5 Tips on Getting Started on Your Zero Waste Journey

Getting started with living zero waste, is really simple! Ever heard of the 80/20 rule? It also applies to zero-waste living.

It takes 20% effort to get 80% of the way to being totally zero-waste. And then it takes the 80 remaining percent to eliminate the remaining 20% of waste.


This means that if you’re just getting started, you’ll have a super, super steep progress curve. And as soon as you get some momentum going, you’ll find that it’s not that hard to eliminate about 80% of trash from your life within just a few weeks. It’s the remaining 20% that you’ll have to work hard for. Whether you decide to go 100% zero-waste or not is up to you, but don’t shy away from embracing this lifestyle if you’re not willing to go to 100%. Just invest a bit of effort and see where it takes you.

Here are 5 simple tips, that will help get you off the ground and running towards living zero waste.

1. Cut out single use plastic bottles and switch to a durable drinking bottle

Health hazards from leaking BPA and related substances aside… the state of the recycling industry is a bit of a joke. The U.S’ recycling rate for plastic is at only 23% and in my country, Germany, the numbers aren’t looking any better. A lot of recycling trash gets contaminated and thrown out. Plastic is a fossil fuel based product, and doesn’t biodegrade in a landfill, ever – at least not in the next 500 years to come. Boycott the plastic bottle madness and switch to a stable, reusable drinking bottle and water from the tap, or a water fountain.

What to get: If you don’t already own a durable drinking bottle, go out and buy a lightweight stainless steel bottle or use a mason jar. Single-use plastic is the worst, but re-usable plastic isn’t great either. Kleen Kanteen makes a great stainless steel bottle, though I got my current drinking bottle for 3$ in a goodwill.

2.   Take your own shopping bag with you

I find this one really easy – probably because I’m German and we have to pay about 20 cents (€) for a single plastic bag at most supermarkets. Lots of Germans take their own bags to the store. (My guess is that this is more because we’re a nation of stingy people, than out of concerns for the planet. Those 20 cents per bag add up quickly.) If you’re not used to bringing your own bag, the hardest part is remembering to bring it with you to store. Once you have this part down, you’re good to go.

What to get: If you don’t already have a durable bag, get a large cotton bag instead of plastic. See a pattern here? It’s generally advisable to avoid all plastic. Plastic is just incredibly wasteful, plus the cotton bags tend to last a little longer, and you can throw just them in the compost when they start to disintegrate.


3. Bring your own produce bags and bulk bags to the store

If you’ve ever tried shopping for the week with only one large big bag – it can get a little exhausting with all that produce flying around inside the bag. The solution: Cloth produce bags! They help keep your produce organised so you can get it weighed at the cashiers, and you can transfer the bags straight from your big shopping bag into the fridge/on the counter/in the kitchen cabinet. I also use cloth bags for bulk flours, grains, dried fruit, and sweets from the bulk section of my supermarket. I got mine from Simple Ecology – I have both the sturdier version and the mesh version in different sizes. They’re great!



4. Make the switch to a bamboo toothbrush

I wrote an entire post on the topic of toothbrushes. Here’s the 30-second version: Plastic toothbrushes are incredibly harmful to the environment. Bamboo toothbrushes are a healthier, biodegradable alternative and they make your teeth feel amazing too, without hurting the enamel!


5.  Change from liquid soap to unpackaged bar soaps

What’s the issue with liquid soap? 99% of it comes in plastic packaging. If you happen to live near a store that sells liquid soap in bulk then by all means keep buying liquid soap. If you don’t, or for the sake of mere simplicity, then just buy unpackaged bar soaps. Whole Foods, farmers markets, artisan/crafts markets are all great places to buy unpackaged soaps. If you’re struggling to find soap that is completely packaging free, opt for soap that is lightly packaged in un-coated paper.

Quick note: When I use the term “bulk”, I’m referring to the practice of buying unpackaged bulk products from a large bulk container at a store, using one’s own containers. I’m not referring to packaged bulk buying as in purchasing Costco/wholesale sizes.

What changes did you find easy to make in the beginning of your journey?

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