Moving Towards a Zero-Waste Life: the Basics

Zero-waste living can be a challenging and frustrating journey. The goal is not as simple as separating your garbage from your recyclable materials properly, but rather eliminating your garbage collection altogether. For an average person or family, shifting from a normal lifestyle to zero-waste living will require tremendous adjustments along with patience and creativity.

The cycle of your household trash starts with what you’re purchasing in the store. Before buying anything, including food products, clothing, electronics, toys, etc. take into consideration if this product is going to become waste, if the packaging will become waste, or if either can be disposed of properly through recycling or compost. If any aspect of your purchase can’t be composted or recycled, it should not be purchased, as it will contribute to household waste.

Next, look to reduce the wastefulness of the products you will inevitably need. For example, consider using cloth diapers instead of disposable ones, use canvas totes to go grocery shopping instead of plastic bags, and re-use a to-go coffee mug instead of constantly throwing away waxed cups.

Another thing you can do to encourage a zero-waste lifestyle is become more informed with your town and states recycling guidelines. If you’re interested in moving to a zero-waste lifestyle, you’re probably already recycling your basic plastics, glasses, and cardboard materials. Some towns or counties sponsor monthly or even annual events where you can bring typically non-recyclable items to a central location where they can be properly disposed of, and avoid ending up in a landfill. If these events aren’t common near you, take your old appliances, books, clothing, etc. to a non-profit organization as a donation. The longer you can keep the useful life of the item apparent, the better it is for the Earth.

Lastly, anything you could not avoid purchasing, couldn’t find a new use for, and couldn’t recycle, should be composted. Food waste and yard scraps alone make up 20-30% of what we throw out, both organic materials that can be composted. An indoor compost bin may be the largest adjustment for a family moving towards a zero-waste life. The compost bin should be sturdy, thick, contain a lid, and be properly managed. You could also have an outdoor compost bin following the same guidelines.

Here are some of the many items that are compostable:
– Dryer lint
– Coffee grounds
– Nut shells
– Tea bags
– Fruits/vegetables
– Popcorn kernels
– Oatmeal
– Wine corks
– Fireplace ash
– Pencil shavings
– Burlap sacs
– Flowers

Successfully living a zero-waste lifestyle is a transformation that could take months or years to become comfortable for you and your family. There will be challenges such as wanting an item that doesn’t come in a recyclable or compostable package, or a product with the life of only one-use, but these are the road blocks that require sustainable creativity. While it may sound complicated, it is actually the most basic version of living. Put into simplistic terms, if it didn’t come from the Earth, and cannot sustainably be returned to the Earth or safely re-used, it won’t fit into your new zero-waste way of living.


“80+ Items You Can Compost.” 80+ Items You Can Compost | Care2 Healthy Living. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 June 2017.

Sofrina, Erica. “10 Tips for Creating a Zero Waste Home.” 10 Tips For Creating A Zero Waste Home | Care2 Healthy Living. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 June 2017.


  1. Soils in the western half of the US are alkaline, and while you can use wood ash in making compost, if the compost a person made is alkaline, using that in an alkaline soil can make a dead zone, where plants don’t grow well. Eastern soils are acid and would benefit from applying a compost that would increase alkalinity. Lots of great suggestions, I have never thought about like popcorn kernels and pencil shavings for making compost which I will be trying

  2. Yes! And those ugly plastic grocery bags are recycled by farm stand owners. We save every one we get (including find, if they’re clean) and give them to family who farm. Broken or not clean, to the recycler’s. Weekly throw-away is under what one of those bags can hold. Charity stores, like Salvation Army uses quite a few of them and would like to reuse newspapers, as well. Good article!

  3. Teabags are not actually compostable. Nearly all teabags contain microfiber plastic of varying amounts. When is the last time you remember the teabag splitting open?
    I save the bags, and put the contents into the compost, along with the paper/cardboard tags, and sometimes the string (make sure to remove the staple).

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