Zero Waste Lifestyle Tips (A Guide for Beginners)

zero waste lifestyle tips

Are you new to the zero waste lifestyle?  Are you looking for zero waste lifestyle tips to transition your family but don’t know where to start?

First of all, welcome! You are in the right place to start this journey. 

Our family first started transitioning to a zero waste lifestyle in the summer of 2018. 

It’s not something that you can do overnight. The zero waste lifestyle is a journey, not a destination.  

You’ll hear me, and others in the zero waste world, say that a lot and for good reason.  We don’t want you to become overwhelmed with making the transition and don’t want you to get caught up with thinking you have to do it all right from the start. 

The transition to a zero waste lifestyle will take time and that’s perfectly ok!  I’m here to help you along the way. I like to focus on progress, not perfection! 

One of the things my readers love most is that we are in this together and they never feel the pressure to be perfect.

WHAT IS A ZERO WASTE LIFESTYLE?

When most people think of the zero waste movement, they think of how a few inspirational people, like Bea Johnson, the founder of the zero waste movement, fill only one mason jar full of trash in a year. 

And that’s it… that’s the only trash they have for the entire year!

It would be great if we could all achieve that level of commitment and accomplishment. Yet, realistically, that is a very tough goal to achieve.  

This picture of one single jar of waste is very idealistic.  

While this is a great goal to strive for, it’s not very realistic for many families… at least not in the beginning.

So what is a zero waste lifestyle? 

Bea Johnson has paved the path and founded the zero waste lifestyle.  According to her, “Zero Waste is a philosophy based on a set of practices aimed at avoiding as much waste as possible.”

She teaches how to accomplish a zero waste lifestyle in her book, Zero Waste Home, and discusses the approach of the 5Rs, which stand for Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot. 

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"How do you manage to continue with Zero Waste during this pandemic😷?!" 🌿 Many ZeroWaste-focused social accounts tell you that "zero waste is impossible right now". I put my foot down. IT IS POSSIBLE🌠. Do not let anyone tell you that it's not! It might look different than before, but it's NOT impossible. 🌿 Millions of people are using my book's 5R method to get to zero waste and they're proving that it is applicable anywhere in the world🌎 -and to any situation (incl. that of a pandemic). 🌿 Travelling through 80+ countries has taught me that waste management and resources differ from one country to another (recycling being the trickiest), but regardless of location🗺, anyone can: . Learn to say no (Refuse) . Choose to live simply and let go of the things they don't need to make them available to their community (Reduce) . Swap disposables for reusables (everyone already has in their homes the essential swaps, no need to rush online to buy something: look in your home first!), Repair, Buy secondhand… (Reuse) . Have access to some sort of recycling♻ (Recycle); . Implement a compost system fit for their needs (Rot). 🌿 Every situation, every individual is different. Every part of the world has advantages and inconveniences in regards to zero waste. It’s up to each individual to make the best of what his/her/their region has to offer, to adapt this lifestyle to personal particularities and readjust when unusual circumstances arise: In a pandemic😷, you adapt the lifestyle just as you would if you moved to a new location. 🌿 You might have temporary restrictions on bulk where you live, but let's not forget that waste free living goes well beyond the sheer aspect of buying from a bulk bin -that Refusing and Reducing, i.e, voluntary simplicty is half the battle! 🌿 Let my 5Rs be your guide. Pay attention🧐 and solutions that you never saw before will jump at you. What you'll discover is that zero waste is possible no matter the situation. . . . . . #zerowaste #zerodechet #zerowastehome #unpackaged #bulk #ZWHtour #zerowastehomebook #zerowastelifestyle #5Rs #refill #reuse #ZWH #zerowastehometour #airstream #tinyliving #nomad

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Photo credit: Zero Waste Home

Johnson goes into this in more depth in her book and during her TEDx Talk in April 2016, but the basics are simple.

  • Refuse – Refuse items that you do not need and avoid the consumption of needless waste. Examples: refuse free pens from conventions, refuse plastic straws and utensils from restaurants, refuse plastic bags from the grocery store, and refuse as much (or all) single-use plastic as possible.  The less you consume, the less that is produced and ultimately disposed of.
  • Reduce – Reduce your use of items that are not needed or unnecessary. Again, this involves the principal of the less you consume, the less that is produced. Examples: reduce the amount of clothing that you buy and instead focus on purchasing quality, staple items over trendy, cheap articles of clothing. Additionally, reduce the amount of plastic, cheap toys that you buy your children and instead invest in quality, classic toys that will be around for years to come. 
  • Reuse – reuse items and supplies instead of purchasing disposable items. Examples: instead of using disposable utensils for home or parties, use stainless steel forks, spoons, and knives to avoid unnecessary waste. Also, instead of buying plastic, disposable water bottles for your home, invest in a glass or stainless steel water bottle that can be reused forever. Another important aspect of reusing has to do with finding new uses for old items.  For example, glass jars are a popular example.  You can reuse a jar of jelly when it’s empty by turning it into a vase, a storage container for homemade salad dressing, or even a drinking glass. 
  • Recycle – recycle anything that you cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse. However, recycle only as a last resort and always try to implement the first 3 Rs first.  As many people are starting to realize, recycling in the United States (and elsewhere) is a complicated system that isn’t completely effective in most cases. Many recyclables end up in the landfills anyway, or even worse, they end up in the oceans. So remember that recycling isn’t the answer to the zero waste lifestyle. Refusing, reducing, and reusing will help you be more successful on your zero waste journey and will benefit our planet more. 
  • Rot – rotting is essentially the recycling of organic materials – nature’s way of recycling.  According to Bea Johnson, one-third of household waste is organic materials, such as food waste and yard waste. So it makes a lot of sense to compost at home to divert the food and yard waste from landfills where the waste will not properly decompose and will contribute to air and soil pollution. Backyard composting is becoming more popular and easy to do.  Our family will be starting a compost pile this summer as part of our zero waste goals for the year.  I will keep you posted on our progress and journey. 

For a deeper understanding of the 5 Rs, I suggest you read Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson or watch her TEDx Talk.

FIND YOUR WHY

Clearly, we all must have our own reasons for wanting to live a zero waste lifestyle.  When you connect to your “why” it helps keep you motivated and determined to keep working towards your zero waste goals. 

Without your why, it’s easy to veer off course and forget the importance of your goals. 

So determine your own reasons for wanting to live a zero waste lifestyle – not the reasons of Bea Johnson or any other zero waste icons – but your reasons.  Hold them close to you or even write them down somewhere like a journal or post it on your bulletin board. 

For me, I became concerned about our family’s waste the more I saw and read about plastic pollution in oceans.  

I have always loved animals, even volunteering in no-kill animal shelters for years and dreamed of becoming a marine biologist or dolphin trainer because of my love for dolphins. So seeing images of sea turtles, dolphins, whales, and other sea creatures being harmed by plastic pollution made me feel awful for these animals. They have no way of protecting themselves from the harm that humans are causing them.  

According to Ocean Conservancy, “Every year, 8 million metric tons of plastics enter our ocean on top of the estimated 150 million metric tons that currently circulate our marine environments.”

Knowing that the plastic pollution problem is a people problem and can be solved by people, it became my “why.”

So what’s your why?   One of the best zero waste lifestyle tips is to determine your why before moving on to the next steps on your journey into a zero waste lifestyle.

Want to save time and money finding the zero waste swaps for your family? Download the FREE guide to 9 Zero Waste Swaps Every Family Can Make!

ZERO WASTE LIFESTYLE PROS & CONS

Like any other lifestyle change, you will find that there are many pros and many cons. To move forward, you’ll want to have your pros outweigh your cons. 

If you are considering a zero waste lifestyle for your entire family and not just yourself, then there are more aspects of your family life that you need to consider.  

Here is a list of what I perceive the pros and cons of a zero waste lifestyle to be, but it would probably be best for you to make a list for yourself.

Pros of a Zero Waste Lifestyle

  • Reduce plastic pollution
  • Reduce waste
  • Prevent food waste
  • Eliminate single-use plastics
  • Protect the planet 
  • Protect wildlife
  • Reduce the emission of greenhouse gases 
  • Help fight climate change
  • Helps conserve resources
  • Allows you to live a more mindful life
  • Can save you money 
  • Helps you focus on high quality, long-lasting, sustainable products
  • Simplifies life in many ways

Cons of a Zero Waste Lifestyle

  • Transitions can be challenging at first
  • Requires personal & family discipline
  • Some zero waste products can be more expensive
  • Can feel limiting in social situations
  • Challenging for families
  • Not always 100% achievable 
  • Sometimes difficult to find zero waste alternatives
  • Need to remember to take reusables with you
  • Requires more planning at times

Don’t let the cons on this list deter you!  Instead look at it as just a list of things to plan for.  When you plan for your challenges and how you will overcome them, then you will be more likely to succeed with your zero waste goals. 

ZERO WASTE LIFESTYLE INSPIRATION

Looking to others who have been on a zero waste journey already can give you the inspiration you need to know that it is achievable and can be done! 

Hopefully, you will be inspired by my own story of a regular little family trying to make a difference and will want to hang out with us on our journey.  You can follow us on my blog, Simply Living Green with Rebekah or on social media.  We’d love to have you as part of our zero waste and green living community!

Additionally, these are the resources that I have turned to help us get started, stay motivated, and be inspired along this journey. Hopefully, they will be helpful for you too!

Zero Waste Books

Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson

Plastic Free by Beth Terry

101 Ways To Go Zero Waste by Kathryn Kellogg

Zero Waste YouTube Channels

Zero Waste Bloggers

HOW TO START YOUR ZERO WASTE TRANSITION

In my opinion, one of the most important zero waste lifestyle tips I can give you when you start this transition is to remember that zero waste is a journey, not a destination

I can’t take credit for that piece of advice.  I read it somewhere early on during my transition to a zero waste lifestyle and it was so helpful.  

I’m still on the journey. My family is still on the journey.  We began in July 2018 making the shift to a zero waste lifestyle and we still haven’t “made it” there yet.  While we’ve made a lot of progress, we still have a ways to go.  

If you have a family to transition to zero waste, it may take you more time too.  It is a lot easier if you are just making the switch for yourself. So give yourself grace as you go.  Do not expect perfection or transformation overnight.  

Anne Marie Bonneau, The Zero-Waste Chef, said it best. 

“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” 

This quote is another piece of advice that has stuck with me on our journey.  I hope you find it helpful too so that you don’t feel the pressure to do zero waste perfectly.

AUDIT YOUR TRASH

trash audit with family

A lot of zero waste influencers talk about dumping out your trash on the ground and really looking to see what kind of waste you are producing each week.  

Our family did not go through this literal step on our journey, but I did start making mental notes about areas in our life that we could cut back on or find alternatives for.  

In fact, it is an ongoing process in my opinion.  

Once you make some zero waste swaps, you’ll want to reassess what would be the next logical step as you go. 

For example, I noticed from the start that our family used too many single-use plastic water bottles and plastic straws out of convenience.  So that was the first thing we focused on changing.  

What do you think you’d find the most of in your garbage can if you dumped it out?  Not sure? Then, by all means, DUMP IT OUT! 

SET YOUR GOALS & PRIORITIZE 

Once you’ve completed your trash audit, you’ll want to set your goals for what you want to accomplish first. 

For example, choose which area of your life or room you’d like to start with. Our FREE  Going Green checklist which is a part of the free Going Green & Living Clean workshop is the perfect tool to help you with this.  

The checklist and mini-workshop will:

  • Help you start to your transition to a low-waste lifestyle
  • Learn how to save time & money on this journey
  • Say goodbye to overwhelm 
  • Learn how to shop stress-free for zero waste products

At the end of this workshop and by using the checklist, you will be able to choose one room of your house to focus on making zero waste swaps first.  Item by item you can make changes and keep track of your goals on the checklist.  

For example, our family first committed to using our reusable water bottles and to stop buying cases of single-use plastic water bottles.  This was an easy first step for us and on top of being eco-friendly, it actually saves us time and money too!

Next, we decided to say “NO” to plastic drinking straws. This was an easy swap but made a big difference in our waste production since our daughters used straws daily to drink their milk (which is important since it’s mixed with daily medicine that they need).  Our transition to reusable silicone straws for them was easy and again saves us time and money in the long run.  

As you go, reassess which item or area in your home is producing the most waste and focus on that area next. Little by little you will make substantial progress! 

Want to get started in the kitchen with your zero waste swaps? Download the FREE guide – 9 Zero Waste Swaps Every Family Can Make!

ZERO WASTE BABY STEPS

One of the most important zero waste lifestyle tips is to take baby steps on this journey.  

One or two zero waste swaps at a time will feel more manageable and help you stay successful.  

Remember that slow progress is still progress, and that as long as you are moving forward, you are successful on this journey.  

Raising a family in a modern society full of fast-paced lifestyles built on convenience can make a transition to a zero waste lifestyle a little tricky at times.  So in order to stay on track and not feel overwhelmed, give yourself grace and move at a slow and intentional pace that works for your family. 

Never feel the pressure to be perfect and do it all. Baby steps will help you set your goals and meet them in a realistic way. 

USE UP WHAT YOU HAVE FIRST

zero waste lifestyle tips

An important principal of a zero waste lifestyle and one of the 5 Rs is to reduce. Therefore, as you are making this transition, remember to use what you have before going out and buying new.  

You may see a lot of great zero waste and reusable products that you would like your family to start using and that’s great!  However, you don’t want to throw away perfectly good supplies in favor of trendy, new “zero waste” purchases.  

For example, when I came across zero waste dental floss, I was tempted to try it immediately. Yet, I still had a package of conventional dental floss that I had purchased a while back.  It wouldn’t make sense to throw that away and waste it, in favor of buying more “zero waste” dental floss.  

Use up what you have first, and slowly you can replace items with zero waste alternatives as you naturally need them.

CREATE NEW ZERO WASTE HABITS

Another one of the zero waste lifestyle tips that has helped our family find success is to create new habits. 

Yes, this can sound overwhelming and challenging but it doesn’t have to be.  Just choose one goal or zero waste swap to start with, practice and get used to the new way of doing things, keep doing it until it is second nature and a new habit. 

Rinse and repeat!

It can be that simple for many people, but for others it’s hard to break old habits and create new ones. If that’s the case for you or your family, I highly recommend the book, Atomic Habits by James Clear. This book has so many practical tips to create new habits and break old habits. You can use it in any area of your life, including making new habits for all the zero waste lifestyle tips you start to implement. 

DONATE YOUR UNWANTED ITEMS

As you start to transition to a zero waste lifestyle, you will likely start to simplify your life a bit and want to clear out items and supplies that don’t work for you any longer. 

However, resist tossing your belongings in the trash, if at all possible.

What can you donate to someone else?   Donating items to second hand stores helps to keep your unwanted belongings out of the landfill, but make sure that the items are in good condition.  Otherwise the second hand stores will likely throw them in the trash anyway.

Can you upcycle the item into something new?  Our family tries to avoid throwing away or recycling items that could be made into something new instead.  

For example, instead of throwing away your old denim jeans, could you make an Upcycled Denim Rag Rug like this one by My Poppet Makes blog?

Upcycled Denim Rag Rug

There are so many creative and useful ideas, especially on Pinterest. Check out more upcycling and repurposing ideas over on my Pinterest boards for lots of creative inspiration!

You can also consider selling your unwanted belongings on Craigslist, eBay, have a garage sale or post it on a local, neighborhood Facebook group.  

The more items you can keep out of the landfills and put into the hands of people that need them, the better.

PROGRESS OVER PERFECTION

Along this zero waste lifestyle journey, please remind yourself that the goal is always to make progress towards your goal, but that perfection is not usually possible.  

In fact, perfection is rarely possible in any aspect of your life.  Perfection is a myth and will just lead to frustration and overwhelm.  

So give yourself grace upfront.  Your zero waste lifestyle goals may take time to achieve and that’s ok.  

Always remember, progress over perfection!

HOW TO SHOP FOR ZERO WASTE PRODUCTS

So where do you begin to find zero waste products? 

In the beginning, knowing where to shop can be a little overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.  Take what others have researched and learned to save yourself time, money, and frustration.  

Zero Waste Swaps

The easiest swaps to make for our family – that also had the biggest impact on our waste reduction – happened in the kitchen first. 

Our kitchen trash can is the largest in our house and likely the case for most households.  So starting in the kitchen makes sense since it seems to be the room in your house that produces the most waste. 

If you are interested in some easy quick zero waste swaps to get you started, check out and download the FREE guide called, 9 Zero Waste Kitchen Swaps Every Family Can Make.

Save time and money with this free printable guide and checklist!

Zero Waste Online Shops

Amazon

Many zero waste products that can be found on speciality zero waste shops can also be found on Amazon.  It seems everything can be found on Amazon these days, right?  

However, I will caution you that if you are concerned with plastic packaging from online orders, then Amazon may not be the right choice for you. However, sometimes, it is a convenient and affordable choice, so it may be a good first step as you begin your zero waste lifestyle, especially if you already have an Amazon Prime membership. 

A few of my favorite zero waste swaps on Amazon are:

Bulk Grocery Stores

One of the best places to shop for food for a zero waste lifestyle is at a bulk grocery store.  Some cities are blessed with zero waste stores that carry only bulk options and allow you to bring in your own containers to fill. (I wish I had one near my home!)

However, even if you are not that fortunate, you can still find many local grocery stores, such as Whole Foods, that have sections with bulk bin shopping.  

To locate bulk stores by you, check out the Zero Waste Home bulk store finder on the Zero Waste Home website.  It’s a great tool to keep handy as you find local shopping that can work for your family.

Another online bulk shopping guide can be found on the Litterless website through the Zero Waste Grocery Guide. You can search for local options by state in this handy tool.

*Please note that currently many bulk grocery stores are not allowing customers to BYOC (bring your own containers) due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Hopefully, in time and when it is safe to do so, shopping guidelines will return to normal. Please call ahead to determine the current guidelines for each store.

Farmer’s Markets

farmer's market

Another great option for zero waste shopping is to frequent farmer’s markets as much as possible.  You can bring your own reusable grocery bags (and refuse the plastic bags that are typically handed out with purchases). Plus you can usually buy produce that is not packaged in plastic packaging. Bring reusable containers for berries and other small fruits and vegetables so that you can opt to not take home small plastic containers that usually hold blueberries and the like.  

Get to know the local farmers and ask them how to reduce packaging and about using your own containers.  Once you do it a couple of times, you’ll have a new routine to buy your produce and can develop this habit.  Sometimes you can find other local goodies and support local, small businesses too. Win-win!

Going Green & Living Clean Quick Start Guide

Going Green Quick Start Guide

Looking for specific products and not sure where to find them? Save time and money using the Going Green & Living Clean Quick Start Guide.  

This guide has all the resources, books, documentaries, movies, brands, and companies that I have used and found to be helpful for our family as we navigated a zero waste lifestyle.  

Additionally, if you are interested in going green by reducing toxins and harsh chemicals in your home, this resource includes trusted clean living companies & resources that our family has tried and loves. 

My goal is that it saves you time, money, and stress as you try to figure out how to get started going green and living clean

YOUR ZERO WASTE HOME

When you are ready for zero waste lifestyle tips that help you transform your home room by room, you can use the Going Green checklist to help you transition to a zero waste kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, cleaning closets, and more.  

You can download the checklist as part of the Going Green & Living Clean Quick Start Guide.

Little by little and over time, you can transition each room in your home and area of your life to a zero waste lifestyle. 

Just remember, that slow progress is still progress and to give yourself grace as you navigate these changes. Juggling the needs of your family can be challenging. So do what you can and on your own timeline.  

ZERO WASTE LIFESTYLE TIPS FOR KIDS

Speaking of your family, taking your children along during the transition to a zero waste lifestyle can be fun and exciting but it can also present its own challenges and obstacles. 

If your children are young, it can be difficult for them to understand all of your family’s zero waste goals and reasons for your new lifestyle.  

If they are comparing your family’s lifestyle to that of their friends and classmates, you will need to be prepared to teach them and explain why it is so important to “go green” and aim to live a zero waste lifestyle.  

This is the case for our family too.  We have three daughters, ages 7, 8 and 11. I have spent about the last two years slowly educating them and guiding them on this zero waste journey.  

The good news is that the younger they are when you start talking to them about why it’s important to reduce our waste, the more normal it is for them and it becomes a part of their daily routines and thinking.  

Not sure how to start preparing and educating your children on the importance of going green and living a zero waste lifestyle? 

The Going Green & Living Clean Quick Start Guide has loads of resources listed to help prepare and educate your children, including book recommendations listed by age range and several documentaries and TED Talks to help you “go green” and start living a zero waste lifestyle.  

CELEBRATE YOUR ZERO WASTE WINS!

Of all the zero waste lifestyle tips, the most important is to celebrate your wins along the way.  

Especially if you are transitioning your entire family,  you will want to pause and celebrate the swaps your kids (and husband) are making successfully.  Let them know you see and appreciate their efforts.  

This will help build a sense of pride in their choices and actions, which will ultimately help them to build an internal desire to reach for a zero waste lifestyle themselves. 

Don’t forget to celebrate your own progress and accomplishments too! You’re doing a great job and you’re making a huge difference in the health of your family and the planet! 

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Want to save time and money finding the zero waste swaps for your family? Download the FREE guide to 9 Zero Waste Swaps Every Family Can Make!

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