How to Achieve a Zero Waste Lifestyle – Q&A With the Experts

By Cassandra Rosas,

Starting to have a more sustainable lifestyle is of great importance nowadays, especially considering all the environmental problems that we are facing due to the lack of consciousness regarding the impact that our habits have on our planet’s health.

There is an imperative need to change the way that we live, even the smallest actions have a great impact on the carbon footprint that we leave behind, but some of us have no idea where to start or how to switch to a more sustainable way of living, so we asked the experts their best tips and advice on how to start transitioning into a zero-waste lifestyle, keep reading to know what they said.

Q: What is the zero-waste movement and why is it important for more people to adopt this lifestyle?

A: Zero waste is about eliminating waste and overconsumption. It is about stopping the production and consumption of single-use products that end up as waste. With Climate Change being our biggest issue, adopting a zero-waste lifestyle is probably one of the most important steps we can all make to minimize our impact on the environment. Most of the damage to the planet happens in the extraction and production phase so using the waste hierarchy is critical. The top-level of that is prevention: don’t create waste in the first place. If we are going to move towards a zero-waste, we need to start today. To achieve zero waste, we need a clear target. We need local and central governments to work together to set a date and a target goal of zero. Our motto in the movement is: If we cannot reuse it, if we cannot recycle it, if we cannot compost it, we simply shouldn’t be making it, a quote from Dr. Paul Connett.”

By Marty Hoffart, Chair at Zero Waste Network Aotearoa

Q: Which tips can you give us to start going zero waste at home?

A: I actually don’t love the term “zero-waste” because it implies the need for perfection, getting your waste down to zero, which can be so intimidating that it stops some people from taking any action. At Plaine Products we prefer “progress, not perfection” as a mantra. To reduce waste in your life we suggest starting with small manageable changes and expanding from there. And be opportunistic, it doesn’t help the waste problem to throw everything plastic away and start fresh. As you replace, take the time to make more sustainable choices and move your household in a zero-waste direction.

A few suggestions for the kitchen:

  • The next time you run out of saran wrap try wax wraps which can be rinsed and reused over and over again. You can purchase them or make them on your own.

  • As you purchase new cooking utensils, switch away from plastic to bamboo or stainless steel.

  • Cooking at home is a great way to avoid single-use plastic. No takeout containers or plastic utensils. Eating at home means you can avoid to-go food packaging, plastic doggy bags, straws, and more. Challenge yourself to cook a version of your favorite takeout!

In the bathroom:

  • Replace your worn-out plastic toothbrush with a bamboo one! Bamboo is a more sustainable material and toothbrushes can be composted when you’re done using them. In the realm of tooth hygiene, you can also check out dental lace, a non-plastic version of dental floss, and toothpaste bites or tooth powder instead of traditional tube toothpaste. More and more options are becoming available.

  • Try out shampoo and conditioner bars or refillable personal care options like Plaine Products.

  • According to the EPA, nearly 2 billion plastic disposable razors are thrown away each year! Safety razors are made of stainless steel and the blades are fully recyclable. They are a bit more of an investment up front but will save you money in the long run.

When shopping:

  • Carry reusable shopping bags, including smaller bags for produce, or you can skip the produce bags altogether since you’ll be washing your fruit and vegetables before using them anyway.

  • Now many foods from tea to rice, flours to nuts, and chocolate chips to olive oil are available in bulk. Shopping in bulk can reduce packaging waste and may even save you some money. It can also reduce food waste because you can get just the amount you need. Gather up your mason jars, cloth bags, and reusable containers and choose to shop in bulk.

  • Consider the packaging when you make a purchase. Metal is a material that is infinitely recyclable, it never needs to be thrown away. Glass and paper are the materials that are next on the list as far as ease and the number of times they can be recycled. Plastic is more challenging to recycle because there are so many types and much of the products are made from mixed plastic. However, even the plastic that is the easiest to recycle can only be reused once or twice before it becomes unusable and ends up in a landfill.

By Lindsey McCoy, CEO at Plaine Products

Q: What are the first steps we can take to start being more eco-conscious and lower our household waste as much as possible?

A: Get informed. Read, watch documentaries and search for information about the environmental impacts of your diet, water usage, energy consumption, and energy sources. Remember, each country and region has different challenges regarding these aspects – the energy mix and water problems depend on the country you live in.

Think in systems. Read about the life cycle analysis of products before you buy them. Sometimes we think a certain product is better for the environment but when we analyze the carbon footprint of its entire life cycle, we might find surprises. Information is power!

Start making small changes:

  • Take less time showering.

  • Close the tap when you are rinsing the dishes or washing your teeth.

  • If you eat meat and dairy regularly, you can find ways to reduce your consumption. Eat more veggies, try to eat vegetarian or vegan meals once every week. If possible, buy meat and dairy that are produced locally with regenerative practices.

  • Only buy things you really need: food, clothing, electronic devices, etc. Embrace a minimalist lifestyle: it is easier for you and good for the planet!

  • Reduce your waste: shop with a bag you already own, buy your food in a farmer’s market, try to avoid package meals, do not use disposable utensils if not needed.

  • Compost your organic waste, and give your cardboard, paper, plastic, glass, and metal waste to your local recycler.

Share these practices with your neighbors, family, and friends. It is easier if you have an accountability partner! Join the #30Days4theClimate campaign to find more tips to lower your household environmental impact!

By Valentina Mondragón Pérez, Alliance Coordinator at Low Carbon City

Q: What changes can we do in our kitchen to start reducing our household waste as much as possible?

A: Fantastic question! The biggest thing to remember when you are starting out is to go slow- there is so much plastic in your kitchen and you don’t even realize it sometimes. Going cold turkey can have a similar effect as quitting smoking cold turkey- it’s a shock to the system and there’s a very good chance of relapse.

Also throwing out, for example, an entire roll of plastic wrap is in itself wasteful, as opposed to using it up and just simply not buying more and exploring alternatives after it’s gone.

The next few points are under the above assumption that you are slowly transitioning your kitchen to be plastics free and you’re not doing everything all at once.

  • Mason jars will be your best friend. You’ll want all shapes and sizes and with large openings. I like to get mine at thrift stores when I can, they are usually well priced plus the benefit of them not being wrapped in plastic. Unfortunately purchasing new mason jars at the grocery store will come wrapped in packaging.

  • Dried goods are one of the easiest things to transition to zero waste – you can purchase them at bulk food stores (Bulk Barn) or zero waste shops (The Tare Shop here in Nova Scotia) that will allow you to bring your own jars.

  • If your nearest bulk food store is a trek away (so your emissions from your vehicle sorta outweigh the benefit of buying package-free goods) you can buy in large quantities. Grab that big 20KG bag of flour! It’ll last forever and you’re only bringing one piece of packaging into your home.

  • If you have the time; make things yourself. I have fallen in love with my homemade mayonnaise. It’s delicious, easy to make, and removes multiple single-use packages from my kitchen because the mayo can also be used for caesar salad dressing, tartar sauce, coleslaw dressing, and so on.

  • I could go on for paragraphs about the things I choose to make myself- it brings me both joy and satisfaction!

  • Sourcing locally made food is a great way to transition the packaging in your home to something more sustainable and/ or recyclable. For example, I don’t like making my own mustard- it STINKS up my kitchen for days so I’ve found a local company based out of PEI that makes traditional mustard seed mustard, their operations are powered by solar and the mustard comes in a glass jar. Sometimes I’ll save the glass jars when they are empty or I will clean and recycle them knowing that products like glass and aluminum are more likely to be properly recycled. It’s also a plus that I’m supporting a small business.

  • Get a bread box! That way you can either make your own, or get a loaf of bread from your local bakery that maybe just came in a small brown bag (or if you’re lucky maybe no bag, and you can plop it into your cotton tote and bring it home) and keep it fresh without needing plastic.

  • Use stale bread to make croutons and bread crumbs and store them in your handy mason jars.

  • Get reusable produce bags to eliminate needing to use those little plastic bags at the stores.

  • Use reusable shopping bags.

  • Keep both those things in your car so you don’t forget them! I keep the produce bags and 1 compact reusable bag in my purse at all times.

  • Eliminate the need for paper towels by using rags. I have a few microfibre cloths plus an old hoodie that I’ve cut up into manageable sized pieces to use for cleaning up.

  • It’s still nice to have some paper towels for emergencies so I keep a pack of paper towels under the sink made from 100% post-consumer paper products.

  • Replace using ziplock bags and plastic wrap with various sizes of tupperware (glass or ceramic preferred but plastic is still ok when it’s reusable), reusable silicone bags, and beeswax wraps.

  • You can purchase beeswax wraps or make them yourself.

  • My last piece of advice: If it is possible, buy as much as you can at your local farmer’s markets, butchers or deli before going to a grocery store. A lot of the time packaging will be minimal (meat coming in compostable butcher paper as opposed to a styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic wrap) or flexible (grabbing that loaf of bread before it goes in a bag), you are reducing the carbon emissions from products being transported (something just as crucial as removing our reliance from plastics and other packaging) and on top of that, you are supporting your local economy and keeping your money in your community.

By Nicole Hubley from Creating With Nicole

Q: How can we build a zero-waste pantry and what kind of cleaning products should we use to reduce waste?

A: Zero-Waste Pantry

Building a zero-waste pantry that is worthy of the best Instagram photo, might not be something that everyone can achieve overnight. But it is for sure worth a try and the great news is you do not have to break the bank to set it up. You can also start small and maybe select a few items that you want to start with or maybe even a specific shelf in your pantry that you want to have zero-waste. Here are a few of my favourite zero-waste pantry tips.

Food in the pantry

Before you purchase anything new for the pantry, take stock of what you have and finish your existing pantry items before purchasing something new.

Find a bulk food store near you. It does not always have to be a package-free store. There are many supermarkets that have their own bulk sections, but you might just have to check how their system works and if you can pre-weight your containers or if they tare each jar and fill it up.

Always go to the store with a shopping list and stick to purchasing only what is on the list. I go grocery shopping weekly and would also then have a quick look at the pantry to see if there are items that are running low.

Try to shop local wherever possible. Farmers’ markets and independent stores are often more likely to provide you package-free options.

Storage containers in the pantry. You do not need to purchase an entirely new glass jar collection, to be zero-waste. Have a look at what you already have in your kitchen and also what type of jars would you prefer to use. My personal preference is to have only a few different types of containers, which makes looking for lids a lot easier. I love clear glass jars as this makes it easier to see the contents as well as the stock levels. You can also write the names with a chalk pen that is easy to remove. Take it one step at a time and one pantry item at a time and celebrate the little wins. Living a zero-waste lifestyle is a journey and not a race.

Buying new containers for me is the last resort. Here are a few tips for free or super cheap containers:

Purchasing products in reusable glass jars. You can over time build up a great collection.

Keep an eye on your local buy nothing group or reach out and ask if someone in the group has a few extra containers. Someone might have just what you need.

Visit your local op shops. This can be hit and miss, but I have picked up the majority of my pyrex collection from our local op shop.

If you have tried all the free solutions, look at good quality containers that will last and have the option to purchase replacement lids. I love using silicone or plastic lids in the fridge and freezer as some of the steel lids tend to get a bit rusty with time if frequently used in the fridge or freezer.

Cleaning products to use to reduce waste

I have not set foot in the cleaning product aisle of our supermarket for some time. Not only does a lot of the mainstream cleaning products heavily packaged, but it also contains a lot of water and some often harsh chemicals. It was a no brainer for me to switch to an eco-friendly zero-waste solution. There are many amazing brands and stores around the world that makes cleaning products with zero or very little waste. I love to support organizations that are trying to make a difference, but I also like to make a few cleaning products myself as well.

There are many refillable options available. You can purchase concentrated products, that can either be in a liquid, powder, sheet, or tablet form and add water at home. You can also refill with ready to use products that are already diluted for you.

If you have never made cleaning products, I would highly recommend giving them a go, there are some great recipes and the majority of them are made from items that you might already have in your pantry or could easily purchase in bulk. Making your own definitely works out a lot cheaper and gives you the peace of mind to know you do not have any nasty chemicals that could cause your family and furry friends harm.

Here are a few recipes: Toilet Bombs, All-Purpose Cleaner

By Mariska Nell from Mama Earth Talk

Q: Which changes can we make in our bathroom to go zero waste?

A: There’s so much we can do in the bathroom to go zero waste and the good news is this doesn’t mean giving up a lot nor spending more money, in fact, you will quickly save money! If you haven’t done so already, repurpose three small bins from around the house for your primary bathroom and label them “Recycle”, “Compost”, and “Trash”. (One day soon you should hopefully be able to get rid of the Trash bin!) Notice what goes into the bins and think about how to switch to non-disposable alternatives.

A few of the biggest switches you can think about making are shampoo and conditioner bars, a homemade or Recyclable toothpaste option, reusable beauty swabs and cloth tissues.

I am not a big fan of online ordering so look around at your local zero waste or health food shops for shampoo and conditioner bars, and stock up!! Not all bars are created equally so test out a few and settle on the ones you like the best.

At the same shops, look for toothpaste tablets or toothpaste in metal pouches. Most toothpaste tubes are not recyclable meaning that billions of them are sent to landfills and incinerators and into the natural environment as pollution around the world, every year. Check out our Zero Waste blog at ThinkZero for my tried and true toothpaste recipe that I use and takes 5 minutes to make with a few simple ingredients.

Disposable Ear swabs represent another opportunity to make a fun switch- we recommend the LastSwab’s reusable ear and beauty swabs but there are a couple of other knock-offs available on the market now.

Most households use a tremendous amount of tissue and toilet paper, most of which translates to millions of trees being cut down every year- but it doesn’t have to be this way! Invest in a set of organic cotton or flannel facial wipes, and washable, reusable cloth “paper” towels, use them and toss them into your regular wash. Our organic flannel wipes have stood the test of time, 8 years, and still going strong 💪!

These are a couple of fun, money-saving zero waste bathroom switches we recommend starting with- enjoy!