Four Tips for Starting a Zero Waste Lifestyle

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The zero in “zero waste” makes it sound scary and hard to achieve. It is actually not as as hard as it seems, and it is as simple as following these Five R’s, in order:

  • Refuse what you do not need.
  • Reduce what you do need.
  • Reuse by using reusables.
  • Recycle what you cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse.
  • Rot (compost) the rest.

Refuse

1. Fight junk mail. It’s not just a waste of resources, but also of time. Register to receive less at dmachoice.orgoptoutprescreen.com and catalogchoice.org.
2. Turn down freebies from conferences, fairs, and parties. Every time you take one, you create a demand to make more. Do you really need another “free” pen?

Reduce

3. Declutter your home, and donate to your local thrift shop. You’ll lighten your load and make precious resources available to those looking to buy secondhand.
4. Reduce your shopping trips and keep a shopping list. The less you bring home, the less waste you’ll have to deal with.

Reuse

5. Swap disposables for reusables (start using handkerchiefs, refillable bottles, shopping totes, cloth napkins, rags, etc.). You might find that you don’t miss your paper towels, but rather enjoy the savings.
6. Avoid grocery shopping waste: Bring reusable totes, cloth bags (for bulk aisles), and jars (for wet items like cheese and deli foods) to the store and farmers market.

Recycle

7. Know your city’s recycling policies and locations — but think of recycling as a last resort. Have you refused, reduced, or reused first? Question the need and life-cycle of your purchases. Shopping is voting.
8. Buy primarily in bulk or secondhand, but if you must buy new, choose glass, metal, or cardboard. Avoid plastic: Much of it gets shipped across the world for recycling and often ends up in the landfill (or worse yet, the ocean).

Rot

9. Find a compost system that works for your home and get to know what it will digest (dryer lint, hair, and nails are all compostable).
10. Turn your home kitchen trash can into one large compost receptacle. The bigger the compost receptacle, the more likely you’ll be to use it freely.