How To Start Zero Waste
By AnneMarie Torresen

First of all, congratulations for making it to this webpage and reading this blog! By that choice alone, you have begun the first step in going zero waste: thinking about it.

You may already be on your way to starting a zero-waste lifestyle, but it is understandable if you’re not fully sold on the idea yet. We are accustomed to using so much trash in our society that the prospect of getting rid of it all can seem daunting. If you are unsure of how to start your zero-waste journey, you may find the following list of suggestions helpful:

  1. Start collecting your trash: Get a tangible idea of what you’re up against. Instead of throwing trash away, collect any trash you make over the course of a few days, week or month. Just seeing the trash pile up may inspire you to cut out some nonessential packaged things.
  1. Visit zero-waste stores: Set aside some time to check out your local farmer’s market, thrift stores, “no packaging” stores, or even just the bulk section of your usual grocery store. Actually physically going to check out these places can give you inspiration and can help you start to visualize zero waste could become a tangible thing in your life. Put yourself into the zero waste community – we’d love to have you!
  1. Research swaps: Figure out of there are any individual, one-to-one zero waste swaps you can make today. Depending on your own habits and lifestyle, some swaps may be particularly easy. Maybe you already have old t-shirts you can cut up to replace paper towels. Perhaps you just ran out of deodorant and can take the opportunity to try making your own zero-waste version. Even if you don’t do a complete zero waste overhaul in your life, every little swap is still a win and can help you gain momentum to make more! Check out zerowaste.org/swaps for our guide to zero waste swaps.
  1. Set up a zero waste kit: Collect a few items that you can have ready to bring with you on outings (especially if you expect your outing to include any shopping or eating). Having a set of zero waste tools on hand is essential to being prepared for any situation. Useful tools include: a tote bag, a travel mug, tupperware containers, reusable utensils, and a cloth napkin. If you have a car, it’s also a great idea to keep a set of zero waste tools in your trunk so you have them on hand wherever you drive.
  1. Prioritize sacrifices: Zero trash is an ideal, but any-amount-less trash is better than your current amount of trash. If there are certain packaged things you can’t do without (for me, it’s yogurt), don’t let that stop you from going zero waste in other parts of your life! Zero waste does sometimes involve saying “no” to things you are used to having, but it’s still ok to allow yourself things that you deem essential to you. In order for a zero life lifestyle to be sustainable for you, we sometimes need to make some waste sacrifices.
  1. Consider upstream waste: Remember that going zero waste is not really about the trash in your own trash can. Use the concept of upstream waste—the waste that is created in the production of a product—to make informed decisions about the best things to purchase. For example, it would be better to buy spinach wrapped in a twist tie from a local farmer rather than to buy unpackaged spinach poured out of plastic bags in a supermarket. This can be good to keep in mind when you are “prioritizing sacrifices” too: since I want to buy yogurt, I choose to purchase yogurt in glass jars from a local farm. That yogurt is not zero waste to me because I still have an empty jar in my recycling, but it does cut down on a lot of upstream waste because there are fewer emissions from farming/manufacturing/packaging/shipping. Plus, glass is much easier to recycle than the plastic containers most yogurt comes in.
  1. Look for inspiration and community: There are many zero wasters who share their experiences on the internet, from the fabulous Zero Waste Chef to the Buy Nothing Project. You also can join social media groups like our Live Zero Waste Facebook group, where you can find zero waste tips and make connections with like-minded people.
  1. Recruit others: It can be fun to do a zero waste challenge with a friend or family member. You can help hold each other accountable and can work together to come up with zero waste swaps. Invite your loved ones to join you on your zero waste journey!
  1. Try one month: There’s no substitute for starting zero waste then actually trying to go zero waste. To make it less daunting at first, pick a month (or even just a week or two) when you don’t expect any major obstacles and can fully commit to making no new trash for that time. The experience will likely help you develop habits that will stick with you in the long term. In just a few weeks, you will get plenty of practice using zero-waste items, making swaps, and getting more comfortable with making zero-waste requests.
  2. Attend a Live Zero Waste challenge, which will help guide you through all of the above. We can’t wait to meet you!

Celebrate yourself for showing up to this blog post. Zero waste practices bring so much joy to our lives, and we support each small step you take towards reducing waste! We wish you the very best in your zero-waste explorations.

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