Minimalism and low waste go hand in hand. Both are focused on consuming less. When we adopted a minimalist lifestyle, we had no idea that would lead to a low waste lifestyle. The more that I read about low waste and zero waste, the more interested I became. Because of my research, I’ve learned a lot. We are still learning about how to reduce the waste we produce everyday, but we have come a long way.
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Let’s get this out of the way… there is no such things as “zero waste”
Even if you live completely off the grid and live off the land 100%, there is still the potential for waste in your life. Zero post-consumer waste? Maybe. But think about all of what goes into a product.
- Someone in an air-conditioned office building thought of an idea and sent the plans to a factory to be created
- Resources are derived from the Earth (or from animals and plants) by use of heavy machinery which consume massive amounts of fuel and other resources
- Once these resources are obtained from all over the world, they are shipped to a refinery
- After the resource is refined, the element is trucked or shipped to the factory where the product is to be made
- Workers spend man hours creating the product you’re about to purchase – creating individual parts that are then assembled into the final store-ready product (often in less than ideal working conditions)
- The product is then shipped again to a company warehouse
- From this big company warehouse, the products are moved to individual stores
- You then drive to these individual stores to purchase the product
- Once the product is used to what is deemed its “life span” (planned obsolescence), you dispose of it
- The once-useful product is now in a landfill
Sure, some items can be “recycled”, but how much of that product still ends up in a landfill? Resources were still consumed, and often times wasted, in the production of every item we own.
To learn more about how things are made – from the time the raw elements are taken from the Earth, to the time we throw something away – I highly recommend reading The Story of Stuff. Or at least watching the movie short.
How to start a low waste lifestyle
1. Don’t buy “green” products
As a pretty frugal (and minimal) person, I tell you this with great certainty – don’t go out or shop online for all the “green” products you think are necessary for this new low waste lifestyle of yours. You probably already have really useful things in your home. Re-purposing is not only a super-frugal thing to do, it is a low waste thing to do.
Here are some ideas:
- Bring old tote bags or swag bags to the store when you shop
- Use pillowcases or other, smaller cloth bags for produce
- Cut up shabby t-shirts to use for rags around the home
- Sew your own cloth napkins out of scrap fabric (or purchase them from my Etsy shop)
- Use kitchen towels instead of paper towels
- Mason jars or washed pasta sauce jars make excellent containers for the bulk items you’ll purchase
- Stash an extra food storage container in your car or your work desk in the event you go out to eat and need to bring home leftovers
- Use the food storage containers your already have instead of zip-top snack and sandwich bags
- Make your own hand soap refills to avoid purchasing new soap dispensers
- DIY your own dish detergent tabs (you probably have all the ingredients)
- Take your own mug to the coffee shop, use those tumblers stashed in your cabinet for beverages to-go
- Reuse plastic grocery sacks as diaper pail bags, trash bags, or stash them in your gym bag for ultra-sweaty clothes
- And of course, say no to the straw
2. Change your shopping habits
Waste you can control begins when you purchase anything at the store. Whether that’s a box of toaster pastries or a new dress, some waste is always associated with it.
Choose items with less packaging
Food packaging accounts for about half of our weekly trash (disposable diapers are the other half). This is something that we are struggling with since sometimes, packaged food is cheaper than buying things from the bulk section. (It’s a pandemic y’all, so I’m purchasing what is available).
The bulk section at your local grocery store is key when transitioning to a low waste lifestyle. Check with customer service before you shop to figure out how they weigh your container (if shopping with your own jars).
Shop in places that don’t have packaged products
What stores don’t have many, if any, packaged product? Thrift stores! Not only are you reducing what goes into the landfill by purchasing secondhand, you’re also reducing the need for that product to be produced by the manufacturer. As an added bonus, there isn’t any wrapping around it for you to throw away.
Groundbreaking, I know. But seriously… just buy less. What are the basic necessities you need every month – food, shelter, medication/insurance, utilities, car payments and gas – those are your true needs. Everything else could be considered a want. If you aren’t ready to go to a bare-bones budget, give our 72 Hour List a try. With the 72 hour list, you practice delayed gratification and you’ll either not purchase the item or you’ll save money on the item because you found a better deal.
Learn more about Minimalist Budgeting.
3. Use what you have, then buy reusable products
When I started researching zero waste and low waste lifestyles, I was ready to throw away everything I owned that wasn’t reusable or eco-friendly. Throwing away what you already own to replace it with something “better” is the definition of waste!!!
Turns out, nothing headed to the bin without being used up first. Paper napkins, period products, disposable straws – you name it, we used it up (or we’re still working on it).
I know it can be exciting to start this low waste journey. But it will take time to transition.
Make a list of all the single-use products in your home. After you make the list, brainstorm what you can swap out for a reusable product once you run out. Keep that list on your phone, fridge, planner – wherever you’ll see it.
4. Do a trash audit
Auditing your trash seems like a very dirty thing to do, but I promise it isn’t!
Keep a notepad by your main trashcan and as you throw things out, write them down. Everything. From food scraps to paper towels to diapers and more. Write it down. At the end of a week, go back through and total up the main items you throw away.
Do you mostly throw away food packaging? Or do you trash lots of paper products?
Once you find what you are throwing away or wasting the most, come up with a plan as a household to reduce that waste. The ideas at the beginning of this post should help!
5. Avoid waste
Avoiding waste can be like asking you to avoid drinking water all day. It will have to happen. BUT you can say “no” to things that are wasteful and repurpose items to reduce waste.
Say “no” to extra plastic bags at the store, items that are overly wrapped or packaged, to-go containers, extra paper napkins or condiments with your food order. Once you become aware of what you throw away (from your trash audit), you start to realize what exactly YOU need to say “no” to. Every household is different.
Common items that are wasted include single use packaging, food, paper products, and textiles. Can you repurpose any of these items before throwing them out?
Try using single use packaging as small pet waste bags or for storing other items, repurpose leftovers and other items forgotten about in your fridge, ditch paper towels and napkins all together in favor of fabric towels, and give worn out shirts and other fabrics in your home a new life by repurposing them into rags and napkins.
Waste is unavoidable on different levels, but what we choose to do as consumers makes all the difference. If more people stop buying paper napkins in favor of handmade fabric napkins, paper companies will produce less of their product. Yes, this would mean thousands of people not buying this product and yes, it will take lots of time. But this is just one example.
If consumers like you and me demand better from these companies that create purely disposable products, perhaps then we will see actual change that is better for you and me, and better for the environment.