7 Steps Toward a Zero-Waste Lifestyle

5000lbs of used clothing.
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The average person generates 4.4 pounds of waste each day. Of that waste, a mere 1.5 pounds is recycled or composted. Nationally, that means that 167 million pounds of waste is disposed of each year. There is a tremendous opportunity here to repurpose, reduce, reuse and, when needed, recycle much of what is ending up in our landfills. A zero-waste lifestyle is indeed possible. If you find yourself asking, “What does zero waste really mean?” this post should help.

Start a zero waste lifestyle in 3, 2, 1

Zero waste lifestyle home pantry

The kitchen pantry located at the Zero Waste Home. Image: Bea Johnson

There are some inspiring examples of individuals and families that have achieved dramatic results. The Johnson family in California, for example, has only generated a handful of trash in six months. Bea Johnson and her family have dubbed their California home the Zero Waste Home. Be sure to also check out the video on the Zero Waste Home at the conclusion of this post.

Follow these tips for getting started on a zero-waste lifestyle.

Refuse unnecessary items

Because we live in a wasteful society, it is easy to bring many unneeded things home. Promotional flyers, junky kids toys, excessive packaging and product samples are often freely given out. Although some of these things may be useful, many end up gathering dust or are quickly disposed of. Avoid bringing unneeded items into your home by refusing them at the source.

  • TIP: Take a picture of a flyer if it has useful information, bring your own bags and containers when shopping, and pass on the rest. It is helpful to involve all family members in this, as it requires a collective approach to make a significant difference on a household level.

Embrace the free movement

Many items that you do not need may be of value to someone else. Some cities have embraced the free movement and have systems in place to promote sharing, such as free piles or swaps. Little Free Libraries encourage neighborhood literacy and resource conservation through free book exchanges. Community groups and churches can have a sharing closet, where people can swap items such as clothing or household items and unclaimed items can then be donated.

  • TIP: If your community lacks such sharing networks, consider starting a program that inspires you.

Recycle clothing

Did you know that clothing is nearly 100 percent recyclable? If your clothing is too worn out or stained to be reused, it is a good candidate for recycling.

  • TIP: Many thrift shops will recycle clothing items that are not fit for resale, so donate worn items or make rags from them instead of putting them in the trash.

Organize a swap

Do you have clothes that no longer fit or have become unappealing? Do you have lots of books or toys that you no longer use?

  • TIP: Organize a swap with friends, neighbors, family, co-workers or a group that you are a member of to encourage sharing and resource conservation. It is a great way to clear our clutter and get a new wardrobe or some good reads, without spending a penny or consuming new resources.

It often works best if it is organized through a group with a common interest, such as a children’s playgroup, knitting circle or hiking club because people will have a shared interest in certain types of things. Promote the event widely to make it more successful. Have tables available for people to organize their items, perhaps by size or subject. Donate all unclaimed items.

Use Freecycle or Craigslist

Freecycle can help you live a zero waste lifestyle.

Sites like Craigslist, eBay, Facebook or listservs are great ways to connect with like-minded people trying to reduce their environmental and waste footprint. Image Credit: Shane Perris (Flickr)

I frequently buy items used and then resell them when I no longer need them on Craigslist, eBay, or through resale groups on Facebook or listservs. It is a good way to save money while also reducing waste.

Listings with pictures typically get a better response, and relist the item if it doesn’t sell within a week or so to keep the listing fresh. Whenever possible, provide detailed information, such as dimensions, brand or the model number.

  • TIP: For low-value items, consider listing them as free on Freecycle or Craiglist. Many items that people typically recycle or throw away can be of use, such as cardboard moving boxes, worn-out furniture or broken items.

To save time, you can merely leave the item in front of your home and create a listing with its location and sign saying it is free. Remember to delete the listing when the item is claimed.

Set up a lending network with friends

Do you have a group of friends or colleagues that share your passion for saving resources and money? Do you only use your ice skates, tent and rototiller infrequently?

  • TIP: Consider creating a lending network for many items, such as books, DVDs, garden tools and sporting equipment.

You can create listings for what you are willing to share/rent, along with expectations. You can, for example, request that people return your lawnmower with a full tank of gas or that they wash your sleeping bag after use.

Start a work recycling program or compost pile

Is everything possible recycled at work? Is there space for a compost pile? Offices and work sites can be a great place to initiate recycling or composting programs. If possible, find a couple of inspired co-workers to join you in the project, helping to spread the word and create and maintain the needed infrastructure.

In some cases, you may find a way to recycle small, high-impact items such as batteries or fluorescent light bulbs, where you could transport the items easily to a recycling destination. If starting a recycling or compost program is not an option, look for other easy ways to reduce waste. Does your office purchase bottled water instead of using a water filter? Are there company practices for printing unnecessary documents?

Go paperless

Most banks and companies provide paperless statements and invoices upon request. I receive all of our utility bills, invoices and bank statements digitally. This saves both paper and the energy needed to transport the document to you. It is also a great way to reduce clutter and reduce the need to empty your recycling bin.

  • TIP: To ensure that you maintain good records, you can often download statements and save them.

To sign up for paperless statements, visit your online profile for a given organization and look for a paperless option, or call the institution by phone.

Decline paper catalogs and junk mail

Is your mailbox filled with unwanted promotions and catalogs? If so, remove yourself from mailing lists. This not only keeps your recycling bin from filling up so quickly, but also saves clutter and energy.

Contact the Direct Marketing Association to register your mail preferences. This allows you to remove your name from many national telemarketing, mail and e-mail lists. Register with the Consumer Credit Reporting Industry’s Opt-Out Program to not receive credit card and insurance offers by calling 1-888-567-8688 or registering online for five years. You can also call the phone number listed on catalogs and asked to be removed from their specific mailing list.

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Check out these 7 steps towards a zero waste lifestyle.

Feature image courtesy of Arti Sandhu (Flickr

Looking for more tips on living a zero-waste lifestyle? Check out these posts:

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Sarah Lozanova
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Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is a renewable energy and sustainability journalist and communications professional with an MBA in sustainable management. She is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Mother Earth Living, Earth911, Home Power, Triple Pundit, CleanTechnica, The Ecologist, GreenBiz, Renewable Energy World and Windpower Engineering. Lozanova also works with several corporate clients as a public relations writer to gain visibility for renewable energy and sustainability achievements.
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