5 Easiest Ways to Get Started With a Zero-Waste Lifestyle

Living completely zero-waste may sound extremely daunting. Even if you don’t consider yourself a huge waste of resources, it’s hard to avoid that looming trash bag that stares at you every few days. And recycling, while a better option, isn’t always the best alternative: According to some reporters’ analyses, a lot of what we “recycle” actually ends up going into landfills.

A lot of this may actually be out of your control; while San Francisco is able to recycle or compost about 80 percent of its trash, only 10 percent of Chicago trash gets recycled. Many buildings either don’t offer recycling services, or find that recycling bins are too contaminated with non-recyclable materials to salvage.

The best way to reduce your impact is to not waste in the first place. If you’re ready to get started with a zero-waste lifestyle, here are five beginner-friendly tips to help you do it.

Basic Composting

The first step to getting started with your zero-waste lifestyle is to practice basic composting. Composting really isn’t as difficult as it sounds. All you need to do is set up a bin in your backyard filled with soil. Sprinkle some grass, weeds, tree bark, leaves and branches in it, and mix it well. Add a little water to make it moist.

Now, as the week goes on, place items such as food scraps, paper towels (check to make sure your brand is compostable), egg cartons and other organic materials into the bin. Mix the soil regularly and keep it moist, continuing to add additional green and brown plants (again, grass and branches) into the mixture. At the end of a week or two, either have a composting service pick it up or use it to fertilize your garden. Or, just scatter it around the yard — it’s just soil!

Shopping in Bulk

Next, commit to shopping in bulk. No, we’re not talking about Costco here. We’re talking about buying items that are often packaged in plastic, such as nuts, seeds, grains, legumes and candies, from bulk containers at your local Whole Foods or health foods store.

Things like popcorn, lentils, rice, flour, almonds, chocolates and quinoa are often staples items you can buy in bulk. Fill up a glass container in the store rather than using a plastic bag to transport your goods to your home.

Eliminate Packaging

It may seem harmless, but shopping online creates a huge uptick in wasted resources. Even “sustainably packaged” products require using cardboard and plastic for recycling — and as we’ve discussed, that’s not always a great option. Unless you can’t find the item you need in a local store, pick things up in person.

Eat In Rather than Taking Away

To-go containers are a huge drain on resources. Going out to eat regularly isn’t necessarily a bad thing (you’re unlikely to buy food you won’t eat that ends up going to waste!) but eat in the restaurant rather than taking away. And bring your own containers for leftovers!

Reusable Shopping and Home Goods Bags

Finally, use a reusable shopping bag every time you go to the store. But take it a step further: Ditch the produce bags in favor or reusable alternatives, or forget about them altogether. Your apple has traveled many miles and interacted with countless hands along the way; it’s unlikely that putting it in a plastic bag now is going to make it any “cleaner!”

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Marie W
Marie W9 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

Alexis S
Past Member about a year ago

I put vegetable and fruit scraps in the blender and dump it down the drain or on the lawn.

Carol J
Carol Jabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing

Renata B
Renata Babout a year ago

We do composting and we almost never waste anything (a lemon maybe twice in a year or similar). We don't buy take away and we use our own bags for shopping. Unfortunately we do need to buy online because some products are not found in shops, at least not near us (we do not have a car).

Marge F
Marge Fabout a year ago

Thank you for posting this informative article.

Ellie M
Ellie Mabout a year ago


Sheila Miller
Sheila Millerabout a year ago

Excellent tips for reducing trash. I try to prevent having a lot of garbage. I do use my own shopping bags and shop as wisely as possible. Thanks!

S Jabout a year ago

Eat less, consume less, work more will do. Thank you

Sophie L
Past Member about a year ago

All good. Thanks.

Richard A
Richard Aabout a year ago

Thank you for this article and tips.