A Zero Waste lifestyle doesn’t have to be tedious and complicated. Start small by opting out of buying unnecessary items. A digital declutter might be an easier way to get into the right mindset than purging your physical belongings. Slowly phase out the wasteful stuff by not immediately repurchasing an item that you’ve just finished, or by swapping it for a better alternative. Make Zero Waste easy for yourself: get the reusable to-go items that match your habits and lifestyle and ensure that you have easy access to them. Treat yourself for making better choices.
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In the last decade, people like Bea Johnson und Lauren Singer have propelled the Zero Waste lifestyle into the mainstream. However, many people still associate it with worm farms, darning their socks, and carrying around dozens of mason jars everywhere they go – very tedious and who-the-hell-has-the-time-for-these kinds of things.
The good news is that the worms are optional, and so are all the other things you “should” be doing. You don’t even have to turn into that annoying person telling off other people for using a straw.
There is no single correct way of how to switch to a Zero Waste lifestyle, simply because there really is no such thing: no one can truly produce absolutely no rubbish in their lifetime. Even Bea Johnson has collected a few mason jars over the years. So, let’s just get the first (and the most limiting) obstacle out of the way: odds are, you won’t get it “right”, so just start where you are, do it your own way and at your own pace. Perfection is not only unattainable, but unnecessary, too – as Anne Marie Bonneau of Zero Waste Chef says, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
The easiest way to transition to Zero Waste is as with any other habit – start small. You wouldn’t try to run a marathon the day after you make your New Year’s Resolution, would you?
So, instead of overwhelming yourself with the impossible task of purging all of your belongings between two meetings, a conference call, walking your dog, and buying a birthday gift for your Dad, we recommend that you start with the first of the five R’s of Zero Waste: Refuse, as this will literally require you to NOT do / buy / use something, rather than adding yet another to-do to your already bursting list.
You were thinking of replacing your bathroom towels? Just keep them for another year – I bet they are still OK. That will save you some cash and endless hours of searching for THE PERFECT TOWELS, as well as extending the lifespan of the ones you already have.
Your friend talked you into trying some new weird workout that you’re not particularly excited about and that will require you to buy a whole new set of equipment? Politely talk yourself out of it with a counter-proposal of instead jogging together in the park (or eating popcorn at the movies together, because who are we kidding?). A huge part of Zero Waste and minimalist living in general is not about DOING something, but about actively and intentionally NOT DOING something, be it buying a new item or saying yes to a new commitment.
Purge without getting off the couch
If you’re ready for the next R: Reduce, your options of things to purge are limitless.
If you are intimidated by dealing with your physical stuff, it might be easier to start by cancelling subscriptions you don’t use or enjoy, unsubscribing from newsletters, and deleting some photos from your phone. Yes, your data can also very well become clutter, sitting on some server in a far away land and being responsible for a chunk of the 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere every year. Digital purging is easier to start with as it doesn’t require disrupting your lifestyle (aka wardrobe explosion) or dedicating a lot of time to the initial purge. You can just do a bit here and there, while having a cup of coffee or as a form of legitimate procrastination.
Purging physical things can be tricky because of the emotional value that they hold and the investment bias with which they are imbued.
Also, it can be too daunting a task to go through all of the possessions you’ve accumulated over the years, KonMari style, unless you just want to see them burn (we can totally relate). The easiest way to make your home more sustainable is to instead slowly phase out the bad and unnecessary things by not immediately repurchasing an item that you’ve just finished or by swapping it for a better alternative.
Next time you run out of some highly specific cleaning product, check out if the same result can be achieved with just soap and water, or vinegar, or alcohol, or baking soda (you’ll be surprised by how many things can be achieved with baking soda), or another cleaning product you already have.
Next time you run out of deodorant in a non-recyclable plastic container, consider treating yourself to some luxuriously smelling natural deodorant in compostable or metal packaging (we know a good one). You will quickly develop the habit of asking yourself “Do I really need this?“, “Can I use something else to do it?”, and “Is there a better alternative for this” before purchasing a new item.
You really don’t need to take dozens of mason jars with you every time you leave the house, but carrying around a couple of things will make it way easier for you to avoid creating unnecessary rubbish.
Analyse your habits: are you a straw-drink kind of person? Then investing into a set of reusable straws might be a good idea. Are your eyes bigger than your stomach? Get into the habit of carrying a light and spill-proof container (stainless steel is great, but any old container will do) with you whenever you go out to eat. The key is to make Zero Waste as easy for yourself as possible: keep all your to-go gear in the same drawer, or prepare it the night before, so all you have to do in the morning is grab your bag.
Take it easy
And, last but not least, don’t push it. Odds are you already have a lot of commitments in your life. Adding another “I have to…” will likely result in rebellion, sabotage, and subsequent resentment.
Try to see the transition to Zero Waste as a bit of a game. You can even invent some points system or other ways to encourage better environmental choices. Get yourself a piece of that prohibitively expensive calorie bomb of a cake you love so much with every 10th cup of coffee that you drink from your reusable cup instead of a single-use one. It’s not going to stick if you’re not enjoying the process, and as you probably won’t at the beginning (changing old habits is never fun), you might need to trick your brain a bit with some treats.
Soon you will see the benefits of living with less stuff and probably won’t need to motivate yourself with a gold star every time you say no to some quick endorphins, as what you will acquire is infinitely cooler – being surrounded only by things that you truly love and appreciate.
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