These days there are tons of articles out there about what you need to buy to get started on a zero waste lifestyle but I don’t think you actually need to buy anything when you’re first starting out. In fact, I would say that is completely counter to what the zero waste movement is all about. That’s why I wanted to put together an article about how to start zero waste without buying anything.
When you’re ready to start your new zero waste lifestyle you should start by going through your trash. Gross, I know. But, it is important for you to know what you’re throwing away so you can start making swaps in your shopping. Make a list of everything in your trash, chances are if you’re like most people it is mostly packaging for food. Also, make note of any unfinished food or food that has spoiled that you’re throwing away. Once you know what you throw away a lot you can get started.
Swap to Zero Waste Packaging
The biggest change you can make to becoming zero waste is to swap to zero waste packaging. This means buying fruits and veggies that aren’t in their own packaging or in those flimsy plastic bags stores give you. It means buying pasta in a box instead of in a plastic bag and pet food in cans instead of pouches. If you do have to buy something in plastic make sure that it’s a hard plastic like a bottle that can be recycled. Plastic film that covers meats can’t be recycled and neither can black plastics. Do you have any big glass jars from pickles or other foods you enjoy? Bring them with you when you shop! You can use these for everything from meat from the butcher counter to bulk oats from the bulk food section. You will still end up bringing home some plastic and that’s ok! This is a journey all about reducing how much waste you produce. You aren’t going to go completely zero waste overnight.
Use Your Food Scraps
Everyone ends up with food scraps be it onion peels or bones from ribs. Instead of throwing it away use it! If you haven’t used any seasoning on your scraps then save them up in the freezer until you have a lot then make them into stock. You can also start a compost pile or save your food waste for a local compost program. Another option is keeping a worm bin. This idea is particularly popular with gardeners but actually, anyone can do it. I’ll do an article on worm bins in the future but for now, the important things to know are that they don’t smell at all and you can keep them in your house.
An old shirt that isn’t in good enough condition to donate can still have a ton of uses around the house. Cut them up into squares just a little bigger than your hand and now you can use them as a replacement for paper towels, wash rags, tissues, or even baby wipes. Natural fibers like cotton and wool work best for this.
Borrow Instead of Buy
In some cities you can find places like libraries only instead of borrowing books you can borrow things, they are funnily enough called Libraries of Things. In them, you might find lawnmowers, board games, plates, forks, chairs…the list goes on. If there’s something you know you only need very rarely or you’ll only use once borrow it instead of buying it. This is great for those times when you have guests over for dinner or you want to try out a kitchen appliance before you buy it. You also shouldn’t be afraid of asking coworkers, friends, family members, or neighbors if you can borrow something from them. Just make sure you give it back in a timely fashion and you offer to let them borrow something anytime they need it.
Join Zero Waste Facebook Groups
I don’t know about where you live but where I live there are a ton of zero waste Facebook groups popping up. In these spaces, you can find locals who are giving away everything from gently used baby clothes to couches and dining sets. So before you go out to buy anything, check your local groups! You might find out that your neighbor is looking to get rid of the exact thing you want, for free! You can also find items for sale on Facebook for far cheaper than if you were buying them brand new. This includes clothes, books, and well anything else you can think of.
Once you’re doing all of these things and you’re ready to take your zero waste lifestyle to the next level and start buying things only do it when something needs to be replaced. If your kids love straws and you’ve got a bag of 500 plastic straws don’t just throw them away and replace them with reusable straws! Use those 500 first then instead of buying more buy reusable. If you’ve got a perfectly useable plastic lunch box don’t throw it away to get a metal or wood one. Keep using the one you have until you can’t use it anymore. You don’t want to start your zero waste lifestyle by throwing away a bunch of things.