Zero Waste: Getting Started

 

Zero Waste BannerSo when I first began looking at the zero waste movement I felt overwhelmed. There is so much trash out there and anything I did felt like a drop in the ocean. And anyways, where do I even begin evaluating my own life and the trash I produce? It felt like an enormous undertaking to get started. But I had to start somewhere, so I decided to break things down into manageable chunks that I could tackle one at a time. I thought I would just share a little bit of how I went about getting started in case someone else out there is having trouble, is getting overwhelmed, or wants to use my approach. 

The first thing I did was make a list of areas in our house/life. Things like bathroom, bedroom, clothes, and kitchen. This is something that will be personal to each person/family/home. We happen to have a camping area in our lives and cars, but not everyone will have those (I wish we didn’t have to have cars!). 

Then I went through each section, one per day for a week, and wrote down all the things we do in those areas and products we use. This sounds more confusing than it is. Here’s an example:

Bathroom:

  • body wash
  • shaving cream
  • shampoo/conditioner
  • face wash & scrub
  • razors
  • underwear
  • socks
  • underwear
  • toilet paper
  • q-tips
  • cotton balls
  • toothpaste
  • toothbrushes
  • mouthwash
  • lotion
  • deoderant
  • floss
  • neosporin
  • sunscreen
  • supplements

Next, I revisited one of those lists, one per week until I got through all of them, and researched options for each product or activity. Looking back at the example above, I researched sustainable toothbrushes and floss and toilet paper. For shampoo/conditioner I researched water-only hair washing (I had other reasons to do this too). I also decided some products we used were not necessary. It’s really important to remember at this step that you may have limitations that prevent you from adopting pure zero waste products and strategies AND THAT IS OKAY. DO NOT feel bad about them. Zero waste is not actually possible yet and while it that can feel sad, it’s reality. The point of a zero waste lifestyle is to reduce your footprint not erase it. 

I think the important thing to remember here is that if you try to tackle too much at once, you’ll just feel overwhelmed. Yes, it takes some time to work through all these areas and steps and I understand the impulse to jump right in and start living with less waste as soon as you become aware of the issues. But by breaking it down and moving through it methodically you will do a better job implementing the principles of a zero/low waste lifestyle and you won’t burn out or stop because you’re so overwhelmed. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so take your time. 

Now that I had a game plan in place, more or less, I started implementing the new actions, like packing the dishwasher more efficiently, and switching over new products as I used up old ones. Don’t go throwing out useable product! Use up what you have and make the switch when it’s all gone. So we still haven’t gotten through our toothpaste tube. When it’s done I’ll switch to the product I’ve chosen. Ditto Ziploc bags (I rewash those too). 

To summarize: 

  1. Identify all the areas in your house/life that need to become zero waste. 
  2. Within those areas, list out all the products and activities in them.
  3. Research products and activities and determine what you can replace.
  4. As you use up product or do activities start implementing your new strategies and products. 

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