You may have heard of NYC-based low-waste blogger Lauren Singer. Her TEDx talk went viral after she showed the world a single mason jar containing three years’ worth of trash. Then there’s Bea Johnson, whose bestselling book Zero Waste Home inspired hundreds of thousands of people to adopt a waste-free lifestyle, setting off a global movement. These two extraordinary women (among many others) have given people a new sense of empowerment around reducing our carbon footprint and helping to protect our environment.
Living low waste (or even zero waste) is simply about reducing your personal amount of trash, with the goal being not to generate any trash that ends up in a landfill. Each individual really can make a difference – consider that the average person produces around 4.5 pounds of trash per day. This may not sound like much, but combine all the people producing trash and it quickly adds up to about 250 million tons each year, just in the U.S. alone!
Adopting a low-waste lifestyle doesn’t just happen overnight. While it does take a certain amount of effort and discipline, the process can actually be enjoyable for you, as well as rewarding for the environment. If approached with the right mindset, it can make you feel lighter, freer, and happier about taking some meaningful steps to make a big impact!
So where to start? As with other lifestyle changes, it’s best to take small steps, gradually changing your habits in order to embrace a new, Eco-conscious, low-waste routine.
- Lauren Singer recommends on her website (trashisfortossers.com) to start by establishing your “why.” Begin by identifying your specific reason or reasons for wanting to live a low-waste lifestyle. Perhaps you’re a hiker who can’t stand seeing trash on the trails you love. Or maybe you’re tired of seeing the heaps of plastic bags washing up on your favorite beach. Do you have a desire to eat a more wholesome, organic diet based on foods that you grow yourself, with your own compost? Once you know your “why,” it crystallizes your intention, and becomes your deeper motive for making a change.
- With a clear intention in mind, next look at all the ways you tend to produce trash. Go through a typical day, from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed. Write down all the things you normally buy, use, and throw away, and ask yourself: “How can I reduce?” For example, if you buy your morning coffee from a shop, change the habit of grabbing another paper cup & plastic lid. Instead, bring your own cup to fill. Better yet, get yourself a French press (which doesn’t need filters) and start making your own home brew. Just bring it with in your favorite reusable travel mug, which will also help you to save money in the long run. And just say no to disposable plastic bottles and bags, period; they make up a massive percentage of what ends up in landfills. Start using your own reusable bottles and cloth bags, instead!
- To make less trash at home, begin separating your kitchen trash by assigning bins for recycling and trash; if you plan to grow your own garden, have a compost bin too. As you begin to sort your trash, this gives you an opportunity to realistically assess the kinds and amounts of waste you make, and start thinking about alternative, Eco-friendly solutions. Maybe you notice too many plastic containers of hair and beauty products, some of which are only half-empty. Consider finding more sustainable products that you really like and will actually use. Other tips to cut down on trash include: stock up on glass jars to store food and leftovers; choose reusable cloth napkins, rags, and towels instead of paper-made products; buy products made with recyclable packaging; for staples, shop in your grocery store’s bulk area (and don’t forget to bring your own reusable bags & containers). And if you’re interested in learning more about composting, check out this blog from The Honest Company.
- Avoid plastic ware as much as possible, which means saying no to plastic utensils, dinnerware, and containers. When eating out or getting takeout, have your own set of utensils in your car, in your purse, or at your desk. The best solution: learn how to cook your own meals, and pack your own lunch instead of eating out.
- Make a point to research how to properly recycle, donate, sell, or gift old items instead of just throwing them away in the trash. Be thoughtful about each purchase; think about whether it’s something you’ll truly love, and whether or not it’s a long-lasting product. Also, learn about what you’re buying, and from whom. Is the company Eco-friendly? Is the product made with environmentally-safe materials?
Asking questions is a powerful first step to learning and understanding how you can cut back on trash. It’s your genuine curiosity and openness that will fuel your desire and intention to live and succeed at living a low-waste lifestyle. Remember, adopting a low-waste lifestyle happens in stages, and each person’s journey will be unique. Even the small steps you take can really add up and make a huge impact, especially if more and more people will join in and work together. It starts with you!