A zero waste lifestyle is exactly what it sounds like: a lifestyle with zero waste, but what does that mean? Even though it’s a simple concept with an even simpler title, the reality is that living a zero waste lifestyle takes practice. It’s about looking at the bigger picture of using less waste. This is how you turn a zero waste lifestyle concept into reality.
What is a Zero Waste Lifestyle?
Before putting a zero waste lifestyle into place, you need to understand what it is. Not understanding what a zero waste lifestyle entails will likely cause you to make errors along the way. Transitioning to living a zero waste lifestyle should leave very little room for error.
A zero waste lifestyle implements a variety of concepts to make up the overall lifestyle. It is more than just recycling. A zero waste lifestyle means avoiding using disposable items on a daily or weekly basis. It means completely eliminating the waste you send to the landfill. If you must use a disposable item, it should be recyclable so that it doesn’t end up at the local landfill and buried with a mountain of trash; however, a true zero waste living completely eradicates all disposable items from your life.
A zero waste lifestyle means you will add reusable cups, shopping bags, and storage containers while avoiding disposable plastic water bottles, disposable to-go cups, and other plastic disposable items you may not even realize you’re using. National Geographic recommends that every family should accumulate only one jar of trash each year to lead a true zero waste lifestyle.
One mason jar of trash each year will usually consist of wrappers from bars of soap, gum, or tags from clothing that has been purchased. When implementing a zero waste lifestyle, large amounts of trash, such as plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, and plastic bags, are completely eliminated and replaced with reusable items. This is how someone with a zero waste lifestyle will only accumulate around a mason jar of true trash each year.
Why is Leading a Zero Waste Lifestyle Important?
When we throw away our trash or even recyclable products, it is out-of-sight-out-of-mind; meaning, once it is thrown away and hauled off by our local waste management service, we typically don’t think another thing about it.
But what if we did?
What if we thought about our trash? What’s more, what if we thought about everyone’s trash? Would we then understand how important it is to eliminate as much waste as possible?
The likely answer is yes.
If we understood how waste affects us on a daily basis, we would likely understand how extremely important it is for all of us to strive for a zero waste lifestyle.
Waste Affects the Food and Water We Consume
Not all waste ends up in landfills and buried feet below the surface of the earth. Instead, much of the waste that we use inadvertently ends up in our water supplies, like streams, lakes, and oceans. This unavoidably leads to fish and other seafood consuming some of the waste or absorbing the contaminated water into their systems. Through osmosis, those who eat fish or other seafood from contaminated water are consuming plastic, aluminum, or other materials of waste.
A Zero Waste Lifestyle is More Affordable
According to the Center for EcoTechnology, leading a zero waste lifestyle can save you money over time. For example, if you pack your lunch instead of purchase lunch every day, you significantly reduce the amount of waste used on a daily basis. Packing your lunch means using reusable containers or choosing to pack fruits or vegetables that can naturally decompose.
How to Turn Your Lifestyle into a Zero Waste Lifestyle
First of all, the process doesn’t happen overnight, so don’t get discouraged if it seems a little overwhelming at first. Disposable items are used all around us, and years of using disposable items is a hard habit to change overnight.
The good news is that you can do it! It just takes a little knowledge and a whole lot of habitual practice.
Eliminate Disposable Items and Replace with Reusable Items
Disposable items are the number one cause of waste for most people because of how often we come in contact with disposable items on a daily basis.
Daily disposable items can include any or all of the following:
- Plastic or cardboard to-go cups
- Straws and paper straw wrappers (including paper straws)
- Paper bags and wrappers at fast-food restaurants
- Plastic bags at the grocery store
- Plastic water bottles or soda bottles
- Aluminum cans
- Paper coffee filters
- Disposable razors
- Plastic soap or body wash bottles
- Cardboard boxed processed foods
- Bagged processed foods
While this is an extensive list of many disposable items that will eventually end up at the landfill, it’s not permanent, and it can be easily changed with a little bit of work.
How to Replace Disposable Items with Reusable Items
First, you need to identify the numerous disposable items you are using daily or weekly and replace them with reusable items.
Using the list of disposable items above, we will help you understand how to replace these everyday disposable items with environmentally-safe reusable items.
To-Go Items: Cups, Bags, and Containers
- Replace cardboard or plastic to-go cups with personal reusable cups that can be washed and reused. Many coffee shops allow you to provide your own cup when ordering a drink. By providing your own reusable cup, you prevent a plastic or cardboard cup from ending up at the landfill when you are finished.
- Replace plastic bags you get at the grocery store when buying groceries with reusable canvas grocery bags. You can provide your own reusable bag to use at the grocery store when you purchase your groceries. This eliminates a large number of plastic grocery bags that you would otherwise use and throw away without the use of reusable canvas bags.
- Avoid using plastic packaging or styrofoam to-go containers when possible. Instead, use reusable glass containers to store your food, whether they are leftovers from a meal you’ve cooked or the rest of a restaurant meal you will be taking home. Using reusable glass containers to store your food will eliminate the plastic or styrofoam to-go containers that will eventually end up in the trash after they are used.
Personal Care Items: Razors, Soap, Paper Towels, and Diapers
- Any razor you buy from a drugstore or a big box store is disposable; even pricier razors that come with additional razor heads that can be replaced. While the body of the razor itself may not seem disposable because you will reuse the body while replacing the head, you will still dispose of the head of the razor, ultimately throwing it in the trash and sending it to the nearby landfill. Instead of using a razor from a drugstore or box store, you can purchase a premium zero-plastic razor.
- Most hand soaps or body washes come in plastic bottles. When those plastic bottles are emptied, they get thrown into the trash and sent to the nearby landfill. You can replace these plastic bottles by purchasing bars of soap to use instead of plastic bottles. The paper that wraps the bars of soap will be small enough to fit into the jar of trash you accumulate each year.
- Instead of choosing to buy paper towels or napkins, you should choose cloth napkins. Cloth napkins can be easily washed in a washing machine and reused, while napkins and paper towels will be thrown away and taken to the landfill.
- Disposable diapers are one of the major leaders in landfill waste. Disposable diapers are extremely convenient, but that convenience comes at a price for our environment. Cloth diapers have gained popularity in recent years, not only for the environmental benefits that they pose but primarily because of the amount of money they save each year. Using cloth diapers means completely eliminating the amount of disposable diaper waste that will fill the landfill while also saving a significant amount of money each year.
Shop at a Zero Waste Grocery Store
To ensure that you live a zero waste lifestyle and have as many opportunities as possible to do so, you should shop at a zero waste grocery store (internal link). This will ensure that the items you are purchasing are designed for a zero waste lifestyle.
Zero waste grocery stores sell items in reusable glass jars and bag the groceries in reusable canvas shopping bags. To find a zero waste grocery store in your area, visit Litterless.com. There are zero waste grocery stores in all 50 states listed on Litterless.com.
Other Ways to Adopt a Zero Waste Lifestyle
These are known as the 5 Rs for living a zero waste lifestyle. We will break each of these down so you can understand exactly how to apply each of them to your zero waste lifestyle.
When faced with choosing a wasteful item, you should always refuse. Refusing a disposable or wasteful item means the item won’t end up at the local landfill after being thrown away.
Some items you can refuse include the following:
- Using straws at a restaurant
- Grabbing extra napkins
- Using plastic utensils
- Wrapping produce in plastic produce bags
Refusing disposable plastic items is the first step to leading a zero waste lifestyle, and it is something you can practice doing on a daily basis. If your friends or colleagues ask why you refuse a straw or refuse to use plastic utensils, you can share the importance of living a zero waste lifestyle.
This is another method you can practice daily when transitioning to a zero waste lifestyle. Reducing the amount of waste used on a daily or weekly basis includes any of the following:
- Reducing water and electricity amounts
- Reducing the amount of travel done per week; attempting to carpool as much as possible
- Reducing the amount of plastic used in packaged items by buying in bulk as much as possible or shopping at a zero waste grocery store
This is often considered the key to living a zero waste lifestyle. When you can replace all of the disposable items in your life with reusable items, you have successfully mastered the art of living a zero waste lifestyle. Keep in mind that this doesn’t happen overnight, nor should it.
It can be expensive to replace all of your disposable plastic items in your house, so only replace the disposable items with reusable items when you are done with them or when they run out.
Some ways to implement reusable items include the following:
- Using reusable canvas shopping bags at grocery stores
- Providing your own coffee mug or tumbler to use at a coffee shop
- Using reusable glass storage containers instead of plastic disposable storage containers
It is important to recycle when living a zero waste lifestyle, but this should not be the first step in establishing a zero waste lifestyle. Plastic is mistaken as being recyclable when, in fact, it is down-cycled.
When “recycled” plastic enters the recycling facility, it gets repurposed into a weaker version of plastic. When that version of plastic gets recycled, it gets repurposed into an even weaker version of that plastic. Finally, once the plastic has been down-cycled to a material that can no longer be used, it ends up in the landfill.
The most important items to recycle are glass, aluminum, and paper products. These materials can be truly recycled and continually without deteriorating the material.
This is exactly what it sounds like. When using natural products and food, compost is created. Compost is the natural process that occurs when organic materials are broken down during the decomposition process. This can be referred to as rot or compost.
Rot is the most natural way to dispose of organic materials. These materials come from the earth and are ultimately returned to the earth through the rotting or composting process. This is why many people who live a zero waste lifestyle will discard produce scraps, peelings, and cores outside. This will allow the natural compost process to take place and eliminate the waste naturally.
Things to Remember When Adopting a Zero Waste Lifestyle
Keep in mind that this process will not happen overnight. Interest in learning how to live a zero waste lifestyle is often the hardest step. A zero waste lifestyle seems like it may be a difficult or even impossible task to undertake, only to realize that it just takes a little bit of knowledge and a whole lot of practice to adopt a new way of living.
Make small changes at first. Don’t go through your house and throw away all of your plastic bags and plastic bottles. That’s actually the worst thing you could do when adopting a zero waste lifestyle.
Instead, repurpose the plastic items you have in your house while vowing not to purchase any more. Once you have emptied the plastic bottles you were using, you can then replace them with alternative options, such as soap bars. The same concept applies to disposable razors. Once you have finished using your disposable razor, replace it with a reusable premium razor.
For more tips on how to adopt a zero waste lifestyle, check out this helpful YouTube video below on 100 Zero Waste Swaps You Have to Try. This will help you learn the best ways to begin a zero waste lifestyle and how to maintain it.
A zero waste lifestyle is arguably the most powerful personal impact you can make in improving the environment on a daily or weekly basis. By eliminating the amount of plastic used each day, as well as reducing your yearly trash to just a small jar per year, you can make a lasting impact on the environment to help preserve and prolong it. Doing this is known as living a zero waste lifestyle, and it only takes a few minor adjustments in your everyday life to do so.
With a zero waste lifestyle, you aren’t sacrificing anything. You can still enjoy eating at restaurants, shopping at grocery stores, and enjoying your favorite coffee drink at your local coffee shop.
You simply have to make a few minor adjustments to your life to make this happen. And what greater gift can you give generations to come than helping to improve the one thing we all share: the earth.
So, let us know how you plan on making your first step to adopting a zero waste lifestyle! As always, let us know if you have any questions, and we will be more than happy to help you along the way.