The journey to zero waste can come with challenges. It can be hard to know where to begin and tempting to throw away all of your household plastics and start anew. At times, we can even beat ourselves up when we create unintentional plastic waste or fret that our waste doesn't quite fit into the coveted glass jar we see other zero wasters achieve. Ideally, going zero waste will be a positive force in your life—one that brings greater ease, compassion and connectedness with yourself and your environment. To help guide you, we have compiled 5 mantras for your journey for a zero waste lifestyle.
1. Mindful Consumption
One of the easiest ways to get started with a zero waste lifestyle is to be more mindful about what you throw away. Observing what goes into your trash each day/week/month is the first step towards mindful consumption. It’s like budgeting—it’s hard to know where to save until you start tracking your expenses.
Once you are aware of what goes into the bin, you can start thinking about how to cut back with reusable alternatives. Try to observe your waste without judgement—zero waste does not happen overnight, it’s a journey. Each step towards zero waste, big and small, is an achievement and should be celebrated! Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.
2. Product Lifecycle
Before you buy, observe what your product is made of. Try to stick to products made out of natural or reusable materials to minimize plastic waste. Think about the lifecycle of the product—can you compost or recycle it at the end of its life? Is it refillable? Can you repurpose it?
This can be everything from buying food containers (stick to glass and stainless steel) to underwear (aim for natural fibers like 100% cotton) to a toothbrush (try bamboo). It can be overwhelming to evaluate each and every product, but luckily there are great resources out there: Zero Waste Home Tips and Going Zero Waste's Top 10 to Get Started.
3. Open Communication
An important part of going zero waste is getting your partner, friends and family on board. They may not want to join you in a zero waste lifestyle, but they can support you. Let them know why you are passionate about reducing waste and give them a heads up before they come to your house with a bunch of disposables.
Having these open discussions early on can help prevent awkward situations and can especially be important before holidays or birthdays. Be specific about what kind of gifts you love—eg, I’d really love some reusable produce bags this year, no need to gift wrap them! Most importantly, be compassionate. Your friends and family mean well and you don’t want to make them feel judged or unappreciated.
Each month, I go through the house and look for things to donate. If you have a lot of ‘stuff’, this can be daunting. Try to focus on one manageable project at a time—your closet, the refrigerator, a bookcase, even a sock drawer. Look at (or even hold) each object and ask yourself, What purpose does this item serve in my life? I like to ask, Does it bring me joy? and Why am I holding onto this? Is it out of guilt because you spent a lot of money on it or someone gave it to you?
A great (well known) resource is the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Try to cultivate objects that you use often and bring beauty and joy to your life. Be ok with letting go of things that don’t serve a purpose. You will feel lighter each time you donate a box to Goodwill, I promise.
5. Bring Your Own
Another easy step towards reducing waste is to bring your reusable containers when you're on the go. When you go to the grocery store, bring reusable produce bags for bulk items and glass bottles for liquids. When you eat out, bring a stainless steel tiffin for leftovers. Love getting a smoothie after yoga? Bring your own stainless steel tumbler with a reusable straw. Not only will you feel great about reducing waste, but start noticing how many people give you kudos on your reusables and ask where they can get some of their own. A lot of places even offer a discount for bringing your own container—the dim sum booth at our farmers’ market always gives us a few extra dim sum for free!