I remember being a zero waste beginner.

Zero waste can definitely feel like an overwhelming concept to grapple with. I remember starting out and thinking how is it possible to really do all this? After a year and change of giving zero waste a serious chance, I’m happy to report everything does get easier – really! At some point, bulk shopping, tossing food waste into the compost, and refusing single-use products becomes second nature.

Still, getting started is probably the biggest obstacle to overcome. This was especially frustrating for me when talking to my friends and family about zero waste – I figured that if I could do it, so could they! Instead, they seemed to focus on all the difficulties and none of the rewards.

After a while, I started to figure out I was really the problem. I presented this broad, overarching problem with society and gave them a radical new way of life to deal with it. When I thought about it, I was overwhelming my friends in the exact same way I had felt when I first heard about zero waste. So I stopped yapping and started thinking smarter.

To this end, I’ve created a list of 20 simple, actionable steps to getting anyone started with zero waste. Either give them a try yourself if you’re feeling overwhelmed like I was or pass this post on to someone you know who is curious about zero waste but hesitant to get started.

Remember: a year’s worth of trash stuffed in a Mason jar is fake – don’t believe anyone who says they can do it. Stuffing your bits of plastic into a jar ignores the other waste behind-the-scenes, the resources used, transportation costs, etc. Zero waste isn’t zero.

But we can start drastically reducing our trash right away.

20 actionable steps for a zero waste beginner
  1. Commit to keeping a reusable mug in your bag (or desk at work) to avoid single-use cups for hot and cold drinks.
  2. Try a grocery shop where you buy all produce trash-free (this means no plastic packaging, twist ties, rubber bands, stickers, etc.).
  3. Start an indoor, year-round herb garden in your kitchen and kick unnecessary plastic packaging around store-bought herbs!
  4. Ditch harsh chemical cleaners and make your own simple, eco-friendly cleaners with vinegar and citrus!
  5. Check out an eco-friendly book from your library like Zero Waste Home, by the mother of the zero waste movement as we know it today, or Detrash Your Life in 90 Days.
  6. Trade your plastic toothbrush for a bamboo toothbrush.
  7. Refuse plastic straws, paper napkins, and anything else disposable while eating out.
  8. Use cloth instead of paper towels (or at least for kitchen messes and napkins if you can’t make the jump to 100% paper towel free).
  9. DIY your deodorant – it’s easy, cheap, and much lower impact than commercial options.
  10. Walk or bike rather than drive for at least one of your weekly tasks.
  11. Place a container in the shower to save water for your plants or garden.
  12. If you menstruate, try period panties or menstrual cups instead of wasteful, chemical-laden tampons and pads.
  13. Say no to junk mail by putting your name on a ‘do not send’ list.
  14. Bring your lunch to work instead of buying it – you’ll save disposables and money!
  15. Create a zero waste kit that you keep with you (or in your car) when you know you’re going out.
  16. Connect with a local zero waste group to find inspiration and zero waste companions.
  17. Switch your light bulbs to LEDs the next time they burn out.
  18. Purchase your next needed item second hand, either from a thrift store or online somewhere like eBay.
  19. Stop using plastic bags to pack up your loose produce – try these reusable mesh bags instead.
  20. Save your vegetable scraps in the freezer to make a rich vegetable broth later.

Your turn! Leave one awesome, easily achievable thing you’ve done to go zero waste in the comments below!

20 actionable steps for a zero waste beginner


An online resource here to help you break down the complex issue of zero waste into simple, actionable steps.


Wendy · October 6, 2017 at 8:49 am

Shop at a bulk food store. No waste.

    Polly · October 6, 2017 at 9:35 am

    A big step, but an important one if you have bulk access!

Christine · November 1, 2017 at 8:17 am

Took me over 6 months to finish up my shower gel, now I use soap bars. Working my way to use up shampoo too. No more plastic bottles!

    Polly · November 5, 2017 at 11:42 am

    So exciting! That’s amazing – best of luck finding something that works for you!

Stephanie Johnson · April 30, 2018 at 11:21 am

First thing I did was to give up store-bought toothpaste. I make my own now with coconut oil, baking soda, xylitol, and peppermint essential oil. It’s simple and just right for me. I use a one-cup Pyrex bowl to store it and I’ve made it easier to use than a tube. Convenience is very important to me because I probably won’t stick to it if it’s not. The great thing about starting with one thing, for me, was that it inspired me to try reducing waste in other ways. I’m taking small steps so that I don’t get overwhelmed and end up giving up.
Thank you for the tips, I will be trying more and more ways to get waste out of my life.

    Polly · May 2, 2018 at 5:18 pm

    I do a similar toothpaste which I love – and I agree re: convenience, particularly with DIYs. I will NOT stick with something that’s a total chore. Best of luck!

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