Try zero-waste alternatives at home 

Zero waste alternatives at home
Photo by Sarah Chai

You can implement the zero-waste lifestyle in different areas of your home, from your kitchen to your bathroom, laundry, and so on. 

Kitchen 

Suppose you've started your journey to living zero-waste. In that case, you will probably notice that your kitchen constitutes some of the biggest amounts of waste. Here are some ways you can reduce kitchen waste:

  • Take out the plastics: You may use plastic bags to line your trash can and plastic zip-lock bags to store food. Also, many items from the grocery store come in plastic packaging. However, instead of plastic bags, you can choose other sustainable alternatives like reusable containers and bags. 
  • Compost food waste: Food scraps account for a good chunk of our kitchen waste. You can add your food scraps to your compost bin at home and use the mulch for your garden or check with your municipality for any composting services. 
  • No more trash bags: Instead of using plastic trash bags, you can try other alternatives. For example, you can line your trash bin with a newspaper or choose to use reusable trash bags. If you can't do without trash bags, opt for biodegradable garbage bags, which eventually will break down and leave less waste. 
  • Reduce paper products: You may have lots of paper towels, plates, and napkins in your kitchen. Instead of using those paper towels and napkins, you can switch to more sustainable alternatives like reusable paper towels or a washable or compostable cloth. 
  • Use wax wraps: To store your leftovers and keep them fresh for longer, consider using reusable wax wraps like beeswax wraps and soy wraps instead of plastic wraps. 
  • Use dish soap bars: Instead of using liquid soaps that come in plastic bottles, you can switch to zero-waste dish soap bars. You can also check a bulk food store for liquid detergents you can refill. 
  • Plant a community garden: To avoid waste in your kitchen and even your community, you can partner with your local authorities to plant a community vegetable garden to get fresh produce. 

Bathroom 

You may not have single-use packaging lying around your bathroom. However, you may have self-care products that come in plastic. You can start making little changes for a more zero-waste bathroom.

  • Switch out those plastic bottles: Much of our self-care items come in plastic bottles. From shampoos and conditioners to body washes, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and lotions. Instead of using products that come in plastic bottles, you can switch to options that produce less waste, like shampoo and conditioning bars, bamboo toothbrushes, and toothpaste tablets. Our rundown on the environmental impact of cosmetics also makes an excellent case for switching to zero-waste makeup without plastic bottles and tubes.
  • Use recycled toilet paper: instead of using regular toilet paper, which is a single-use paper product, you can switch to eco-friendly recycled toilet paper to reduce waste. 
  • Switch to a bidet: Bidets are bowls used to clean one's bottom after using the bathroom. They are more hygienic and can save tons of toilet paper. You can add a handheld bidet or bidet attachment to your bathroom. 
  • Replace air fresheners with essential oil: Instead of using air fresheners that come in plastic bottles, you can swap those for essential oils. Depending on the type of scent you want, all you need to do is mix drops of different essential oils like olive oil, cinnamon, lemongrass, thyme, etc. 

Laundry and cleaning supplies 

Many laundry and cleaning products contain chemicals that can be toxic. In addition, these products come in plastic containers that contribute more waste. Here are some zero-waste ideas you can try out for your laundry room and cleaning supplies:

  • Use bulk laundry detergent: Go for them in bulk when buying detergents. You can store them in reusable containers at home. You can also opt for zero-waste refillable laundry detergents or laundry detergent sheets. Soap nuts can also work nicely too. Soap nuts can lather well in both cold and warm water. Also, you can use them up to four or five times before putting them in compost. 
  • Use homemade cleaning supplies: Instead of using cleaning supplies with toxic chemicals and plastic containers, you can opt to make homemade zero-waste cleaners and scrubs.
  • Replace paper towels with rags: Use cleaning rags for your bathroom surfaces instead of paper towels. 

9. Switch to zero-waste commuting 

When you step out of your home, you can still take conscious steps to reduce your environmental impact. Here are a few ways you can commute zero waste and reduce your carbon footprint:  

  • Suppose you're going to the grocery store or visiting a friend within your neighborhood. In that case, you can walk or take a bicycle instead of using a car. For far distances, you can take the bus instead of using a car or taxi. If a vehicle is essential, consider joining or setting up a car share scheme to reduce emissions. 
  • If you're traveling short distances, you can use a train or a bus instead of air travel. 
  • If you're traveling by air, you can offset your carbon emissions by supporting sustainable projects like tree planting
  • When traveling, you can visit bulk food stores or local food markets in the country. These foods often come package-free. 
  • For waste reduction, consider taking reusable bags, containers, collapsible water bottles, and utensils. You can also pack some snacks in reusable containers. 

10. Get motivated with zero-waste books

The zero-waste journey is a process of learning and unlearning different habits and practices. There's no better way to get some zero-waste inspiration and ideas than through books. There are several books on the zero-waste lifestyle that you can find in the market. Here's a list of some of the most popular books on living zero-waste: 

We've also got a list of zero-waste courses, both for individuals and those aimed at sustainability professions. And our list of sustainable living books has more options you might like to learn more about and get inspired. 

Related: Inspired by these tips and ideas for beginners, you might like to read next our larger list of 32 zero-waste tips and our big list of 40 zero-waste swaps.

Zero-waste online stores for plastic-free shopping 

Now you're ready to start your journey to zero-waste living and have a list of zero-waste products you want to buy. With only a few clicks, you can shop for the best zero-waste products and deliver them to your home. Here are some of the best zero-waste stores you can find online: 

EcoRoots

Founded in Aspen, Colorado, EcoRoots is a zero-waste online shop that offers a wide range of sustainable and ethically-made products. Their products are free of animal by-products, SLS, and plastics. You can find products in categories like home, kitchen, bath, beauty, and self-care.

EcoRoots ships all its products in recyclable plastic-free materials. The company also gives out a portion of its sales to Ocean Conservancy to protect waterways worldwide. 

Shop EcoRoots

Common Good 

Common Good is a zero-waste online shop that offers a range of cleaning products for dishes, laundry, surfaces, and hands. Their products are non-toxic and come free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates, and harsh chemicals. They are also vegan and 100% biodegradable. Their cleaning products come in plastic bottles. However, you can recycle and refill them in package-free shops across major cities. 

Shop Common Good

EarthBits

EarthBits is a UK-based zero-waste online shop designed to help you make good zero-waste choices. You can find everything from zero-waste kitchen items to cleaning, bathroom, skincare, on-the-go items, gifts, and makeup at affordable prices. All their products come in recyclable plastic-free packaging. 

Shop EarthBits

Biome 

Biome is one of the oldest Australian zero-waste stores focused on promoting ethical and sustainable low-waste products for around 20 years. This certified B corporation packages its products in eco-friendly materials and carbon offsets shipping. You can get some of the best products from categories like body, beauty, pets, kids, books, and so on. 

Shop Biome

Start your zero-waste journey  

Starting a zero-waste lifestyle can be challenging. However, the rewards of reducing waste from our landfills and reducing our environmental impact far outweigh the initial difficulties. We can significantly reduce the amount of waste we produce by making small changes in our daily habits. And by supporting local and sustainable businesses, we can also positively impact our communities. 

Overall, a zero-waste lifestyle is not only beneficial for the environment, but it can also be a fulfilling and empowering experience. So don't be afraid to start your journey toward a more sustainable future; the rewards are well worth it! With the tips above, we hope you can start your journey on the right note. Are you ready to take on the zero-waste challenge? 

Pin Me:
Pin Image Portrait Zero Waste Beginners Guide; 10 Ways to Get Started

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska
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