What's the difference between low waste living and zero waste? The zero-waste lifestyle has one simple goal, produce NO waste. That's virtually impossible to achieve in our society where everything is based on consumption rather than reduction. It's why we prefer the term low waste, it's more attainable for most and it allows the individual to slow down and take stock of the trash they produce.
In 85 Sustainable Living Tips, we highlight the importance of conducting a DIY garbage audit and we provide innovative tips on how to reduce waste in your whole home, so make sure to give that a read!
How to start a low waste life
It comes down to the 5 R's of zero-waste living, namely: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot with the last one being the most important. Here's a quick recap of each stage:
This is all about saying no to things you don't need and refusing things that create waste. A great example of this is when you eat out ask the server to hold the straw!
Reduce what you consume and you will create less waste, it's a very simple principle.
A lot of the time when people start their low waste life they think they have to rush out and buy trending sustainable products, you absolutely do not need to do this. Use what you have! Reuse glass jars in your zero waste pantry, reuse Tupperware, reuse food scraps, opt for paper towel alternatives, and use a reusable water bottle!
Recycling is not the answer to our waste woes! It certainly plays a role when done properly! On average recycling rates globally are pretty dismal with only about 13% of waste actually being recycled. It's so important to know what can and can't be recycled in your area, this means getting to know what kind of garbage you are producing and how you are disposing of it! Basically, don't be a wishcycler!
Wishcycling is putting something in the recycling bin and hoping it will be recycled, even if there is little evidence to confirm this assumption. Hope is central to wishcycling.
Did you know we have a ton of guides here on The Eco Hub that will help you get rid of your old stuff responsibly including:
Composting is an important factor in reducing landfill waste. When you put your food in the garbage can it ends up creating methane gas in the landfill. Methane gas is partly responsible got global greenhouse gases. So COMPOST everything you can! Food waste means big problems for the planet!
The 5 R's are easy to follow once you get the hang of it and we'd like to add a word of REPAIRING and REPURPOSING.
Repair items that you can like clothes and appliances and repurpose or upcycle before you consider the garbage can!
10 Low Waste Living Tips
Now you have the basics, let's take a closer look and some practical things you can do right now to reduce waste and lead a more eco-friendly life.
1. Educate yourself on climate and social justice issues
Before we begin any journey it's important to understand what the problems are, our role in creating those problems, and of course what we can do to help! Along with all the informative resources here on The Eco Hub, have a look at these zero-waste documentaries, these environmentally friendly podcasts, these sustainable books, or these sustainability influencers. Lucky we have so many resources at our fingertips.
Decluttering can be so stressful but once it's done it means more space and less stuff in your home. For optimal success for low waste living start small, with a junk drawer, and move on to tackling the bigger stuff (garage) later. I find when I declutter my home having a purpose as to why I am doing it really helps. In most cases, it's to free my home and mind of all the clutter. Using a decluttering checklist can be super helpful to clear out unwanted clutter around the home. When it comes to my closet, this simple tip helps me immensely!
3. Shop in bulk
Food waste has to be one of the saddest things about our world. In some parts, people are starving and in other parts, we throw away good food every single day! Did you know if you reduce food waste you will end up saving a ton of money? It's all about planning our meals and shopping in bulk where we can. Bulk shopping allows us to buy just what we need and helps us to reduce packaging waste too. Zero Waste online shops and online bulk shops are essential to low waste living.
If you don't have a bulk shop in your area, look for the bulk section in your local grocery store, we are seeing more bulk options on big box shops like Target. Look for produce with minimal packing on produce or opt for glass and aluminum packaging over plastic.
4. Try a low waste cleaning routine
Green cleaning is at the heart of low waste living. Most cleaning products come in plastic and when you think about how many products we use to clean our home, it's a lot. If you've done a garbage audit great! But have you ever audited your cleaning supplies? There are two main reasons to do this:
A. To reduce the number of toxins you have in the home! Most conventional cleaners are packed full of nasty chemicals and ingredients that can make us sick. Take a good look at the labels to see what kinds of chemicals are lurking in your home.
B. To simply your cleaning routine. Once you audit your cleaning supplies you will end up with fewer products.
Refillable cleaning products are growing in popularity as brands try to reduce plastic packaging and we are seeing a trend toward more concentrated cleaners too. Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap is a great example of this, it's an unbelievable versatile soap that can be used to make so many DIY cleaning recipes.
5. Break up with fast fashion
Fast fashion sucks! Companies source cheap labor with zero or low labor and environmental standards, and the industry is responsible for massive amounts of textile waste. Being an outfit repeater helps to keep some of our clothes out of landfills. But it's easier said than done because we all want to look fabulous and be on-trend.
Only purchase well-made garments and fashion accessories that you love and will get LOTS of wear out of rather than cheap and fast fashion that is throw-away and often ends up in a landfill. Long-lasting, hard-wearing clothing is sustainable in itself.
Support great design and know the maker of your clothes! This gives your clothes meaning and makes them so much more pleasurable to wear. Clothing design is an art form that calls upon the precision and professionalism of many hands in each and every garment - designer, cutter, sewer, fitter, buttonholer, presser, quality controller, merchandiser, salespeople who know their goods...KNOW IT and SUPPORT IT!
Other ways to make your closet more sustainable: shop at a thrift store, host a clothing swap party, consider thrift flipping, build a minimalist wardrobe or a capsule wardrobe, sell your used clothes online, donate your clothes responsibly and consider renting your outfit for that special occasion.
6. Switch to low waste beauty products
Like cleaning products, beauty products also create a great deal of waste. I am a big fan of a minimalist skincare routine, do we really need more than one body balm or lotion? Try using low waste or zero waste skincare products, zero waste razors, zero waste deodorant, plastic-free loofahs, zero waste period products, zero waste mascara, zero waste shampoo, and even zero waste floss! A zero waste bathroom is not that hard to achieve, once you start running out of certain items, replace them with a more eco-friendly one!
7. Opt for low waste electronics
E-waste or electronic waste is the fastest growing waste stream! We're obsessed with technology and that obsession is taking its toll on the planet. If you have a broken phone, get rid of it responsibly. And get to know the brands you are purchasing from, what kinds of take-back programs do they offer? How and where are they sourcing their raw materials? Are their workers being paid fairly? Important questions to ask if you want more sustainable technology!
8. Use water wisely
A large part of low waste living is understanding our impact and when it comes to water, we can all do better.
Did you know there are over 663 million people living without a safe water supply close to home, spending countless hours queuing or trekking to distant sources, and coping with the health impacts of using contaminated water?
A lot of the world is in a water crisis, yet for most of us here in the western world take our water for granted and tend to waste it more than we conserve it!
We’ve seen the benefits that grey-water water collections and rainwater collections can have on the environment.
For one week think about how much water you use on a daily basis, both directly and indirectly then take small actions to reduce water waste, one way is to conduct a shower audit:
- Step 1: Keep score of how many showers vs. baths you take, and the length of each for one full week.
- Step 2: Calculate how much water you consume per minute by holding a jug under the tap. See how long (using a stopwatch) it takes to fill the jug. Once you have that number divide 60 seconds by the number of seconds it took to fill the jug. This will give you the liters per minute rate.
- Step 3: Calculate your family's water use using the steps above. How many litters of water are you using?
- Step 4: Reduce shower time by as much as possible per week. Shower with a buddy!
- Step 5: Do a weekly comparison. Once you know what your liter per minute is, see if you can do better each week. Make it a contest at home. Get your kids involved and celebrate how much water you have saved.
9. Try to be more energy efficient at home
This might sound like a no-brainer but low waste living can also encompass how much energy we use and waste in the home. Do you know how much energy your home uses? Have you ever tried to calculate that? Do you know the carbon footprint of your home? Most people don't! But this carbon footprint calculator might help. 😀
But keep these things in mind too:
- Turn off the tap when you are brushing the teeth
- Don't leave any electronics plugged in when you are not using them, this wastes electricity
- Conduct a DIY energy audit to see where are wasting energy and where you can save money
- Cook with sustainability in mind, use the right pots, try a slow-cooker, and cook more than one dish at a time
- Think about making every room in your home a little more eco-friendly
- Replace and clean the filter on A/C and heating units
- Take care of and keep appliances in good working order, clean out the dryer lint
10. Have patience
Adopting new habits takes time. Rome was not built in a day after all and learning to live a more sustainable life takes time and resources, luxuries a lot of people don't have. So do what you can with what you have!
We don't need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.Anne Marie Bonneau, Zero Waste Chef
A final word on low waste living
Green living is a life-long journey and I am so thrilled to have you along for the ride. Remember progress over perfection! Have you put any of the above tips into practice? Share your thoughts in the comments. If you found this post helpful, please help someone by sharing this article – sharing is caring 🙂!