Cultivating a meaningful, sustainable zero waste lifestyle is a long, ongoing process. That being said, there’s no better way to get a taste of this environmentally friendly lifestyle than by dipping your toes in today. (I wouldn’t recommend any diving into the deep end – that’s a great way to kill your enthusiasm for zero waste before you even begin!)

Going from easiest to a bit more difficult here are 8 ways to begin your zero waste lifestyle:

1. Stop buying/consuming water in plastic bottles.

A startling fact is being shared around the internet: a million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minuteAs a recent Guardian article stated: Fewer than half of the bottles bought in 2016 were collected for recycling and just 7% of those collected were turned into new bottles. Instead most plastic bottles produced end up in landfill or in the ocean.

And all that plastic in the ocean? Turns out seafood eaters are ingesting up to 11,000 pieces of plastic every year. Bon appétit. 

Considering the horrendous environmental impact – plus the sheer money wasting of purchasing bottled water if you live in a place with safe water – why are so many people still purchasing them? Instead, choose a simple refillable water bottle that will end up being cost-effective and environmentally-friendly if you use it long enough to make up for the cost of production. Chances are you already have one in your cabinets.

If you’ll be purchasing, I highly recommend glass or stainless steel.

2. Begin doing some research – check out zero waste books from your local library.

I personally found that reading about other people’s tips and tricks not only gave me insight into practical, actionable steps to take in my zero waste lifestyle, but it also gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling to know there were other people out there trying to do the same thing I was.

The obvious starting point here is Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson, the mother of the zero waste movement as we know it today. Detrash Your Life in 90 Days is also a great read, being super practical and well-researched by the environmental engineer author. I’d also recommend The Zero-Waste Lifestyle: Live Well by Throwing Away Less as a great starting point!

3. Put 2-3 cloth bags in your car or near your door so you don’t forget them on the next grocery trip.

Every year, roughly 102.1 billion plastic bags are used by Americans. Sadly, in many cities and towns these kind of thin plastic bags are not recyclable. So they sit in landfills, flutter sadly around the streets, and often end up in our water sources. Refusing plastic bags is a no-brainer but something people still struggle with – especially on a quick stop between obligations. Take a look around any store and you’ll see tons of mindless consumption.

To avoid this make sure you always have a cloth bag with you, hanging next to the door, or tossed in your car. I also keep some of these mesh bags in my purse at all times – they don’t take up any space but often come in handy! Never let the excuse of being unprepared make you fail in your new zero waste lifestyle!

4. Find a local or online zero waste community to join.

There’s a vibrant, amazing community of zero wasters around the world and there’s definitely someone near you at least interested in the idea! Reach out to those people on local Facebook groups (vegan/activist groups are a great place to start if there isn’t a dedicated zero waste group) and set up a coffee date. Talk to people in local, environmentally-focused organizations.

Zero waste Facebook groups I love:

  • Zero Waste Indy: are you in Indianapolis? Join us!
  • Journey to Zero Waste: a huge, friendly group of people living a zero waste lifestyle around the world! Keep an eye out for weekly shout outs to more regional groups!
  • Begin the Journey to Zero Waste: total newb and feeling afraid of jumping into a larger group? Try this group on for size, where no question is too basic. I’m an admin and everyone’s super friendly!

If you want to take it to the next level, check out my post on how to host a zero waste meetup in your city.

8 essential steps to start zero waste living - Green Indy Blog

5. When your toothbrush is finished, replace it with a bamboo toothbrush.

This is a relatively simple habit that can make a pretty big impact. In just the United States, between 850 million and over a billion toothbrushes end up in landfills every single year. The plus of bamboo is that it’s obviously biodegradable, but bamboo also grows quickly so is sustainable compared to other woods.

Be wary: almost all bamboo brushes do not have compostable bristles, so they’ll have to be removed and discarded before composting the handle. The compostable bristles are generally animal hair, so be wary if you’re vegan.

Common bamboo toothbrush brands to check out:

6. Don’t buy any more paper towels.

Paper towels are a huge source of waste that many people don’t even consider. But one statistic states that if every household in the U.S. used just one less 70-sheet roll of paper towels, that would save 544,000 trees each year. Imagine the reduction in pollution and deforestation if we all gave up paper towels for good! (Not to mention, how much happier your wallet would be.)

You’ve got to have a nasty old t-shirt that’s best not worn in polite company rattling around your wardrobe. Instead of tossing it, cut it up into small strips and use them instead of paper towels. Keeping a little stack underneath your sink will make you far less likely to reach for the paper alternative!

Alternatively, you could purchase a more sustainable Skoy eco-cleaning cloth.

7. Refuse single-use items when you go into the real world.

Single-use items: highly useful but incredibly wasteful items that are meant to be used once and then disposed of.

Do the environment – and your wallet – a favor and ditch common single-use items in your daily life. These might include straws, paper or plastic coffee cups, plastic cutlery, plastic containers, plastic bags, etc.

If simply refusing to use single-use items seems too difficult, you can also help mitigate your reliance on single-use items by creating a zero waste essentials kit to take with you on-the-go.

8. Do a trash audit and face your waste head-on.

To really reduce your waste, you’ve got to be cognizant of the waste you do create.

No, you don’t have to tear your trash can apart – unless you really want to. What I suggest is keeping a running list of what you toss in the trash for the day (or several days). You’ll probably be surprised at the sheer amount of times you head for the trash can! For an in-depth post about how to conduct a trash audit, head over to this post.

After you’re done, choose one thing you see creating a lot of waste and pledge to not create any trash that way for the whole week.

Do you feel inspired – and maybe a little less intimidated to get started – to start going zero waste today?


Green Indy is a blog about zero waste, minimalism, and generally being less of an a**hole to our Earth (Indianapolis, specifically) by me, Polly Barks. I’m a writer, teacher, and a natural-born researcher/experimenter.


IRIS · October 20, 2017 at 3:53 pm

I already do most of these things, but I need help advocating the need for a zero waste lifestyle.

    Polly · October 23, 2017 at 9:53 am

    Yes, this is a huge one! (Perhaps not beginner level, but definitely important!) Being a good role model is definitely the first step, maybe also consider starting a community where those interested can come to find out more information about zero waste?

Celia · October 23, 2017 at 11:52 am

Love the tip about finding resources at the library!

Ajay Verma · May 5, 2018 at 2:14 am

Nice post. Thanks for this article as I got new ideas that I can do which I was unaware of. Keep sharing such helpful posts and educate the readers on different ways to save the environment.

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