Are you one of the Americans helping to create more than 700,000 tons of garbage every day? (FYI, that’s enough to fill about 60,000 trash trucks. DAILY.)
You don’t have to be. Really, I should know. I was one of those people not too long ago, but after tons of internet sleuthing, reading, and thinking, I went zero waste and never looked back.
And while I could talk for days about everything I know (or want to know) about zero waste, there are five essential concepts for zero waste success that I’ve discovered. I’ve used them to turn myself into a not-statistic and only take out my trash rarely. (My not-so-zero-waste husband and I have taken trash to the curb once in four months and that included a major renovation!)
Explore and embrace these five ideas and the rest will follow.
1: find motivation and identify barriers to success
While many people dive into as many zero waste swaps as they can ASAP, I think that’s the perfect recipe for failure. A little bit of planning and thinking at the start can go a long way.
First, you need to look inwards and see why you’re motivated to go zero waste – what will keep pushing you after the initial excitement of getting started goes away. Finding your motivation and incentivizing yourself in small ways can keep you on track.
Once you’ve started your journey, it’s also important to identify two or three barriers. Recognizing them ahead of time helps you succeed when you run up against them. ID the barrier and create a small measurable goal to overcome it.
ex. Barrier: my partner doesn’t want to make any changes. Goal: I will encourage them to make one zero waste swap per month. This month it is choosing ___ over ___.
2: get into your zero waste shopping groove
It’s easy to see the biggest trash-maker for almost every household is the kitchen. And once you find your passion for zero waste, it’s time to put in place real practices. Conquer the grocery store trash and see the amount you throw away reduce drastically!
- Say no to plastic bags and bring your own – produce bags too
- Find and shop unpackaged food as much as possible (here’s how to do it when you don’t have access to bulk)
- If you can’t find unpackaged items, go for glass or metal containers.
- Make a list of delicious meals that only use unpackaged foods.
Still, though, don’t forget to set out a non-negotiables list. Everyone starting out should have one or two items they can’t find zero waste and can’t give up. Accept the trash and focus your efforts on other, more achievable goals. For now. Deprivation ain’t sexy and it ain’t the way to succeed.
And speaking of waste in the kitchen, you 100% need to think about…
3: compost your organic waste
I put this as a whole section because it’s so important and so often overlooked. Composting is key because:
- it diverts organic matter from the landfill, where it may not decompose due to lack of oxygen
- it allows you get hands-on with your other trash without the ick factor
- it gives you food for your plants without buying plastic-wrapped fertilizer!
The most important part of composting is finding the option that’s right for you and your space. Whether you have a large backyard or live in an apartment, there’s a composting option that’s right for you. Plus, once it’s ready, you can use it on your garden (or hand it off to the gardener in your life).
4: nudge your friends and family toward eco-friendliness
One of the biggest issues for people going zero waste is that their loved ones are not interested in going zero waste. I get it – it’s tough. I live with a partner who is only willing to make switches if it costs him zero effort. So…
Unfortunately, we can’t force our loved ones to conform to our lofty goals. Fortunately, there are ways to help them transition without the use of force! (Or just a little bit of force.)
Just like you did with yourself, find what motivates your loved ones and use that to your advantage. Craft bargaining tools that appeal to their eco-consciousness/thriftiness/hipsterness and get your friends or family closer to zero waste. Here’s a full post on how to go zero waste with a partner that doesn’t care.
5: find (or create) your zero waste community
Going zero waste by yourself is hard – so don’t do it! Find your tribe, either IRL or online, and get real-time support to achieve your zero waste goals. No one wants to struggle alone, and you shouldn’t have to!
Start by joining zero waste Facebook groups – either general ones or ones specific to your location. Next, consider starting your own group if one doesn’t already exist. Even if you don’t like being the leader, sometimes you have to get the ball rolling yourself!
If you’re feeling super motivated, host a meetup or high-value zero waste workshop. You’d be surprised at how many eco-friendly folks are lurking in your community – you just need the right incentive to get them out.
Feel inspired but not quite sure where to start? Sign up for my free Intro to Zero Waste below. The guide provides more information, ideas, and challenges to start your zero waste journey!