The Beginner’s Guide to Zero Waste
People often ask me how to begin a zero waste lifestyle. It can seem overwhelming to adopt new habits. Therefore, I’ve whipped up a simple beginner’s guide to zero waste in order to help those of you feeling a little lost. From mason jars to bamboo toothbrushes, I have the basics of zero waste outlined for you here. In addition, I’ve included links throughout this post to articles and products that should point you in a good direction when you begin your new journey!
5 Zero Waste Habits You Can Adopt Right Now
Say No to Plastic Water Bottles
Instead of using disposable plastic water bottles, choose to reuse your own! Head over to your local thrift store to find a reusable water bottle. There are so many different styles you can choose from. I like to carry my stainless steel water bottle. However, a simple mason jar will do the trick as well. Plastic soda, juice, and water bottles create about 30% of the plastic waste we find in our oceans. Therefore, saying no to water bottles is a great first step in everyone’s zero waste journey!
Bring Your Own Coffee Mug
Did you know that you often cannot recycle disposable coffee cups?! Although they consist of paper, they also include a thin plastic lining making it hard to recycle. Transfer stations must separate this polyethylene lining from the cup in order to recycle it. Unfortunately, most centers around the world do not have access to the equipment needed to perform this process. Personally, I prefer to avoid disposable coffee cups completely. When you go to your local coffee shop, bring your own travel mug to take it on the go! Otherwise, slow things down a little, and enjoy your coffee in house.
Say No to Plastic Single Use Drinking Straws
Scientists estimate that 7.5 million plastic straws line America’s coastlines. In fact, many places in the United States have begun working towards banning the plastic straw completely to help correct this huge problem. Unfortunately, many of us do not live in cities like Seattle where single use plastic straws have already been banned. Regardless, you can contribute to the reduction of plastic waste by refusing a plastic straw when you eat out at restaurants. You could drink your drink without a straw, or if you need a straw, consider switching to a plastic-free reusable alternative, like metal. There are quite a few single use straw alternatives. Check out this list of 8 alternatives to plastic straws!
Bring Your Own Shopping Bags
Don’t forget to bring your reusable shopping bags when you go to the grocery store! I have mismatched bags that I have accumulated over the years that I take to the grocery store. I like sturdy canvas totes, because they hold a lot of groceries in one single bag. If you forget your reusable bags, opt for paper bags that you can reuse, compost, or recycle. Collectively, we use up to an estimated 1 trillion plastic bags per year. Thankfully, many cities have begun eliminating the use of these bags or asking customers to pay a fee in order to use them. Do your part by having your own alternative with you!
Eliminate Paper Towels
Originally, I thought eliminating paper towels from our household would be very difficult. However, we keep a drawer full of dish towels that we use in place of paper towels now. Honestly, this has been a super easy zero waste swap! Have you heard of unpaper towels? You can use them just like paper towels, but you rewash them once you’ve cleaned up a spill. 254 million tons of garbage are created every year from paper towel waste. While this may not be plastic, it still fills our landfills. If you must use paper towels in your home, consider composting them.
Okay, you have the basics that you can do now! If you want to dive further, below I’ve listed several simple steps towards a zero waste lifestyle.
Switch to a Bamboo Toothbrush
Most people go through at least two completely plastic toothbrushes a year. However, these bamboo toothbrushes have a compostable handle, and you can recycle the bristles. Also, you can compost or recycle all of the packaging for this brush. How cool is that!! While it may take a moment to get used to this style of toothbrush, you will eliminate so much plastic in the process.
Use Reusable Produce Bags
When I go to the grocery store, I bring my own set of mesh produce bags for foods like mushrooms and green beans. However, I just throw other produce directly into the buggy. I plan to wash them before I eat them anyway, so I don’t mind them rolling around in my cart. I like these produce bags particularly because their transparency makes it easy for the cashier to identify the contents. Furthermore, oftentimes grocery stores determine the price of the produce by its weight. Similar to single use plastic produce bags, these bags carry very little extra weight.
Use Soap Bars & Shampoo Bars
When did we decide that we needed to shower with body wash from a plastic bottle? A regular bar soap works just as well!! I love searching for new small batch soap makers to support. Often, I find great handmade soaps at my local farmers’ market. Furthermore, you can always find organic, vegan, and palm oil free soaps in the Tiny Yellow Bungalow shop! Packaged in seed paper, these bars have zero contribution to plastic pollution unlike their body wash counterparts.
Did you know that you can wash and condition your hair with a bar of soap or conditioner bar as well? Learn how to use shampoo and conditioner bars on my blog!
Use a Handkerchief
Your grandfather had it right all along; handkerchiefs are the way to go! I know it feels a little gross to carry around your boogers in your pocket, but it won’t if you use a Hankybook! Hankybooks consist of organic cotton “pages” that you turn as you use. In this way, you never use a soiled handkerchief, but instead use a new one every time. Once you’ve finished the whole booklet, you throw it in the washing machine. It’s genius! Plus, I think handkerchiefs feel so much softer on your nose than paper tissues. You have to try it!
Use Compostable Loofahs
Using a new yellow sponge every couple of months in the kitchen can turn into a lot of waste. Instead, try using a loofah kitchen scrubber to clean your dishes. They scrub your dirtiest pots and pans wonderfully with the added zero waste bonus of being 100% compostable. Usually, I use mine for a couple of months. Then, I chop it into small pieces, and I throw it into my compost tumbler. Easy peasy!
Now that we’ve covered all of the simple zero waste changes, are you ready to transform into a hardcore zero waster?! Next, I’ve listed some more difficult lifestyle changes to make in your zero waste journey. Let’s do this!
Use the Bulk Bins
Start shopping the bulk bins at your local grocery store using reusable bulk bags and mason jars instead of the plastic bags provided. I realize this unfortunately can’t work for everyone because not all towns have a bulk foods section. However, if you do a little hunting, sometimes you can find bulk shopping in the most unexpected places. For example, I found a bulk dog treat section at my local pet shop. Rather than using the disposable film plastic bags, I brought my own organic cotton bulk bag!
Use a Safety Razor & Shave Soap Bar
Instead of using a disposable plastic razor and shaving foam, try using a safety razor and shave soap bar. Oftentimes, safety razors can seem intimidating. However, I promise you will get a better shave and eliminate so much plastic waste by making this switch. Furthermore, you will only buy this product once. Now that I’ve started using a metal safety razor, I know that I will still use the same one in twenty years. You can learn more about zero waste shaving on the blog!
Use Reusable Menstrual Products
If you are a woman, I know you’ve spent loads of money and created lots of waste from sanitary products over the years. Thankfully, I know of a few different zero waste options for menstruation. Cloth pads and menstrual cups replace disposable pads and tampons wonderfully. Personally, I prefer the menstrual cup! Furthermore, I recently purchased period panties from Thinx. This company offers absorbent, organic cotton panties that you can wear throughout your period. You can either replace other options with these, or you can use them in addition to your menstrual cup. Different pairs match different flows, and they have plenty of styles and patterns to meet your personal taste.
I love shopping secondhand at thrift shops, antique stores, and estate sales. I’ve found reusable water bottles and plastic free kitchen supplies secondhand in my town. Also, I scored some really great secondhand cloth diapers for my little one from a friend. Producing new products always requires more resources. When you choose to shop secondhand, you eliminate the waste involved in creating new products. Therefore, you should always shop secondhand first if you can!
Begin Composting at Your Home (My all time fave zero waste switch!)
I LOVE composting! I find it fascinating that composting can create nutrient rich soil out of what we normally consider trash. If you have the space, consider building a compost pile or investing in a composter tumbler. I haven’t tried it myself, but some zero wasters prefer vermicomposting. Vermicomposting breaks food waste down faster with the help of earth worms. That means you get nutrient rich soil faster as well!
Have you started eliminating household waste? What would you include in your beginner’s guide to zero waste? What challenges and struggles have you faced on your zero waste journey? What’s your favorite zero waste switch??
If you want to dive even deeper into your beginner’s zero waste journey, be sure to head over to my friend Megean’s blog where she’s put together a 30 day zero waste challenge!
Other Zero Waste Blog Posts You Might Find Useful:
Making the Switch to Zero Waste Toothpaste
20 thoughts on “Beginner’s Guide to Zero Waste”
Love these lists! So simplified for me. I just got a Joco to-go mug for Christmas and love bringing it with me on coffee runs. And we’re still renting, so I’m very thankful that our city has a compost program. The benefits of living in the PNW. 🙂 Thank you for the continual inspiration, Jessie!
Ooo how do you like your Joco!? I’ve been eyeing them for a while, and although I don’t really need one, they’re just so pretty. I’d love to carry my coffee in one of those 🙂 And hey thanks so much for checking out my blog, I appreciate your interest!
I absolutely love your lists! I had been searching for something like this for a while and am so happy I did! I am currently working on minimizing as well as making the switch to zero waste, I’m finding that doing this simultaneously is really good for me because I’m looking at each item I’m ready to get rid of and determine if there is an easy way to reuse it. (ie: old receiving blankets will be extra family cloth wipes or face wipes). I really don’t know if I’ve had many struggles thanks to finding plenty of YouTube videos and blogs (although I am nervous for my first bulk lunch meat purchase).
My favorite switch has probably been to cloth pads. I have endometriosis so don’t feel comfortable using the cup but these pads have been great! Highly recommend them to anyone who doesn’t want to use any of the other options. When I bought them on Etsy I tried a few from different stores to see which I preferred. I also bought a small wet bag that fits into my purse as well as a large wet bag that I use for our family cloth wipes as well as my used pads after rinsing them out. They came in such fun patterns it makes a horrible five days a little better. :o)
Yes Hannah, I think minimalism and zero waste living complement each other very well! Both ideas are about living consciously and deliberately. I love that as you’re minimizing, you’re finding zero waste uses for your things. That’s wonderful! And I’ve also heard great things about cloth pads. I’m glad you’ve found something that works well for you. I’m actually hoping to start carrying cloth pads and menstrual cups in the Tiny Yellow Bungalow online shop in the near future! 🙂
Nadia, many women are not comfortable using a menstrual cup and that is totally fine! It definitely took some getting used to for me, but I have loved mine. Some women prefer using cloth pads and that’s a wonderful zero waste option as well. Good luck in your zero waste journey! 🙂
These are great lists! I already do some of these, such as using a menstrual cup, but there are a few more I need to get onto!
Look into period panties. Use them, then wash them. They can be pricey but I’m not comfortable with the menstrual cup either.
Yes! I have a few pairs of period panties as well. They’re also a great option for zero waste menstruation
How do you compost at school?
I just read it 🙂 thank you. I am trying to see if someone at the church I go to compost but no one has responded to the message. Probably will have to repost it. The local farmer’s market does not have a compost right now.
Hey Jessie, thank you for that lovely articel and also for the recommodation for the reusable to go cup. I’m still searching for one since I haven’t found “mine” yet. Maybe I’ll go for this one, I like the black color very much. 🙂
How do you get rid of the garbage living in an apartment, rental. Ex. organics. I can’t use compost. To what switch garbage bags?
As far as composting in apartments, it is possible! My sister made a DIY compost bin using a large plastic bin to keep on her apartment patio. There’s also the option for indoor composting. Check out vermicomposting or bokashi! If you’re not interested in composting at home though, there are other options. You could save your organic scraps (store them in your freezer during the week) and once you’ve accumulated a bucketful, share your scraps with a local farmer or friend that does compost. I always say that my backyard compost is open to sharing so if any of my friends want to toss in their scraps as well, they can!
If you want to try one of these compost ideas or do composting what are ways to make sure the apartment doesn’t smell? Also bins to use instead of plastic bags?
This is a great list! We’re trying to go waste free, but I seem to always forget my reusable grocery and produce bags when I go shopping. Any tips?
Ok, I know this is going to sound crazy but it really worked for me! So I told myself if I forgot my grocery bags, I would have to do without that day and shop anyway. It only took one or two times of having to inconventiently load and unload everything individually from the grocery store, and I never forgot them again!!
Love these tips! I have my own to add to the list- challenge yourself to no spend weeks and also have a waiting period for as many purchases as you can. One of the best ways to be waste free is to carefully consider your purchases. I’m not talking about groceries, I’m talking about “stuff”. There are so many things that in the moment we may think we need… but if I hold off on a purchase, many times I find either a more ethical choice, or I simply find something in my own home I can re-purpose. We try to limit impulse buys by taking at least a week to decide. I’m not perfect by any means, but in my quest to live a simpler life, I rely on my faith. I try to prayerfully consider my purchases. Many times I find that I don’t really need that item- or completely forget about it. I know it’s not for everyone, but I thought I’d share my personal tip. Thank you for creating such great dialogue!
Absolutely! I think a huge part of sustainable living is simply saying no to the things we don’t need. I love the idea of taking a few weeks before deciding on a purchase. Thanks Cari!
I have a question about the paperless towels. How do you keep them from getting hopelessly stained? Do you wash them out immediately? Soak them in something? Just use them without worrying about stain? My messes are always awful–marinara sauce, coffee, etc. Just wondering . . .
I just embrace the stains! 🙂