Starting your zero-waste journey – a yearlong guide, one month at a time.
Jumping into a zero-waste or plastic free lifestyle seem daunting? Not sure where to start?
That’s how I felt for years. It seemed like if I didn’t change everything all at once then I wasn’t doing enough. This is just NOT TRUE! One simple change can make a huge impact, not just on your life, but on the environment and the people around you!
So why not take the first step. Choose one item from the list below that seems manageable. Now do that one thing for a month. Next month pick a second item from the list and incorporate that into your life as well! If you keep adding in small steps one at a time they become manageable and you are more likely to keep them in your life for good!
- Look at what you are throwing away.
The biggest change for me came when I analyzed what I was throwing away and realized all the simple adjustments I could make to reduce the amount of waste I was creating. Pay attention to everything you throw away this month. Knowing what you currently are using is the best way to know what changes you can make in the future.
- Bring re-usable utensils.
Whether I’m going to work or just going to see friends I always bring a metal fork, knife and spoon with me. I wrap mine in a cloth napkin so they are easy to find, they stay clean, and when I’m done I fold them back in the cloth to take home and wash.
- Bring your own container.
I carry a stainless steal container and a glass jar. Carrying a reusable container comes in handy for bringing leftovers home from a restaurant, picking up a quick snack on the go, and even getting your morning coffee.
- Buy the ingredients to make your own toothpaste.
I use baking soda, coconut oil, and spearmint essential oil. Next time you run out of toothpaste you’ll have the ingredients on hand to make your own so you won’t be caught off guard!
- Buy a reusable water bottle/coffee cup.
Preferably not plastic, because as plastic ages it begins to break down and it enters your water. This isn’t what you want! If you buy a metal one with a plastic lid, be warned that the plastic lid will wear down fast and you will be required to buy a new one long before the metal bottle needs replaced. I use a mason jar.
- Switch out paper towels and napkins for cloth.
This ones simple, stop using paper products to clean up messes and instead invest in some cloth towels and napkins. Once one is dirty just throw it in with the dirty laundry.
- Decline straws
But don’t feel bad if you are given one anyway! This happens all the time, the important thing is to try and decline a straw whenever you can. If you feel like you are missing out on the full drink experience without a straw there are great glass, metal, or compostable alternatives on the market. Plastic straws are single use objects that aren’t recycled, which is very bad news for the environment.
- Bring your own bags when getting groceries.
Second hand shops often have great bag selections for you to pick out some new grocery bags!
- Buy an unpackaged, or lightly packaged bar of soap.
Unpackaged soap can be hard to find, but even in small grocery stores there is usually a bar packaged in recyclable paper instead of plastic. Buy one at the beginning of the month, and once you run out of body/face wash use your bar soap instead! Bars of soap can also be used to wash your dishes.
- Start composting.
Composting is a great way to cut down on the amount of food waste you send to the landfill. Find out if your city offers composting, and if not look into doing it yourself. There are tons of options depending on your living situation. I currently live in an apartment and I use a compost bin with worms to break down all my food scraps.
- Stop buying unnecessary products.
This applies to everything from clothing to sponges. Instead of mindlessly buying items that are cute or cheap, opt for more sustainable and reusable purchases. Remember that every dollar you spend is a vote for the practices and products you want to keep in business. Really begin to be conscious of every purchase you make.
- Start recycling.
For many people this may seem like a no brainer, or your city may have laws in place that require recycling and even provide a bin. In many smaller areas this is simply not the case. So if you don’t recycle yet, look up your local recycling plant and start recycling one thing at a time. Most places accept aluminum cans, paper, cardboard, and some plastics. Even if you have to hoard it in your trunk (like me) for weeks until you can get to the recycling facility, it’s worth it!
Does choosing even one item to do for a whole month still seem like too much? You aren’t alone!
Remember, change is hard for everyone, even if you are the one initiating the changes! Instead of incorporating one item for the whole month, why not try and choose one item to incorporate once a week? This is still a major step in the right direction, and who knows, once you start it might be easy to keep going for the month!
This list isn’t in any specific order. Choose what seems easiest for you to change first, then move on to the items that may require more prep work or that might be more awkward to explain to friends and family. It can be uncomfortable to tell people why you are carrying around mason jars, but every try makes it easier.