A Beginner’s Guide to Zero Waste Living (Ps, It Doesn’t Happen Overnight)

I’m not living a zero waste life – yet.

Because guess what? It doesn’t happen overnight. And if you try and make that significant of a life change happen immediately, chances are, it won’t stick.

That’s a major misconception about the zero waste lifestyle. We read stories about zero waste rock stars who haven’t produced trash in years (*cough* TIFT founder Lauren *cough*), but that’s just their highlight reel. Everyone who is zero waste had to start somewhere, and I bet they’ll tell you the same thing – it’s a process.

So if you’re any bit interested in living a zero or less waste lifestyle, here are some key things to keep in mind:

 

ESTABLISH YOUR “WHY”

Most everyone who decides to explore the zero waste lifestyle has a “why” behind what they’re doing. Get specific with your “why” so you can return to it on a daily basis as your inner motive.

Are you a surfer who hates seeing plastic wash up on the beach?

Have you experienced a health scare or issue after using a beauty product containing toxins?

Are you tired of spending $6 on a latte every single day?

Are you fed up with our political leaders not giving a damn about climate change?

Write it on your mirror, tattoo it on your bicep – always come back to you WHY.

 

ASSESS YOUR WASTE

Dig through your trash!

Just kidding….kind of.

The easiest place to start is assessing where you’re making a lot of waste and focusing on those areas first. Even if you can’t solve every aspect of that area right away, you can start to prioritize the steps you want to take. Which leads me to my next point…

 

PRIORITIZE

Maybe you realize you’re throwing away a lot of trash by getting to-go coffee and takeout on weekdays. Prioritize making coffee at home and taking it in a reusable mug, and meal prepping and packing your lunch.

Maybe you’re a product junkie and realize you’re throwing away tons of shampoo, lotion and soap bottles. Look into shampoo bars, bulk beauty items and sustainably made products.

Looking at the big picture of all the waste in your life can feel overwhelming, but once you break it down and focus on one area at a time, it becomes so much more doable.

Here are some of my favorite zero waste items broken down by “areas of waste” to show you easy ways to start:

EATING AND DRINKING OUT

PERSONAL HYGIENE

GROCERY SHOPPING AND FOOD WASTE

 

REPLACE ITEMS AS THEY RUN OUT

Where all my budget-conscience friends at?

Repeat after me: I do not need to buy every zero waste alternative at once. Phew, that felt good didn’t it?

If you have the cash, and the desire to do a full overhaul of your life at once, by all means, go for it! 

But what I’d recommend is purchasing zero waste alternatives once your non-zero waste items run out. Because buying something then throwing it out unused is pretty wasteful too, right?

For example: if you just spent an arm and leg on razor refills, use them up. No sense throwing away an unused item. But once they’re out, switch to the zero waste alternative like this safety razor.

And chances are the price of the zero waste item will be on par, if not cheaper, than the non sustainable drug store alternative.

But on the topic of using up your old items….

 

RESEARCH HOW TO PROPERLY RECYLE OLD ITEMS, DONATE, SELL OR UP-CYCLE THEM

Your goal is zero waste, so don’t go throwing your old items in the trash now!

Recycle whatever you can. Compost whenever you can. Find a way to reuse an old item whenever you can. Donate items, or gift them to friends. The goal of zero waste living is to keep matter out of landfills. 

And for everything else, look for a TerraCycle program. They’ve found a way to recycle just about anything. #badass

 

REMEMBER: IT’S A PROCESS!

It won’t happen overnight, and it might even take a year or two to go fully zero waste if that’s your goal. But you know what, you’re awesome for wanting to make this change and for making the effort to do so.

Everyone’s zero waste journey is different. So never compare yourself to other people. Get inspiration from them, communicate with other zero waste-ers in the process when you have questions or concerns, be supported by other people – not intimidated.

I’m just baby steps into the process myself, so what do you say to doing this thing together? 

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Zero Waste Swaps: Personal Hygiene

While the journey towards zero waste is a continuous one, these alternatives to wasteful items will make it a little easier. All of these items have been tried, tested, and approved by me. When making these swaps keep in mind what to do with your old items – don’t throw them away! Use up old products, recycle, donate, give away or sell the rest. The purpose of zero waste is to prevent as much matter from heading to the landfill as possible.

Here are some of my recommended swaps to make in the area of personal hygiene.

Swap Plastic Razors for a Metal Safety Razor

The Waste Problem: Disposable razors

Why:  Non-recyclable, expensive, wasteful

The Alternative: Safety Razor or laser hair removal

Where to buy: Here

 

Swap Plastic Toothbrush for a Bamboo One

The Waste Problem: Plastic toothbrush

Why:  Non-recyclable, wasteful

The Alternative: Bamboo compostable and sustainable toothbrushes

Where to buy: Here

 

Swap Makeup Remover Wipes and Cotton Balls for Coconut Oil and Reusable Cotton Rounds

The Waste Problem: Disposable makeup remover wipes and cotton balls

Why:  They’re wasteful, expensive, unnecessary, and the wipes often have toxic chemicals

The Alternative: Organic coconut oil and Reusable Cotton Rounds

Where to buy: Here

 

Swap Bottles of Body Wash for Bar Soap

The Waste Problem: Body wash in plastic packaging

Why:  It’s wasteful and not recyclable everywhere

The Alternative: Unwrapped bulk soap

Where to buy:  Here

 

Swap Bleached Toilet Paper for Bamboo Toilet Paper

The Waste Problem: Bleached toilet paper in plastic packaging

Why:  Dangerous chemicals, non-recyclable, wasteful

The Alternative: Bamboo toilet paper wrapped in paper

Where to buy: Here

 

Swap Disposable Tampons and Pads for a Menstrual Cup and Reusable Pads

The Waste Problem: Plastic tampon applicator and disposable pads

Why:  Pads ending up in landfills, conventional cotton in tampons is pesticide laden, and plastic applicators –  I don’t want plastic in my life, especially not in me

The Alternative: Menstrual cup such as a Lunette cup and/or reusable pads

Where to buy: Menstrual cups here and pads here

 

Swap Traditional Floss for Refillable Dental Lace

 

The Waste Problem: Traditional floss and plastic floss containers

Why:  The containers are rarely recyclable or recycled, and some floss manufacturers coat floss in a chemical contaminant that helps it glide through gums more easily, but can lead to other health issues

The Alternative: Refillable dental lace made from 100% mulberry silk

Where to buy: Here

 

Swap Deodorant Stick in Plastic for a Jar of Cream Deodorant

 

The Waste Problem:  Traditional sticks of deodorant

Why:  Most sticks come in plastic containers often wrapped in more plastic packaging

The Alternative: Natural cream deodorant in a glass and metal container

Where to buy:Here

 

Swap a Loofah for a Natural Bath Sponge

The Waste Problem: Synthetic loofah

Why: Most drugstore loofahs are made from non-compostable or non-recyclable materials

The Alternative: A natural bath sponge

Where to buy: Here

 Purchase all of these, plus more of my favorite zero waste bathroom and personal hygiene items below.

 

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A Look Inside My Zero Waste, Brooklyn Apartment

Take a peek inside of my zero waste, minimal apartment in Brooklyn, NYC.

All photos taken by the talented Daniela Spector

 

Shop some of my favorite home items below.

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DIY Scrub From Old Coffee Grounds

Winter is coming (dun dun dun)! With chillier weather comes many wonderful things – cozy sweaters, pumpkin spice-scented everything, hot coffee. But with the chill and crisp air also comes dry skin. Enter a tried and true DIY scrub recipe that not only keeps your skin silky smooth, but utilizes your old coffee grounds – yeah for up-cycling! Bonus: creating your own beauty products from all-natural and organic ingredients insures that you’re keeping toxins out of your body. Ingredients:

  • 1 cup used, dried coffee grounds
  • 1 cup organic sugar or salt
  • 1/2 cup organic coconut oil

To make:

  1. If not already in liquid form, melt your coconut oil and allow to cool without becoming solid again.
  2. Mix in your used coffee grounds and sugar or salt.
  3. Store in an airtight container.

To use:

  1. While in the shower or tub, rub coffee scrub into skin to exfoliate – *if you’re going to shave, make sure to shave after using the scrub as to not irritate your skin.
  2. Rinse skin clean.
  3. Make sure to moisturize afterwards.
  4. Compost all grounds in your local compost, woods, or plant!

Check out some of our favorite zero waste bath and body products to accompany your scrub and bathing routine.

Featured Image via Frank Bod

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How To Have A Zero Waste Period

Check out this video to see how I deal with my monthly period completely waste free. Here are the products mentioned on the video:

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Zero Waste Bachelorette Party

When I think bachelorette I think…

  • Strippers
  • Vomiting
  • Girls Kissing Bartenders and other girls?
  • Shots, Shots, Shots and LOTS of alcohol
  • WASTE (and wasted)

… and so when I was tasked with being the Maid of Honor for my cousin’s wedding, it meant that I had to be involved with planning the bachelorette party. I had a moment of panic (refer to above bullet points) So HTF do you plan a bachelorette party without waste? Here’s how.

I did a few things to ensure that the festivities were sustainable for our beach weekend bachelorette getaway and it basically all came down to planning. The three main topics I will focus on are bridesmaids goodies, food, and alcohol.

Bridesmaids Goodies:

I made bags of zero waste gifts from Package Free Shop for all of the women that were on the trip to ensure that they had all of the sustainable tools that they needed. I included a tote bag filled with:

  • Stainless Steel Straws
  • Mason Jars
  • Plastic Free Sunscreen from Raw Elements
    • For 15% off use code ‘trashisfortossers15
  • Sustainable Condoms from Sustain
    • For 40% off use code ‘trashisfortossers
  • Pain Killers
  • Bag to put everything in

I also went around Brooklyn and bought a bunch of secondhand sun hats that I put out on the table and had all of the girls pick their favorites and then they took them home.

For decorations, one of the other bridesmaids made a super cute DIY Instagram Picture Window that is 100% paper and can be recycled and/or composted.

Food:

For food we shopped ahead and got lots of greens and prepared food to cook at home. It is important to compost and recycle to prevent waste. We also went to restaurants that served local and organic food.

Alcohol:

  • At the house
    • Focus on alcohol that comes in cans in boxes for beer (they don’t have the plastic rings) and aluminum is very recyclable.
    • If you are going to get wine or champagne, try to look for bottles that have glass corks (they are 100% recyclable) or natural corks (you can recycle them at Whole Foods).
    • Be sure to create a recycling section
  • At bars or restaurants:
    • Ask for your cocktails without straws or skewers
    • If you are ordering beer, always opt for draft
    • If the bar only has plastic cups, be sure to bring your mason jar or stainless steel cup with you (the stainless steel cup is also beach friendly for resorts that don’t allow glass)
  • For Hangovers 
    • I gave all of the girls little pouches of painkillers that I took from a 100% recyclable bottle.
    • Coffee is King (I buy bulk coffee, but if you are going out for coffee, be sure to have your mason jar)!
    • To get some throw up stains out of sheets or clothing or towels (don’t pretend you haven’t been there) use The Simply Co. to pretreat stains and then wash.

Ultimately, bachelorette parties are absolutely shit-shows so taking a few precautions before the alcohol starts flowing is always a good idea because the parties are always better when you are getting wasted as opposed to making a ton of waste.

Shop all the items in my bachelorette bags below:

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How To Pack A Zero Waste Lunch

Back when I  had just started my first real, post-graduate job I was commuting about an hour each way to work, and all the restaurants in the area were mainly fast food chains that didn’t appeal to me as someone who loves healthy food, plus, I knew they generated a ton of trash through single-use to-go containers.

The bright side to it all is that I love to cook, so I decided from the get-go that I’d bring my lunch every day to work. To do so, I invested in the ultimate zero waste and plastic-free lunch kit. AKA a super cool lunch box for adults.

It included:

  • One airtight stainless steel lunch container 

    • It is great. Totally spill proof, easy to clean, and it has optional dividers so that I can keep my food separate.
  • A Set of reusable bamboo utensils in a cute carrying case

    • Besides the fact that bamboo utensils look so cool, they come in a handy carrying case. You could keep a set in your desk at work, or just keep them with you at all times in your bag. You could also pick up a fork from the Goodwill or Salvation Army to leave at the office.
  • One reusable napkin 

    • I use Organic cotton napkins at my house, and I’d bring one to the office and leave it there for the week and then bring it home to wash on Friday. So easy.
  • A couple Organic cotton bags for snacks or sandwiches 

    • You can also use them for bulk at the market. I use these to buy rice and pasta at the market, but I also use them to carry granola, nuts, popcorn or even a sandwich to work. They are super lightweight and washable.
  • Mason jar, glass, or water bottle

    • I love bringing my BKR bottle with me wherever I go. I also almost always have a mason jar or reusable coffee cup on me at all times for hot liquids like coffee. You could also bring a glass from home or purchase one at your local thrift shop for under a dollar to keep at your desk. P.S. if you drink iced coffee or tea, you might want to invest in a stainless steel straw. I LOVE mine.

 

Shop all my go-to zero waste lunch accessories and more below:

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