Zero Waste Challenge. How to Zero Waste: Simple Strategies to Start

Zero waste is diverting all garbage from landfills, incinerators, and the ocean. While the definition is easier said than done, there are many ways you can start reducing the waste that you produce.

Most advocates of the zero-waste movement often prescribe an all-or-nothing solution.  This is often difficult for many households to sustain.  Here I have put together a simplified view of what Zero-Waste may look like at all stages of the goal. 

I work as an Eco-School teacher and I teach students ways to reduce waste, conserve energy, and be more environmentally conscious.   I teach them to reduce their environmental footprints with various strategies.  My journey to a zero-waste lifestyle continues, and here I share with you some simple steps that I have taken to adopt more waste-conscious habits.   

What is the problem with Waste?

Currently, we are still a society that produces goods to be thrown away rather than recycled and reused. We use a linear manufacturing process. This means that the new items are often created with new non-renewable materials and thrown out after use. These products end up in landfills unable to decompose. Decomposition in landfills requires oxygen. When thousands of feet of garbage pile up, there is limited oxygen and decomposition cannot occur. 

Cradle to Grave vs. Cradle to Cradle

The current production model is called Cradle-to-Grave.  It depicts a grim picture of disposable products made only for one-time use and sent to landfills. Such a practice is not sustainable for the earth, and will soon leave us stripped of resources and unable to sustain humanity. [1]

A more Sustainable Way to Consume

Using recycled materials is a more sustainable way to manufacture goods.  Choosing to buy goods made with renewable resources is also a practice to adopt.  Re-using and repurposing also falls into the preferred model of cradle-to-cradle.  Cradle-to-cradle means that the cycle of a product continues even after first-time use. [2] This is a more sustainable way to consume since there is a limited supply of resources on the earth. 

How to Start Zero Waste?

The first thing that you must examine is to look at the amount waste that you produce.  Looking at the type of waste you produce is also important.  In schools, we perform bi-annual Waste Audits to measure our progress. Conducting a Waste Audit in your own home is valuable and will help you to determine how far you are from your goals. Any amount of reduction is valuable.  The average American produces over 1500lbs of trash per year![3]

Conducting a Personal Waste Audit

  • 1.  On garbage day, weigh your garbage to a landfill. Record that number on your calendar. 
  • 2.  Look at your garbage and see what can be recycled, reduced, and organically composted. 
  • 3.  Make use of your recycling bins and invest in a composter such as these.
  • 4.  In the following weeks, separate your garbage into landfill, recycling, and compostable waste. 
  • 5.  At the end of the month weigh your garbage again. Record that value on your calendar. Celebrate any small improvements!
  • 6.  This step is VERY important to a zero-waste lifestyle! Look for ways to reduce your consumption. Look at your food, beauty, and fashion consumption. Can you make it at home or buy it used instead of new? 
  • 7.  Repeat this cycle as often as it takes. Some of our heroes in the Zero Waste movement have reduced their entire trash to a mason jar per YEAR or less!
  • 8. Many businesses wanting to improve their waste practices also look at performing a waste audit. Click here for more information about larger scale waste audits.

What is the Zero Waste Challenge?

The Zero Waste Challenge is limiting your landfill waste to a mason jar for a year or more. Many people have adopted the Zero Waste challenge in an attempt to refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot their consumption. 

The 5 Rs

1.  Refusing.  A good way to begin to move towards Zero Waste is to focus on first refusing single-use plastics.  Single use plastic consists of as plastic bags, plastic straws, and plastic containers.

2.  Reducing.  Another aspect entails looking for ways to reduce your consumption. Do you need as many clothes, beauty products, and home appliances as you think you do? Try living with less clutter!

3.  Reusing and repurposing. This is the next step to a more streamlined waste system. Donating clothing you do not use, turning clothes into rags, or repurposing containers and furniture in your home is reusing. 

4.  Rot.  Allowing biological waste to rot is an important step in reducing your garbage.  Have a system  for composting biological waste.  This is a very important step in minimizing your waste. A city-wide compost program or backyard composter is the best option.  If you do not have access to these, a  garbage disposal system can also divert waste from landfills.   

5.  Recycle.  As a last resort, we recycle cardboard and plastics we cannot reduce or reuse. 

The Three Pillars of a Zero Waste Solution

For Zero Waste to become a common sustained practice, three pillars of society must work together:  Government, Corporate, and Consumers.

  1. Government. As a global leader, Sweden is winning the fight to lower waste and consumption. Sweden implements incentive based policies to motivate both citizens and corporations.  Paying citizens for their used cans, bottles, and appliances is one way to motivate them.  Imposing fees on corporations who pollute or use unfriendly materials also incentivises collaboration. Policy also needs to include corporate responsibility into the plan.
  2. Corporate Responsibility. Manufacturers need to be made socially responsible for the materials they use and produce. Companies need to look at using more sustainable materials.  Bioplastics, hemp, bamboo, and pure natural fibers which can easily decompose are examples of progressive manufacturing.

3. Consumer Responsibility. The third pillar resides with the consumer. As consumers we must make environmentally sound decisions based on the foundations of the previous two pillars. Our better choices will force corporate sectors and governments to produce more sustainable goods. As advocates, we need to work towards changing social structure and incentive based programs.

10 Simple Zero Waste Swaps you can start today

  1.  Try metal straws instead of plastic straws.
  2.  Always keep a foldable grocery bag with you.
  3.  Choose glass containers instead of plastic wrap or baggies
  4.  Switch to bar soap at home
  5.  Make baked goods including pizza, muffins, cakes, bread at home when you can.
  6.  Bring a refillable water bottle with you wherever you go.
  7.  Shop second hand. 
  8.  Sell or Donate your unwanted/unused things.  Place like Varage Sale, Facebook Marketplace or Kijiji make it easy to do so.
  9.  Replace paper towels with rags and cloths at home
  10.  Start organic composting your biodegradable waste with a home composter

To learn more about reducing your plastic at home read: How to Reduce Your Plastic at Home.

What now?

Remember to start simple.  If you shop at a big box store, try to be more conscious of the types of packaging that you are choosing to buy. Read through our website for other suggestions and picks that are more conducive to a Zero-Waste Lifestyle. 


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