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The Beginners Guide to Waste Reduction

Zero Waste for Beginners

Last Updated on October 3, 2022

This beginner’s guide to waste reduction will have you living your best life and doing your part to protect our planet.

We will go over how to go zero waste and give you some zero waste ideas to get you started on your journey. Even if you are a pro at going zero waste, you can always learn more about reducing waste.

guide to waste reduction

how to go zero waste

Just starting your zero waste journey? Let me be the first to welcome you to the going zero waste community!

It can be a little overwhelming when you’re trying to figure out how to go zero waste and where to start. These 10 going zero waste ideas will help you figure out those first beginner steps on reducing waste.

If you feel like you’ve mastered the beginning steps on waste reduction, make sure to check out The Ultimate Step by Step Guide to Going Zero Waste.

If you’re looking for even more information, head to the Zero Waste Tips for Beginners tab where all of my best beginner tips are rounded up in one easy and convenient location.

waste reduction tips

1. write down your ‘why’:

What’s the reason you decided to begin going zero waste?

Writing it down solidifies your resolve, giving you something to reference whenever you need motivation.

Perhaps it’s because you deeply care for the environment, want to save money, or avoid the toxins found in plastics. All those reasons are valid.

Reference this ‘why’ whenever you need some inspiration, or when the going gets tough. You got this!

2. focus on eliminating single-use items first:

Waste is everywhere, so before you overburden yourself focus on cutting out single-use items. What do you find yourself reaching for most: Plastic utensils, paper napkins, plastic water bottles?

Feel free to observe yourself for one week and take a trash audit. This will really help you see where your waste is coming from, and what exactly to eliminate to reduce waste.

If you’re not ready to tackle a trash audit, here are top 10 zero waste swaps to get you started.

woman drinking out of water bottle

RELATED: The Ultimate List of Zero Waste Swaps

3. use what you have:

You don’t have to buy new items to start going zero waste. Look around your house: What waste reduction tools do you already have?

Empty glass jars are great for storing dry bulk foods, homemade treats, leftovers, composting on the go, or an impromptu water bottle. For more inspiration check out 13 unexpected ways to use a mason jar.

An old shirt can be made into a reusable produce bag or cut up into hankies or rags. Reusable cutlery in your kitchen can be used for to-go utensils.

You don’t have to go out and buy all new stuff – just get creative with your waste reduction!

My friend Celia from LITTERLESS has an awesome series called Nothing New talking all about using what you already own. As a bonus, it’s also much cheaper. Make sure to grab my tips for Going Zero Waste on a Budget!

4. reducing waste by considering secondhand first:

When you do have to buy an item, check your local thrift stores first. They might just have what you need (at a much lower price too).

And, be sure to check out this super helpful blog post 5 Places to Find Zero Waste Supplies.

Items in thrift stores have already been made, so new resources do not need to be wasted on creating them. You’re also keeping a perfectly good item out of a landfill.

If you can’t find what you’re looking for secondhand, check out the zero waste shop where you can find all of the products used to make zero waste living just a little bit easier.

zero waste items on table

5. wait… and wait some more:

When you see an item you like or want, ask yourself if you really need it. Step away from the item and wait a few days (I recommend 30!).

This will allow you to avoid overconsumption. If there’s something you need, always ask friends and family first before buying it.

For example, did your coffee machine just break? Ask your sister if she has a spare. This will help save you a buck and not waste any new resources.

6. learn how to make things yourself:

Most toiletries, makeup, and processed food items are packaged in plastic. So one of my favorite zero waste ideas is to make items yourself. It’s great for waste reduction, and it feels good to make your own items.

Skip the takeout and make a homemade meal for dinner! (Of course, there’s zero waste takeout too….) Swap out conventional toothpaste for zero waste toothpaste or mouthwash. Learn how to make your own nut butters and cashew milk.

The possibilities are endless and are excellent for reducing waste.

7. get involved with your community:

Your community can help you achieve so much. It’s a great way to get friends, family, and neighbors involved in reducing their trash. You’ll be able to see an awesome local impact!

Here are some ways to get involved in your community:

woman with giant bags of waste

8. find your support group:

Whether it be online or with friends and family, having a support group matters. These are the people you can talk to about all things going zero waste.

If you live with your parents or have a family, get them involved! Get 10 tips for going zero waste while still living at home and explain the zero waste movement and why waste reduction matters to you to see if they’d be open to participating.

To get them pumped, try doing a 31 day challenge together. It’s a fun, interactive way to pique their interest.

9. appreciate your possessions:

Our society is quick to throw things out when something breaks or stops working.

Challenge consumerism by developing a relationship with your items. Purchasing products built to last will also save you money in the long run.

If something breaks, take the time to repair it or repurpose it. If you treat your items with care, chances are they’ll last a lot longer too.

10. start composting:

Composting is AWESOME for the environment and is another way to begin reducing waste.

Give it a go by placing all your food scraps into a jar and putting them in the freezer. Then, just dump the scraps off at your local food scrap drop off location.

If you have a backyard, invest in a tumbler: All you have to do is add your food scraps and give it a crank. In no time, you’ll have fresh, nutrient dense compost.

Check out the guides for composting in your backyard and composting in an apartment.

frequently asked questions

what are the 5 R’s of going zero waste?

  • Recycle – Whenever possible recycle items.
  • Rot – Composting is a must for waste reduction.
  • Reduce – Simply limit the number of things you own and purchase.
  • Refuse – If you don’t “need” it, don’t buy it.
  • Reuse – Find a new purpose in your items and reuse them.

what items can be reused?

There are tons of zero waste ideas out there for reusing items you already have. Some of my top favorites are:

  • Clothing
  • Glass jars and containers
  • Newspapers, paper bags, magazines
  • Furniture
  • Scrap paper
  • Toilet paper rolls
  • Notebooks
  • Jugs
  • Scraps of fabric
  • Bathroom items
  • and the list goes on and on!
vegetables to compost

Are you just starting out on your going zero waste journey? Did you find the above guide useful? Give it a share to inspire friends and family to show them how easy it is to get started!

Guest Post: Ariana Palmieri is the founder of, a blog dedicated to zero waste living and sustainability. Her work has been featured on MindBodyGreen, Green Matters, The Penny Hoarder and several other publications. Get her free e-book “10 Ways to Reduce Trash” by signing up to her newsletter and learn how to reduce your waste today.

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  1. Composting is definitely not just throwing in food scraps. If you do this you will get a gooey mess. I looked at your links and you barely or don’t mention the fact you have to have a balance of ‘browns’ and ‘greens.’ A lot of people have this misconception and end up hating composting because its just a big mess if you only add food scraps. I would clarify.

  2. Great information but I wish this didn’t say ‘welcome to the community’. Inclusion and exclusion seems to be one of the biggest driver of everyone being unkind to one another. Those in the club treat outsiders unkind, the outsiders feel bad and despise the insiders. We’re all in this universe together, let’s include all

  3. Moving to a trailer from a three-bedroom home where I grew up taught me a lot. I will make it short. I rinse our dishes in a 12×15 container that fits our kitchen sink. I then use that water to water all the vegetables and flowers every day. I realized how much we waste water. Conserve water!