Have you tried living a zero-waste lifestyle but can’t seem to get it right every time you try? Or are you considering living waste-free but afraid to make mistakes that can deter your mission?
Fret not, my friend; zero waste enthusiast, Aisha Preece, is here to help!
As you embark on living a zero-waste lifestyle, this article aims to help you learn a little more about living zero waste and how you can avoid some of the common mistakes that can deter you from continuing your zero waste lifestyle.
Living Zero Waste: 7 Common Mistakes to Avoid
- Making too many changes at once
- All or nothing attitude
- Not having balance
- Buying things you don’t need
- Making everything yourself
- Letting fear stop you
- Setting a finish line for your zero waste lifestyle
I decided to embark on a zero waste living journey once I quit my corporate job, started working from home as a freelance writer and discovered how much waste I was actually putting out into the world!
Generally, living zero waste is a way of living that aims to reduce the amount of material or waste we dispose of. Instead, it’s purpose is to reincorporate the by-products of one system to be used for another approach.
While it can be challenging to live a completely zero waste lifestyle, it is so important that we try.
Adopting a zero-waste lifestyle can be crucial to improving community capacity, providing support for marginalized communities and protecting the community’s health by reducing pollution in the air, soil and water by keeping toxins and waste away from landfills and more.
So, to better our environment and communities, here is a summary of all the common mistakes you should avoid as you embark on this journey of living a zero-waste lifestyle.
- 7 Zero Waste Swaps For A More Sustainable Home
- 10 Easy Steps To Transition Into A Zero Waste Home
- 6 Simple Ways to Start your Zero-Waste Journey at Home
Living Zero Waste: 7 Common Mistakes to Avoid
1. Making too many changes at once
As a beginner embarking on a zero-waste life, it is normal to feel like you’ll have to turn your life upside down in an instant to live this new life you’re ready for. It’s exciting, fresh, and can certainly feel like an adventure, but it can also be overwhelming.
You may consider beginning to eat more vegan food, wash your hair with baking soda or carry reusable cups and cutleries everywhere you go but be careful of making too many changes at once.
It is common knowledge that if you try to change too quickly, chances are they may not stick or last for very long.
Try to make more sustainable efforts and take one step when considering starting a low waste lifestyle.
Pick an area in your life and work on the changes you can begin to make there – even the most minor actions or effort matter.
You don’t have to start drinking oat milk or throw out all your tampons all at once to reduce waste.
Taking small steps and working on smaller chunks at a time may be more effective for those starting this journey – to avoid being overwhelmed and sustain the practice of reducing waste over time.
2. All or nothing attitude
The fastest way to derail your zero waste journey is to decide you’re going to do it all at once, and ideally at that too, which can frankly be quite impossible to do, especially as a beginner.
It is essential to realize that low waste living is a journey, and there will be lots of learning, mistakes and confusions along the way that can make the journey seem harder than it seems.
What each individual can do can depend on various factors such as location, income, local resources and availability, among others.
Remember, change happens gradually, and you’re not obligated to make changes overnight or do them all from the start.
Start with little things like opting for a menstrual cup instead of tampons or incorporating more plant-based ingredients such as soy milk or organic vegetables in your cooking.
Try using a reusable cup the next time you go to a coffee shop or carry your shopping bags for your groceries.
These are milestones you can celebrate as you take on a zero-waste life, both for yourself and the planet.
3. Not having balance
Balance is vital in all areas of life, even with low waste living.
It is essential to realize that a no-waste lifestyle isn’t about going without but more about finding solutions that work for everything to create a sustainable practice with minimizing and reducing waste.
There are several ways you can end up making things harder for yourself when you start living a zero-waste life.
For example, you may feel like you need to make everything from scratch, eat only plant-based foods, ensure your whole family is plastic-free living or zero waste or only buy organic items and ingredients despite budget restraints.
This can be stressful and overwhelming, especially if you’re trying to do everything and giving up everything you enjoy at the same time.
You can only do the best you can when you can and in any way, and it doesn’t always have to be perfect. As long as you’re trying, you’re doing a great job.
Take some time and enjoy the process. Living a low waste life isn’t supposed to feel like a chore or a struggle.
Start with one area of your life and make small doable changes at a time and if sometimes things don’t go as well as you’d expect, take a step back and try again next time.
Living a zero-waste life takes time – it’s a journey, not a competition!
4. Buying things you don’t need
As with everything new for many, subconsciously, the first step is to consume even though your main goal is to reduce.
Many people who are starting a zero-waste lifestyle begin with buying a lot of “zero waste” products without utilizing what they have beforehand. This can be a mistake you may not even realize you’re making.
Living a no-waste lifestyle isn’t just about what you can dispose of.
It means to use the resources you have before anything else because the things you buy support the use of new resources (labor, energy, water etc.) to make them.
There’s nothing you can buy that makes you live a waste free life; you can’t buy an anti-consumerist lifestyle.
An excellent way to start a low waste lifestyle is to create a shopping ban. To transition into a no-waste lifestyle, start with whatever you have without buying anything new.
Of course, you’ll still need to buy your basic needs and supplies like food but if possible, use everything you have in your fridge first before buying new groceries.
Assess what you have before purchasing anything; how many soap bottles do you have under your sink? Use them first before switching to a soap bar or a shampoo bar.
How much food do you throw away because they’ve gone bad in the fridge?
Make it a point to finish everything in your fridge before buying things in reusable bags. Consider what little things you can do at home- now, before taking on the big stuff.
Start small, maybe a 4 to 6-week shopping ban to begin with and slowly make decisions to buy more zero-waste products (necessities) as you go.
This would be the perfect amount of time to assess if you need something that doesn’t need to be purchased immediately, like technology, kitchen appliances or home decorations.
5. Making everything yourself
It’s always rewarding to make your stuff, but don’t get too caught up making everything yourself because as much as you think it is, it’s not a very sustainable way for us to procure the things we require.
You will need to consider all the factors that apply to making things yourself, such as multi-person households, lack of access to materials, cost and time constraints – which can be challenging to keep up with for most people.
The better option is to use more responsibly produced versions of the items we use and opt to go package-free as much as you can.
While DIY can be an excellent way to bridge that gap until you find these things, few have access right now.
We’d encourage you to be a little skeptical about DIY items and health-related items.
Going to the doctor due to food poisoning or dental work can result in more waste (packaging, money, disposable use of sterile equipment etc.) than a plastic tube of toothpaste.
Don’t risk using a DIY toothpaste that may not be suitable for your teeth, especially if you’re not sure what you’re doing!
6. Letting fear stop you
You may worry about the impression of others when you practice a waste-free lifestyle or feel victimized when people don’t understand what you mean when you ask for something in your container.
Don’t feel intimidated or worried when asking for things in your container or bags.
You only have to ask, and we guarantee that you’ll have them packed in your containers or have them package free almost every time you do.
Sometimes, others may not be as helpful – pretend like it’s a normal thing to do, and more often than not, they’ll play along.
An essential tip to be more confident when ordering things in your containers is to ensure that your bags or containers are always clean and their sizes are sufficient to hold or carry the items you are getting.
For most places, hygiene is a big concern, so don’t ask for your bag to be filled with bread if it’s dirty and full of crumbs. That’s pretty gross.
7. Setting a finish line for your zero waste lifestyle.
There is no finish line. Remember, your journey towards a waste-free life is a continuous lesson in which you will learn how to do things better every time, more efficiently and eventually teach others to do the same.
Waste-free living should not be limited to accomplishing specific goals, after which you go back to your old habits.
This ongoing practice will get better with time – there is no perfect end like weeks or years where you receive a badge and retire.
As your life changes over time, your approach to living zero waste will change too.
Living with a lighter impact with zero waste requires conscious actions that are continuous and dynamic because so many things we use these days are so wasteful. It doesn’t end with a milestone.
Why Do We Need To Minimize Waste?
Our climate is changing as more and more greenhouse gasses are emitted into the air by mining and manufacturing processes worldwide.
Minimizing waste will help reduce the impact of climate change on our freshwater and agricultural areas and lower the frequency of natural disasters that affect communities, flora and fauna globally.
Minimizing waste can have a positive impact on your finances as well as result in the creation of more jobs for people in industries to develop recycled goods. Buying only the things you need, or reusing items, will not only save money but also develop better waste awareness.
Going waste-free helps conserve space in our landfills, which are a significant source of air and water pollution, conserving resources like trees and petroleum and saving energy.
Less energy is needed to recycle when compared to the amount of energy used to create new materials.
By reducing waste – reusing, recycling and reducing the amount of waste we have, we build a sustainable future for our future generations. Our resources on this planet are limited, and we have insufficient capabilities to process waste, so we must play our part for a better future.
What Is A Zero Waste Lifestyle?
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines living zero waste as a way of life that encourages the end goal of reducing the number of items we throw away by reincorporating the by-products of one system for the purpose and use of another system.
Naturally, this means the product of one system is the feedstock for another system.
A low waste lifestyle includes various concepts that make up the overall lifestyle that is more than just recycling.
A zero-waste lifestyle means making an effort to avoid using disposable items weekly or daily and ensuring that you eliminate the waste that goes to the landfills – if you must, make sure they’re recyclable.
It may seem challenging to start a zero-waste lifestyle, but it can be pretty simple to create. Try composting, thrifting or packing your lunch in a tiffin – these are all ways you can start a zero-waste lifestyle while saving money at the same time!
What Are The 5 Rs Of Zero Waste?
Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot are the 5 R’s or principles of zero waste.
Refuse what you don’t need, reduce what you do need and reuse with reusable items are the first three principles of zero waste that you should practice.
Recycling what you cannot refuse, reduce or reuse should only be done when the first three don’t work. And the rest, rot them or compost!
Let me explain.
Refusing helps eradicate waste from the start – saying “no” to free items that become instant waste, such as soap samples and disposable items like straws. Finding and actively incorporating reusable things in your life can take a bit of practice, but it can ultimately be rewarding too!
We are all conditioned to accept swag bags and say yes to free items, magazines, coupons and so on because they’re free.
Make it a habit to take the things you need and refuse what you don’t.
Some things you can refuse include disposable cups, plastic straws, utensils and shopping bags. Find alternatives – use reusable cups, carry a reusable shopping bag or have metal straws ready when you know you’re heading out for drinks. Living zero waste can start with the most straightforward actions without having to go without.
Reducing and refusing go hand in hand – both require you to be mindful of what you’re taking and purchasing. Reduce your purchases, assess what you need and want and be realistic about what it is that you genuinely need.
Before buying anything, check with yourself if it is something you need and if you do, look at the quality. Price can be a huge factor, so we highly suggest looking for high-quality products within your budget.
Good quality products will last longer, minimizing the times you will need to repurchase.
Personal products that can be refilled or bought without packaging can also reduce waste caused by packaging and would often come with perks like less-expensive products per ounce or free shipping.
When you’re deciding if something you own needs to be tossed out or a new one needs to be bought, ask yourself if there is a way it can be reused or repaired first. This applies to furniture, electronics and clothing.
Instead of buying new items, seek options for repair first.
Reusing also means donating or selling your items to loving homes instead of landfills.
Opt for having a yard sale or putting your things on Craigslist or even ask your friends and family if they need anything you have that you don’t.
Buying thrift items is also an excellent way to demonstrate reusing – shop at thrift shops or antique stores. Not only will you be saving money, but you’ll also probably be able to find many useful and sometimes unique items that you can reuse instead of buying.
One of the most efficient ways to minimize waste is to recycle. Still, there are specific challenges that can make it difficult to follow through for some as recycling is not available or used actively in many places worldwide.
This does not mean you should not recycle – which you should! – but, we need to make a conscious effort to try and avoid plastic packaging to drive down the demand for plastics and encourage the use of compostable materials that can drive up the demand for alternative packaging.
When you recycle, make sure to adhere to local regulations when sorting and cleaning your recyclable materials.
You may feel like you don’t have time to compost, which may be true for many people, so don’t feel bad!
There are many ways to compost that can be easier today than they used to be.
Tips To Start A Zero Waste Lifestyle At Home
You can do many things to begin a low waste lifestyle, and sometimes, it can feel a little overwhelming.
Try taking one thing at a time – develop a habit slowly and once you’ve aced it, try a new one. Each step you take towards living a waste-free life is one step towards a better, sustainable way to live.
Here are a few ideas on what you can start doing at home to start living zero waste:
- Consume less – If you don’t need it, don’t buy it
- Start a backyard compost.
- Use reusable cups, bags and cutleries (stainless steel straws etc.)
- Buy food without packaging.
- Use LED light bulbs in your home.
- Reuse old towels and sheets
- Go paperless for your bills.
- Plan your daily meals for the week to avoid waste
- Use bar soaps and shampoo bars
- Turn off the water when brushing your teeth.
- Unplug electronics when they’re not in use
- Buy quality items that can last long.
- Use rechargeable batteries
- Head to your nearest thrift shop for clothes and furniture
- Shop at your local farmer’s market
Living zero waste is essential to improve the health of the community and the planet while providing the necessary support for marginalized communities. It is crucial to start taking action and minimizing waste to provide a more sustainable future for generations to come.
We hope this article on the common mistakes you should avoid when beginning a zero-waste lifestyle helps you make more informed decisions when making daily choices towards a low waste lifestyle.
Remember to take little steps, one day at a time and not let fear hold you back. Every little step towards a low waste life is a significant step towards a better future, and we think you’re doing pretty great!
Keep going and good luck!