AKA low waste or “nearo waste” or low impact or landfill-free or whatever your heart wants to call it! We’re all in this together!
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What is zero waste?
The most basic definition: Zero waste means you don’t send anything to the landfill.
In other words, you reduce your consumption down to what won’t be wasted, what can be reused or repurposed, and what can be recycled so that you’re not throwing anything into the trash.
Easier said than done, I know.
However, it’s my opinion that a lot of the info out there right now makes it seem far more complicated, difficult, expensive, and exhausting than it needs to be.
So, I’m here to help! There are a handful of quick-and-easy steps to get started living a zero-waste lifestyle that shouldn’t cost you a ton of time or money AND will make a big impact on your life and the planet. Yes, this site focuses primarily on pet care, but for today, this one’s for you!
The Zero-Waste Lifestyle: Getting Started
Let’s get started living a zero-waste lifestyle!
Remember learning the three R’s–reduce, reuse, recycle–back in elementary school? Well, turns out we’ve relied way too heavily on recycle and not enough on the other two. In fact, our recycling system is pretty darn broken, and when we think we’re doing our best to save the planet by tossing our bottles in the bin, we’re most likely contributing to the problem instead of the solution. Unfortunately, a ton of recycling ends up in landfills anyway, and a lot of what used to get sent overseas (we sold a lot of our recyclables to China) ended up washed into waterways.
While recycling is important, it’s only one piece of the puzzle, so let’s look at some getting-started tips around each of the three R’s as a solid place to start:
- Reduce: I’d argue this is the most important of the three. If you buy less stuff, you decrease the amount of manufacturing, trucking, and producing that goes on. And, on a smaller scale, you reduce the amount of stuff you have to clean, repair, care for, and eventually dispose. The best way to start reducing? Use what you have! I always suggest a big declutter when you start living a zero-waste lifestyle. Find new homes or new uses for old things, and use up what you have before you buy anything else. You’d be amazed, I bet, at how much you have in your bathroom or in your pantry that you can use before you have to buy anything else! Same goes for clothes; wear what’s in your closet before purchasing new. If you want to dig into this in way more detail, I cover a ton more tips in The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Zero-Waste Pet Parent.
- Reuse: As you go through your declutter, you’ll probably find a lot of things that are either in ill repair or you just don’t use anymore. Is there anyway to give those items a new purpose? For us, we had a bunch of old dishes and jars that made perfect planters. (Plus, more plants are ALWAYS a good idea! Here are 14 pet-safe options that are nearly impossible to kill.) Can you turn an old T-shirt into cleaning rags? Or that old suitcase into a bed for your cat? Search Pinterest for repurpose, reuse, or upcycling ideas for the things you find around your home–you’ll be amazed at how much can be reused!
- Recycle: You’re consuming less. You’re reusing more. Whatever is leftover should ideally be recycled rather than trashed. Figure out the best practices for recycling in your town. For instance, most places won’t take plastic bags anymore, but you can drop those bags off at a bin at Target or Whole Foods. Some materials are better than others, too. If possible, purchase your consumable goods in glass rather than plastic. We’ve found plastic-to-glass swaps for everything from our deodorant to coconut oil to mayonnaise.
Honestly, what this boils down to is that getting started with a zero-waste lifestyle is as simple as paying attention to what you buy and why.
Then, you can make informed choices and swaps as necessary. Pay attention to what you’re throwing away, and see if you can figure out ways to reduce it.
The Zero-Waste Home
Living a low-impact life starts at home. It should include all the members of your family–kids and pets, too–and should be a conscious effort. Everyone needs to think about their consumption and how their habits affect the environment, the family’s budget, and your health, too.
Let’s take cleaning as an example. Tons of commercial cleaning products are chock-full of toxic chemicals and packaged in spray bottles with pumps that can’t be recycled. Instead, DIY your own cleansers with simple ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, and castile soap. You can keep your home clean at a fraction of the cost AND be gentler on the planet and the people and pets living with you.
Another big one around the house is food waste. Food waste poses a tremendous problem. Read all about it here. But there are 5 simple ways to eliminate food waste and save your family a ton of money.
- Plan your meals in advance, and only purchase what you need to cook and eat those meals. Include snacks in your plan!
- Eat at home (or make and take your meals) instead of dining out.
- Shop local as much as possible.
- Use your freezer! If you can’t finish something, portion it and freeze it.
- Start a compost bin or collect food scraps to take to your farmers’ market.
Finally, fill your home with air-scrubbing plants! Our houses are filled with lots of yucky chemicals, and plants help clear the air. Plus, they look pretty!
10 Quick Zero-Waste Tips
We’ve packed a lot into this post so far, so this one is for all you skimmers! 10 quickies to jump-start or rev-up your going zero-waste!
- Eat less meat. I know you’ve heard it a million times, but it makes a huge difference! Try Meatless Mondays to ease into it (check Pinterest for recipe ideas) or if you’re already living a veggie-heavy life, try one vegan meal per week.
- Adjust your thermostat by a degree or two: down in the winter, up in the summer.
- Give consumable gifts in recyclable (or reusable!) packaging. Think cookies in a metal tin, jelly in a glass jar, your secret hot sauce recipe in a reused ketchup bottle.
- Keep a reusable water bottle and coffee mug on you at all times! No need to purchase in throw-away, single-use containers!
- Stash a big pile of canvas totes in your car. If you’re like me, it’s likely you forget your totes or you stop somewhere while you’re out and about without having had the foresight to bring your reusable bags along for the ride. Chances are you have a ton of these floating around your house. Stick ’em in your car, and you’ll always have them on hand. #saynotoplasticbags
- Line your trash can in paper instead of purchasing plastic bags. Think: newspaper, coupon circulars that randomly show up in your mailbox, packaging, etc.
- Turn your hot water heater down a few degrees. Bonus points for taking shorter showers!
- Carry bugs outside instead of spraying them. My husband keeps a cup and piece of cardstock on top of our fridge for just this purpose. (It’s a losing battle anyway, so why spend the time and money on chemicals?)
- Grow veggies from cuttings. It keeps the food scraps out of the landfill or even your compost bin and saves you a ton of money (and pesticide ingestion). Check out these foods you can grow from scraps!
- Switch to an all-natural cat litter or biodegradable pickup bags. Learn more about eco-friendly cat waste management or dog waste management.
One Zero-Waste Pitfall to Avoid
OK, so here’s the thing: An industry is popping up around zero-waste products. Buy your bento box or metal coffee mug or beeswax wrap or glass water bottle… The reality is, there are lots of things you could buy to work toward a zero-waste lifestyle, but that kind of defeats the purpose.
None of this means tossing everything you own to buy zero-waste replacements! Use up what you have first. Repurpose what you can. Then, when you do need to purchase something, find the product with the lowest-impact.
In the end…
Every small step matters.
No matter what step you can take today, it’s a giant leap, and I’m proud of you! Pick one little thing that doesn’t rock your boat too much–tote your own water instead of buying a bottle or start a compost pile in your backyard–and work on it for a while. Then, add another.
Each addition, no matter how small, creates an impact. We’re all in this together, and each one of us has the power to create ripples of change through our individual small actions.
If you want to read more about the zero-waste movement and pet care, I’ve got you covered. Here are two great places to start:
Join the zero-waste pet care community!
If you’re looking for more ideas on your zero-waste journey, join our email community AND snag a free wallet-friendly, pet-safe cleaning guide as our thank you for singing up! Every small step has a big impact!