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Image: A zero waste advocate taking park in a beach cleanup, holding two plastic water bottles that have been polluting the beach.

Embark On Your Journey to a Zero-Waste Lifestyle with These First 5 Adjustments

This article was written by content partner Nicolle Portilla, a representative for ZeroWaste.com.

Do you find yourself throwing too much stuff away? Are you ready to live a greener way of life? Today, we’ll dive into what living a zero-waste lifestyle means, its benefits, and how you can get started!

What Is a Zero-Waste Lifestyle?

Living a zero-waste lifestyle means being more conscious of how much waste we are discarding. It encompasses utilizing reusable alternatives that help to reduce the amount of waste that gets sent to landfills and rethinking what the “end of life” for products means.

While going 100% “zero waste” can be a daunting idea for many people, there are simple shifts we can start to make to start living a more zero waste lifestyle. From buying products that are designed to be used again and again to reusing and recycling, all of these decisions add up. Choosing a zero waste option can be as simple as donating old clothes that still have some life left to a thrift store instead of throwing them away.

These small, zero waste choices all add up to have an impact. 

Image: A zero-waste advocate taking park in a beach cleanup, holding two plastic water bottles that have been polluting the beach.
Source: Unsplash

Importance of Reducing Waste

So, why go zero waste? There are a number of benefits to going zero waste. First, reducing waste isn’t just great for the environment, it can also be great for your wallet. Switching out single-use plastic products for reusable options can save you hundreds of dollars per year. 

For instance, almost 322 million Americans consumed paper towels in 2020. While they are convenient for spill clean-ups since you throw them away afterward, the habit accumulates landfill waste quickly. Depending on the paper towel brand you choose, you could be spending upwards of $182 annually on paper towels, alone. 

As for the environmental benefits, adopting a more zero waste lifestyle helps us all do our part in lowering our impact on the planet. As you make the switch to greener options for items that once made their way to the trash, these choices have a direct impact on how much waste ends up in oceans, landfills, and our communities on the streets.

You’ve probably heard that scientists project that ocean waters will be filled with more plastic than ocean animal species by 2050. With the plastic waste that makes its way into our oceans now, 1 million birds already perish annually. Lowering waste is vital to saving ocean wildlife from an untimely extinction from mass-produced single-use plastic products. 

If going zero waste is so good for our wallets, our planet, and our future, how do you get started?

First 5 Steps Towards a Zero-waste Lifestyle

You can take the first steps towards a zero-waste lifestyle by making some mindful changes. While there may be a little more clean-up involved with these changes, stay the course! Yes, it’s easier to throw away a plastic sandwich bag after you are done with lunch, but remember those sandwich bags add up and will be left behind far after you’re gone.

1. Say “No” To Single-Use Plastic Products

Single-use plastic products start to add up quickly. While plastic drink bottles are recyclable, the National Geographic Society reports that 91% of the material does not make it to recycling plants, and t takes over 400 years for plastic to fully degrade, which continues to pollute the Earth as each plastic product still thrives. 

Unfortunately, of the 380 million tons of single-use plastic products produced annually about 10 million tons make their way into the oceans every year. 

You can reduce your use of single-use plastic products by:

  • Utilizing a water filter and reusable bottles rather than purchasing throwaway plastic water bottles. 
  • Opting for food storage containers or reusable sandwich bags when packing lunches. 
  • Purchasing reusable straws and refusing throwaway ones when eating out. 
  • When you go to the grocery store, remember to bring your own cloth produce bags and choose unwrapped produce instead of using plastic bags. 
  • Purchase tea leaves in cardboard boxes rather than tea bags. Invest in a reusable tea infuser. 

2. Take Note of Your Trash

Review what items you discard the most. Once you realize what you are constantly throwing away, you can reduce trash output accordingly. 

Rather than using paper towels, have microfiber towels, or rags you can make from old t-shirts that can’t be donated, on hand to wipe up messes and spills at home. Switch over your bottled soaps for bar soaps. And in the bathroom, try swapping out single cotton rounds for reusable makeup removing pads. 

If you’re finding that most of your trash is from takeout, start small by making food at home rather than eating out one night a week. Fast food drink cups, cardboard sandwich containers, and food wrappers heavily contribute to landfill waste. 

Small choices like leaving the plastic plates on the shelf next time you visit the grocery store, turning off the faucet when you’re scrubbing the dishes and only turning it on when you need to rinse them, and remembering to carry a reusable water bottle are all zero waste mindset shifts that start to add up. 

3. Reduce Food Waste 

American consumers waste nearly one-third of the food that they purchase. Meal planning can be a great way to minimize spoiled food.

If you have any food scraps left over from meal prep, composting is a great way to reduce the amount of trash you send to the landfill. You can learn more about composting below. 

And if you aren’t able to eat your cooked food leftovers in three days or less, opt for storing this food in the freezer to increase its longevity. Some dishes can last in the freezer for three to six months. 

4. Repurpose Household Items

When a household item no longer serves its purpose, find a new use for it. Embrace creativity and think outside the box. Assess your household’s needs and make the most of your resources to address these needs effectively. 

As we mentioned above, old t-shirts or clothing that can’t be donated can be turned into cleaning rags that are great to use around the kitchen, bathroom, and garage. Glass jars can get a second life as storage containers, drinking vessels, or even a replacement for plastic food storage containers. Wine bottles can be upcycled into flower vases or candle holders. Empty toilet paper or paper towel rolls can be saved as seed starters in the spring–just cut and fold up the bottom to hold the perfect amount of soil.

With a little creativity, many items that would normally make their way to the garbage can get a new life with upcycling.

5. Start Composting

About 28% of the trash found in landfills would have benefitted better if composted. Food scraps such as banana peels, apple slices, potato peels, orange peels, eggshells, and fresh herb stems are great additions to your compost. If you have dead houseplants, extra newspaper, yard trimmings, or fallen leaves, add this to your compost! 

If you need help getting started on composting, there are some great resources out there that will help you choose the right container and composting method for you. If you choose to use a compost bin, be sure it has enough ventilation to help the beneficial microorganisms stay alive. You can add worms to your compost bin as well to help break down your food scraps more quickly. 

Once you’ve chosen the best spot for your compost bin, sprinkle some garden soil or compost starter at the bottom, then add a layer of food scraps or other composting material. If you’re adding worms, add them as soon as you incorporate the composting materials.  

Repeat with another layer of garden soil before placing more compost inside the bin. This vital process balances the overall habitat in the compost bin for it to convert into a gardening conditioner. 

If composting at home isn’t possible you can also look into composting services near you. Many of them work like your regular trash pickup and will come weekly to collect your food scraps.

Key Takeaways

Living a zero-waste lifestyle doesn’t mean that you have to give up on the things you love in life, or life’s conveniences. The process of going zero waste is about progress, not perfection. You won’t get it right every time, but little by little you’ll develop the habits and way of looking at your way of life and finding the best way to make zero waste work for you.

From saving money to feeling better about your impact on the planet, a greener lifestyle is possible! What ideas from this article will you adopt? 

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Image: Nicolle Portilla

Nicolle Portilla

Content Partner

Nicolle Portilla is RTS’s and Zero Waste’s Marketing Manager, and has been a valued member of the team since July 2018. She is responsible for content creation on all platforms, leveraging creative software, industry trends and research, and social media strategy to build upon the company’s online presence. Additionally, Nicolle contributes to the RTS blog, which serves to educate clients and industry players about their technology and sustainability efforts, and is responsible for the creation and dissemination of our internal and external newsletters. Prior to taking on the role of Marketing Manager, Nicolle served on the Sustainability team for nearly three years, assisting clients in achieving their sustainability goals through external communications and event organizing. Preceding Nicolle’s time on the RTS team is her work with Clean Water Action, where she promoted clean water initiatives. Nicolle graduated from Stony Brook University in 2018 with a B.A. in Sustainability.

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