My family generates a pint-size jar of trash per year, and so can you! Here are 100+ tips to drastically reduce your household’s waste. Each section is a condensed version of a full chapter in my book, so please consult it for further information, such as how-to’s and recipes. For Zero Waste alternatives, please shop your home or the local thrift shop. For product recommendations, follow the links or visit my store (which gives further details on how we sourced and use them).
Before You Start:
- Arm yourself with a reusable water bottle, a couple of grocery totes, a few cloth bags, jars, and bottles.
- Keep my book’s method of 5Rs in mind, throughout the process: Refuse what you do not need, Reduce what you do need, Reuse what you consume, Recycle what you cannot Refuse, Reduce or Reuse, and Rot (Compost) the rest.
- For more information and inspiration, watch my segment on Netflix’s Broken, my TEDx Talks: Two Adults, Two Kids, Zero Waste and Zero Waste is not Recycling more but less, or this feature on CCTV America.
- Welcome alternatives to disposables (paper towels, garbage liners, wax paper, aluminum sheets, disposable plates, cups, etc….): Swap paper towels for reusable rags, swap sandwich baggies for kitchen towels or stainless containers, drop garbage liners all together (wet waste is compostable anyways).
- Buy in bulk or at the counter, bring cloth bags (dry goods), jars (wet items such as meat, deli, fish, cheese, oil, peanut butter) and bottles (liquids: oil, soy sauce, shampoo, conditioner).
- If you cannot find an item in bulk, find a supplier (bring your jar to the ice cream shop, a pillow case to the bakery for your bread, or your bottles to the winery/brewery)… or make it (mayo, salad dressing, hot sauce, jams, hummus, cookies, canned tomatoes).
- Shop the farmer’s market: they’ll take the egg carton and the berries baskets back for reuse. Your veggies will also most likely be free of plastic and stickers there too.
- Learn to love your tap water
- Use bulk liquid Castile soap as a dish/hand cleaner, baking soda as a scrubber (in a spice shaker) with a compostable cleaning brush. Purchase dishwasher detergent in bulk.
- Turn your current trash can into a big compost keeper. Use your current tiny compost keeper as a trash can (on the market, the sizes for these seem to be reversed).
- Reinvent your leftovers before they go bad. Go thru your recipe binder/box and only keep the recipes that can be achieved with zero waste in mind.
- Invest in a pressure cooker (halves the cooking time).
- YOU CAN ALSO… Reuse single-side printed paper for grocery shopping and errands list, use your lettuce cleaning water to water plants, open your oven after baking in the winter (cool your oven, warm your house)…
- Use 100% recycled and unbleached toilet paper individually wrapped in paper (buy it from your local restaurant and hotel supply store and save big); the hardcore can alternatively use a washlet and washcloths.
- Use an alum stone or straight baking soda as deodorant.
- For shaving, (re)use a safety razor and shaving soap (any soap will do but my fave is Alep soap).
- Refill your bottles with bulk shampoo and conditioner. Or better yet, forgo conditioner, and use the same solid soap that you use on face and body, to wash your hair. If your hair is short, you also have the “no-poo” option: rinse your hair, massage baking soda in, then rinse, with vinegar for shine. Instead of hairspray, switch to lemon water in a spray bottle (recipe in the book). To go longer between washes, substitute dry shampoo for cornstarch (in bulk).
- For body/face soap, find a package-free solid soap. To exfoliate, use bulk baking soda. For a mask, use bulk clays (French, Kaolin, Bentonite, etc…), mixed with water or apple cider vinegar.
- Brush your teeth with baking soda (in a spice shaker) and a wooden compostable toothbrush.
- Reduce your cosmetics and consider homemade substitutes such as cocoa powder as bronzer and homemade balm that works on eyes, lips, hair and nails and in lieu of disposable feminine products, invest in menstrual cup and reusable liners(the cup is all I personally need).
- All you need for your nails is a nail clipper, glass shining file and the homemade balm in my book for moisture and shine.
- Forget about Q-tips, they are not good for you anyways.
- YOU CAN ALSO… read my blogpost on simple ways to save water at home or this one on multi-functionality in the bathroom, or these on why you don’t ever need to buy another ponytail holder, but you can also compost hair and nail clippings, put a brick in your toilet tank, collect water in a bucket while your shower heats and water your plants with it, and use zero waste cleaning: vinegar for mold, baking soda as scrub, a mix of baking soda and vinegar as drain cleaner (how to in the book)…
- Stick to minimal wardrobes, shoes and purses. (see my blogposts on the 50 ways I wear my capsule wardrobe of 15 pieces, or how I wear a men’s shirt 50 different ways, or one black dress 22 ways.)
- Only shop a couple times a year to avoid compulsive buys.
- Buy exclusively second-hand clothing
- If you must buy new, buy a brand with an unconditional warranty (like these socks or this umbrella).
- Be ruthless on fit, if it fits well, you’re most likely to wear it.
- Bring a reusable bag for your purchases.
- Donate unworn pieces.
- Keep some of your worn-out clothes for rags and label the rest as “rags” for Goodwill to recycle.
- Learn of few sewing tricks (like shortening a hem or darning).
- YOU CAN ALSO… watch my video on what to pack for zero waste travel, look at my mini-wardrobe fave posts on how to make outfits with staples, take it to the tailor for a better fit so you’ll actually wear it, and keep a handkerchief in your purse/bag…
LAUNDRY AND CLEANING
- Welcome natural cleaning alternatives: Castile soap on floors and sinks, white vinegar mix as an all purpose cleaner, baking soda for scrubbing jobs, and vinegar for mildew.
- Welcome alternative house cleaning tools: a metal scourer on stainless, a wooden brush for light scrubbing, an old toothbrush for hard to reach places and rags for everything else (counters, floor, fridge, mirrors etc.)
- Sweep your floors with a silk or boar bristle broom, wash with a wet rag attached to a mop stick and a few drops of Castile soap
- Use worn-out clothing items made into rags on your un-washable messes (wax/auto grease/glue/caulk).
- Buy dishwasher detergent in bulk and use white vinegar as a rinsing aid.
- Let houseplants absorb toxins and clean your air. Open a window instead of plugging in an air freshener.
- Laundry washing once a week saves time and dryer energy costs, use a laundry detergent sold in bulk, full loads, and cold water cycles as much as possible. Savon de Marseille, dishwasher detergent, chalk, lemon or vinegar work great on stains.
- Dry on a line when possible.
- Iron fewer things and use a homemade starch in a stainless spray bottle (recipe in the book).
- YOU CAN ALSO… use wool dryer balls, find a sustainable dry cleaner (one that offers a reusable garment bag and non-toxic cleaners), compost dryer lint and dust bunnies…
DINING AND ENTERTAINING
- Remember to bring extra jars to the grocery store when shopping for company (including take-out).
- Make finger foods for larger parties and consider serving tap water with lemon slices instead of fizzy water (for ideas, see my blogpost on how-to throw a zero-waste party)
- Use glassware, ceramic dishes and cloth napkins at all times.
- Avoid the use of serving platters/dishes: When serving straight onto dinner plates, it simplifies, saves water from extra cleaning, and it allows for a plate presentation.
- Find creative ways to decorate your table with few napkin folding tricks, discarded leaves/branches from the yard, or just seasonal fruit…
- Reuse empty votive tins (and the wick base) to make new votive candles for company with bulk beeswax and lead-free wick.
- Stream music and videos online.
- Bring a jar of a homemade consumable, or your favorite bulk item wrapped in Furoshiki as a hostess gift. Give the gift of an experience as a birthday present.
- Educate your friends about your zero waste efforts (so they don’t bring waste into your home)
- YOU CAN ALSO… bring your own container for leftovers when dining out, use rechargeable batteries for those remote controls, try living without TV for a while…
- Refuse, and therefore help stop the madness of the free-pen / free-pencil give-aways.
- Use refillable pens with a piston, mechanical pencils, refillable white board markers and donate extra office material (paper, pencils) to your public school’s art program.
- Start your personal junk mail war, cancel your phone directories, and sign up for electronic bills and statements.
- Reuse single-side printed paper for printing or making notepads held by a metal clip, reuse junk mail response envelopes and if buying new paper, choose recycled and packaged in paper.
- Ditch the trash can, strive to use your compost and recycling bins exclusively.
- Use, Reuse and Request recyclable paper packing material when shipping (incl. paper tape), print postage and addresses directly on your envelopes, use surface mail, use a return address stamp instead of stickers.
- Reuse paper clips (available in bulk) instead of staples, or a staple-free stapler.
- Use your library for magazines and books, sell your books or donate them to your library for other people to enjoy.
- Use the cloud instead of memory sticks or external drives.
- YOU CAN ALSO… watch my video on Zero Waste School Supplies, watch my video on how to make a recycled notebook, read my blogpost on 9 ways to reuse cardboard, use a power strip on your equipment, refill your printer cartridges, make paper with double-side printed paper, take packing material that you receive to your local shipping center for reuse…
- Keep only a minimal supply, so you can see what you have.
- Ask your pharmacy to reuse your prescription jar. It’s illegal for pharmacies to refill them in CA, but your state might allow it.
- Choose tablets (pain reliever, for example) in a glass or at default a plastic jar (usually a recyclable #2), instead of the tablets individually wrapped in aluminum/plastic.
- Do not buy jumbo size medication jars, they expire way before you can finish them.
- Choose metal tubes instead of plastic.
- Invest in a Neti pot: Great to clear out your sinuses with just water and sea salt.
- Consider a few natural alternatives: a corn silk tea for prostate relief, a senna leaf tea for constipation relief or an oatmeal bath for skin relief.
- Clean cuts and scrapes with soap and water, forgo the plastic band-aids and let air-dry.
- Do not use everyday antibacterial products, they make bad bacteria stronger.
- YOU CAN ALSO… reconsider your true need for vitamins (as opposed to a healthy varied diet) and use sunscreen moderately (you want neither skin cancer nor vitamin D deficiency)…
- Use drought tolerant and native plants, replace your lawn with short native grasses.
- Make room for compost. Consider a worm composter or an electric one if you live in an apartment, a separate pet composter for your dog’s feces (how-to in the book)
- Occasionally pee at the base of your citrus plants, they’ll thrive.
- Return plastic containers to the nursery.
- Find bulk seeds near you.
- Give away plants and any landscaping item that you no longer want. Post them on the free section of Craigslist or Freecycle.
- Find a bulk garden center, and refill reusable sand bags with dirt, rocks, compost, etc.
- Consider investing in an irrigation controller with a rainwater sensor.
- Install rainwater and gray water catchments (check your city ordinances for the latter).
- YOU CAN ALSO… Read my blogpost on how I garden zero waste, keep a minimal and quality tool selection made of metal and wood (which can be repaired more easily)…