The world is drowning in trash. As a result, going zero waste has made its way into mainstream culture. Unlike previously, when we left waste management to government facilities and manufacturers, individuals and households now take independent steps to reduce waste. If you're looking to join the movement, this article highlights achievable tips for zero waste living.
As humans, we generate a lot of waste, increasing our carbon footprint. The amount of trash that ends up in landfills is at an all-time high. A study conducted by the EPA revealed that in the United States, individuals produce about 4.4 pounds of waste daily3. Numbers like these are sparking conversations and lifestyle changes.
Bea Johnson is credited with beginning and popularising the mainstream zero waste lifestyle movement. The blogger, author, mother, and wife began to document her family's journey, debunking misconceptions and inspiring others.
She and her family have cut down their waste and the need to buy unnecessary, polluting items. Since 2008, her family has produced only a jar of trash yearly. Consequently, in 2013 she published her book, 'Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying your Life by Reducing your Waste' (on amazon).
A zero-waste lifestyle is a practice of not just reducing but avoiding waste as much as possible. Many of us know that plastic is one of the major polluting materials.
World Bank researchers revealed that the world generates about 3.5 million tons of plastic and solid waste daily2. These large numbers call for individual responsibility in making positive changes.
By pursuing a waste-free life, people can stop buying unnecessary items, own what they need and save money simultaneously through reduction and reuse. It is important to note that zero waste living isn't about perfection. It is about making better choices for the environment, the planet, and even ourselves.
Sadly, a significant portion of our trash and plastic waste tends to end up in our oceans. Therefore, a zero-waste journey also entails choosing plastic-free, thereby avoiding things like plastic packaging. This practice also helps to protect marine life and our oceans.
Although zero-waste might seem impractical at first glance, you can take a series of easy steps to achieve, or at least get as close as practical, to a zero-waste lifestyle. Beyond buying new items at package-free stores, below you'll find essential and simple steps that anyone can take and apply. It all deals with principles and discipline.
To simplify the "how to get started" process, keep in mind the 4RS: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
Some people add a 5th, Rot, to encourage reducing food waste via composting at home.
Zero-waste living doesn't have to be as daunting as it seems. By taking small and simple steps, you can make a lot of difference with each step, especially if you keep it up and keep going. To support your journey, we've compiled 32 zero-waste tips to guide you that you can use as a zero-waste checklist. We've divided these into tips within the home and when you're out.
Avoid plastic toothbrushes and non-recyclable toothpaste tubes. Many times, these small items will end up in landfills. They also take many years to break down, leading to environmental pollution.
A way to go zero waste is swapping plastics for zero-waste toothbrush alternatives and grabbing some zero-waste toothpaste for that waste-free clean. All those discarded plastic brushes add up, and with plastic-free options easy to source, you'll find this an easy zero-waste tip to achieve.
Switch out your liquid soap in plastic bottles for those made into bars. Instead of a body wash, dish soap, or shampoo that comes in a single-use plastic bottle, opt for zero-waste alternatives.
Many zero-waste stores offer zero-waste dish soap bars and zero-waste shampoo bars as alternatives. However, some stores provide refills for items that come in bottle packaging. This act helps prevent constantly purchasing a new dish soap or shampoo bottle, for instance.
One of the prominent zero-waste tips is to make sure every time you buy a clothing item, it is sustainable. People tend to purchase items impulsively, especially with discount codes and sales incentives. This usually leads to tossing out things that do not fit into one's living style.
Whenever you feel like making an impulsive purchase, stop and reflect on the possible consequences of that action. Ethical and sustainable clothing brands provide transparency in their production and supply chains. This gives us information on the lifecycle of such products, including whether they biodegrade or not.
Instead of buying something new, you can also embrace second-hand purchases. So next time you're thinking of adding pieces to your wardrobe, consider shopping at online thrift stores.
In this context, this means only owning devices that align with your values and principles. This is opposed to making purchases based on impulse, pressure from people, or what's trending.
In practice, focus on buying well-made gadgets that have a warranty. With this, you can repair it instead rather than constantly buying when there's a fault.
Also, you can purchase second-hand gadgets. These usually come without the plastic packaging of new items. Further, invest in rechargeable batteries for your remotes, toys, and other tech items to avoid disposing of single-use ones. This allows you to avoid unnecessary packaging while reducing the impact of technology on the environment.
The practice of reusing and refilling containers at home helps to prevent turning them to waste products. These containers include plastic containers, bottles, and glass jars. This practice debunks the idea that going low waste or zero waste means only shopping for new items.
You and your family can repurpose containers within your household instead of buying new containers. For instance, you can reuse things like old jam jars, shampoo bottles, and food packs.
Further, a couple of long-lasting purchases, such as reusable tea bags, meaning you can benefit from brewing more flavorsome loose-leaf tea (from eco-friendly tea brands) without the bag waste. Other tips to help you replace single-use packaging items include reusable alternatives to Ziploc bags and reusable plastic wrap alternatives.
When next you're thinking of tossing out an old or damaged t-shirt, consider how you can repurpose it. You can turn old and torn clothes into cleaning rags or use them to replace paper towels. This small practice reduces the environmental impact of throwing clothes into the trash. So your zero waste journey doesn't have to be so daunting.
Donating is a simple way to give back and also a step toward embracing a zero-waste lifestyle. When people think of zero waste tips, donating may not immediately come to mind. However, it makes a significant difference when you clear out things you don't need to give to people that need them.
Learning a few sewing and repair tips can save you from generating a lot of waste. This is often related to clothing items, including shoes. A zero-waste lifestyle begins with small lifestyle changes you implement within the home. Through repairing, you avoid throwing out everything that has minor defects. You're able to fix items and use them for longer.
This includes junk mail, business cards, and greeting cards. To avoid paper waste, you have to be conscious and intentional about reducing it. Studies show that Americans use 85,000,000 tons of paper a year. The average family throws away 13,000 separate pieces of paper each year. Also, most of this waste is junk mail and packaging4.
Composting easily makes the list of zero-waste tips. You can create compost even in an urban setting, within the house, or in a garden.
Food waste and yard waste usually end up in landfills. To prevent this, you can make use of organic food scraps and waste to create compost piles. Once these develop, they add nutrients to soils for natural alternatives to commercial fertilizers to aid plant growth.
Making and prioritizing homemade meals is crucial when transitioning your family to a zero-waste lifestyle. It reduces the constant desire to order takeout.
When you order food, it usually comes with a lot of packaging that can sometimes be useless. Fast food almost always comes with plastic packaging as well. This generates a lot of plastic waste destined to end up in oceans and landfills.
Safety razors offer a simple solution to zero waste shaving. They are all metal and usually made from stainless steel or chrome rather than plastic material. Instead of disposing of the razor, like single-use plastics, you simply replace the razor. A simple swap of razors contributes significantly to a zero-waste lifestyle.
One of the most important zero-waste tips for women is switching period products to more sustainable ones. Rather than using disposable pads, consider period panties or even period cups.
These options are sustainable alternatives to conventional menstrual pads that typically include plastics. This means that they are not biodegradable or compostable. Also, reusable options are safer and help you save money over time.
Choosing the right bedding materials for your family plays a role in achieving a zero-waste lifestyle. The same way you should consider the sustainable qualities of your clothes also applies here. Naturally, bed and bedding are essential in the house.
Bedding fabrics such as hemp and linen are sustainable options for a zero-waste lifestyle. The manufacturing processes of these fabrics are environmentally friendly. These materials are also durable and do not cause harm to the environment when you no longer need them.
DIY culture is essential when discussing zero-waste tips. Personal care items, cleaning products, and other household things usually come in plastic packaging.
To avoid unnecessary and non-reusable packaging, you can embrace do-it-yourself practices. A zero-waste lifestyle helps you discover creative ways to make products by yourself. This involves using natural ingredients to create your products.
We cannot ignore water waste. Your actions towards water conservation and reducing water waste at home also contribute to your zero-waste lifestyle. Simple acts such as turning off the tap water when brushing or doing the dishes makes a significant difference. A zero-waste lifestyle is all-around. It is not only limited to material items, although substantial but also the way of thinking and behaving.
Many conventional cleaning products contain toxic ingredients. Also, they usually come in plastic bottles. Switching to natural zero-waste cleaning products is a meaningful lifestyle change when switching to zero waste.
You can either purchase these products from zero-waste shops or make them yourself using household ingredients such as baking soda, vinegar, and essential oils.
Toilet paper is a waste product, and the process of manufacturing it is not always sustainable. For instance, creating products with 100% virgin fiber generates three times as much carbon as products made from other types of pulp1.
Additionally, manufacturing a single roll of toilet paper uses 37 gallons of water. Alternatively, you can use water to wash up after using the toilet.
Bidets also play an important role here in making the process easy. If installing a bidet attachment isn't something you can practically achieve, you can check out the growing number of eco-friendly toilet paper brands offering more sustainable choices with less packaging.
A simple switch to bamboo toilet paper can help mitigate the worst of toilet paper's environmental impact - toilet paper alternatives exist, too, to avoid flushing those trees entirely alongside our human waste.
Whenever you're out, either on an errand or going to work, it's always a good idea to have a refillable bottle. Unlike disposable plastic water bottles, you use a refillable, reusable water bottle repeatedly. Also, they look much better than plastic bottles anyway. You can also browse the growing variety of collapsible water bottles that make for easy carrying when out and about; just fill them up when you need them.
Own a reusable coffee cup that you can carry along on the go, and check out our guide to making zero-waste coffee for ideas as to reusable strainers, filters, and pots. Grab a french press to fill up on your caffeine fix before you leave home and save yourself the coffee shop queue.
You can be creative with your reusable jars and bottles. Try taking along a glass jar to the ice cream shop to avoid a paper tub. Juice bars and other takeaway venues will most likely refill your reusable containers if you ask.
The plastic bags we accumulate whenever we go shopping constitute waste eventually when we throw them away. A zero-waste lifestyle tip is to own reusable shopping bags to avoid accumulating such.
These include hemp tote bags and mesh or organic cotton produce bags. So when next you're going to the store, remember to take your reusable grocery bags along. This will make it easy to reject plastic bags from the grocery store attendant.
Elsewhere, sustainable pet owners can grab compostable dog poop bags for those slightly embarrassing dog-walking moments.
In many grocery stores, fruits and vegetables are pre-packaged in plastic materials. These wrapping materials contribute to waste and pollution. To avoid this, buy fruits and vegetables not packaged in plastic wraps or plastic containers.
Grocery stores are now offering the option of either buying loose or pre-packaged without plastic. Also, you can choose to buy fresh groceries from farmers' markets should you have on nearby. Local, fresher, plastic-free, and supporting local farmers. Of course, only buy what you need to reduce food waste.
Single-use plastic straws are major polluting items. It can be challenging to comprehend that something as little as a straw can cause so much damage. However, these small items accumulate with lots of people using them.
The population uses about 500 million straws every day in the US alone. As many as 8.3 million tons of plastic straws pollute the beaches in the world. Also, these plastics usually end up in the stomachs of aquatic animals, causing severe damaging effects.
Reusable straws come in different materials like stainless steel, silicone, glass, and bamboo. By saying no to plastic straws and yes to reusable straws, you're on your way to living a zero-waste life.
Buying items in bulk is a great way to reduce the amount of packaging you bring into your house. From food items to cleaning and personal care items, there's always the option to buy in bulk to reduce plastic waste.
Zero-waste stores also offer larger jars or containers of your favorite products so you can have enough for a longer period. Of course, remember to take along a reusable bag or your own containers. When ordering online, bulk buying also helps to keep the carbon footprint low due to shipping.
Impulsive buying means making purchases without planning. One of the major disadvantages of this action is that it leads to people owning items they don't need. Impulsive buying is anti-zero waste because it accumulates unnecessary items that tend to become trash and can hinder your zero waste efforts. This is why it's important to plan by making shopping lists before going out.
Some brands specifically make and sell zero-waste products. Such brands pay attention to the manufacturing process of their items and reduce unnecessary package supplies. They also focus on things like solid bars instead of plastic bottles. This applies to items such as zero-waste shampoo, zero-waste hand-soaps, and zero-waste makeup.
Promotional items or freebies tend to be cheap and made from unsustainable materials. Cheap plastic pens, for instance, contain toxic ink and pollute the environment. Rather than accumulating these pens, invest in refillable fountain pens or eco-friendly stationery brands.
Of course, we also generate waste within the office environment. Use both sides of paper when printing or writing, refuse junk mail, and invest in eco-friendly pens and sustainable office supplies. Rather than tossing out extra office materials, you can donate them to schools that need them. Also, develop an office culture of refillable items; these include refillable pens and markers.
Transportation is another area that causes pollution and affects the environment. Instead of always using a car, consider if public transportation can get you to your destination. You can also hop on a bicycle for short distances, which serves as a form of exercise.
Planning your meals and packing your lunch eliminates waste from takeaways. Many times, these takeaway foods come with plastic cutleries. Snacks also come in plastic wrappers, which lead to waste.
Turn eating out into a zero-waste practice by packing your lunch before leaving the house. This saves money and prevents impulsive buying as well. Avoid food waste by packing only what you need and learning about preserving food at home to make fresh goods last longer.
When embarking on a new journey, connecting with other like-minded people is always important. Connect with others, collaborate, and educate on the importance of a zero-waste lifestyle. This inspires action in others and drives you to hold yourself accountable. Also, don't just tell; show people as well and lead by example. Your actions will inspire others around you to make these changes.
Instead of single-use tissue papers, invest in handkerchiefs that can serve you for longer. With every use of tissue paper, you toss them away. However, you can use your handkerchiefs, wash them and use them again. Handkerchiefs serve various purposes, and you can keep more than one in your purse.
A zero-waste kit is essential for anyone on a zero-waste journey. This go-kit contains the necessary items you need, especially when out, to prevent generating waste. It keeps you prepared. It includes reusable cups and bottles, straws, utensils, eco lunch boxes, shopping bags, and handkerchiefs. Some zero-waste stores sell zero-waste starter kits containing necessary items to support your journey.
It reduces waste and pollution: Many disposable things end up as trash. These things cause a build-up of waste, usually destined to end up in landfills, causing pollution. If these piles of waste are burnt, it leads to air pollution as well.
It protects wildlife and the planet: Several waste products end up in oceans, landfills, and even on the streets. These negatively impact animals both on land and in water. It also leads to environmental pollution, which is harmful to human health. A zero-waste lifestyle embraces sustainable materials.
It can help you save money: Zero-waste living helps you plan your life by prioritizing only useful and essential items. This also helps you reduce purchasing disposable items that don't last long.
It eliminates unnecessary items in your home and life: A zero-waste lifestyle helps you eliminate clutter in your life. This lifestyle makes you intentional about everything you own. You're assured you only own what you need by refusing, reducing, reusing, recycling, and rotting.
It focuses on quality and long-lasting items: A zero-waste lifestyle also means focusing on quality over quantity. This allows you to own sustainable, durable, and high-quality things.
The mismanagement and irresponsible disposal of individual and household waste contribute to climate change. The waste that various households produce significantly impacts the planet.
The zero-waste tips highlighted in this article serve as a guide to help you embrace a zero-waste lifestyle and achieve your zero-waste goals. These tips are simple and easy to apply to your daily life.
Schultz, T., & Suresh, A. (2018). Life Cycle Impact Assessment Methodology for Environmental Paper Network Paper Calculator v4.0, SCS Global Services,
|Kaza, Silpa; Yao, Lisa C.; Bhada-Tata, Perinaz; Van Woerden, Frank. 2018. What a Waste 2.0 : A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050. Urban Development;. Washington, DC: World Bank. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/30317 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO|
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (n.d.). Municipal Solid Waste
Bringham Young University. Recycling Statistics
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.