You may have heard murmurs on the internet or from friends about a zero waste lifestyle. Zero waste? How is that even possible? You might be thinking. And that question is valid, with the average American discarding of 4.5 pounds of trash every single day – amounting to a nationwide 254 million tons per year. Buying packaged goods, using plastic bags, cleaning with paper towels – these are all standard practices in a typical home.
However, with 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean and 251 million tons of trash in landfills, people are starting to rethink their patterns of consumption. The trifecta of sustainability – reduce, reuse and recycle – is resonating with more and more people who see the necessity of leaving a gentler footprint on the earth. And that’s exactly what zero waste lifestyles are all about: the aim to reduce landfill-bound trash in the interest of a healthier planet, and healthier population.
Zero waste lifestyles not only help the environment – by reducing toxic emissions, decreasing plastic pollution, minimizing deforestation, preserving clean drinking water and more – they can also positively impact both your wallet and your wellbeing. Buying few to no pre-packaged, highly-processed or pricey specialty items equates to more cost-effective bulk food products; healthful whole fruits, seeds, nuts, vegetables and meats; and more natural, home-made cleaning products.
While zero waste might be the ultimate goal, there are many steps you can take to minimize today. Reducing instead by 90, 60, 50, 40 or even 30 percent can be hugely beneficial. If every person made three or four changes, just think of how much cleaner the air, ocean, rivers and forests can be.
There are many dimensions to zero waste living, but here are five basic steps to gradually get you started:
- Reusable bags. This might be the easiest place to start, with some stores and even some entire cities banning the distribution of plastic bags. All it takes is throwing your reusable bags in the trunk, and remembering to grab them once you park. It’s a small effort with huge benefit.
- Mason jars. Mason jars will become your best friend – as will the bulk food aisle. Fill your jars with everything from nuts and beans, to spices and sugar. A lot of packaging from pre-packaged food is not recyclable, so this is a fairly important step. It is also the most difficult. There may be some packaged items that are too hard to give up at first, but switch to glass jars wherever possible.
- Compost. Your food scraps, instead of becoming garbage, can become nutrient-dense soil for gardening. Keep your food out of the landfills, waterways and water treatment facilities, and start composting! You can google how to make a compost pile in your backyard, or you can even freeze your food scraps and bring them to your nearest compost collection facility.
- Reusable napkins and rags. How many napkins do you use at a meal? Or paper towels while cleaning your counters and tables? The average American uses approximately 2,200 napkins and 45 pounds of paper towels per year. This can be easily addressed by purchasing reusable napkins and rags.
- Reusable cups and containers. The average worker uses 500 disposable coffee cups per year. Meanwhile there is every shape, size and color travel mug that can keep your coffee hot for hours. Make the switch, you’ll be happy you did. Also, tin foil, plastic baggies and plastic wrap may be your go-to for lunch packaging, but the toll on the environment adds up. Switch to reusable glass food containers that can keep your food fresh and delicious.
- Homemade cleaning product. Cleaning products almost always come in bulky plastic packaging, so this is another area to consider if trying to achieve a near-zero waste life. As an added bonus, you minimize exposure to harsh chemicals found in conventional cleaning products. For a multipurpose cleaner, simply add ½ cup white distilled vinegar, one cup of water and 10-20 drops of tea tree, lemon or eucalyptus essential oil to a glass spray bottle and shake well before each use.