When I was starting out on this journey, I read blog post after blog post and skipped through as many YouTube videos I could find to figure out how to start going zero waste already. I kept feeling like everything would be easier if I started after X happened. Someday it would just work out, and I could “start”.
But I realized I was the only one stopping me, and in fact, I was already doing so much good for the planet that I took as inconsequential. What the research helped me find was my inspiration, my “why” for changing my ways and trying to help others change theirs.
This series on how to (finally) start going zero waste will be broken up into five posts over the next few weeks. Part 1 discusses what obstacles we think we need to overcome before starting our journeys. Part 2 is about starting small, and in Part 3 I’ll teach you how to set realistic goals that will keep you motivated. I’ll teach you how to avoid pessimism from inside and outside influences in Part 4. And finally in part 5, I’ll help you find your own “why” for switching to a zero waste lifestyle.
Part 1 – Finding the Block
The first step in getting over the huge stumbling block at the starting line is figuring out what’s stopping you. Is it time? Money? Access to resources? Or is it judgement? For me, it was a combination of all of them. When I learned about this movement, I was in college, little money to my name, in the middle of corn country, and I was afraid of what my family might think of my new ideas. I kept telling myself that once I graduate, I could start. Then I would be/have X and Y and Z so I could start. But in that way of thinking, I would likely never be ready, and I was just pushing off change so I could stay comfortable in how I was living.
Time can be a stumbling block is two different ways: either you feel like where you are in life isn’t conducive to this lifestyle or you feel you don’t have the time for all the “work” it appears to require.
Anyone can live more sustainably. It doesn’t matter if you’re a teenager or 80 years old. Every day is a new day and one you have control over. Little choices you make every day can add up and create a larger influence. You don’t have to hit some milestone before you can start your contribution.
A big change you can make is actually the act of refusal, which saves you time. Minimalism goes hand in hand with sustainable living. By reducing the amount you own, you reduce the amount of time spend taking care of your items. Less clothes to wash and put away, less knick-knacks to dust, less square footage to sweep.
If it’s the DIY tasks that seem daunting, just try them out first. Many only take a couple minutes. There’s a reason the tutorial videos are so short. And if it’s not for you, you can find other alternatives by voting with your wallet and purchasing sustainable products instead.
Maybe you’re thinking, how can I start going zero waste without money to spend on new things? As sustainability becomes more trendy, many people are pushing products, which many times cost more than their less environmentally friendly versions. When I was starting out, I was surprised that bulk goods many times costed more than their packaged counterparts. The prospect of “needing” to spend more money on sustainable options in order to be sustainable can prevent you from trying altogether. In reality, money isn’t everything, and there are plenty of ways to live a low impact lifestyle while remaining on a budget.
Changing your behaviors is a free and often-understated way of reducing your impact on this earth. Small changes like relying less on heat and A/C up to larger changes like reducing animal product consumption can have a large impact that can get hidden behind a wall of Instagram pictures of bulk bin mason jars and fancy recycled toilet paper. But if and when you do choose to buy new sustainable versions, be sure to make those dollars count.
You need to choose which items are most important when deciding to spend money. Is an energy efficient washing machine a better investment than a plastic-free groceries every week? These decisions must cater to your life. If you only do laundry two or three times a month, maybe hold off on the washing machine. But if you have a large family and do multiple loads a week, it may be worth considering (after your current one kicks the bucket, of course).
And if you still think living with a low impact costs too much money, remember there’s a lot of things you can do to save money. Water and electricity cost money; by reducing your consumption of these through behavioral changes, you save money and don’t spend a dime. Making certain household products can also save money over store-bought, and dietary changes can reduce your weekly grocery bills too. So there’s plenty of ways to save green by going green.
Access is often cited as a reason one can’t live while producing a mason jar of trash. First off, no one’s asking you to produce just that much. I know I don’t, but I am doing a lot better than I was before. Secondly, as mentioned above, there’s a lot of ways anyone can live sustainably wherever they might be.
Access to a grocery store with bulk bins or living in a city with a great public transit system isn’t necessary to reduce your global impact. Check out my post on How to Shop without Bulk Bins! Sure those things are nice, but consciously shopping for items with little to no packaging and biking or carpooling are still a step in the right direction. Don’t get hung up on what you don’t have; get creative with what you do have!
No thrift stores around for used clothing? Fear not! Trade with friends and family or search apps or online for new-to-you outfits. No place to buy package free personal care products? Many companies can ship them right to your door. The Internet provides virtual access to items and services you may not otherwise be able to take advantage of.
This last hurdle can be a toughy since mental battles are a lot harder to win. I struggled with the idea that everyone would think I was weird for making changes to my lifestyle. I shied away from discussing the reasoning behind my choices for fear of arguments.
But I needed to understand these changes were for me and the environment. It didn’t matter if some stranger gave me a sideways glance as I asked for no straw in my drink. In fact, it was an opportunity to teach them. Even if I didn’t say anything, they noticed I was being different and it may get them to think twice the next time they’re in a similar situation. Sometimes it just takes knowing how easy it can be to start doing it yourself.
If you’re actively under judgement instead of just afraid of it, try thinking of yourself as a leader. Don’t get defensive or preachy, but try to guide and educate them. Present them with facts and reasoning while avoiding arguments. Let them know why you do things, not just that what they do is “wrong”, and lead by example. Find compromises and show them how it doesn’t take much effort to lower their footprint. They may surprise you by asking questions and taking on your behaviors as well. See my post on Living with Non-Zero Waste People for more tips on how to start going zero waste even if you live with others!
There are many things we think are stopping us, but in reality it comes down to mindset. I discovered I was using these things as excuses to not change. While slow living can mean taking more time, minimalism will help save time. There are so many ways to go green for free or even save money while doing it. While access and judgement can be tricky to navigate, there’s plenty of resources online and likely in your own community to help you.
What are some things you were worried about when you started learning about zero waste? How did you overcome these fears?
Stay tuned for the next parts in the How to (Finally) Start Going Zero Waste series!