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4 tips for starting a zero waste lifestyle

Kathryn in coffee shopSeptember 09, 2019 - Kathryn Kellogg

Most beginner guides for going zero waste are full of simple swaps, but there’s so much more to zero waste living than replacing your household items. Don’t get me wrong, I love swaps, too, but I think the tips below are the four most important tips I can give you for going zero waste. They’re essentially the building block of zero waste, minimalism and eco-friendly living.

1. Buy less. The average American throws out 4.4 pounds of trash a day, and that’s not even the half of it; for everything that we throw away, on average 70% is lost in the manufacturing. We only see 30% of the trash made!


Buying less is the number one thing you can do to produce less trash. Before buying anything, make sure you really, truly need it. I always ask myself a series of questions: Do you really need it? Is it really necessary? Can something else make do? Do you need to own it?

Zero waste is not just about the trash jar. It's also not solely about the landfill. Trash is really just a physical representation of misallocated resources. I always say, very rarely do we have waste problems – we have creative thinking problems!

2. Buy well. If you don't live completely off-grid/are self-sustaining, you'll need to make some purchases. So when you do purchase something, really think about its full life-cycle. Think about where it came from and where it's going after you're through with it.

Here are a series of questions I like to ask myself when making a new purchase: Ask a friend. Can you find it second hand? Can you find it local? Who made it? Is it made to last/can it be repaired? What happens when you’re done with it?

Always check the secondhand market first and, if you're going to buy something new, make sure you're taking everything into consideration. If I've learned anything in two years of zero waste living, it's that settling for something you’re not 100% happy with inevitably means you will be unhappy with it. Then you'll look for something else, which is a waste of money and time. So whatever you buy, just make sure that you love it.

3. Find contentment. We live in a world full of constant advertisements that tell us we’re not enough. They tell us in order to be happy or be loved we have to have this product. One of the most rebellious and radical things you can do is to simply find contentment with what you already have. One of the best ways to do that is to practice gratitude!

Things don't define you. They don't give you worth. Instead of buying things to make you look better or cooler, try spending time bettering yourself. Take a class, learn a new skill, focus on self-improvement. So many studies have been done that people who opt for experiences instead of things are generally happier.

4. Strike a balance. It's not about perfection; it's about making better choices. Personal sustainability is super important. Check out the post I wrote about it - The Five Rules of Personal Sustainability. The thing is, we don’t live in a perfect zero waste society. Instead, we live in a world where things are designed to be thrown away. Things aren’t going to go our way 100% of the time, and that’s OK. All we can do is the best we can where we are.


Kathryn headshotBy Kathryn Kellogg, a 2012 Ouachita graduate. Kathryn is founder of Going Zero Waste, author of 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste and the spokesperson for National Geographic on plastic-free living. The post Four Tips for Starting a Zero Waste Lifestyle” was originally published on May 22, 2019, on Kathryn’s blog site GoingZeroWaste.com.


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