How To Go Zero Waste In 5 Steps

Step 1. Just Say No to Crap

To truly go zero, one must commit to refusing to allow crap into your life.  Before you buy anything (or accept any freebie) ask: is it designed to be used just once, or for a short time, and then got rid of?  Where did it come from and what happens to it when I’ve finished with it? Who produced it and in what conditions? Where do gadgets go when they die? How much do I really need one of these anyway?

A question I’m often asked is ‘couldn’t I just use x, then recycle or compost it?’ The answer is yes, it will stop it from going to landfill, if that’s what you’re aiming to do. But consider the resources that went into producing the item before you bought it – extracting the raw materials, manufacturing it, transporting it…..every time we dispose of something and buy more we repeat this cycle.

Forget about disposability and think instead about value. Why invest your money in something that you expect to use only briefly then get rid of? Disposing of things just means you’ll have to go back to the shops and buy more. Who do you suppose benefits from this? Make life easy for yourself.

Step 2: Make the Changes That Will Have The Biggest Impact

I’m not going to tell you to bring your own reusable cups and bags, because you’ve already thought of that, and anyway, why start so small? Unless you use a lot of single-use cups and bags, these probably aren’t your biggest areas of impact.

For best results, start with the changes that will make the most difference. Take a step back and consider everything you buy that doesn’t last that long, remembering that actual stuff takes more resources to produce than rubbish. Perhaps it’s gadgets that now sit unused in some box, fashion you buy but hardly wear, or leisure equipment that spends most of the time in the loft. All of these come with their own carbon and water footprints, among other environmental impacts too long to list here, and may well have been made using exploitative labour practices. So consider all of these as well as the single-use disposables filling up landfill sacks.

If you have a lot of things sitting around going to waste, think about passing it on to someone who can use it. You get lovely clutter-free space,  your recipient gets stuff cheaply or for free, and between you you have reduced the demand for more new stuff to be produced.

Then, have a look inside your bin and see what it’s mostly full of. Ask yourself why. And start from there.

Step 3: Reset Your Defaults

1) Only throw away what can’t be reused, composted or recycled.

As a society we tend to waste as default, and if we happen to be feeling virtuous, make the effort to recycle, or perhaps compost.  Why? We could just as easily have recycling bins in all the places we have ‘general waste’ bins. And is the kitchen the only place we produce compostable waste? Most of what we throw away can be recycled or will rot.

2) Only buy something new if there are no other alternatives.

Rethink the idea that everything you need must be owned. Much of the stuff that sits unused in cupboards and garages across the land are items that were bought for specific occasions or activities. These are the kind of things that can easily be hired. Google it. You’d be surprised what you can hire.

Even better, could it be borrowed? If your family and friends can’t help, try Streetbank or see if there are any other local schemes, such as a Library of Things. You could save lots of money as well as space.

If you need to buy something (and it’s not food!) does it have to be brand new? Why? New things costs more money and aren’t always better quality. In fact buying second hand is often a good way to get quality stuff cheaply. It’s easy and reduces the demand for more stuff to be produced.

And… you even need to buy? Freecycle, Freegle, and Olio are all sites offering pre-loved stuff to give away for free.

Step 4: Go for the Easy Wins

Who doesn’t love an easy win? And the good news is that the easiest thing you can do will also save you lots of money. That is: buy less stuff. Forget about spending Saturday afternoon at the shopping mall, deprived of fresh air and daylight, spending your earnings on stuff you may not even use that much. You can definitely think of better ways to spend your time and your money.

So take your reusable bag with you everywhere you go, and say no to single use plastic ones. Refuse plastic straws, and if you buy a lot of food on the go, take your own fork with you. Get a reusable toothbrush next time. Take your own cup to use with the office water cooler, and if you often buy drinks on the go, carry one with you too. Refill your water bottle.

Step 5: See the bigger picture

Congratulations! You’ve taken those first important steps on your journey to reduce your impact on the planet. But don’t stop there. If you want to profoundly reduce your environmental footprint, consider taking a holistic approach which includes shifting to a more plant-based diet and reducing your consumption of energy and carbon-powered transport.