I have been asked a few times for a step by step for reducing one’s waste at home and I’ve found that it’s difficult to create such a guide because the process will be slightly different for everyone. So, instead of a “step by step” guide, here are some general things to remember/contemplate when trying to reduce your waste:
1. Evaluate your own waste generation: Take the time to do a personal trash audit (see how in a previous post) OR just pay attention to what you purchase/throw away in the landfill each day for a week. Then set aside some time to briefly research what is happening to your landfill waste, recycling, and compost waste on a local level. Is your trash being put in a landfill or is it incinerated? Is your recyclable waste actually getting recycled, where and what does the process look like? Where are your food scraps going and are they actually turning into compost? Knowing these things will help give you perspective on your waste generation and the resources that go into dealing with waste on a municipal level.
2. Make easy switches first: Bring reusable grocery bags & produce bags to the grocery store, carry a reusable water bottle, mug, utensils, etc. with you when you leave the house, OR if you're farther along in your process, try to buy items in glass jars/containers rather than plastic & then wash out jars and reuse them as cups, candle holders, food containers, gift packaging, etc.). Determine what “easy switches” are in your bandwidth.
3. Phase out of items that come packaged in plastic containers & switch to reusables where possible. Even though plastics are "recyclable" this doesn't mean they are “sustainable”. On average, only 9% of what goes into at-home recycle bins actually gets composted, and this number is slowly declining as the global plastic recycling industry collapses due to low oil prices, which makes the use of virgin plastics more economical than recycling and reusing. Plus, most plastics cannot be “recycled” but instead are “downcycled” meaning they usually only can be recycled once due to the loss in quality of plastic with mixed recycling streams. Use up what you have currently (shampoo, soap, toothpaste, etc., and in the meantime look for/research alternatives.
For example: Swap liquid hand soap that comes in plastic containers for bar soap that is often unwrapped or wrapped in paper. Ex 2: Swap paper towels for dinner napkins and hand towels/wash clothes that can be reused and washed when dirty.
4. Buy items in BULK! Bringing your own bags/jars when shopping in bulk is one of the biggest ways you can reduce your waste. Find local stores that have bulk items. For example: teas, spices, grains, beans, flours, snacks (nuts, granola, trail mix), olive oil, liquid soap (hand soap/dish soap/laundry detergent), toilet paper, etc. OR ask your local store if they would be willing to start carrying bulk items.
5. Evaluate your buying habits: Do you need everything you buy? Could you buy things used? Could you repair certain items? Could you start composting/recycling more at home? Do you often let food go to waste? Could you share items with your friends? If you can't completely phase something out can you reduce your usage of it?
For example, I have not yet found/made a zero-waste deodorant that I am 100% happy with so, when I know I'm going to have an active day, I use my store bought (yes- packaged with plastic) deodorant. When I am having a regular day and am not worried about getting hot/sweaty I use a homemade (by a friend) deodorant. I have had the same store-bought deodorant for almost 6 months!
Take-away: Reducing doesn't always mean reducing something to zero, cutting usage in half is a good first step!
6. Accept that you can't be 100% zero-waste (yet). There is a lot of policy work and advocacy that needs to be done so that any of us can be truly zero-waste. If you have time, get involved in advocacy efforts so that being zero-waste becomes easier, for everyone.
7. SHARE! Let your community know why this matters and what they can do to reduce their waste too! To me, talking to people about my path and how they can reduce their waste too is kind of like getting 9discounts for "signing up a friend" - if you bring them on board and they reduce their waste by 97% (compared to the average American) too than you've done more in the longterm than if you were focused solely on getting your own waste generation to zero.
Thanks and hope this helps! Please ask questions below.