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Four Tips for Starting a Zero Waste Lifestyle

Zero Waste for Beginners

Last Updated on April 11, 2020

Most beginner guides for going zero waste are full of simple swaps, but there’s so much more to zero waste living than replacing your household items.

Don’t get me wrong, I love swaps too like The Ultimate Guide to Zero Waste Swaps and 3 Easy Ways to Cut your Trash by 80%, but I think the tips below are the four most important tips I can give you for going zero waste.

They’re essentially the building block of zero waste, minimalism, and eco-friendly living.

If you’re feeling a bit more advanced check out my post the Ultimate Step-By-Step Guide to Going Zero Waste which lays out the different areas you’ll cross through from beginner to advanced!

But, before we get to it… I’d like to inrtoduce you to this post’s sponsor!

This post was sponsored by Arbor Teas. All thoughts and opinions are my own for more information please see my disclosure policy.

Y’all. You know I love Arbor Teas Arbor Teas and I’m going to hit all the high points with a bullet blitz! BULLET BLITZ.

  • Only tea brand to offer loose leaf tea in backyard compostable packaging!
  • They package in cellulose making the switch from canisters reduced the carbon footprint of their packages by 60% (AMAZING!)
  • They package all of their teas in a solar powered building
  • All of their shipments are offset carbon neutral
  • They source their teas from organic, biodynamic, and regenerative farms.
  • They have plastic free matcha. I repeat PLASTIC FREE MATCHA.
  • They are just genuinely the nicest people on the face of the planet.
  • And, their teas are just freaking amazing!

buy less:

The average American throws out 4.4lbs of trash a day, and that’s not even the half of it for everything that we throw away on average 70% is lost in the manufacturing.

We only see 30% of the trash made!


Buying less is the number one thing you can do to produce less trash. 

Before buying anything make sure you really truly need it. I always ask myself a series of questions.

  • Do you really need it?

  • Is it really necessary?

  • Can something else make do?

  • Do you need to own it?

Zero waste is not just about the trash jar. It’s also not solely about the landfill.

Trash is really just a physical representation of misallocated resources. 

I always say, very rarely do we have waste problems – we have creative thinking problems!

Have you heard of Earth Overshoot Day? It’s a day on the calendar that marks when we’ve consumed all of the resources the earth can sustainably produce for the year, and it came at the beginning of August last year.

That’s BAD.

We’re using 1.5 earth’s worth of resources.

It’s completely unsustainable. So, the best thing we can do for the planet is to buy less. 

buy well:

However, there are still purchases we need to make.

If you don’t live completely off grid/are self-sustaining, you’ll need to make some purchases.

So when you do purchase something, really think about its full life-cycle.

Think about where it came from and where it’s going after you’re through with it. 

Here are a series of questions I like to ask myself when making a new purchase.

  • Ask a friend.

  • Can you find it second hand?

  • Can you find it local?

  • Who made it?

  • Is it made to last/ can it be repaired?

  • What happens when you’re done with it?

Always check the secondhand market first and if you’re going to buy something new make sure you’re taking everything into consideration.

And, whatever you do don’t settle. 

If I’ve learned anything in two years of zero waste living, it’s that settling for something your not 100% happy with inevitably means you will be unhappy with it.

Then you’ll look for something else which is a waste of money and time. 

So whatever you buy, just make sure that you love it

find contentment:

We live in a world full of constant advertisements that tell us we’re not enough.

They tell us in order to be happy or be loved we have to have this product.

That their product will solve all of our problems. That it will make us happy or loved – which of course… we logically know isn’t true.

But, advertisers are really good at manipulating our subconscious so one of the most rebellious and radical things you can do is to simply find contentment with what you already have. 

One of the best ways to do that is to practice gratitude!

Things don’t define you. They don’t give you worth. Instead of buying things to make you look better or cooler, try spending time bettering yourself.

Take a class, learn a new skill, focus on self-improvement. 

So many studies have been done that people who opt for experiences instead of things are generally happier.

strike a balance: 

And, like you’ve heard on this blog a hundred times before, it’s not about perfection it’s about making better choices. 

Personal sustainability is super important check out the post I wrote about it – The Five Rules of Personal Sustainability. It’s one of my favorite blog posts I’ve ever written. 

The thing is, we live in a perfect zero waste society instead we live in a world where things are designed to be thrown away.

Check out this post if you’re interested to learn more about the Circular Economy vs. a Linear Economy.

Things aren’t going to go our way 100% of the time and that’s OK. All we can do is the best we can where we are.

What would be some of your tips for someone starting a zero waste life? 

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  1. Love the last tip especially! I find when chatting with people about "zero waste" they think it’s totally impossible for them because they’re taking the name literally! Zero waste is not zero! There needs to be a lot of grace for yourself during the process!

  2. This simple tips are great! I really needed something like this, because I was getting frustrated after my few first zero waste attempts.
    I live in Spain, in a city where even bulk stores require you use their plastic bags, garbage must be disposed in plastic bags (by law), and there are no organinc bins or any form of comunitary compost (I guess I could try composting at my flat, but preliminary research shows that I’d have to get rid of my compost on a public park in the dark of night… not fun, and possibly illegal).
    So thank you so much for all the posts you write about little things to do that help the environment, even if we can’t be perfect. 🙂

  3. I’m nowhere near trying to get all my trash in a jar, even though we’ve been working on reducing it for several years. We’ve given up lots of things in that time, and not missed most of them. But we still generate about one pound of kitchen trash, all of it some form of plastic, every month. Then there’s the bathroom trash. Some things may have to remain one-use for the rest of our lives, although I keep experimenting with alternatives. No one here likes blowing their nose on hankies when they have a cold, and I don’t like washing them. That’s one example. I won’t go any further!

    Overall, this effort is incredibly frustrating for me, especially when my soul mate doesn’t feel so mated in this endeavor! : )

    1. It sounds like y’all are doing a great job, and you can compost those paper hankies. 😉

      Make sure to check out some of my posts on relationships when lifestyles don’t always align.

  4. Hi, Thank you for very useful tips fore zerowaste lifestyle. Me and four other students from a Finnish university are hosting a website of giving tips for easy yet effective changes you can do in your life for becoming more green. Your blog is truly inspirational. If you like, check out our page and give us feedback 🙂

  5. Excellent tips. What strikes me the most is #1 – Buy less. I’ve been doing this when I decided to become more frugal. Now I have another reason to this, and that’s to reduce waste.

    One tip I might share is for us to really understand why we’re doing this. I’ve observed that for some people, they’re doing this because others are doing it as well. Then there are those who only do it whenever they remember doing it then post it to social media. Well, there could be more reasons but I do hope we could all focus on the main reason why we’re doing this and that’s because we care for Mother Nature. Once we’ve set our mind on it, I believe things will just come naturally.

  6. Hi Kathryn, this post really breaks the big mammoth of going zero waster into very easy, accessible steps. I spent all of last week searching for a laptop case. I looked for cases that were made out of recycled materials or had been upcycled. I reached out to online manufacturers to see how their products were made, I scouted Amazon for their used cases and still didn’t find a case that was protective enough or that felt like ‘me.’ Eventually I caved and brought a new case which was frustrating, but I did everything I could to find a zero waste solution. I especially appreciate the point you made about ‘not settling’ because if you settle, you without doubt will be unsatisfied with your purchase.

    1. I see them all the time at second hand thrift stores for a buck. No they are not made from natural products but isn’t it still better to reuse one already discarded (in new condition) than buying a new natural one? It scares me that people now seem to buy all new stuff to have the look of being natural…like bamboo flatware, why not just get a set of metal for a buck second hand instead of new,shipped bamboo?

  7. My parents were newlyweds in 1930. There was no such thing as waste those days and they lived that way all their lives. My sister and I continued their life style and I still try to reuse what others consider trash.

  8. Just became aware of the Zero Wast Movement. Trying to do without paper towels, paper napkins etc. Just curious, what do I use to drain bacon, fried chicken, etc.?

    1. I personally use newspaper, or any brown paper bags I have— the grocery store I go to offers paper instead of plastic. I realize that paper can be problematic as well, but I see it as something that I can at least use for multiple purposes, and then add to our food waste bin for city pick up afterwards

  9. It’s crazy to think about how much waste each of us produces in just a day! I’ve definitely fallen into the idea that in order to be sustainable and eco-friendly, I need to replace all the plastic things I own with counterparts made of bamboo, metal, or whatever else, if for no other reason than to give off the appearance of being zero waste. In all actuality, that mindset creates more waste than just keeping the old stuff does, even though the old stuff is made with harmful materials. I’ll definitely keep this post in mind the next time I think I need to buy something new.

    1. I feel like this is so true. Rather then use the plastic things we already own until they are no longer functioning, we get caught up in the ‘eco-friendly’ replacements. The most effective thing to do is not buy anything additional. I’ve been reminding myself of this with my car and clothes often.

  10. Loved this post! While there are many how-to guides on zero-waste living, this one sheds light on the underpinning of zero-waste lifestyle.
    My advice for beginners goes something like this: start small; don’t try to accomplish everything at once; sidestep zero waste guilt and move forward.