Trash people. We’re all trash people. The average American produces 4.4 lbs of trash every day. That’s a ridiculous amount of trash when you think about it in terms of the entire population. That’s more than 254 million tons of trash a year. Can we do better, please?
We can’t change the whole world overnight, but we can adjust our own routines to be more environmentally friendly. We’re each responsible for making changes in our own lives and the best way to make a positive impact on the global environment is to try to live a zero-waste lifestyle.
What is zero-waste?
Zero-waste living is a philosophy in which every product is reused and those that can’t be reused are eliminated from your daily consumption. The ultimate goal is to live a life where you produce zero trash on a daily basis, significantly reducing your environmental footprint.
This may be hard to image as you’re surrounded by this morning’s to-go coffee cup, a ziplock bag from lunch, and a crumpled up, grease-stained napkin. But it’s easier than you think.
Zero Waste tips for beginners
After spending a few months moving towards a zero-waste lifestyle, I’ve made a list of tips for beginners to guide you through your transition.
1. Define your ‘why’
Switching to a zero-waste lifestyle is a big undertaking when you’re starting out. There will be times when it’s completely inconvenient and you’d rather just opt for take-out so you can eat in front of the TV. These are the trying times where you need a strong ‘why’ to fall back on.
what are your values?
There are countless reasons why you would want to live a zero-waste life and if you are reading this article you clearly have some interest. For me, it is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a garbage island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean spanning 1.6 million square kilometers, that got me to sit down, use metal cutlery, and bypass the luxury of eating with my feet up on the couch.
If you are in need of a reason to cut down on your trash output, here are a few you’re more than welcome to borrow.
a few more reasons to go zero-waste…
Trash is generally either incinerated or goes to a landfill. Burning trash releases enormous amounts of CO2 and harmful chemicals into the air that stay in our atmosphere, adding to the greenhouse gas effect and furthering our global climate change.
If the trash ends up in a landfill, it can emit toxic gases into the air and even contaminate the groundwater. But trash is more than just an environmental issue. It become a political and social issue when landfills are generally found near lower income housing.
This means people in the lower socio-economic classes are affected by landfill contamination far more often than the wealthy population. Since poorer communities are notoriously under represented in politics, this issue gets little attention. And without the monetary means to move away from the landfill, many people are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
By living a zero-waste lifestyle you’re doing your part in lessening the issue (although there’s always more we can do).
2. Assess your waste
To be the most effective in cutting down your waste it’s best to look your consumption as a whole. Track yourself for a few days and keep a log of all the trash you throw away. Once you have a big picture of your waste habits, it’s easier to systematically tackle your consumption.
where does your waste come from?
I tallied and categorized my waste for three days and then made a plan. I noticed that a majority of my waste came from tissues (screw you allergies) and take-out dining packaging. I focused in on how I could solve these to problems first, and then moved on to various waste items on my list.
When you determine the biggest waste producer in your life and work towards eliminating that first, you will be shocked by the impact it truly makes.
what solutions can take on these issues?
To reduce my tissue waste I went old school with your grandpa’s good ol’ fashion handkerchief. It always grossed me out watching my grandpa wipe my nose then put the snot rag back in his pocket, but as a 24 year old who doesn’t have an extra cent to spend on tissues, it really didn’t bother me as much.
So instead of one-use paper tissues I started reusing a cloth handkerchief. Washing it regularly was a little more work than tossing the tissues, but no one said zero-waste living was painless.
tackling to-go waste
The amount of to-go waste I accumulated was a big reality check. To combat this I ended up making some life changes. I realized I was always eating on the go and spending a lot of money to do it.
First, I slowed down and made meal time an event whenever I could. Second, I started using reusable glass containers and packing meals when I knew I wouldn’t have time for a sit down meal. Once again these alternatives were a little more work, but they ended up saving me money in the end.
3. Replace as you go
Ideally, zero-waste living is a life-long change and not a fade, so easing yourself into it will help to create lasting change. You may be tempted to go out and buy reusable everything all at once. Not only will it come as a shock to the system, but it’s way more expensive than you think.
I recommend replacing as you run out. Next time you run out of paper towels go get yourself some cloth towels, or better yet, cut an old shirt into a clean-up rag. When your ziplock baggies are gone, buy some glass containers instead.
4. Ditch the plastic
*Cue pinterest mason jar montage*
Seriously, put everything in a mason jar. As aesthetically pleasing as they are, mason jars are also an incredibly functional way to eliminate single-use bags. Mason jars come in every size so no excuses about bulk items.
…and don't forget your bags!
Another trick that us Californias have been acclimating to since the passing of the “no-bag” law, is reusable grocery bags. Opt out of the plastic grocery bag and check out and impress your fellow shoppers with a custom tote bag you brought from home.
This also applies to bulk shopping and produce shopping. You can bring your own drawstring bags to hold your fruits, veggies, and any bulk items you buy.
5. Minimize food waste
This is my favorite because it generally means more eating and getting creative with your cooking. Reuse your food scraps to make jams, jellies, and sauces. You’ll find it really doesn’t matter what part of the plant you’re using if it’s emulsified.
Another way to minimize food waste is to meal plan. Properly portioning out your food will help reduce leftovers. But if you do have left overs, by all means throw it in a pan, crack an egg on it, and boom, you have a new meal.
If you’re really not into eating food scraps you can compost them. Composting requires lots of time and energy, as well as space, so it’s not for everyone.
Another tip for eliminating food waste is to only shop for the meal or the next two meals you plan to cook. Often times we buy in bulk and end up trashing a large portion of our produce and meats because we weren’t able to eat them before they expired.
Jessica is a writer & designer who captures the spirit of her generation. She approaches her craft with an anthropological mindset to find the perspective often unseen.
Jessica has studied the art of the written word & honed her craft over the last 8+ years.