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Zero Waste Living: What Zero Waste Means and 5 Ways to Get Started

Zero waste or low waste living is easier than you think. Here's what it means to be zero waste, plus tips to get you started on your journey.

Written by
Brightly Staff

You’re probably familiar with the term "zero waste." It gets mentioned frequently alongside climate change and global warming. What you may not be familiar with, though, is exactly what it means and how it impacts the planet.

Here's what a zero-waste lifestyle is, the benefits, and everything you need to do to get started.

The Importance of a Zero-Waste Lifestyle

Climate change is a big issue in today’s world. Industry pollution and rampant over-consumerism have created so much trash, with no great way to dispose of it. Much of this trash ends up in landfills or incinerators.

The electricity and energy used in incinerating waste—and the sheer amounts of methane created by landfills—is quickly warming the earth, causing disruptions to the weather, the oceans, the ice caps, and much of the natural world. In 2014, in the United States alone, the greenhouse gas emissions totaled 6,870 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, and that number has risen dramatically since then.

So, maybe it’s time to consider a different kind of disruption. Starting your journey to a zero-waste lifestyle may be daunting, but every person matters in this situation, and the sooner you can start making even small changes, the better. 

Zero waste doesn't need to mean zero waste, either. We're not perfect here! It's simply striving to live with the least amount of waste you can.

The Missing "R": Responsibility

In school, we're taught the three R’s: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. It seems that one very important R was missed, though, and that’s Responsibility. It's our responsibility to manage our waste consumption, too. If we all take responsibility for the trash and waste we use in the world, we may be able to slow (or even reverse) the damage being done to our planet.

Making the switch to composting, for example, produces 26 times less global warming gasses per ton of waste than when organic waste is disposed of by incinerator. Recycling PET bottles, like the ones used for water, saves 26 times more energy than burning it.

Combining recycling and composting saves 3 to 4 times more energy than relying on incinerators to take care of it. Besides, all incinerators do is create tons of ash that no one really wants and doesn’t serve a purpose.

It’s time for all of us to start saying no to the landfills, no to the incinerators, no to a high consumption way of living and a big, resounding yes to a zero-waste or low-waste lifestyle.

How to Start Going Zero Waste

At this point, you’re probably wondering what you can do to get started, and the good news is there’s plenty to be done! Let’s take a look at a few tips for working your way into a zero-waste lifestyle.

1. Reduce Packaging

One step you can take is to reduce the amount of packaging you’re purchasing. Sure, those snack packs of chips may be great for portion control, but the same effect can be achieved by buying them in bulk and separating them into separate, reusable containers.

Try shopping at your local bulk food stores for your essentials. Not only are you supporting a small business, but you’re also reducing the amount of trash you’re consuming. You can even bring your own bags for produce!

2. Stay Away from Single-Use Items

Another way to reduce packaging is to stay away from single-use items. Think microfiber towels or old t-shirts instead of paper towels, cloth napkins instead of paper ones, and washable pads and menstrual cups instead of tampons and pads.

3. Use Reusable Bags

On the topic of bags, it’s time to stop using plastic grocery bags as well. In fact, since many grocery stores have started charging for bags, there’s been a decrease in bags bought. Oftentimes, the money spent on those bags has been funneled into community recycling resources. Some cities have even gone so far as to ban them, which is great news for the environment.

You can buy reusable bags in a lot of shops now, and you don’t even have to go for the branded ones. If you’re feeling more fashion-forward, there are a lot of gorgeous grocery totes on the market. And if you’re handy, you can even crochet one using the plastic bags you already have on hand.

4. Buy Items in Glass Bottles

For some reason, a lot of drinks are still sold in plastic bottles. While plastic can only be recycled so many times before it loses quality, glass doesn't have the same issue—it can be recycled over and over again. Compared to plastic, glass is a better option for the planet. Plus, there are multiple ways you can upcycle these bottles in your own home.

5. Hit Up Your Local Thrift Store

Instead of buying a cheap sweater from one of the many fast fashion brands out there, try checking out a local or online thrift store. Plenty of high-quality clothing ends up there.

Rather than buying something low-quality that’s going to get a hole in it and end up in a landfill somewhere, you can shop for items made from natural materials that will stand the test of time and won’t burn a hole in your pocket. Thrift stores are also great for household items like dishes, linens, and toys for children. 

The Takeaway

See? There are lots of ways you can make a difference in your waste consumption. These options are low-energy ways to get started, allowing you to minimize the amount of trash you’re producing. And while they may take a while to get used to, it’s absolutely worth it for the environmental impact you're going to make.