The Beginner’s Guide to Zero Waste
Let me start by saying that you’re halfway there. How do I know? Because you’ve already shown awareness and enthusiasm. You know the world needs to shift towards alternative ways of consumption, and you were driven enough to research about it and end up here. Now, it’s The Ethical Resistance’s mission to make the other half of that journey as easy as possible for you.
The Zero Waste Lifestyle
It might seem overwhelming to adopt a Zero Waste lifestyle, especially when the name itself begins with a harsh ‘zero’. In literal terms, the aim of Zero Waste is to create no waste, but, let’s face it, it’s a pretty unrealistic aim. A more appropriate name would have been ‘As Little Waste As Possible’, but it’s just not as catchy, is it?
Producing zero waste is pretty much impossible; the very act of breathing produces waste. We release carbon dioxide with each release of breath. The same applies to every act of production and consumption; they all release something and, therefore, come with an environmental impact — some more consequential than others.
All of those add up and contribute to the monumental issue of global warming. The good news is positive actions also have a cumulative effect, and if we were all to adopt little habits to lessen our environmental footprint, the difference would be huge.
How huge, you ask?
Well, think of it this way, if you were to reach for a reusable cup of coffee for your morning beverage every day, you’d be saving 365 coffee cups from going to the landfill.
If a million of us were to do the same thing, 360,000,000 cups of plastic saved from the landfill.
Is Zero Waste just a Trend?
Here’s one question that might be niggling at you: Is it really that bad? Is the world coming to an end or is the Zero Waste movement another trendy way of spending time on Instagram?
Well, according to the Ocean Conservancy, plastic has been found in more than 60% of all seabirds and 100% of sea turtle species.
At the rate at which plastic is filling our oceans, it’s predicted that, by 2050, the mass of plastic in the world’s oceans will exceed the mass of all fish living in the ocean. (I know! It’s mind-boggling!)
No, this is not a trivial issue, and we all need to contribute in whatever way we can. Sure, governments and brands should adopt systemic change, but, by individually doing our share, we can start helping the planet. Showing brands and governments that we care about earth will impel them to change.
The 5 Simple Rules towards Becoming a Zero Waster
To become a Zero Waster, you have to first understand the principles that drive it. Those principles can usually be summed up by the 5Rs.
If you’re a seasoned Zero Waster, you’re probably fed up of hearing about the 5Rs.
However, the 5Rs form the cornerstone of the Zero Waste lifestyle. Since this is a beginner’s guide to Zero Waste, it’s fundamental we start with them.
The first rule of Zero Waste is that you do not talk about Zero… Oh wait, that’s Fight Club.
The first rule of Zero Waste is “Refuse”.
Refuse is simply to say ‘no’ and is, in my opinion, the hardest R to heed.
Saying ‘no’ without coming across as…a hard ass can be tricky.
However, there are ways to be smooth about this. Instead of just saying “no, thanks,” try to elaborate/provide a reason for your rebuttal.
Saying No to Strangers
Shopkeeper: Would you like a bag?
Zero Waster: No thanks, I already have one (whips out reusable bag).
Flyer distributor: We have 25% off going on at the moment. Here’s a flyer!
Zero Waster: Do you mind if I just write the code on my phone? Thanks. (You might come across as a bit strange with this one, but at least no one will think you’re rude)
Conference/event person: Would you like a bottle of water?
Zero Waster: Oh, no thanks, I’ve already got one in my bag.
(If you don’t have a bag, then you should! What if you’re thirsty? Where will you put your reusable coffee mug or your water bottle?
There is this stereotype that women tend to be more prepared when going out (I like to call them “The Tote Women”), but we should all carry our essentials with us. It’s those little things that will eliminate single-use plastics.
Saying No to Relatives and Friends
What about birthday and Christmas presents? With close relatives and friends, it’s always a good idea to introduce a tradition of asking each other what presents they’d like to receive.
It might lack the charm of surprise and excitement when giving and receiving presents, but it also removes the possibility of you getting something you’ll be disappointed with, and that might end up not being used.
However, not everyone is comfortable with telling others what they’d like for Christmas and their birthday, especially if nobody asked. Cringe.
The easiest thing is to tell people what you’ve been up to when catching up with them.
I get it, it’s kind of scary to tell people that you’re trying to be a Zero Waster without sounding like a ‘goody two shoes’ or like you’re preaching.
I used to have this problem… a lot.
So what I’ve started doing is I’ll casually insert in conversations a little something like this: “So there is a challenge online that lots of people are doing and I really want to do it too. You basically don’t buy or receive anything new for a whole year.”
It’s not a very accurate description of what Zero Waste is at all, but if you know that a true-to-picture description would not be well-received, I’d give this diluted explanation.
It gets the point that you don’t want any gifts across without sounding preachy/ungrateful.
If you feel like a Zero Waste lifestyle would be well-received and won’t impeach on your relationship with people, go ahead and tell them about it. Share this article with them. Ask them to join you in the movement and help each other by providing the support of companionship! Sometimes just having a friend/relative join you can help enormously.
Saying No to Yourself
So we’ve addressed saying no to people, but what about saying no to yourself? Saying no to your impulses is an essential part of the ‘refuse’ rule and is often the most challenging part of Zero Waste.
If you’re often enticed into buying treats which come with a lot of packaging, consider baking treats in batches and keeping them in a cupboard.
I realise that having a home pre-stocked with treats can’t be great if you have an irresistible sweet tooth.
If that is the case, making freezable treats that you’d have to defrost in order to eat might be a better option. It adds a barrier to any impulsive cravings you might have as it gives you time to think whether you really want to eat it.
If this still doesn’t work, a solution would be to see treats as a “special occasions” only affair. That’s what I do. I only eat desserts when I’m dining out or sitting in a coffee shop. You’ll be saying goodbye to a lot of unnecessary packaging and reducing your sugar intake!
Let’s address the one thing Brits and Americans love to do the most. Shopping. How do you say no to shopping?
If you’ve got a bit of a shopaholic streak in you, the best thing to do is to avoid fast fashion stores as much as possible.
Fast fashion clothes often come with very cheap price tags making impulsive shopping hard to resist.
They are often cheap at the detriment of quality meaning that you’ll have to chuck it sooner and a get a new one.
And these are the two acts we are trying to avoid: ‘throwing away’ and ‘buying new’ because, sooner or later, those two actions entail waste.
If you do need something, try to buy second-hand or buy a quality piece that will last you for a very long time. Make sure you go for timeless, classic styles instead of trendy pieces, so you can truly make the most out of your fashion purchases.
Questions to ask yourself before purchasing an item:
1. Do I need it?
2. How often will I need it?
3. Is there an alternative to buying new? Borrowing, renting, buying second-hand
4. If buying new, is there a more eco-friendly version? biodegradable materials or environmentally friendly materials
Reducing simply means reducing the amount of consumption. By doing the first R (refusing), you’ll already be doing the second R (reducing consumption).
Funny enough, reducing can also mean buying more. How’s that, you ask? Buying in bulk is a great way of reducing the amount of packaging that certain items usually come with. Costco and Amazon are generally great for this.
Reducing also means giving away things that you don’t need anymore. Just like you have a purpose in life, so do objects. Since you’re reading this, I’ll take the liberty of assuming that one of your life’s purpose is to make the planet a better place. Objects have a purpose too. If something is sitting in your house with its purpose unaccomplished, give it away to someone who’ll find joy in putting this item to use.
Always opt for reusable things. When it comes to personal hygiene, bathroom essentials and kitchen essentials, too many things are unnecessarily disposable or non-biodegradable.
For the bathroom, go for more biodegradable and reusable items. We have a full guide on green skincare, green makeup and green periods. We also have a list of eco-friendly bathroom and kitchen essentials down below.
Please keep in mind that some of those links could be affiliate links. It means that we earn a small commission from the seller for recommending the product to you at no extra cost to you. It helps support our magazine, so if you do click on them, thank you 🙂
If you already have the non-eco-friendly version of those items, don’t worry about it. Just make the most of out of them and when they need replacing, opt for the environmentally-friendly alternative.
You can also practise the concept of ‘reuse’ by shopping second-hand. Second-hand clothing is pretty much the next best eco thing after being naked.
Don’t stop at clothes. Furniture and electronics are also readily available second-hand. If you live in the UK, the BHF (British Heart Foundation) is great for that, and you’ll be surprised by the gems you can find at thrift stores and charity shops!
‘Rot’ is not the beautiful of words nor the prettiest of phenomenons; but, you know what, it has incredible implications.
Rotting your kitchen waste to create your own compost means less rubbish going to the landfill and some great nutrients for your plants and home-grown fruit and veg.
If you don’t have any use for compost at the moment, I strongly recommend you grow some plants or veg.
Having plants in your home creates a sense of well-being that this article explains really well, and growing your own veg is not only super satisfying, but also helps you know exactly what went into your food. Say no to nasties like pesticides and chemicals as much as you can. You will be doing a favour to your body and our planet!
You also get to pluck veg right out of your garden when you need it. I am so ashamed to say it, but there’s been plenty of times when I’ve bought salad only to have it go off in my fridge. All because I didn’t use them within a few days 🙁
You can rot your kitchen waste by either putting it in a compost bin or by directly burying it in the ground. If you’re burying it straight into the ground, add some wet tissue to it.
There’s a great video on Daisy Creek Farms channel’s on how to bury your kitchen scraps straight into your garden to create compost. No compost bin needed.
If you choose to go for a compost bin, I have this one at home. It’s cute and has an odour filter.
I’ve had it for 9 months now, and it’s been brilliant. The small size means I can create compost quickly. It’s lost most of its colour and is now white, but considering that it’s out in the rain, snow and other harsh weather conditions all the time, I’ll still give it a 5 stars.
As much as we try, it is inevitable to end up with some rubbish; unless you’re as dedicated as the founder of Trash is for Tossers, Laura Singer.
Don’t forget to recycle whatever rubbish you have. Think strategically when you go to the shops. Since paper and glass are the easiest things to recycle, opt for those instead of plastic packaging.
We might feel reassured into using plastic because of the fact that it’s recyclable, but plastic is actually quite hard to recycle. Always check the label to see if the packaging is recyclable before buying an item.
Tips to Remain a Zero Waster
Being a Zero Waster is hard work. It requires you to be a conscious shopper; something that the capitalist world has not encouraged. But sticking to your ethical guns will bring you a lot of personal satisfaction in life.
Here are some tips to help you stick to a Zero Waste lifestyle once you’ve started:
- Know the why and remind yourself of it constantly.
Why are you doing this?
Is it because you have a deep respect for mother nature and you can’t bear to see her in the state that she is right now?
Or do you perhaps want your children and the upcoming generations to have a green, clean life too?
Are you an animal activist who realises that global warming has disastrous consequences on wildlife?
Whatever the reason that galvanised you into starting a Zero Waste lifestyle, keep reminding yourself of it. Write it in big and bold somewhere that you’ll see every single day.
But please don’t blame me for foolhardy tattoos! That’s on you, I’m afraid.
- Start small
Instead of trying to overhaul your lifestyle in one night, take one step. You’ll feel so good about it, you’ll want to take another one, and before you know it, you’ll be giving away your tips to becoming a Zero Waster!
Think of a baby’s first steps. It’s more of a stumble across the room, but before you know it, they’re running so fast, you don’t know how to keep up.
Starting small means something as simple as putting a ‘no junk mail’ sign on your letterbox or taking a reusable cup to the coffee shop next time you want a chai latte (yum!) or bringing your own container next time you get takeaway. You’ll get funny looks for sure, but hey, you’re a trailblazer, you’re forging the path for the others!
- Join a community
You can’t disregard the importance of community in whatever you undertake.
A strong sense of community will give you the moral support and advice you need. Sharing your experience with others and having others share it with you has strong psychological benefits.
You can either look up for a nearby Zero Waste meetup group or a workshop in your area or simply join a free online community, like this one!
The Ethical Resistance sends a weekly newsletter with tips, advice, words of encouragement and inspiring stories to help empower you and fuel your determination. You can also join our forum to discuss any zero waste, green beauty and sustainable fashion questions you might have.
Here you go, you’re ready to take part in the movement.
Now it’s up to you to go and kick waste’s butt, and the easiest way to do that is to start small. Rome was not built in a day.
And once you’ve done it, come back here and tell us in the comments what you did and how good it made you feel.
You’ll get a star from us! ⭐