Guide to a Sustainable Daily Life: 5 Zero Waste Mantras

When you haven’t been raised in a zero waste household, it can be an overhaul to your thought processes to focus on reducing your waste. So many everyday seemingly innocuous tasks create more waste than you might think.

I am still learning and transitioning my own home and am lucky that my husband aka forever-housemate-person is open to this massive perspective shift.

These 5 “mantras” aren’t perfect or a complete sense of zero waste living but they represent the conversations I have regularly with myself these days in an attempt to continually shift my buying habits towards reducing my waste whenever possible, one product at a time.

1. Use What You Have:

I fall on both sides of the spectrum on this one. I love to shop and enjoy finding exactly the thing I want- whether it’s a sweater or a kitchen appliance. BUT I also collect art supplies and have an office and garage well filled with craft/art supplies just waiting to be put to use. And even with those stores of supplies I still find ways to “need” different supplies because I love to shop.

Using what you have may seem less fun than buying a shiny new thing- it certainly does sometimes to me.

I actively choose to think of the things I already have as the puzzle pieces for creative solutions.

In the transition to a zero waste life, as much as I understand the urge, please don’t marie kondo the plastic in your house just because it doesn’t spark joy- because where will it go then? Use up the beauty products and food stuffs that are in their plastic packaging while searching for zero waste replacement options.

But as you do go through your belongings and want to get rid of stuff, consider selling the usable items instead of blindly donating (unless you know for a fact that they will get used and not trashed by the place you’re donating to).

If mantra 1 doesn’t apply then mantras 2 and 3 help inform any purchases:

2. The Life Cycle of Things

Be aware of how the product and package are made, where and what will happen to it when you’re done with it:

  1. What did it take for the [item or packaging] to be created?
  2. What did it take for the [item] to get to me?
  3. How long will I use the [item or packaging]?
  4. Where will it go when I’m done with the [item or packaging]?
  5. How long until the [item or packaging] no longer exists?

The BEST feeling is when you’re shopping local and zero waste. You meet a need with minimal impact to the planet.

Bulk food buying is an upcoming post and it’s my current obsession within this mantra.

3. Consumer Power

You are a consumer. You matter. How you spend your money matters.

The sooner we all understand this and stop blindly following marketing strategies taking our money, the better for Mother Earth and our future generations.

We’re already seeing a pendulum slowly swing towards zero waste in stores and in government. The goal now is to continue and strengthen this momentum with our dollars.

If we all don’t buy a thing then it won’t exist for much longer- on the market at least. If it’s plastic it will technically live longer than any of us…

Ideas to consider just in the realm of food (my fave):

  • cook more
  • buy in bulk
  • take away from restaurants with eco friendly packaging
  • support local businesses

Actions speak louder than words. You’re saying with your money that the planet matters to you and you’re conscious of your personal impact and the collective impact of our society on the planet.

4. Be Prepared

Being prepared when possible is all anyone can ask for. There will be occasions when you have no other choice than to use a plastic straw or a starbucks single use coffee cup or a plastic grocery bag because being prepared wasn’t an option. That is ok.

The issue that needs to be remedied is that these “in case of emergency” single-use solutions have become the norm. On the whole, our society has become dependent on them on a regular basis. This has to stop before we all literally drown in our own trash piles.

These days on the go:

  • I always have my own water bottle
    • and bring an empty hot beverage cup just in case I want something while I’m out.
  • I try to food shop once a week and bring my bags, produce bags, and bulk jars.
  • I bring my own lunch to work.
  • I ask for no straw in restaurants
    • and refuse plastic utensils with takeaway.
    • (If I still receive the utensils I keep them just in case- or maybe for a future art project. I don’t throw them out.)

I plan to level-up in the near future by carrying a go-bag of reusable items:

  • cup with lid
  • straw
  • utensils
  • napkins
  • take away containers
  • produce bag
  • grocery bag

5. Upcycle the Waste You Create

This is some next level stuff and my newest concept/mantra.

When I throw something away I depressingly imagine it for a fleeting moment in a landfill or in the ocean. So instead of despairing, I’ve started to consider what I could do with it instead of throwing it in the garbage.

A simple solution I’ve found for my frozen fruit needs: a local company sells their frozen fruit in clear ziploc bags that I now keep, wash and reuse repeatedly instead of buying new gallon sized ziploc bags.

A more involved solution I’ve found are eco-bricks. Have you heard of eco bricks? They are on my list to try and would love to have someone help me get into it for a future post:

Remember: transition to a zero waste lifestyle takes time. Take this one day and one product at a time. Making the effort is more important than getting it perfect.