August 01, 2020 6 min read

Want to go Zero Waste? We’ll Show You How

Every day, Americans collectively generate 700,000 tons of trash. Reducing waste may seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. You may not have the time or resources to do it perfectly, but don’t let that stop you! There are endless ways, big and small, to reduce your waste impact — and we’re sharing a collection of 21 zero waste tips to get you started. No pressure, no judgment. Just try a few and see what works for you. 

And remember: the world needs millions of people doing zero-waste imperfectly, not a handful doing it perfectly. 

1. Pay the Bulk Aisle a Visit

Consider buying staples in bulk and storing them in reusable containers like mason jars or cloth bags. Because you can control the amount, you'll be able to get exactly what you need. And as an added bonus, you should notice a difference in your bank account as pre-packaged goods generally come with a hefty price tag. To save even more, consider joining a food buying club — or if there isn’t one near you, start one! 

2. Ditch Plastic Bottles

Did you know that approximately 40% of bottled water sold is actually tap water? Rather than getting duped by clever marketing, invest in a good quality water filter and a sweet reusable water bottle. We love glass, but there are plenty of other sustainable options! And while you’re at it, grab a thermos for your coffee or tea. You’ll be able to make it exactly the way you like it — and save a money, too.

3. Invest In a Set of Cloth Produce Bags

 You know those flimsy plastic bags in the produce department? Super wasteful. We touched on this in our first tip, but investing in (and remembering to bring) a set of cloth produce bags will protect your purchases and prevent more plastic from ending up in the ocean. These bags are great for transporting bulk goods, too!

4. While You're At It, Buy Less Foods That Are Wrapped in Plastic

This is a tough one, because many supermarkets — in a well-meaning gesture — shrink-wrap every loose piece of produce they can get their hands on. Shrink-wrapped mangos, anyone? But, that brings us to our next tip!

Loving these ideas but don't have time to read through it all? Get our complete Sustainability on a Shoestring Guide.

5. Support Your Local Farmer

The food will be fresher, tastier, and more nutritious — and by supporting local farmers, you’ll add your dollars to your local economy. Alternatively, you can join a CSA or sign up for a local food delivery service.

6. Avoid Single-Use Plastics

Plastic cutlery, straws, plates, and cups clog our landfills and end up in the bellies of sea turtles. Get yourself a set of reusable cutlery, stainless steel straws, and reusable containers to keep in your car or bag while you’re out and about. 

7. Recycle, Recycle, Recycle 

Perhaps you forgot to pack lunch and had to grab food to go. Or maybe your local store doesn’t yet offer bulk bins. Whatever the reason, if you do end up with recyclables, be sure to sort them correctly. Sometimes this can be confusing, so check with your waste treatment facility and follow their guidelines so that your "recyclables" don't end up in a landfill.

8. Ditch the tea bags! 

Most are loaded with micro plastics that are bad for you and the environment. But have no fear: loose-leaf tea is fresher, much more economical to purchase, and often healthier due to fewer or zero additives. Grab an in-mug strainer or a set of reusable cloth tea bags and you’ll be on your way in no time! And if you’re feeling adventurous, try mixing up some of your own tea blends — you’ll be able to have your cuppa exactly the way you like it — and as a bonus, custom blends make wonderful gifts. 

9. Green Up Your Closet

Buy exclusively from sustainable clothing brands or hit up your local thrift or consignment shop. Often you'll find unique, gently worn (or even brand new) stuff at a fraction of the original price. Get used to people asking “where did you get that?” And while you’re there, take some inspiration from Marie Kondo and donate any clothes you’re no longer using. We promise you'll feel lighter!

10. Consider Meal Planning

This can really help to streamline your grocery trips, trim food costs, and reduce waste by ensuring that you'll use everything you purchase. This will also save you from the dreaded question: “what’s for dinner tonight?” — and may just give you a little more time on busy weeknights. 

11. Clean Up Your Diet 

In a perfect zero-waste world, everyone would go vegan and consign the destructive and abusive practice of factory farming to history. However, if you aren’t ready or able to give up meat, purchasing local, humanely raised meat will still make a difference. You’ll reap the benefits in flavor, freshness, and nutrients, so it’s a win-win. Either way, consider making Meatless Monday a new tradition at your house. You might just be surprised by how delicious and filling plant-based meals can be.

Get our Sustainability on a Shoestring Guide and stick it on your fridge or door as an ongoing reminder of simple ways to reduce your waste.

12. Compost Your Food Scraps 

Invest in a compost bin or start your own low-tech compost pile. If you'd prefer not to feed wildlife, try an indoor worm composting bin. But if you’re hesitant to invite the creepy crawlies into your home, there are plenty of other options. Your garden will thank you!

13. Replace Plastic Wrap With Bees Wrap 

Made with beeswax, cloth, oil, and pine resin, they’re like plastic wrap’s fun, eco-friendly cousin. Sold in a variety of shapes, sizes, and patterns, you’ll be sure to find one you like. They’re reusable, work surprisingly well, and save a heck of a lot of plastic waste. They’re also relatively easy to make and make great gifts! 

14. Green Up Your Period

Yes, that one! Give (BPA-free) menstrual cups, period underwear, and reusable cotton pads a try. This will keep the 10,000 tampons that the average woman uses in her lifetime out of our landfills — and think of all the things you can buy with the money you’ll save. Fair trade chocolate, anyone?

15. Give Ugly Veggies and Dented Cans a Chance

Shop the “last chance” shelf at your local supermarket. You’ll save these items from ending up in a dumpster and get great deals on the stuff you need.

16. Give Old Clothes New Life

Make cloth rags out of old, un-donateable clothes and use them in place of paper towels for deep cleaning projects around the house. If you go through a lot, some thrift stores even make and sell bulk rags from un-salable donations. 

17. Replace Your Bottles With Bars

Not that kind! Give plastic shampoo, conditioner, and soap bottles the boot. Bars are concentrated and last longer than bottled products, so you’ll save money, too. Or if you’re feeling ambitious, try handcrafting your own homemade beauty products. Another gift-worthy skill!

18. Make Your Own Cleaning Products

Did you know that conventional cleaning products are full of harmful endocrine disruptors and other chemicals that leach into our sewage systems, waterways, and bodies? Fortunately, it's pretty easy to make your own - start with combining baking soda with lemon juice and vinegar, this can clean your countertops, showers, toilets, and floors. 

19. Check the Air Filter in Your Car 

A dirty filter can decrease your fuel economy by up to 10%. Read your car’s user manual to figure out what type of filter you need, and how to change it out. And don’t be intimidated! This is a quick fix that anyone can do.

20. Get Rid of That Spare Tire

Most landfills won’t accept tires, but retailers that recycle them will be happy to take them off of your hands. Some tire shops will also take them, but for a fee. You could also get creative and upcycle them into tire swings, dog beds, and more. 

21. Give Your Printer a Break

Switch to digital documents to save on paper and ink. And while you’re at it, get yourself off of those junk mail lists, ask for paperless bills, and always opt for digital receipts. Receipt paper is often coated with toxic BPA and BPS, so you’ll avoid unnecessary chemical exposure, too. 

So there you have it! By no means are we suggesting that you do everything on this list right away, but if anything resonates with you or feels particularly doable, start there and build your way up. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but with a little time and patience, you can absolutely reduce your impact. We hope that after reading this, you’re feeling more confident in your ability to create less waste!

Want to do more? Consider planting a tree with us today!

We plant trees on 4 continents around the world. Want to choose where yours are planted?

by Meaghan Weeden

Forest Whisperer