5 Tips to Jump-Start a Zero-Waste Lifestyle
Combat Climate Change Today
Hello there sunshine! Welcome back to Save Our Happy Place, your weekly pop of environmental and climate activism. This week we are diving into five tips to jump-start a zero-waste lifestyle with guest writer Chevanne Scordinsky, who has been a proponent of zero waste for a decade. She has incredible insight and wisdom to share from her zero-waste journey. I hope you find as much inspiration and empowerment from her writing as I have.
A Beginner's Guide to Zero Waste
By Guest Contributor: Chevanne Scordinsky of The Flare
I’m tempted to say that reducing your waste doesn’t matter and sometimes I feel that way. I look at how much fills my grocery store or shopping center and have felt powerless to stop the truckloads delivered each week or the ever-expanding Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The reality is that big companies are producing most of the generated annual waste. Industrial waste accounted for almost 300 million tons in 2018 and radiation contamination from manufacturing has produced hundreds of superfund sites or highly contaminated areas requiring long-term remediation, around the US. The average household consumer produces, far less, by comparison. Environmental pollution is not the fault of the individual consumer, so why bother tasking them with solving the issue?
There’s a problem with that premise, though.
The point of sustainable living is not to individually solve a worldwide problem, but to add our voice to a chorus calling for the advancement of more environmentally responsible ways of life. Together we can be force multipliers, who revolutionize how we live. Consumers have more power than they think to direct how companies serve us. They also create demand for the sustainable practices they’d like to see or produce instead, reducing dependence.
We are more likely (and more hopeful) about our impact as individuals if it involves supporting the mission of a collective. I’ll call it “communal thinking” for the purpose of this article. When I share what I learn with my community, there is a ripple effect and it changes the dynamic of that group. As we add more and more people, we can learn to solve problems beyond the scope of the individual and on large scales within society.
What got me off the fence about waste reduction was the idea that I did not have to be perfect. I had to try. I had to be a change agent slowly and consistently moving toward a more sustainable life. As someone who has been employing sustainable practices and sometimes having setbacks for ten years, here are five tips to get you started.
1. Examine your surroundings
Before you spend a dime trying to change your lifestyle, take a look at what you already have and your routines.
Where are you shopping? Do they have package-free or bulk options? Where do you see opportunities to reduce your waste?
You’ll find that there are alternatives for some staples you buy. You may also find opportunities to reduce waste by seeing what resources are already available to you. This step helps with tamping down the perceived enormity of the task. You can start today and build upon an initial, small success.
Use the observational period to simply watch and note what could have been a reusable item. Explore different options to suit your particular needs and consider if certain options are feasible. This is a new journey and not everything can feel appealing at first.
2. Compile resources
To proceed, you have to know what’s possible. Search for zero waste options in your area or where you might forge contacts with local retailers, farms, or online merchants. There might also be community-based initiatives or markets. It’s surprising how many resources may be in your area that you haven’t tapped before.
I found some of my first sustainable businesses and bulk stores through the Zero Waste Home bulk resource. There weren’t many besides the local Whole Foods at the time, but that has since changed. I also used to browse (the now-defunct) reusit.com for inspiration on replacing disposables.
The most recent sustainable business I quite literally stumbled up while headed to another store. It has been a revelation.
In the spirit of communal thinking, share your experiences and support the businesses you frequent to get the message out. I’ll admit that during this stage, I was a bit shy at first. No one I knew was making the same choices.
This process helps you see where you’re holding onto things you don’t need and might actually be paying extra to store. It is also where you might find reusables you already have.
Someone spilled water while at my daughter’s birthday party.
“We don’t have paper towels,” I said matter-of-factly. We hadn’t bought any in a year and didn’t even need to buy kitchen towels. We had a whole cache in the linen closet that was mainly decoration that got put to use. I had free tote bags and some cloth napkins I could use to start.
I also started letting go of clothing I had no intention of wearing and endeavored to donate or sell them off. I realized how much I had that was not being used and could be used by someone else. Whittling down your belongings is also not a move toward deprivation, but one to free you of the weight of stuff. Less stuff to manage means more time for other activities.
Decluttering does not happen once. It’s a process of evaluating your belongings at different stages of your life. I decluttered before my first child, when she outgrew clothes and belongings, and after my son was born. I’m due for more decluttering since I have two storage spaces where the items I once thought I needed to hold onto, are gathering dust. You may also declutter after injuries and hospitalization, size changes, and a number of life stages. The goal is to refuse to accept things into your home that clutter it, but understand that the process may need revisiting.
4. Commit and recommit
Venturing into the world means encountering new and frustrating scenarios which generate waste. Think of them as learning experiences and take note of what you can do to overcome waste in the future. We cannot hit the mark every single time. That’s not the goal. Moving slowly and consistently toward an overall reduced impact is.
Yes, you accepted a packaged lunch because you didn’t bring yours because the car is in the shop and your child was sick… yes. There is no way to account for all the ways life upends our plans. What we can do, however, is try our best and be prepared.
After drifting for a little while as I dealt with life issues, I have been able to recommit after discovering a local zero waste store and finding a composting company through another. I’ve been invigorated trying out all the options I didn’t have years ago and looking forward to replacing disposable food items with locally sourced, reusable ones. In addition, the presence of these stores means being emboldened to taking zero waste principle outside these spaces, since you are not alone. There are many who share your enthusiasm.
5. Zero waste is a journey
I went on my zero waste journey over ten years ago and wrote one of the few guest posts on Bea Johnson’s website, Zero Waste Home, which was a fantastic resource getting started. Principles she espoused and scenarios she encountered encouraged me to be braver in my refusal and make different choices.
It was difficult at first to imagine the ultimate goal: a year’s worth of trash to fit in a Fido jar. From where I was standing, it seemed impossible until I reframed my approach:
I was still fumbling through the process when I had a revelation. In math, there is what's called an asymptote. It's a curve that infinitely approaches zero, but never gets there. That was the secret. It's about getting as close as you can to zero and posing the question over and over: Is it possible to produce no waste? - “Approaching Zero”; Zero Waste Home Blog
This is ultimately the principle I live by when it comes to zero waste: I attempt to approach zero. I give myself grace and offer chances to use one less paper cup, take one less trip, say no to one single-use item.
The Limitations of Zero Waste
There are also limitations to the principles described. I cannot avoid the daily medication I take which I cannot diet or exercise out of. They are medical conditions. Similarly, some disabilities require single-use items to assist in everyday life. These practices which generate waste are not a failure on the individual, but present opportunities to recognize and adapt our thinking so it is inclusive.
Additionally, those with small children may not in fact be permitted to send glass to school, which leaves plastic, silicone, or metal options. All have the mission of raising children with sustainable thinking and our best to achieve this is an effort well spent. Every perspective added increases, not complexity, but drives simplicity and accommodation. We all win.
These five tips are meant as a launching pad for a more sustainable life. There are a multitude of options and tools to help you on your journey. The freeing thing about living a more sustainable life is in simplifying it. There is less to wash, store, and rearrange. There is more time for living.
For more from Chevanne please check out The FLARE:
Some Rays of Sunshine
Headlines We’re Happy to See
Low Waste Edition
California made processing food waste mandatory. - Read More
TAG announces the launch of a zero-waste grocery supply chain solution. - Read More
Zero-waste consortium makes the world’s largest recyclable wind turbine blade. - Read More
UCLA launches zero waste campaign to help increase sustainability efforts on campus - Read More