Updated: Dec 7, 2020
Everyone takes his or her own journey to zero waste. Each person stumbles across the lifestyle differently, whether it’s organic process, or learning of the lifestyle from others.
For me personally, there were a few other lifestyle changes that happened before zero waste. A number of years ago, I started learning about the potential for toxic ingredients in personal care products. This realization, combined with some research, inspired me to change the products I was using and to be more conscious of the ingredients in future purchases. This happened for all of my toiletries, and then trickled into my husband's toiletries (his choice, of course!) as well. It didn't happen overnight; we used up what we had and replaced those products with toxic-free alternatives.
It probably took a year or so to overhaul most of our products: my makeup, deodorants, shampoo and conditioner, body wash, lotions, cleaning supplies, detergents, etc.
Through that process, I discovered that I had too much stuff. Too much makeup I didn't wear, too many toiletries, etc. This acknowledgement permeated my entire life as I began to declutter not just my toiletries, but also everything else. I had found minimalism. My journey to less was then informed by all things Pinterest. I stumbled upon inspiring influencers such as The Minimalists, Becoming Minimalist, and Courtney Carver, among others. If you’re on your journey to less, definitely check them out!
Less is more, and I like it that way. Well, except travel mugs and reusable water bottles, and reusable food containers.... there are some exceptions!
Then came zero waste. I was ready for it! I had tackled the toxics, and reduced my stuff (and I had kept SO MUCH STUFF from high school and university... ALLLLL THE PAPER). But even with all of those changes, I knew something was still missing; I was in search of ways to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. Hubby and I had already been reducing our waste and were avid recyclers, but we took it to the next level being inspired by the likes of Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home, and Lauren Singer of Trash is for Tossers.
We aren't perfect, and we aren't 100% zero waste. I would call our lifestyle low waste, and we are inspired by the ideal of zero waste. Some months are better than others, some days better than others. However, what's important about this lifestyle is the awareness of the life cycle for everything we use. Knowing where stuff comes from and how it was made, how long it's useful to us, and how it gets disposed. This mindset helps us stick to the 6 R's. The 5 R's (refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot) were pioneered by Bea Johnson in her book Zero Waste Home, but a 6th was added by the zero waste community: repair!
Progress Over Perfection
One common issue I see again and again, and even with myself, is that people don’t feel that they are zero waste enough. That or the zero waste lifestyle appears so incredibly restrictive and intimidating that some people either don’t know where to start, or don’t start at all.
I want to dispel these myths about zero waste living! Your goals can be your own; you don’t have to aim for perfection (whatever that is, anyway?!).
Where to start?
Awareness of the issues is a great place to start. What inspires you to reduce your waste? Perhaps you find that you lug too much trash to the curb each week? Are you tired of seeing litter in your neighbourhood? Maybe learning about how single-use plastics harms wildlife inspires you to action? Or are you feeling like a hamster on the treadmill of overconsumption?
Know your WHY.
Need some Inspiration?
Check out National Geographic’s Plastic Issue
Watch the War on Waste
Watch A Plastic Ocean
Read the news
Your reason for starting and maintaining a zero waste or low waste lifestyle (call it whatever you like) will help motivate you to maintain momentum. When it gets hard, or you fall of the wagon, your 'why' will guide you forward once again.
Keep in mind that your zero waste life will be influenced by a number of factors, such as where you live and the resources that are available. For example, where I live there are bulk shops where I can bring my own containers, and plenty of plastic-free produce options. However, not everyone will have access these options. Costs might also be an inhibiting factor. I’ve heard from some people that where they live, produce wrapped in plastic is less expensive than unwrapped produce.
Your best bet? Take stock of what’s available in your community:
Are there grocery stores or bulk shops that let you use your own containers?
Are there any bottle return programs? (e.g. for milk, nut mylk, yogurt, etc.)
Where can you buy plastic-free produce?
Is it an option for you to grow your own produce? Perhaps you have space in your backyard, or there may be a community garden nearby where you can grow some veggies and meet your neighbours.
Are there any CSAs where you live? Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) lets you buy a share of that year’s harvest, and helps you to support local food and small-scale farmers. This will also provide an opportunity for you to request plastic-free produce.
Are there restaurants in town that let you grab takeout with your own containers?
What second hand shops are in your area? Think charity shops, consignment stores, etc. But also remember there are really great websites for swapping and selling (e.g. Craigslist and Kijiji, VarageSale, etc.)
Are there other resources in your area, such as a tool library or other sharing resources?
Check out your local library for swapping events, and other community activities that will support low waste living.
Consider taking courses that improve skills such as sewing, knitting, canning, and cooking (these can be local, or online too!).
Do what works for you! Living your zero waste life means living your life and reducing your waste within the context of your circumstances and your budget.
Working towards zero waste is not a contest! It’s not about keeping up with the zero waste Joneses. It’s about learning, and making the lower waste choice when it works.
Set goals that work for you. Keeping in mind all of the above can seem overwhelming. It won’t all happen overnight! Set reasonable goals for yourself, and choose a place to start.
You may start with creating a zero waste kit (e.g. all the reusables you need while you're out and about) and ditching single-use disposables such as coffee cups, cutlery, food packaging, etc.
You may want to start in your kitchen by conducting a pantry audit and scoping out where you can shop package-free locally. Where you start is up to you, but go easy on yourself. Your goals are about you, not anyone else!
Most of all, have fun!