After hours of painful scrolling, I was ready to give up on my zero waste dreams. It was 2015 and I was spending the hours after working with children with intense behavioral issues searching for a way to make the newly discovered zero waste lifestyle work for me: an overworked, underpaid girl who walked 2.5 miles round-trip to get to fresh produce.

(Living in a food desert without a car is no joke, and totally informed how I believe zero waste should be 100% accessible.)

I was looking at the trash in my house and scattered around my community. I felt so frustrated and helpless. What could I – one broke, ultra-busy person – do?

I’m sure you’re familiar with the cycle:

  1. Get really excited about zero waste.
  2. Try to do everything at once.
  3. Get frustrated.
  4. Spend hours googling that weirdly specific problem you have.
  5. Get more frustrated.
  6. Repeat. (Or give up.)

All too often people get stuck on step five or six. There’s a big, huge barrier to zero waste success that they just can’t overcome. Sure, they make the simple swaps like bringing a reusable water bottle or cloth napkin, but even that gets old when you don’t feel like it’s doing enough.

1. Anticipate problems before the come up

The best way to overcome barriers in your zero waste journey is to identify them ahead of time and make a plan on how to deal with them. Whether it’s finding a way to get over them – or ignoring them altogether for the time being (after all, zero waste is never zero) – making a plan is key to not getting discouraged.

In fact, studies have shown that simply fantasizing about your goals is not effective. Sitting around envisioning the perfect zero waste refrigerator will not help you get there. What will help is focusing on a practical action plan and not just on the final result. (Yes, that’s backed by science.)

2. Decide why the barriers are there

Barriers can come in any number of forms, whether they be internal or external, physical or mental. I’ve tried to identify the most common barriers and organize them from least to most difficult to tackle; obviously YMMV as to what presents the larger issue.

When thinking through this, I’d suggest choosing three barriers – at the most – to deal with at one time. Any more than that and you risk becoming overwhelmed and under-motivated, right? Think about how many times you’ve failed at making a lifestyle change just because it was too much all at once.

Zero waste is no different.

So think about this. Is this barrier a lack of…

  • skill/knowledge? I think the most common barrier to zero waste is having no idea where to start. Whether it’s about zero waste lifestyle in general or a specific part of the process, lacking skills or knowledge is easily rectified. It’s why I created The Essential Zero Waste Blueprint to be the guide that breaks down the complex (zero waste) into smaller, more manageable zones!
  • access? Lack of access to bulk shopping or zero waste resources can seem overwhelming in the beginning. Unfortunately, that’s reality for a lot of folks. Instead of giving up immediately, make it a priority to get creative and seek out non-traditional alternatives.
  • support? Feeling like you’re alone in your zero waste endeavors is a tough thing. Maybe your partner or family doesn’t care or maybe your workmates are hostile to your changes. The Essential Zero Waste Blueprint helps here too! The private community is a place to ask questions freely as well as get twice-monthly access to interactive workshops.
  • financial ability? Not having enough money to buy bulk or items to facilitate zero waste choices is difficult. Earning more and spending less can seem almost impossible. Luckily, going zero waste on a budget is possible! This situation becomes a test of creativity, seeing how well you can make do with free or nearly-free alternatives.
  • desire? There are far too many prescriptions for what “should” be done to attain a zero waste lifestyle. Your barrier to achieving a goal might be because it simply doesn’t resonate with you. While you could plan a work-around, this is one area you might want to let these go and focus on other issues.

Whatever issues you choose, take advantage of easier problems first. Gain some momentum and then move on to larger, most systemic issues.

Personal example: lately I’ve come to a stopping point in how I can energize my local community. I feel like I’ve shown them all of my tricks – what do I do now? This is a lack of skills.

4 steps to overcome barriers and make zero waste habits stick - Green Indy Blog

3. Brainstorm solutions

Once I’ve identified my barriers, I like to note what type of barrier it is and then brainstorm ideas of how to get around it. It’s funny that even sitting and consciously thinking for a few minutes can bring up a stupidly simple answer.

It’s also critical to remember to limit the number of barriers you’re addressing at any given time. Trying to take on too many can be overwhelming and pull you in too many directions. Often, that means everything gets half solved but nothing is truly accomplished.

I frequently use the worksheet provided as a simple way to dump my thoughts and ensure I’m not trying to tackle too many projects at once.

Personal example: I made a list of all the people on Instagram I admire for teaching cool workshops and energizing their local communities. Now I’m going to creep through and see what they’re doing that can inspire me!

4. Create your zero waste goals

The final step of overcoming the barriers to zero waste success is to create a goal. Like any other kind of goal setting, it’s imperative your goals are actually achievable. To do that, make sure that your goals are:

  • realistic.
  • measurable.
  • time-sensitive.

Personal example: by the end of the year I’m going to come up with 3 event/workshop ideas that I’ve never done before and briefly outline how I’m going to execute them!

If you ensure your goals check off those three requirements, you should be good to go! Zero waste life, full-speed ahead!

If your barrier is knowledge, support, desire, or you’re just having trouble formulating your zero waste goals, The Blueprint may be the right option for you. (In fact, there’s even a scholarship option if the financial is an issue for you.) I’ve designed this course and community to be exactly what I needed in the first few fumbling, lonely years of my zero waste journey.

The Blueprint:

  • sends you 3-4 mini-lessons with Quick Fix or Time to Spare tips for every lesson to help you craft a super personalized zero waste plan;
  • gives you access into the super supportive, private Zero Waste Blueprint Community;
  • offers twice-monthly mini-action sessions where I’ll be teaching live workshops and answering questions.

And most importantly: the Blueprint helps you move away from the frustration and inadequate feelings you get from staring at a trash jar and move towards looking at zero waste as a lifestyle.

Habits over things.

A happy, educational process over stressed-out 100% success right away.


Polly

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

2 Comments

Little Plastic Footprint · October 30, 2018 at 1:00 pm

I find that really thinking about ‘why’ I am doing this helps keep me motivated. I think the other thing most people need to do it start slow. Make a few small changes and take satisfaction in that. There are loads of easy wins out there but to completely cut waste from being a typical family is incredibly difficult to do! Slow and steady wins the race!

    Polly · October 30, 2018 at 1:45 pm

    Yes! The why is what keeps you going after that initial excitement wears off for sure!

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