beginner’s guide to zero waste

beginner's guide to zero waste

The Beginner’s Guide to Zero Waste

One question I get asked quite often, is how do I get started with a zero waste lifestyle? I’ve whipped up a simple beginner’s guide to zero waste to help those feeling a little overwhelmed by it all. From mason jars to bamboo toothbrushes, I’ve got the basics of zero waste covered for you right here. I’ve included links to zero waste articles and products you might need in your journey throughout the steps! 🙂

5 Things You Can Do Right Now Towards Zero Waste

Say No to Plastic Water Bottles

Instead of using a disposable plastic water bottle, choose to reuse! Head over to your local thrift store to find a reusable water bottle. There are so many different styles you can choose from. I like to carry my stainless steel water bottle or sometimes just a simple mason jar can do the trick.

Bring Your Own Coffee Mug

Did you know that disposable coffee cups are not recyclable?! They appear to be made of paper, but actually have a thin plastic lining inside making it hard to recycle. Instead, bring your own coffee travel mug when you need caffeine on the go! Another option is to slow things down and enjoy your coffee in house.  handmade coffee sleeve

Say No to Plastic Single Use Drinking Straws

When you’re out at a restaurant, take a zero waste baby step by saying no thank you to the single use plastic straw. You could drink your drink without a straw or if you need a straw, consider switching to a plastic-free reusable alternative, like metal. There are quite a few single use straw alternatives. Check out this list of 8 alternatives to plastic straws!

stainless steel straws

Bring Your Own Shopping Bags

Don’t forget to bring your reusable shopping bags when you go to the grocery store! My grocery shopping bags are a mix and match of bags I’ve purchased over the years. I like canvas totes, because they are sturdy and can hold quite a lot of groceries in a single bag. If you forget your reusable bags, opt for paper bags that you can reuse, compost, or recycle.

Eliminate Paper Towels, Choose to Reuse Dish Towels Instead

I thought eliminating paper towels from our household was going to be a lot harder than it was. We keep a drawer full of dish towels that we use in place of paper towels now. It’s been actually a super easy zero waste swap! Have you heard of unpaper towels before??

Ok, you’ve got the basics. If you’re ready to dive further into zero waste, here are some more simple steps towards zero waste.

Switch to using a Bamboo Toothbrush instead of plastic toothbrushes

These bamboo toothbrushes have a compostable handle and the bristles are recyclable. Also, all of the packaging for this brush is either compostable or recyclable as well. How cool is that!!bamboo toothbrushStart carrying your own Produce Bags at the grocery store to eliminate single use plastic produce bags

I bring my own set of mesh produce bags for things like mushrooms and green beans. However, other produce I just throw straight into the buggy. I plan to wash them at home anyway before eating so I don’t mind them rolling around in my cart. I like these produce bags in particular, because their transparency makes it easy for the cashier to identify what’s in the bag. They are also super lightweight which is great since often times you’re using these bags to carry produce that costs by weight. 

Use Soap Bars & Shampoo Bars instead of plastic bottled liquid soap

I’m not sure when we decided that we needed to wash with body wash in a plastic bottle, because regular ole bar soap works so well!! I’ve become quite the soap bar addict these days, always hunting for new small batch soap makers to support. Checking out your local farmers market is a good place to find handmade soaps, or you can always find organic, vegan, palm oil free soaps in the Tiny Yellow Bungalow shop!

Did you know you can wash your hair with a bar of soap too? Learn how to use shampoo bars on my blog!

beginner's guide to zero waste

Use a Handkerchief rather than disposable tissues

Your grandpa had it right along; handkerchiefs are the way to go! I know it seems a little gross to carry around your boogers in a cloth in your pocket, but not if you use a Hankybook! They’re these little organic cotton handkerchief booklets. You use a page and flip until you’ve used up the entire booklet, then throw it in the washing machine. It’s genius! Plus, handkerchiefs are so much softer on the nose. You’ve got to try it out.

Organic Handkerchief Book

Use Compostable Loofahs instead of sponges in the kitchen

Using a new yellow sponge every couple of months in the kitchen can be wasteful. Instead, try using a loofah kitchen scrubber to clean your dishes. They’re great for scrubbing with the added zero waste bonus of being 100% compostable. I use mine for a
couple of months, then I chop it into small pieces, and throw it into my compost tumbler. Easy peasy!

Owl Natural Loofah Kitchen Scrubber

Are you ready to be a hardcore Zero Waster?! Let’s do this!

Start shopping the bulk bins at your grocery store using Reusable Bulk Bags and mason jars

I realize this isn’t an option for everyone, because not all towns have a bulk foods section. However, if you do a little hunting sometimes you can find bulk shopping in the most unexpected of places. For example, I found a bulk dog treat section at my local pet shop. Rather than using the disposable film plastic bags there, I brought my own organic cotton bulk bag!

reusable organic cotton bulk bag

Use a Safety Razor & Shave Soap Bar instead of disposable plastic razors and shaving foam

Don’t be scared! Safety razors can be intimidating but I promise you will get a way better shave with one and how nice that you can eliminate those pesky plastic disposable razors. Also, a safety razor is one of those ‘buy me once’ type of products. I plan to still be using this same metal razor 20 years from now. You can learn more about zero waste shaving on the blog!

For the ladies, switch to Reusable Menstrual Products

There are a few options for zero waste menstruation. You can use cloth pads instead of disposable pads or you can use a menstrual cup instead of tampons. I personally prefer the menstrual cup!

reusable menstrual cup

Shop Secondhand, instead of purchasing new

Thrift shops, antique stores, and estate sales are great for shopping secondhand. I’ve been able to find reusable water bottles and plastic free kitchen supplies secondhand in my town. I also scored some really great secondhand cloth diapers for my little one from a friend. Always shop secondhand first if you can!

Begin Composting at your house (My all time fave zero waste switch!)

I LOVE composting! It’s fascinating to me that something that would’ve normally been thrown in the trash can be repurposed into something so useful: nutrient rich soil. If you have the space, consider building a compost pile or investing in a composter tumbler. I haven’t tried it myself but some zero wasters prefer vermicomposting, which is composting with the help of earth worms. They break down the compost faster.

Have you started eliminating household waste!? What have been your challenges and struggles? What’s your favorite ZW switch?

Other Zero Waste Blog Posts You Might Find Useful:

How to Use Shampoo Bars

My Zero Waste On the Go Kit

Making the Switch to Zero Waste Toothpaste 

18 thoughts on “beginner’s guide to zero waste

  1. Love these lists! So simplified for me. I just got a Joco to-go mug for Christmas and love bringing it with me on coffee runs. And we’re still renting, so I’m very thankful that our city has a compost program. The benefits of living in the PNW. 🙂 Thank you for the continual inspiration, Jessie!

    1. Ooo how do you like your Joco!? I’ve been eyeing them for a while, and although I don’t really need one, they’re just so pretty. I’d love to carry my coffee in one of those 🙂 And hey thanks so much for checking out my blog, I appreciate your interest!

  2. I’m trying to live a zero waste and I do all the above but I just can’t bring my self to try the menstrual cup. I am use natural pad so lol that’s me feel a bit better haha

    1. Nadia, many women are not comfortable using a menstrual cup and that is totally fine! It definitely took some getting used to for me, but I have loved mine. Some women prefer using cloth pads and that’s a wonderful zero waste option as well. Good luck in your zero waste journey! 🙂

    2. Look into period panties. Use them, then wash them. They can be pricey but I’m not comfortable with the menstrual cup either.

      1. Yes! I have a few pairs of period panties as well. They’re also a great option for zero waste menstruation

  3. I absolutely love your lists! I had been searching for something like this for a while and am so happy I did! I am currently working on minimizing as well as making the switch to zero waste, I’m finding that doing this simultaneously is really good for me because I’m looking at each item I’m ready to get rid of and determine if there is an easy way to reuse it. (ie: old receiving blankets will be extra family cloth wipes or face wipes). I really don’t know if I’ve had many struggles thanks to finding plenty of YouTube videos and blogs (although I am nervous for my first bulk lunch meat purchase).

    My favorite switch has probably been to cloth pads. I have endometriosis so don’t feel comfortable using the cup but these pads have been great! Highly recommend them to anyone who doesn’t want to use any of the other options. When I bought them on Etsy I tried a few from different stores to see which I preferred. I also bought a small wet bag that fits into my purse as well as a large wet bag that I use for our family cloth wipes as well as my used pads after rinsing them out. They came in such fun patterns it makes a horrible five days a little better. :o)

    1. Yes Hannah, I think minimalism and zero waste living complement each other very well! Both ideas are about living consciously and deliberately. I love that as you’re minimizing, you’re finding zero waste uses for your things. That’s wonderful! And I’ve also heard great things about cloth pads. I’m glad you’ve found something that works well for you. I’m actually hoping to start carrying cloth pads and menstrual cups in the Tiny Yellow Bungalow online shop in the near future! 🙂

  4. These are great lists! I already do some of these, such as using a menstrual cup, but there are a few more I need to get onto!

  5. How do you compost at school?

    1. I just finished writing a blog post about zero waste in college and it includes how to compost at school! Here’s the link: Check it out and let me know what you thinK 🙂

  6. I just read it 🙂 thank you. I am trying to see if someone at the church I go to compost but no one has responded to the message. Probably will have to repost it. The local farmer’s market does not have a compost right now.

  7. Hey Jessie, thank you for that lovely articel and also for the recommodation for the reusable to go cup. I’m still searching for one since I haven’t found “mine” yet. Maybe I’ll go for this one, I like the black color very much. 🙂

  8. How do you get rid of the garbage living in an apartment, rental. Ex. organics. I can’t use compost. To what switch garbage bags?

    1. As far as composting in apartments, it is possible! My sister made a DIY compost bin using a large plastic bin to keep on her apartment patio. There’s also the option for indoor composting. Check out vermicomposting or bokashi! If you’re not interested in composting at home though, there are other options. You could save your organic scraps (store them in your freezer during the week) and once you’ve accumulated a bucketful, share your scraps with a local farmer or friend that does compost. I always say that my backyard compost is open to sharing so if any of my friends want to toss in their scraps as well, they can!

  9. If you want to try one of these compost ideas or do composting what are ways to make sure the apartment doesn’t smell? Also bins to use instead of plastic bags?

  10. This is a great list! We’re trying to go waste free, but I seem to always forget my reusable grocery and produce bags when I go shopping. Any tips?

    1. Ok, I know this is going to sound crazy but it really worked for me! So I told myself if I forgot my grocery bags, I would have to do without that day and shop anyway. It only took one or two times of having to inconventiently load and unload everything individually from the grocery store, and I never forgot them again!!

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