This post is a living document please suggest things in the comments, think of this as our community’s best advise, so far…
First of all our motivation for going zero waste is to stop our personal contribution to the production of unnecessary stuff (and to avoid the unnecessary human and environmental harm that is caused by producing pretty much anything, even “green” things -> storyofstuff.org).
With that in mind going zero waste means not buying anything new. Because every new thing is headed to the landfill eventually, even if it’s recycled a few times before it gets there.
So how to do it?! It’s much easier than you might think.
Food is almost always the first question that comes up. Most likely the first thing you’ll do after deciding to give zero waste a try is to eat!
Everyone’s zero waste food routine will be slightly different but here are some general guides.
Find yourself a store or market that has produce without stickers. Find a store with a good bulk section (check out and contribute to Bea Johnson’s app!).
This is where the rubber hits the road. You’ll have to have a conversation with your server, which usually goes a little something like this:
You: Hey! Listen I'm doing this weird thing where I'm trying not to create any trash. Is there any chance I could get (insert desired dish here) without (insert the thing they would need to remove to make the dish zero waste).
Them: Oh! That's cool, let me see what I can do.
That’s usually the extent of it. Sometimes it takes more explaining but as long as you’re kind, grateful, and humble about it it’s usually fairly painless. It helps a lot to do most of the work for them, like noticing what it’s going to take to make something zero waste (e.g. no wrap on a sandwich, no toothpick, no straw) and asking them for that specifically.
A more advanced technique is to recruit them generally by saying “I’m trying not to make any trash, so can you let me know if anything I order has toothpicks or napkins or anything?”
Start a Compost
Maybe the most impactful thing you can do in your home to get towards zero waste is start composting. The EPA says about 24% of our waste is compostable and food scraps that live in a landfill instead of a compost end up emitting methane– a powerful greenhouse gas.
So here’s how to start composting:
Option 1: “The City Dweller”
If your city doesn’t offer curbside collection you can collect it in your freezer and bring it to a composter, farmer’s market, community garden, or farmer. You can also keep your compost in a container on your counter and as long as you have a good lid it won’t stink up your place. Keeping it at room temp will save you a ton of space because it will start to decompose and shrink down. I use scissors to cut up my compost to make it decompose even faster.
Option 2: “DIY”
Start a compost pile in your yard, or a vermicompost on a balcony. Make sure your compost is getting enough brown material if you’re planning on using it for plants.
Find a Zero Waste Cleaning Routine
Ditch your paper towels, cut up an old t-shirt and make friends with baking soda and vinegar!
Most commercial cleaning agents are just riffs on baking soda and vinegar, or if wood is involved, oil and vinegar (if you have leftovers you can make a nice salad dressing– natural cleaning at it’s best!).
My approach to the zero waste hygiene transition was to wait for things to run out. That gave me a nice staggered way to figure things out. When I ran out of toothpaste, I learned how to make toothpaste. When I ran out of shampoo I went and got a shampoo bar (also consider No Poo for some hair types).
Toilet Paper: You can use toilet paper! If you can afford it maybe get the recycled kind, and the ones wrapped in paper instead of plastic.
Feminine Products: This is a case where a little bit of trash can save a lot of trash. I know people have had a lot of luck with the Diva Cup, or o.b. tampons if a menstrual cup is not for you. Also check out (or make your own) Glad Rags.
Condoms: Latex condoms are compostable! The wrappers are not but you don’t have to keep them if you don’t want, safe sex is important and falls under the medical category.
We generally say that waste that you make by performing your job isn’t your responsibility to keep. However, most of the people doing zero waste want to do more than the bare minimum. Many of our members have given presentations to their office, some have started composting programs, some have implemented 2-sided printing, the opportunities are endless!
The important thing for you to know about work and waste is that we’re here to help. If you’re in management you can apply to be one of our business partners to help us develop a case study for your industry, lots of support for you, huge help for us. Or you can just shoot us an email to ask for presentation templates, curriculums etc. we’re happy to help.