Every person who has a zero waste blog will probably have some sort of post on how to start living a zero waste life, and in essence they will be roughly the same but each just take a different path to get to the goal of reducing your waste. This article may say nothing new if you’ve read some of these before, but maybe some of the ideas I touch on may speak to different people at different times.
Work out why a zero waste life matters to you
This might sound silly but have a real think about why this process matters to you. A lot of people know plastic pollution is a problem but aren’t willing to make the effort to make any changes. You want to make changes so plastic pollution alone isn’t necessarily what is driving you. Is it because you have seen your countryside spoilt by litter and it upsets you? Are you angry about the effects of waste pollution on wildlife? Are you concerned about the state of the planet we are leaving for our children and grandchildren? Are you devastated about how waste and pollution has a greater negative impact on those living in poverty? Are you trying to save money for something important? Are you concerned about potential health implications of plastic? Working out what is really motivating you will help you keep going when things get hard.
Get your friends and family on board
Now this doesn’t need to mean convert everyone to zero waste before you even start. But it does mean letting the people you love know that you're going to try to reduce your waste and that things might end up changing a little. Firstly it lets them know nice and early so it doesn’t come as a big surprise later, but also it lets them support you. It doesn’t mean that they wont bring plastic to your house but its likely that they will want to help you out as they care about you, even if they think its all a bit weird. Its especially important to chat about these things with people you live with, be it a partner, spouse, parent, child or even a housemate. This is because trying to reduce your waste will change you priorities and you all need to be on the same page about what ground rules you all have to be happy with the process. I don’t want you to go spending all your money on trendy zero waste items (in general, but especially if you need to save money or pay off debts).
Change one thing
At this point lots of people suggest doing a “trash-audit” by going through your bin and looking at all the rubbish you make. I wouldn’t do that at this point. You have only just started and it’s a sure fire way to get overwhelmed and burnt out before you start.
Think about one thing you used today that was wasted – and change that. Maybe it was a plastic or Styrofoam cup at work, how about taking a mug in from home. Or what about plastic disposable cutlery, how about taking a set in from home. If you need ideas check out my post on ways to go zero waste without buying anything new, creating a zero waste bathroom and reducing food waste.
The good things about swaps like this is firstly that they don’t involve buying anything new, and secondly that if it was something you did today, its likely that you do the same thing quite often for it to stick in your head. Buying anything new this early on is counter-intuitive as you don’t yet know your needs and could be at risk of producing more waste by purchasing a product you wont use.
Change another thing
Once the first thing you changed has started to become a habit, think about something else you do in an average day and change that next.
As this process continues you might run into swaps where your gut instinct is to buy a new reusable item. I would still advise you not to do that whilst starting out. See what you already own that could substitute first whilst you learn what you need from a reusable. Using a mug at work might make you realise that you need a coffee cup with a lid, and maybe it would be good to be a little insulated after forgetting to drink it before it cools down for the third time today. Reusing different water bottles you have lying about can help you learn what volume you actually need to have on you, because are you really someone who needs a litre or are you able to carry a lighter 500ml version?
You’ve likely changed lots of the day to day items you use, but what about the ones you use semi-regularly? For example the plastic packaging your fruit and vegetables come in, which you throw away as soon as you get home from the shops.
Level up – (now you may audit your rubbish)
Look at what is left in your rubbish and what is the most common type of rubbish in there. Do some research about what might be an easy swap and start there. For example we had plastic milk bottles but we knew that this swap would be an expensive one so we held off for a while and tackled other areas first. If you're doing well on plastic, what are the items that come in glass or tins that you could potentially buy without any packaging? Recycling is good, but needing no packaging is better. I love this guide from Polly Barks on how to do a waste audit.
Give it time
You know what you're doing now. It might not feel like it, but you’ve got a zero waste life down. But now you just need to give yourself time to make remaining changes. This isn’t a change that happens overnight, it takes years so give yourself permission to take it slow. It's better to make a slower, more sustainable change that sticks than rushing into an option that’s not sustainable for you that you stop soon after. Also remember that a zero waste life is not about being perfect, just about conscious improvement.
Finally remember to celebrate how far you have come. Remember to celebrate both the big and the small victories in reducing your waste.
So there you have it, my way to start living a zero waste life. It’s all about working out your motivation, getting your people on board and being kind to yourself. Then the other steps will stick!