A few years ago, my husband and I decided that we wanted a better world for our two boys, now 10 and 11 years old. We embarked on a journey to do our part for the environment: My husband quit his job to join a sustainability start-up; I tackled the home.
The benefits of a zero-waste lifestyle go well beyond the obvious environmental impact.
I started by adopting reusable water bottles and shopping totes, but slowly took it further by replacing disposables with reusables (toilet paper excluded), shopping in bulk with cloth bags, bringing glass containers to the store for wet items (meat, deli, fish, cheese, oil...), and even testing more extreme ideas, like shampooing with baking soda and vinegar for 6 months. A year's worth of our household solid waste now fits in a quart size jar.
What we discovered along the way is that the benefits of the zero-waste lifestyle go well beyond the obvious environmental impact. It has not only made us healthier (since the healthiest foods do not come packaged), but it has also saved us a great deal of money. Most importantly, we now have more time to do the things that matter most to us, like spending it with our kids.
We find that we have become a closer and happier family in the process. We have found balance without compromising our goals, aesthetics, or sanity. Zero-waste living is on auto-pilot.
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.
1. Fight junk mail. It's not just a waste of resources, but also of time. Register to receive less at dmachoice.org, and .
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?
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.
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.
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).
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.
An attempt at going zero waste starts with small changes. It's within anyone's reach, and change starts at home.