Skip to Content

8 Things I Wish I Knew BEFORE Going Zero Waste

Zero Waste for Beginners

Last Updated on April 11, 2020

Are you interested in reducing your trash or living more sustainably this year? Well, I’ve got to say you’re in the right place!

My entire platform is dedicated to breaking sustainable living down into a super simple step-by-step process.

I cover everything from basic eco-friendly swaps to more advanced and intermediate tasks like getting involved in local government and hosting a clean-up.

8 Things I Wish I Knew BEFORE Going Zero Waste from #zerowaste #ecofriendly #gogreen #sustainable #zerowasteliving

I started living a more eco-friendly lifestyle a little over 5 years ago, and there are a few things that I wish I knew going into this.

Anytime you’re creating a lifestyle change it can be a little scary! I hope this blog post encourages you to give it a try.

I hope it removes any fears you might have and makes joining in more accessible and most importantly fun!

1. you don’t have to fit your trash in a mason jar:

At this point, I think the trash jar has mostly fallen out of favor.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, it’s people (like I used to be!) who fit all of their trash for x number of years in a mason jar.

I think most people recognize it for the gimmick it is.

I’m not saying it can’t be inspirational, but it’s certainly not always accurate.

You can read more in my blog post 3 Reasons the Trash Jar is Bullsh*t.

Using a mason jar as a trash can is unrealistic for most people.

All it does is make you feel inadequate when you can’t fit ALL of your trash in that teeny-tiny jar. And, trust me…. no matter your best efforts trash will happen.

And, when you start constantly feeling bad about yourself for not achieving this unrealistic goal, you’re way more likely to give up.

This makes going zero waste a chore i.e. not fun. And, who wants to keep doing something that’s not fun?

Wanting to live more sustainably isn’t a crash diet, it’s a lifestyle change. So, relax.

Let go of unrealistic expectations. Do the best you can and forget about the trash jar.

8 Things I Wish I Knew BEFORE Going Zero Waste from #zerowaste #ecofriendly #gogreen #sustainable #zerowasteliving

2. you won’t go zero waste overnight:

Humans like to go from zero to 200 in 1.1 seconds. Most of us flip a switch and want to zero waste and sustainable INSTANTLY.

Of course, that’s pretty much impossible.

I was already living a very low-waste life before I decided to make the leap to zero waste living, and it took me around three months to build systems to reduce my trash even further.

These “systems” include things like finding where to grocery shop, actually remembering to bring my bags to the grocery store, getting in the habit of remembering my reusable waterbottle etc.

All of these things are second nature at this point.

I don’t even realize I’m doing them, but there will be a period of time where you need to build those habits.

You’ll also have A LOT of old plastic things you need to work your way through whether that’s your current shampoo, plastic baggies, or some single-use products that you already own.

That’s totally OK!

The most eco-friendly thing you can do is use up what you already have BEFORE you switch to a zero waste alternative.

The bright side, this will save you a bunch of money. The downside, it can be challenging when all you want is that #ZeroWasteInstagramAestheticRightNow.

You can read more in my blog post What to do With Old Plastic When You’re Going Zero Waste.

Shopping at bulk bins | 8 Things I Wish I Knew BEFORE Going Zero Waste from #zerowaste #ecofriendly #gogreen #sustainable #zerowasteliving

3. you don’t need to throw out all your stuff:

Ah, yes the #ZeroWasteInstagramAesthetic.

It’s very appealing. It might even be one of the reasons, that you wanted to live more sustainably!

And, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to achieve a certain look.

Certain things, like aesthetics, can make going zero waste more sustainable for you longterm.

I have a lot of beautiful zero waste products like tiffins and bamboo dish scrubs that make me a very happy lady!

But, please don’t throw out all of your perfectly good functioning stuff to replace it with “zero waste stuff”!

I think this is one of the main reasons people assume zero waste living is expensive.

They feel like it’s just one giant shopping list of eco, hipster goods.

IT’S NOT. I still have my plastic toilet brushes from 8 years ago because they’re in good shape!

Would I love a swanky bamboo toilet brush? Yes. Will I be getting one anytime soon? Probably not.

Please use what you have, and then once your item has reached the end of it’s useful like, then switch to something more eco.

Check out this blog post 8 FREE Zero Waste Swaps to get you inspired!

zero waste living is about using old items | 8 Things I Wish I Knew BEFORE Going Zero Waste from #zerowaste #ecofriendly #gogreen #sustainable #zerowasteliving

4. people will apologize for everything:

Your friends and family will probably apologize and justify everything in their lives to you. When I’m out with my friends and they get a plastic water bottle they say,

  • “Kathryn, please don’t hate me.”

  • “I’ve had this thing for XX years! I’m not being wasteful I promise!”

  • “I’m so sorry… I’m using disposable plates at my party….”

  • “Don’t look at this! You DON’T SEE THIS!”

  • “I’m going to throw this away, can you turn around?”

And, this list goes on and on. I always remind my friends that I don’t care. They don’t need to justify all of their life’s decisions to me.

When you choose to go zero waste it’s your decision and your decision alone.

It’s important to not judge people based on what you’ve decided to do for yourself. That’s the quickest way to turn people off.

Be you. Be genuine.

Continue to hang out with your friends. Over time you’ll rub off on them, and that’s why tip 7 is probably the most important on this list.

5. not everything will go your way 100% of the time:

Remember the whole, your trash is probably not going to fit into a mason jar thing?

Yeah, that’s because things aren’t going to go your way 100% of the time!

And, that’s OK. You’re going to ask for no straw, and you’re going to get one.

You’re going to pack up your leftovers into your own container but be brought a styrofoam tray anyways.

You’re going to say you’ve got your own bags to the cashier, and they’re going to give you plastic anyways.

If you live with someone else or have a family, you’re going to wind up with trash in your life that’s totally out of your control.

Things aren’t going to go your way 100% of the time, and you’ve got to just take a deep breath and remember that you’re doing the best that you can and that’s good enough!

No stress. No stress. It’s all going to be ok, ok?

8 Things I Wish I Knew BEFORE Going Zero Waste from #zerowaste #ecofriendly #gogreen #sustainable #zerowasteliving

6. be open to changing your mind and learning new things:

I have changed so much over the last five years of doing this. When I started going zero waste I was very TRASH focused.

That was how I judged all of my consumer choices – can I avoid trash?

And, I think this is a great first question to ask yourself especially if you’re new to sustainable living.

It’s a great way to simplify your choices so they’re easier to make and less complex.

However, the choice that makes the least amount of trash isn’t always the most sustainable one.

If you’re just starting out I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information.

Just so we’re clear, I think starting to look at things just from the trash lens is a wonderful place to start, BUT once you get the hang of it, be open to asking yourself more questions like ethics in supply chains, overall carbon footprint, end-of-life etc.

8 Things I Wish I Knew BEFORE Going Zero Waste from #zerowaste #ecofriendly #gogreen #sustainable #zerowasteliving

7. don’t be too hard on yourself – we need system change:

Yes, there is power in one person and individual action.

However, we can’t rely on a few people living a *perfect* zero waste life to change the world.

Individual action is important because it shows there’s demand in the market. This is VERY important.

Citizens must act so businesses and politicians can react.

But, change can’t rely on a few perfect individuals.

We need system change too. We need citizens, businesses, and politicians all moving at the same time in order to create true, long-lasting change.

So, if you’re not perfect don’t sweat it! You’re doing the best you can by simply showing there’s demand in the market.

But, if you want to take it one step further you should absolutely check out my guides on my getting more involved in your community!

Get involved with local government, Kathryn Kellogg on the beautification commission | 8 Things I Wish I Knew BEFORE Going Zero Waste from #zerowaste #ecofriendly #gogreen #sustainable #zerowasteliving

8. you will get overwhelmed:

Climate change is overwhelming, there’s no way around it.

Trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle can be overwhelming too. You will probably get overwhelmed at some point in time.

I think the best thing to do is to take a step back.

Take a moment, a beat, even step away! Do something just for yourself. For me, when I’m feeling super overwhelmed, I order a takeout meal.

I don’t do it very often, but it’s something that just says, “It’s going to be OK. The world doesn’t rely on you being 100% perfect, 100% of the time. You’re human.”

And, the next day, I get back to it!

Allowing myself to be overwhelmed and to not be perfect is the reason why I continue living a low waste / zero waste lifestyle.

I have found the perfect balance of sustainability for me and the planet and you can read more about that in my blog post The Five Rules of Personal Sustainability.

8 Things I Wish I Knew BEFORE Going Zero Waste from #zerowaste #ecofriendly #gogreen #sustainable #zerowasteliving

get started!

Now, after reading all of that, I’m not sure if you’re amped or terrified.

No matter which you are, I want you to pick one thing you’re going to change and truly commit to it!

If you’re not sure where to start, here’s a list of resources I’ve compiled.

  1. Check out the Going Zero Waste for Beginners Tab for a few blog posts to help you get started

  2. Try my free 31-Day Zero Waste Challenge which is available via blog post or in video depending on which medium you prefer more.

  3. Grab a copy of my book 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste – I have over 400 blog posts which might be a little overwhelming, so I’ve distilled all of my best tips into this easy to read handbook with a bunch of recipes for using up food scraps, cleaning products, and bathroom products that aren’t on the blog.

  4. Watch my 50-minute Skillshare Class which breaks down all of the zero waste basics! Plus you can get 2 months free Skillshare if you use my link giving you access to my video and thousands of others!

Join The Conversation

Share Your Thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. These are great tips for getting started! It’s so easy to get discouraged if you’re shooting for that aesthetic zero-waste perfection. I actually just wrote a post about zero waste fails and staying positive, too, over at

  2. Yesterday I was so discouraged – everything seems to be conspiring against me. I want to think that I can influence family to make better choices and I’d love to be perfect myself! I’m going to stop beating myself up for all the ‘wrongs’ I see and just keep finding the bright spots in what we are doing. Thanks for this article – it’s truly refreshed my thinking

  3. I feel like my passion overpowers my patience and I’m so thankful that I have your blog as a reminder to be easy on myself.

  4. Thanks for mentioning that there are other considerations besides trash. I read a long time ago that in areas where water is scarce, disposable diapers might be a better choice than washing cloth diapers. That was before ultra-efficient washing machines came along, but it’s the same idea.