Guide: Zero Waste for Beginners

Are you interested in cutting down your waste but don’t know where to start? This zero waste guide to beginners will walk you through the first steps you should be taking on your journey!

This is not a guide on what you should buy to get your zero waste journey started. The purpose of the movement is not to replace what you already have to get your hands on new and shiny bamboo cutlery but to consume what you already have and pay more attention to the everyday choices that you’re making. We all must eat and we do need things, but we also vote with our dollars, euros and pounds.

The purpose of this guide is to soften your transition and make it something nice and easily adaptable, rather than a painful experience you must go through because, well, the planet kinda needs us. It will provide you some practical tips on where to get started, what you should avoid doing, and what resources (social and material) you can utilize to make your transition easier!

Let’s go and change your life!

1. Use what you already have.

If you spend a lot of time on Instagram you may have noticed that lots of zero waste influencers have picture-perfect cupboards where they store their grain and pulses in perfectly matching glass jars. This is not what zero waste is about. It is all about minimizing waste and using what you already have. If you have a bunch of old glass jars that happen to be insanely aesthetic then perfect, go ahead and use them. Remember, however, that using old plastic tubs is just as important and valid.

Don’t throw away perfectly functional items to replace them with eco-products. Your old products might not be as Instagram savvy, but zero waste movement is not about the looks. It's about not producing unnecessary waste.

2. Start with small things.

Starting from big lifestyle changes like going vegan, making your own beauty products, or growing your own food might sound tempting. They are, however, more likely to turn your exciting journey of zero waste discovery into something quite unpleasant. Why is that?  

Big lifestyle changes are hard for most people and there’s unfortunately a big possibility that you will not succeed, at least on the first attempt. Failing your first step towards zero waste living can be a big setback and in the worst case, it can make you turn your back to the whole movement. Doing something small and succeeding in it is rewarding as well, and simply knowing that you can change will encourage you to take bigger steps later in your journey.

3. Start from what you feel most comfortable with.

I mentioned earlier that kickstarting your zero waste journey by making your own beauty products might not be the best idea, but if beauty is something you’re very passionate about, that might just be the right step! There are lots of different paths towards zero waste such as dietary changes, minimizing consumption, and changing what you consume – just to give you a few examples.

If you feel particularly passionate about plastic pollution, maybe starting to cut plastic out of your life could be the first step? If you’re concerned about pollution and toxins, maybe you can start looking for more eco-friendly products to replace the brands that you’re currently using. There’s something for everyone!

4. Don’t do everything at once.

When you get excited about something you want to do it all at once. It’s only natural. Unfortunately, some aspects zero waste living can take some time to get used to and it can get very overwhelming both mentally and financially if you’re trying to change your whole way of living all of the sudden. Start from one thing at the time and when you feel like you’ve mastered it move to the next one. Good first steps can be, for example, zero waste menstruation, vegan Wednesday, or investing in zero waste hygiene products. 

5. Borrow, rent and buy second-hand.

If you feel like there are items that you truly need to start your zero waste life, have a look at second hand markets before buying something new. If there are items that you only need occasionally, consider borrowing or renting over buying. The less material you buy, the less resources are wasted! Living zero waste is not only about minimizing the trash in your bin but also cutting resource use in the production phase!

Libraries and streaming services are great but there are more options out there! Going to a wedding? Consider renting your dress! Do you spend less than five days a year doing gardening? Maybe a family member or someone in the neighborhood can borrow you the items that you need for those days!

6. Look out for greenwashing.

Capitalism has unfortunately but not surprisingly, discovered people’s interest towards more sustainable life and is now attempting to profit from people’s will to consume less. Lots of zero waste products are nothing but green washing and it’s important to really consider what you need before buying anything "green".

There are of course products that are worth investing in, such as zero waste menstruation products. There’s obviously nothing wrong with replacing a used deodorant or a razor with a new zero waste alternative. But do you really need bamboo cutlery, steel straws, or an unethically produced t-shirt that states that you’re now living the zero waste life?

7. Connect with other people.

Getting into zero waste can be particularly hard if you got no network around you. By this I mean that you might not know anybody who is into zero waste and who you could rely on when things get hard, you have questions, or you don’t feel supported by your friends and family. Believe me, you're going to need someone.

The good news is that there are plenty of zero waste groups on Facebook that make it super easy to connect with other sustainability enthusiasts. There are some bad apples that are filled with negative Nancies, but a lot of them have very lovely and supportive people. I can warmly recommend, for example, Bad Vegans and Intersectional Environmentalist’s Journey to Zero Waste.

What's been the most important discovery at the start of your zero waste journey? Do you agree with me or is there something you'd do differently?

Let me know in the comments!

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