Progress, not perfection: How to start you zero-waste journey

A new year is here and what better time to commit to small changes that have been weighing on you (and the planet)? Are you looking to reduce your impact this year? While there are literally hundreds of opportunities to create less waste, a zero-waste lifestyle can seem too daunting.

Read on to find out how simple swaps and a few new habits can make a huge difference in your life, the lives of those around you and on the future of our beautiful Earth. 

So how do I start my zero-waste journey? 

First things first: What does zero-waste mean?

Generally speaking, the zero-waste movement is a set of principles focused around waste prevention that encourages a new way of consuming to ensure that all products are reused. The goal is for no trash to be sent to landfills, incinerators or the ocean. 

It’s a mouthful and a pretty lofty goal. 

Really, zero-waste can mean different things to different people.

For some, it might be about creating as little “garbage” as possible. For others, it’s about finding new uses for things once their original purpose has been served. The point is that it’s something to work toward and every little bit helps. Small swaps and big ones, they all have an impact. 

 So, can one person actually make a difference? The answer is YES!

So many of your daily decisions are opportunities to impact the planet in a positive way. From your commute to work, to how you grocery shop and cook, to your personal care choices, every decision and purchase is a chance for you to cast a vote for the type of world you want to live in and pass down to your children. 

 girl with brown hair up in messy top knot bun with plastic-free hair tie

Progress, not perfection

Most of us can’t go zero-waste overnight. There are so many factors to consider. Start by making notes about the different decisions you make and items you use in a day, and you’ll see what stands out. Some swaps are easy, others may seem next to impossible - but start by being aware of your impact and actively trying to reduce it, rather than trying to master it all on day one!

Ready to get started? Here are some ideas about how to take those first steps:

Bring your own packaging

This is a big one and can seem overwhelming. It’s the perfect example of small changes or tweaks that can equal big impacts. By now, we’re all aware that reusable grocery bags are a must, and that getting a coffee means bringing your own cup. So let’s take it further. Carry a reusable water bottle and a metal straw. How about cloth snack bags in lunches and for produce? *Bonus points if you make your own out of leftover fabric. A little set of cutlery that you can throw in your purse? Seems simple enough, right?

Look into zero-waste shops popping up in so many cities - you can get everything from olive oil to quinoa, kombucha and gummy bears in bulk and carry them out in containers you brought from home. You might save money too - if you’re into that kind of thing…

zero-waste drink bottle, bag and bamboo knife and fork

Make meals from scratch

So you carried the food home from the grocery store in reusable bags (gold star for you!), now it’s time to get cooking. There are so many benefits to making your own meals that go way beyond the packaging issue… No preservatives, no sneaky sugars or questionable oils, zero ingredients that you aren’t choosing. A great rule of thumb is that if a food (or a meal) comes in a package, it’s processed and not as healthy. This is a good one because the health of the planet and your own health are so interconnected. How to start? Try one dinner. Should we make “Wasteless Wednesday” a thing? Or better yet, meal prep your lunches for the work week and you’ll save time, money and a lot of take-out containers. 

plastic-free and zero-waste herbs

Raise the bar on personal care 

Zero-waste personal care swaps can seem daunting. Filling up shampoo bottles from a communal spout sounds messy and awkward. And if you think about it, we use a lot of products that come in excess packaging - toothpaste, creams, oils, lotions, soap. Lucky for us, there are companies out there reinventing this entire space. Shampoo and conditioner is often sold in bar or puck form. Try it out and you’ll realize the bars work just as well, and you’ll wonder why we haven’t been doing this all along. And a bar of soap vs. a bottle of body wash is a simple way to clean up your act. Toothpaste tablets, reusable cloth makeup pads, and of course, hair accessories made ethically and without plastic are easy swaps to make. 

zero-waste and plastic-free bamboo toothbrush

Shop more consciously 

And speaking of easy swaps, be more intentional about your purchases. If there is a great substitute for something you’ve always used, invest in it. A less disposable version of what you’re buying may cost a little more up front, but it will usually last longer and often be made in a more ethical way. KOOSHOO hair products were created to replace the millions of plastic-filled throwaway hair ties and other accessories that are lost or tossed every day. Vote with your dollars!

zero-waste grocery and veggie bags by seed & sprout
Photo: Seed & Sprout 

Reuse, THEN recycle

Just because something is recyclable, doesn’t give you a free pass to only use it once. If your take-out came in sturdy plastic containers, add them to your stash and use them to bring your meal prepped lunches to work. The glass bottle that your pasta sauce came in can hold everything from a fresh bouquet of flowers to the nuts (or gummy bears) you bought in bulk. Find ways to repurpose these items before just sending them to be recycled. 

It’s the little things 

Switch your plastic garbage bags to compostable versions. Seek out a bamboo option for your next toothbrush. Bring your own take-out container to the restaurant for your leftovers. Switch out your hair accessories for eco-friendly versions. Invest in quality and vote with your dollars. When companies see that we’re willing to spend more to help the planet, it’s in everybody’s best interest to create supply for our demands. 

Bonus Points

Sharing is Caring: Show the people in your household, your colleagues and friends just how easy some of these swaps can be. The more we share this info, the more people will start making changes - raising your impact exponentially. 

We all have a part to play and it’s more important than ever. Let’s make 2022 the year of small but mighty changes. What small swaps are you committing to this year? Tell us in the comments!


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