Start A Zero Waste Lifestyle

Have you thought about going zero waste, actively attempting to reduce your carbon footprint in the world? It involves more than just storing food in trendy mason jars, buying fresh produce at farmers' markets, and making products from scratch. It's a lifestyle dedicated to cultivating meaningful experiences and prioritizing environmental sustainability.

Perhaps you've considered it. But without knowing the basics and getting some guidance, abandoning your dependency on plastic and the usual ways of shopping, cleaning, and eating can be pretty intimidating.

Before your embark on your own zero waste journey, it's important to get an understanding of the lifestyle from people living it on a daily basis. We turned to some of the most popular zero waste bloggers and Instagram influencers for their advice.

What is zero waste?

Chances are you've heard the words before, but you might not know the whole deal. A zero waste lifestyle isn't simply about eating clean and purging your plastic belongings — it involves adopting a more thoughtful, minimalistic approach to living.

"Zero waste aims at eliminating as much trash from the household as possible," Bea Johnson, blogger and author of the bestselling book, Zero Waste Home, said. "What it ultimately does is translate into a simple, richer life based on experience instead of things."

How to get started

1. Keep "The 5Rs" in mind

Over the years, Johnson has compiled a list of 100 tips to help people reduce their household waste. But "The 5Rs," as she calls them, are the five rules she thinks anyone looking to start a zero waste lifestyle should start with. "Refuse what you do not need. Reduce what you do need. Reuse what you consume. Recycle what you cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse. And rot (compost) the rest," she explained.

Johnson started her zero waste journey in 2006 after a move from the suburbs to the city forced her family to put the majority of their possessions in storage and live with only the necessities. "When we did find the right house, we got everything out of storage and found that 80 percent of the belongings we put in there we hadn’t even missed,” she said.

2. Learn to say no to the little things

Whether it's a business card at a meeting, a straw at a restaurant, a plastic bag at the store, or a disposable pen from a conference, Johnson said recognizing and denying waste — no matter how small — is crucial. "Next time someone hands you something, think. Do you really need it?" she said.

3. Start eating real food

When it comes to the kitchen, Anne Marie Bonneau — who runs a zero waste cooking blog called The Zero-Waste Chef — advises people to cut back on processed foods and reach for the natural stuff. "Start to eat real foods like fruits, vegetables, and anything that doesn't come in packaging," she said.

Bonneau, who adopted a zero waste lifestyle in 2011 after learning about the heartbreaking amount of plastic that winds up polluting oceans and killing animals, said she eats a lot healthier since cutting out packaged goods. While she still indulges in occasional cookies and crackers, making them herself means she eats them far less frequently.

4. Try using less of everything

"I use very little dish soap, laundry detergent, body soap, and toothpaste," Jonathan Levy, a zero waste project manager in Los Angeles, California, explained. 

Levy, who used to work in supply chain management at a retailer warehouse, sought out a zero waste lifestyle after seeing massive amounts of waste produced in the warehouse daily. "Most consumer products are designed to dispense or encourage you to use way more than you actually need," he said.

5. Join zero waste communities for support

To stay motivated and open to learning helpful tips from others, seek out zero waste communities for support — whether online or in person. 

"I follow a lot of zero waste accounts on Instagram and am a part several groups on Facebook," Monica Rosquillas, who runs the sustainable living blog, Girl For A Clean World, said. "They provide a daily source of inspiration."

Essential products to welcome into your life

Though many items you already own can be reused for zero waste purposes, you can also cut out  disposable products by investing in long-lasting replacements. Here are some essentials.

1. Reusable water bottle

Plastic bottles should be among the first things to go in a zero waste lifestyle. In 2017, The Guardian reported that one million plastic bottles are purchased around the world every minute. If consumers don't cut down, that insanely high number could increase another 20 percent by 2021.

Invest in a reusable bottle like the Klean Kanteen, which Johnson recommends because it has a wide opening for easy filling and is insulated, which makes it perfect for holding hot and cold beverages.

2. BYOJ (Bring Your Own Jars)

When storing food, drinks, or a variety of other supplies, try eliminating plastic Tupperware and Ziplock bags and replacing them with glass jars. Bonneau gets a lot of hers for discounted prices at thrift shops, and Rosquillas reuses a lot of containers in her pantry and refrigerator, such as sauce and mayonnaise jars.

3. Cloth bags and totes

Cloth bags are essential for storing, transporting, and buying food in bulk. "I couldn't live without them," Weldon said. You can sew your own using old shirts or sheets. Johnson said one of her favorite cloth bag-making hacks is to sew the bags the same size as containers in your pantry so when you go shopping and fill them, you know you’ve bought the perfect amount.

4. Reusable straws and utensils

Eliminating single-use plastic straws is a must, says Kellogg. "If you like straws and drink a lot of smoothies, they make all sorts of reusable straws from bamboo, stainless steel, glass, and silicone," she said. Same goes for utensils.

5. Handkerchiefs

Follow the lead of older generations and keep a few handkerchiefs handy. These useful pieces of cloth are easy to make, and they're great for wiping your nose or mouth, eliminating the waste of tissues and napkins.

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