How to Go Zero Waste and Reduce Your Environmental Impact: A Beginner's Guide
Here's what you need to know to get started on your zero waste journey.
This article was originally published on Thred Media.
If you’re an avid reader of the articles Thred publishes with Global Citizen, chances are you’ve already been incentivised to start reducing your environmental impact as much as possible.
Whether that involves switching from fast fashion to resale, choosing to consume less animal products, or using apps like Klima to keep track of your carbon footprint, it’s all part of a wider generational shift towards safeguarding our planet.
Gen Z are spearheading many of the lifestyle changes — both big and small — that reduce our waste and help us to rethink how we use products, with 41% of young people considering global warming the most important issue facing the world today.
Fancy getting involved? There’s never been a more fitting time, as this year’s Earth Day 2021 concentrates on natural processes and emerging green technologies that can restore the world’s ecosystems.
You don’t have to be a top-of-the-line engineer, either. Adopting a zero waste lifestyle is the perfect way to help out within realistic means, and we’ve got all the tools you need to make a change. Here’s our ultimate beginners guide on where to start.
What is a zero waste lifestyle?
First up, what exactly is zero waste, anyhow? There’s no point talking the talk if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Anyone who is "zero waste" strives to eliminate their rubbish output and consumption of single-use materials in every aspect of their day-to-day life, instead opting for reusable, sustainably made, eco-friendly alternatives.
They will also primarily buy their goods from second-hand stores, support fair-trade brands, stick to a plant-based diet, and take low-emission modes of transportation.
It’s a movement that’s fast-gaining traction, well on its way from niche to mainstream thanks to a range of social media influencers promoting zero waste companies on their follower-heavy platforms.
And we mustn’t forget the OG, Lauren Singer, an environmentalist who garnered a great deal of attention back in 2015 with a viral video that showed how she successfully managed to fit two years’ worth of trash in a single mason jar.
"The zero waste movement isn’t new," says David Phan, founder of Huppy, a zero waste toothpaste brand. "It didn’t start two years ago or four years ago, but it’s really taken off in the past couple of years because of social media, and the many cool, innovative brands that are starting new concepts that do new things. The turning point for consumer awareness is now."
Let us remind you, however, that – contrary to popular belief – the process of transitioning to a zero waste lifestyle isn’t about being perfect.
For this reason, many choose to holistically refer to themselves as "low-impact" as it’s often better to focus on what seems doable and enjoyable before working your way up.
It’s about finding a balance that suits you which will eventually do a whole lot of good for the planet. After all, we need to start somewhere, right?
It might sound absurd but ask any zero-waster what the first step should be on your path to a waste-free life, and they’ll most likely recommend you conduct a trash audit.
Essentially, unpleasant as it may be, a quick comb-through your bin will give you a good insight into what you’re disposing of most frequently and will help you understand what areas of waste you should tackle first.
This comes hand in hand with a note of why you’re choosing to switch up your lifestyle, because writing it down solidifies your resolve, giving you something to reference whenever you need motivation.
It’s also worth mentioning that to truly "go zero" you must commit to asking yourself these questions whenever you’re making a purchase decision.
1. Is it designed to be used just once, or for a short time, and then disposed of?
2. Where did it come from and what happens when I’m done with it?
3. Who produced it and in what conditions?
This will allow you to put value above disposability and ultimately teach you to appreciate your possessions more. Waste is everywhere, so before you overburden yourself just aim to cut out single-use items like plastic bottles and bags, paper towels, and coffee cups.
For the sake of our planet, it’s time we began challenging consumerism and the notion that when something breaks or stops working it ought to be thrown away.
Perhaps the most overwhelming hurdle you’ll be looking to overcome is that of resetting your defaults.
While the obvious example of this would be deciding to eat solely plant-based foods (ditching meat and dairy is the most impactful thing people can do to reduce their environmental impact), there’s actually a lot more to it.
Again, there’s no right or wrong way to adopt a zero waste lifestyle but changing your mindset will certainly make the journey a smoother one.
Ask yourself: am I throwing away what can’t be reused, composted, or recycled? If the answer is yes, there’s probably a way around it. The majority of what we get rid of on a daily basis can in fact be recycled or it’ll eventually rot.
It might be more effort, but there’s always an option to check your municipality’s website to see if they offer composting services or you can set up your own using this guide.
Plus, with recycling getting easier and more widespread by the day, there isn’t really an excuse to avoid it anymore.
Following on from this, only buy something new if there genuinely aren’t any other alternatives. Readdress the idea that you need to own everything and start asking yourself whether it could be borrowed instead.
If you simply must, go second-hand! We won’t get into the benefits of this right now; but you can read up on them here.
Additionally, you don’t have to buy new items to be zero-waste, you can use what you have – or learn how to make things yourself.
Preparation is key, so consider putting together a DIY kit (a tote bag filled with cutlery, a food container, a reusable cup, water bottle, straw etc.) that you can take with you when you leave the house.
That way you’ll be able to prevent yourself from accumulating disposable products throughout the day and new resources won’t need to be wasted on creating them.
Don’t forget that most of the items we use tend to produce a lot of invisible waste, pollution, and emissions before they even arrive in our hands.
While the sustainable packaging model was primarily embraced by smaller brands to begin with, we’re seeing refill stations tip into substantial demand.
With over 120 billion units of un-recyclable packaging produced annually by the cosmetics industry alone (Zero Waste Week) more beauty companies are seeking to create and package their products in more ethically responsible ways.
The same applies to most sectors, particularly food, whereby more and more supermarkets are introducing the option for customers to re-use packaging indefinitely, rather than buying a single-use container every time they want a specific product.
It means you can stop worrying about how you’ll be able to continue shopping for your weekly staples (practically every city now offers some form of refill location) because all you have to do is make sure you’ve got enough containers to hand and head to your nearest grocery store.
There, you can stock up on anything from rice and pasta to shampoo and soap without contributing to the already undeniable toll that bulk buying is having on the planet.
Not to mention it’s a win-win to shop locally, since a reduced shipping distance equals a lower environmental impact. Here’s a guide on how to go about doing so.
As Singer puts it: "There’s no one-size-fits-all to reducing waste. It’s not an overnight process, it takes time and effort, and you might not always do it perfectly, but that’s okay. It’s starting and trying that matters. It might not seem like you’re doing a lot but making these changes does add up and it makes a real difference."
Yes, we may not be capable of immediately transitioning from our lifestyles at present to a single mason jar of waste in two years, but we can certainly try.
Every action is one step further towards a healthier Earth. And if not now, when? Time is running out.